Friday, May 22, 2015

Higher Education and the Slave Economy

By Professor Doom

A recent column by Noam Chomsky, titled The Death of American Universities, touches on what’s happening as we revert to a slave economy. In a speech, Alan Greenspan discussed how it being increasingly difficult to get a steady job was a good thing for the economy. Chomsky responds:

“At the time, everyone regarded Greenspan’s comment as very reasonable, judging by the lack of reaction and the great acclaim he enjoyed. Well, transfer that to the universities: how do you ensure “greater worker insecurity”? Crucially, by not guaranteeing employment, by keeping people hanging on a limb than can be sawed off at any time, so that they’d better shut up, take tiny salaries, and do their work; and if they get the gift of being allowed to serve under miserable conditions for another year, they should welcome it and not ask for any more.”

            The majority of teachers in higher education are adjuncts: part-time, no benefits, minimally paid workers with no job security. It has been key to the debasement of higher education into mostly being the same material taught in high school or much lower. With no security, the professors have no means of standing up to administrators that insist another chapter be taken out, that grades be inflated further, that the professors certify that the students are eminently qualified to take over the professor’s job, for much less pay.

Friend: “After deducting for rent and some food, I clear $20 a month.”
--I have friends working at Wal-Mart, just barely betting by. Yes, they can save money, but a single visit to a health clinic wipes out a year of “savings”. This is not a plan for the future. Lose that job for a month, and that wipes out the savings from 3 years or more of life…there’s no future in this.

             What’s happening to professors in higher education is happening elsewhere. It’s not just the loss of tenure, it’s literally being unable to know if you’re going to have a job 3 months from now, even when you’re in a business (Wal-Mart or higher education) that’s obviously still raking in money.

            People now start life in debt from student loans. They *need* some sort of security so that they can plan to pay off those debts; miss a few payments, and these debts balloon, a real problem because it’s after a certain point the loans become impossible to pay back with a minimum wage job. 

            Adjuncts are simply worse off than most, because they’re deeper in debt, having also paid for graduate school. It’s not simply the lack of security that’s a problem here, it’s that adjuncts are being forced into behaving unethically, being part of the problem of turning higher education into a fraud, a fraud that creates more people that start life in debt.

“That’s the way you keep societies efficient and healthy from the point of view of the corporations. And as universities move towards a corporate business model, precarity is exactly what is being imposed. And we’ll see more and more of it.”

            Yes, precarity, the lack of any job security, is the norm now today. We’re a nation of truck drivers, paid for use. The microsecond there’s no need for something to be delivered, that’s the microsecond the truck driver stops getting paid. Most drivers live fairly close to the edge; once driverless vehicles become the norm (already they’re crossing the country, and there’s an automated truck on the road in Nevada, so perhaps another decade or so), I wonder what will happen to them.

      It’s no different than adjuncts, paid when there are 40 students to fill the classroom to capacity, and unemployed if there are only 39 students…it doesn’t matter if it only takes 3 students’ tuition to cover the adjunct pay, profits must be maximized, always.

            You can’t have a precarious job and have debt payments that must be regularly paid. It’s that simple. But the only jobs left are precarious.

Son of Deceased Friend: “Hey, you knew him for 20 years. Can you help pay some of the funeral expenses? He had a lot of bills.”
--in times past, when the family elder died, the family gathered to split the inheritance. There are legendary tales in my family about fights over inheritance, from generations ago, and friends  have comparable stories from their family’s past. Those fights don’t happen anymore, but it’s not an improvement: now people die with nothing—or less!--and the family gathers to figure out how to pay the bills.

     Adding insult to the injury of precarity is the starving professors get to see the fruits of their labor swiped by administration:

            That’s one aspect, but there are other aspects which are also quite familiar from private industry, namely a large increase in layers of administration and bureaucracy. If you have to control people, you have to have an administrative force that does it. So in US industry even more than elsewhere, there’s layer after layer of management — a kind of economic waste, but useful for control and domination.

