Michael Milken and the Corporate Raid on Education

Michael Milken and the Corporate Raid on Education

Kenneth J. Saltman

Junk bond swami Michael Milken jumped out of prison a few years ago and into for-profit education. Ken Saltman submits Milken’s latest venture to the light of day.

Rehabilitation for Milken’s Junk Habit A much expanded version of this paper that, in part, links issues of corporatized education to global militarization appeared in Robin Truth Goodman and Kenneth J. Saltman, Strange Love, or How We Learn to Stop Worrying and Love the Market. Rowman & Littlefield, 2001.

The May 10, 1999 issue of Business Week magazine features a picture of convicted felon Michael Milken on its cover. In the picture Milken sits cross-legged in a meditation pose smiling with his hands outstretched. Instead of his fingers joining thumb and fourth finger to complete the Buddhistic pose, pieces of fruit fly from his hands. Milken is juggling fruit. His lap is filled with vegetables - broccoli, peppers, squash, tomatoes, artichokes. Carrots overflow one pocket and spinach leaves the other pocket of a blue work shirt, which looks as if he might have snuck it out of the minimum security Federal Penitentiary where he served two years on a ten-year sentence for ninety-eight counts of fraud. The headline reads, “The Reincarnation of Mike Milken: a close-up look at his life, his education business, and his quest to cure cancer.” Business Week happens to be owned by McGraw Hill, the largest educational publisher and one of the biggest investors in precisely the kinds of for-profit education businesses that Milken is buying up.

In a March 1998 article in Business Week regular Wall Street Journal financial reporter Craig Roberts argues that Michael Milken has done more to help mankind than Mother Theresa. Business Week, March 2, 1998, p. 28

Business Week and the Wall Street Journal are not the only mainstream publications singing the praises of Michael. The New York Times writes of “restoring the junk bond king” while the Independent of London calls Milken’s entry into education and medical research a “resurrection.” The Economist calls Milken “The Comeback King.” Time, Newsweek, USA Today and a bevy of mainstream publications join in a chorus of praise for a man that federal prosecutors and the Securities and Exchange Commission allege returned to lawbreaking “the moment he stepped out of prison.”

In the 1980s Michael Milken was sent to prison for his illicit financial dealings - fraud and insider trading. However, even his legal activities in the junk bond market were destructive to companies, to retirees, and to the general public. He was a major factor in the Savings and Loan collapse that cost the public billions. He invented the junk bond market and promoted its use in hostile corporate takeovers that destroyed businesses, labor unions, and job security while enriching a tiny corporate elite. He promoted greed as a public virtue and still claims that his destructive profit-seeking behavior is the essence of democracy. Since his early release from prison, Milken has been building the first education conglomerate, Knowledge Universe, which is aimed at transforming public education into an investment opportunity for the wealthy by privatizing public schools, making kids into a captive audience for marketers, and redefining education as a corporate resource rather than a public good vital to the promotion of a democratic society.

Part of what is so disturbing about Milken’s predatory move into education is that the popular press has hailed it as redemption for a man with a tainted history. In reality, Milken’s predatory financial activities, which bilked the public of billions while making him a billionaire, are continuing in education.

In his defense of privatization, Milken is suggesting that he is helping children, giving them opportunities within a corporate future where the competition will make it increasingly difficult for them to participate in the economy:

Education must address individual needs. Rapid corporate evolution and frequent restructuring - including downsizing, rightsizing and outsourcing - mean an employee can no longer rely upon a “job for life.” We believe that those who have the ability to learn and apply new skills are most likely to achieve career success and personal fulfillment.
- Milken’s “Knowledge Universe Vison Statement”

Corporate culture claims to solve the problems of schooling by remaking the school in the image of the corporation. What Milken is not saying is that he himself is actively sponsoring and building that cutthroat future with no job security, low pay, and exploitative work conditions. What is in fact a hostile takeover of education as a vital public good is being sold to the public as philanthropy.

