Wednesday, June 22, 2011

On The University in Ruins

Doc Nagel discussing the relevance of Bill Readings' The University in Ruins (Harvard, 1996):
It's the book I've been waiting for, examining the contemporary situation of universities, basically through a Situationist lens, with a good dose of Lyotard. I’m amazed that this book is 15 years old, and yet none of the current discussion of university crisis in the US refers to it. Perhaps I shouldn’t be amazed, since this book makes almost all of the current debate absolutely pointless.
Readings discusses how the term "excellence" is used as an empty qualifier for administrative decision-making. Now, as the Doc notes, substitute "student success" for "excellence" and Readings' analysis becomes contemporary:
What the use of excellence to name the activities of universities achieves is provide a bureaucratic rationale for managerial decisions. Since it is precisely not a criterion for judgment, but an empty qualifier, it can be used rhetorically in any situation to provide what looks like a justification for any decision. Since universities have no purpose, every managerial decision is essentially an arbitrary exercise of power – the power of the administrator (as Readings says, in the contemporary university the major figures are the presidents and provosts), or of market capitalism.

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