If, for some reason, you feel a need to read the literary equivalent of sticking knitting needles in your eyes, have I got a book for you: Henry Giroux’s, Neoliberalism’s War on Higher Education. The whole book is a mixture of baseless assertions, generalizations from anecdotes, and non-existent fact-checking, an unmitigated disaster from start to finish.
If you’re going to have an entire book about neoliberalism, it helps to actually define the term. What is this thing that’s at war with higher ed, exactly? But the task of defining terms is apparently beneath Giroux. As near as I can tell, his definition of neo-liberalism includes a hefty dose of militarism, so when he says “neo-liberal” he really means something close to: “the Dick Cheney wing of Republican Party”, but it’s impossible to know for sure.
The book does not, in fact, have a continuous narrative; rather, it’s a hastily slapped-together mix of a half-dozen articles or speeches, some of which are pretty tangential to higher education. In the first two chapters, the “war” on higher education consists of governments (particularly the US government) spending money on the military and not on higher ed. In two others, the enemy is academics themselves, refusing to be “public intellectuals”. As with “neo-liberalism”, Giroux chooses to leave “public intellectuals” undefined, but it appears to be synonymous with “agreeing with, and acting like, Henry Giroux”.
There are really only two chapters which deal directly with higher education. One is about the 2012 “Maple Spring” in Quebec. It’s utterly uncritical of the students and their aims, and makes some utterly fantastical claims about government and its motives. In it, one learns that the Quebec tuition fee hike was caused by funds being diverted towards Canada’s “burgeoning military budget”, despite the fact that: a) Canada’s military budget has been going down since 2010; and, b) military expenditures are a federal, not a provincial responsibility. Giroux, originally from the US, is clearly deeply confused about Canadian federalism, claiming at one point that Jean Charest had no trouble “contributing” $4.7 billion towards the cost of the new F-35s – which is a unique interpretation of the federal taxing power, to be sure.
The only other article that focusses specifically on events in higher education takes the Penn State child sexual assault scandal and – I wish I were making this up – uses it as a metaphor for what’s happening to young people and higher education in general. Seriously. But then again, offensive metaphors and comparisons seem to be something of a Giroux speciality: at one point early in the book he declares that the situation of adjuncts in US universities is “no better” than the condition of Cold War political prisoners and dissidents in communist countries (Move aside Solzhenitsyn, we’ve got some under-employed post-docs here!).
It’s not all dreary: I quite enjoyed the bit where he managed to shoehorn his wife’s name into a listing of great intellectuals writing on neo-liberalism (Friere! Bourdieu! Searls Giroux!). But overall, this is just cartoon Chomskyism. If that kind of thing turns you on, you’ll like it. If not, save your money.