Education, Inc.

Education must address corporate needs. Companies face a global economy with increased competition, decreasing product life cycles, more demanding customers and constant technological innovation. In this environment, employees must continuously be retrained to meet the evolving demands of the global marketplace.
- Knowledge Universe Vision Statement

Michael Milken’s attack on the public sphere needs to be understood as a part of the broader movement for privatization taking place in all aspects of society. Not only schools but prisons, legal defense, public medical facilities, parks, social security, all are subject to the call to privatize.

Incontrovertibly, the corporate media trust is selling the public on privatization through news and entertainment which portrays privatization as the only option, which equates capitalism with democracy and which actively depoliticizes citizens. Corporate media is so concentrated that a group of five companies control almost all of American film and television: Time Warner, Viacom CBS, News Corp, Bertellsman/Westinghouse, and Disney ABC. Book and magazine publishing is even more concentrated and intersects with the film and television monopoly. Michael Milken directly contributed to the rise of the media monopoly by pioneering the use of the junk bond for corporate media mergers.

The media monopoly relates directly to the rise of the educational conglomerates in that both share the ability to monopolize knowledge production. Private monopolies on the production of knowledge and culture threaten the possibility of democracy because they frame issues in the corporate interest, block public access to media production and content control, eliminate curriculum or content which challenges structural uninequalities, and fail to distinguish public from private interest.

The political and pedagogical implications of this struggle over the control of knowledge and language are readily apparent in corporatization of school curricula. Shell Oil’s freely distributed video curriculum on the environment concentrates heavily on the virtues of the internal combustion engine, “while offering students pearls of wisdom like, `You can’t get to nature without gasoline or cars.’” The Nation, “The Corporate Curriculum” by Steven Manning, Sept. 27, 1999, p. 17. In this case Shell Oil rewrites environmentalism as its diametric opposite - the plunder, exploitation, and consumption of nature.

But what Milken has in store for education is more than the transformation of school kids into a captive audience for corporate commercials. Knowledge Universe and the other “lifelong learning” companies seek to reinvent the school on the model of the corporation. Today the wild drive for “computer literacy” for teachers and students, the emphasis on instructional technology, and the general faith in technology as an inherently educative and liberating force belies another yet more disturbing faith - a (radically misguided) faith in the corporation to provide employment, fair work conditions, security, and a general state of bounty for the student, for the nation, and for the world.

Historically, corporations have proven their lack of concern with the welfare of the world’s citizenry from the slave trade, to colonization, to the exploitation of industrial labor and child labor, to the gutting of the public sphere through corporate welfare, to the cultural elevation of greed and selfishness, and restoration of racism, and sexism as virtues, to the carceral and military industrial complexes, to the destruction of whole communities with pollution and infrastructural undermining. Increasingly the public is becoming enslaved to the corporate interest in nearly every sphere from politics to culture to law.

KU’s Teacher’s Universe business exemplifies the transformation of the school by corporate culture:

Using PowerPoint presentation software, Lee Whitton puts the finishing touches on a computer “slide show” she has created. The topic: Why teachers at Flanagan (Ill.) Elementary School, where Ms. Whitton is the principal, should take the same technology-training course that she is completing. “I’ve created one slide show to persuade my school board we need it, and another to convince the teachers,” Ms. Whitton says. Creating sharp-looking documents and spreadsheets is among the tasks she mastered in a five-day training institute run by Teacher Universe, a new company that for the time being is focused on helping teachers integrate technology into the classroom… “Administrators have to be as knowledgeable as teachers,” says the principal, whose 550-student district in central Illinois paid her travel expenses, plus the $450 tuition, for the institute here. “Focus On Teachers,” Education Week, February 3, 1999.

