Innovation for What? The Politics of Inequality in Higher Education

Williams, Jeffrey, J.
Date Written:  2016-11-01
Publisher:  Dissent
Year Published:  2016
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX20638

Williams discusses why American universities' current trend of advocating innovation ends up prioritizing corporate interests over the gola of accessible education.



A fundamental premise of American higher education -- from the days of Thomas Jefferson to the founding of state universities during the nineteenth century, the Truman Commission and GI Bill after the Second World War, and other policy initiatives such as the Higher Education Act of 1965 -- was equality. Of course, not everyone can go to Harvard, but the impetus during the great postwar expansion was to make public higher education commensurate with one you might receive at Harvard. Berkeley was once the "Harvard of the West," and the school where I got my PhD, SUNY-Stony Brook, was touted as the "Berkeley of the East." Federal policy sought to establish a certain parity among schools and offer a comparable quality of education to all, from community colleges in California to graduate schools in New York.

Current calls for university innovation reflect a major step back from that goal. Advocates of innovation, as the term is most commonly used, propose to mechanize teaching, particularly for less privileged students, building a deeply stratified structure of educational opportunity and normalizing inequality under the banner of convenience and freedom of choice. At its core, the innovation agenda represents the interests of the business elite over those of educators or students. At its worst, it is a property grab of a formerly public service.

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