I’m only paranoid because everyone’s against me.

3 04 2012

No disrespect intended to Eric Rauchway, but beating up on Rick Santorum for lying about the number of state schools in California with American history courses is like shooting fish in a barrel. All you have to do is precisely what Eric did, namely Google and count. This kind of disgusting Republican argument (from the Chronicle, via College Guide), on the other hand, is harder to dismiss out of hand because it’s a matter of priorities rather than facts:

Governor [Tom] Corbett has appointed a committee to advise him on how colleges should be financed and how they could better serve the needs of Pennsylvania’s employers. In addition to insisting that tuition has risen too fast, the governor has questioned whether the state’s four-year colleges are doing enough to improve Pennsylvania’s economy. He argues that Pennsylvania needs to produce more skilled-trade workers, like carpenters, electricians, and plumbers, and fewer schoolteachers.

Last summer, I wrote:

[T]he primary reason that I don’t go totally Luddite on this entire profession is that if given the opportunity, I don’t think the average bean counter is going to remake the university very well at all.

I still think that’s right, but in my desperation for optimism I think I missed something that Tom Corbett makes abundantly clear. As a higher education reformer, he doesn’t care whether he remakes the university particularly well or not. If all you care about is how well higher education serves the needs of Pennsylvania’s employers, then you might as well give the state’s college students their education entirely online because you certainly don’t care about subtle nuances in any humanities course. If you think the biggest job-training problem in your state is that there aren’t enough plumbers and electricians, then you certainly don’t care if higher education becomes entirely vocational.

How can you possibly negotiate with someone like that? They see college professors as an opposing political interest group that needs to be destroyed. That’s why when debating the politics of higher education, too many of us are bringing a knife to a gun fight.

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