The writings of the late Paulo Freire, most notably his Pedagogy of the Oppressed, which was first published in Portuguese in 1968, continue today to serve as major references on education for critical thinking and literacy, as well as the methods of dialogical teaching. As is well known, Freire advocated a new and radicalized relationship between the student, the teacher and society. His emphasis was on the importance of starting education from the lived‑experience of the student ‑‑‑ the lived‑experience especially of those, the oppressed, whose voice has been muzzled by the ideological forces of injustice and illiteracy. Freire never suggests that education should not respect expertise. Rather his message is one of opposition to the traditional authoritarian model of schooling ‑‑‑ the model that ensures the replication of the social structures of oppression. This is one reason to appreciate Paul Goodman’s 1962 book, Community of Scholars, with its call for professionals who are agents of personal and social change ‑‑‑ professionals engaged in activism against the structures of domination that perpetuate the suffering of the oppressed.

Yet those of us who have achieved master’s degrees and our basic professional training at recognized institutions of higher‑learning often feel that the education we received fostered attitudes, ideologies and styles of professionalism that are, at best, minimally supportive of such commitments. Those of us who have taught and held research posts at mainstream institutions of tertiary education, as tutors, lecturers and professors, have often felt that our scholarship was marred by the milieu of atomization, insularity and competitiveness (to say nothing of the pressure to obtain grants from state, corporate, and even military agencies). In our teaching, we have often felt that the required curricula and mode of delivery stifled creativity, innovation, and a proper responsiveness to the lived‑experience of our students.

We must surely ask why it is that universities across the globe are failing in these respects. Why are accredited and state‑approved institutions all over the world delivering an education that fails to meet the urgent need for change ‑‑‑ instead, serving to reproduce ideologically the very structures of oppression?

Henry Giroux’s The University in Chains: Confronting the Military‑Industrial‑Academic Complex was published a decade ago, yet its relevance remains freshly pertinent in relation to the contemporary atrophy and indeed outright deterioration of tertiary education, in the USA and elsewhere. Giroux challenges the way in which universities, particularly throughout the North Atlantic orbit, have become “hypermodern militarized knowledge factories” that serve those invested in this market‑driven, mass‑mediated and globalized world, but stultify critical thinking and betray the interests of all those oppressed by the system. Dwight Eisenhower coined the term “military‑industrial complex” (which was also used by William Fulbright) to describe the dangers of its development for the future of democratic institutions. Later, Giroux and others have written about the “military‑industrial‑academic complex” to emphasize the extent to which, across the globe, universities have gradually lost their intellectual independence and autonomy of governance ‑‑‑ and indeed their commitment to the ideals of visionary thinking ‑‑‑ in ways that jeopardize scholarship in the service of much needed social change.

Theodor Adorno once wrote that thinking should not be “the intellectual reproduction of what already exists … open thinking points beyond itself. Yet today, universities generate the research data needed by corporations and the state militia; they train individuals to fulfill roles within these institutions; and they find their capacity to support creativity and critical thinking severely restrained. Thus they function more to reproduce what already exists. They are steeped in the dominant ideology and their mandate is to provide the services and skills required for the military‑industrial complex to advance itself.

We need to think critically about the way in which university education entrenches class, race and gender stratifications; about the way in which it is culturally reproductive of oppressive social relations by distributing and legitimating forms of knowledge, values, modes of language and style that constitute the interests of the dominant; and about the way in which universities are crucially significant in buttressing the economic and ideological imperatives of the state’s political power and the hegemony of transnational capitalism.       As Giroux has described, there are three models explaining the functioning of education in the service of the dominant socioeconomic culture. There is the model that emphasizes how universities reproduce the political‑economy of capitalism, with its elitist and racist underpinnings ‑‑‑ one thinks here of the writings of Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis, and especially of Louis Althusser’s theory of ideology. There is the model that emphasizes how oppression is reproduced on the level of culture ‑‑‑ one thinks here of the writings of Pierre Bourdieu. Then there is the model that emphasizes the significance of the state’s intervention in educational institutions ‑‑‑ ideas that have particularly drawn from Antonio Gramsci’s thinking about the conditions of hegemony and here one thinks also of the writings of Nicos Poulantzas and others.

At the level of doctoral education, the fact is that ‑‑‑ with only one exception, as far as I am aware ‑‑‑ the state arrogates to itself the exclusive right to grant degrees via its departments assigned this responsibility. In the USA, the Department of Education transfers the oversight of degree‑granting institutions to several accreditation agencies. In practice this means not only that the state (via the accreditation agency in the case of the USA) regulates funding opportunities for learning and for research that suit its own interests. It also means that there is routinely a substantial degree of political control not only over the content of curricula, but also the mode of transmission, the criteria for assessment, and the values that are implicitly or explicitly inscribed in the style of teaching. In the USA, accreditation becomes all important to a university not only for its public recognition, but also because students can only obtain government grants if attending an accredited institution. However, there is substantial evidence that the pressure on university administrators to achieve accreditation (and then to get reaccredited every few years) has deleterious effects on the quality of education offered. Form triumphs over substance. Innovative programs or teaching methods can only be considered with the utmost caution. Scholarly content becomes less important than the delivery of a format and style required for accreditation or state licensure.

This is why the Parkmore Institute’s vision is to offer high‑quality education at the doctoral level, without the ‘benefit’ of state sponsorship or accreditation. Only by such an educational venture can independent, critical scholarship be nurtured and protected.