Profiting from our neo-liberal Rheeality

Kiss my chaps!

Michelle Rhee, putative “reformer” of public schools, will be speaking at the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities meeting this June, for a reported speaker’s fee of about $50,000.  (Rheediculous!  But then, you know that the APSCU doesn’t have to be careful with their money–they’re only spending your U.S. taxpayer dollars, friends, as for-profit unis are the welfare queens of the higher education world.

Now, maybe she’s going to administer for-profit unis the kind of dope-slaps she delivered on a regular basis to public school teachers in Washington, D.C., during her brief, troubled era as the public schools chancellor there.  After all, they have abysmal rates of alumni employment, leaving their students with just a crushing load of student debt without even the fond memories of tailgating, Thursday-night keggers, fraternity hazing rituals, or having after-hours consensual sex in a History seminar room.  (Talk about a wicked cheat!)

We can’t possibly predict what Rhee will say to the unprincipled dirtbags who run for-profit unis, but I tend to agree with this assessment by David Halperin at Public Report:

If you’ve been on the fence about Rhee, not sure if she’s a sincere reformer with real results or a union-busting elitist aimed at replacing public education with charters, private schools, and online learning companies, you may find cause to jump off the fence now. By speaking at the annual meeting of the most cynical group of “educators” ever assembled — Wall-Street owned businesses that enrich their CEOs and ruin students’ lives at taxpayer expense and then hire armies of lobbyists to protect their privileges — Rhee has made her preferences very clear. (It’s always possible that she agreed to speak with the intent of telling the for-profits to clean up their act, but I doubt it.)  Rhee staked her career on the concept of shutting down underperforming, bad schools. And now she will address a room full of them.

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, baby!  For Rheelz.  Oh, yeah:  the other headliner at the APSCU 2012 is America’s Sweetheart, or as he’s known around these parts, the Worst President Ever. 

Hey, for-profits:  call me when one of your C-students becomes President of the United States.  Until then, you can kiss my chaps.

21 thoughts on “Profiting from our neo-liberal Rheeality

  1. First and foremost, to protect the honor of my fellow undergrads who could find the history seminar room with a GPS, we had labs and conference rooms. So there.

    Rhee is a Democrat and reflects genuinely the current state of the party of FDR and LBJ. Their common model is: First comes the urban legend of bad school (we have some, but we also have excellent schools), then comes the CEO (we run universities and car companies this way) and then comes the social Darwinism applied only to the poor.

    As Krugman calls it, the VSP (very serious people), Rhee included, believe in supporting the rich and apply Proverb “He who spares the rod hates his son” to the poor.


  2. I took part fairly recently in a panel discussion that included two current or former executives of major for-profits (this was an alumni event for the Ivy-League institution we all attended; I was more than a bit intimidated, but, having been invited on the basis of something I’d written in another alumni venue, figured that my perspective — full-time contingent at a state R2 –would add something useful to the conversation). My impression from fairly brief exposure (preparatory email exchanges, which revealed that I and the other state-university faculty member involved were much more inclined toward careful preparation and nitty-gritty issues than the two for-profit execs, who tended toward BIG IDEAS; the panel itself) was that the for-profit types had drunk deep of their own kool-aid: they really thought they were making higher ed accessible, and (with the government’s help) affordable to the masses. In short, they seemed like genuinely nice, if misguided, guys. That would make Rhee a good fit, since my impression is that she, too, genuinely believes in the worthiness of her own goals and motives.

    The above may actually add up to a scarier picture than a bunch of cynical plutocrats consciously scheming to bilk both taxpayers and the poor. Something about the paving material for the road to hell. . .

    Anyway, I’ll be interested to hear what she says. It would be really cool if she balled them all out (and earned more than my yearly salary for doing it — well, that would be really cool if she then donated the proceeds to a group lobbying for at least partial forgiveness of ruinous student loans), but I, too, doubt that that will happen.


  3. “The above may actually add up to a scarier picture than a bunch of cynical plutocrats consciously scheming to bilk both taxpayers and the poor.”

    I think what you describe is how executive culture works everywhere, in both the private and the public sector. Dumbasses who don’t give a $hit about the details are handed piles and piles of cash to burn, whereas people who actually know something have to suppress that knowledge and decide not to care that nobody in charge knows if they want to get ahead. To me, it doesn’t matter if the scammers are knowing crooks or true believers: the fact that they never doubt themselves and never stop for second thoughts is itself indicative of bad faith.

    Unsurprisingly, the people who care about knowledge and how the world really works are concentrated in low-paying goverment jobs and in education. I think this due in part to U.S. America’s instinctive anti-intellectualism, but I think it’s gotten remarkably worse in the past 15 years or so. Crime on a massive scale goes uninvestigated and unpunished, whereas people like you and me are accountable for every student, every committee, and every minute of our days.


  4. Gah. Some days, I feel like my good friend J., an excellent thinker, writer, and human being who started making his mark in journalism around the year 2001: we got here just in time for the whole thing to fall apart.


  5. Yes. And I no longer wonder if it’s just a coincidence that it all started to fall apart around the time that the faculty was no longer exclusively white and male. (Now it’s merely largely, or in some fields, overwhelmingly white and male. But that’s enough for the profession to have lost enough prestige to be cannibalized and de-skilled.)


