Christopher Newfield says America is undergoing an educational crisis. He claims that for the first time in our history, we are graduating a generation that is less well educated than the one that preceded it.
While many scholars share this belief, Newfield, one of the leading scholars in the burgeoning field called critical university studies, has identified many of the fundamental problems facing higher education today, and is a passionate advocate for acting now to reverse the decline.
He enumerated these issues and discuss solutions in his address, “Why Don’t Universities Support Racial Equality?” for the James E. McLeod Memorial Lecture in Higher Education, at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 25 in Umrath Lounge. The lectureship operates under the auspices of WashU’s Center for the Humanities.
In Newfield’s most important book to date, “Unmaking the Public University: The Forty-year Assault on the Middle Class,” the professor of literature and American studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara points to the dissolution of an essential American dream: equal access to a college education. He argues that it came about, not because of an economic downturn or some need to overhaul the system, but from a deliberate conservative strategy to end public education’s democratizing influence on American society.
The story of this “assault” begins with a hopeful America emerging from the post-war boom in college access, thanks to the GI Bill and the Civil Rights movements, and traces the gradual emergence of an anti-egalitarian “corporate university,” and its impact on racial policies and research funding (e.g. the ongoing anti-affirmative action suits and the continued drive against public money for basic research funding).
In illustrating what Americans have lost by this downward spiral, Newfield points to his own parents’ experience as first-generation college graduates in a Harvard University Press (HUP) interview:
“It changed everything for the family. It changed their economic position but it also changed their sense of the world; new possibilities opened up, there was more pleasure and leisure in their lives. There was also more innovation at work and at home. There was more value created for the economy and there was also just more of a sense of the possibilities of ordinary life for themselves, and they passed that along to their children.”
In addition to his 2008 publication noted above, he is the author of “Ivy and Industry: Business and the Making of the American University, 1880-1980.” An analysis of the post-2008 struggles of public universities to rebuild their social missions, called “The Great Mistake,” will be released in November.
Click here to listen to the HUP interview.
For more on Newfield, check out his blog.
Click here for more information on the legacy of Dean Jim McLeod, for whom the lecture is named.
NOTE: We are unable to offer a recording of his talk.