Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A Dubious Honor

My university was recently named to the President's Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll for the sixth consecutive year.  This honor roll is an initiative of the Corporation for National & Community Service.  The website of that organization describes it as follows:        

The President's Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll, launched in 2006, annually highlights the role colleges and universities play in solving community problems and placing more students on a lifelong path of civic engagement by recognizing institutions that achieve meaningful, measureable outcomes in the communities they serve.

I confess that I am discomfited rather than honored by this government recognition. While I agree that colleges and universities should serve the larger interests of our nation, I believe that higher education today is in serious danger of confusing those larger national interests with the officially approved programs and directives of a governmental organization. Mussolini, if I remember correctly, once defined fascism as the merging of corporations and the state, and here we have a state corporation encouraging the corporate entities of higher education to shape and direct the civic involvement of individuals. Surely individuals in a free society should be able to decide for themselves, without all the corporate-state controls, what kinds of "outcomes" they want in their communities. "Higher education community service" pushes a politicization of education far worse than telling students what positions they should take on specific issues (although modern universities do plenty of that) because it is a far-reaching effort at organizational control of how the students (and faculty) define "community problems" and their own citizenship.

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