[F]or those of us who think that universities exist for academic purposes — to teach academic knowledge and skills, to pass on academic virtues, and to sustain academic research — the stakes could not be higher. [former Secretary of Education under George Bush and newly appointed head of the University of North Carolina system Margaret] Spellings offers an anti-intellectual understanding of the university. For Americans who think intellectual life still matters, there are two choices: fight back and, if that fails, take the academy into exile.
So wrote Johann Neem, professor of history at Western Washington University, yesterday for Inside Higher Ed. His article, “Magaret Spellings’s Vision for Higher Education,” is a look at the Spellings Report, a 2006 study, “A Test of Leadership: Charting the Future of U.S. Higher Education.”
Many of us dismissed the Spellings Report just as we dismissed Spellings, a Texas politico who followed her ex-boss to Washington in the middle of his second term. She has never been a teacher or even a school administrator.
Like Bruce Harreld, newly appointed to be President of the University of Iowa, Spellings brings only political connections to her new post. Aside, that is, from a vision of education that has little connection to the traditions that made American higher education the envy of the world. As Neem shows us through his brief analysis of the Report, her interest lies elsewhere:
At the heart of the report is the desire to transform universities so that they serve solely the needs of the market. Students need credentials and skills to get ahead and employers want programs and research that meet their needs. Thus, the report seeks a higher education system “that creates new knowledge, contributes to economic prosperity and global competitiveness, and empowers citizens.”
It becomes clear, however, that only the central phrase matters. There is nothing in the report that recognizes the need for basic noncommercial research in the arts and sciences, or that states why intellectual inquiry is good on its own terms. And citizenship barely registers in the rest of the document.
Go read the whole article.