A college degree is supposed to open doors to the future, but overwhelming debt can make grads feel trapped instead
A college degree is supposed to open doors to the future, but overwhelming debt can make grads feel trapped instead
Eleni Schirmer, Jason Thomas Wozniak, Dana Morrison, Rich Levy, Joanna Gonsalves
The post American Universities Are Buried Under a Mountain of Debt appeared first on The Nation.
When Pete Hatemi, a political science professor at Pennsylvania State University, got an email from a student he didn’t know asking him to become a faculty adviser for a conservative group on campus, he did some research on the organization, Young Americans for Freedom, and quickly decided that he wanted nothing to do with them. Among current and former leaders of YAF chapters across the country, he learned, were declared white supremacists, believers in the QAnon conspiracy theory, and supporters of the Ku Klux Klan and the Proud Boys. Some were involved with neo-Nazi activist Richard Spencer. And at least one had participated in the assault on the U.S. Capitol, staged by hundreds of supporters of former President Donald Trump less than a week before the student’s email.
As a matter of policy, Hatemi never gets involved in student groups no matter their affiliation, he said, but he thought it his responsibility to make sure that the student was aware of the group’s ties to far-right extremists. So he declined the request and offered some advice. “Your timing, frankly, could be seen as offensive to many,” he wrote, referring to the January 6 assault. “It might be time to reflect on what you stand for and what your organization stands for.”
Hatemi said he put quite some thought into his two-paragraph response. “The right thing to do was to say, ‘Hey, you need to take a look at what you’re doing and this group you belong to,’” he told me in an interview. “If I say nothing, what kind of educator am I?”
Within days, Hatemi’s email to the student was published on Campus Reform, a conservative website that bills itself as the “#1 Source for College News” and whose stated mission is to expose “liberal bias and abuse on the nation’s college campuses.” The article accused Hatemi of having “lashed out” at the student and “responded harshly” to his request. Quotes from Hatemi’s email also appeared in right-wing publications like The Federalist, The Blaze, and the Post Millennial, and they spread on social media, where they were manipulated and stripped of context. A deluge of hate mail followed, directed at Hatemi as well as at his university’s administration. Some of it threatened violence, prompting campus police to intervene, though Hatemi declined to comment on the details. The university did not respond to a request for comment.
Kara Zupkus, a spokesperson for YAF, wrote in an email to The Intercept that the group “has regularly condemned white nationalism, mob violence, and extremism.” She also referred to a statement the organization issued shortly after the incident involving Hatemi.
“It is Penn State YAF’s constitutional right to exist on campus – whether this professor likes it or not,” the group wrote then. “To attack all conservative students and YAF by accusing them of supporting riots and violence with no evidence is disgraceful and unbecoming of a professor at an institution of higher education.”
Campus Reform is published by the Leadership Institute, a nonprofit that has trained conservative activists for four decades through the generous funding of billionaire donors like the Koch family. The institute reported more than $16 million in revenue in 2018 alone. Over the last several years, Campus Reform has targeted hundreds of college professors like Hatemi, leading to online harassment campaigns, doxxing, threats of violence, and calls on universities to fire their faculty. Professors featured in Campus Reform stories have felt isolated and confused as they came under attack, often over public statements they made but sometimes over things they said in class or even academic research they published. Campus Reform stories have regularly been picked up by a host of established conservative outlets, from Breitbart to Fox News, amplifying outrage and unleashing abuse in a manner that observers of the site note mirrors how far-right extremists attack their targets online.
“The effects of Campus Reform stories can be similar to the online harassment often deployed by white supremacists,” said Isaac Kamola, an assistant professor at Trinity College who studies the politics of higher education and closely monitors the site.
A majority were singled out over their comments on race, and Black professors were disproportionately targeted.
Kamola has tracked more than 1,570 stories posted on Campus Reform since 2020 and surveyed the 338 individuals they targeted, many of whose official profiles and contact details were linked to in stories about them. The survey, the results of which will be published by the American Association of University Professors’ Academe magazine, found that at least 40 percent of respondents received “threats of harm” following a Campus Reform article, mostly via email and social media but also often by phone, text message, or postal mail. One professor reported receiving thousands of emails, many of them laced with violent, racist, and sexist comments, Kamola said. In the most extreme cases, he added, online trolls published the professors’ personal information online, forcing them to change their phone numbers, leave their homes, and retain security. Less than half the people surveyed by Kamola reported receiving support from their universities’ administrations, and more than 12 percent reported facing disciplinary action as a result of a Campus Reform story. Three people said they lost their jobs.
The professors were targeted over a variety of liberal positions, the survey reveals, but a majority were singled out over their comments on race, and Black professors were disproportionately targeted. Those who discussed topics like antifa, Black Lives Matter, and Palestine were especially subjected to threats, the survey found. And the intimidation seemed to work, with nearly a quarter of surveyed professors saying that they dialed back their social media presence as a result of being targeted, even though others said that the experience bolstered their commitment to speak out about social justice issues.
“I basically know that Campus Reform has written something about me because I’ll just suddenly start getting vicious hate mail in my inbox,” said Asha Rangappa, a senior lecturer at Yale University who was twice the subject of Campus Reform stories and has described the site as an example of “domestic information warfare.”
“Within 24 hours, it will have been cited or replicated in an entire ecosystem of right-wing media,” she added, noting that professors who lacked the social media status to push back were particularly vulnerable. “It’s just never clear why it’s newsworthy; it’s portrayed as something crazy and outrageous, and it is never contextualized. But it very predictably turns into a barrage of targeted harassment.”
Campus Reform’s managing editor and the site’s chief spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment. Morton Blackwell, a conservative activist and the founder and director of the Leadership Institute, wrote in an email to The Intercept that the institute “was founded to train and develop principled conservative leaders for our country: men and women who share our country’s founding principles of liberty, individual rights, and equal justice for all under the rule of law.”
Photo Illustration: Soohee Cho/The Intercept, Photo: Getty Images
Campus Reform is emblematic of the raging battle in American public discourse over so-called cancel culture, which the site’s writers have regularly lamented even as they set out to cancel the reputations and jobs of the people they attack. Campus Reform is also the product of a decades-old conservative and libertarian effort to shape the values of U.S. higher education through a series of organizations that give the appearance of a diverse and organic conservative campus movement but are in fact part of the same coordinated network.
First published in 2009 as a resource hub for conservative students at U.S. colleges, Campus Reform was created to give them what it called “weapons in their fight for the hearts and minds of the next generation of citizens, politicians, and members of the media,” according to research by Sam McCarthy, a student at Trinity College who works with Kamola and has been studying the site as part of her sociology thesis. About eight years ago, Campus Reform began to rebrand as a “news” site, McCarthy said, aiming to expose bias, waste, and abuse on college campuses and obscuring its political agenda behind a pledge of objectivity and “rigorous journalism standards.” Around that time, the site began to recruit and groom a cadre of student correspondents tasked with discovering instances of liberal misconduct; the site paid $50 per story, or $100 if they included video or photos, McCarthy found.
Soon Campus Reform established a tiered system of rewards for its contributing writers: After publishing four articles, a correspondent would rise from bronze to silver and make $75 a piece. After 15 articles, they would rise to gold and receive $100 per story. Other perks include a verified email account, a blue check on Twitter, business cards, and a press pass, as well as résumé writing help, recommendation letters, mentorship opportunities, and a pipeline to a career in conservative media. Campus Reform offers a way for student writers to build up a portfolio, a chance for their stories to go viral, and access to a steady stream of media gigs, with the most high-profile being appearances on “Fox and Friends” or “Tucker Carlson Tonight.” Even nonwriters can benefit, making $50 for tipping the site off to supposed liberal abuse.
McCarthy calculated that the site’s most prolific writer has published 253 articles since last May, which could have earned them more than $26,000. And while student correspondents she interviewed shared the site’s politics and mission, they told her that the financial incentives were a main draw.
“There’s a lot of money in it,” she told me in an interview. “But there’s some real harm that comes out of this apparatus.”
After Campus Reform published a story about Alyssa Johnson, an assistant professor at Louisiana State University, over a tweet she had posted in response to an incoming student’s racist slur, she faced such an onslaught of abuse and threats that she was forced to leave her home.
“Nobody directly said, ‘I’m going to come kill you,’ but it was so close to that.”
The story was picked up by scores of right-wing outlets, including Fox News, and went viral on social media and on a website for LSU sports fans, where insults and attacks against Johnson filled chat rooms for dozens of pages. “I read them all because I just wanted to make sure that nobody had found my address,” said Johnson, who is Asian American. She noted that a majority of the online comments as well as hundreds of emails she received were filled with sexist insults and “racial slurs about Asian people that I had never even known existed,” she said.
Johnson erased her social media profiles, unplugged her office phone, and filed a police report, but the intimidation got so bad that she ended up temporarily relocating with her husband and two small children to wait out the storm. “Nobody directly said, ‘I’m going to come kill you,’ but it was so close to that,” said Johnson, who declined to press charges even though police told her that some of the messages she received amounted to crimes. “I didn’t want to be worried about somebody showing up at my door, threatening my family.”
It took more than two months for the attention to die down. As Johnson learned more about Campus Reform, she connected with other people who had gone through similar experiences, and they built a network offering support to the site’s latest targets. Johnson has since taken a step back from Twitter. “I post much less; I don’t ever post opinions anymore or really any thoughts,” she told me, noting that she was consumed by guilt for putting her family in harm’s way. “I hate to give in because it’s exactly what they wanted: They wanted to silence me. But it was a feeling that I never want to feel again.”
Institutional responses to Campus Reform have varied significantly. A senior communication executive at a top-ranked private university, speaking on the condition of anonymity to avoid drawing Campus Reform’s attention, said that his university has a policy against responding to any requests by Campus Reform or the College Fix, another right-wing outlet with “an agenda to undermine respect and credibility for higher education.” When student journalists reach out to faculty members seeking comment on something they wrote or said, professors often want to answer in good faith, the executive added, providing thoughtful and lengthy responses that are invariably distorted to give the story an extra boost.
“We just hit delete,” he said. “Nothing good comes from engaging with them.”
Often both university administrators and instructors have little understanding of the amount of money and coordination by outside interests that goes into these attacks, said Kamola, who regularly reaches out to people targeted by Campus Reform with information about the site and its funders. Hatemi, the Pennsylvania State University professor, was surprised to learn from Kamola that Campus Reform was “actually a whole program” designed to put faculty through the barrage of harassment he had just experienced. “Most universities have no clue,” he said.
After he became the target of what felt like an organized intimidation effort, Hatemi dug into YAF as well as Campus Reform and the Leadership Institute and published a long essay detailing their ties to far-right extremists. In the essay, Hatemi listed more than half a dozen YAF affiliates with white supremacist views or connections and referenced YAF-sponsored campus activities like a “Catch an Illegal Immigrant” contest and a “Koran Desecration” competition. While not all YAF members might have shared such views or participated in such activities, the fact that he could find so many examples “within minutes of researching YAF,” Hatemi wrote, spoke to the group’s deep connections to far-right extremism.
Hatemi said he hoped that his essay might help others in similar situations, but he also wanted to ensure that his own employer understood the Campus Reform story as “an outside, concerted effort to manipulate the system.” While no university official formally contacted him about it, he says he initially feared that he might face discipline, hearing “chatter” about it from colleagues, which disappeared as soon as he published his research.
Several professors argued that as learning institutions have increasingly come to view students as paying customers, they have become more preoccupied with reputational damage and public relations than with the tenets of intellectual freedom and education that are essential to academic life. “University administrators often don’t take the side of their faculty member because they don’t necessarily understand how the story originated, what the funding sources are, what the political intentions are of the platform,” said McCarthy. “And so we see the faculty member facing adverse consequences that they really should not have, under their academic freedom.”
