The events related to this book took place over thirty years ago. Since that time it would be nice to report that higher education has improved considerably. But that is not the case. If anything, it has gotten worse.
Today, the Falks and Baxters, the Volpps and Reas, are everywhere, firmly entrenched in leadership positions throughout the colleges and universities. Their model for the institution is the corporation, its president a CEO hired –often at a six figure salary—to oversee its workers (faculty and staff) for a Board of Directors who have little contact with the daily activities of the institution itself. Its clients are complacent consumers looking mainly for vocational training and steady employment in today’s suffering economy. In this age of Benny Madoff, Enron, Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs, and a host of other corporate crooks, our educational institutions imitate models the vast majority of Americans are fed up with, preparing our young people to be the very executive types that are destroying society.
Departments of Arts and Sciences that were once thought to carry the core values fundamental to the survival of the republic suffer low esteem, severe budget cuts, and impossible work loads. English Departments largely teach remedial classes to students who can barely read, write, or think critically. Philosophy Departments, if they still exist, compete with religious fundamentalists who demand equal time. Science classes are filled with students who insist that “creationism” be taught along with the theories of evolution and cosmology. Polls show that a vast majority of Americans believe in extra-terrestrials, angels, ghosts, Biblical miracles, apocalyptic predictions, and a whole range of utter nonsense, while they remain ignorant of the most basic scientific precepts and cannot find on a simple map such countries as Iraq or Afghanistan, where they are often eager to go and die. Students know little of their own culture, know little of history, and embrace Tea-Party slogans rather than genuine political thought.
What happened at Fresno State thirty years ago was part of a major rupture in American society, a rupture from which we have never recovered. But I have always been guardedly optimistic about higher learning in America. Things go in cycles, and there may come a time when students and faculty, Americans in general, will become as fed up with our educational system as they have with corporate America and our current political system.
But as I said thirty years ago, that is sometime in the future.