Monday, August 16, 2010

On Intellectual Bankruptcy

Mark C. Taylor is at it again, proposing more non-solutions to haphazard diagnoses about the state of academia in the 21st century. Most recently, he bemoans the financial straits that many schools are encountering without much more than the idiotic suggestion that universities continue to gut teaching to save money.

Taylor seems fundamentally unable to grasp the political failure at the heart of the problem, unless, of course, the whole point of his argument is that the crisis of the university is a brute fact that cannot be changed but must be accepted. In this case, his apocalyptic vision of the collapse of the world of higher education today is mere pretense to whatever solution he affects to have, condensed in the misguided slogan of the 'intellectual and financial liquidity.'

But Taylor probably grasps the true political problem of academia, and nevertheless remains opportunistic enough to ignore it. The true problem is the capture of the university by capital, that is, the relentless drive to privatize the university and make it another domain of profit, rather than public education. The problem, then, is not a failure of management (even if many administrations have been doing a poor job at fighting the symptoms of the problem), but a political failure, specifically, the lack of political will to maintain accessible education for a changing student demographic. Part of this is symptomatic of the last three decades of neoliberalism, and part, I think, is due to the professorial labor aristocracy (yes, I just said that!) circling the wagons and protecting what it has, consequences for the junior and precarious faculty be damned.


Clarissa said...

Whenever our administrators start whining that money is tight and we need to cut research and teaching expenses, my suggestion is that we fire 2/3 of those useless administrators with sky-high salaries and get the rest take a pay cut that will make their salaries equal to those of adjuncts.

College administrators seem to believe earnestly that the university exists just in order to make them rich. At our orientation session for new faculty last year, a group of admins gave a talk aimed at recruiting profs to go into administration. They were saying openly that it's the only way to make a "decent" living in academia. Imagine the gall.

Great post!!!

David Tkach said...

I'll second the 'great post' sentiment. With the change to viewing students as consumers/customers and education as a knowledge delivery system (shudder), it is little wonder that spending emphasis has moved from actual education to providing students with luxury well above those needed for intellectual development. This of course leaves money only for infrastructure and the money managers necessary to ensure its continued existence (I think of the brand new Desmarais building being constructed at the same time as TA stipends are being slashed, or at least are under consideration to be slashed--I haven't heard the final result of that debacle). I think you're absolutely right to identify the problem as neoliberal transformation of every possible human endeavour into a market, as Harvey pointed out (and as you and Matt remarked on--thanks again for doing that analysis, I may not have read him otherwise), as well as the lack of professorial interest in combating the slide. The point now is, how do we go about changing this situation?

(The deleted comment above was exactly the same as this; I didn't realize it would leave a trace as it did.)

Devin Z. Shaw said...

There David, I deleted that ugly trace.

To answer your question: I think turning the tide against the privatization of the university is a difficult task. First, student organizations and precarious professors face organizational problems due to high turn over. Second, many tenured professors don't seem to see these changes as a challenge to their station.

We're lucky at U of Ottawa insofar as the part-timers union has done a good job protecting our jobs, but it's much more difficult to stop across the board cuts.