Corporate University Is Now


Reading Wannabe U and slowly growing more and more depressed. Here’s a quote from David Harvey’s recent essay that describes my present state of mind:

The current populations of academicians, intellectuals and experts in the social sciences and humanities are by and large ill-equipped to undertake the collective task of revolutionizing our knowledge structures. They have, in fact, been deeply implicated in the construction of the new systems of neoliberal governmentality that evade questions of legitimacy and democracy and foster a technocratic authoritarian politics.  Few seem predisposed to engage in self-critical reflection.  Universities continue to promote the same useless courses on neo classical economic or rational choice political theory as if nothing has happened and the vaunted business schools simply add a course or two on business ethics or how to make money out of other people’s bankruptcies. After all, the crisis arose out of human greed and there is nothing that can be done about that!

The current knowledge structure is clearly dysfunctional and equally clearly illegitimate. The only hope is that a new generation of perceptive students (in the broad sense of all those who seek to know the world) will clearly see it so and insist upon changing it.  This happened in the 1960s. At various other critical points in history student inspired movements, recognizing the disjunction between what is happening in the world and what they are being taught and fed by the media, were prepared to do something about it. There are signs, from Tehran to Athens and onto many European university campuses of such a movement. How the new generation of students in China will act must surely be of deep concern in the corridors of political power in Beijing.

A student-led and youthful revolutionary movement, with all of its evident uncertainties and problems, is a necessary but not sufficient condition to produce that revolution in mental conceptions that can lead us to a more rational solution to the current problems of endless growth.

I feel that the action is elsewhere, that my students don’t really give a shit, that I’m somewhere I will hate to be more and more in the next decade or so.

23 thoughts on “Corporate University Is Now

  1. Tuchman’s last chapter, “The Logic of Compliance,” does a good job showing precisely how Harvey’s claims about academics being ill-equipped to substantively change knowledge structures works. She becomes rather critical of academics that wave their fingers and bitch and moan at being micro-managed and the coercive forms of accountability they ultimately submit to, but at the same time, are such hyper-focused careerists that they don’t really grasp how their uni/college actually works. So what? Well, the creeping “little cat feet” of measurement and audits–both from within and external– have created a bunch of paths that become so trampled over that they become widely, and uncritically, accepted.

    • One phrase she used – “status-conscious consumer society” [62] – really got stuck in my head: I mean what else is this talk of “achievements” and “publications” (that people like Bryant and Harman love so much) and “status” all about? Even people I respect very much tell me things like “I published 8 articles last year and yet I’m not getting a merit raise” and expect me to nod in agreement – depressing!

  2. M.E.: “I feel that the action is elsewhere, that my students don’t really give a shit, that I’m somewhere I will hate to be more and more in the next decade or so.”

    Kvond: But just think how many conferences you will have the opportunity to attend, where authors will read their prospective papers aloud.

    • Elsewhere. I’m not sure where, but I know it’s not where I am most of the time.

      I don’t know, John, it feels as though despite the horrible conditions (most would admit to that) both inside and outside of the university, no one is doing much about it. Where is the meeting I can attend? Can I read something about it that is more than just a description of how things are? How should they be?

      What I meant was that traditionally students were one of the more volatile groups, now they are mostly asleep (many times literally, of course).

      • It starts with this:

        Bring JSTOR down. Then bring the whole journal system down. Then bring the academic publishing system down…hey, wait a minute, maybe…blogging.

        Start over.

        Just bring JSTOR down.

      • Ah, er, well. When I say bring JSTOR down I think this would refer to the entire university-college subscription service that drives it. If you open it up to the public you cut to the very core of what makes it not public: texts produced by largely public institutions, not offered to the public itself.

        Bringing JSTOR down (its curtain of access) would constitute the very first wholly agreeable and fairly universalizable political act of a new “where it is happening”.

      • I see. I agree. But universities function as ultimate exclusion-producing machines: you can read the same books and attend the same lectures, but if you’re not “registered” for the class, you don’t get the “credit” and therefore you don’t have “education” – it’s all about selling education/training, if you’re not paying, you’re not getting an “education unit” that you can later (potentially) exchange for a “job unit” – all that bullshit about “teaching and learning” is just that, bullshit. Tuchman’s point (in the book) is well-known: no one really cares about teaching/learning these days, it’s all mostly for show (read “paying customers”). You can’t adequately measure teaching like you can measure research (number of publications), audit culture is still struggling to produce an adequate “teaching-measuring” machine.

        In this case opening up JSTOR would be like opening up Walmart – many people were exploited to bring you the product, no one is willing to give it away for free.

