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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

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February 26, 2024
An inside look at Bobby B. Beacon’s insides. Illustrated by Bianca Oppedisano/ Mass Media Staff.
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‘Brave New University’ with Jeffrey Williams

On Nov. 3, several departments of the University of Massachusetts Boston invited the student body to a discussion with author and academic Jeffrey J. Williams about the ideological and structural changes that higher education has undergone over the past 60 years. The event was hosted by the English Department, the American Studies Department, the Sociology Department, and the Labor Resource Center, as well as the Professional Staff Union, the Faculty Staff Union, and the Graduate Employee Organization. The talk, which was titled “Brave New University,” addressed the issue of educational institutions becoming more and more focused on maximizing profits rather than educating young minds. This discussion was also held at a time when UMass Boston itself is facing budget problems and further cuts in the future.

Williams, who also works as a professor of the English Department at Carnegie Mellon University, is well known for his critical stance against the rising student debt, the exploitation of students, and the condition of the higher education system in the United States. Over the years, he has expressed his thoughts in essays and books, such as “Debt Education: Bad for the Young, Bad for America” and “Are Students the New Indentured Servants?” Also in his new upcoming book, which is called “Brave New University: American Higher Education after the Welfare State,” he points to the problems with today’s education system. The title of this book is an allusion to the 1931 dystopian novel “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley.

In the introduction, Professor Joe Ramsey, who teaches in UMass Boston’s English Department, recalls the recent opening of University Hall and other investments by UMass Boston administration, but also pointed out that “what is new and brave sometimes comes at a cost.” Referring to Huxley’s novel, Ramsey said that the university “might reproduce rather than challenge class inequality.”

In his talk, Williams talked about how the student debt in the US has grown to a historic high over the past decades. According to the author, higher education should be an institution of social hope. Yet, nowadays is has become a privatization engine. In his words, he describes that universities have shifted from being an “instrument of equality to an instrument of inequality.” No longer is an altruistic ideology at the center of higher education, but a neoliberal rationale that has “redefined education as consumer service.”

Williams also pointed out that especially research has become a heavily commercialized aspect in the university system. He warned that this development leads to dependence on wealthy donors who are now in charge of deciding what parts of a university receive the money. Furthermore, the deregulation of student loans has led to the emergence of a business that is built on young people’s backs. Banking institutions such as Sallie Mae started out as public institution and did not have large earnings. However, today, such companies make large profits that everyone benefits from—except the students.

Students who want to know more information about the current budget crisis that UMass Boston is facing can attend the open Budget Committee Meeting on Nov. 15 at 1 p.m. in the Campus Center Ballroom.