The Devil’s Bargain in Composition and Rhetoric

I am grateful to all the smart people who read and commented on a post I wrote here in which I argued that the labor crisis in Composition and Rhetoric can only be fully understood through a global economic lens. I used David Harvey’s theory of capitalism in crisis to make the claim that finance capitalism circumvents barriers to accumulation by creating low-wage industries staffed by contract workers (such as academia) that are managed and legitimated by the very intellectuals who ought to know better.

My grief over Rhet Comp’s complicity in perpetuating this system is captured in many of the comments made by readers, including one by Anthony Paré, a thirty-year veteran of the field. You can read his full note here. In brief, he writes about “a central and damning paradox at the heart of rhet and comp’s history”: Continue reading

What Are We Defending When We Defend Public Higher Education?: Or, How Frances Fox Piven Blew My Mind a Little Bit

This was a question that came up frequently during the Defending Public Higher Ed Conference at the Graduate Center earlier this month. Let’s linger on it a bit. What does higher education do that is worth defending?

There were many thoughtful answers at the conference, including from scholars like Michelle Fine who advised us to reclaim the idea of education as a public good, something that doesn’t just empower a few individuals to succeed in the new economy, but is part of a collective, democratic endeavor to create a more equitable society.

Sounds great to me. Where do I sign up?

A different kind of answer (though it is really more of a question, which is why it is so brilliant) came from GC Professor Frances Fox Piven who, I have to say, blew my mind a little bit. In remarks that seemed to come off the top of her head, Piven explained how the global economy, which has spawned a new kind of predatory capitalism, has changed her thinking about the role of education in society. “We used to think,” she explained, “the ruling class wanted to use education to reproduce the class structure. Now I’m not sure they’re interested in reproducing anything.” Continue reading

Stanley Aronowitz and Gary Rhoades Cage Match: Does Higher Ed Need to ‘Play the Metrics Game’?

Okay so there wasn’t an actual cage match between Gary Rhoades (of the University of AZ) and Stanley Aronowitz (of CUNY) at the Defending Public Higher Ed Conference at the Graduate Center on October 7. But there were genuine disagreements and a rich debate among presenters and attendees about the best way to save public higher ed from disinvestment and privatization.

I’m going to be discussing this conference in the next couple of blog posts. I’m not writing this only for CUNY folks though. I believe these issues are broadly relevant to higher education.

The main speaker of the day was Gary Rhoades, co-author of Academic Capitalism and the New Economy. I liked his address a lot, even though I don’t think he is right about everything. His most important point was that progressive educators should provide a consistent counter discourse to the one beloved by the Gates, Walton and Lumina foundations. The plutocrat narrative, of course, blames teachers and their unions for the so-called failure of public ed and uses testing and other “accountability” regimes as the scientific justification for turning schools, including colleges and universities, over to CEOs. Continue reading

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