opinion   |   column

COLUMN: Resist the commercialization of college



IU offers many exciting ways for you to find a job in the future. With promises of marketability, you might even wonder if you’re a consumer in a business. In fact, the higher education system is commercialized to suit your interests.

It’s a disservice to us.

Universities run on a cult of meritocracy that values the ability of education to prepare you for a future career, literary critic William Deresiewicz said. When colleges try to attract students, they market buzzwords like “creativity” and “leadership,” as skills you can learn that will get you a job.

Universities use science to justify the economic value of the humanities, philosopher Roger Scruton said. Literary studies and musicology have illegitimately appealed to psychology to show how the fields explain human evolution.

As a result of these pressures, the humanities have struggled to stay relevant. We’ve merged courses from the sciences and humanities “in order to generate ‘studies’ that would appeal to the increasingly unqualified intake of students,” Scruton said.

The incentive on economic productivity has caused researchers to create superfluous journals and articles all to pad their résumés. We become risk-averse and needlessly competitive.

Imagine how capitalist motives affect the way students learn.

“Should a teacher’s motives for introducing seventh-graders to science be that she is preparing cadres of future technicians who will be able to design bigger and better defenses against ICBMs?” asked Robert Alter, professor of Hebrew and comparative literature at University of California, Berkeley.

Alter said this purpose alienates students from learning rather than exciting them about it.

The university needs to help society’s needs, but it shouldn’t be a customer-service model for economic interests. As literary theorist Terry Eagleton puts it, “You would tackle society’s needs a great deal more effectively were you to challenge this whole alienated model of learning.”

Our purpose should be something more. Otherwise it’s difficult to truly enjoy learning for the sake of learning.

We don’t understand how to deal with the dilemmas of tomorrow, be they moral, political or scientific. The most dangerous part is we take these beliefs for granted as though there are no alternatives.

We don’t need to stop focusing on productivity entirely. But we should realize there’s more to college than just that.

We need to realize classrooms are conversations for learning and growth.

We need to introspectively reflect on what we’re learning to create autonomy and independence.

Challenge the money-driven power of those above you. Question the dogmatic assertions of your peers.

Otherwise we’re not fighting the real poverty: the poverty of the soul.

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