Aƒ?^vision for Mac: Education for liberation not neo-liberal indoctrination

By Michael Galvin

A New York Times article from a few weeks ago entitled “Seeking Quality, German Universities Scrap Equality,” looks at the recent changes in the German model of education, shifting from one that is free, open to all and funded by the state, to a more American model where universities seek private funds, impose more selective admissions processes, and students pay tuition (though nothing close to the $40,000 at Macalester, fortunately). German universities are increasingly more brand-oriented, the article points out, as they are now in competition with each other for top places in the national hierarchy.
Though it mentions how standards have increased and the system is more efficient, it is difficult not to think of the students who are now left out. Links to Americanization become more prevalent toward the article’s end as this new “entrepreneurial university” entails a shift away from the humanities to the sciences, and general imitation of “elite American counterparts.” Elitism is a subject the article addresses directly in this supposed shift from equality to quality. A rector at the University of Heidelberg argues that Germans used to consider “elite” a dirty word and that this is slowly changing. For liberal-minded Americans, elitism would also seem to be a negative quality, implying inequality and social hierarchy. However, even in the most self-declared liberal of liberal institutions, for example, Macalester, this has not been the case recently.
In this administration’s first few years, significant policy changes impacted the college’s general outlook and place in American higher education; essentially, our goals have been – and continue to be – pouring money into attempts to keep pace with erroneous American collegiate standards and building up our world class brand identity. Most notably, we have seen the elimination of need blind admissions, another large increase in tuition, and a recent venture to build a $41 million athletic facility with funds not yet secured by the college. Additionally, we are seeing the beginnings of a new Institute for Global Citizenship that will attempt to make Macalester a mecca for global leadership and strengthen its position as “world class” with a “truly global reach.” It purports to mold Macalester students into an unabashedly elitist category called “global citizen-leaders.” Throughout the new institute’s online description, the word “leader” appears excessively, regarding the successful graduates of the new program (they will additionally be awarded diploma-like certificates for their achievements).
This leadership role will situate them perfectly as the new global upper class, educated in Western universities and certified to guide the rest of humanity – wait, where has this been seen in history before? Regardless of the website’s careful wording of leadership and other frequently used words in its “definitions” section, there is no doubt that students are being trained as the next elite guardians of global capitalism. As the next world leaders, everything must revolve around us; situated at the reigns of global capitalism, local issues on the other side of the world must become the issues of the “global citizen-leaders,” by default. The program’s neo-liberal agenda was already made all to clear when Thomas Friedman was invited to speak at the inaugural events, at a suspiciously undisclosed cost of at least $40,000. The institute’s flimsy purpose is also evinced by a vague attempt to justify its creation through a “timeline of global citizenship” going all the way back to the 1800’s and which – of course – does not mention the actual institute until 2005. But most significant is this institute’s role in Macalester’s recent legacy of rendering its position as “world class” – another phrase frequently mentioned on the website. Yet again, another symptom of Macalester’s decadent attempts to keep pace and justify its selection as a “new Ivy.”
Encouragingly, there are dissidents both inside and outside of the college, interested in altering such policies as best as they can. An alum, David White class of ’93, recently sent me an email asking if there was any way alumni could support the student protests against the direction the school is heading. He writes, “An idea that comes to my mind is for students to urge alumni to donate to an alternative fund… [if] they recorded and publicized the amounts that were being diverted to the alternative fund, it might make the administration sit up and take notice instead of the administration’s numerous fund drives, until they change direction.” David says he writes this because most students who’ve come to Macalester in the last few decades were here for the political values and the academics; thus, “giving to a bunch of wealthy administrators with a new stadium,” is a blatant cause for concern.
The current cost of education at Macalester is one of the most significant factors that exhibit our lack of concern for equality. David writes, “I grumbled 10 years ago about the tuition, and now it’s, what, almost 3 times as much? $39,000 I think somebody said? Alumni should ask themselves: if I do the sort of work inspired by Macalester’s social-justice-focused classes and student groups, can I afford, even in my wildest dreams, to send my own kids to Mac? I know if I had kids I couldn’t.” The new programs and policies represent the college’s direction today. This administration already released a 10 year plan outlining Macalester’s future for tomorrow. The increasing talk of “alternatives” highlights the administration’s failures to keep Macalester in line with its professed “progressive values,” even as those foundations continue to be eroded.