The business of education

July 16, 2009

IN THE spirit of charter school "reform" sweeping across our educational establishment, the College of Education at the University of Toledo (UT) has appointed a new, charismatic reformer as dean who will lead the charge.

Who is this brave soul planning to lead our college "on a path to world class"? None other than former UT Trustee Tom Brady.

His credentials for running the College of Education are impeccable. As former founder and corporate head of Plastic Technologies Inc., Brady is an "entrepreneurial candidate with leadership qualities" who can "figure out how to do things in different ways while being more cost-effective," in the words Provost Rosemary Haggett.

When former dean Thomas Switzer declared his retirement at the end of the spring semester, UT President Lloyd Jacobs suggested to Haggett that someone from "outside the educational establishment" with a "business orientation" should run the College of Education. One may question why our College of Education should be run like a business, but perhaps since I am only a student, and not a member of the Board of Trustees, who lavish praise upon Jacobs, I don't find my interests aligned with theirs.

Jacobs, a medical doctor who makes over $390,000 per year (with a $450,000 five-year bonus for not seeking a position elsewhere), has continually cited economic hardship as a means of cutting into programs at the university. In 2007, Jacobs faced tumultuous protests by concerned students and faculty when he expressed the desire to implement cuts to the liberal arts programs, decrease the availability of classes in areas like history, and replace full-time instructors with cheaper part-time instructors.

Instead, resources were to be funneled almost exclusively into areas of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine, while other areas were left to deteriorate or become what many students recognize as "diploma mills."

The administration has been active in pushing for this type of in-and-out, "make as much money as you can" style of education. On February 26 of this year, Inside Higher Ed reported that "administrators are exploring a partnership with a private company known for churning out quick and inexpensive degrees." This company was "Higher Ed Holdings, a Texas-based company that would help deliver online masters-level education courses to students in exchange for a share of tuition revenues."

Anyone who plans to be an educator undoubtedly knows that you cannot teach someone to teach simply through an online course; likewise, the dialogue, discussion and personal contacts so vital to our education that one (potentially) gets in the classroom is not, and cannot, be replicated through such a course.


LUCKILY, STUDENT and faculty protest against such measures, along with quick organization both inside and outside the classroom, forced them to back down.

The Toledo Blade reported on March 3, "It was still early in the conversations and the fact that the company had to back out at this stage 'reflects poorly on our university' because they could not have a reasonable dialogue about the proposal, Ms. Haggett wrote in an e-mail Tuesday to the college of education staff."

This is something we should be proud of.

Thus, Jacobs’ appointment of "entrepreneurial" Brady, who is obviously outside of the "educational establishment," comes as no surprise. Brady fits the mold of wealthy, reactionary "school reformer." As an article in the Independent Collegian explained, "Brady has been a strong advocate for charter schools and other alternative forms of education. He helped to found the Toledo Technology Academy and has been involved with the Toledo School for the Arts."

Students should be trained, according to Brady, to produce more "high-value commerce." He still has hopes to outsource our education with revenue-generating like that of Higher Ed Holdings. We can also expect the very few educational courses which foster democratic dialogue and question the dominant discourse (such as those that explore the theoretical contributions of Paulo Freire, John Dewey, W.E.B. DuBois, and others) to be cut.

Supposedly, Brady was approved only after "all final applicants were considered and interviewed." These "other applicants were from both within and outside of the college and constituted a diverse group along gender and racial lines, according to Jacobs." It just so happened that Brady--wealthy, white, corporate businessman--is the one chosen.

Faculty, staff and students did not support, and were not given a choice in, who was to lead the college. This sort of basic, democratic choice should be expected if universities and our educational apparatus, as educational theorist John Dewey posited, were meant to foster a democratic culture and active engagement on behalf of the educators and learners. Democratic participation by the students is absolutely essential in the learning process.

Instead, top-down decisions are run at our university like in any other private tyranny, with no serious input by those who actually do the work. The Board of Trustees has final say and, until we remedy this sort of institutional roadblock to democratic control, we can expect to have these problems repeated.

Brady is supposed to act as an "interim" dean until July 31, 2010, when a nationwide search can find a permanent replacement. The feeling, however, is that Brady is meant to stay; Governor Strickland refused to allow Brady a leave of absence from the Board of Trustees, so he resigned, signaling to most of us that he meant to securing his new $176,000 position as our new dictator (or, "financial manager" according to Haggett).

Unfortunately, despite some spirited but often small protests against such measures, a sustained campaign has not coalesced to fight back. If we at the University of Toledo seriously care about the quality of our education, it is time that we collectively organize to challenge this top-down, corporate model.

We do not want a wealthy CEO governing our college with no accountability; we want democratic control over how it is managed, and the faculty and students deserve that, at the very least. The fight is ours to win; we, as both current and future educators, have to be willing to engage in it.
Derek Ide, Toledo, Ohio

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