I’m excited to bring a guest post from my friend Jack Grauer, a Philadelphia-based political writer. Over the last couple decades, as academia has gotten increasingly competitive, forcing more and more alienated labor out of students, many have turned to Adderall and other drugs to artificially keep focus through coma-inducing schooling. Now schools are attempting to crack down on drug use, especially against those students not deemed worthy, such as working class students and students of color. Jack’s article sheds light on this hypocritical clampdown.

What is the function of academia for the capitalist system? Certainly the free/cheap research for corporate and military institutions is important. The classification and indoctrination of students, preparing youth for lifetimes of service in the capitalist apparatus, is absolutely necessary as well. But what is less mentioned is the more pervasive enclosure and specialization of knowledge – the creation of a dichotomy between the few “experts” who have done years of research on increasingly specialized and miniature fields of study, and the general public, which is put into a position of ignorance and helplessness simply by failing to possess a degree. Academia does not pursue or create the kind of knowledge that is useful to ordinary people; it creates knowledge which serves the system.

This is not to say that no radical or revolutionary ideas can be found in the university, because of course the academy is one of the few careers that radicals can enter without totally surrendering their integrity.  However, if one is to attempt to remain true to a revolutionary transformation of society from within academia, one must constantly subvert the kind of knowledge-production inside its walls and attempt to translate any useful ideas into practical language for social movements and regular folks on the outside. [alex]

Adderall and Higher Education’s Delusion of Meritocracy

 by Jack Grauer

adderall-brain-side-effects1Universities have good reasons to call for stiffer regulation of stimulant study drugs; they are addictive and potentially dangerous. But defending the wheezing fantasy that postsecondary education was ever fair in the first place is not one of them.

Imagine you’re a college teacher. Some of your medically insured students have diagnoses for ADHD, i.e. the inability to stare at paper for a long time. They take prescription drugs like Adderall to treat it. Other students of yours buy and use these drugs illicitly; they do so not only to enhance their academic performance, but also to get high. Still other students of yours feel uncomfortable taking Adderall, which the DEA groups with oxycodone and morphine in terms of addictiveness and abuse potential, to do well in school. What you don’t know is which of your students get and take what drugs, how, or why.

You must now assign final semester grades.

Researchers have devised creative methods for tracking collegiate Adderall consumption. An epidemiological study of dormitory sewage at one campus found a three-fold increase of metabolized Adderall in student waste “output” between finals week and the one previous. Another study conducted at Brigham Young University logged 6 months worth of Adderall-related Tweets and found out what everyone already knows: the drug is indeed traded, sold, smoked and sniffed. An anonymous Adderall dealer told The Campus Companion he’s seen students grind it up and stuff it in fruit snacks like a “human would put medication into [S]nausages for dogs.”

As a popular analogy holds, we should test scholars for “juicing” with Adderall the same way we test athletes for steroid use. “Academia, like sports,” according to a Washburn Law Journal article, “should be an environment in which all participants have an equal chance of success.” A Note in Journal of Law & Education argues: “[m]andatory drug testing must be administered in schools in order to cease the illegal use of Adderall by those without a prescription.” A Notre Dame Law Review piece calls for a federal and “mandatory standardized diagnostic test” to better “identify ADHD symptoms accurately and prescribe medication only when necessary.”

sleeping studentsStruggling through a decrepit and dishonest university system, these students turn first to denounce their classmates. By definition, the “academic juicing” debate discounts the systemic conditions that created the Adderall epidemic in the first place. It is only concerned with the student response to university and state botch jobs while failing to scrutinize those botch jobs themselves.

Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that academe’s most vocal “anti-juicers” are law students; they are under as much pressure to perform as anyone on campus. This blog tracks tuition hikes at accredited law schools over the past decade; if you graphed them they’d look like a flight of stairs. And the contemporary JD’s career future is dystopian as everyone else’s. By Above the Law‘s recent analysis of the country’s top 50 law schools, “44% of 2012 graduates did not secure a job in law” at all.

Meanwhile, law schools themselves “juice” equally if not harder than the students attending them. Brian Tamanaha’s book, Failing Law Schools, consolidates evidence on how these schools give high GPA-contingent scholarships to reel in academic hotshot undergraduates and then grade them using methods designed to revoke their funding after the first year. Many schools offer three-year scholarships contingent on a 3.0 GPA; students with high undergraduate GPAs see this as reasonable. As much as 50% students in some programs attend on similar scholarships. Yet “first-year grading is done on a curve that strictly limits the number of students who receive Bs and above” to maintain funding.

These schools also systematically lie about their graduates’ job placement rates. US News & World Report said that almost all 25 of their most highly ranked law schools had 90% job placement rates in 1997. By 2005, almost all of the schools in their top 100 boasted 90% placement along with many lower ranked schools. The “advertised employment numbers were inflated” says Tamanaha, formerly a law school dean, and many “administrators and professors who were paying attention” knew it.

Beyond the universities’ contributions, the “anti-juicing” argument also overlooks the mental health care system’s responsibility for circulating study drugs and normalizing their use. For years, doctors have routinely prescribed stimulants like Adderall as a makeshift counterbalance against faltering schools and financially dehydrating social programs. When families can’t “afford behavior-based therapies like tutoring and family counseling,” study drugs become the “most reliable and pragmatic way to redirect the student toward success,” according to a New York Times article from last year.

Analysis from the Journal of Policy History explains how a Medicaid funding explosion subsidized the strategy during the ’90s. From 1991 to 2001, the program’s expenditures on prescription drugs grew from “$4.7 billion to $24.1 billion… [and] Medicaid’s expenditures for stimulants per child enrollee grew ninefold.” According to the Journal of Attention Disorders, it was fivefold more likely for a doctor to prescribe a young person stimulant medication in 1997 than it was in 1993.

Together, the pharmaceutical companies and the psychiatric community riddled an entire generation of students with medication because schools weren’t working. Now, we have to get off the drugs because no one can figure out which of us deserve careers. Oblivious, housebroken students continue to step on each other’s faces and grab at the carrot without even thinking anything critical of those who dangle it.

The study drug era did not displace a meritocratic Eden of higher education that existed some time previous to it. Higher education was never fair. If “fairness” was the root of the concern and not fear of the non-white, non-straight, non-male, non-rich getting ahead in competitive fields like law, let’s discuss civil rights and affirmative action in higher education, not bioethics. And with race and class factored in, what would a national assessment of how universities award scholarships, charge tuition and report alumni success look like?