Review

‘Starving the Beast’ takes a hard look at the defunding of public universities

It’s an oft-repeated Freudian slip: public speakers using the word “company” rather than “country” when referring to the United States. It’s also an increasingly accurate description as the forces of privatization deepen their hold on policy.

In his clear-eyed and urgent “Starving the Beast,” filmmaker Steve Mims lays out the ways that public higher education has wound up in the free-enterprise crosshairs of profitability-focused reformers. Zeroing in on five states, he concisely traces 30-odd years of defunding, tuition hikes, attacks on tenure and the dismantling of so-called advocacy platforms in classrooms and what used to be known fondly as the liberal arts.

At the root of Mims’ cogent report is a burning question: Where are we going as a society when intellectual development has no place in education, or at best sits low on the list of priorities, overshadowed by the all-important bottom line? With professors and diplomas measured in terms of their monetary value, such quaint collegiate traditions as colloquy and debate don’t stand a chance.

The director, whose documentary “Incendiary: The Willingham Case” took a hard look at the justice system, fashions his own compelling debate through interviews with those who condemn the consumer model for public schools such as James Carville and those who are leading the charge. The latter are mainly from the ranks of conservative think tanks, but the sad truth is that privatization and “disruptive innovation,” in education and beyond, have been championed on both sides of the legislative aisle. Amid all the hand-wringing about student debt, Mims offers a jolt of chilling clarity.

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‘Starving the Beast’ 

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes 

Playing: Laemmle NoHo 7, North Hollywood

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