The past few decades has seen explosive growth in the number of universities around the world, but it may not be for the noble reasons we would like. Decreased public funding, and new conceptions of universities as engines for economic growth has spurred an intensity of competition for student fees. This shift may help explain rising trends in managerialism, over-quantification of students and researchers, commodification of education, and an 'amenities arms race.' Not to mention staggering student debt, elitism, college admission scandals, and whole countries in protest.
(We know this transcript sucks - it's auto generated, we'll put a better one up soon!)
[0:00] Before we get started today Daniel I want to let our listeners know that we've got a super cool new thing that we're really excited to share.
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[1:40] Hearing from our listeners receiving feedback hearing the stories that you all bring it's very addictive to us.
[1:47] It's addicting idiot addictive is the proper word there Daniel yes.
[1:52] Yeah we love to hear from you all and this is something we hope to use as we promote what future topics will be it'll give you a chance to call and give us some of your perspectives that we can share on the podcast first exam, we're going to be doing a show coming up probably next week, where will celebrate some of the do-it-yourself projects that many people engage with to solve needs and solve problems. Without turning immediately to consumerism David I know you mentioned you were having some problems with your AC unit and rather than go out and buy a new one you figured out how to.
[2:32] Let us know what you do to quick fix things in your own life let us know what you do to step outside the consumer machine and solve your own problems with that little bit of news out of the way let's start the show.
[2:48] I'm David Torcivia.
[2:50] Daniel Forkner.
[2:52] And this is Ashes Ashes, a show about systemic issues, cracks in civilization, collapse of the environment, and if we're unlucky the end of the world.
[3:03] But if we learn from all of this, maybe we can stop that. The world might be broken, but it doesn't have to be.
[3:57] David that was. Are the commencement speech given by billionaire Robert Smith pledging to pay for the 2019 graduate class pay for all their student loans. That was tremendous news and it's it's really wonderful for those graduates Dave.
[4:14] Congratulations graduates on happening to graduate at the exact right time that you can just student loans wiped really excited for y'all or y'all.
[4:23] No it's super exciting for them but you know it does raise some questions and you know in terms of philanthropy and terms of the role that billionaires play in our society we have a whole episode on that episode 61 owning change I highly recommend checking that out it won't get into that right now but it's kind of topical right now cuz we figured Let's Do It episode kind of introducing a series on higher education and universities in general and all the things that revolve around that the play into some of these systemic issues that we talked about and of course student debt is going to be one of those components we might touch on that a little bit in this episode.
[4:59] Yeah I mean this is such a big topic Daniel which is been putting it off for so long there's so much to say and dig into in academics. I don't want to call it an industry but it really started to become one and we'll talk about that throughout this episode. But for something that is a huge component of what it means to be alive to be humid always be learning and trying to expand our knowledge of the universe, there's there's a reason that we put this this show off for so long this is very much an introduction of a lot of topics and ideas and in future we hope to dig into them more and more in, I know we say that all the time but I think at this point you would listeners have realized that is exactly why we're here.
[5:39] Yeah so let's jump in to this first episode and you mentioned that there's a part of universities that has become an industry and that's really what this episode will be about there's a book that we dug into a little bit David called speaking of universities by Stephane Pelini. And he talks about how. The landscape of universities has really accelerated in change dramatically in the past few decades in the past 20 years alone China has added 1200 University. And United Kingdom in 1990 there were 46 universities and today there are now over 140. Which jumps the student enrollment from 350,000 people to over 2 million today and of course in the United States we have over 4,000 institutions that make our last game of higher education and with these dramatic shifts in terms of expanding the number of opportunities to attend University Stephen writes about how the language we use to talk about universities has also dramatically changed. I want to read a little bit from his book here.
[6:47] The policy descriptions we used to talk about universities quotes were mostly not the descriptions used even a generation ago let alone any further back in history. Our Concepts in our language have their own histories and the process by which one pattern of using them comes to be dominant at any given time is something that intellectual historians can chart with considerable Precision there's nothing natural or given about thinking of universities in terms of sake social Mobility or wealth creation any more than there was about thinking of them in terms of character formation or the propagation of God's word. We need to be able to articulate and understanding of what universities are for that is adequate to our time if we are to be able to decide what to do.
[7:33] So the language we used to talk about the function of universities as change it is important to recognize that he's riding primarily about, British universities and their departure from a long history and Europe of universities being considered a public good that is distinct, from industry Eagles on quote very often my interlocutors and audiences were people who had admired the British University system. But who could see that it was now being treated as a guinea pig and a series of Market fundamentalist experiment most northern European countries still maintain a publicly supported system of higher education wear whatever the precise Financial Arrangements. Universities are regarded as a public good even in some countries as the bearers of Civic or republican values, many European colleges were clearly worried that business driven government might in the future try to impose policies modeled along the new British lines in their own countries, and quote and so this transformation that he writes about this changing landscape the guinea pig that are the British universities.
[8:41] We talked about you how increasingly University models are being fused with the world of industry in corporate profits. Which is a big departure phone the long kind of changing history of universities mostly being explicitly separate from the interest of Industry or practical applications in general although there are a few exceptions to that that he mentions you know the way that universities in the past we're encouraged by the state to encourage certain characteristics that would make Scholars well suited for government work or corollary to that is the church doing the same thing but according to cleaning never before have universities been subject to such pressure to conform to Industrial models in in to prepare people for the corporate world any rights of these changes are occurring in Britain faster than anywhere else in the world.
