This article really pissed me off. This is what really annoyed me:
Education is neither analogous to customer service nor does it need an analogous paradigm at all. It is its very own paradigm, one that has been established since before Socrates patiently nudged Glaucon into the light.
As much as I hate (and I’ve been consistent about hating them) student evaluations of instructors, it’s possible I hate this article and every one like it even more. This is tone-deafness and blindness to systemic problems at its very worst.
For me, this is the perfect example of an unfortunate confluence of both disagreeing with the basic premise of the article, and wishing the article were true. (At least with regards to certain ideas.) The author literally alludes to Socrates and the nostalgic Grand Old Idea of the university, which I think supremely glosses over the history of universities in very much the same way that nostalgic conservatives gloss over the real history of the “glory days” of the forties and fifties. Universities as we know of them today, descendants as they are of the old British system of higher learning were wrapped up in a lot of dynamics involving religion (earlier on) and then class and race (later on.) It’s no coincidence that the commissioning system for officers in the US military is very much a function of whether a person has a degree.
Indeed we see it in almost every walk of life in America: Degrees are increasingly necessary for attaining even modest social and class status in our society. It puzzles me that academics react with shock and surprise when the education system which is so heavily subsidized by tax dollars is increasingly treated like a thirteenth grade. Perhaps it’s insulation, or parochialism, or simple institutional or professional inertia, but the writing has been on the wall for a while and the issues run very deep and dark; yet professional academics seem to be unable to cut to the real heart of the issue. The real heart of the issue has been poisonous to the Grand Old Idea of the university from the start: It was always about making sure the right kinds of people were in a better position economically and intellectually to direct and manage the affairs of society. The democratization of education has led to this current state of affairs, in part, because the only real way we democratize anything in this country is by commodifying it.
I’m sympathetic, certainly, to the plight of professors and adjuncts facing new labor issues around the manner in which universities are run in this world where everything needs to be monetized to function. However the way forward cannot be a “return” to a fantasy land of ether-headed, ultra-pure, high-minded idealists pursuing high-minded ideas unpolluted by politics. That never existed. Perhaps the commodification of higher education has gotten worse, and perhaps it’s throwing some grim realities under some very bright lights, but the solution is not to sweep those realities under the rug and pretend that the cozy relationship between universities and the class and labor system never existed. This supposed former purity of academia is a myth that needs to die a cold hard death. And academics should be the first to kill it, not the last.