From Sputnik to the Spellings Commission: The Rhetoric of Higher Education Reform
AdvisorMiller, Thomas P.
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractIn July 1946, Harry S. Truman formed the first-ever presidential commission on higher education. Since that time, reports by commissioned panels of experts calling for reforms to postsecondary education have proliferated. The Spellings Commission on the Future of Higher Education provides yet the most recent high-profile example of how reformists may shift their sights--and their rhetorical strategies--from primary to postsecondary education. Yet, little examination has been made of how such reports harness the persuasive power of rhetoric to advance their agendas for reform. In From Sputnik to the Spellings Commission, Daylanne Markwardt bridges this gap by bringing tools of rhetorical criticism to bear on the contemporary rhetoric of higher education reform. Drawing upon rhetorical and linguistic theories, she demonstrates how two key metaphors--the first, framing higher education as a means of national defense, the second, likening it to a business or industry--have radically altered the way postsecondary education has been perceived and valued in the U.S. over the past 60 years. She also explores how a number of major ideological appeals have been used to legitimize actions and policies that have brought about sweeping changes to institutions of higher learning since the Cold War. Based upon Jürgen Habermas's theory of technological rationality, she argues that commission reports have instilled a measurement-oriented, bottom line-driven mindset, whereby the results of postsecondary learning have been reduced to those which are readily quantifiable and its worth calculated almost entirely in economic terms. As a codified response to a recurrent social situation, commission reports like those analyzed in this dissertation constitute a unique genre of reform rhetoric. Yet, they also effectively restrict women, persons of color, and other marginalized groups from the dialog surrounding higher education reform, thereby sustaining a hegemony of values asserted largely by representatives of dominant religious, political, and business interests. The author concludes that the conventions and limitations of this genre must be challenged, and the ideologies now associated with higher education rearticulated, if the humanities are to maintain their place within the evolving American university.
Degree ProgramGraduate College