  3. M.E.:”In this case opening up JSTOR would be like opening up Walmart – many people were exploited to bring you the product, no one is willing to give it away for free.”

    Kvond: Well, this is the thing. The proletariot of the university, the great population of text producers (let’s call them weavers) and text readers (let’s call them weave checkers) is entirely fed up with the MEANINGFULNESS of the system. Everyone agrees with you, “its happening elsewhere”. The whole workforce is unhappy, and pretty damn unhappy at that. The “no one” really is just an adminstrative few that safeguards the system. But there seems to be no reason why article writing couldn’t be part of an entire public institution production scheme, that is, what if FREE is access to texts, but what is not free is the education itself (the opportunity to discuss them in formal circumstances, and get the badge of “educated”).

    Aside from the general malaise of the workforce, there is also the performative contradiction that the texts of largely public instutions are not “for” the public. There are genuine intellectual (and moral) arguments for why publically generated texts should be for the public.

    Another way of saying this is that if the university maintains his essential logic of exclusion too rigorously, it will end up excluding “where its happening”. Once that sinks in, the whole edifice crumbles. The greatest hoax in the last decades has been that of convincing lower middle class persons to take huge loans out for, nearing $100,000, in the name of investment in one’s future (as opposed to buying a house, or starting a buisness). Those that have done so in the humanities are faced with a terrible ponzie choice (again). Spend much of your time convincing others how important such an investment is, getting in on the pyramid, or waking up and finally revolutionizing the system, in particular at the level of text availablility and distribution. There is tremendous affective resource to such a renewal (everyone in the system feels it), and, frankly, it will cure the footnote-itis and conference paper reading.

    • Not necessarily disagreeing with your general point, but most of the public educational institutions are not really that public (percentage of public funds is getting smaller and smaller) and most of the work is still publicly available through libraries (you can get in for free and read stuff) – I think the money angle is important and I think I agree that the whole “you must go to college” ideology is currently backfiring both in terms of student loan debt and many students wasting their time in college because they aren’t really ready for it (or interested in any of its aspects) – I’m not talking about kids who come from bad public education institutions and cannot write/read (literally), I’m talking about those who just don’t need college for their occupational aspirations – but money is not everything. In fact, I think the very talk of college education in terms of money is already missing the point as we should be talking about the general value (or lack of it) of public education: can we afford to have a democratic society in which a majority cannot write/read and therefore can be easily manipulable into all sort of idiotic movements like “tea party movement”? Look at this article, for example – does that really surprise anyone? If the general public is not educated (doesn’t have to be college, of course), it cannot be truly public – I think we’re already reaping some of that failure in public education in the recent lack of any reasonable reaction to the financial crisis – ideology of “let’s wait it out and hope it won’t happen again” is easy to impose on the stupid public.

      • M.E.: “Not necessarily disagreeing with your general point, but most of the public educational institutions are not really that public (percentage of public funds is getting smaller and smaller) and most of the work is still publicly available through libraries (you can get in for free and read stuff)”

        Kvond: When a professor at UCLA writes a paper concerning x, y or z, there is no legitimae reason why it should be available in the standard way of accesses texts, digitally.

        M.E.: “I think the money angle is important and I think I agree that the whole “you must go to college” ideology is currently backfiring both in terms of student loan debt and many students wasting their time in college because they aren’t really ready for it ”

        Kvond: 100%. It is incredible how much money is floating around in an institutional circle considering how little practical value or even emotional satification is involved. It is just one big “picture” of education. This being said, the “value” of education should be expressed in the values of monetary distribution. JSTOR expresses a distorted value system, one that will betray the future of educational worth.

        M.E.:”I think the very talk of college education in terms of money is already missing the point as we should be talking about the general value (or lack of it) of public education: can we afford to have a democratic society in which a majority cannot write/read and therefore can be easily manipulable into all sort of idiotic movements like “tea party movement”?”

        Kvond: How really do we separate “value” from money? Money distribution is the symbolic and structural expression of value. It is just that the value picture of Education does not match up with value structure, and JSTOR seems an easy case in point.

        If your point is JSTOR open access is too small a fish to fry, I would have to hear your alternative. On the other hand JSTOR provides a perfect, clear moral perspective on educational exclusion and calls both monetary and value issues into view.

        M.E.: “I think we’re already reaping some of that failure in public education in the recent lack of any reasonable reaction to the financial crisis – ideology of “let’s wait it out and hope it won’t happen again” is easy to impose on the stupid public.”

        Kvond: There is trust in the institution thinking in both these cases.

