It occurred to me, in the midst of a conversation where folks were marveling at the money being spent by a flagship state university on a marketing initiative, that it should, at this juncture,* be possible to formulate a very simple test for evaluating the wisdom of this and other university spending initiatives:
"How many part time lines could be made full time and / or how many adjunct lines could be made permanent with the money being spent on this**?"
*A conjuncture defined, let us say, by the circumstance that the majority—or even a significant portion—of faculty at US universities continue to be employed, against their preferences, in contingent positions without the full measure of academic freedom and the full participation in shared governance afforded by tenure and / or in positions that, by virtue of low salaries, lack of benefits, etc., make their very material existence substantially precarious.
**Depending on the conversational context, one may wish to add something like "bullshit" here. Use your judgment.
Over at DailyNous, we read that the University of Oregon has sent a letter to international graduate students warning them that they would face deportation if they were to join a strike being undertaken against the university by the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation (GTFF).
Several things should be said about this.
1) The threat appears to be credible. As I understand matters on the basis of conversations with folks who have had hiring responsibilities that frequently involved graduate students on the type of visa that is likely involved here, all the university would have to do is report to Homeland Security that the students are no longer complying with the conditions of their visas.
2) The above highlights the extent to which international graduate student labor is an extreme form of the sort of captive, precarious labor provided by un-unionized graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) more generally—and the importance of which once led Marc Bosquet, in one of his seminal pieces on the academic labor system, to characterize actually granted PhDs as "the waste product of graduate education." Because international graduate students typically have no legal option but to work for their university employers, they represent possibly the perfect form of GTA labor.
3) Graduate Teaching Assistant unions—which may cover more than TAs narrowly so called, also including graduate students teaching as adjunct faculty, etc.*—represent a threat to this academic labor system. I'll say a little more about this third point, and draw some general conclusions, in what follows.
[In the mean time, I encourage folks to consider adding their names to the open letter that John Protevi is hosting on his blog, calling on the University of Oregon to abandon its current tactics against the union and to grant them the very reasonable benefits they are demanding.]
We're talking about rankings this week. (Do we talk about anything else, any more?) While we're doing so, I'd like to encourage everyone to read and meditate on this extraordinary post by Kate Bowles, which takes off from the heartbreaking story of Professor Stefan Grimm, "a senior UK academic who has died after being put on performance management for the insufficiency of his research. He was 51."
The piece is a meditation on the professional culture and the emotional world, all too familiar, that almost inevitably surrounds not just a death like this but also any number of other real abuses which we have become all too capable of overlooking, if only by virtue of their excessive familiarity. It bears, heavily, on rankings, and the uses to which they are put. But it also calls us out for the way in which we participate in, and facilitate the whole process. As a tease, I'll simply leave folks with these two paragraphs.
Some days they will also drive each other for you. They will whisper about each other, and turn a blind eye to each other, and not quite find the time to act on their own secret critical thinking about any of it. They will also surreptitiously maintain each other through care and coping practices and shrugs in the corridor and exchanged glances and raised eyebrows in meetings and Friday drinks that become chronic, secretive drinking problems so that they can get some rest without writing emails in their heads at 3am.
In fact, if you get the scarcity, intermittency and celebratory settings for occasional reward just right, then the toxic alchemy of hope and shame will diminish their capacity for solidarity, and they will keep the whole thing going for you, in the name of commitment, professional standards, the value of scholarship, academic freedom, the public good of educational equity.
Many readers of this blog will be aware of the remarkable institution known as the Collège International de Philosophie, based in Paris and supported by the French government since 1983. During its more than 30-year existence, the Collège has offered an extraordinary range of very high-quality free and public programs in France and around the world. It is, as such, one of the world's foremost institutions dedicated to public philosophy.
Sadly, the Collège now stands days away from being forced to close because the funds to support its operations have not been paid. As is detailed here, the Collège has been the subject of a number of discussions concerning its maintenance since 2012, which led to its association with the new Université Paris Lumières in 2013. This administrative association was supposed to provide a sustainable home for the Collège; but the 240,000 Euros that form the Collège's annual operating budget have been withheld by the ministry responsible for the UPL and its associated elements—leaving the institution days away from bankruptcy.
There is a petition circulating where people can offer support for the Collège—below the fold you can find, with his permission, Gabriel Rockhill's translation of the original French text (which also details the situation that the Collège is facing, and its accomplishments and history, a bit further than my remarks above).
