Professor-Ant, Public University-Dove, and Neoliberal-Bird Catcher Story

Professor-Ant, Public University-Dove, and Neoliberal-Bird Catcher Story

Blog post by David M. Boje, Ph.D.

 In Aesop’s Fable: “An ANT went to the bank of a river to quench its thirst, and being carried away by the rush of the stream, was on the point of drowning. A Dove sitting on a tree overhanging the water plucked a leaf and let it fall into the stream close to her. The Ant climbed onto it and floated in safety to the bank. Shortly afterwards a bird catcher came and stood under the tree, and laid his lime-twigs for the Dove, which sat in the branches. The Ant, perceiving his design, stung him in the foot. In pain the bird catcher threw down the twigs, and the noise made the Dove take wing.”

My Storyteller’s CRITICAL TRANSLATION: The professor (Ant) taught courses to quench student’s thirst for knowledge. The professor (Ant) got carried away doing more and more research and teaching, to the point of burnout. The Public University (Dove) intervened providing a better teaching load, and a graduate assistant to help. Shortly after a neoliberal Bird Catcher named World Bank attempted to catch the Public University (Dove), implement ‘performance budgeting’, made students into customers, downsized the number of faculty and staff, increase workload of survivors, or just replaced them with adjuncts, they are paid far less than full professors. The professor (Ant) seeing World Bank’s grand design to end every public research university confronted the neoliberal agenda with a cost-benefit critique. The bird catcher (World Bank) retreated deciding to hunt in another state, and Higher Education did take wing, free for another day.

Like the bird catcher, World Bank is out hunting for public universities to trap, and put in the cage of ‘Academic Capitalism.’ The goal of World Bank is to coerce faculty into giving up their power and become more entrepreneurial. The bait is set out. An entrepreneurial way the public university can use entrepreneurship ventures to make up for declining State funds. There is a trade off for this marketization: The student becomes customer, business becomes investor, and other universities are competitors.

The World Bank neoliberal agenda imposes ‘performance budgeting’ on each nation’s public universities, in which consumer determined output indicators, are used to reallocate university resources according to ‘student-is-customer’ needs.

The end game is final the demise of classic humanities curriculum, and destruction of traditional research university (CAUT).

Les Levidow (2005: 157) has an excellent chapter on ‘Neoliberal Agendas for Higher Education, including analysis of World Bank report, the Neoliberal Agenda for Public Universities, is revealed:

“The reform agenda … is oriented to the market rather than to public ownership or to governmental planning and regulation. Underlying the market orientation of tertiary education is the ascendance, almost worldwide, of market capitalism and the principles of neoliberal economics”

“Since the 1990s, universities worldwide have been urged to adopt commercial models of knowledge, skills, curriculum, finance, accounting, and management organization: (p. 157).

Harvey’s (2007) neoliberalism theory has these premises

  1. Privatization and commodification of public assets such as the public university
  2. Financialization that is speculative and predatory through mergers and acquisitions, raiding of pension funds, decimation of public university financial reserves
  3. Management and manipulation of crises to spring “the debt trap” as primary means of accumulation by dispossession. Creating crisis (starving the beast) then consuming the beast in order to pillage public university assets. Deliberate creation of student debt, and then unemployment after graduation as a way to produce labor surplus. Sometimes the crises spiral out of control and become too severe, which prompts revolts agains the managerial systems of surveillance and control (e.g. Zapatista uprising in Mexico)
  4. State redistributions – the state, once neoliberalized becomes the primate of redistributive policies to reverse slow from upper to lower class (in phase one privatization and cutback by State expenditures). If the rent to own of tiny homes converts a valuable asset into accessibility by the lower and middle class, the danger is after the transfer is accomplished, tiny housing speculation takes over, forcing the homeless and low income out to the periphery again, back into the tents and missions dorms.

Harvey argues the main achievement of neoliberalization has been to redistribute wealth rather than to generate it (159).

Dismantling public universities through acts of privatization, increasing tuition, and promising a culture of entrepreneurialism (Harvey, 2007: 61). Consent is forged more easily during budget crisis. Entrepreneurialism promises individual freedom and wealth in the marketplace, where each individual is responsible for their own actions and well-being (p. 65).

Years of Budget Cuts are Putting Public University education out of reach for more and more students

I found some more info on this World Bank neoliberal ‘entrepreneurial agenda for public universities (CAUT):

“But the World Bank’s reform agenda still emerged from the conference alive and raring to go. Their The Financing and Management of Higher Education: A Status Report on Worldwide Reforms, written for the UNESCO conference, explains that the reform agenda ‘is oriented to the market rather than to public ownership or to governmental planning and regulation. Underlying the market orientation of tertiary education is the ascendance, almost worldwide, of market capitalism and the principles of neo-liberal economics.’”

The Neoliberal rationality goes like this. Public university is a ‘private’ good because education is in limited supply, not demanded by all, and is available for a price (tuition). Students are consumers, but so are business and industry. The problem is faculty and administrators of public universities are not well-informed service providers on the ways of market forces. The neoliberal agenda is therefore is to make higher education completely self-financing (CAUT):

  • increasing tuition fees;
  • (charging full cost fees for room and board;
  • testing for all student loans;
  • charging full market rates of interest on all loans;
  • improving collection of loans through private companies, and
  • introduction of a graduate tax;
  • training faculty in entrepreneurship;
  • selling research and courses

NOTE the Difference in 3 Blue and The Red States above; Alaska has Permanent Fund, a Rainy Day fund for education.


What Can the Ants Do?

We must create dialectic opposition world-historical significance to counteract the prevailing socioeconomic order. To do this we embrace the contradictions of the world order and its university. Is education reform from below possible?

Neoliberal forms of marketization and entrepreneurship turn public education into a commodity, and use market measures performance indicators. The Faculty critics can deomonstrate how all these aspects are linked to change the content of faculty work, and student learning, as part of a World Bank global agenda to marketize public universities. Circulate analyses of anti-marketization struggles to create alternative futures to the neoliberal university strategy. De-reify the neoliberal narrative that says, ‘There Is No Alternative’ (TINA) to Marketization. Find alternatives, present the preponderance of evidence and get a critical debate going at every public university around the world. Distribute counter-narratives and critical pedagogies. Engage in Theater of the Oppressed pedagogies that enhance student’s critical citizenship and critical leadership praxis. Debate the TINA world future with world-making alternative futures.

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Giroux, H. A. (1979). Schooling and the Culture of Positivism: Notes on the Death of History. Educational theory, 29 (4), 263-284.

Harvey, D. (2007). A brief history of neoliberalism. Oxford University Press, USA.

Slaughter, S. and Leslie, L.L (1997) Academic Capitalism: Politics, Policies and the Entrepreneurial University. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.