  6. Although not strictly descending from the subject of this thread, Michael Winerip has a nice and stingingly sarcastic essay today in the NYT (“On Education,” A-11) dismantling the pretensions of an ETS “robo-grader” that the third most famous company in Princeton, NJ, says “can grade 16,000 essay [exams] in 20 seconds.” The claim is that this hunk of tin can not only phrenologize stylistic merit as it scans along but also–according to a flack dean of ed. at the U. of Akron– achieve “virtually identical levels of accuracy” with human grading. Pressed by Winerip, the ETS spokesman distinguishes “truth” from “accuracy,” from which point the whole exercise begins throwing off sprockets and blowing out coagulant seal-joints. Another interviewee from MIT has done some research on these systems and he points out that the ETS machine “doesn’t care if you say the War of 1812 started in 1945.” He teaches his own students to write long sentences, to insert words like “however” and “moreover” (which the machine treats as proxies for literary complexity) and to avoid certain beginning words in sentences. You can read the other hot quotes, but probably my favorite is from the ETS “principal research scientist,” who sniffs that “E-Rater is not designed to be a fact checker.” Indeed.

    How this relates, I think, is that the new pedagogies movements, with their obsession with standardization, testing, “outcomes,” and assessment, share in common the notion that the experience of education generates some observable phenomena–fairly proximate in time to the experience itself–that can be described rhetorically and measured, with the presumption that such a datum will correlate predictively with something worth having down the road when you need to have been educated. Short of the obituaries that I always tout as the only worthwhile assessment instrument, the real “test” of an education is the first three things you do at 4 in the morning a decade after you graduate when the phone rings and the cops say “we have your kid down here and you need to…,” or when the oncologist looks at you and says “sure you can get a second opinion, but I’m pretty certain you’ll find…” If Rhee can consistently achieve better predictive “outcomes” on those phenomena, I’ll take it all back.


  7. @Indyanna. That was the best article ever. Especially the transition sentences.

    And the short paragraphs.
    And the sentences that started with and.


  8. @Indyanna: Thank you. I guess historians won’t be out of a job any time soon.

    I was reminded of the time I told a student that her essay read as if she had used the thesaurus function on her word processor without knowing what the substitute words were; she couldn’t figure out how I knew! (I knew because the words were just slightly off.)

    True believers about pedagogy and educational practice are like the old line: if your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.


  9. This is particularly scary for me since my administration is currently working toward (if it hasn’t already secretly done so) creating a for-profit component. I can bet someone from my Uni will be at the session entitled, “All We Need is Love: Crossing the For-Profit Not-for-Profit Divide to Create a Win-Win for Higher Education, Our Students, and Society.”

    As President Former-Speaker-of-the-State-House told us recently, “We need to stay ahead of the curve.” Next step: farming out our general education courses to some creepy on-line institution called Everspring. Just remember, don’t drink the Kool-Aid.


  10. Wow, ProfSweddy: what you describe would certainly change the face of “public education” in your state!

    I don’t know any true educator who drinks this Kraptastic Kool-Aid. Kool-Aid only nourishes brainless and soulless educrats.


  11. From said President Former-Speaker of the State House’s testimony in Washington, DC: “Because higher education is such a competitive arena, I implore you to let the market work. Keep an eye on regulations that unnecessicarily [sic] burden institutions that are trying to do the right thing for students.”


  12. If for-profits were in fact the welfare queens of higher education, they would be subject to racist, sexist attacks and derision usually based on misinformation. They are not.

    I understand your point, but I vastly prefer the term “subprime colleges.” It contains the correct reference points: lax regulation, artificial government support (and bailout), disproportionately screwing minorities, single moms, vets, older people, and others who are genuinely seeking a more financially secure life for themselves and their children (and have been told that college, like home ownership, is the way to do that).


  13. Pingback: Historiann retains birthright; tells Pearson to shove mess o’pottage where the sun don’t shine. : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present

  14. You’re absolutely right, Grantastic. “Welfare queens” are imaginary projections, whereas the subprime colleges are all-too-real.

    Love it. SUBPRIME COLLEGES!!! Thanks so much, Grantastic!


  15. If we subtracted from all of the academic administrative statements and decisions that have ever been made those that are premised on empty analytics like “have to stay ahead of the curve…” or on something that is “not going away,” or on something that is inevitably “coming down the road,” there wouldn’t be any such statements or decisions. The bankruptcy of their sense of analysis and causality is mind-boggling. I mean, the politicians who they testify before also have their own idiotic and mendacious rhetorics and jargons, but at least occasionally those guys late at night take their shoes off, pour a bourbon and branch-water, and say something with a degree of insight. But academic managers seem bereft of anything that exists outside the playbook of sickening boilerplate-for-dummies.

    I only demur slightly on the metaphors about Kool Aid. The original drinkers of that metaphorical Kool Aid, in 1978, thereby put an end to themselves and to their entire project. They didn’t die from the Kool Aid, but from their willingness to obey the command to drink it. The physical Kool Aid could even be described as a sort of functional circuit-breaker, ensuring that none of them would be left behind to continue the campaign– whatever it was. The forces that we often now accuse of “drinking the Kool Aid” may not convince a high percentage of their intended audiences, per utterance, but they just continue to express the same banalities. If they’re only as successfull, percentage-wise, as spam e-mailers, they do at least perpetuate their crazy projects. I like better the trope of the “Reagan Pods,” from a classic c. 1981 Saturday Night Live sketch, to convey the ability of the holders of inane ideas to keep their designs at least alive in the public arena. I wish somebody could recover that item and put it on YouTube. It resonated like crazy with everone who assumed that everyone they knew had voted against Ronnie, only to hear one of their friends say something like, “you know, it really *is* time that we get the government out of every little corner of our lives.” You can’t do that with Kool Aid, you need Pods!


  16. Pingback: Another fraudster exposed, faculty-types unsurprised. : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present

  17. Pingback: Historiann retains birthright; tells Pearson to shove mess o’pottage where the sun don’t shine. | Historiann

  18. Pingback: Another fraudster exposed, faculty-types unsurprised. | Historiann

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