            The author is correct that the massive increase in administration in higher education is paralleled in business…little surprise since higher education has been adopting the corporate model over the years.

            How does this relate to the slave economy? People don’t think they’re slaves today, and, in a few ways, they’re not. Previously I addressed the “two tier” legal system, where most of the slave class has markedly less rights than the 1% class, where much of the slave class owns nothing, where slaves no longer are entitled to the fruits of their labor. But there’s one more thing that makes a slave: no ability to accumulate capital.

            I’ve noted before that, although professors teach classes responsible for bringing in a million dollars of tuition revenue, the professors themselves only get a few thousand, a tiny percentage. Many professors are getting just barely enough—barely!—to scrape by. All the profits go the corporation/institution which distributes them to an ever more bloated administrative class.

“And the same is true in universities. In the past thirty or forty years, there’s been a very sharp increase in the proportion of administrators to faculty and students; faculty and students levels have stayed fairly level relative to one another, but the proportion of administrators have gone way up.”

     Mr. Chomsky is a bit off here. Being intimate with higher education, I assure you the “faculty and students” levels have not stayed fairly level. Administration uses a wide array of manipulations to inflate the alleged number of faculty of an institution (for example, librarians and tutors are counted as “faculty”, among many other weird accounting procedures).     But I digress.
     Again, this is little different from the “old” slave economy, where the slave works an entire life generating money for the master, and in the end, has nothing, not even enough for a grave.

     As people realize they’re not getting enough to survive, much less build capital for their own investment, a cry is made to raise the minimum wage. I won’t go into minimum wage here, but, honestly, if minimum wage was the real solution to the actual problem, we wouldn’t have to raise it every few years…the underlying system of the slave economy will ultimately turn minimum wage into subsistence level regardless of whether it’s $10 or $100 an hour. It’s the underlying system that is flawed, not the hourly rate of pay.

“This includes professional administrators like deans, for example, who used to be faculty members who took off for a couple of years to serve in an administrative capacity and then go back to the faculty; now they’re mostly professionals, who then have to hire sub-deans, and secretaries, and so on and so forth, a whole proliferation of structure that goes along with administrators. All of that is another aspect of the business model.”

As I’ve said before, mandating that faculty and administration be interchangeable is key to fixing higher education. What I haven’t said before, I’ll say now: we need to do the same thing in our system. While making “owners” and “employees” interchangeable is a bit unworkable I admit, our political system is clearly as badly arranged as our higher education system. If you don’t believe me, consider how many elections have basically boiled down to “Which Clinton” or “Which Bush” or “Which Skull and Bones member?” should get the vote…and how it doesn’t even matter, since “both” sides believe heavily in massive wars, massive debts, and massive bail-outs of too-big-to-fail and too-big-to-jail corrupted institutions. The slave caste is shut out of the political system as much as faculty are shut out of higher education.

Alas, Chomsky finished up on a flat note:

“You know better than I do what has to be done, the kind of problems you face. Just got ahead and do what has to be done. Don’t be intimidated, don’t be frightened, and recognize that the future can be in our hands if we’re willing to grasp it.”

The article is definitely a great read, although I wish he’d offered more solutions beyond “do what needs to be done”—I’m sure folks in the WWII concentration camps could have gone far with that advice. “Don’t be frightened or intimidated by those guys with the machine guns, the future is in your hands!” Having seen facult after faculty stand up and try to stop admin from debasing education, only to be terminated in short order, “you know what to do” just isn’t helping. ySeriously, something better needed to be said. At least I offer a few hard fixes.

  One comment does say what needs to be done, and I have to concede it’s a valid and simple, albeit harsh, solution:

As a former prof who watched a once-great university and university program crumble under temper tantrum management, 'my way or the highway' Napoleans, bitter academics who demanded we twist and fabricate our grading to lift their class member performance ratings, recruit gang rapists to play football, etc., I say let the universities and colleges as they exist today die and let's start over. I would not send an ENEMY'S child to most colleges and universities today.