Photo Illustration: Soohee Cho/The Intercept, Photo: Getty Images
In its own words, the Leadership Institute, Campus Reform’s publisher, aims to train “freedom fighters” to “effectively defeat the radical Left.” Funded by a host of well-known, ultrawealthy donors, including multiple foundations connected to the Koch family network, the institute claims to have trained more than 200,000 conservative activists since its founding in 1979 and offers a rich program with a heavy focus on media and communications.
Andrew Isenhour, a spokesperson for two major Koch institutions, wrote in an email to The Intercept that “no support or resources from the Charles Koch Foundation or Charles Koch Institute benefit Campus Reform.”
“We find any form of racism, white supremacy, or intolerance abhorrent and morally repugnant,” he said, adding that the institute has denounced intimidation and spoken in support of “campus free speech.”
Isenhour did not respond to follow-up questions about the Koch family’s support for the Leadership Institute, which employs Campus Reform staff. According to DeSmog, an environmentalist publication that closely monitors the Koch network, the Leadership Institute received at least $278,958 from Koch-related foundations between 2003 and 2017. The Leadership Institute is also part of the State Policy Network, a group of think tanks and political groups funded through the Koch network. Top institute funders also include Donors Capital Fund and Donors Trust, anonymous conservative donor funds that have been called “the Dark-Money ATM of the Conservative Movement.”
The Leadership Institute has long been a major player in mainstream conservative politics, and its early alumni include Republican elected officials like Sen. Mitch McConnell and former Vice President Mike Pence as well as James O’Keefe, the right-wing provocateur behind Project Veritas, famous for his doctored videos targeting the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN, and Planned Parenthood. There is a revolving door between the Leadership Institute, YAF, and other conservative youth groups like Young Americans for Liberty and Turning Point USA.
“The Leadership Institute has helped manufacture the right’s construction of anti-antifa hysteria, all while having a long history of platforming actual fascists.”
The group, however, also has a less-known history of ties to far-right movements and racist extremists. “There is actually a long history of close connections between the Leadership Institute and white nationalist organizations,” said Kamola, the Trinity professor. “The Leadership Institute has helped manufacture the right’s construction of anti-antifa hysteria, all while having a long history of platforming actual fascists.”
Matthew Heimbach, a neo-Nazi activist, former YAF chapter leader, and once-Leadership Institute trainee, told HuffPost in 2016 that the institute “trained this entire next generation of white nationalists.” The institute also employed Kevin DeAnna, another former YAF leader who started the campus-based white supremacist group Youth for Western Civilization. In his essay, Hatemi included photos of both Heimbach and DeAnna posing with neo-Nazi activist Richard Spencer as well as a photo of Spencer and Kyle Bristow, a former YAF chapter leader who called Latino students and faculty “savages” and went on to become an attorney for right-wing figures, representing both Spencer and KKK leader David Duke.
Hannah Gais, a senior researcher at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors extremism, said that the Leadership Institute “definitely has had, historically, ties to the far right and extremism.”
But Gais, who exposed writings DeAnna had posted under different pseudonyms on several prominent white nationalist publications, also noted that the institute is so large that “to a certain extent, some of these kinds of pseudo-anonymous white nationalists coming up through their ranks is sort of inevitable,” she said.
The far-right movement that resurfaced during the Trump years, she added, deliberately relied on the resources of established conservative institutions to gain political power. “If you’re a far-right extremist and you can kind of hide your views and make them seemingly more professional,” she added, “it’s a lot easier to lurk in these spaces.”
“Campus Reform’s content tends to be shared in fringe social media spaces where we have seen consistent thematic overlaps with other content we know plays well with right-wing audiences.”
More recently, former Leadership Institute intern Martin Christopher Rojas was exposed as an active contributor to a series of white supremacist publications, where he published more than 500 pieces under his own name and a series of pseudonyms. The Guardian and the nonprofit Right Wing Watch also recently reported that Michael J. Thompson, a regular in conservative circles who worked with the Leadership Institute and Campus Reform, was also a frequent contributor to online white supremacist publications, where, under the name “Paul Kersey,” he started the racist blog “Stuff Black People Don’t Like” and wrote lies about the demographic replacement of white Americans and the genetic inferiority of people of color. Thompson’s stories have since been scrubbed from Campus Reform.
In his email to The Intercept, Blackwell, the Leadership Institute’s founder, distanced himself from former institute affiliates.
“My Institute has employed hundreds of principled conservatives over the last 40 years,” he wrote. “A few former staffers managed to hide their beliefs from me and my staff. These individuals wrote racist articles under fake names to hide their identities. They went to great lengths to keep their true beliefs hidden. Such beliefs are entirely incompatible with employment at the Leadership Institute.”
Since rebranding as a news enterprise, Campus Reform has effectively been able to straddle between the mainstream conservative politics of its funders and a more radical audience active in fringe spaces and eager for content to feed its online wars.
According to an analysis by Media Matters for America, which monitors media and the web for conservative misinformation, Campus Reform stories have spread on Reddit as well as on social media platforms favored by the far right. Such platforms include Parler, the QAnon forum GreatAwakening.win, and Patriots.win, formerly thedonald.win, a forum for Trump supporters that moved to its own site after being banned by Reddit. “Our research has found that Campus Reform’s content tends to be shared in fringe social media spaces where we have seen consistent thematic overlaps with other content we know plays well with right-wing audiences,” said Stefanie Le, Media Matters’ deputy research director. “Similar to when an article from a conservative outlet goes viral on fringe platforms, users in these spaces attempt to focus on or invent conspiratorial implications of the stories and then use it to support other far-right narratives and stoke conversation.”
That feedback loop is indicative of how far-right discourse has benefited from the support of pillars of the conservative establishment and of the way that the latter have been willing to overlook the harm they enabled — a dynamic that Campus Reform lays bare.
“It really feeds into the conservative outrage machine that will take targets, tied especially to issues of culture war, and basically completely go off on them,” said Gais, of the Southern Poverty Law Center. “But they’re doing so with big money from the Koch Foundation.”
The post A Billionaire-Funded Website With Ties to the Far Right Is Trying to “Cancel” University Professors appeared first on The Intercept.
Book image provided by Harvard University Press
Despite its centrality in public life and scholarly debate, education, surprisingly, has not been a chief focus of political or economic histories of the modern United States. The role of schools, however, has been fundamental to American historical development in several key ways. Politically, education was a key driver of American state-building from the local level up. Nineteenth-century public school enrollment rates in the northern United States surpassed those of France and Great Britain, and schools made up the largest share of municipal expenditures during the early twentieth century. The United States relied on schools as the basis of its decentralized welfare state, as opposed to robust social insurance or job protections characteristic of leading European welfare states, and school systems became vehicles for the provision of many social services.
Economically, schools played a central role in the making of American capitalism, structuring access to employment and serving as the training grounds for the new staff of the American corporate economy. By providing exclusive credentials, educational institutions gave economic elites a tool for controlling entry into the most well-paid positions. The Education Trap shows how the Progressive Era—popularly named for efforts to rein in the excesses of capitalism—in fact deepened and legitimized long-standing forms of inequality. Indeed, it was during this period, rather than in the late nineteenth-century Gilded Age, that income inequality reached its height. This book also bridges common divisions within labor history to examine the working lives of domestic workers, pink-collar staff, and highly paid professionals alike, contextualizing work within families and communities and highlighting the relation between groups of workers that shaped the development of each.
Culturally, schools also helped consolidate an ideology of individual advancement. This ideology is often characterized as a belief in equality of opportunity in contrast to equality of outcome. While rooted in a long American tradition of favoring reward for individual talent over hereditary privilege, this ideology was not static, nor should we imagine it operating autonomously. Rather, it was grounded in, fortified, and validated by experiences of schooling in the early twentieth century. As schools were imagined as a social panacea, they became a new foundation for individualized policy solutions to structural inequalities. “Educationalizing” social problems reduced pressure for more direct measures of reducing poverty and inequality. A growing body of scholarship has highlighted the ways in which American policymakers have persistently turned to solutions that place the blame, and the burden of re form, on individuals rather than society. The triumph of schooling in this era can help us understand why.
The ideology of education as a path toward social advancement was premised on the belief that one’s economic success reflected one’s skill level, or educational “merit.” Recent critics of meritocracy have pointed to the role of elite professionals in exacerbating social inequality, but many still cling to a faith in meritocracy in theory and point to educational solutions to address the problem. This book challenges us to reinterpret “merit” as a culturally constructed set of knowledges, behaviors, and values that reflect historically specific personal preferences and prejudices, often used by elites to maintain their power. Moreover, this book shows how the reconstruction of economic opportunity on the basis of education created a new institutional and ideological infrastructure for upholding socioeconomic inequality. As schools remade path ways into work across the employment structure, educational achievement (or lack thereof) became a new way of explaining and justifying the wealth of some and the poverty of others.
While education has many different meanings, this book focuses specifically on the role of education in shaping paths to work. The “vocationalization” of education, or the use of schools for economic reward, has long been criticized by educational reformers, from the early twentieth century through to the twenty-first Many nonvocational roles of education—such as education for democratic citizenship, intellectual and artistic creativity, and emancipation—are under threat, and are absolutely worth fighting for. But it is important to acknowledge that schools’ vocational role was enormously meaningful to those able to use schools, including “nonvocational” academic and liberal arts programs, to access better employment. Indeed, we can only explain the dramatic expansion of schools in this period if we acknowledge the role of parents and students who, by voting with their feet, pushed the educational system to expand its offerings and provide instruction that they believed would benefit them in the workplace.
To understand changes in training for work, we also need a wide lens that contextualizes schools as just one institutional form within an ecology of many sites of learning. By examining the full landscape of job-training institutions (including schools, universities, workplaces, the family) and the contested processes through which they forged links to distinct economic sectors, this book challenges long-standing silos in the field of educational history: between public and private, secondary and higher, formal and informal, “vocational” and “liberal” education. Public high schools and private universities a century ago were substantially shaped by competition with a flourishing ecology of proprietary and parochial schools, and the emerging public-private educational “system” was a distinctive feature of the American welfare state. While vocational education has often been interpreted and studied predominantly with reference to men’s industrial training, this book broadens the focus to encompass women’s occupational trajectories, as well as service-sector, white-collar, and professional jobs. In doing so, this book challenges the dichotomy between vocational and liberal (or academic) education by showing how forms of liberal education served as key paths to specific future employment opportunities. Liberal arts education, imagined in opposition to vocational concerns, was held up as an ideal across the political spectrum toward a variety of ends. In practice, however, this idealization became an important tool used by leading educational institutions to secure their status and prestige, as well as a means of legitimating the economic benefits attained by those with a supposedly nonvocational degree.
This book begins in the late nineteenth century, at a time when American pathways into employment looked haphazard. As detailed in Chapter 1, for nearly all wage earners in Boston, paths to work were based on family and social networks, and learning took place in the workplace rather than in school. Despite its lack of formal channels, the occupational structure was defined by many overt gender, ethnic, and racial inequalities. The rest of the book moves through each economic sector to illustrate the two interrelated patterns of transformation that restructured the labor market in the next decades: the failure of education intended to train students for low-wage and industrial work, and the success (and hence proliferation) of schools that trained students for white-collar and professional jobs. These two dynamics together reveal how education offered advantages for some, while simultaneously undercutting the power of organized workers and strengthening the power of elites. Faith in education as a way of mitigating a growing class divide was solidified just as the educational system provided a new institutional basis for reproducing class advantage. As a means of addressing social inequality, education became a dangerous trap.
