Lives on the Line | Faculty Unionism and the Threat to American Public Higher Education – Part I

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Editor’s Note: Marty Morand’s, “Faculty Unionism and the Threat to American Public Higher Education,” inaugurates Raging Chicken Press’s new newest series, Lives on the Line. Lives on the Line will highlight the stories and work of activists and everyday people who have been instrumental in progressive struggles in the Commonwealth and the surrounding region. I have been thinking about creating a series like this for a while. When Marty Morand posted a comment to an article I wrote about APSCUF’s recent contract fight, it felt like a sign that now was the time. Marty wrote: “I would like to submit some things I wrote ‘in the old days.’ I subscribe to the warnings about those who forget history…” We couldn’t agree more. Lives on the Line exists so we don’t forget. 

Marty Morand’s, “Faculty Unionism and the Threat to American Public Higher Education,” was a talk given at Baruch College in 1976. At the time, Morand was the Executive Director of APSCUF – yes, the very same union that currently represents more than 6,000 faculty and coaches at the 14 university Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. Morand played an instrumental role in the founding of APSCUF. I can’t think of a better piece to launch the Lives on the Line series than this one. Much of what Morand discusses in this article sounds exactly like what we’re dealing with today. Given the length of the piece, we will post it in three parts. Here is Part 1:

 Part I | Part II | Part III

Faculty Unionism and the Threat to American Public Higher Education
Part 1: The Assault

Originally presented at Baruch College, 1976

The concept of public higher education so recently seen as the solution to poverty and prejudice, to violence and lawlessness, and as a panacea for the social and economic inequities that afflict our society is under assault in America today. Gerald Ford and the Carnegie Commission find eager and powerful allies in the business community, the Congress and the State houses and, saddest, from some of our most prestigious private universities and colleges when they assert that the public colleges have overgrown their boundaries and exceeded their range all social utility. This powerful coalition, with astonishing blueness, proposes to turn public colleges—the people’s colleges—into vocational training schools narrowly tailored to the needs of the labor market. We are in the midst of a counter-revolution, led by business-oriented, cost-conscious managers who are quietly but ruthlessly cutting back, pruning and phasing out programs, faculty, students and even whole colleges. Prematurely predicting enrollment declines, armed with carefully selected statistics, spouting euphemisms such as “cost-benefit analysis”, “accountability”, “productivity”, “retrenchment”, etc. etc., budget-minded administrators are deciding the fate and future of our colleges. The criterion for survival is “attractiveness.” Concerns about liberal education are subordinated to the balance sheets of the accountants and statisticians.

PA Keystone Defend Public Higher EdMy purpose here today is to discuss some of the reasons for this assault, to identify what I see as the issues and to suggest not only a course of action but a model for that action. I do not come without prejudices. I believe that a broad, liberal education freely accessible to the great working class and the traditionally under of privileged of this country remains our best, indeed our only hope for fulfilling the promise of the American Revolution. My prejudices are in part the product of my having had the opportunity to attend CCNY for a nickel subway fare. For me, therefore, a freely accessible liberal education is not just a dream but a necessity. I come from a trade union background and am the organizer and Executive Director of perhaps the most successful faculty union in America. Obviously these facts should be weighed when I assert that faculty unionism is the critical force for effectively defending the values and the value of public liberal higher education. I am at best cautiously optimistic that such a defense will be made, or that it will succeed, but I see no group other than the united faculties of our public colleges in a position to provide leadership and rally support for maintaining and expanding the role of the people’s colleges.

Our current plight stems in part from the past willingness of educators to justify their existence, specifically their budgets, in terms of economic utility. In the 1960’s, particularly, educational establishments sought appropriations and justified programs on the easy ground that there would be quick and demonstrable economic returns: increased earnings to the graduates and increased tax revenues to the state.