     There sure are a lot of “former prof” people that used to contribute to higher education, and, after watching it devolve year after year into the mess of today, have just walked away. Soon, students will start walking away, as well.



Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Reverting to the Slave Economy

By Professor Doom

     A recent column by Noam Chomsky on The Death of American Universities touches on a few of the concepts in higher education in my blog, but also mentions a theme of modern society, one that hasn’t been seriously investigated.

     That theme? We’re turning into a slave economy.

     For most of human history, societies were based on slave economies; most of the population was slaves, with the rest of society being classed as “freemen”, ruled over by some sort of untouchable aristocracy. The latter were untouchable in the sense that they made the rules, the laws, and naturally such rules were always written to maintain the status quo of keeping the rules-makers on top, forever.

     Slavery is much, and justifiably, reviled in our society, but much like Fascism and Marxism, we’re told in school to focus only on the worst aspects of it. Because we’re not told the big picture, we don’t realize that that much of today’s society follows along the ideas of slavery, much like many of our government’s policies are quite in line with Fascism and Marxism…the latter for another column, today it’s about slavery.

     First, there was more to slavery than just “ownership of human beings by human beings”, so I need to clarify some other things that were important to slave status. First, the rights of slaves are minimal, if any exist at all—you could beat on them, even kill them, with relative impunity. They are not just second-class citizens, they are last class, and generally not citizens (or, as per early American laws, 3/5ths of a citizen, in some sense). Even within the slave status, there was a hierarchy—mine slaves were to be worked to death, while the house slaves were treated considerably better…albeit still slaves.

      We’re told slaves owned nothing, but that wasn’t necessarily true. A slave owned his underwear, a drinking cup, perhaps even a few utensils…nothing of great value, to be sure, but a slave was generally allowed to have a few things, for use if not in a legal sense.

     It’s easy enough to see that, today, much of the population in the world has slave status. The United States bombs and murders with impunity across the globe, killing thousands, if not tens of thousands, of people a year…and screams bloody murder if so much as a single US “citizen”, dies in just about any circumstance that could remotely be considered as retaliation. Even our invading soldiers, if they die at around 20 at a time, will make the news, while US bombs that annihilate hundreds hardly merit a peep.

     So, the US is the current aristocracy, making its own lawns and expecting the world to follow them…much of the rest of the world is just slave country, compared to the US.

     Even within the United States, there are various levels of slavery. For decades, perhaps even a century, “the lower classes” (and by this phrase I mean most everyone not some sort of government employee) complained that the police were beating them and killing them with relative impunity, little different than how slaves were treated by a cruel master. 

     For decades, perhaps even a century, police departments investigated themselves with each accusation, and with very few exceptions, cleared themselves of wrongdoing, asserting that the slaves were just lying.

      With the advent of cheap and ubiquitous video camera technology, and the ability to make such videos public in a matter of seconds, it’s becoming fairly clear that the lower classes were telling the truth, for the most part. You can spend a lifetime watching police brutality videos on YouTube…a thinking person must consider the real possibility that most of those self-investigations by police departments in the past century might not have been perfectly legitimate.

      Our legal system, similarly, seems to operate differently for the slave classes—you can go to jail for years for trivial offenses with no victims, while the wealthy (especially bankers) can commit crimes damning entire cities, even countries, with no real legal penalty.

      But there’s more to slavery than just the multi-tier system of rights. There’s a question of ownership of the fruits of one’s labor. I worked as a professional writer for decades; the first thing I had to do, every time, before even my tiniest article was published, was sign a document giving ownership of my rights to a corporation. Yes, the internet has changed things, but the fact is still I don’t own my work, and most everyone working in industry gives up all creative rights as a precondition of being given the “gift” of being allowed to make money for the corporation. 