Chapter 2 examines the failure of reformers’ efforts to improve the precarious employment of recent immigrants and African Americans in the lowest-paying service and manual-labor jobs. Based on the common diagnosis that low-wage work was due to a lack of skills, many progressive reformers pushed for the expansion of vocational training schools, such as “schools of housekeeping,” in order to elevate the status of household work. These efforts were largely unsuccessful. More popular services for low-wage workers included nurseries, kindergartens, English-language instruction, and citizenship classes, yet these services proved equally ineffective in reducing patterns of exploitation at the bottom of the occupational hierarchy.
For jobs in manufacturing and the trades, the subject of Chapter 3, conflicts between unions and employers over control of the training process hindered new industrial schools in both the private and the public sectors. Employers pursued managerial strategies to undercut the power of craft unions, and in place of the small shop with several craftworkers, sprawling assembly-line factories with immigrant operatives would come to define industrial America. Instead of receiving an education in specific industrial schools or industrial tracks within schools, which suffered from declining reputations and low enrollments, these factory workers learned basic literacy and numeracy in public elementary schools. This reorganization of the workplace was made possible by an army of school-educated white-collar workers that firms deployed to staff their corporate bureaucracies. Rather than the “organization man,” it was women who were the chief protagonists in this transformation.
Chapter 4 traces the changing landscape of training for clerical and sales work. With broad public support and without organized opposition, proprietary “commercial” schools and public high schools multiplied. The success of many women and second-generation immigrants entering positions as clerks, secretaries, and retail workers challenged some labor market inequalities and solidified the link between education and social mobility. Their entry, however, also sparked a reaction among a predominantly male, white, native-born elite. Upper-class Bostonians used professional strategies, relying on advanced educational credentials, to control access to the most remunerative jobs. An expanding white-collar sector became a differentiated hierarchy, with a vast pool of feminized pink-collar clerical and sales workers at the bottom and a new managerial class at the top. Thus, this new landscape of schools, while offering some opportunities, did not empower workers as a whole; rather, schools provided an opportunity for employers to centralize power. Professional strategies of control are traced in the professions of law and education and the “new profession” of business. By forging pathways from elite schools into corporate law, educational administration, and financial and business management, professionals and universities became coarchitects of the top rungs of the managerial ladder that undergirded twentieth-century corporate capitalism. In so doing, they defined the meaning of “merit” on the basis of academic knowledge as well as cultural norms, personal characteristics, and family background. They also shaped steep internal ladders within each profession, differentiating the corporate lawyer from the courtroom advocate, the administrator from the teacher, and the executive from the low-level manager. Rungs on the professional ladder not only corresponded to a hierarchy of schools, but also to hierarchies of gender, ethnicity, and race.
This book ends when these trends were consolidated in the 1930s. During the Great Depression, when youth employment collapsed, school enrollment continued to grow. By this point, employers across sectors had come to prefer school-educated employees, and formal education structured the majority of pathways into jobs. The triumph of school based training had significantly reshaped the employment structure and the balance of worker power. While the expansion of formal education opened up many new pathways into work and limited the overall supply of labor by keeping youth out of the labor market, this transition also undercut earlier forms of worker control by facilitating the transition to a nonunionized workforce and a credentialed elite. The 1930s and 1940s marked the beginning of a new chapter in the American political economy, when workers launched more inclusive organizing strategies for building power through industrial unions and the role of the federal welfare state greatly expanded.
Additional studies of other places and eras will be necessary to fully piece together the historical relationship between education and in equality in the United States. But the case of Boston challenges deeply rooted assumptions among both scholars and the general public about how education works. In early twentieth-century Boston, education expanded as socioeconomic inequality increased. The contested history of this development suggests that our national faith in education may be obscuring how schooling can in fact deepen economic inequality and conceal the ways in which educational merit has become a new foundation on which this inequality is justified.
By shifting the contemporary conversation about social inequality from the 1970s to the early twentieth century, the historical narrative presented in this book should also prompt a change in our understanding of the “great compression” between 1940 and 1970, when inequality was substantially reduced. The expansion of public higher education in that period has been heralded as a key contributor to the decline in inequality during those years. This golden age is also the basis upon which economists have rested claims that the best policy solution to address inequality in the present is more education. According to these scholars, we can think about the relationship between education and technology as a race, in which, if education falls behind technology, inequality in creases. From the late nineteenth century to the late 1970s, educational attainment rose faster than “skill-biased” technological change (or technological change that favors highly skilled workers), causing a reduction in social inequality. After the 1970s, however, educational attainment slowed as technological change continued apace, disproportionately benefiting those with the most human capital, and thereby increasing social inequality.
The evidence presented in this book suggests that many other political and economic factors were necessary preconditions and supplements to education during the midcentury decline of inequality. These include the expansion of social and economic protections by New Deal and Great Society welfare programs, progressive taxation, minimum wage laws, and the broad economic power of industrial labor unions led by the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), which increased the power of workers and ensured that the jobs they entered had living wages and good working conditions. Education has always operated within a broader political and economic context that shapes its impact on social inequality. In addition, rather than imagine “education” monolithically, this book shows the very different roles played by distinct institutional types, some of which were much more effective as tools for concentrating wealth than redistributing it.
Beginning in the 1970s, social welfare protections, labor rights, and workers’ collective power began to be stripped away. Wages stagnated and middle-class jobs were “hollowed out.” Educational enrollment, meanwhile, continued to grow. Between 1963 and 2006, enrollment in public and private four-year colleges and universities nearly doubled, and community college enrollment increased by over 700 percent. To human-capital economists, this educational expansion has not been enough to mitigate the benefits accruing to those with the highest human capital. But the equation of skill and economic reward cannot explain the surging income and wealth of the top 1 percent, nor why the economic payoff of advanced education is so much higher in the United States than in other countries. As observed in the early twentieth century, educational expansion can trigger reactions from distinct organized political interests, in particular those at the top of the economic ladder who seek to preserve their power. Credentialist theories of occupational control seem better equipped to explain why the primary beneficiaries of rising inequality today are concentrated in highly credentialed professions in key positions in the corporate economy. Without a corresponding increase of power for working people, the benefits of additional educational attainment can be captured at the top.