[9:30] And many thinkers throughout history have always considered this to be problematic. He quotes t h Huxley who wrote in 1894 this is a legend and applied science hero quote the primary business of universities has to do merely with pure knowledge and pure art. Independent of all application to practice with the advancement of culture and not with the increase of wealth or commodities. And then the father of nuclear physics said in 1927 that he quote would view as an unmitigated disaster the utilisation of University laboratory for research bearing on industry.
[10:09] I got interrupt you for a second right there Daniel because it wasn't that long ago on this very sure that we were talking about how University. And the Research Laboratories that they had were actually Twisted by the government to the world during World War II start producing weapons of war. So when are tear gas in protest episode just very recently mentioned how during the war there were Laboratories all around the world that were originally just public research institutions. Who focused on creating these deadly gases for use on the battlefield. And what's the battlefield ended than these University laboratory started turning to producing these gases for Private Industry and market so even though he's writing this in 1927 saying that. That this would be an unmitigated disaster. Using these Laboratories or industry it was already well underway at this point and maybe he just didn't realize this process because his more theoretical focus of his research, wasn't in applications that were happening at the current time in the chemistry industry but this is something that that has been going on for almost a hundred years.
[11:13] You're not that great point and then we talked about that in episode 73 tear up tear down about so many University academics and chemists work directed by governments during World War 1 to direct their energies towards developing chemical weapons of mass destruction but I think generally even after World War II you know universities were kind of distinct from industry they were still considered largely as institutions where people go to explore long-term thinking to explore the unknown to research things that may not have any, really immediate practical benefit, but the idea has always kind of been that the benefits we derive from universities as a society are always long-term and indirect we can't really predict how tinkering with some idea or some other science might, produce some invention that we can use but that's never really been the point it's kind of always been assumed that these things just emerged from just having a more, intellectual Society Society that's open to questioning thing if I don't want a quote from Joseph Chamberlain you was a actually interesting enough you was Great British imperialist of the 19th century but never the less he writes quote.
[12:28] To place a university in the middle of the great industrial and Manufacturing population is to do something to. Leaven the whole Mass with higher and higher intellectual Ambitions than would otherwise be possible to people engaged in tirely and trading and Commercial Pursuits.
[12:47] And quote but all this started to change dramatically in the 1980s, when University started to conform to a market logic that is they need to compete against one another on pricing and offerings performing well on such metrics as you know customer satisfaction, measured in graduates ability to perform in the corporate world and also competing for funding by demonstrating how research can Aid industry and this new shift is something that is taken for granted I think at least here in the US and I remember speaking with a pathologist researcher at a university actually when we were preparing for that show irresistible David on antimicrobial resistant pathogens right and I spoke to one of these researchers who spends most of their time meeting with local livestock companies and they're working with them to develop medicines to help them grow their business and I kind of got the impression that this person gets their funding essentially by presenting companies with studies that seemed promising to their business model. It's a we're well into the realm Where It's Not Unusual to think in this way even in a highly research-oriented Department of the University.
[13:58] Yeah well I mean you have that term research universities right to what's refer to universities that focus on whatever type of research usually something scientific. And a lot of the funding of these universities and the deer their endowments the money that they generate come from the pans that they hold from this research so you're speaking at University of Georgia there they owned a huge amount of patents especially in types of seeds used for Turfgrass, and they make a enormous amount of the total budget for some of those Department from this patent licensing so any research you can do anything you can create in order to generate a profit for the university is something that universities is worth pursuing and they'll put you down that road, not just for their their professors or the tenured stop a graduate students as well trying to say how can we invest in you so you can create something at our lab can patent it and we the university can profit off of your work.
[14:53] And I'm in the world of graduate and undergraduate studies is complicated and depressing and very much worthy of its own show which I always will get you at some point. As somebody who has a lot of friends in grad school right now and who have been in grad school for years depending on where they are who they are. But this is one of the model now the hawk how can you make us money not how can we give you an education, and it really got Twisted in this market perspective of seeing universities as ways to generate money instead of as a public good to impart knowledge soul.
[15:28] Right and, of course is a problematic in so many ways you know the needs of businesses for example are typically short-term because they can point to Annie that they have say okay I need to increase my market share but this is my Optical how can I get around that in when universities give up the type of long-term exploratory research that they're good at to try to fit themselves to the short-term needs of business often times the quality of research declines dramatically for several reasons and then of course the idea of molding graduates to some corporate model that will make them good for employment can actually hurt people long-term because few even businesses will admit that what they truly need in a candidate is someone who can think for themselves they can ask the question but a focus on a very specialized way of thinking and doing things can actually you know limit a person's ability to do that. Although I suppose David when we look at the trajectory of the current economy moving towards your very specialized work in terms of.
[16:30] Well before I let you go too far Daniel don't worry all of our specialized work will soon be replaced by machines stuff that's not actually problem.
[16:38] Maybe all the more reason David we should be in school studying poetry because that's one thing machines can't do.
[16:44] I read a poem by a machine that extra pretty good you want to hear it.
[16:48] Let me guess one bit to bit three bit four bits oh how I love to count my bits.
