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In following from last week’s discussion on scholarship, this week’s readings focused on the role of Universities.  Do they have a responsibility to promote and pursue public good beyond the accrual of knowledge, especially in this era of rampant Capitalism in which inequalities abound and the gaps between social strata are larger than ever before?  Furthermore, if it does play the role of “public-good facilitator,” to whom does it then have this responsibility to help?

Throughout American history, we have seen the rise of the White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant to the highest echelons of society.  If the American narrative is to believed, and equality and an egalitarian society is the ultimate goal, it then presupposes that all members of society, regardless of social background, should be treated in a similar manner (and yes, that includes those in the highest strata).  

As I learn more about the essential problematics of society (both as I go through my own program, and in my role as a Mellon Public Scholar), I am developing this ideal that equality isn’t necessarily the be-all, end-all answer we all have been conditioned it to be.  In an equal society, those who already have the resources to escape things like poverty will do everything in their power to make sure that they maintain the status quo.  Equality only works if we begin with an equal society.  

I particularly like how Ferguson delineates how this process occurs by drawing on Foucault’s theories of power.  In striving for compromise, for example, minority groups have paved the way for hegemonic institutions to maintain their dominance.  When new threats arise, those in power adjust to face these new threats to prevent revolution.

Logically then, we must assume that it is not equality, but rather, equity, which is the answer.  But there are issues with this as well.  When you have the option to treat people differently, again those in power make sure that this system work in their favor.  The problem then, is to shift it in such a way as to make sure that those in power receive the least, while those who are in need receive the most.

This brings us back, then, to the role of the University.  Research in the Sociology of Education indicates that the technical skills one learns over the course of their training and education account for only a moderate amount of the variance in economic outcomes.  If it’s not skills, which the University imbues upon an individual to change their life course, then what exactly is it?  The spread of ideas?  And if this is the case, are we, as scholars of the Academy, charged with this mission?