On Pedagogy and Intellectual Community


Abby Kluchin and Ajay Singh Chaudhary in Social Text:

At present there is a broad and sustained assault upon forms of critical education and scholarship. As a result, wide swaths of the humanities, social sciences and even the theoretical sciences are in danger of becoming the rarefied pursuits of a tiny, economically privileged elite or vanishing altogether. This is not due to lack of interest or to the transformation or exhaustion of these disciplines. Students and faculty alike are encouraged to pursue “practical” or “applied” fields at the expense of a liberal arts education in the humanities and social sciences, or even some of the theoretical areas within the highly touted “STEM” fields. This shift accompanies the growing trend towards the internalization of diffuse corporate ideologies within universities, in the “re-engineering” of the labor force as well as the increasingly prevalent view of students as “consumers” in the market of higher education. 1

We understand this phenomenon within the context of broader economic trends. The transformation of many formerly stable sectors of economic life into modes of precarious labor is by no means confined to academia. But American higher education represents a fairly dramatic example of this trend. In 1975, nearly 60% of faculty at American colleges and universities had full-time, stable employment. 2 Today, approximately 76% of the academic workforce is made up of contingent, undercompensated, and part-time workers who lack job security. 3 This transformation is not only disastrous for the livelihood and well-being of this workforce, but also has significant repercussions for the state of the academy, as it drastically constrains possibilities for research and writing and adversely affects the quality of students’ education.

These phenomena are unfolding within a political and administrative climate that is antagonistic to critical education and research. The past decade provides copious examples. In 2011, Florida Governor Rick Scott threatened the elimination of all state funding for anthropology. At the national level, the Senate recently adopted new rules limiting National Science Foundation funding and support in political science to projects that demonstrably promote “the national security or the economic interests of the United States.” The American Political Science Association aptly summarized the new rules: “While political science research is most immediately affected, at risk is any and all research in any and all disciplines funded by the NSF. The amendment makes all scientific research vulnerable to the whims of political pressure.”

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