[16:55] That's been pretty good Daniel you might consider going back to you at school for poetry but here is a poem written by by a computer that I read recently that's actually pretty good. My heart why come you here alone the Wild Thing of my heart is grown. To be a thing Barry and wild and fair and whole so sorry poets are coming for you too.
[17:22] Think we found the superior species.
[17:25] Or something wait what were we talking about again universities.
[17:29] Yeah so back to the so so basically the point here is that. As the global economy increasingly creeps into every corner possible of Our Lives. More and more of this Market logic is being infused with conceptions of the role that higher education should serve. And not collini the author of this book He's a little bit optimistic and you can tell he's a little bit on the defensive when it comes to criticism about universities as someone who is, you know the professor in a university environment but he does offer what he imagines the worst-case dystopian future of universities if things do not go unchecked. I want to read that right here David.
[18:11] The dominant character of higher education institutions across the world would be as businesses specializing in Preparing People to work in business. Beyond that a substantial number of large and take institutions will combine the teaching work of an advanced high school with an element of contract research work for outside organization. A select number of other mostly small and mostly private institutions will provide a broad cultural education mainly to the children of the relatively wealthy, had a very small number of historically prestigious financially well-supported institutions will combine teaching a very select student intake with various forms of scholarship and research across several of the traditional areas of inquiry there was a huge numerical and financial preponderance and the biomedical and applied sciences and in professional training especially in business and law. In all of these types of institution there will be either a shrinking proportion or the complete elimination of tenured academics and a vast increase, any casual lized Workforce while the vestiges of academic self-government will disappear entirely. There will be far less face-to-face or small-group teaching and far more Reliance on technology. Students will feel increasingly entitled to the good results that they have paid for, the humanities will be marginalized even further and will largely be studied by the children of the well-off.
[19:39] The more selective universities will feel themselves to be under more and more pressure to provide better facilities, what has been dubbed the amenities arms race will only speed up and it will become harder to distinguish between universities and various kinds of luxury hotel or spa resort. Universities will become ever more dependent upon overseas do the fees and they're selling of themselves in these markets will more and more shape their internal policies. We shall see soaring student debt which will become more and more socially divisive. Making individual universities responsible for their student loans will incentivize the production of Higher Learning graduates who are the best Financial Risk, the growth of private and especially for-profit universities will further reflect an entrenched class privileges the fact that they provide full scholarships for a number of applicants from less wealthy background cannot disguise the fact that both the commercial logic and the social tone of these institutions is set by the children of the Wella companies charging high speed for almost worthless online courses will make larger and larger profits I could go on but I do not believe that this. Picture is inevitable. The moment it looked hideously possible.
[20:54] I don't know it sounds pretty close to what we have right now.
[20:58] That's what I was thinking when I was reading this cuz you know he wrote this in 2017.
[21:02] So like ages ago.
[21:04] Practically a century ago but like when he's describing the humanities will be marginalized even further it let's fast forward to this month May of 2019 and see what's going on in Brazil David.
[21:30] So here we are Daniel reporting live from Brazil right now and I'll let me see May has been quite a turbulent month for education in Brazil. And it has culminated in the largest demonstrations and protest against President bolsonaro since he came to office in January and right now they're taking place in over 200 cities. So first the far-right president announced in early May that he would attempt to dismantle all philosophy and sociology departments from higher education. And it sparked International outrage of course as being a threat to democracy itself shortly after that announcement the president declared that he would be cutting the funds for higher education across the board. By 30% now cording to the education Minister quote. My priorities preschool Elementary School and Technical School a scientific technical number based efficient and managerial approach is vital to save this country from the economic stagnation of the last 20 years that we are living.
[22:28] Damn and David you did mention that this has sparked International outrage I want to read from an open letter that was written, by people from universities in at least three different countries now signed by 5,000 people that reads quote president bolsonaro implies in his remarks the Public Funding should flow exclusive to Professional School these are certainly important programs however a Democratic Society depends not only on its commercial productive.
[23:00] But also its social institutions his understanding of their foundations and governing principles as well as an understanding of how these policies and institutions affect its population. Research in social sciences and Humanities and especially philosophy and sociology is vital to such an understanding. In fact it is ironic that philosophy is singled out in this respect as philosophers and Brazil were among the pioneers, paraconsistent logic a research program that has had impact in such diverse areas as Robotics and expert systems for medical diagnosis. The contribution of academics to public debate is also of crucial importance to a well-functioning democracy. Dustin attack on philosophy and sociology as well as the humanities and social sciences more generally, is an attack on the very fabric of a Democratic Society and quote.
[23:56] And what they said about philosophy is such a great example David of what I meant earlier when I said that universities or just the ability for people to think freely and Explorer problems without having to worry about you immediate practical application, is where we derive many benefits and Society in philosophy here is a great example where they're saying you know people in the philosophy Department in Brazil. We're able to develop this new way of thinking this New Logic system that then other people in different disciplines of Robotics and medical diagnosis were able to apply to an immediate applicable Pursuit right.
[24:31] Yeah I mean that's the beauty of education for Education purpose for the discovery of new types of knowledge a philosophical approach to Thinking by itself is not going to have any sort of economic value we can't quantify that and say it's going to be according to our books generate University this much money. But that the difficulty of trying to estimate the effects of of these discoveries or new ways of doing things I'm on the equator economy on each of us as a whole because a new way of thinking by itself like okay yeah whatever how can I profit off of that at some bean counter might say but if it cross-pollinating to all these other parts of our society it might be a little bit of a catalyst that somebody needs to make some major breakthrough that.
