NEW SOCIALIST MAN

Any moderately informed history of the decline of the Soviet and Chinese systems of communism in the 20th Century, especially from the right, justifiably emphasizes the folly of replacing cultural institutions with the state-sanctioned, ideologically Correct theory of political economy. A total re-imagining of the world – its history, its culture, its religions, its conflicts, and its societies – was to take place in the framework of a radically ideological system of education with the goal of producing the New Socialist Man. He would understand politics, art, economics, and every other subject from the Correct (i.e. Socialist) perspective. As is the case with every revolution, the Soviets and Mao's China understood that a new culture can only be instituted by destroying the old, and destroying the old can only be accomplished through dictating a new historical reality through re-education. This endeavor on the part of the two most prominent communist countries has been the springboard for 1001 tales of horror from American conservatives, and Right Thinking liberals, for more than 75 years.

So it is with an extra dose of irony that we see the American educational system being remade at the top – at the university level – in the same radically ideological framework. Universities are to be run as businesses, their component parts judged solely by the god of Value Added; if one cannot do work of value to the private sector (measured in grant dollars), then one's continued existence becomes unjustifiable. Now our universities are being placed under the control, along with the rest of our society, of those with Right Thought; that is, rich people. Rich people know what is best in every field and endeavor because they are ideologically Correct. They recognize in ways that the rest of us cannot that value extraction is the sole purpose of any social institution. Accordingly, our university system is being remade slowly to produce not New Socialist Man but the Randian Capitalist, the Uber-Entrepreneur. As the New Socialist Men failed miserably at reviving the moribund Soviet bloc economy, it will take years for Americans to figure out how little these throngs of virtually illiterate MBAs, with their New and Improved version of history firmly entrenched beneath their worldview, have to contribute except to extract wealth from the nation in exchange for a few scraps of the take.

Over the past two weeks a scandal of sorts at the University of Virginia has become fodder for public consumption. As is the case with most state university systems, UVA is overseen by a politically-appointed (usually by the governor) council called the Board of Visitors, which has ousted University President Teresa Sullivan. What used to be largely ceremonial positions on such boards and councils are now being used by New Capitalist Man to re-engineer higher education to reflect Right Thought. Sullivan's ouster was prompted by her "unwillingness to consider dramatic program cuts in the face of dwindling resources and for her perceived reluctance to approach the school with the bottom-line mentality of a corporate chief executive." Specifically, she "lacked the mettle to trim or shut down programs that couldn’t sustain themselves financially, such as obscure academic departments in classics and German."

To recap: She refused to acknowledge that a university is a Business and should be run as such, and she refused to eliminate the Classics department from the school founded by Thomas Jefferson. Other reported philosophical differences included resistance to expanding pedagogically useless but phenomenally profitable "online degree" programs that amount to little more than for-profit scams servicing corporate clients and adult learners who need a rubber stamp in order to advance professionally. For years the Right has decried touchy-feely Multicultural studies displacing the real canon of Western thought – Plato, Aristotle, Shakespeare, Adam Smith, and the like. Now it appears that the Business School and the Continuing Studies Online program are reflections of the true foundation of all Western thought – the Classics be damned.

Extrapolated twenty or thirty years into the future, these trends lead to universities consisting of little more than business, medical, science, and agricultural programs (to produce the next generation of Monsantans to sanction and patent life) offered in convenience formats offering guaranteed protection against having one's preconceived notions challenged. Here's an online course, and here are the readings. Skim them and conclude that whatever you already believe to be true is, in fact, reality. That things like the humanities and social sciences are being placed under the knife is not surprising, as the operation of public (and private) university systems increasingly falls under the sway of political appointees with no background in education and in fact no background in anything relevant at all; no qualifications, in short, except wealth and political connections (read: contributions). Does a millionaire land developer or trucking company executive know how to run a university? Of course they do – they're millionaires. They know everything.

From for-profit online education to Buy Your Own Endowed Faculty programs at public universities, the message is clear: education, like everything else, must be "run like a business." It must be so because the Business, as understood by Right Thinking entrepreneurs, is the final form of human organization much as capitalism is the final secular ideology and neoliberal democracy is the final form of government – the "End of History", so to speak. Who controls the present controls the past, and reshaping our past to produce the desired future is the goal of the current efforts to "reform" education. Inasmuch as re-imagining education through the lens of lemonade stand economics and a Bircher's view of American history and culture counts as reform, it appears to be proceeding apace.

