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Wed Jun 1 15:13:38 CEST 2016

[Moderator's Note: The last day for comments will be tomorrow=E2=80=94Tuesd=
ay, May
31=E2=80=94after which Cristina will have the opportunity to respond.]

Hi all -

"[the destruction of the ecosphere] " not the work of ignorant people.
It is, rather, largely the result of work by people with BAs, BSs, LLBs,
MBAs, and PhDs. (David Orr 1991; What is education for?)

This has been a richly stimulating and generally optimistic discussion of
the potential role of universities and higher learning in the 'great
transition' for which so many of us yearn. Cristina started this cookie
crumbling by seeing universities in the sway of such modern constructs as
=E2=80=9Cmarketization=E2=80=9D and =E2=80=9Cinternationalization,=E2=80=9D=
 but, in Paul's words, still
"holding the potential to become a transformative agent =E2=80=93 if it can
transform itself".

While most comments have variously explored the silver lining in the HEI
saga, I'd like to drag us back to the darkening cloud Cristina so clearly
identified early on: =E2=80=9CHEIs have been too focused in recent decades =
serving short-term goals of economic performance and national
competitiveness in the context of a socioeconomic system that prioritizes
the instrumental value of knowledge and technology in the pursuit of
growth=E2=80=9D. This thunderhead remains fully capable of drowning the ref=
parade even before it assembles and gets underway.

Cristina also acknowledged the view of some analysts that =E2=80=9CHEIs pri=
impart information and knowledge that fit within existing paradigms=E2=80=
Arguably, this perspective gains credence daily. Modern universities more
reflect than shape contemporary society, a reality that has been reinforced
in recent decades by the decline in public funding, by universities=E2=80=
increasing dependence on private capital and by the creeping
corporatization of even public institutions. Many universities are
gradually becoming subsidized research arms of the corporate sector.

Such trends inevitably influence university teaching, research and
institutional form. To give one example, there is little financial support
for research in organic agriculture or agro-ecology but millions flow from
Monsanto and its clones to agriculture faculties that develop biocides,
fertilizers and genetic modifications, i.e., patentable products with
market value. For contemporary society, exquisitely sophisticated and
inherently sharable knowledge of crop ecology, soil husbandry and climate
wields no such economic leverage.

Meanwhile, professors of computer science, medicine, microbiology,
business/commerce, engineering and the like receive ever-higher salaries
and the richest research grants (these disciplines produce the most
economically valued research and the universities=E2=80=99 most marketable
students) while their colleagues in the arts, history, philosophy, etc.,
see their programs wilt in financial drought or dry up completely. Not
surprisingly, the public scarcely notices. Indeed, the notion that
universities exist to produce better citizens =E2=80=93 e.g., young people =
with the
intellectual capital needed to navigate the =E2=80=98great transition=E2=80=
=99 to a more
equitable and ecologically sustainable society =E2=80=93 seems quaintly out=
fashion. There is plenty of evidence that both the HEIs and most of their
incoming students agree that the central purpose of =E2=80=98higher educati=
on=E2=80=99 is
better employment possibilities and higher salaries.

I underscore these negatives for a simple reason. The university cannot
fully assume the role of transformative agent unless it throws off the yoke
of dependence on private capital and its allegiance to corporate values.
For HEIs to transform themselves they must be largely supported by their
communities and align themselves with the broader public interest. But
universities themselves are unlikely to spark so radical a transition. As
matters stand, the needed revolution in higher education depends more on
the prior transformation of wider society than the converse.

Did I mention not to hold your breath?

Bill Rees


Transition Network [mailto:gtnetwork at]
Sent: April 29, 2016 10:02 AM

Higher Calling for Higher Education (GTN Discussion)

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