Capitalism on Campus: Sex Work, Academic Freedom and the Market
Sex, bureaucracy and money; the death of the university.
Capitalism on Campus examines the university’s journey into market hands and the sexual sell-off of students, which has come with it. It raises critical questions about the forces which conjoin higher education to both sex work and declining academic freedom. In so doing it questions the role our institutions of learning have in the cultivation of resistance to capitalism. This is a call to rediscover the emancipatory potential of knowledge.
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Sex and student debt are viewed as two inevitable facets of university-student life. Kingston University’s Dr. Ron Roberts writes about the disturbing connections between these two and the state of academia as a whole in Capitalism on Campus. Dr. Roberts writes about the growing phenomenon of uni students partaking in sex work (mainly stripping, camming & prostitution). The book cites multiple UK surveys conducted between 2012-2017 which, found that between 5-6% of students were engaging in sex work. Furthermore, many of these admitted sex workers came from middle-class backgrounds. Another survey found that 30% of students personally knew of another student(s) engaged in sex work, while another found that 16% of students were considering entering the adult industry. These figures have reliably been rising in tandem with UK tuition hikes that started under New Labour in the late 90s. Such a trend hasn’t been isolated to the UK, of course. American rappers like Jay-Z and Juicy J and the Canadian Drake have been rapping about women stripping to pay their tuition for decades. Across much of the West, college has become exponentially more expensive. Young people in both the US and UK are shouldering total student loan debts in excess of $1 trillion. This debt explosion, combined with poor job prospects for “inexperienced workers,” soaring urban housing costs and the remnants of the recession have compelled many young women (and surprisingly high numbers of men) to take up sex work. Rather than addressing this crisis, schools, by and large, have chosen to ignore it. Worse, many universities and academic associations actively try to whitewash research and reporting about student sex work. Dr. Roberts cites personal experiences, as well as the experiences of other academics, of being stonewalled and threatened by administrators for daring to try to study the issue. Universities are obsessed with maintaining a façade. Ever since universities went from being a public utility to a privatized cash cow, schools have felt the need to sell themselves as a product. Dr. Roberts writes that, “The largely uncritical domestic support offered by university vice-chancellors to tuition fee increases and marketisation suggests not merely a lack of vision and subservience, but a propensity to keep one eye on the huge salary and another on possible rewards from the honours system.” This prioritization of bringing in money over student welfare means an obsession with public imaging and maintaining a high rating in places like the U.S News and World Report Best Colleges Rankings and The Princeton Review. ‘Capitalism on Campus: Sex Work, Academic Freedom and the Market’ by Ron Roberts. 164 pp. Zero Books Much of the weight for these rankings comes from student surveys. Several university teachers and administrators have been caught telling students to give disingenuous good reviews on such surveys. The exponentially rising tuition rates at these school means that front offices are largely beholden to prospective parents of students and donors. Thus, the administrator line of thinking goes: What parent or affluent donor is going to want donate to or to send their precious child to a school that’s been exposed for having loads of students who sell their bodies just to get by? Uni students who have to resort to such means are consequently not just deprived of help by administrators, but often threatened with disciplinary action. Society foists upon its future workers not just serf-like levels of debt, but substantial psychological baggage, as well. Soaring rates of depression, anxiety and suicide among Western youth is, according to Dr. Roberts, better understood not as an index of personal failure, but as a consequence of the brutal circumstances which have seen cuts in investment, training and job opportunities for young people, low wages, exorbitant student loans and tuition fees, cuts to mental health and welfare services, as well as a savage primary and secondary school system where endemic testing has become the norm.” In an attempt to paper over these systemic problems, universities are increasingly endeavoring to coddle their students. This helps to assuage nervous parents and ensure good reviews from students on ranking surveys. There is a lot of conjecture from academics like the author and Russell Blackford that this is only further damaging the psyche of the student body. There’s also a new practice of millennial-bashing, partaken by administrators and the media. This seeks to absolve academia and society for the plight of the youth, instead blaming “entitled and lazy” millennials. Dr. Roberts writes about the role that modern therapy plays in this victim-blaming mindset: “Psychology has been a willing accomplice in the privitisation of stress, supplementing the neoliberal destruction of the welfare state with an enforced diet of positive thinking, psychotherapy, counseling, CBT [cognitive behavioral therapy] and mindfulness.” Capitalism on Campus is a passionate ode to the decline of higher education’s integrity and the price that this exacts on its pupils. When people like George W. Bush and Tony Blair started the transferring of costs of university education from the people to individual students, it unleashed effects well beyond student debt. Many university students are now staring at underemployment, low credit scores resulting in poor access to loans, and even the prospect of being financially forced to drop out altogether. This noxious cocktail has compelled many students to take up work in the adult entertainment industry. Meanwhile, the universities who pocket the earnings from this oftentimes dangerous and degrading work stick their heads in the sand. One can only hope that society starts to listen to the voices of student protestors in London and grassroots groups like Our Revolution, for the sake our children and future children. ~ Russel Whitehead, https://intpolicydigest.org/2018/12/01/book-review-capitalism-on-campus-sex-work-academic-freedom-and-the-market/?fbclid=IwAR17uaYbaIUA4VtjR-xaAvbdLcUJ7zTuUe7gAC3SlH0PMkq3oIW3_lE8nNI
This is not for the faint of heart or for the overly sensitive reader. Roberts touches on strong issues and expresses his opinion with fervor and intensity. Recommended for a reader with an open mind, who is willing to see and try to understand another's viewpoint on a hot button topic. ~ Erica Watkins, NetGalley
Capitalism on Campus: Sex Work, Academic Freedom, and the Market by Ron Roberts is an examination of the recent changes in British universities. Roberts is Chartered Psychologist with over thirty years experience in higher education. He has previously worked at King’s College, University College London, St Bartholomew’s Medical College, The Tavistock Institute, QMW, the University of Westminster, and Kingston University. Higher education is making the news in the US and Britain seems to mirror the US example. In the US there is almost $1.5 Trillion in student debt the number is lower for Britain but the debt per student is higher, in fact, the highest in the world. In 1997 the average debt was under 5,000 Pounds today it is over 50,000 Pounds. The education process has become warped. No longer are universities places to encourage thinking and discovery but have become places where ratings override learning. It is seen in American public schools with standardized testing where teachers are pressed to teach students how to pass exams rather than learn. Colleges have a ranking system that is somewhat similar. The better your school the better your chances of landing a good job. The problems occur when students are coached into making the school appear better than encouraging learning. Schools are being administered by bureaucrats that care more for image than substance. Although sex work takes the first position in the subtitle it is not the main concentration of the book. In 1970s movies occasionally a detective would be searching for the bad guy and end up in a strip club. He would talk to one of the girls and find out she was a university student, usually sociology, she would pass on the information and hint that tuition, job outlook, or some other reason forced her to work as a dancer, but she would conclude it is going to make a great thesis. Today that rarity has become much more common with an alarming amount of students who know someone involved in sex work. The internet makes it even easier today. Sex work offers a temporary, high paying job that takes less time than a traditional campus job. Also, students involved in sex work spend more time studying according to the research. Universities fight against sex work as immoral but really it has more to do with the school’s image than a students reputation. Education has evolved from learning institutions to marketable products that care more about image and standing rather than the quality of the output. America boomed after WWII when returning GIs went to college. A higher education was the ticket out of the factory job. Today in the US education is costly and seen by many as a waste. To complicate that the factory jobs are also gone. What was once a large middle class is now an endangered species. The good paying jobs are gone and education is too expensive. Roberts’ look at the British example is scholarly. It is not light reading but more akin to a research paper. Documentation runs through the text which primary purpose is to present facts rather than deliver a smooth narrative. ~ Evil Cyclist, https://evilcyclist.wordpress.com
Robert’s text provides an accessible expose of the impact that market relations have upon British Universities and their students and makes a significant contribution to the body of work concerned with students' involvement in the commercial sex industry. Highly recommended. ~ Dr Billie Lister, University of Hull
Making unique links between higher education and commercial sex, this book pushes the boundaries of both economic thinking and the politicisation of our universities. A much needed critique of what has become of our universities, which lays bare the bleak scenario for students. Engaging commentary is backed up by detailed reflections on the empirical knowledge we have on student sex work. This is essential reading for those concerned with economics, politics and student life as we enter new territory in both education and the sex industry. ~ Prof. Teela Sanders, University of Leicester