The subject today is Katharine Brooks, director of the liberal arts career center at the University of Texas, Austin. In a New York Times article about the ongoing disappearance of the liberal arts in public higher education in the United States, Ms. Brooks displays her awareness of the expected rhetorical gesture for the article and an unawareness that the logical conclusion of the rhetorical posture she assumes would mean that she will eventually be unemployed. In an article that does not blink about institutions opting to do away with philosophy and classics majors, Ms. Brooks offers up the following bromide: “Particularly as money gets tighter, people are going to demand more accountability from majors and departments.”
Yes, accountability. Strange, coming from someone in Texas, the land of no accountability, unless you are in a certain location in Huntsville. Still, this is the ideology Ms. Brooks has been fed, and she will regurgitate it as needed. A financial decision is made by a state legislature, or by a Chancellor, or a dean, and the justification turns out to be “a demand for accountability.” Whence this demand? Do you see Americans bearing pitchforks and torches in the streets over the bonuses paid to corporate executives who mismanaged companies that were part of the series of financial crises during the past two years? Were citizens asking for heads on platters when they learned that millions were handed over in Iraq without receipts, when briefcases full of money were given to people without any attempt to keep a record of the transactions? The accountability for the infamous Bridge to Nowhere? Ms. Brooks has fallen victim to rhetoric. Accountability functions as a thin cover for other agendas.
The loss of philosophy majors, classics programs, and the slashing of budgets for the liberal arts to shift funding to management and business and online programs — all that is about money, not accountability. In fact, the Texas state legislature, in particular, has been quite clear about reducing pubic funding for higher education (a nationwide trend), and logically that should mean that Ms. Brooks ought to be less accountable, since the legislature has reduced its stake in higher education. That reminds us of the traditional divide between logic and rhetoric. Ms. Brooks seems happy with the notion that the purpose of higher education is not learning or education, but employment and a career. Her career is at a career center. The higher part of higher education once reminded all of us about worlds beyond careers, utilitarianism, and cost-benefit analyses. Ms. Brooks wants to keep us grounded, low. Anything that smacks of higher-level concerns (such as the kind of talk that might occur in philosophy and classics courses) deserves not more attention and funding, but less and none on Ms. Brooks’ method of accounting.