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Celebrate Higher Education - Palgrave Macmillan Authors

In Their Own Voices - Jason A. Laker, Ph.D

Jason A. Laker, Ph.D. is the co-editor of Civic Pedagogies in Higher Education (9781137355584). In his own words, he speaks about the importance of Higher Education in today's landscape and what to make of its current role.


Jason A. Laker, Ph.D.

My colleagues at Palgrave were kind enough to invite me to contribute a short article as part of the “Celebrate Higher Education” campaign during the month of April. They suggested that I offer some thoughts about why Higher Education research is important in the present times. To be sure, the body of literature in this area is massive, comprising every conceivable methodological and theoretical approach to our subject.

The research, scholarly and creative activities through which we engage the Academy are generative, simultaneously constituting a tradition and a living conversation. Publishers such as Palgrave offer infrastructures and venues that amplify our voices through such work products as paper and virtual books, journals, blogs and social media outlets. Collectively, we pose questions, critically trouble and excavate, demand and propose, all in the interest of elevating (or in some cases, reforming or even dismantling) the very professional home to which so many of us have dedicated our entire professional lives.

Some subjects have been well tread, and others not so much. It is debatable whether anything new is left to surface. Yet, it would seem uncontroversial to suggest that even questions that have been repeatedly explored are not necessarily finally answered. Critics of higher education might take the more pessimistic view that at this point, researchers are simply rehashing issues and churning out books and articles that do nothing more than fill dossiers rather than elevate the Academy. An especially vitriolic one might even denigrate our professional homes by waxing rudely about hot air emanating from our Ivory Towers. I might possibly even agree with them since I too am a critic of higher education. But, I should clarify that I am also a friend and inhabitant.

The various posts and roles I have held have included those of administrator, Executive, Researcher, consultant, trainer, speaker, teacher and of course (at least I think so) that of a lifelong student. I have worked for public and private universities, large and small, Liberal Arts, comprehensive and religious, selective and not so selective. Higher Education is my home, dilapidated though it may be at times, yet I can’t imagine a better or more worthy location to spend my career. I often say we are in the “least bad business,” because whatever else can be said about it, Higher Education is interesting, and I think more so than other sectors. There are surely things to be upset about, or fed up with, particularly the political and financial tensions that are essentially now a business condition of our local and global workplace.

Why then, aside from my personal sentimentality, would I presume to encourage us to “Celebrate” Higher Education when some argue our house is on fire? To be sure, there is a big difference between finding it interesting and suggesting it is worthy of exaltation. Critical theorists have argued persuasively that it is a large-scale social reproduction project. Some of my best friends/colleagues use terms such as Neoliberal and Colonization when discussing higher education. Some others offer functionalist perspectives about how to work within the System to make positive change. I know a few who speak of skill, economic and workforce development. A handful use performances or artistic license to generate complex metaphors and analogies. All of these can happen on any given day in the office, and that’s a big part of what I wish to celebrate.

Our complicated and massive enterprise spans every nation, perspective, and method. It contains mundane, repetitive activities along with notable alternatives and life-altering discoveries. We deliberate and debate, sometimes laboring alone and other times with one or many others. Both those who bemoan the McDonaldization of higher education and those who tout its innovations have a point. I celebrate that too, and I hope you will join me in that.

I have the honor of serving as the Series Editor for Palgrave Studies in Global Citizenship Education and Democracy. I edited the first two books inaugurating this series along with two very good colleagues/friends, Professors Concepción Naval (University of Navarra, Spain) and Kornelija Mrnjaus (University of Rijeka, Croatia). These books, Citizenship, Democracy and Higher Education in Europe, Canada and the USA; and Civic Pedagogies in Higher Education: Teaching for Democracy in Europe, Canada and the USA (2014, Palgrave Macmillan) both explore questions about the role of higher education in fostering citizenship and democratic education among our students, and the implications for sustaining an inclusive and democratic future for nations and regions in Eastern and Western Europe, and North America.

In the introduction to Civic Pedagogies, I shared a quote offered by another good colleague, Dr, Rosa Bruno-Jofre, Professor and former Dean of the Faculty of Education at Queen’s University at Kingston, Canada, on the occasion of her retirement from the Decanal position. During her remarks, I was struck when Rosa said: “…although difficult in a policy environment in which extraneous concerns routinely displace properly educational ones, it is imperative—in our time of rapid transformational change—that we keep the debate alive about educational values and related issues of what constitutes a good life and a just society.”

I was present at the event where she uttered that significant statement, and I remember having an immediate and visceral reaction. As far as I was, and am still concerned, she hit the nail on the head about what our core business is really about. I can think of no other industry or sector that can more ably and powerfully keep that debate alive, nor which can produce, translate and mobilize the knowledge that achieves that essential goal for humanity. My ability to consider such a profound question, to act on it, and to inspire my students and perhaps even a reader or two of my books and missives, was cultivated and enabled by Higher Education. I am a child of an immigrant family, the first to attend higher education, and the only one to achieve a Ph.D. Higher Education became my intellectual and professional home. This was not my initial plan, nor an inevitable outcome of my upbringing or education. Nonetheless, this is what happened, and what continues to give me a physical and metaphorical space to raise questions, gain understanding, cultivate and sustain relationships, and to give something of myself to the next generation.

What could be a more wonderful cause for celebration?

Jason A. Laker, Ph.D. is Professor and Department Chair in the Faculty of Education at San José State University in California, USA.

* The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the views of Palgrave Macmillan

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