Saturday, August 22, 2009

The University In Chains

Henry A. Giroux. The University in Chains: Confronting the Military-Industrial-Academic Complex. Boulder: Paradigm Publishers, 2007.

Reviewed by T. Hatch

This book must be subversive; it is not to be found in any public or college library in the state of Iowa.I only happened upon it through a citation in Chris Hedges' latest light-hearted frolic Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle. Giroux who lost a battle for tenure at Penn State University argues that the “trilogy of forces now shaping education” are patriotic correctness, consumerism, and militarization. The American university has continued to see its position as a public sphere of democracy erode by virtue of its relationship with corporate and military interests. “As a handmaiden of the Pentagon and corporate interests, it has lost its claim to independence and critical learning.”

The book's first and by far longest chapter is in large part a digression of how militarism has afflicted American society in general. Rather than sticking to concrete examples of the military establishment having their way with the American university and calling the shots through the funding of research (of which he does some) Giroux drifts into a semi-poststructural digression. A strained effort to further develop the theoretical construct of a biopolitics through militarization as a means of explaining how American culture at large has been infected with the intersection of war, violence and the spectacle is somewhat tiresome. Perhaps it is small-minded prejudice on my part but the mention of Michele Foucault and the use of words such as “praxis” puts this reader in a foul mood. Then throw in the empirically incorrect assertion that George W. Bush originated the grab and torture program of “extreme rendition” (p.27) and further reading is done with a jaundiced eye. President Bush may have elevated the practice to an art form but there are multiple sources that attribute the start of the policy to the Clinton administration in 1995 and 1998 in both Egypt and the Balkans respectively.

The most interesting chapter dealt with the concerted right-wing attack on higher education. This phenomenon is exemplified by David Horowitz and his organization Students for Academic Freedom (SAF). Horowitz, who has opined that the American Library Association is “a terrorist sanctuary,” advances the notion that what the academy lacks is “balance.” Seeking to do for university education what Fox News has done for broadcast journalism Horowitz maintains that conservative students are being victimized by leftist college professors who are indoctrinating the vulnerable youth. One point that one wishes Giroux had made was, if what Horowitz says is true [sic], where are the fruits of these efforts? Where are all the university-trained radicals that should be apparent as they aid the barbarians and terrorists in the destruction of America?

Perhaps the most horrifying part of this book is the subject of the consumer model of education that has spread like a virus. This is the belief that college students are fundamentally customers. By further imposing corporate hierarchies on the university it only follows that part-time faculty should be utilized as much as possible. A particularly brutal example of this is the plan that the University of Illinois has for developing a completely online entity which is an explicitly for profit operation that employs no tenured faculty. The University of Phoenix and Western Governors University are further examples of the marriage of corporate culture and higher education. For profit institutions,that are publicly traded, are poised to take advantage of the high-speed technologies that allow for huge opportunities in cost reduction. By cutting maintenance expenses and eliminating entire buildings such as libraries and classroom facilities university education in this country can be more fully made into a commodity.

Perhaps someday in the future colleges and universities might run advertisments heralding a coupon good for a reduction in tuition. The education “consumer” of tomorrow might avail themselves of or look for a satisfation guaranteed or your money back arrangement.

1 comment:

Joan Mitchell, Western Governors University said...

I would like to clarify a point related to this article. Western Governors University, which is an online university, is a private, non-profit institution, not publicy traded or for-profit. The university, which is now self-sustaining on tuition, was created by 19 U.S. governors to make higher education accessible and affordable. For more information regarding the university's founding and governance, go to: