Amy DePaul interviews Christopher Newfield, author of Unmaking the Public University, over at Alternet. Although I haven't read Newfield's book, I think his general thesis is correct: he argues that the ideological battles over university curriculum and the cutting and privatizing of university budgets are part of a concerted effort to undermine a more diverse and critical approach to education. While it is true that some universities have become mired in financial difficulties, the logic of their solutions follows that of a loosely neoliberal or 'business' perspective. We've already argued that student debt is political, because increased debt can reduce a graduate's inclination toward low-paying work in activism or social justice work (at the same time that it implies a consumer's model of education); following Newfield we should add that budget cuts are political insofar as they target fields that study the negative aspects of contemporary life, and that advocate a critical and diversified public life. One excerpt:
You say in the book that elites on the right began to focus on universities increasingly. What actions did they take?
They attacked every reform in the humanities that racially integrated the curriculum, including attempts to broaden ‘great books’ courses at Stanford in the late 80s. The humanities as a source of knowledge in society was gradually discredited. In the early 90s, attacks began on affirmative action in California and elsewhere.
The other flank of the culture wars is the budget wars and my argument is they are basically the same thing. The goal was to discredit fields that had studied negative aspects of American life. The second goal was to use budget pressures to de-fund disciplines that seemed too critical of the established order. History, literature studies, anthropology, sociology -- anything that isn’t econometric and efficiency oriented, anything too skeptical, all of that stuff should only be tolerated if it can pay its own way.