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40 Responses to “NEW SOCIALIST MAN”

  1. wetcasements Says:

    As noted at Lawyers, Guns, and Money, even if Mrs. Sullivan is reinstated this type of tidal shift into oceans of MBA-speak bullshit is going on everywhere.

    Chinese and Indian and Brazilian universities will happily pick up our slack.

  2. CollegeFreshmen Says:

    It's amazing to me how people, in trying to run away from "socialism" move more and more towards straight up Fascism. It has how however stopped amazing me how people so far to the right that they are already practically fascists can justify calling anything to the left of them, socialists.

  3. Xynzee Says:

    I started realising that something was fundamentally wrong with the cosmos, when ppl just a couple years behind me had *no* idea about the labour movement and *why* it was important to them today. And started espousing the "corporation's only concern is to its stockholders and to maximise its profits at *all* costs" mantra. Uh, but if a corporation is a "member of society", then doesn't that require it to act as an upstanding member of society? Apparently not.

  4. Middle Seaman Says:

    Universities are run as businesses for at least a decade. "Redundant" and "useless" departments have been there too. Different in this case is the endless hubris of people, mainly financiers, who made mountains of money from governmental subsidies to banks, some hedge funds, military contractors, etc.

    Risk, invention and ingenuity the old way to make money is now a forgotten art. The New Reality Men and Women are all pretenders, which makes them even more obnoxious.

    The church survived the Soviet Union, literature lived on under censorship and good scientist survived the "there is no global warming" type functionaries. Universities will survive too.

  5. Middle Seaman Says:

    Online courses can be excellent courses as long as you don't teach online nude painting or online chemistry lab. Online is a new technology that can help or hurt. It's up to us to gain from it. Not everyone will.

  6. c u n d gulag Says:

    So, we'll have a series of DeVry Universities, and DeVry Institutes, in all of the states.

    The children of wealth, power, and privilege, will go to the Universities, to learn economics, and business.
    And the children of riff-raff will go to the Institutes, to learn how to be their willing technical serf's.

    And everyone else will be trained to ask if they want to "Super-size" their order.

    Back in The Cold War, people in this country worried about a "Brain Drain."
    Apparently, the new solution isn't to let people train their own brains, or let colleges do it for them, but to wash them.

    This will not end well.

    But look on the plus-side – with global warming, no one may be alive in a few decades, to see how this particular folly ends up!

  7. Major Kong Says:

    I thought the primary purpose of a state university was to support a football program? What did I miss?

  8. anotherbozo Says:

    Cheer up — even online "universities" will soon learn the advantages of keeping a few attractive-sounding liberal arts baubles. It's just good business! When they find out their customers might be seduced away from the competition by course electives such as "The Vampire in Literature" or "How to Write Clever Tweets." Maybe an art course using Photoshop called "Porn Collage." Hell, you could work in a classics course if you include some Spartan bloodbaths on DVD. Even wannabe MBAs need a little sanctioned novelty, have their pop culture identities officially stroked.

    I had several confrontations in the 80's as a studio art director with our economics-trained university vice president; I got that he believed we provided decorative value, lures for the degree shopper but weren't to be taken too seriously, financed too well or allowed to become too big. Samo samo, except that the noose gets tighter, the doctrine more doctrinaire, and with the internet, a more efficient money mill if they can make the sale.

    The tragedy is the one-way mirror: I could understand the value of economics but the Veep couldn't understand the value of art history… or almost anything else… and the discussion, while possible, and made often by my betters (from Montaigne to Jacques Barzun) doesn't fit into a 5-minute meeting.

  9. Michael Says:

    It's not specifically that universities must be run like businesses – that's a misleading description of what is going on.

    Rather, it is that the money a state government spends on education must be like the money it spends on other things – filtered through a parasite class that siphons off much of it before it reaches the intended purpose. State governments are festooned with eels and suckers of various sorts, making sure that when a contract for paperclips is put out for tender, it gets filled at well above the market price and by a politically-connected vendor, who then kicks back to the Governor's reelection campaign. But education hasn't been playing ball. K-12 schools and colleges haven't been playing along with that – they've been providing services at something close to the market price and the profits, such as they are, have gone into union coffers rather than good God-Fearing Republican Men bank accounts.

    So it's time to break the unions and make sure that the money spent on ejumakatin' goes primarily to benefit Republican campaign contributors, as it should be. The ideology has nothing to do with business per se; that's just the currently favored way of extracting taxpayer-dollars from the system

  10. Edward Says:

    Another issue with these business-dominated boards is whether they are directing universities in ways that benefit them personally or benefit their industries.

    My own feeling about online classes is why can't our society afford conventional teaching? We have an oligarchy in this country that has sucked up all the wealth and all non-business activity is devalued and unaffordable. Why should a rich country like the U.S. not be able to afford a first class educational system, or universal health care, or an unpolluted, healthy environment?

  11. Tim H. Says:

    So, a "Bizarro World" replay of Bolshevism?

  12. ladiesbane Says:

    300 years ago, when I was an undergrad, many of my fellow students felt ripped off because they were required to take (and pay for) multicultural classes, a foreign language, and transdisciplinary studies taught by a panel (profs from econ, hist, lit, and poli sci.) They thought the school required breadth of knowledge (and P.E.) strictly to line their pockets, and without the fluff, the important parts of their degrees could be learned in two years — and at half the cost — allowing them to get out and start earning (or enter law school, MBA, politics, what have you) that much sooner.

    But they didn't feel this way a year or two into the process, once their minds had been blown. They started by feeling that anything outside of math or science could be learned with a library card in one's spare time, but the instructors and big ideas were what changed their minds.

    My school has very devoted alumni, who support the liberal arts generously. It's always been a profit factory. But at least it turned out the equivalent of quality-controlled artisanal cheese rather than processed American.

  13. Arslan Says:

    Capitalism. Get used to it. Turns out Soviet man was right.

  14. Major Kong Says:

    There's supposedly a saying going around Russia these days –

    "Everything the Communists told us about Communism turned out to a lie. Unfortunately everything the Communists told us about Capitalism turned out to be true."

  15. BK Says:

    "Here's an online course, and here are the readings. Skim them and conclude that whatever you already believe to be true is, in fact, reality."

    So what you're saying is that higher education will be liking watching Fox News on the computer… Fantastic.

  16. grumpygradstudent Says:

    Giant class sizes taught by underpaid adjuncts/grad students/visiting assistant whatevers/clinical professors. A culture that rewards publication and grantsmanship at the expense of…well, pretty much everything. A culture obsessed with sports teams and new buildings and technology at the expense of…well, pretty much everything. A culture that explicitly denigrates teaching equivalent in glory and importance to taking out the trash.

    I am in the midst of it. My institution is a text book case. I can't wait to get out and get to an institution that cares about teaching.

  17. grumpygradstudent Says:

    *as the equivalent

  18. ProfessorNOTProfiteer Says:

    Excellent points, and from where I sit, it's indeed the trend that is being touted by top level administrators. Enlightened mid-to-lower level administrators, those closer to faculty, seem to be unnerved, because they know how the parts move and work.

    The question before us should become how to short-circuit their coup. Does there not seem to be a need for a very public movement akin to Occupy to address this? The odds seem insurmountable, but that shouldn't daunt our exposing the corruption and destruction of the corporate takeover.

    First and foremost, the "elites" in our country are now those with overwhelming economic power and a gauzy media outlet. As highly paid as the top academics are, very few of them are in that league. So, a public movement against the business class should be to expose these elites as the ignorant scum they are and start peppering them with questions about their institutions and the subjects their "workers" teach. Let's see how much smarter they are in an intellectual sphere than university faculty and their students. And post their answers on YouTube, etc.

    The answers to life don't fit on Ted, and I'll be damned if my teaching salary will come from teaching someone else's canned lectures. So another goal should be to avoid the coming divisions that these elites are planning. If they get their way, only Ivy and R1s (and crappy Ted talks, etc.) will be paid to create content. These expensive flagships will tighten their control over peer review, and increase their economic position by the outsourcing of public institutions and colleges that rely more on teaching and have heavier teaching loads for faculty. These institutions, however, are supposed to be less expensive and more inclusive bastions for students who aren't able to afford or cannot quite make the cut into the top schools. These schools employ THE MAJORITY of faculty in this country. It's a divide-and-conquer strategy, and so far very few academics are standing up against it.

