On Challenging My New Favorite Term: "Edupreneur"

So I've been swamped with new semester stuff but realize my sanity will likely erode if I do not write something other than comments on student papers or academic manuscripts. I have had lots of blog-worthy fodder as of late, including a forwarded e-mail for United Teachers Los Angeles activists that Brian Galaviz sent to Education for Liberation Network members. In Brian's message, he described Secretary of Education Arne Duncan as an "edupreneur." To provide a bit more context, Duncan's edupreneurship included portraying Hurricane Katrina's destruction to New Orleans as an opportunity, which immediately reminded me of Naomi Klein's work on disaster capitalism.

In any event, I love the term edupreneurship, as it captures so perfectly much of what I have witnessed in higher education since I became a faculty member. For example:

  • Instead of simply saying we need to downsize our graduate programs for economic reasons or some other ones, we are "right-sizing" them, as if we are talking about the alteration of a more marketable hamburger rather than organizations run by and (supposedly) for people.
  • Instead of looking at our own backyard (including its hard-to-ignore, foul-smelling shit) to determine what we want to keep and change as we trudge into the 21st century, we are looking to our "aspirational peers" for guidance on what we should be. These peers do not merely offer a vision of something better; they rank higher than we do on such important scales as the U.S. News & World Report's list of best public research universities. So what we are really talking about is competition, and we are, yet again, a number on a report rather than an institution comprised of human beings who have diverse needs and interests (aspirations?), some of which do not include being #1.
  • Instead of publicly praising scholars for their work on improving the fields in which they work, the surrounding community, U.S. society, and/or the world beyond our national borders (or, dare I say it, their activism to begin re-funding the public educational system that policymakers and lobbyists have actively depleted for years), we celebrate the attainment of big grants. That's right, $$$$$$. And the federal public monies given in my field, teacher education, go to those willing and able to Race to the Top. Sounds like more competition and another ranking system to l'il ole me...

Believe it or not, I'm actually not opposed to some concepts associated with neoliberal economic thinking, such as efficiency. At present, the large class sizes in our doctoral program mean students do not receive the attention and care they deserve. Accordingly, "down-sizing" our doctoral program makes a lot of sense, both from the perspective of the students enrolled in the program and the harried, worn-out professors teaching and advising them. Still, think of the difference in framing between the following two statements: "We care about the quality of your education and, more importantly, you," and, "We need to right-size our program to compete with our aspirational peers." I'm with George Lakoff who argues that framing matters a lot and that framing according to our values is a more effective way to bring about progressive social change than trying to explain to people like my provost that their reasoning is faulty. So as I draft my resignation letter during the upcoming month, I am going to think about the most effective frames I can use to ensure my institution's recognition that I am voting with my feet, not leaving for "personal reasons." This blogger is more interested in re-humanizing my professional life than assuming the mantle of edupreneur.