Who Counts As an “Educator”?


Recently the New York Times published an article entitled “Hillary Clinton’s College Plan Appeals to the Left, but Educators Have Doubts.”  The thrust of the article was that while Clinton’s proposal to let students with families earning less than $125,000 a year attend public universities free has considerable appeal (and not just to “the Left”), some “educators” question its feasibility and are concerned about its potential impact on private institutions, especially smaller and more fiscally vulnerable ones.

The criticism is fair enough, but my point here is that it isn’t coming from “educators.”  Here are the people the article cites as questioning the plan: Peter McPherson, the president of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities; Sarah Flanagan, vice president for government relations at the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities; Patricia McGuire, president of Trinity Washington University, a small Catholic institution; Beth Akers, an education policy specialist at the Brookings Institution; and F. King Alexander, the president of Louisiana State University, which is currently on the AAUP censure list.  Not a single one of these individuals is actually involved on a regular basis in educating anyone.  To be sure, McGuire is known as a thoughtful administrator, having won the AAUP”s Alexander Meiklejohn Award in 2010.  But she doesn’t, to my knowledge, teach, nor does Alexander, who has been a university administrator, it seems, since the dawn of time.  The others are all, of course, not even in education at all; they are policy wonks and lobbyists.

The Clinton plan, which I think marks a major step forward, may have its flaws and undoubtedly will undergo much scrutiny and likely amendment if it is to become law.  But in discussing the plan perhaps the Times and others might condescend to actually ask real “educators” what they think before claiming to report their “doubts.”  Wasn’t there a single representative of a faculty union or of a faculty senate available?  Wasn’t there a teaching scholar of education who has studied, written, and actually taught students about these issues willing to speak?  I can think of three off the top of my head:  Sara Goldrick-Rab, Bob Samuels, and Christopher Newfield have recently published important books on this issue.  And, guess what, they actually are educators too, with real students!

3 thoughts on “Who Counts As an “Educator”?

  1. This is one among many reasons I resist using the term “educator” for much of anything–I’m all for inclusivity, but not when terms then include everybody in the world who’s even tangentially affiliated to somebody who sort of has anything to do with something connected to whatever we were talking about.

  2. I am confused. Students and educators interact with each other in various rolls. The gradual erosion of or exchanging of rights/privileges by faculty has resulted in a loss of say in many administrative decisions including fees to be paid and by whom and even a say in who is accepted for admission to the institution itself. In exchange for what faculty thought was a sinecure, tenure, they knowingly became what is now accepted as the precariat, particularly those that are serving “at will” supposedly 70% of educators in the HEI’s, particularly in the United States.

    South Africa, almost in a riot over wanting tuition free education, has a core of faculty in support. in the US, while students want free or lower cost tuition, there is little of this passion, particularly when compared with the “Black Lives Matter” movement and several other social issues. When the students aren’t storming the walls of the Ivory Tower with such demands, faculty, as noted above, display their concerns in typical publish/perish fashion, and perhaps rightly so if the students aren’t pasting their Lutherian demands to the gates of the Tower. There are many more issues than just tuition.

    I believe it was Fritz Perls who said that once one gives up their “No” it is difficult to get it back. Faculty have long since given up many rights of participation and now they are paying the price. Sinclair and the other muckrakers have shown what happens when workers try to organize and there are many who are willing to step into the job when organizers get fired. Now the academics, knowing that there are “at will” colleagues seeking for vanishing tenure slots, are in such a position, clinging to the ever crumbling, formerly solid position of tenure.

    In one institution with which I am familiar, faculty in the biological/medicinal sciences, surfeit with grants can, and often do, pick up their research and move. Those whose external emoluments are slim, unstable or non-existent do not have that flexibility. Student tuition? what, me worry?

  3. While I agree that these may not be educators in the sense that we normally mean, I’m not sure that the average “educator” is the best person to comment on an issue of national policy regarding the costs of higher education. Most of us actual educators look out over a classroom full of students and don’t have a clue about their personal financial situation, student loans, grants, family income, etc. That’s not a part of our job. It is, arguably, part of the job of the people you identify as not “educators.”

    I agree, however, that it would be useful and interesting to solicit the views of people representing faculty unions or faculty senates. But their expertise on issues of student financing and national educational policy would not derive from their roles as educators, but from their expanding roles as institutional liaisons.

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