[25:10] Maybe not even a silly generates a lot of money but makes our world a much better place and so the threat of losing that kind of development it is something that we should all be concerned about not just two people in Brazil because knowledge now we live in this great time with knowledge can cross these borders that we decided to build around the world where can jump start anywhere kick-off new types of discoveries new Industries new eras in in human thought and relationships with each other.
[25:38] And any sort of threat to that in any place on Earth regardless of whether it's your home or it somewhere else is is a attack on each and every one of us because it's making the world materially worse and that's what this is big the conversion of academic institutions from public good designed to serve the long-term future of humanity into places that are designed to be self-sufficient to run a market-based ideas to generate a profit. Instead of being supported by all of us has really sort of Rob this from us is another short-sighted Sacrifice from making to preserve the now and make the immediate future better it in a sacrifice to our long-term future for our children or grandchildren in the same way that we decided to destroy the world to profit at this moment and then douma's you know just a few decades down the line we're doing the absolute exact thing except in terms of how we interact with the world that could have gross knowledge that all of humanity accumulates that's what gets me so fired up about this episode Daniel I mean we can break all the stuff down to numbers and stuff and we we will and we do but would really this is an attack on all of us every University that decides to sacrifice something in order to in a push another business graduate out or the bushes down this professionalize pathway order generate another alumni who's going to make a lot more money for the University rather than somebody that is pursuing something that they love passionately is a robbery, from from you and from me and from all of humanity and that's a crime.
[27:04] Yeah and I don't want to I don't want to sound like you know what we're saying universities are there are this great opportunity to be this no Bastion of democracy for all of us.
[27:14] No course not.
[27:15] And there's a lot of criticism against universities in higher education in general as ways of reinforcing you know elitism in our society than this is something maybe we can speak to in this absolutely true but I would argue David that a lot of these negative Trends we're seeing is precisely because all this Market logic and competition that creates the need for universities to sell a product because they have to compete, right and then by selling a product that they're trying to offer something exclusive. That opens the door for more class privilege to set it off course we have you know universities themselves kind of, being layered along this class stratification where the for-profit predatory colleges are preying on the economic vulnerable racial minorities basically giving them this false hope of social mobility and being able to participate in the economy meanwhile those more privileged people are going to these more expensive and exclusive universities where they get to have this. You know this box ticked on their resume that can separate them from other people or an orgasm access to new network in fact us a one of the things he says in this dystopian imagining of future universities is there increasing Reliance on high, overseas student fees at this is something we talked about David that you kind of have some thoughts on right in terms of the universities in your own backyard.
[28:40] Yeah I mean like I mentioned earlier in this episode I have a lot of friends who are in grad school I have a lot of friends who are very much in debt to grad school I have one friend. In particular I don't know if you listen to be does hey man I'm so sorry. He went to a a great undergrad school he went to a great graduate school he's he's finishing up his degree in it in his grad program right now but between those two schools he's taking on. $350,000 in debt and that he's just accept that this point that he will never ever pay any of that off. I mean that's a very extreme case but there are lots of stories are like this so I will do guest lectures at universities here in New York for a film study stuff Pueblo Libre film schools here. I'm by the end of lecture there the grad students on color correction which is my professional day job when I'm not I'm making the show with seems to take a more and more of my time all the time so I'll teach him color correction and I'm looking actually to get into an adjunct position at one of these universities. Ayrsley for healthcare reasons that would be nice.
[29:52] David I've told you multiple times I'm not going to start calling you professor torcivia.
[29:57] Well I'm going to make it stick when that happens anyway but so it's interesting watching these going to these classes a lot of time so cuz, their grad programs are small there in the dark side of things so it's it's not exactly the same as some of these beasts in programs or whatever but by and large the. Attendees in these classes are from overseas the huge amount of them are from overseas and huge amount of them are from wealthy families or are willing to pay Visa.
[30:41] Diversity that's a huge amount of money be putting into these programs wear as a guest lecturer I think I make like, $100 for an entire class if I was an adjunct you know it's just a few thousand dollars the question isn't that point becomes like where is this money going if I'm going to class that has 10 people in it, you know I'm looking at in the University's eyes almost a million dollars that for that semester, they're taking five or six classes in the University professors are barely scraping by in many cases so like why does the money. Where is this all going in and I guess it's supporting the best real estate networks of these universities I guess it's building these brand new gyms in I mean my vision of a future dystopian the university Network Daniel is everyone is taking these online classes that have been pre-recorded and meanwhile the entire universe is nothing but brand new gyms and everyone is working out all the time like on the treadmill or there it looks like what's the name of that fancy bike that you're right on the one that.
[31:41] I don't know the name of it but I actually worked at the gym at the University of Georgia, you know like you walk into that facility it is amazing I mean they have two different weight rooms they have several floors they have olympic size pool everything is nice and clean and then you noticed it like I would walk into some of the buildings in the older you know science departments you know the chemistry building the biology department and it looks like the building is falling apart.
