Student Debt and Other Threats to Affordable Higher Ed

There was lot of Twitter buzz this weekend about a roundtable at the Modern Language Association convention in Seattle on the fight for public higher education (see a roundup of Tweets).  The roundtable (organized by yours truly, although in the end I wasn’t able to participate) included Michelle Masse, Jeffrey Williams, Jason Jones, Bob Samuels, Christopher Simeone, and Marc Bousquet  on the topic of 1) attacks on public higher ed and 2) what faculty and graduate students should be doing to shore up quality, affordable public higher education.

There is more about the roundtable in the Chronicle of Higher Ed—just ignore the misleading title.

And just out, here’s more on the student debt problem from Jeffrey Williams, professor of English and cultural studies at Carnegie Mellon University and one of the roundtablers. Escalating student debt is a kind of bondage, he writes in “Academic Freedom and Indentured Students,” an article in the new issue of Academe (the whole issue will be released next week).

He notes that  two-thirds of American college students now graduate with substantial debt, and compares this system to indentured servitude, affecting students for a significant part of their future work lives and limiting work and life choices. He continues:

At its core, student debt is a labor issue, just as colonial indenture was, subsisting off the desire of those less privileged to gain better opportunities in exchange for their future labor. One of the goals of the planners of the US university system after World War II was to displace what they saw as an aristocracy; instead, they promoted equal opportunity in order to build America through its best talent. The new tide of student debt reinforces rather than dissolves the discriminations of class. Finally, it violates the spirit of American freedom in leading those less wealthy to bind their futures.

Read the article for yourself and weigh in with your comments.

One thought on “Student Debt and Other Threats to Affordable Higher Ed

  1. Jeffrey Williams is right to be very concerned about student debt, and his article is well worth reading, but I just can’t agree with his view that “The AAUP should consider student debt a major threat to academic freedom.” Sorry, but being in debt really has nothing to do with academic freedom, even though money obviously affects everyone’s choices. By that monetary logic, low faculty salaries could be deemed a violation of academic freedom, and that just isn’t true. Nor do I think it’s historically accurate to equate student debt with indentured servitude. We should be able to recognize the serious issue of student debt with needing to falsely call it a violation of academic freedom.

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