      We’re owned by corporations now, instead of people…it’s a form of slavery unto itself, especially since the laws are written, by corporations, to favor corporations. The legal idiocy of “corporations are people” is just the icing on the crap cake of the current legal structure…when you can throw corporations in jail or execute them for crimes, I’ll revisit my opinion there. But until then, consider the rampant criminality of corporations, especially banks, who generally only pay fines to the government for their crimes, fines that really are just a percentage of the profits from their crimes, to realize we have a serious problem here. As one example of many, JP Morgan is paying 13 billion in fines, while still being very profitable…the company is just paying fines as the cost of doing business while turning a profit, while the government is profiting from the criminality. This is nothing like how it works when a citizen/slave is caught stealing.

     Despite being owned by corporations, we still own things, right? That’s debatable. The median net worth of a single black female is $5…how far have they come from the years of “actual” slavery where they owned nothing past some underwear and a drinking cup? Considering how debased the dollar is, $5 just about covers used underwear and a drinking cup.

      Student loan debt (bet you thought I wasn’t going to relate this to higher education!) means many of our young people start life deep in debt…they own less than nothing, and are in turn owned by either the government or the bank/corporation that holds the debt.

     The economic downturn has seen an immense transfer of wealth from the slave caste to the aristocracy. We, i.e., the people of the slave caste, literally have no rights or ability to stop this.  

     More accurately, the slaves are so ignorant of how economics/money works that most people don’t even have a clue what’s happened to them, and what’s still happening. I suspect there are now many segments of society, not just black females and new graduates from college, that have a median net worth of basically nothing. This isn’t all that wild a conjecture, seeing as about 25% of the population has a net worth of $0 or less.

     The transition to a slave economy has been coming for decades, perhaps, although the last few years have made things much easier to see. There are more aspects to the slave economy, and much to discuss from Chomsky’s article.

     Next time.


Saturday, May 16, 2015

Professor Gives Christian A Hard Time…Admin Doesn’t Care.

By Professor Doom

     So, last time around, we saw a professor give a student zero after zero on writing assignments, in an era of higher education where it’s extraordinarily rare to give out such grades.

      It’s very clear the professor has an agenda of indoctrination into his own particular mythology, one I won’t honor with a discussion of here. That said, I concede the professor totally has the right to grade as weirdly as he wishes.

     Administration doesn’t care about this sort of thing, what it wants are happy customers, providing those sweet, sweet, student loan checks.

       Are the professor’s customers happy, outside of this one, un-indoctrinated student?

According to the website Rate My Professor, Russum has an overall quality rating of 4.3 and the average grade of an “A.” His page is also adorned with a chili pepper to indicate his physical attractiveness. One student labeled him a Marxist and feminist in 2011.

     Oh, well, there it is, then. A decade ago, I’d get a chili pepper or two, but, alas, those days are past for me (discovering a local grocery store with extraordinary butter cream technology hasn’t helped). I’m a little hit-and-miss on Rate My Professor otherwise, I admit. While Rate My Professor is hardly scientific, neither are the in-class student evaluations. Let’s take, along with a grain of salt, a look at what some of the students had to say:

This professor is great! I took the 12 week course online, It is an easy class if you do the assignments, make sure that you write the acquired amount of sentences if you do not, you will get an F.

--I want to clarify here: all you need to do to pass is write the appropriate number of sentences. And agree with the professor, apparently. This is education?

He spent our first 3 hour class belittling religions and even atheism, while glorifying his beliefs. He says we should "discuss". He just wants us to adopt his contradicting ideas as he shuts down our own.

--anyone get the feeling this student didn’t pass the course?

Took 6 week online summer course. VERY easy as long as you read the chapters, watch the movies and do the essay at the end of the week. He's very particular on # of sentences you write. So make sure you count. Final with 5 pages (for a B) is brutal since its essentially 5 pages on your opinion so make sure you have one.

--again, we’re seeing the same idea here as to what exactly is required of students: write a certain number of sentences, and you’d better agree with the professor. Or else.

He was totally crazy, but as long as you did the work and showed you opinion you got an A,

--Again, definitely seeing a theme.
It's not very difficult to get a good grade in this class. Just show up and do all your work and participate. However, his lectures are very unclear. He tries to push his views on you and dislikes it when you disagree with him. He talks about being a Marxist and a Feminist and makes it seem that everything else is wrong.