[32:06] Exactly so I mean you can very quickly see where they're putting their money and a lot of times it at that sits be addressed in this dystopian Vision it's it's about making your University look more competitive as serve the consumer experienced I'm in this case the student experience at end when you are touring universities not going to walk you into some research laboratory or something like the king science lecture hall they going to show you you know here's the student center and here's our gym and here's the cafeteria in like look at all the food you can eat chicken or newly renovated dorms and these things are in their eyes what pushes people over the coming to their University versus another one because at some point you know you getting into more or less the same level of universities in terms of reaction dentist. I'm your limited to you know at 8 at a salon of universities facing your SAT scores are act whatever your testing stuff is, your options are whatever and what differentiates them from each other is in the eyes of universities in the marketing department is amenities. That's what pushes people over the edge to come there I don't think it's necessarily. True but what do I know and I guess it would be spending all this money and all this money in the marketing and development of these centres unless it were. And that's partially I guess where some of this money is going.
[33:22] I think you're right about a minute he's being a huge part of this but I think more generally this idea who you're talking about about carpet.
[33:36] So we can look to an example and try to summarize you know this trend by now most people have heard at the very least the headlines surrounding the Scandal, in the United States of rich people who have been paying bribes to get their children admitted into prestigious universities. One-man the center of the Scandal he was paid 25 million dollars between 2011 and 2018 by parents to do everything from inflate the test scores of their children to bribing College admission officials right he got children admitted. That we know of from at least 750 different families and we have to ask ourselves a question why why does this happen. If the only benefit you could get from going to University was the chance to become a tenured professor which would allow you to live out the rest of your days riding philosophical texts or teaching undergraduates the fundamentals of organic chemistry or spending your days testing the rigidity of some conflict mathematical theorem if that was the penultimate goal of higher education second only to the possibility of a Nobel Prize. What famous actresses and business people be bribing officials to get their kids in there I don't think so. And of course those Pathways to exist and they probably always will but we have to admit that there are now large chunks of universities that exist which may not be the dominant chunk of them.
[35:03] Where their purpose is to offer something that universities have never offered before a very tangible purchasable products. And that could come in the form of networks and connections or a direct pipeline to prestigious jobs at a consultancy firm or a district court. And since higher education is now being treated as a commodity that can and must be purchased, and since these universities have to compete for Consumer money and you don't know how are languages being refrained hear that it's not a student it's a consumer now, or a customer of these universities must therefore offer some kind of economic result otherwise their revenue will dry up and they're going to die and one of the thing that comes along with competition, is data and quantification. After all how do you know if one thing is outperforming another right unless you can no point to a line graph that shows a comparison that's Based on data with that is quantifying it as collinear points out in his book The Very Act of quantifying something, can corrupt the initial goal.
[36:07] Daniel is actually a little love phrase here call Campbell's law that was written in 1976 that is often cited in this context and it goes something like this. The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more. It will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.
[36:31] Yeah exactly that idea kind of helps explain one of these unintended consequences of quantification and public schools even outside the universe do you which is in what some describe as the largest education scandal in United States history it was discovered in 2009 that.
[36:52] It was 180 teachers throughout 44 schools in the Atlanta Public School System they had been falsifying student test scores, and by 2015 the investigations had found out that this was going on in at least 40 States around the country including Washington DC and it really kind of blew up in the lid on this idea of quantifying students in this very standardized testing, is there real learning going on is education happening, or we really just looking at data that isn't actually describing what's going on in the classroom and coming back to the university this competition for student fees is requiring this type of quantification across-the-board because again how do you compare one University to another unless you have some way to measure what the satisfaction that customers have on experiencing your product but if what we expect from higher education is a society in which people are better equipped to ask deep questions to think creatively to explore the unknown conduct long-term deep problem solving initiative or whatever other quality we might think of we would have to admit that these benefits are not quantifiable they are certainly not purchasable and therefore we won't get them through a structure which the institutions that are supposed to cultivate them, must compete against one another.
[38:15] But unfortunately David as you pointed out when you flew down to Brazil the trend has become how can we cut Public Funding for universities to make them compete and therefore you know the ones that can attract the most student fees Will Survive. But that creates an environment in which what universities can offer is turned into a commodity where that's Prestige class privilege. Some kind of rare job or networks with certain people in all this comes at the direct expense of long-term benefits to society.
[38:47] Okay well that's a lot of stuff down so let me just take one moment and step back and in tone in a couple of details here in quantification which we own that was one of my favorite things to get stuck on throughout the Shelf, and I guess a lot of this qualification is driven by the fact that universities are struggling with funding and there's a variety of reasons why that's the case. I mean States for example just as a whole are always bankruptcy means there's less money for public education by the same at the federal level so these universities are being supportive less and less by the reliable sources of funding that they can count on at all times and therefore have to turn to Alternative systems either these patents that we've mentioned before I'm with are actually profiting from the work done at the University of self but more and more often from the students who are paying to attend the University's the customers so to speak, and if you are paying to attend the University then I think that's part of the motivation we're seeing here to have to quantify what you're getting out of the University, because if we want to be able to see this as a good investment is supposed to because a lot of these people who are telling these universities are taking a large loans in order to do so if I'm a bank if I'm a lending organization I don't want to know that I'm getting something out of my investment basically and and if if University can justify the fact that you know look at these numbers is in we might be stepping in in that right direction we can justify this large loans that were making.
[40:10] So all that aside look let's listen to look at some of this you know we talked about busy work a lot in the show especially in that pulls two jobs episode that we did but also through decide this Augustine of like what are we doing with our lives with all this busy work right now while we're in the middle of this mass extinction around us which is such a surreal thing that I can stuck on a lot but I mean professors themselves who are these people who are supposed to be our most educated specialized people on earth we're really digging down at these very specific topics on the very Forefront of the generation of new knowledge.
[40:43] Increasingly seen as administrators of people who are doing beer kind of busy work on both because universities require more busy work in the first place. Filling out the paperwork making sure they can justify all the stuff and ice cream truck driving by that's summertime baby. When filling out paperwork they're doing all these business data that we would normally say should be done as administrative tasks if it should be done at all. What you mean cases it shouldn't but only now have to be done and filed and then calculated and Quantified to somebody can justify the investment on the balance sheet at the end of the day when you're sending out to investors in the university and blah blah blah. Instead of the actual purpose which is to research things to push knowledge forward and then impart that knowledge on students. And so we're wasting the time of these people who should be in the most important people in terms of knowledge in. All of humanity instead we're taking them and making them into managers and taking their time and saying this is more important for you to do you have to quantify every.
[41:45] I want pool one more quote from cleans book and I promise this is the last excerpt but he speaks about the rise of managerialism in this quantification and it's really important point quote. Managerialism operates through various mechanism not just by means of direct command. Both externally and internally a pattern of providing long-term funding in ways that are most conducive to good intellectual work has been largely replaced by a system of artificially contrived, short-term competition for the necessary resources. Stable and adequate if limited funding is derided as extravagant featherbedding inimical to innovation. Systemic underfunding + competition and punitive Performance Management is seen as lean efficiency and proper accountability.
[42:36] A recent report showed that academics stop and many British universities are now set annual targets for the amount of money they must bring in from external Grant application no matter that much research especially in the humanities does not require lavish expenditure on equipment and postdoc no matter that the rate of success in some Grant competition is currently running at 12% and so the great majority of applications are wasted effort. No matter that constantly inventing and in managing large research project may be more likely to obstruct then Advanced a Scholars capacity to do interesting work. Despite these and many other telling objections, thematic search for quantifiable measures of intellectual quality turns in accordance with prevailing Akana Mystic prejudices to money as the most reliable metric and proxy. This results in careers and even in some cases continuing employment itself being determined by the mechanical application of such targets. In quote.
[43:42] Actually David I have a cousin who is in a research-oriented post-grad program right now and when he was trying to decide which school to go to, one of his considerations was the funding opportunity is it one of the school's was was his Top Choice in terms of the program. Unfortunately it was a 627 year program but funding was only secured by the school for the first 3 years and they told him basically after your 3 it's up to you to come up with your external funding you have to go find people who will be willing to give you the grants you need to do the research you want to do. Now luckily he found another school that could find him for the whole the whole term of the program but it just goes to show you even from the very beginning if he were to choose that school from day one he's thinking how can I do research such that I can get funding how can I do research that's going to appeal to the type of people who can write a check to let me stay, if that's an incredibly mean you think about the way that would frame you're thinking and alter the trajectory what you want to research it's clear that money is the number one driver right.
[44:48] I mean it's a really important consideration have to make if you're going into when he's grad programs and to be fair some grad programs are better than others. I have some friends and family members touring guy programs right now who are pursuing desired degrees is 10° things in hard sciences and oftentimes they are not only not paying for those degrees, but they are being paid to complete them cuz they're completing research for the University things like that, so it is possible that these things exist but if you are not in something the university sees as a money-making opportunity for them and you're going to pay a lot for that. And then the question becomes what am I getting for my money at that point. Especially when these graduate students with a lot of times are doing a lot of work for the University generating a lot of the income for the University teaching classes for the University itself. And so what happened, and in extreme cases and I have some friends were doing this right now or in their final years of their masters or doctoral programs and they're not taking any classes.
[45:49] They're paying you no $70,000 or whatever semester for the privilege of not taking any classes and for doing research for the University that they're also paying for out-of-pocket for creating a thesis or whatever it is they're paying for the privilege of going to the university not receiving anything from University except for maybe access to equipment and Facilities often times which aren't worth anything close to the bathroom out of money they're paying for that they can take this money and rent out an actual a facility or equipment for much cheaper than what they really paying for the substandard facilities at the University of typically providing and and their pain just ridiculous sums for that privilege.
[46:25] No one stops and looks of this is way to say this is not normal this is just accepted that this is what you have to do if you want to play this game cuz universities have all the power add a degree the connections they can give out or what matters in the end and so you have no choice but to play along and have them suck you dry in that process because there is that source of extremely easy to get money via the loan system which I guess we don't really touch on too much in this episode and we will do specifically I think it show just on student loans and the predatory practices of that as we follow up on this academic series because it really is a driver for a lot of the exploding cost that we see in the University system along with a couple of things convocation like to mention the lack of funding from federal and state sources particularly talking about the United States in this example of course they're different systems around the world on the UK's trying to be just as bad as we are I'm in other places these numbers are just ludicrous like I should be.
