The assault on campus values, traditional learning, and professional working conditions in higher education is a widespread problem. Many students are faced with debt until death and teaching is hardly a middle-class profession anymore. This isn’t education—it is exploitation. Recently confirmed Secretary of Education billionaire Betsy DeVos and the Trump administration will not be the leader that American higher education needs. That’s why it’s time to take a stand and make real change in higher education. On March 1st, faculty and students on campuses around the US will rise up and reclaim higher education as a public good. They will step outside the classroom, teach out, and march out to show our resolve to fix the system.
The move to privatize and profit off of education has eroded the American Dream and made it nearly impossible for all but a few to climb the ladder out of poverty. This is not just an economic crisis, but a moral failure that perpetuates the wealth gap. Corporate greed should not define our institutions of higher learning, but the truth is that higher ed has been hijacked by a McDonald’s race-to-the-bottom business model and mentality, and that won’t change until we resist and reclaim it for the people.
Cheryl DeFlavis connects the urgency of activism and teaching in the current climate:
I have always viewed teaching in higher education as a form of activism. I personally had a lot of awakenings during my college education and still hold many of my professors in high regard for this. This has never been more important to me than right now during President Donald Trump's regime. With fake news and ‘alternative facts’ appearing in our national lexicon it has never been more important to teach students critical thought.
We need qualified and committed teachers now more than ever, but we cannot continue to be shortchanged for our labor and love for the mission. Teachers have to stand up for their students and that means taking a stand for the profession and against the power that seeks to destabilize it.
We saw what happened when schools weren’t held accountable and we fought hard to regulate the bad actors, including fraudsters who preyed on the most vulnerable student populations—veterans, single mothers, and minorities. If Congresswoman (R-NC) Virginia Foxx and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos follow through with their intentions to privatize and deregulate higher education we have to do everything possible to intervene and inform students, parents, allies, and the media before it’s too late. In particular, the for-profit sector deceived students and decimated futures, leaving its students in the wake of shady schemes with depleted resources all for just trying to get an education—doing what’s right by American standards.
For-profit colleges and universities are the most conspicuous culprit, but the real problem is that people are struggling to make ends meet in hard times and education in general isn’t meeting the needs of the people when it’s neither affordable nor accessible to those with the greatest need, and in particular when it spins false promises to turn a profit off the misfortune of those it claims to serve.
What is the rationale for investing in higher education when more and more institutions of all types—for-profit, non-profit private, public, and community—seem to operate on a profit over mission model? Higher education funding at the state level is mostly discretionary, not mandatory (such as Medicaid, elementary and secondary school funding), yet educational attainment is valued because an educated citizenry is more likely to contribute dollars back into the economy and rely less on social services.
This is why education matters and is worth fighting for. It’s why we cannot afford to lose our stake in it or stand down as profiteers trade and capitalize on our hopes and dreams but give little back to the communities they exploit. Clearly, it’s not the time to be quiet or deferentially polite in classrooms, faculty meetings, or board of trustees meetings. It’s time to press for public investment in quality higher ed, and that requires informed action.
In “The Tyranny of Politeness” Daniel C. Maguire, professor of ethics at Marquette University, says it plainly: “Such cowering politeness is nothing more than the ‘respectable’ face of complicity in evil. It is the social soil in which tyranny takes root and flourishes. And there is a name for that cowering politeness: it’s called corruption.” Maguire’s ethical reasoning resonates: “Genteel, deferential politeness in situations that call for outrage, is no virtue.” So let’s find the courage to rise up and resist policies and practices that are detrimental to our well-being as educators, students, and citizens. We have nothing to lose but our integrity.
These are a few reasons why Faculty Forward Network endorses the nationwide #CampusResistance days of action starting March 1st. It’s imperative that we join the movement to reclaim higher education for public good and show decision makers that we won’t accept the commodification of higher ed—we will resist Trump’s agenda to divide us and chip away at our human rights. The situation calls for outrage and we won’t be polite—we will not go gentle into that good night. Protesting and protecting civil liberties is what faculty and students must be doing.