The Academy in the Era of Austerity and Fundamentalism

[Content note: classism, homophobia]

Two higher education-related stories caught my eye this morning.

One concerns the growing crisis in Quebec, where the Jean Charest-led provincial government has announced it is suspending classes in response to continued student protests over proposed hikes to student tuition that will send the price of education skyrocketing. There is no sign that the government is backing away from the fee increases, and it will use force to keep classes open in the fall if it has to:

But Mr. Charest made it clear he was not backing away from the planned tuition fee hike for this fall and promised a tougher approach to ensure classes can resume in August, with stronger police intervention to guarantee access.

Students show no signs of meekly going home and accepting austerity measures which will seriously change the accessibility of higher education:

The more militant student and union coalition known as CLASSE promised to keep mobilizing its 75,000 members and continue demonstrating against the tuition-fee hikes. “The bill that the government is proposing to table is an anti-union law, it is authoritarian, repressive and breaks the students’ right to strike,” said CLASSE spokesman Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois. “This is a government that prefers to hit on its youth, ridicule its youth rather than listen to them.”

The other story concerns Michael Wilson, a librarian at Shorter University in Georgia, who refuses to sign on to the school's new homophobic "lifestyle statement." Wilson, who is gay, is one of many faculty and staff who are prepared to leave their jobs rather than comply with the increasingly oppressive requirements of the Georgia Baptist Convention, with which the University is affiliated. The University lost a legal battle to break away from the Convention in 2005, and the climate has been increasingly hostile for non-fundamentalists ever since:

The first president chosen by the new board took office last year, and the lifestyle statements were introduced in October. Wilson said he knew right away he could not sign: “It’s a matter of conscience,” he said. Since the statements were first proposed, controversy has raged. An anonymous survey in April found only 12 percent of faculty and staff plan to stay. Save Our Shorter, a group opposing the changes, has a list on its website of more than 50 faculty members who are leaving as a result of the new policies. Several departments, including science and the fine arts, have been “eviscerated,” Wilson said.

It's no joke to walk away from a tenured or even tenure-track job. For that many faculty to leave (or be forced out) is mind-boggling in the extreme.

I don't have much commentary on these stories, save to add: the common thread here is access. Whether the limits are being placed by Christian fundamentalist bigots who want to make sure that faculty aren't teaching anything good about TEH GAYZ! Or whether it's austerity-loving governments who expect students to either borrow their way into lives of debt (or alternatively, forgo higher education altogether), there's a clear message here for the not-powerful: get out. And stay out.

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