[47:20] But I mean the question always is like what are we getting out of this what is the money going towards often times there's a there's a question what we know I'm not sure if it's actually worth it. Which is why we probably see such a high burnout dropout rate for Olevia programs allies degrees of people never finish their masters in a minute cases. You think it's a money earning opportunity to complete your doctoral or whatever but in many cases now. People with Advanced degrees earn less than people who just got a Bachelor's and then immediately enter the job market so even the quantification of the degree itself often times doesn't make Financial sense anymore which is just how to store these markets have.
[47:57] No I want to leave the stuff on killing his book I skipped actually a large part of the David because at the end of the day we're not here to explore you know. What is the best environment for the scholar and what conditions are are best for Quality research I mean those things do matter but frankly you know I think there's a larger picture here you know we talked on the show about the systemic issues that threaten our world, the future sustainability of our will and our ability to combat those negative Trends in the fact is that life is getting more difficult for researchers. For the pure scholar but this is just a symptom that speaks to a larger destruction in and that is the molding of our world, along ideals of market-based logic and competition and we can learn something from the University. Contact in that that which this logic claims to do this Market Logic the claim that it's going to improve benefits to society. It actually does the opposite and we can point to things in our society that the give objective evidence to that claim.
[48:58] Some examples might include student debt right in the u.s. student debt now exceeds 1.5 trillion dollars or about 5% of the entire US economic output and unfathomable amounts of money. And it's not just impacting the poor 13% of US Congress members or their family has student debt totaling about 2.5 million dollars.
[49:23] But all this has also open the door for very predatory practices within higher education. You know for-profit education for example has taken an interesting turn over the past couple of decades in response to this competition and the potential to make money off the vulnerable situation many students find themselves in that is this this idea that we need an education to participate in the economy, and you know before someone says we'll look at Steve Jobs look at all these billionaires who dropped out of college okay that's great maybe for a rich privileged person who comes from a privileged family and the upper classes of our society but at the end of the day.
[50:00] There's a lot of people especially when we talked about racial minorities were discriminated in this world who absolutely need a college education if they want to participate in the economy that we designed around class and so many of these people who are economically vulnerable they don't have a lot of choices and so the predatory for-profit colleges have stepped in to offer than this illusion to get their money in a 2010 investigation by the US government accountability office examined 15 major for-profit colleges in the US and found it all of them participate in fraudulent practices for of those colleges out right encouraged it but they found that admission staff frequently lied to applicants about the cost of tuition they lied about their future career prospects some even encouraged applicants to lie about their own finances on their application, some applicants were Badger by sales calls from these predatory colleges in one case someone got 180 calls in a month some as late as the you know midnight and as the government points out in this investigation, the cost of tuition for many of these private schools is tremendously overpriced.
[51:15] They cite an example of a massage therapy certificate that cost $14,000 from a for-profit college when a similar course from a nearby public school. Across the only 520 right and it's pretty well documented that these for-profit schools particularly love to Target racial minorities.
[51:36] Those who may be the first in their family to attend college and don't really, have that familial or cultural knowledge of how the system works they love to Target low-income segments of the population it's a black Latino and other minority students now make up some 61% of all students attending for-profit schools which is a tremendous over-representation relative to National demographics I think if you look at the total nation in terms of demographics racial minorities make up 30 something percent of students which is you know half of how they are represented in these for-profit schools and to make a long story short those who attend for-profit schools on average are charged up to 40% more for the degree then the nonprofit alternatives, and they joined the ranks of alumni who are so often less prepared for participation in the labor market then if they had not gone to school at all, 20% of the alumni of Ashford University for example are unemployed 75% of students who attend Arizona Summit law school failed the bar exam. So what these schools are doing is targeting vulnerable financially precarious and unsuspecting people with the lure of high paying jobs, or just the ability to move up in their social and economic standing in this country.
[52:59] But in exchange what they get is crippling lifelong debt any worthless degree and the victims are disproportionately black Latino. And other minorities in unfortunately, although the US government took a modest step in the direction of restricting this Behavior the current Administration is actually seeking to weaken regulation that was put in place to offer protection and recourse for students who took out loans to attend a school that ended up being shut down for fraud. Which reminds me there's another risk David of for-profit education and it's worth pointing out so let me put you back in the hot seat for just a second okay. What is the purpose of competition.
[53:41] What type of competition if you got a you got a neighbor that down a little bit.
[53:45] Why me what other kind what kind of competition are they.
[53:47] Like are you talking friendly competition or like economic competition cuz I have different answers.
[53:54] So economically list of words were talking about the free market here.
[53:57] Okay my my free market 101 the competition the point of it is to ultimately make sure that all capital resources are collected in a single individual and the rest of us. Battle for them in the Thunderdome like a scenario so that we can have enough food and water to survive one more day in the Hell's Gate that we've created. Where am I supposed to say that part what I meant to say. Was that a competition is to Foster Innovation and make sure the market operates as efficiently as possible.
[54:30] I'm going to go a little bit in the middle of those two extremes David and say that for the most part competition the purpose of it is to allow the winners to win in the losers to lose okay.
[54:41] Okay I think that's what I said the first time.
[54:44] More or less yeah I'll take it I'll take it you get a plus.
[54:48] Daniel sport Prophet A+ University.