Clearly, the curriculum at Teacher’s Universe involves more than the tools involved in transforming any classroom in the image of a corporate boardroom. Administrators learn to use the new tools to market the technology training courses to other administrators. Some glaring questions emerge from this such as: how in the world does this benefit education? We also need to ask who will receive this corporate culture and who will not (we know the answer to this because it will be distributed as other educational resources are currently - based on wealth).

The transformation of school through corporate culture is about more than an emphasis on style over substance. Corporate culture in schools makes politics less possible by way of anaesthetized technicization. When the problems of public schooling appear as technical difficulties rather than structural manifestations of deeper flaws, solutions are sought in the corporate sector - a sector largely responsible for causing those social problems in the first place by fostering political exclusion and creating inequalities of wealth. Yet, KU’s Teacher’s Universe does not intend to simply sell computer learning apparatus. They will sell knowledge too:

Teacher Universe instructor Lloyd Spruill focuses on integrating Windows applications into the classroom. (Teacher Universe offers training on a variety of operating systems and applications.) Creating a PowerPoint slide show about the Brazilian rain forest can lead students to use economics, math, language arts, geography, and other subjects, Ms. Spruill says. “If we isolate computer skills, that’s like having a pen teacher, or having a pen lab in the school,” said Ms. Spruill, who was a school district technology director in Bertie County, N.C., before joining the training firm that preceded Teacher Universe. “Focus On Teachers,” Eduation Week, February 3, 1999.

And Michael Milken is ready to link his curriculum to his learning technologies through Teacher’s Universe, KU Interactive Studio, and its subsidiary MindQ Publishing.

What can educators seeking learning materials through Teacher’s Universe’s helpful links expect to find in a lesson on say, Brazil? Mostly issues framed in terms of Western tourism, though some links do consider the importance of ecology. However, none of the links discuss the reason that the rain forest is being destroyed - corporate profit. Slash and burn methods turn rainforest into grazing land for cows that will become McDonald’s hamburgers. Whoops! Minor ommission in the curriculum. The politics links on Teacher’s Universe are predictably Right-leaning, with the Left represented by a conspiracy theory link. The only military-related link celebrates the virtues of military spending and glorifies military hardware with graphic images. It does not mention the fact that the world’s only superpower continues to invent new enemies and uses for the military to spend record amounts on defense because corporate profit is at stake in the distribution of public money to high tech firms. It omits minor contradictions such as the massive military expenditure involved in attacking Yugoslavia for “humanitarian interests” (bombs for peace), while at the same time U.S.-funded forces were committing genocide in East Timor because “we have economic interests there.” This politics link also fails to mention that Milken’s own Milken Family Institute, through the Jerusalem Center for Public Policy, funds research on militarized policing methods of oppressed Palestinians in Israel, lobbies for the privatization of Israel’s public schools, and funded the slander of progressive intellectual and Palestinian human-rights spokesperson Edward Said in this country. I am referring to the Milken-funded attack on Edward Said by former Israeli security official Justus Weiner in Commentary Magazine which turned out to be a series of falsehoods. The New York Times covered the Weiner allegations but never covered their refutations by Said himself and Alexander Cockburn.

Junk King Education: My Own Little Revolution

But old habits die hard… his penchant for secrecy surrounds Knowledge Universe. The firm’s ownership structure resembles a set of Russian nesting dolls: Each company opens up to reveal yet another, until at the core one finds the Milken brothers and Ellison. And while the trio have recruited such high-tech players as Larry Geisel, a former Netscape VP who’s now Knowledge Universe’s CTO, they’ve also installed longtime lieutenants in other positions, according to SEC records. Todd Woody the Industry Standard

According to Michael Milken himself, his education company is a direct continuation of his financial activities. They are both, he argues, about democratization. Milken has repeated this post-jail narrative in multiple outlets – through the Milken Family Foundation, the Milken Institute, and in press interviews. The story goes like this: Milken says he lived an idyllic life in Southern California until the Watts Riots of 1965. After the riots Milken drove to Watts, where his father, an accountant, had clients. Milken claims to have spoken with a man who had set fire to his own “workplace.”