The historical perspective offered in this book suggests that focusing only on expanding educational opportunities traps us into a narrow policy framework that can exacerbate the very problem it seeks to address. In our new Gilded Age, we can look back to the first Gilded Age over a century ago for insight. The role of education in amplifying unequal opportunity was not a unique product of the neoliberal turn of the 1970s or the corporatization of higher education, but a deeply rooted outgrowth of the historical relation between education and the economy in the United States. In an era of skyrocketing inequality, we need a new historical understanding of the consequences—sometimes for the better but more often for the worse—of the American faith in education as the panacea for social inequality.
Cristina Viviana Groeger is an Assistant Professor of History at Lake Forest College. Her research has been funded by the National Academy of Education and the Spencer Foundation.
Excerpted from THE EDUCATION TRAP: SCHOOLS AND THE REMAKING OF INEQUALITY IN BOSTON by Cristina Viviana Groeger, published by Harvard University Press.
Copyright © 2021 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
The aphorism ‘publish or perish’ began gaining popularity in Western academia in the first half of the 20th century. By the 1980s, it had become unquestioned truth throughout most of the world. It is now a refined and institutionalised process in which researchers are subject to increasing pressure to publish in academic journals owned by a handful of companies. In 2013, publishing groups Reed-Elsevier (now RELX Group in the Netherlands), Springer (Germany), Taylor & Francis (UK) and the US-based Sage and Wiley-Blackwell accounted for more than 50 per cent of the research papers and 70 per cent of the social science articles published that year.
Researchers and university professors are obliged to fulfil a series of requirements or ‘merits’ each year, the most significant of which is the publication of academic papers. These papers are evaluated according to the ‘referee system’ or peer review in which two or more specialists are appointed to judge whether an article is suitable for publication. Public institutions such as Spain’s National Agency for Quality Assessment and Accreditation (ANECA) or Argentina’s National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET) are responsible for overseeing the accreditation of the merits upon which researchers’ careers and salaries depend.
“The problem is that the obligation to publish a certain number of articles in a year is incompatible with the actual research work itself, which goes through phases of greater and lesser productivity. The criteria is more quantitative than qualitative, which is perverse,” says Pilar Pinto, lecturer at the University of Cadiz and candidate for a PhD in art and humanities. In addition to this pressure to publish, academics are also expected to have a good number of teaching hours.
According to Pinto, the evaluation system plays a significant role in the choice of research topics: “The journals propose topics for their dossiers, which influences what we decide to research and write about.”
This system also forces researchers to avoid more complicated – as well as more interesting – questions that cannot be resolved in just a few months time in a single paper. This is particularly concerning in areas such as mathematics and philosophy.
“In mathematics, the sowing process is long and you don’t know when you’re going to harvest. The more complex the problem the less certain you can be that it will lead to something you can publish. So the system pushes young researchers to abandon more profound topics in order to focus on something that can easily be resolved, taking something that is already published, for example, and simply improving some calculations,” explains mathematics PhD Mattia Perrone. “Researchers are rewarded for understanding how the system works rather than for their ability,” says Pinto.
The points that researchers receive for publishing articles depend on the journal’s ranking according to its index or ‘impact factor,’ calculated according to the number of times it has been cited compared with its competitors. The higher a journal scores, the more effort researchers will make to publish in it, which feeds into pattern that reinforces certain types of journals and topics. The highest scoring and most sought after journals ask as much as €1,500 to evaluate an article for publication, an amount usually paid by the university department.
“The only people able to be part of the academic elite are the ones who can afford it. The system is designed for the interests of the United States and Europe. Paying such amounts would be unthinkable in Argentina,” says Alexandre Roig, lecturer at the Universidad San Martín (UNSAM) in Buenos Aires, academic secretary and former dean of IDAES. Moreover, the best-ranked journals are in English, which excludes many researchers who are not fluent in the language.
Originally designed as a guide for librarians in choosing which publications to acquire, the ‘impact factor’ has become an index of scientific quality and turned leading academic journals into profitable businesses.
They charge authors for evaluating a publication but do not pay the evaluators, who must settle for the compensation of adding one more line to their CVs. So while most researchers have been trained at public universities and work for public institutions, their work is subject to the standards of privately owned journals.
And universities provide a captive audience for these journals. University departments are forced to spend a significant portion of their budgets on subscriptions to certain publications in order to keep up to date with scientific literature. Reading a single article on the web can cost between €20 and €50, while an annual subscription to a journal costs between €2,000 and €20,000. In many cases, publishing companies require that subscriptions last a minimum of several years and that they include several journals. Faced with such abuses, Swedish and German universities decided to cancel their subscriptions to Elsevier’s publications in 2018 when they could not reach an agreement they considered fair.
In this model, public money invested in research is transferred to certain publishing companies. “Access to knowledge is being limited,” says Perrone, who says he had to pay €30 to access an article he himself had written. Another effect is that academics tend to divide their research results into as many articles as possible, a practice known as ‘salami slicing’. The result is an increasing number of published papers that are of decreasing interest. And journals charge for evaluating each one of them.
In 2018, cOAlition S, a consortium supported by the European Research Council (ERC) together with national funding agencies from eleven EU countries and Jordan, Zambia, the UK and the US, launched Plan S (for ‘shock’) in Europe. The initiative will force researchers to publish their work in open access journals and repositories. Originally planned for 2020, Plan S is now expected to come into effect in 2021.
However, it is unclear what impact this initiative will have. Some of the most influential journals are already taking their own steps in this direction, such as Nature, which launched an open access system to publish part of its content in a way that is compatible with Plan S. The catch is that publishing there will mean paying much higher fees, which can approach €9,500.