    SO… three goals and conversations need to ensue:

    1) how to expose this coup for what it is, and EDUCATE the public about what universities do.
    2) how to stop the devaluing of public and non R-1 universities by exposing the collusion of boards like UVA and universities like MIT, whose policies are driving a wedge into the heart of the American college and university community faculty.
    3) how to get states to pay THEIR FAIR SHARE instead of funding these destructive policies.

  19. Leading Edge Boomer Says:

    Purdue has just appointed sitting Gov. Mitch Daniels as its next president. This was done by a board consisting entirely of people who Mr. Daniels had appointed. With no academic experience, he has been hostile to education at all levels in IN. His expertise is fiscal, so expect some clumsy budget cuts.

  20. Southern Beale Says:

    What's that old saying? "Choose your enemies carefully, for you shall become like them before you know it." Something like that …

  21. Both Sides Do It Says:

    This is good. This is the old stuff. Ed's still got his fastball.

  22. Hobbes Says:

    I actually had a professor of biochemistry this last semester who prefaced her plea for people to fill out course evaluations online with (verbatim) "College is a business, this course is a product you're paying for, and we need to know if it was satisfactory." I was stunned.

  23. JazzBumpa Says:

    One of your better posts, Ed, and that's saying something.

    But the Epic Win goes to Keiran Healy.

    http://crookedtimber.org/2012/06/20/the-declaration-of-independence/

    Re: it will take years for Americans to figure out how little these throngs of virtually illiterate MBAs, with their New and Improved version of history firmly entrenched beneath their worldview, have to contribute

    Maybe because I have one of the god damned things, I've been able to see through this for a long time. In fact, when I see some idiotic idea like "New Coke" I call it the ass hole with an MBA syndrome. It was an ass hole nephew with an MBA who destroyed Tony Packo's.

    Maybe society will catch on in fewer than 7 decades.

    Still – WASF
    JzB

  24. Noskilz Says:

    Think these cargo cultists will ever notice they've become precisely the sorts of creatures they imagine they've been fighting? Probably not, but I suppose we may as well make the most of the unintended humor of their obliviousness as they find ever more ingenious ways to destroy everything within their reach – it'll probably be the only perk we have to look forward to.

  25. Lekkers Says:

    I'd just like to make a little defense of (some) online education. I'm an adjunct at a large public university in the northeast, and I teach both online and traditional classes, sometimes the same class in both formats simultaneously. It's more difficult to impart the same information in the same depth in an online environment, but it's not impossible, and I work hard to minimize information loss through closely monitored discussion boards (participation required!).

    But as far as cost to the university goes, I don't see how online classes save them shit tons of money: I get paid the same amount per term to teach an online course as I do to teach a traditional course; their only savings is, presumably, in facilities maintenance, and the ability to hold more classes simultaneously, since they don't need rooms to hold them all in. I'm sure there's some not-too-small savings to be had there, but since all the online classes I've taught have been capped at 20 students, I don't think it's the most efficient possible way for the university to save/make money. And the administrators I've worked with in developing online courses have never revealed a Machiavellian plan to bilk students with inferior online education — it's not the intention to provide shitty learning at the same cost. Or at least not where I work. Plus, some of the students in my online courses really need the flexibility: more and more of them have to work full time because of the absurd cost of a college degree.

    Anyway. I just wanted to stick up for online classes a little.

  26. bb in GA Says:

    So, has anything changed for y'all on the MMGW front now that Professor Lovelock has kind of called a time out? ("I was alarmist, extrapolated too far…"etc.) Nah…not yet, I'm sure.

    Several posters above sort of make that kind of education (MMGW) part of the Liberal Arts deal we all should be exposed to…

    One of my heart felt prayers is to live long enough to see this subject exposed for what it really has been….an industry. (see Green Gore – in so many ways) Talk about colleges and Universities…

    //bb

  27. ladiesbane Says:

    And there's this, for what it's worth: http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2012/06/helen_dragas_and_the_uva_board_took_a_bad_gamble_in_trying_to_fire_teresa_sullivan_in_secret_.html?wpisrc=newsletter_slatest

    — unrelated p.s.: I strongly recommend Dr. Gawande's New Yorker pieces on the cost of healthcare (not insurance, but the care itself.)

