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College and University Faculty

The following are my thoughts about college and university faculty, from the perspective of living and working in a Western developed country, the United States:

As college and university faculty, our lot is tied to the rest of humankind. Our issues are those facing the entire planet and include classism, racism, sexism, young people’s and other oppressions, environmental degradation, wars, and genocide.

We are set up to produce ideas and workers that serve the class hierarchy. However, we have a window for liberation. Institutions of higher education are typically granted authority by the state to advance knowledge freely and without interference. There is an understanding that it’s in the best interest of humankind to stretch beyond our current picture of the world to imagine, create, invent, discover, learn, and promote progress. Our challenge as faculty is to use this window to advance revolutionary change, including the creation of a just and sustainable society.

Institutions of higher education in a new society will look very different from the current institutions (though they will retain the useful practices, knowledge, and methods for acquiring knowledge already developed). In the future, higher education will support all groups of human beings, and all groups will contribute to it. To facilitate the transformation, we must ensure, as soon as possible, that all groups have access to higher education.


In recent decades, higher education has become more accessible to groups of people—women, People of the Global Majority, Jews, Muslims, people with disabilities, people raised poor and working class, and others—who previously had limited access. This has been linked to liberation activities. For instance, students and faculty of the global majority, with white allies, have used college and university campuses for building the Black Lives Matter movement.

Access to higher education can bring change when it is paired with liberation programs. When it isn’t, new problems based in the same old oppression tend to arise. For example, in the United States, fewer students of the global majority and students raised poor and working class graduate. The same is true for women in subject areas particularly affected by sexism, such as mathematics and the sciences. We face an epidemic of rape and sexual assault of women on college and university campuses. Also, many students with newly acquired access face pressure to take psychiatric drugs in order to fit into the oppressive structures of higher education, which complicates the process of engaging their flexible intelligence.

To most effectively use our window for creating change, RC colleagues must squarely face the oppression in higher education and transform our institutions with liberation programs that incorporate RC understandings and tools. It is particularly important that we tackle racism. This will include challenging how we define intelligence, how we acquire and support others to acquire knowledge, and how we decide what and whose knowledge matters.


College and university faculty are a subset of the middle class whose job it is to train the entire middle class, along with the owning class. This gives us an excellent opportunity to change the class system. It also offers a big challenge. Promoting revolution, rather than just reform, will mean the end of our jobs as we know them. This may be as exciting a problem to solve as any we’ve put our minds to.

As we have challenged the existing socioeconomic hierarchy, for example, with increased access for underrepresented groups, our institutions have changed to maintain the hierarchy. Educational tracks—such as home economics and child development programs for women and technical programs for people raised poor and working class—have been created to ensure that groups with newly acquired access continue in the same positions they have occupied in previous generations. Also, college degrees have been devalued. Now graduate degrees are needed for jobs that previously required only an undergraduate degree. Degrees from institutions that serve high proportions of oppressed groups, such as women’s colleges, historically Black colleges and universities, and colleges and universities in countries where People of the Global Majority predominate, have been particularly devalued.

Colleges and universities have adopted corporate models. These models exploit faculty labor and train students to be workers but not flexible thinkers. The percentage of U.S. faculty in non-tenure-track positions has increased threefold over the past several decades. According to the American Association of University Professors, about seventy-five percent of U.S. faculty are now in temporary positions. Temporary faculty are often paid on a per-class basis, and have no benefits. In many cases they end up working more than full time and living at or below the federal poverty threshold. And the window for liberation in higher education has depended largely on having tenured faculty, who are not supposed to lose their jobs if they put forth unpopular or unconventional ideas.

Now we are seeing increased efforts to scare faculty into conforming. Some of us are being placed on “watch lists” for using our positions to promote ideas that run counter to the ruling forces. Sometimes “spies” are sent to sit in our classrooms to gather information about and intimidate us.

The ways we have not yet challenged the socioeconomic hierarchy also pose problems. For example, when we allow our middle-class conditioning to keep us divided from other working-class people, the ruling forces can confuse us about the value of other working-class people and their work and about our common interests. And other working-class people can be confused about our value and the value of our work.