Another consequence, especially for developing countries, is the disconnect between research and local realities: “What is valued is publication in indexed journals rather than the possibility of applying knowledge locally. In Argentina, research has become increasingly professionalised while becoming less interested in applying scientific advances,” says Bruno Fornillo, PhD in political science, CONICET researcher and lecturer at the University of Buenos Aires. “The evaluation criteria to which scientists are subjected are unreasonable because their idea of excellence is measured in terms of publications in global journals with no link to realities on the ground.”
This, Roig believes, is one of the reasons for what he describes as a crisis of legitimacy in the social sciences: “Peer review is valuable, because it guarantees rigour of research. But if it becomes the only form of validation it excludes social validation, and science thus turns its back to society.” Roig proposes other forms of validating scientific knowledge: “Presenting results to the subjects of your research, participating in public debates, communicating the results not only through writing but also through drawings, audiovisual media and art.”
However, the current system is a long way from encouraging creative forms of research and communication: “It’s common to hear young researchers say that academia is not their place. But academia should be a place for critical thinking and creativity, not for reproduction,” Roig adds.
In the 1960s and 1970s, intellectuals were visible public figures, teaching at universities while being deeply involved in social struggles of the day. May 1968 and the French intellectuals are a perfect example. A few decades later, against the backdrop of an expanding neoliberal model, a system has been put into place at universities that generates huge profits for a group of companies.
But profit may not be the only motive: “My impression is that the model is designed to keep intellectuals from being a ‘nuisance’,” Fornillo ventures. “It’s a disciplinary system and, as such, it is contrary to knowledge. It’s about strengthening a certain hierarchy,” Perrone adds.
Meanwhile, the researchers immersed in this logic of productivity are losing the capacity for critical thinking and reflection on their own practices. As Roig puts it: “Today, Pierre Bourdieu’s book would not be called The Craft of Sociology, but The Craft of Someone Who Specialises in Writing Papers.”
Opportunistic university administrators seize the opportunity presented by Covid to gut academic freedom and turn faculty into employees
In his latest attack on democratic values and principles, US President Donald Trump issued executive orders purging critical race theory (CRT) from diversity training in US federal agencies. According to the first order issued on September 4, “The divisive, false, and demeaning propaganda of the critical race theory movement is contrary to all we stand for as Americans and should have no place in the Federal government.” The order refers to diversity training that involves discussions of white privilege and the systemic forms of racism that are embedded within US history and institutions. According to the president’s most recent Executive Order on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping issued on September 22, the so-called “destructive ideology” of white privilege is “grounded in misrepresentations of our country’s history and its role in the world.”
It is significant that these directives follow months of nationwide protests against racism in policing and the criminal justice system. The interdisciplinary field of critical race theory occupies an important position in the ideological basis of the Black Lives Matter movement. Activists protesting against systemic racism have made a point of acknowledging the many important critical race theorists and philosophers of the past and present who have advanced struggles for racial justice. The radical right has taken note of the relationship between CRT and Black Lives Matter. Breitbart News, for example, defines CRT as “the leftist, racist doctrine that forms the intellectual underpinnings of Black Lives Matter, Antifa, and other radical organizations currently engaged in unrest on America’s streets.”
The Trump administration’s censorship of CRT is an effort to counter the scholarly and intellectual critique that has been integral within advocacy and policy change to advance racial, sex and gender justice. It is the ability of CRT to name and challenge systemic racism that makes it confrontational to the ability of white and male privilege and power to remain unmarked, unnamed and unchallenged. In their response to Trump’s directive, the deans of all five California’s law schools stated that “CRT invites us to confront with unflinching honesty how race has operated in our history and our present, and to recognize the deep and ongoing operation of ‘structural racism,’ through which racial inequality is reproduced within our economic, political, and educational systems even without individual racist intent.”
Critical race theory has been put into practice through diversity education and training, showing how racism and sexism are not merely beliefs held and perpetuated by individuals, but that these and other forms of discrimination and exclusion are institutional and systemic. To eliminate CRT is to censor words and concepts like intersectionality, implicit bias, stereotyping, stigma, whiteness, white privilege and systemic and institutional racism, which effectively closes down processes of naming and unlearning unearned privileges associated with one’s race and gender.
CRT and cognate forms of diversity training have become important means of advancing the equal recognition and rights of those who have been historically excluded and victimized on the basis of their race, gender, disability or sexual orientation not only in the United States but in many parts of the world. In South Africa (the main context in which this author conducts research and teaching), CRT has been integral within efforts to name and challenge the persistence of white supremacy and white privilege in public and private sectors. Critical diversity studies has also emerged as a recognized academic field and area of professional development and training in South Africa.
While diversity training within US federal agencies is the immediate target of President Trump’s executive orders, scholars have raised alarm about implications for CRT as an area of scholarship. The Association of American University Professors issued a statement highlighting this concern, arguing that the order “denies and dismisses the efforts of experts across a wide variety of disciplines — such as law, history, social sciences, and humanities — to help us better understand and reckon with our legacy of slavery and persistent institutional racism.”
Radical-right hostility toward the intellectual left is nothing new. In the United States, a right-wing intelligentsia has taken shape over the past 40 years, largely funded by conservative corporate philanthropic organizations. As Donna Nicol reports, conservative American critics have accused race and ethnic studies, as well as women’s studies, of being anti-Western and anti-American, arguing that these disciplines radicalize students toward “social anarchy” and undermined the American “free enterprise system.” The September 22 executive order, which accuses CRT of being a form of “propaganda” that amounts to “offensive and anti-American race and sex stereotyping and scapegoating,” grants this hostility new levels of power, influence and acceptability.
The recent orders that ban CRT in diversity training for US federal agencies is a warning that US-based critical academics are joining the ranks of critical scholars internationally who are facing repression by radical-right populist leaders. Trump’s blitz on critical race theory comes amidst a trend of growing attacks on academic freedom in many other parts of the world. Censorship of CRT also comes amidst the president’s refusal to condemn white supremacist organizations. His comments during a recent debate for these groups to “stand back and stand by” was lauded by the self-described “Western chauvinist” Proud Boys as a call to arms.
