Academic journal article Higher Learning Research Communications

Toward a Global Critical Literacy: Literature, Community Engagement, and the Global Commons from an American Perspective

Academic journal article Higher Learning Research Communications

Toward a Global Critical Literacy: Literature, Community Engagement, and the Global Commons from an American Perspective

Article excerpt


There is a prevailing trend toward globalism in American higher education today. We see this through prestigious universities like New York University (NYU), Cornell University, and John Hopkins University opening campuses around the world in an effort to compete in what has become a new globalized higher education marketplace (Brancaccio, 2008). We see this through state universities like the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) and University of California-Berkeley accepting increased numbers of international students-and the high student fees that they generate-as a means of balancing their budgets in response to decreased state funding (Barack, 2014). And we see this through the ubiquity of various articulations of the "global" in university descriptions, course offerings, and research centers as universities seek to brand and position themselves as a "global network university" (Baty, 2013) able "to serve the changing needs of a global society" (California State University, n.d.). This trend, of course, is part of a much broader trend of economic, political, and cultural globalization that forces us to reconceive the university today, as Giroux and Giroux (2004) have done, as enmeshed with neoliberal globalization. Within this neoliberal context of globalization, universities increasingly conceive of their institutions as competing for students within a global marketplace and conceive of their role as educators to prepare "students to succeed in today's global economy" (Association of American Colleges & Universities, 2006). Various claims of globalism become, within this context, a means to attract students by promising them a place within such a neoliberal globalized world, thereby reinforcing the inevitably of this narrative of globalization that echoes throughout students' everyday lives.

Twinned with this trend toward globalism within American higher education is an almost as robust trend toward community engagement. Indeed, as MacGregor (2014) reported in a recent University World News article, community engagement has become an important dimension of the global university marketplace. MacGregor (2014) suggested that the

growth of civic engagement and social responsibility is also increasingly reflected in the way universities market themselves, [and that while] previously, many institutions highlighted opportunities for students to have a great experience on campus, with fellow students and professors. Now, they try to distinguish themselves from competitors by highlighting connections to their neighborhoods, the cities that surround them, and how students have opportunities to participate. (para. 26)

These twinned trends come together within the influential Association of American Colleges and Universities that regards both globalism and community engagement as foundational to their vision of a liberal American university education for the 21st century (Association of American Colleges & Universities, 2008). To be global and to be engaged in the community then, this appears to be the trajectory of American higher education today at the institutional level.

But, as the American university becomes remade as "globalized," "community engaged" institutions, largely driven in these directions by university administrators and market driven responses to globalization, the question becomes, are these two trends compatible with each other? After all, there are profound and numerous contradictions between the neoliberal globalized university and meaningful community engagement-the shift of emphasis away from local students toward higher paying international students; the often-conflicting interests of multinational companies (that play increasingly prominent roles within campuses) and local people and environments; the encroachment of private companies upon the global academic knowledge commons; to name but a few. Given these contradictions it is easy to become cynical and regard the trends of globalism and community engagement as the empty signifiers of marketers; evidence of education's entanglement with what Giroux (2012) calls the "new regimes of privatization, commodification, and consumerism" that suggests the conceptions of the global public good that they produce to be nothing more than a cheap trick of branding: the academic parallel of a BP environmental commercial in the wake of the gulf spill (p. …

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