      • How really do we separate “value” from money? Money distribution is the symbolic and structural expression of value.

        That is, I think, the most essential question. That money matters is not a question, the question is whether it should. Let’s assume I’ve taught the same class at two schools: one charges 40k plus a year, another 5k (private vs. public) – what’s the difference? It’s still me talking about the same issues, reading the same (or similar) books, spending the same amount of time etc etc. The monetary value of my class is very different but the value of my teaching (assuming it depends on my preparation and excellence only) seems the same, but it is not precisely because everything is measured in money. In that sense, there isn’t some primary quality of my class that is then evaluating in some monetary form, but because, as you point out, “money makes value” (paraphrasing) then if I were to deliver the same class in a free institution without pay (no tuition, no salary for me), then it would be value-less, use-less, because I can’t make an evaluation of my work and students can’t circulate their educational experience in any kind of exchange.

  4. Ah, the comments are hopping around again. I just would want to add, JSTOR is precisely the kind of target that genuine reform and political action should take. Everyone who uses it knows how positive and briliant it is, and can feel the moral force that its content should be available to the non-institutional, just as books are available in libraries. It is patently clear. The, let’s say, Capitalist abuse of JSTOR appears in bold relief to just about everyone. And to say that there just is no other way of doing it is well, either short sighted or self-protecting.

    It may very well be the case that opening JSTOR up to the public would increase demand or desire to attend the kinds of places where these articles get written and discussed. It makes a brilliant and pointed case study of what is wrong with the university system and opens doors to how it can be corrected (as well as exposing the structural problems which would form the resistance to such change).

    The fact of the matter is that JSTOR is already doomed in one way or another. AAARG.org is already presenting pirate academic texts, and the openness of text like likely proliferate.

  5. Another way of discussing the problem of footnote recursion, and all the problems of internal reference and endless commentary is that NO, the problem is not a theoretical “We need to let objects speak!” but rather, texts need to circulate with more permeable institutional barriers, so that the public speaks more.

  6. Here, this is from Wikipedia on the history of JSTOR:

    “JSTOR was originally conceived as a solution to one of the problems faced by libraries, especially research and university libraries, due to the increasing number of academic journals in existence. The founder, William G. Bowen, was the president of Princeton University from 1972 to 1988.[3] Most libraries found it prohibitively expensive in terms of cost and space to maintain a comprehensive collection of journals. By digitizing many journal titles, JSTOR allowed libraries to outsource the storage of these journals with the confidence that they would remain available for the long term. Online access and full-text search ability improved access dramatically.”

    Now, tell me how this cost saving manuveur to journal storage requires that the public should not have access to these journals digitally (which presumably they had in person, at these libraries in the first place).

    Instead, there is a secondary effect, that of curtaining off the public, sequestering knowledge so as to produce an exclusivity, an inner social domain (which people supposedly pay a deal for). Tell me, what class of persons would even be interested in reading these journals if not someone who would already be academically inclined?

  7. M.E.: “Let’s assume I’ve taught the same class at two schools: one charges 40k plus a year, another 5k (private vs. public) – what’s the difference? It’s still me talking about the same issues, reading the same (or similar) books, spending the same amount of time etc etc. The monetary value of my class is very different but the value of my teaching (assuming it depends on my preparation and excellence only) seems the same, but it is not precisely because everything is measured in money.

    Kvond: Well, not necessarily is this the case. Class size may vary, your workload, your availability for follow-up discussion. Also institutional culture (which counts a great deal), also matters. It is NOT the same class, as there are many variables.

    M.E.: In that sense, there isn’t some primary quality of my class that is then evaluating in some monetary form, but because, as you point out, “money makes value” (paraphrasing) then if I were to deliver the same class in a free institution without pay (no tuition, no salary for me), then it would be value-less, use-less, because I can’t make an evaluation of my work and students can’t circulate their educational experience in any kind of exchange.

    Kvond: There are all kinds of values, for instance there is Symbolic and Cultural value as well (Bourdieu), and all of these values are to some degree transposable. But very well your class could achieve kinds of value that end up with monetary gain. Consider the differences between the Bazaar and the Cathedral when it comes to knowledge.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cathedral_and_the_Bazaar

    Software was created and distributed for “free” (but under copyleft restrictions) and it lead to all sorts of communal growth and value.

  8. “Let’s assume I’ve taught the same class at two schools: one charges 40k plus a year, another 5k (private vs. public) – what’s the difference?”

    Well of course you get paid 8 times as much by the private university, no?

  9. Pingback: mla round-up: learning from assessment « The Long Eighteenth

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