Category Archives: ALFS presentation

Steal this university

I have been reading and lying low, but tomorrow I will have to write, and work out, and socialize over an interesting film. Reading of some interest includes Steal this university, a 2003 book one should have read then (I read the reviews, but one should have read it and taken action on it). It seems dated now, which only shows how rapidly the changes it discusses and predicts have taken hold. A key point from early chapters is the commercialization of education: students are customers because education is a product.

Patrick O’Donnell has a good working bibliography on the corporatization of higher education but it is far from complete, as this topic is broader than one may realize and has also been discussed in greater, more erudite detail than one might think. Yet most people have been too busy with their jobs to notice what has been happening, and what has been happening has also been discussed in an obfuscating way. Finally, those with power are in situations where they are protected from these developments. Those without are in situations where we can see them, but have too few colleagues willing to open their eyes.

Then there is this piece on authoritarian neoliberalism. Neoliberalism is not about free markets, it is about creating inequality in the name of the free market, and turning everything over to the corporations and the authoritarian state. That, of course, is what has happened to universities. My piece, that I must finish, must resist the temptation to cover everything: I am talking about language.

BUT these are victors who will never declare victory — because the carefully-maintained capitalist illusion of the “university education” still benefits them. Never, ever, admit that the university is dead.

That is from this blog post which is very good. We have to use at least some of the words we have always used so that we can maintain the university as simulacrum. But this means that we are not necessarily talking about the same things when we use these words. (There was something I read a few weeks ago, on doublespeak and neoliberalism, that I must find.)

I have been thinking that my piece is not original and is not fresh but I think that if it is taking me as much thought as it is, and if it is true that not enough people understand what is happening, then it has some value.

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Keyword heteronymy

“The invocation of science, of its ground rules, of the exclusive validity of the methods that science has now completely become, now constitutes a surveillance authority punishing free, uncoddled, undisciplined thought and tolerating nothing of mental activity other than what has been methodologically sanctioned. Science and scholarship, the medium of autonomy, has degenerated into an instrument of heteronomy.” (Adorno)

Heteronyms: words with the same spelling that are not the same word, that have two unrelated meanings.

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Lester Spence

Read. John Patrick Leary has done, too.

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Education and the commercial mindset

Read it here.

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University of Wisconsin-Madison

A friend writes on this article:

Let me see if I understand. This state university is essentially becoming a for-profit academy. They can’t afford not to spend the money to keep the grant winners. Of course, that money spent to keep grants is public money being spent primarily to make money, not to educate. So that is the university as investment house. Research and learning are not really the point. Dollars drive knowledge, what gets to be known and what gets to reproduce its institutional status. The only legitimate use of public dollars is to make money. There is no public good beyond that to be served by higher education as such. That is the narrative in force right now and it is highly of cynical, especially given its power among nativists and a majority of voters.

Not enough people see the long term benefits of higher learning across the fields of knowledge and we are at that place where there is too little public support for knowledge that is critical or not supportive of commonplace understanding. The collapse of public faith in the inherent benefits of public higher education, while largely attributable to the activities of the Right since 1981, must be attributable too to some lack on the part of faculty. We and our immediate forebears witnessed these problems rising (adjunctification, exploding administrative ranks, corporatization, inability to engage in public rhetoric) and did too little to abort them. Now perhaps I expect too much. A small subsystem cannot control the whole. But I cannot escape the sense that too many faculty members abandoned the public and their students, because little of the market fundamentalist agenda is good for either the public or our students.

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Vocabularies of neoliberalism

Our current imaginings endow the market and its associated forms with a special status. We think of “the economy” in terms of natural forces, into which we occasionally intervene, rather than in terms of a whole variety of social relations that need some kind of co-ordination.

Thus “work”, for example, is understood in a very narrow and instrumental way. Where only transactions for money are recognised as belonging to “the economy”, the vast amount of unpaid labour – as conducted for instance in families and local areas – goes uncounted and unvalued. We need to question that familiar categorisation of the economy as a space into which people enter in order to reluctantly undertake unwelcome and unpleasing “work”, in return for material rewards which they can use for consuming.

This is a view that misunderstands where pleasure and fulfilment in human lives are found. Work is usually – and certainly should be – a central source of meaning and fulfilment in human lives. And it has – or could have – moral and creative (or aesthetic) values at its core. A rethinking of work could lead us to address more creatively both the social relations of work and the division of labour within society (including a better sharing of the tedious work, and of the skills).

Read Doreen Massey’s complete text.

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The University Is Not A Business

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