Resisting Erasure: Defending Humanities Education as a Force for Liberation
Higher education in America stands at a crossroads. Will universities elevate their historic mission to ‘advance the public good’? Or will the forces of technocracy and commodification render academia a servant to private interests and the market?
On campus after campus, administrators invoke fiscal rhetoric to impose a regime of austerity, echos of the corporate world. They shutter humanities departments, gut faculty governance, and orient research priorities toward profit-making – often with corporate consultants whispering in their ears.
But signs of resistance emerge as students, faculty, and communities contest the bureaucratic stranglehold on universities’ public purpose. From recent uprisings at West Virginia University and beyond, a vision persists of remaking academia as a democratizing force advancing justice and enlightenment.
To bring this vision into being, we must awaken from complicity. Reclaiming higher education requires reasserting civic stewardship and emancipatory values in the face of institutional drift.
The Encroaching Technocracy
Technocracy consolidates power through rule by experts. Under this managerial philosophy, administrators and corporate advisors declare reshaping universities an administrative concern requiring no wider consultation.
Consultants peddle cookie-cutter solutions like dissolving humanities departments or axing shared governance. These moves reflect market fundamentalism creeping into public colleges, as if higher learning should be governed by return-on-investment above all else.
West Virginia University recently epitomized this trend. WVU faced a budget deficit exacerbated by declining enrollment and poor financial planning. In response, administrators moved unilaterally to gut liberal arts and social sciences, merge academic programs, and lay off faculty, aiming to trim $75 million.
Their technocratic “reforms” emerged via corporate consultants, not collaborative deliberation with campus stakeholders. This profit-driven approach concerned no one except those with power.
Bureaucratic Values Corrode Education’s Purpose
We must recognize such bureaucratic “solutions” as the outgrowth of values corroding higher education’s civic mission. Technocratic reforms value knowledge as instrumental capital rather than for fostering an enlightened, democratic society.
When administrators talk of “hard choices” and “efficiencies,” they signal obedience to corporate philosophies of power and market fundamentalism. This ideological orthodoxy measures disciplines’ worth solely in dollars and cents, not capacities produced.
Of course, universities require sound administration. But managerial stewardship must remain grounded in academia’s core public purposes: cultivating civic knowledge, incubating criticism, nurturing free minds not beholden to dogma.
Corporatization subordinates these democratic goals to accumulation and profit. We must reverse this inversion of ethical priorities before bureaucratic values wholly capture universities.
Community Voices Resist Technocracy
But from WVU’s uprising, hope glimmers of reclaiming higher education for the common good. United, academic communities can reassert a progressive vision against institutional drift.
WVU’s faculty senate voted overwhelmingly to censure the President after administrators disregarded their input. Students and campus workers also organized against the unilateral cuts, voicing solidarity with marginalized professors.
This coordinated resistance surfaces stakes long obscured. Universities must nourish the arts, humanities, and social sciences—not just technical disciplines—to empower citizens and humanize society. Communities reminded West Virginia’s leaders that mining engineering mattered more than a line in a budget.
Their message resonates beyond West Virginia. The upheaval compel us to reexamine our universities’ moral direction and public obligations.
Reclaiming Higher Education’s Promise
Technocracy preys on civic disengagement but founders when enough people contest its ideology and reclaim agency. So how do we resuscitate academia’s public mission?
First, we must confront tough realities. Complacency abetted corporatization’s spread as citizens, students, and even faculty defaulted to market values. Reclaiming higher education requires reengaging our responsibility for stewarding institutions toward justice and humanistic ends.
Next, expanding non-technocratic values and practices provides a base to resist bureaucratic overreach. Student activism, faculty unions, public interest research centers, and community partnerships can nurture democracy against encroaching corporatization.
But reforming existing institutions may not suffice. The most visionary change may emerge through building new universities expressly organized around public service values, not corporate models. Knowledge production should be reimagined via communal values.
The path forward promises no quick remedies. But we control our common destiny still if enough committed voices unite to guide institutions adrift back toward enlightenment’s shores. Our children’s futures hang in the balance.