The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Faculty Responsibility and Educational Debt

May 14, 2012

Scott’s recent post (at LGM) on college debt, which links to a depressing New York Times story, focuses primarily on politics. The narrative has gotten pretty familiar. State education cutbacks force tuitions up. Students take out greater debt to pay for a post-secondary degree. Republicans plead budgetary pressure, but do so while gleefully reducing the tax burden on wealthy Americans. It is certainly blood-boiling stuff.

At the same time, though, faculty need to think hard about what our role is with respect to the college and post-graduate debt crisis.

Many of us, quite rightly, bemoan the shift away from citizenship preparation (i.e., a liberal-arts education) and toward college as vocational training. We don’t think our primary job is to give our students “marketable skills.” But how can we best help our students under these circumstances? 

Should we focus our political activism on these issues? If we can mobilize with intensity of purpose and speed to protect $9 million worth of NSF grants, surely we can do much more on this front.
Should we take a stronger stand against peripheral campus expenses that play a major role in driving higher education costs? Should part of that stand be a bargain in which we look at our own salaries and benefits? And how does that intersect with the dramatic rise of contingent labor in higher education?

I don’t have any answers, but I worry that my profession is letting our students down. 

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Daniel H. Nexon is a Professor at Georgetown University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Government and the School of Foreign Service. His academic work focuses on international-relations theory, power politics, empires and hegemony, and international order. He has also written on the relationship between popular culture and world politics.