  28. Arslan Says:

    Here's an example of why our "natural betters" aren't as intelligent as we thought they were.

    Many of you have heard, with a great deal of shock, that the summer blockbuster Battleship was a colossal failure. So much so, that Universal was said to be considering a change in management. Mull that over for a few minutes. Nobody was suggesting a change in management after the brainstorming session where some genius with a degree suggested sinking $209 million into a summer blockbuster based on a table-top game. No, only AFTER it bombed, and who could have seen that coming?

  29. OlderButWiser Says:

    I used to teach at a for-profit vocational school. They told me that they needed the money from students, so I was ordered never to flunk any student. Never discipline a student. Never expel a student from class. You can guess how that went. The class was a nightmare of disruptive and disrespectful behaviour.

    Now I teach at a state supported community college and the difference is like night and day. The students are serious and respectful. The school is serious. The guidelines are fair to all. I love it.

    When someone says "run like a business", I think of Mitt Romney walking into a school and telling teachers to their faces class size doesn't matter, when they know it most certainly does.

  30. SirSteveUK Says:

    This all sounds VERY familiar – but then, I'm currently reading "1984" – so it would wouldn't it ?

  31. Barry Says:

    Leading Edge Boomer: "IN. His expertise is fiscal [fraud], so expect some clumsy budget cuts."

    Fixed.

  32. mel in oregon Says:

    education today is like every other industry, run by people at the top eschelons who are incompetent. in the past teachers were respected as people of value, sometimes even a little too much at least at the university level. now teachers are looked upon by our oligarchy as field hands, sort of like cotton pickers of 4 or 5 generations ago. what a crying shame. romney is typical, in that he doesn't have a clue in hell as to what needs to be done or even what is going on. he thinks class size doesn't matter. haha! he tells students to essentially go to hell the same as he tells people struggling with their mortgages. obama isn't as bad, but simply not quite as bad an opportunist as romney. if he would have went to wisconsin, it certainly would have helped teachers & other civic employees. he also blew a lot of credability when he fired some teachers a year or so ago. our educational system as a whole isn't very good. if it was we wouldn't rank so low in physics, chemistry, biology & mathematics compared to other countries with much less money to spend. the whole business of america should be to provide all americans with the opportunity to advance in all areas of life, education, healthcare, recreation, infrastructure & protection of our environment. the love of knowledge used to be fostered by our teachers & educators. now it is being squashed because business people that run education are exactly like wallstreet's top executives, short-term profits are all that matters, even if long-term it leads to the destruction of america.

  33. Fezzik Says:

    I don't disagree entirely with Lekkers, except to say that I highly doubt s/he gets paid as much per course as s/he would as tenured faculty. I've taught a couple online courses as well, and as contract work it's pretty shit pay, considering the time put in compared to the fact that there are no benefits or retirement contributions attached (unless I volunteer them on my W-9).

    So, one of the other components here is the extremely large pool of desperate labor: people with Ph.D.'s (milled from programs who want the prestige of a graduate program, but have no interest in the fate of those graduates) who are unable to find tenure-track jobs in an absurdly tight market, and are not yet willing to "settle" for an entry level job now that they're in their mid- to late thirties. Running universities like a business includes exploiting the labor of graduate students while also ensuring that the university can continue to exploit that labor after graduation. Eventually, the only decently paid faculty will be grant-churning rock stars doing largely "applied" research (i.e. finding new things to patent).

  34. Karl Says:

    Cry, cry, cry. I love the sweet taste of tears from the parasitic class composed of Womanyst professors and holders of worthless degrees in philosophy and dance theory. It's hilarious the way you look down upon and mock science guys who can, you know, actually DO things.

  35. Kaleberg Says:

    America is choking on the same thing that killed the Soviet Union, ideology. We used to be noted for our pragmatism. Now, we're crazed ideologues.

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  37. Ursula Says:

    Karl's comment reminds me of of the time in Chicago when a crazy man came up to me and insulted me for having straight hair. That so many have such poor reading comprehension and distain for studying our own culture is depressing, but for some reason, I feel like the tide is turning. Obnoxious comments like that seem to be seen by more and more for what they are – at least to me.