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

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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. Morand’s article 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.  Given the length of this piece, we are publishing it in three parts. Part I: “The Assault,” appeared yesterday. Today we bring you Part II: A Yardstick for an Unfinished American Revolution and tomorrow we will post Part III: “Facing Up to Action.” 

Part I | Part II | Part III

Faculty Unionism and the Threat to American Public Higher Education
Part II: A Yardstick of an Unfinished American Revolution

Originally presented at Baruch College, 1976

The history of education in America is a yardstick of the unfinished American revolution, in the expansion and contraction of access to education. As education reaches out to serve the individual’s needs or itself to provide job gaining and social conditioning at public expense, as it provides equality of investment and encouragement for girls as well as boys, blacks as well as whites, for poor as well as rich, we can read the alternating successes and failures of our struggle for democracy.

Rhetorically the Revolution rejected the aristocratic philosophy of Burke—that “the State will suffer oppression” if hair dressers and working chandlers are allowed to rule—that only “superior minds” are fitted for receiving and examining moral premises. It was generally accepted that wealth, sex and race had more to do with the superiority of an individual’s mind than did talent or scholarship. Franklin and Paine were the sons of a tallow chandler and a corset maker but this did little to reverse the prevailing view that the common man deserved at best a common, practical education fitting to his station.

Free public education was a major demand of the post-revolutionary American lower classes and became an issue of Jacksonian democracy. The emerging trade union movement seized on free schooling—together with demands for a shorter work day, the right to organize, the elimination of child labor and tile removal of property restrictions on suffrage—as a central goal. The struggle was protracted.

The Workingmen’s Party, organized in New York City in 1829, included as its principal plank in its platform a demand for a school system “that shall unite under the same roof children of the poor man and rich, the widow’s charge and the orphan, where the road to distinction shall be superior industry, virtue and acquirement without reference to descent.” Property owners protested taxation for what they saw as the encouragement of indolence. They offered to compromise by supporting public schools for those who would take a pauper’s oath instill the basic condition for most student scholarships—while workers resisted this social stigma.

Higher education has an historically privileged role in our capitalistic society. Public higher education has been an attempt to erase this snobbish stain of privilege and to give education a more central and accessible position in our culture. Although frequently scorned by established and privately funded institutions, public colleges have managed to give millions of low income and minority students a liberal education and a chance for upward mobility.

Despite this accomplishment, a recent statement by the Carnegie Commission identifies defense related research as the only public service attainable to expanded higher education. The Commission contends that higher education for the masses has been a “frighteningly successful endeavor to create men and women for a mass economy” and suggests that public colleges have been and should continue to be vocationally preparatory institutions. Indeed the current snowballing campaign to cut back and cut out liberal education in our public colleges and to make of them vocational training schools, is but a continuation of this ancient conflict between the privileged and the working classes. And, as always, those who would preserve a classical liberal education for those at the private universities while giving more practical planning to the students as our public colleges, pose as the champions and protectors of the lower class, to give them training that will assure them of jobs. For a multiplicity of reasons—some of which I have already touched upon and others that I’ll examine in a moment—these forces are succeeding in enlisting many of their victims as allies and for the first time in 200 year are making significant progress in turning back the clock in the fight to provide equality of educational opportunity for all Americans. So long as our tax cut permits and encourages private universities to intercept public monies—through gifts and grants—before these funds even reach the public treasury, there is no way we can hope to achieve equality of opportunity except through the priority funding of public colleges providing a broad liberal education.

The alternative is for the private schools to use the public monies from gifts and grants, and increasingly, from the public sector itself, to provide a quaint education for the privileged while our public schools administer job training. I may be accused of being divisive within the higher education community and indeed among faculty unionists because of this public critique of private higher education. I am focusing however not on the faculty who probably are where they are as much by happenstance as by design, nor on the students, many of whom are probably young idealists more intent on turning the socioeconomic pyramid on its point than I am but on the trustees, the alumni and the presidents and administrators who serve at their behest. It is they who first declared the class war through self-fulfilling elitist prophecies of a contracting market for liberal higher education and a demand that they retain their hegemony over the field.

It was the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education and the Fortune 500 corporate presidents and board chairmen on the Committee and Economic Development who fought against no and low tuition. It is Treasury secretary Simon and Princeton alumni who proclaim that their tax deducted gifts would be used interfere with academic freedom, to pressure professors to preach business values. I would be for peace with the private colleges but their armies of lobbyists, politicians and influence peddlers are already in the fixed. It is they who have taken up arms against us and it would be foolhardy for us to ignore them. The call of businessman turned college president, John Sawhill of New York University, for accommodation and equality of suffering between the public and private universities reminds one of nothing so much as Anatole France’s observation that “The law in its majestic equality forbids the rich as well as the poor man to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets and to steal bread!”

I have noted the failures of education to fulfill its promises—easily and eagerly made to justify increased funding, go cure the myriad ills that beset our society. Whether these failures were, in fact, failures or false expectations is hardly worth debating. The main point is that taxpayers and legislators perceive them as failures and vent their anger and disillusionment in budgets—and then take legislative action to make the public colleges “accountable” while continuing to provide unaccountable tax funds to the private sector. Ironically, we also suffer politically from what I personally regard as perhaps our finest hour. It was only when hundreds of thousands of our idealistic college students lost their draft deferred status and swelled not just the officer but the enlisted ranks of the Army that serious questioning of the Vietnam war began in our country. Without these students who had learned to ask “why” as well as “how” it is not difficult to imagine the greater disaster into which we might have been escalated.

Yet perhaps a singularly damaging blow was dealt to the cause of higher education by that truly dramatic failure of education to do the simple and fundamental job that in the past had never been brought into question: to prepare the nation’s young men to wage effective war. The wars that built the British Empire, it was said so often and with such pride, were won on the playing fields of Eton. And since the earliest days of our own republic our colleges have provided the second lieutenants for our wars. The massive numbers of college students turned privates who participated in this war were not its leaders and defenders but became instead its resisters and opponents. The failure this time was dramatic in that it was compounded. Not only did our students fail to rally to the flag. They quite literally burned the flag. I suspect that the angry reaction of large segments of the American public to the student role in the antiwar demonstration coupled with related anger at the changing life styles and changing values that have emerged, primarily from our campuses, has engendered deep antagonism—definitely encouraged and by Spiro Agnew’s words—the very words “college”, “university” and indeed the word “intellectual” was made a political pejorative. I am sure that history’s verdict and the most damning indictment of the Nixon administration will be: “They taught us to hate our children.” This anger and antagonism provides—and will continue to provide for years to come—a reservoir of public support for those forces that lead the assault on liberal higher education.

Tomorrow: Part III – Facing Up to Action


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