When Sputnik rocketed us into a brave new world of higher education, no cost was too great to put a man on the moon before the Russians. Money flowed and programs flowered. Public institutions expanded access to a decent liberal education for those who could not afford private institutions. This was the age of the “think tank” with knowledge exploding at a feverish pace, special sciences being generated overnight and computers growing from a laboratory toy to man’s greatest technical innovation. Man, an American man, landed on the moon and for a moment we had a glimpse of “Camelot”. Ironic, really, that no American college thought to erect a monument to the one man who did more than any other for American higher education, Nikira Krushchev.

The successes gave birth to a cliché: “if we can put a man on the moon, why can’t we eliminate poverty, rehabilitate criminals, cure cancer or brew a better cup of coffee?” Both students and the public demanded to know why a nation so successful in conquering the complexities of inter-planetary physics could be so baffled or disinterested in earth-bound human problems. The end of the Apollo space program ushered in an age of disillusionment. Money seemed more scarce, liberal education less a necessity. People began asking if the investment in education was “showing a favorable return”—in the Gross National Product. President Ford asked, “What good is education if it does not prepare the student for a job?” This substitution of training for education, the suggestion that there is such a word as “over-educated” are symptomatic of a society where value is spelled P-R-I-C-E.

Those who accuse education of failing are really complaining that it was not the cure-all for social ills they had proclaimed it to be. For this excessive expectation. educators themselves are culpable. They promised anything so long as it resulted in greater funding, instead of arguing for education as the individual’s right for his or her personal development, education was represented as a capital investment which would repay the state in higher taxes paid by more productive people—a painless, peaceful vehicle to create social and economic equality, calm racial prejudice, eliminate sexual chauvinism, transcend religious parochialism and subsume ethnic isolationism in an intellectual melting pot.

It quickly became apparent that the products of the expanded educational system were being poured into an economic system that really had no room or use for them. Indeed, it did not require a federally financed Harvard and MIT study to determine that as the proportion of society enjoying higher education grew, the special economic advantage of the educated person would be more difficult to demonstrate. Any high school algebra student could have seen that as the percentage of the population in post-secondary education increased, their relative advantage over the rest of society must inevitably diminish.

Our failure to establish higher education as a right has unfortunate consequences. Since the individual right to a high school education is clearly established, no one suggests that our schools be closed simply because high school graduate cannot find jobs. By the parallel proposition that our colleges should be cut back because there are jobs for the graduates is widely accepted. There is hardly a voice to point out the obvious that the problem is not with our educational system but rather with our economic system and with our distorted sense of value.

If public higher education persists in measuring our success and failure economic terms, it is important that we know the nature of the economic system which holds us accountable. A useful description of that system is the pyramid. Throughout most of our history it has been socially useful to nurture the myth that there is always room at the top of that pyramid for the diligent, the talented and, particularly, for the college graduate.

The truth of course has been otherwise. There is, by definition, a limited amount of room at the apex of the pyramid. The social stereotypes have therefore been convenient criteria for rejecting candidates for the upper level. A disproportion number of blacks and women have been kept out of college and one major reason, spoken or unspoken, is that it would be economically wasteful to make an educational investment in persons predestined as unable to realize the fruits of their education. We may have been embarrassed by the limited opportunities available to blacks, but we have sometime proudly proclaimed the limits placed on women. And, although less widely acknowledged, there has been tacit recognition of the fact that birth and background are more important determinates of an individual’s place in the social and economic hierarchy than intelligence and education.

Thus, if education is justified as an investment with an economic payoff, it follows normally that society’s pariahs should receive less of it. The crisis facing our colleges is not only a crisis of dollars and cents, it is a challenge to our commitment to higher education as an instrument for social change and development. Questioning of its benefits is as ancient as education itself. Two hundred years ago something was said about the equality of man, about his common dignity and the rights of the individual to pursue a life of happiness. The men—and they were all men—who signed the Declaration of Independent were liberally educated—familiar with the thinking of Socrates, Plato and Locke. The slaves they owned and the people they purported to represent were not. The Declaration was a landmark in revolutionary rhetoric, but it represented more for a War of Independence than a social revolution. All people—so long as they were not black, red, female, young or poor.

Continue Reading: Part II – A Yardstick of an Unfinished American Revolution

 

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