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Starving the Beast documentary review: the deliberate dumbing down of the American university

Starving the Beast green light

MaryAnn’s quick take…
Lays out with calm, terrifying clarity how US public universities are being turned into profit-making ventures at the expense of students and education.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

What is the purpose of higher education? It is to create good, well-rounded citizens or compliant corporate cogs? The public universities of the United States were founded on the former principle, but powerful forces today are trying to reshape them for the latter purpose… and they’re winning. In Starving the Beast, documentarian Steve Mims lays out with calm, terrifying clarity how the usual conservative villains — Grover Norquist and the Koch brothers play starring roles — are leading a concerted effort to transform taxpayer-funded institutes of learning and research into profit-making ventures in which students are consumers and universities are service providers. Out are tenure, academic freedom, learning for the sheer joy of discoverytweet and personal growth, and research missions that make these schools the very best on the planet; in are massive reductions in public funding, shifts in the expense to students (leading to enormous personal debt), requirements that professors become profit leaders, and an overall dumbing down of the entire endeavor. Proponents of this “reform” — a word that usually means change for the better, but not here — think it’s a good thing if the highest measure of a university’s success is student evaluation of professors! The potential for disaster is enormous — threats to national security and prosperity are only the beginning of it — and the process is well underway. Mims focuses on the particulars of how some of the most highly regarded state university systems — in Texas, Louisiana, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Iowa — are being undermined, but it’s happening everywhere in the US. Be very afraid.tweet

green light 3.5 stars

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Starving the Beast (2016) | directed by Steve Mims
US/Can release: Sep 09 2016
UK/Ire release: direct to VOD

MPAA: not rated
BBFC: not rated

viewed on my iPad

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

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  • Nathan

    Hmm, did they mention anything about Canada?

  • No, it’s only about the US.

  • RogerBW

    The purpose of British higher education is to keep school-leavers off the dole for another three years (cheaper than riot police!), and to saddle them with so much debt they have to take the first job they can find. There are some people still actually trying to teach stuff and even get students to think, but they won’t last long.

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