Business Metaphor Still Ascendant at AHA
BOSTON -- It was difficult to escape the conclusion, during the American Historical Association’s annual meeting here over the weekend, that higher education is in the throes of a crisis. Panels used the word “crisis” to describe the state of the job market for historians, the state of public universities, and the state of higher education in general. And the enemy was consistently identified as the ideology and analytical tools of business.
For example, the scarcity of faculty jobs in history -- 569 this year, which marked the smallest number in two decades -- was driven by more than simple laws of supply and demand, argued Martin Mulford, a self-described “rogue scholar” and former businessman, during a Saturday session, “The Academic Job Market: Finding Solutions in a Time of Crisis.” The lack of history jobs has been hastened and worsened by a larger trend of hiring adjuncts and contingent faculty instead of full-time faculty in the interest of cost-cutting, he said. This reflects a larger transformation of the role of business in higher education, which he likened to the shift from being a stepchild to the head of a household. “This is a problem of the colonization of the academy by business,” said Mulford.
Gerald Zahavi, a professor of history at the State University of New York at Albany, made similar critiques the day before, during a session dedicated to the ranking and assessment of history departments. He lamented the closure of programs, such as the announced elimination of three foreign language, classics and theater departments at his institution, as business-driven decisions instead of pedagogical ones. “This is all part and parcel of the erosion of the liberal arts college,” he said, adding that universities around the world were “under siege” because of bottom-line thinking. “This is a war we’re fighting,” he said....
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