I’m out of this `Happy Days’ family in the San Fernando Valley, and I couldn’t understand why people were burning buildings that they were living in or might have worked in… He had no savings and now he had no job. I asked him why and he told me that he wasn’t a part of the system. He wasn’t living the American Dream. Michael White, Former Junk Bond King Rules Over New Empire, AP, Boston Globe, May 2 1999, C15.

The story continues that upon returning to Berkeley, where Milken was enrolled as a math major, he changed his major to business with “the vague idea of changing the financial system” to provide investment opportunities for minorities and those excluded from the economic system. If we are to believe Michael Milken, his invention of the junk bond was geared towards economic justice by democratizing access to investments. “Eventually, he came to the conclusion that the system could be opened to more people by providing credit based on a company’s potential instead of its past history. Junk bonds became the vehicle.” Ibid. Says Milken, “I viewed that as an opportunity. I viewed that as my own little revolution.” Ibid. According to Milken his junk bond activities of the eighties successfully “democratized capital.” What examples does Milken give to support his version of the democratization of capital for the poor, the excluded, and the underclass? A poor marginalized company called MCI couldn’t compete against AT&T. But the junk bond helped finance its growth to current oligopolistic proportions. The only other example I have been able to locate of the junk bond’s great egalitarian power is his example of its use in financing media giant Time Warner’s purchase of media giant Turner Broadcasting.

If only those other Berkeley radicals had gone to business school, economic injustice and racism could have been conquered. Reactionary New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman actually says this explicitly in all earnestness. According to Milken, who refers to himself as a social scientist, these injustices have been conquered. Despite the realities of a steadily increasing wage gap, growing inequalities in the concentration of wealth, the racial and gendered nature of economic inequality, systematic police brutality and white supremacist attacks against non-whites, and immigrants, despite Rodney King, the L.A. uprising, despite the destructive corporatization of the health care industry, the denial of AIDS medicine to the poor, rising rates of child poverty and homelessness Michael Milken claims to have conquered economic injustice in the early 1980’s through the “democratization of capital.” “I believe that mission succeeded by the early 1980s.” Ibid.

In reality the junk bond didn’t even turn out to be a good investment for the rich (Milken himself got out of investing in them early on), it didn’t really ever finance small business expansion, individual entrepreneurship, or allow workers control and ownership of their workplaces. The real issue here is not merely the false claim that the junk bond “created jobs.” Rather the issue is that Milken’s definition of democratic economics translates to corporations providing jobs in a market economy. In other words, Milken defines democracy by the benevolence of those few people in control of markets, people such as himself. In this case, the profit-seeking behavior of the corporate sector is democracy. If this profit-seeking by the rich results in the creation of some jobs then that is proof of the democratizing potential of profit-seeking behavior and a system designed around maximizing profit for the rich. Milken’s vision of democracy excludes citizens not only from control of their own labor and control over their workplaces but also from being involved in decision-making about the kinds of work they will have available in the future. Furthermore, this way of thinking defines democratic action as competition against other citizens for scarce goods and services and defines democratic action as the pursuit of individual interest though such behaviors as consuming private educational services rather than defining democratic action as the pursuit of the public good or common good through the individual and collective behaviors of public service, activism, or civic participation.

Milken’s attacks on the public sphere in his educational endeavors are extensive and potentially far more destructive than his anti-public actions in the financial realm. Milken aims to privatize public education and make money from it. He is already doing this with KU’s Nobel Learning Communities, Inc. As Justin Martin writes in Fortune magazine, “private schools represent only a sliver of the K-12 education market. Public schools are the big quarry.” Though neither KU’s website nor Nobel’s website reveals it, Knowledge Universe owns a “significant ownership position” in what is the largest private school system in the U.S. which spans 13 states and includes 140 schools. Nobel claims they are “currently pursuing plans for further nationwide expansion.”