On the one hand, then, the Trump administration and other populist regimes’ agendas against the naming and interrogation of white supremacy may be indicative of their awareness that they are losing ground against anti-racist and anti-colonial movements for social justice and are feeling a threat to their hegemony. On the other hand, the banning of critical race theory in US federal agencies is indicative that academic freedom is the next democratic principle at stake and that critical scholars, especially those in publicly-funded institutions of higher learning, have good cause to be alarmed.
Dr Haley McEwen is a Senior Fellow at CARR and a Researcher at the Wits Centre for Diversity Studies (University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg). See full profile here.
© Haley McEwen. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).
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Higher Education In America Being Built On Mountains Of Debt
Sun, 10/04/2020 – 18:04
The democratic principle of tuition-free education in our country pre-dates the founding of the United States. The first public primary education was offered in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1635, and its legislature created Harvard College the following year to make education available to all qualified students. Even before the Constitution was ratified, the Confederation Congress enacted the Land Ordinance of 1785, which required newly established townships in territories ceded by the British to devote a section of land for a public school. It also passed the Northwest Ordinances, which set out the guidelines for how the territories could become states. Among those guidelines was a requirement to establish public universities and a stipulation that “the means of education shall forever be encouraged.” After the nation declared independence, Thomas Jefferson argued for a formal education system funded through government taxation.
Jefferson’s vision took form over the course of more than a century, as state and local governments began creating primary schools and then high schools. The federal government became involved in higher education in the 19th century with the creation of land grant colleges and other institutions, used primarily to teach agriculture and education after the Civil War. These institutions created opportunities for people who had long been locked out of the learning process, including formerly enslaved African Americans and impoverished people of all races.
It is long past time to recognize that the cruel experiment in financing higher education through student loans has failed.
State universities and colleges rapidly expanded as well. By the middle of the 20th century, low-cost or tuition-free education was available in many American states. After the Second World War, the federal government once again turned to education to promote opportunities for its citizens and economic growth for all. The G.I. Bill paid educational expenses for 8 million people, without regard to individual wealth, which helped create a robust middle class and contributed to the vibrant growth economy of the 1950s and 1960s. While those opportunities were still denied to many people as the result of racism, efforts were underway to improve educational access for people of color.
The Reagan era ushered in a belief that government programs, including education, stood in the way of people’s dreams and should be severely cut back. Public goods came to be seen as investments, ones that were purely economic in nature. For these reasons, among others, a nation that had expanded publicly funded education for centuries decided to reverse course. Instead of funding higher education on the principle that it benefits us all, the country began shifting the cost to individual students.
In the 1950s, as part of the National Defense Education Act, student loans were created as an experiment in social engineering. Concerned about competition with the Soviet Union, policymakers wanted to increase students’ capabilities in math and sciences. To do that, the country needed more teachers. So, lawmakers offered loans to college students, with the opportunity to have half the loan canceled after 10 years if they became teachers.
The experiment failed. Researchers have not been able to prove that the student loan program led more people to become teachers, despite multiple attempts to do so. The experiment was also cruel. Over the years, the student loan program was expanded, with the claim that a student’s personal investment in their education was an “investment” that would pay off in higher wages. Banks and other private lenders were brought into the process and given considerable incentives and subsidies to issue student loans, without considering the burden being imposed on the student. This financial opportunity was given to banking interests that were already wealthy, with little thought of the resulting damage to an economically sustainable future.
Proponents of financializing the cost of higher education argued that it was cheaper to lend money to students than it was for federal and state governments to provide grants for their education, even after paying subsidies to the private sector for their loans. An entire industry grew up around this process. State and nonprofit guaranty agencies were created to insure the loans. These agencies got paid, no matter what: when loans were issued, when loans became delinquent, when borrowers defaulted, and when they collected on defaulted loans.
In response, most states created guaranty agencies so they could make money from people who needed to borrow to pay for ever-increasing tuitions and fees. Now, states had an extra incentive to cut funding for public higher education. Not only would they save on expenditures, but they could increase the need for students to borrow, which increased their revenue. In many cases, these guaranty agencies don’t handle the loans themselves. They pass the work on to private debt collectors who take collection fees and are aggressive in their handling of cases.
The system took on a life of its own. By the mid-1990s, student loans had surpassed grants in funding students’ higher education. But a system built on debt financing only works if borrowers pay back their loans. That led Congress to make the system even crueler with the Bankruptcy Amendments and Federal Judgeship Act of 1984, which exempted student loans from bankruptcy proceedings and subjected borrowers to draconian collection tools. These tools included wage garnishment without a court order and the seizure of Social Security checks and tax refunds. The Clinton and Obama administrations attempted to lessen the burden slightly by allowing the federal government to lend directly to students while introducing income-based repayment options, but the system’s fundamental cruelty remains unchanged today.
It is time to recognize that the cruel experiment in financing higher education through student loans has failed. It has captured 46 million people and their families in a student loan trap, including people who received vocational training, and has weakened the financial strength of higher education. Inescapable debt is a major driver of social collapse. It has made the racial wealth gap worse and weakened the entire economy, as debt holders are prevented from buying homes or consumer goods, starting families, or opening new businesses. It’s time to restore funds for higher education and cancel student debt for the victims of this failed experiment.
Mary Green Swig, Steven L. Swig, David A. Bergeron, and Richard J. Eskow
Independent Media Institute
Mary Green Swig is a senior fellow at the Advanced Leadership Initiative at Harvard University and co-founder of Freedom to Prosper.
Steven L. Swig is a senior fellow at the Advanced Leadership Initiative at Harvard University and co-founder of Freedom to Prosper.
David A. Bergeron is a senior fellow for postsecondary education at the Center for American Progress. Bergeron previously served as the acting assistant secretary for postsecondary education at the U.S. Department of Education.
This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.