--Yeah, ok, we get it. Student evaluations are a pretty feeble tool for judging teaching, but when you see the same issues come up year after year, you have to at least consider that there’s some accuracy to what students are saying.

     I’ve cherry-picked the responses here, but it’s clear this is a relatively easy professor and course. Write a certain number of sentences, agree with him on all counts, and you’re set. A few of the responses make him seem a bit more balanced, but it’s tough to accept that balance when his own course syllabus is so belligerent about his beliefs.

     Despite the zeroes, the student still got an A for the course. The professor isn’t stupid, he knows admin only cares about passing students, after all, and education isn’t on the table.

      The fact still remains, he gave this student outright zeroes for her work expression Christian beliefs. She didn’t turn in blank papers, so he’s definitely being unfair by the standards of most institutions today. I emphasize, he totally has that right…but if admin will step in to protect a cheater against “unfair” treatment, surely they’d do so here. Right?

     So back to the real question: what is administration’s response to behavior towards a Christian student that is easily as unfair as the previous professor’s behavior towards a class nearly full of disrespectful cheaters? The latter were quickly protected by admin.

     Let’s take a look at Polk State’s core values, or so they claim:

Polk State College Core Values
  • Service
  • Integrity
  • Knowledge
  • Diversity
  • Leadership
      There’s that word, “diversity”, that clearly means whatever admin wants it to mean. The primary meaning is that certain groups will receive favored status over other groups, although the usual definition (i.e., the definition normal people use) is to allow and consider other elements, particularly people, cultures and ideas. Thus, the professor is free to have his belief system…but should be tolerant of other belief systems. Not doing so violates the core value of diversity.

     Will admin be doing anything about this odd advancement of a belief system on students, and odiously unfair treatment of other belief systems? Doing so would require leadership, another core value.

     Let’s take a look at administration’s commitment to their institution’s core values when it’s time to demonstrate. These guys are paid an awful lot of money, so I’m sure they’ll prove their worth:

Dean of Academic Affairs Donald Painter said that he had reviewed the materials presented in Russum’s Humanities 2020 course and “believe[d] them to be appropriate.” Painter apologized that the student and her family found the course materials to be “distasteful,” but said the materials would not be modified.

     Gee whiz, this is a 2000-level, 2nd year course, and all you need to do to get an “A” is write the appropriate number of sentences, and agree with the professor? And the Deanling is perfectly fine with this. Yes, that’s what higher education looks like today for many courses. I ask quite a bit more than that in my second year courses, for what it’s worth, but I accept that things are different on the indoctrination side of campus.

     The Deanling finds nothing wrong with the course, despite serious issues with diversity there for all to see. But what about persecution of a Christian? Maybe we’ll see some leadership in that regard? Let’s see:

“Polk State College officials said the school's legal counsel is reviewing the issue but declined to comment…”

      This is an interesting counterpoint to previous professor’s act of unfairness. Students can be insulting and cheat, and admin will immediately swoop to the rescue if it feels the cheaters are being treated unfairly, while another student with Christian beliefs can’t be spared unfair treatment without administration first consulting with lawyers. Hmm.

      The lawyers did respond, in detail, to the allegations. It’s a pretty thorough response, roughly summarized as “shut up”. The lawyers (and administration) agree with me that the professor totally has the right to grade however he wishes, and that absolutely includes practices that are distinctly unfair. The legal precedent for this is very strong…odd that it didn’t seem to apply for the previous professor, however.

      I’ve often been told that higher education has been taken over by people with an agenda, an agenda that has nothing to do with education. I don’t know if I’m ready to agree with “taken over”, but it’s tough to look at what’s happening and not concede that, yeah, there’s plenty of indoctrination going on here, and the above shows that, when it comes to doing anything that might interfere with indoctrination, there’s a distinct double standard going on.