According to the company, “Nobel Learning Communities’ programs are targeted towards the working families of America.” Why do America’s working families need private schools? “Analysts believe the opportunity to build an education company into a significant and profitable business is huge and is fueled by the Nation’s need to reform a system that is getting failing grades.” Are the “Nation’s” schools really in need of reform or are only some of the nation’s citizens’ schools in need of reform? Certainly Nobel is not targetting the larely white suburban schools populated by the children of the professional class. Nobel schools could certainly not compete with the public schools of professional elites in such places as Lower Montgomery, Pennsylvania outside of Philadelphia, Fairfield County, Connecticut and Westchester County, New York outside of New York City or Montgomery County Maryland outside of D.C. So Nobel’s response to schools getting failing grades is, in fact, a response to a highly unequal system of public allocation of education as a public good. The remedy for such unequal allocation should be the redistibution of educational resources. This redistribution needs to be tied to a broader social redistribution of decision-making about how social resources are allocated.

Fixing the public schools in a place like Camden, NJ with an infusion of public investment needs to be tied to the revitalization of that city’s infrastructure. The reason the Camden schools are radically underfunded has to do with the fact that city’s tax-base has been dismantled by the flight of business and residences. Where did business go? To nearby wealthy white Cherry Hill and overseas. The loss of local jobs and tax revenue in Camden resulting from corporate flight left an unemployed population with a gutted public sector. Without fixing the economic conditions that result in unemployment, poverty, despair, the resort to drugs and alcohol for consolation and income, and violence, fixing the Camden schools is an empty gesture. The fact is, the corporate sector is complicit in destroying communities in urban areas and now wants to come back and prey on these communities by making them rely on private education. Public schools do need public investment and support so that they can be sites from which citizens can struggle for economic and cultural empowerment and broader social transformation. The public investment in public schools should be based in a broader democratic public transformation, not on the ephemeral promise of competing for scarce and low-paying jobs. Such rejuvenation should be premised on the development of a critical and compassionate citizenry, the development of a vision for the future in which citizens decide the kind of work they do and the subjugation of the corporate sector for the public good, rather than the subjugation of citizens for corporate profit.

Milken Family Values

The kindness in my father’s eyes took nothing away from his serious message. “Never forget,” he said sternly, “Businesses are built on trust, and trust starts with the balance sheet.”
- Michael Milken

One of Nobel’s enticements to investors is that, “There are also more working mothers with children than any other period in history.” Nobel sells pre-school services to working parents. Aside from Nobel’s assumption that women are natural caregivers to children, the company recognizes that there is loot to be scored by taking advantage of worsened economic conditions for working class citizens. Due to continually decreasing real wages for working class families, (in an “economic boom”) families of four now require two earners as opposed to one. While the economic boom of the late nineties has benefited corporate CEOs and the ruling class it has not materialized for the majority of the population. So Nobel as well as Knowledge Universe’s other child-care business’ benefit financially from worsened economic conditions for working class and largely non-white populations. What must be understood is the extent to which the corporate sector has been instrumental in making families poorer and hence dependent upon the consumption of the corporate child-care industry.

Knowledge Universe owns Children’s Discovery Centers of America, for which it paid $80 million.

As with corporate training, early-childhood services make good sense for KU. These days, 80% of families are either dual income or headed by a single parent. But running an on-site day-care center is costly; thus, many corporations outsource this service as well.(Martin, 1998: 197-200)

Wall Street considers the “early-childhood” market to be a $30 billion opportunity for corporations. The obvious labor issue here involves the ethical question of whether the victims of worsened economic constraints on working class and middle class citizens should be subject to rely on corporate provision of child-care services. Child-care services should be a universal public good which allows parents the opportunity to participate in the economy. In Milken’s world, equal participation in the economy by men and women depends upon the consumption of his private, for-profit childcare services.

