Weekend Reading

After a few weeks’ hiatus, the Weekend Reading makes its triumphant – albeit sporadic – return! Between traveling and caring for a sick pet while preparing to move, I’m glad to eventually get back in the groove here at Backslash. This edition of weekend reading is a teaser – link roundups will return in weekly form soon. Other posts have been terse lately, but I’m hoping to be back to blogging in full force soon. Without further ado, catch up on some reading from the past month!

By the middle of the twentieth century, this public mission had expanded to include the provision of mass higher education, an ideal embodied most fully by the California Master Plan (1960), but also embraced by many other states, especially in the Midwest and West. By about 1970, public higher education had come to dominate the landscape American higher education, enrolling nearly eighty percent of all American students in postsecondary institutions (up from fifty percent in 1950). As historian of higher education Roger Geiger has explained, “The English language has no word for the opposite of privatization. Yet, that is what occurred from 1945 to 1980 in American higher education (as well as other spheres). American states poured enormous resources into building public systems of higher education: flagship universities were expanded and outfitted for an extensive research role; teachers colleges grew into regional universities; public urban universities multiplied and grew; and a vast array of community colleges was built.” Today, public institutions still educate a large majority of postsecondary students (about 72 percent), but they do so in ways that, I would contend, represent a growing departure from their historic mission(s). In at least several areas, public institutions and systems—at all levels—are much less “public” than in the past: in their sources of funding, in their governance structures, and in their cost and accessibility to students, among other things. Some of these changes are most striking at the elite institutions, such as UW-Madison or UC-Berkeley, but they filter down to students at all levels, with perhaps the most important consequences for those at the margins of the public system: community college students. As a recent report from the Center for the Future of Higher Education demonstrates, budget cuts and enrollment limitations at the top of the public higher education pyramid have “cascaded” down to those students—often low-income, non-traditional, and first-generation—at the bottom. For the first time since the rise of mass public higher education in the middle of the century, willing and able high school graduates are being turned from the very institution—the community college—that was supposed to be a last bastion of educational opportunity beyond high school.

When we try to conceive of American greatness on our national day and our first resort is gratitude for those who enact the will of the government, we’ve done something very wrong.  Service is necessary and commendable, as I’ve said, but its celebration on July 4th is antithetical to what Independence Day ought to evoke in us: an appreciation for the greatness of what America is, not what it does. What it does is not so different from what other states do, and what all states must: accumulate power, flex its muscles, fight to gain, fight to survive. But what it is is different: it is a nation of laws, conceived in liberty, dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal—not just those who fight, or those who are rich, or those who are elected, or those who rule by divine right. When we thank American soldiers and veterans for American greatness, we celebrate the survival of a polity more than the national embodiment of this radical political ideal.

Twenty-two murder cases in that given year of 1988 went under the rug, with neither side in this dynamic taking responsibility for the outcome. The police department took credit for the arrests, even though the cases were dumped unceremoniously without even a grand jury indictment. And the prosecutor in Baltimore took no responsibility for these cases in assessing his own office’s performance. By such statistical dishonesties — of which this is not the only one, believe me — the Baltimore department was able to maintain a clearance rate in the high 60s in that given year and the state’s attorney was able to claim a conviction rate in the low 80s in that same year. But of course the actual chance of anyone going to jail for any length of time for killing anyone in Baltimore in 1988 was just below 40 percent. Whoever said there were lies, damn lies and statistics needs to create a fourth, more extreme category for law enforcement stats.

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