Empirical research—the use of observation and experiment to test hypotheses and uncover objective reality—is an important tool. Although it is vulnerable to bias and has been manipulated to support the ruling forces, it has helped humanity to have a clearer and fuller picture of the universe.

Ruling forces are now attacking the validity of empirically based facts. They are doing this to manipulate the working class (including middle-class workers) into supporting policies that benefit large corporations and do not serve the interests of human beings or the planet. For example, the current U.S. administration is rejecting robust scientific evidence that climate change is due to higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere caused by heavy use of fossil fuels.

The future of the planet could depend on our “coming home to the working class” and reclaiming our role as people’s intellectuals, working for all people. Effectively challenging classism will necessarily include challenging the classism built into higher education, including in the form of young people’s oppression.


College and university faculty are set up to oppress a group we once were members of: students. We flip from being oppressed as young students to assuming the oppressor role. To do this we have to become numb to the realities of young people’s oppression and compromise our integrity. Still, we intimately understand the oppression of the group we oppress, and we must champion their liberation.

We need to reclaim our minds and integrity and use our understanding of young people’s oppression to partner with and support young people to end the oppression. This means ending faculty-student relationships as we know them. It also means redefining intelligence, re-evaluating the types of knowledge considered valuable, and disputing the assumption that the accumulation of knowledge and expertise (and financial capital) is the measure of human worth.

Increased access to higher education has brought with it a financial burden. More jobs now require a larger number of degrees, and the cost of these degrees has skyrocketed. Many people will probably spend much of their lives paying off student loans. At the same time, technology and new ways of communicating could reinvent the student-teacher relationship. For example, with the Internet and social media, young people can share their ideas with and learn from whomever they want. We can join with young people to reinvent education outside of young people’s oppression, and classism, and work for affordable higher education.

The patterns that lead people to prioritize apparent short-term gains over the long-term interests of the planet are similar to those that make them place a greater value on adults than on young human beings (adults can help meet short-term survival needs and produce short-term economic gains). At the same time, irrational hopes are pinned on young people. This contributes to more children being born than makes collective sense and to adults assuming that young people will solve societal problems, like environmental degradation. Tackling these patterns will help eliminate young people’s oppression—as well as classism and all oppressions, including our own.

Young people and young adults are over half of the world’s population. Many academic programs are devoted to studying their lives, development, and education. However, few are devoted to studying their oppression and how to end it. This is not by chance; it is a product of how higher education has been built on young people’s oppression and how we have been confused by it. Young people’s oppression lays the groundwork for all forms of oppression. We must use the resources of higher education to support a worldwide movement to end it.


As college and university faculty, we are charged with using our flexible intelligence and helping others to do the same. What better job for changing the world? However, to become faculty we have had to go through years of being a student in which we’ve endured harsh invalidation, criticism of our minds, and training to imitate the thinking of others rather than being encouraged to think flexibly for ourselves. We face a big battle to have our minds fully, and we have the opportunity to fight that battle.

We offer people information about reality. However, distresses and the biases they hold in place interfere with people’s ability to process and act on that information. To end oppression, people need more than information. They also need opportunities to rid themselves of the distresses. Without these opportunities, even if we end institutionalized oppression it will be re-created in new forms.

As colleagues we can integrate RC into our courses and programs, introduce it to leaders and activists, teach it one-to-one and in classes, and invite campus leaders to take RC classes in our local Communities. What we understand in RC can benefit the work on racial justice, climate justice and environmental sustainability, and young people’s liberation. Many of us have found that our colleagues, students, and administrators are eager to learn what we know. We need to discharge anything that’s in our way of sharing this resource.

Our key challenge in the current period is to teach RC on our campuses and share it with those who are leading work for social change and environmental sustainability. I am excited to be doing this hand in hand with you.

Ellie Brown

International Liberation Reference Person for College and University Faculty

Wilmington, Delaware, USA

(Present Time 188, July 2017)

Last modified: 2020-07-17 20:50:52+00