Leverage buyout masters, junk bond kings, and finance houses are turning to kiddie care in droves. Recent consolidations include: KUs Nobel and Children’s Discovery Centers, Kohlberg, Kravis, & Roberts’ KinderCare Learning Centers (the nation’s biggest chain), Chase Capital Partners’ La Petite Academy (number two), Lazard Capital Partners’ $16 million equity stake in ChildrenFirst, Inc.

The predatory move into child-care does not stem from altruism. Rather, the corporations are responding to three primary sources of new child-care spending. 1) President Clinton included $600 million in childcare in his federal budget proposal last February. 2) Massive tax credits to corporations have been proposed in Congress “toward the cost of setting up, operating or subsidizing on-site child care for their employees.” And 3) the big haul is “$22 billion in federal money over six years to help subsidize child care for welfare recipients who return to work.” (Cummings, 1999: D1) Even as Congress has allocated $4.5 billion for childcare to be spread over five years, children eligible for childcare vouchers in states like Mississippi are not receiving them, and yet the state’s budget for childcare remains in the coffers - approximately $25 million in federal allowances and $17 in state allowances (Houppert, 1999: 15). The difficulties of administering and distributing welfare benefits at the state level - where these functions are now controlled, due to block grant legislation - creates a greater opening for privatization and the move of corporations into the industry to pick up the slack.

The 1996 Republican-led and bipartisan-enacted welfare dismantling was an attack on the idea of a social safety net for those citizens in most need. In this sense, the dismantling of welfare was a part of what Stanley Aronowitz has identified as the gutting of the “compassionate functions of the state.” However, it was also fundamentally a redistribution of public resources to the private sector in that direct government provision and non-profit provision largely shifted to for-profit provision. While the people who lost in this attack on social services were the poorest, least enfranchised and historically most victimized segments of the population forced to “sink or swim,” the winners were big corporations such as military contracting giant Lockheed-Martin which had lined up before the law even passed to be rewarded when it did pass with 20 contracts in four states. As William P. Ryan points out in the Harvard Business Review, this privatization has resulted in a radically destructive shift in the culture and economics of social service. Huge capital means for-profits can take over projects quicker and also quit projects when the bottom line doesn’t pan out. They do the projects that promise to pay the most. They have a short-term outlook often at odds with individuals or community interests. They force non-profits to compete and operate based on profit and price-competition instead of based in a mission of helping people. They remove profit from projects rather than reinvesting them.

What is particularly disturbing is that Knowledge Universe and the other “lifelong learning” companies have a financial interest in the government not providing fundamental social services including childcare, education, welfare, and worker training. As Alex Molnar points out, the endless attacks on the quality of public education from the corporate sector come despite the fact that U.S. corporations spend less on worker training than any other industrialized country. Obviously the “quality” issue that corporate CEOs such as Louis Gerstner of IBM hurl at the public schools do not concern the schools from which IBM will draw employees. Those schools, heavily funded, largely white schools in suburbs are providing IBM with well-educated members of the professional class. So the “failing” schools are not the ones from which IBM intends to benefit by hiring their graduates. However, IBM can certainly benefit from convincing the government that IBM can allow urban schools and their students to compete with wealthy white suburban schools for IBM’s shrinking number of jobs if those urban schools buy IBM’s many products.

KU’s Unext.com and its MindQ are competing for the corporate worker retraining market. The success of these companies depends upon decreased job security. Making corporate retraining an outsourced element of corporations allows big corporations with benefits packages for employees to avoid paying these to in-house trainers. This exploitative practice of outsourcing is apparent in the university system. For example, St. Joseph’s University subcontracts food services from Aramark so that St. Joseph’s, despite its overt mission of ethics, care, and Jesuit concern with social justice, can have an underpaid staff of mostly black women on a wealthy white campus. These women and men are not entitled to free tuition, university benefits or decent pay despite the fact that they work on university grounds full-time and live in the mostly black working class neighborhoods surrounding this mostly white professionalclass school.

