Last night in the GOP debate, Marco Rubio commented that “Welders make more money than philosophers. We need more welders and less [sic] philosophers.” Apart from the fact that they don’t, Rubio’s comment strikes me as another manifestation of an ongoing conservative campaign to take over education and research and employ it in the service of their own right wing interests. Far be it from me to discourage anyone at all from pursuing or promoting vocational training (I myself have a vocational degree in massage therapy), but promotion of that kind of schooling in no way, shape, or form requires the denigration, marginalization, or mocking of traditional higher education. When I see such denigration, it usually occurs as part of a broader rhetorical campaign against liberalism, since higher education tends more toward liberal values. I believe Rubio’s comment fits into that campaign.
One manifestation of this broader campaign is the ongoing corporatization of the American university. Bloated administrative costs, non-academic leadership, and business modeling increasingly characterize higher education where conservative powers hold sway. Scott Walker’s horrific gutting of the Wisconsin university system (to the tune of $250 million) in the interest of giving $250 million to literal billionaires so they could build a new basketball stadium comes screaming to mind. (He also advocates for the elimination of tenure.)
More recently, Timothy Wolfe resigned under pressure as president of the Missouri state university system after almost four years at the helm. One of his first actions when he came on board was to shut down the University of Missouri Press, which catalyzed enough blowback to force him to reinstate it after only a few months. The few hundred thousand he was trying to save paled in comparison to the $200 million expansion of sports facilities he oversaw. (Ironic that it was those unpaid athletes that forced him out for his marked insensitivity to their concerns with the racially charged atmosphere on campus.)
A Missouri state Senator who is calling for the firing of two professors in Missouri who took part in protests on campus in response to Wolfe’s resignation also happens to be trying to force a PhD student to abandon her dissertation on abortion, since, he insists, state-funded schools shouldn’t be paying for research that might promote elective abortions. Yeah, you read that right. State universities shouldn’t allow research that might give empirical support to values to which politicians stand opposed.
Shocking, but also familiar. For years now the US Congress has refused to fund CDC scientists to conduct research into gun violence. Some presume to overlay the thinnest veneer of concern for having people studying “disease” having anything to do with guns, but several supporters of this research ban have been pretty explicit about the reasoning behind it: they don’t want any facts to come to light that might undermine Second Amendment rights (well, their misinterpretation of those rights, anyway). The CDC’s appropriations bill has this wording in it:
None of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.
Facts and research scare the right wing, and the solution they’re coming up with is to take advantage of concerns with higher education so it can be overhauled and more easily controlled and manipulated. No more tenure, fewer humanities departments, direct government oversight, etc., etc., etc.