Austerity Blues: Fighting for the Soul of Public Higher Education.

AuthorO'Malley, Susan G.
PositionBook review

Austerity Blues: Fighting for the Soul of Public Higher Education by Michael Fabricant and Steve Brier (John Hopkins University Press, 2016)

Austerity Blues: Fighting for the Soul of Public Education is a useful book for teachers and students in Critical University Studies and for those engaged in public higher education organizing both in governance and academic unions. What makes it useful is its situating of the erosion of the funding of public higher education in the neoliberal agenda of devaluing the public sector and its reviewing of the history of the City University of New York and State University of New York and the California State and University systems. Too often those of us in higher education forget that the steady decreases in higher education budgets are not unique to us but part of a larger plan of austerity throughout the public sector. Learning the history of previous struggles in the two largest public university systems in the United States helps us to imagine and strategize how to strengthen public higher education and counter the neoliberal agenda. How did student occupations of campus buildings and faculty and student strikes at Brooklyn College and CCNY cause open admissions to start in fall 1970, five years before it was planned to start? And how were the SEEK and College Discovery programs put in place to help students who had not been prepared in high school for college? And how was free tuition essential to CUNY's mission for most of its history? And how does this connect to the free tuition movement today, particularly given the decreases in state funding? And how were these innovations slowly eroded? Knowing about past organizing with its victories and setbacks pushes back against the feeling that the neoliberal agenda is inevitable.

A number of years ago, when I was Chair of the CUNY University Faculty Senate (22 campuses), I was arguing with a member of then Chancellor Goldstein's senior management. He stated, "But there will never be an increase in state appropriations for CUNY. That is the way it is now." I fought against his pronouncement, but he was adamant: accept budget cuts and look to philanthropy and technology to make up for the lost money. Chancellor Milliken, the current Chancellor, also has not pressured Albany for increased money but hopes to save money through more on-line courses, as he discussed at the University Faculty Senate meeting on 7 February 2017. To explain this, Fabricant and Brier state, "Neoliberal advocates see the privatization [and monetization] of all things public as part of a naturalized landscape without alternatives" (30) or "the new normal" (203). "New market-based reforms" become "a viable alternative to an expanded public sphere" (17). Often faculty and students internalize this and believe what is public is inferior and that the decline of public higher education is inevitable. Using Austerity Blues in the classroom, whether at CUNY or other public universities, could encourage students to learn the historical struggles in their universities and how student and faculty movements influenced and can continue to influence change in their...

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