Education On the Line

KU’s Unext is also striving to be an online university which stands to worsen and intensify the effects of corporate power in education such as the anti-labor practice of contracting.

Unext.com will push its elite-school connections (would-be partners are said to include the London School of Economics and Colombia, Stanford, Cornell and Carnegie Mellon universities) and multimedia productions linking students and “mentors,” simulating classroom exchanges. (Strahler, 1999: 3)

Part of the problem with Milken’s plan for distance learning is that it defines the quality of instruction in typical market logic fashion - by the prestige carried by brand-names. In other words, education as consumer commodity cannot comprehend necessary ethical and political questions such as to what extent this program of learning promotes democratic, equal, free, and just social relations in all social spheres or simply questions of whose interests this knowledge represents. But this online university is more than a high-tech form of instrumentalization and what educational critics have long identified as a form of technocratic rationality. It is also an attack on university labor and academic freedom.

The first fully-accredited online university, Jones University, is proving to be a model for future major players in the online learning market:

Jones University, which became the first online-only university to gain accreditation this spring, already has 600 adult students who pay $4000 a year, vs. $3200 at the average state college. Jones has no overhead for dorms or sports fields. And each course is a standard product taught by adjunct instructors instead of costly tenured professors. Still, Jones won’t be profitable unless enrollment hits a projected 3000 in two years - a tall order for a college trying to build a reputation from scratch. (Morris, 1999: 90)

By linking to elite established universities, KU’s Unext.com has avoided the credibility problem that Jones University faces. Yet, in order to profit Unext.com will be forced to use the same destructive tactics of standardized curriculum and extensive if not complete use of adjuncts (effectively an attack on the tenure system). David Levin, director of DePaul University’s distance learning project says that online education is the “most rapidly growing area of distance learning. Every day or so, I see some new organization opening up” (Strahler). Many critics in education are proclaiming that this could mean the destruction of higher education. David F. Nobel, a history professor at York University in Toronto says, “Ten years from now we will look at the wired remains of our system and wonder how we let it happen” (Morris, 1999: 90).

Online distance learning in its corporate incarnation means more than the attacks on full-time academic labor, tenure, face to face instruction, and education as a form of critical dialogue. It implies a radically different educational culture and yet one which continues to structure unequal opportunities based on class position. As higher education continues to be prohibitively expensive for working class students, fewer of the most privileged students will have the opportunity to go to non-virtual college. Online education will inevitably bring with it a two-tiered system in which workers of the information economy can be trained to do low-paying high-skilled tasks. Recall KU’s vision statement:

We believe that those who have the ability to learn and apply new skills are most likely to achieve career success and personal fulfillment.

As for those not privileged enough and not naturally endowed to consume Milken education or online distance learning, too bad, says the Milken rationale. Yet those slated for the ranks of control will not be denied real live education at universities with all that it entails. This is not, in other words, a system which offers more opportunities, but a way for corporations such as KU to attack public education so they can benefit by selling private schooling, then sell worker training and vocational higher education to the students that they deprived of free universal education in the first place.

Despite the fact that conglomerates are scrambling to make the web into a way to lower educational overhead, critical educators should not underestimate the power and potential of online distance education for being a new counter-public sphere. As a counter-public sphere online distance education could possibly (depending on how it is configured) provide a space for critical educators and those concerned primarilly with social justice to convene with social movements, labor organizers, foreign political parties, and subjugated populations internationally. Critical educators should rush to seize these emerging spaces rather than denouncing them as inherently oppressive. By being involved in the establishment of online distance learning, critical educators increase the possibilities for politicized curricula, a social justice agenda, and the preservation of labor conditions necessary for the maintenance of academic freedom. Of course, such struggles over the future of academic labor must be linked to multiple broader struggles against corporate power and privatization of the public sphere and for the expansion of genuinely democratic social relations and public life.


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