The current crisis in higher education is multi-faceted. It is characterized largely by increasing corporatization of both public and private universities and colleges; the rise of for-profit privates; close ties of these public and private institutions to military research with consequent policy agendas of funding STEM disciplines to the detriment of the humanities and social sciences; retrenchment, curricula distortions, and budget cuts in these latter areas; and assaults on ethnic studies programs and departments. Industry’s active role in the determination of the curricula, the size of departments and the number of student majors; and the swelling of administrative ranks and salaries continue apace. Simultaneously tenured and tenure-track faculty positions are shrinking in favor of a rising dependence on underpaid adjunct labor.
Radicals and progressives deeply committed to restoring the democratic and humanitarian mission of higher education have advanced many strategies of fight-back, resistance, and renewal.
One of the least explored strategies has been the creation of viable, sustainable alternative educational institutions. As a strategy which is launched in concert with — not in substitution for — the struggle for power within existing institutions, alternative institution-building is an empowering rather than utopian or “retreatist” course of action. Such institutions can be, but need not be degree-granting or accredited by regional bodies. Most importantly they must be institutions where critical thought and freedom of inquiry is fostered.
Even before the current assault, progressives built such institutions, e.g., notably the Highlander Folk School where activists in the civil rights movement where trained in the philosophy and tactics of civil disobedience; radicals instituted the Jefferson School of Social Science, and the Brecht Forum/New York Marxist School. Historically Black Colleges and Universities were, arguably, the most resilient and effective alternative institutions emerging as they did to combat Jim Crow segregation.
For a Special Issue on Building Alternative Institutions in Higher Education and for Political Education, Socialism and Democracy seeks original papers on historical as well as contemporary efforts at institution-building, including models which were successful and those which failed. Although our focus is on higher education and adult education, we will entertain a few submissions on secondary schools especially in international contexts.
Contact the issue editor: Yusuf Nuruddin