Listened this weekend to Noam Chomsky, on TVO's Big Ideas program, talk about the corporatizing of the university in the U.S.
For many years, his own university, M.I.T. was funded primarily by the Pentagon, from the 1950's when he joined the faculty, until perhaps 10-20 years ago, when funding changed to the private sector.
Under the pentagon, the multiple laboratories were open; the subjects of the inquiries undertaken were widely known on campus, and the intellectual freedom of the faculty was virtually unchallenged.
The liberal arts, and the pursuit of learning for its own sake, including the pursuit of unconventional, even controversial theories and themes was encouraged; in fact, it was the cornerstone of the university.
Now that the private sector makes the highest number and the largest sized donations, the security, secrecy and control of the institution and its people are virtually complete, according to the Emeritus Professor of Linguistics.
He also cited the difference between two universities in Mexico and those in California both jurisdictions he has recently visited. In Mexico, where tuition is free, and where academic standards and scholarship are quite high, there is a culture that supports the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, and a holding up and sustaining of public access to a liberal education, the original purpose of the university.
In California, where tuitions run into the tens of thousands, Chomsky fears that more and more, university is becoming accessible only to the very wealthy, part of what he considers a design of the people who already have achieved wealth, and who are dedicated to elevating their social class to a permanent position of superiority, with the rest of society being able to access only something like a technical education.
In his column in the Globe and Mail, Tuesday May 24, Lawrence Martin decries the limp and erratic approach of the media to political issues, using as one example, the failure of the "contempt of Parliament" charge to develop any legs during the recent federal election campaign. Could this be one of the signs of the failure of the university system as it was originally designed, to foster deep, and persistent and thorough "digging" into any issue "of study" as a matter of "the way one learns" having been gutted from the undergraduate programs that Chomsky says are becoming little more than technical training institutions? Reporters simply do not stay with a story long enough to give additional details which would thereby generate public discussion and debate and perhaps prove more sustained and thereby more effective in generating scepticism among the electorate.
Also, there is the obvious reality that the length of concentration of any person or group within the society is so short, compared with even a generation ago (approximately twenty years) that our cultural minds merely skip over the "highlights" of most stories, without attaining a grasp of their significance, so busy and skittish are we that we would remind biologists of the knats that skim the surface of inland lakes in Ontario summers, so fleeting is our moment to ponder anything, certainly not some abstract political argument whose nuances remain only for the "professionals".
Are we not in danger of leaving our public discourse in the hands of those who call themselves "professionals" but whose real interest is far more "self-centred" that focused on what is good for the society.
Just today, we learned that Fanny Mae and Freddy Mac became instruments of personal greed in the run-up to the mortgage crisis that befell much of the western world's economy. Taking one third of the public contributions from the government that were slated to help the poor to purchase homes and using those funds for their own purposes, for providing huge salaries and benefits and bonuses for their executives...is hardly engendering confidence in what once was a noble and an honourable couple of institutions whose original purpose was for the "public good".
We need more Noam Chomsky's and more Chris Hedges, and more Lawrence Martin's, and we cannot wait for decades to see them on the front lines of both journalism and criticial thought for the public good.