[54:51] What wind education right is apply to this logic, we have examples like Education Corporation of America which apparently was one of those losers because in December 2018 it shut down pretty much all of its schools and that left 20,000 students who had paid for courses or taking on debt. Empty-handed and ironically their schools were vocational focused but you are designed to prepare students for immediate employment, but this is a part of an overall trend over the past five years 450000 students have experienced their campuses closed mid enrollment one student her name is Lisa LaMore, she was three weeks away from graduating from the Art Institute of California after she spent six years working towards her degree. Well the campus closed in March of 2019 and that meant that she ended up with nothing after all that time.
[55:46] And again between sixty and seventy percent of the students who are displaced by these closures those are racial minorities. And of course the same thing is happening in charter schools right Primary School's right now in Washington DC the DC charter school board has closed a handful of schools over the past year and it's impacting thousands of children right who are left all of a sudden without immediate access to education or maybe their parents now have to move and take them to a new school district but this is. One of the Fallout of rearranging our education system wrong competition not only are poor people prayed on not only are we talking people with.
[56:26] But we also socialized the risk, that when an institution fails because it couldn't live up to its investor expectations did all those students who took a chance on this institution there left with nothing.
[56:41] Will left with nothing Daniel isn't so bad as everyone left with negative nothing with their student dead.
[56:48] But I suppose David that brings us to the question we always ask which is what can we do.
[56:54] Become a world of autodidact's Daniel with all the free time that we have because we are producing less, consumeristic bulshit and wait to spend less of her life working in order to produce that and and afford it, we have all of our needs met cuz we Living Social stainable it enables us to live a life where we can pursue the academic passions that we all want to on our own time without the pressures of the University or they crushing debt that is associated with it. And all knowledge will advance wonderfully and increasingly at a rapid and worldwide pace and our poetry will be even that of a i. And I think will be groovy.
[57:36] I actually don't disagree with you David you know when we had that show a busy work but we talked about this bullshit jobs one of the things that we discussed and what can we do is Universal basic access to income or some form of that again at that take many forms and in the west be careful with that but we absolutely have to retreat from this neoliberal conception of how free markets and you know competition is going to provide people the best opportunities because it clearly been shown to be the opposite competition is what allows a select few people to join the ranks of elite circles in the upper echelons of our economy will everyone else suffers we need to reintroduce the idea of social institutions as being a public good that there are certain things that we need access to and then we need to promote. Regardless of the outcome because we can't predict the outcome you know having a universal basic access to Higher Education Without shackling people with debt would do a lot to end so many of the problems that we talked about here it would end the student debt crisis you would prevent this consolidation of universities and suggest engines of economic growth and job training it would help break down those class barriers again I mentioned earlier that universities get a lot of criticism for being elitist and that's absolutely true but a large part of that comes from the fact.
[59:01] The competing for student fees means they can lock out those who otherwise can't pay for it or who otherwise don't measure up to whatever criteria they have allowing everyone to access higher education providing that free of charge. Would open the door for many people who are still stuck in economic precarity because the only options they have are these predatory for-profit colleges which just leave them in a worse situation than they were before. It will also improve research again. Collini makes a very good point which is that when researchers are forced to compete against one another for funding it changes what they're allowed to spend their time researching and sometimes there's a lot in the humanities that don't require a lot of money, but they do require the predictable and steady trickle of public funds they can allow them and give them the space and freedom to explore things without that pressure of having to deliver an immediate economic impact.
[59:59] Immediate practical level to Daniel I mean there are since we are in primary season United States underwear candidates who are discussing things like universal access to University. To not have to pay for college for college that you believe in forgiveness there's various plans of of different types. And that is a good step forward but it the problem with which is making sure that we can all pay for college us some pics of quantification issues that that we're see the increasing managerial aspect of it where professors spending most their time filling out paperwork things like that. So we need not only a shift in the way that we pay for these things a market around it like you mentioned but also just did a cultural perspective of what we want our role, of universities to be in our in our world MSA world really because that is important to look at it because even though in other parts of the world we may have universities that are affordable for the people. Attending them you know mine only be a few hundred euros depending on where we are in Europe if you're attending a university there.
[1:00:59] Still they are subject to the same limits of research of being forced by the university to pursue things that look. Likely they could be useful as possible on the short-term that can generate patterns and Prestige for the University and be a long-term lifelong research projects that really push for society's so much in the past. Are happening less and less because there's less resources available for that end in those are the things that they really hard test me what is going to work what's going to not work. Is a lot of failures that happened along the way. We need to accept that failure and and wasting of time is a huge component of academic research because there are lots of dead ends but we won't know they're dead and since we pursue them. And every now and then one of those dead end is a shortcut to something that we've never imagined before and it's going to take a large shift in the way that we see. Are universities how they function in This Global thing and it's going to have to be the complete elimination of quantification in that process and that's a lot to ask for. But I think that's the future we need to start heading towards again we just barely scratched the surface of a little bit in this very introductory I can make sure that they're really I guess focused primarily on the quantification aspect of our academic institutions and universities around the world.
[1:02:16] As we get to the end of this you know we have this phone number set up now and I would love to hear your thoughts I know a lot of people who listen to this show are in academic industry the professor's the grad students there are people who live this day in day out and I would love to hear from all of y'all exactly what you I think needs to be done to make this the system work because it's not right now and and if we have to do something and change begins with an idea.
[1:02:44] A lot to think about.
[1:02:46] As always Daniel but think about it we hope you will you can find more information about all the topics we talked about today as well as the full transcript of this episode on our website at ashes ashes. Org.
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