Just five months ago my friends and I began organizing a new school, which took on the name, The Global Center for Advanced Studies, (now directed by Jason Adams and me). But why a new graduate and undergraduate school? When something new happens it is a response to the present situation, a situation which gives birth to needs that are not available. When you look at the culture of colleges and universities today you will immediately notice several very disturbing trends.
1- Skyrocketing tuition costs: rising 1,120% since 1978, while real income has declined.
2- Skyrocketing student loan debt: now over $1,000,000,000.
3- Skyrocketing postgraduate unemployment: 53.6% are now unemployed or underemployed.
4- Skyrocketing use of adjuncts: 75% of faculty are now low-paid and temporary.
5- Skyrocketing use of administrators: administrators now outnumber professors by 125,000.5 6- Skyrocketing pay of administrators: most are now paid between $300,000-3,000,000/yr.6.
When you take these basic facts into consideration there is only one reasonable conclusion: Not only is higher education in the United States in crisis (this is a conclusion everyone agrees with), but it is, for the most part a very dangerous institution. Yes, it turns out that entering through the gates of most (but not all) universities in the United States is toxic and dangerous not only to the individual student who participates and reproduces this crisis (i.e., by taken out student loans etc.), but also for the kind and quality of education with which a graduate acquires. And here is the simple reason why: Education in America has been radically reduced to acquiring one thing: a job.
Getting a job of course is meritorious, but the problem is that colleges have radically shifted their courses to a business and vocational model, especially since the financial crisis of 2008. Again this is not a bad thing per se’ but where it has become a problem is that colleges and universities are no longer places that inspire, but have become vocational technical schools. Again this is not a problem, but the overwhelming trend is that these colleges are competing with each other, and with tuition being so out-of-reach for average Americans, colleges are forced to give students job skills and have increasingly no time or resources for fostering creativity, critical thinking, writing skills etc., that is to say the basic skills to be an informed citizen. In short, colleges and universities are literally training a public to not acquire the essential skills to become fully developed human beings equally unable to engage in reproducing a free and open democratic society. The graduate may have job skills, but they are neither able to create their own jobs nor their own future. And they are increasingly unable to work with social diversity and no longer have the skills for creating solutions to the fundamental problems that confront us today such as an impending ecological disaster (food, water and energy shortages), new forms of poverty in the first not to mention the second and third worlds, skyrocketing unemployment, new forms of apartheid, persistent gender inequality, and new dictatorships forming around the world at an alarming rate including the unchecked power of multinational corporations. This with the growing disparity between the rich and the middle, working, and poor class in America can only spell one thing: doom.
Stop to think about this: if the very means of making one’s life better via education is compromised by undermining the educational sector (i.e., by only training students to become good workers without giving them a means of empowerment and inspiration) then what you end up with is a very dangerous trend that further compromises democracy, free speech, justice, not to mention foreclosing giving students the resources for creating new healthier and peaceful ways of living. The upshot is that nearly all forms of education happening in America are so uncreative, so servile and because it has lost it’s imagination and vision it has fallen prey to the fear and enslavement of the existing job market (that can’t even employ nearly half of college graduates anyway). The upshot here being, something different needs to happen.
So the GCAS began putting together a new model for a school, a model that would address each of these problems confronting the toxic-wasteland of what amounts to the majority of the education sector in America and now rapidly spreading across the globe making the prospects of democracy daunting indeed.
-1 Tuition: The tuition costs for attending the GCAS is 1/8 the cost of attending comparable universities. The ultimate goal of the GCAS is to provide a free education for everyone and thereby not discriminate against one’s economic class. And let’s face it: despite the claim that universities don’t discriminate, they do in fact because you can’t attend unless you are in a certain economic class. And if you’re not, you take out loans thereby enslaving yourself to banks and corporations and you do so most likely for the rest of your working life. Think about the intimate relationship between banks (the wealthy class) and universities and colleges and you can’t tell me they’re not working intimately together to enslave their very students. Student debt is the physical means of enslavement to the wealthy and “Ivory-Tower” class. Your education is about enslavement not empowerment; about indebtedness not about freedom; about getting a predetermined job and not about creating your own life. What’s more, the GCAS has financial aid and work -study programs that allow students to work off their tuition. This is provided by generous donations to our non-profit organization.
-2 Faculty: We have recruited what is widely believed to be the world’s best faculty in the humanities (philosophy, literature, critical theory, theology etc.). Studying with world experts, poets, artist, theorist that foster creative energies that we have been taught not to believe in.
-3 Living Life: The GCAS is already a global community in which to forge exciting and new networks and be encouraged that to believe in a different future is a healthy way to live and learn. Think about what a community can produce when it gives joy to different ways of thinking, new ways of being and acting in our world. The opportunities are immeasurable and exciting.
-4 We don’t believe in using unqualified teachers to make a profit for the owners of universities and colleges; indeed the GCAS is a non-profit in the truest sense: We are not out to make students into reified alienated commodities only hoping, praying for mercy that some wealthy, white man or corporation will have grace on them and grant a job. We believe jobs are for humans not the other way around. The priority of this must be turned upside-down.
-5 Everyone of our administrators are first and foremost professors, and will never be compromised into fulfilling an administrator’s role which in today climate amounts to enacting the dirty work of the rich boards of directors (lawyers, bankers etc.) looking to make more and more money. Our administrators from the President, Dorothea Olkowski, to the Vice-President, Azfar Hussain are committed to the vision of GCAS to provide the best education for little or no tuition. We are committed to Justice in Education!
-6 Hybrid courses (distant & in-residence). I was totally skeptical of any on-line learning until I realized that the GCAS is able to connect up with hundreds of students around the world who are reading and discussing what it means to be human in our time. Yes, there are weaknesses in distance learning, but there are strengths too. Furthermore, students are required to take courses in residential seminars that are organized around the world from Mexico to Europe, from Istanbul, North to South America, and from Africa, Asia, Australia to New Zealand. In other words, just as elite universities are quickly jumping on the trend for on-line learning, so are we. The only difference is that we are not making a profit off of it, but rather actually empowering people from around the world who would otherwise have no access to education.
Last week we officially became a school and now we already have over 160 students enrolled (half of which are from the developing world). And one amazing lesson I’ve learned as I’ve help organized this school is that it is already so much more than a school–it is a movement that’s fighting against the injustice of our educational system, the injustice that is the lack of access to education that systematically oppresses people, opportunity, freedom, and the joy of life. Some of the letters Jason and I have received have opened our eyes to the need for uniting all peoples around our fragile planet in the spirit of democratic empowerment–of learning together who we are and refusing to be determined as merely an indentured slave to the 1%. I cannot share with you some of these letters, but here are two passages from two enrolled students from Colombia and Asia responding to the question: What will you do with an education from GCAS?:
“I hope to be able to return to Colombia with better tools to continue working for the transformation of our society into a tolerant and peaceful community, where we can start the long work ahead of mending our differences, forgiving the culprits and joining the international community in our common responsibility to protect the Amazon and build a better world.”
And another letter from Asia said, “Silenced are the women in my country. Men do not allow education for us. I hope I can be educated in your centre so I too can educate girls to be strong.”
So as we embark on our first seminar in just 10 days on “Crisis of Higher Education” with world renowned experts (Andrew Ross, Diane Ravitch, and Henry Giroux). And we hope to open up a new world through the emerging community of learners committed to the idea that humanity still exists and we no longer have to be determined by old ideas, but can live for a better future a better life together.