Real Progressives

Episode 149 – Storming the Ivory Tower with Davarian Baldwin

Do you think of colleges and universities as protected islands of intellectual activity, ivory towers where the world’s problems are contemplated and debated? Steve Grumbine’s guest is here to tell us otherwise. Davarian Baldwin, of Trinity College, is an urban historian and social theorist, whose work examines the landscape of global cities through the lens of the African Diasporic experience. His most recent book is In the Shadow of the Ivory Tower: How Universities are Plundering Our Cities. 

Baldwin describes how institutions of higher education are the largest employers, healthcare providers, and landlords in cities and towns across the US. They leverage their massive financial and real estate holdings to displace the most vulnerable communities across the US. Their tax-exempt status does not result in savings for the local citizens, but puts a greater burden on everyone else’s property taxes. 

The conservative and mainstream media still maintain the pretense that campuses are a hotbed of radicalism, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Corporate partners sit on universities’ boards of trustees and shape the curriculum to reflect the interests of capital. The Koch brothers and other corporate entities are funding “innovation centers” and entrepreneurial institutes to fit their own needs. 

The powerful thing about higher education is the myth of the schoolhouse — that it’s just a place where we conduct classes and conduct pure research. Teaching classes has become a side business in higher education. There’s so much more here that goes on in ways that either generate or manage capital that have nothing to do with teaching classes. 

Most colleges and universities maintain a substantial policing apparatus. According to Baldwin, “75% of public and private schools have police departments. Not public safety units — police departments. Nine of ten are armed, and about 85% of these police departments have jurisdiction beyond the main campus. They police regular residents.” 

And so the irony of this phenomenon is that the biggest crimes on campus, sexual violence and substance abuse, are not policed. They do a horrible job. While some people might say capacity. I say intent, because schools — predominantly white schools, I’m going to be clear — are not going to want to say that they have a campus full of white criminals. This undermines their brand. So the policing is all outward facing into the poor, black and brown neighborhoods around the campuses, to say to investors, to say to students, to say to families, and to say to everyone else that we are open for business and we are safe. These police units, their job is to protect the brand. 

Baldwin gives numerous examples of different schools around the country and their outsized effect on the communities they reside in, their poorly paid employees, and, of course, students. He suggests specific reforms and asks that our listeners follow New Deal for Higher Education, Scholars for Social Justice, Cops Off Campus, and other organizations that are working toward change.  

Davarian L. Baldwin is the Paul E. Raether Distinguished Professor of American Studies at Trinity College, and is a historian, cultural critic, and social theorist of urban America. His work largely examines the landscape of global cities through the lens of the African Diasporic experience.  

Author of In the Shadow of the Ivory Tower: How Universities are Plundering Our Cities 

Co-editor with Minkah Makalani, Escape from New York: The New Negro Renaissance beyond Harlem  
Author of Chicago’s New Negroes: Modernity, the Great Migration, and Black Urban Life  
Series Co-Editor, Urban Life, Landscape, and Policy 
 

@DavarianBaldwin on Twitter 

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Do you think of colleges and universities as protected islands of intellectual activity, ivory towers where the world’s problems are contemplated and debated? Steve Grumbine’s guest is here to tell us otherwise. Davarian Baldwin, of Trinity College, is an urban historian and social theorist, whose work examines the landscape of global cities through the lens of the African Diasporic experience. His most recent book is In the Shadow of the Ivory Tower: How Universities are Plundering Our Cities. 

Baldwin describes how institutions of higher education are the largest employers, healthcare providers, and landlords in cities and towns across the US. They leverage their massive financial and real estate holdings to displace the most vulnerable communities across the US. Their tax-exempt status does not result in savings for the local citizens, but puts a greater burden on everyone else’s property taxes. 

The conservative and mainstream media still maintain the pretense that campuses are a hotbed of radicalism, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Corporate partners sit on universities’ boards of trustees and shape the curriculum to reflect the interests of capital. The Koch brothers and other corporate entities are funding “innovation centers” and entrepreneurial institutes to fit their own needs. 

The powerful thing about higher education is the myth of the schoolhouse — that it’s just a place where we conduct classes and conduct pure research. Teaching classes has become a side business in higher education. There’s so much more here that goes on in ways that either generate or manage capital that have nothing to do with teaching classes. 

Most colleges and universities maintain a substantial policing apparatus. According to Baldwin, “75% of public and private schools have police departments. Not public safety units — police departments. Nine of ten are armed, and about 85% of these police departments have jurisdiction beyond the main campus. They police regular residents.” 

And so the irony of this phenomenon is that the biggest crimes on campus, sexual violence and substance abuse, are not policed. They do a horrible job. While some people might say capacity. I say intent, because schools — predominantly white schools, I’m going to be clear — are not going to want to say that they have a campus full of white criminals. This undermines their brand. So the policing is all outward facing into the poor, black and brown neighborhoods around the campuses, to say to investors, to say to students, to say to families, and to say to everyone else that we are open for business and we are safe. These police units, their job is to protect the brand. 

Baldwin gives numerous examples of different schools around the country and their outsized effect on the communities they reside in, their poorly paid employees, and, of course, students. He suggests specific reforms and asks that our listeners follow New Deal for Higher Education, Scholars for Social Justice, Cops Off Campus, and other organizations that are working toward change.  

Davarian L. Baldwin is the Paul E. Raether Distinguished Professor of American Studies at Trinity College, and is a historian, cultural critic, and social theorist of urban America. His work largely examines the landscape of global cities through the lens of the African Diasporic experience.  

Author of In the Shadow of the Ivory Tower: How Universities are Plundering Our Cities 

Co-editor with Minkah Makalani, Escape from New York: The New Negro Renaissance beyond Harlem  
Author of Chicago’s New Negroes: Modernity, the Great Migration, and Black Urban Life  
Series Co-Editor, Urban Life, Landscape, and Policy 
 

@DavarianBaldwin on Twitter 

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