[Update: I didn't realize that these rules (and the story) are acutally seveal months old when I posted this. That said, we haven't as far as I know discussed them here, so I'll leave the post up to facilitate that.]
There has been talk for some time suggesting that the Affordable Care Act might have the effect of forcing colleges and universities in the United States to start providing health-care to many, or even all of their part time instructors. For some, this has seemed like a very promising possibility, since it might alter (perhaps radically) the fiscal calculus that has tilted in favor of ever-increasing use part-time instructors at most American institutions.
Corresponding to this, there have also been fears among those working as traditional, half-time adjuncts and even more those working those who had full or nearly full time contingent contracts that their courses would be cut or their positions eliminated. Obviously, in the grand scheme of things, we all want adjunctification to end; but if the effect of destabilization were simply to force all adjunct positions to be maximally precarious, that would, at least in the short term, be movement in exactly the wrong direction.
Accordingly, people have been waiting anxiously for the Obama administration to issue their rules for calculating how many 'hours' part-time instructors are actually working for the purposes of determining their eligibility for ACA.
They're out. And the best short characterization of them that I can think of is that the administration has imposed a set of rules that effectively neutralize any possibility that ACA will significantly affect the way universities use adjunct labor. Details and a few remarks below
Yesterday's post about the the extent that mainstream feminist thinking is implicated in trans exclusinary radical feminism generated some great comments. In particular, my impression that Women and Gender theorists overwhelmingly defined gender differences as being in the contingent realm of culture and sex differences as being in the realm of nomic necessity was mistaken. However, nobody took up the main point I was trying to make (and it should be clear that no one has an obligation to do so) so I'll try to frame it more generally.
First, with respect to gender, it's not enough to problematize the gender/sex distinction merely by arguing that sexual difference itself is imbued with cultural and epigenetic factors. Has the debate gone beyond that sort of generic culturally relativist move? It was not clear from the comments. The challenge by Serano and Garcia is in part from the other direction; denying that aspects of gender difference are in the realm of nomic necessity leads to other forms of oppression. From Sullivan's post, the denial of this by many feminist activists involves systematically ignoring or dismissing the testimony of many trans people, and this suppression accounts for much of the acrimony between TERFs and transgender people.
Second, the gender/sex issue wasn't a little bit orthogonal to the problem I tried to pose, which was that much feminist theory (at least the stuff I studied seven years ago) wasn't able to navigate a Scylla and Charibdis between politics of identity and difference. Serano and Garcia argue that even recent feminist theorists (who are aware of the danger) end up denigrating femininity and telling women that they should have traditionally masculine traits. But if the alternative is Carol Gilligan or Glover type theory, no thanks. Glover critiques the "final girl" in horror movies (the last possible victim who survives and kills the killer) as a "male adolescent in drag" in part because the final girl has "masculine" attributes such as planning and use of reason. As far as infantalizing condescension goes, this is about on par with pesticide companies giving pink teddy bears to women with breast cancer.
I've long been obsessed with what it would have been like to be a Saxon in post-Roman Britain. Roman concrete was so good that for hundreds of years Saxons inhabited Roman buildings. But their architectural wherewithal was primitive compared to the Romans, so as the roofs collapsed on the Roman buildings they would replace them with leaky timber and thatch jobs. What must that have been like, to live and die in hundreds of years old ruins that are still better than anything you can build?
I think with many things like this the change must be so gradual that nobody ever gets alarmed by it. Every moment in the progressing crappiness just seems like the way things statically are.
LSU is about six years into budget cutting that resulted from unsustainable tax cuts for the wealthy. Part of the result of this is that we have an atrocious backlog for building repair and rennovation. The money amounts are well into the tens of millions of dollars, so bad that it's hard for the administrators to triage. Just this year a six hundred pound chunk of ceiling fell in the dilapidated art studio. It might have killed a student, yet we still don't have the money to fix the building. Cracks in the stucco in my building have caused extensive water damage. Every year or so they cosmetically fix the bubbling over paint on the inside of my office wall, but haven't yet fixed the exterior of the building. The toilets are also slowly dying. About half of them don't flush appropriately, and only work if you hold the handle down for a long time, which of course many people don't do. As a result, by the end of the day most of the bathrooms have raw sewage in the toilets. It smells nauseating, sometimes out in the hallway.
Maybe it's just nostalgia from my youth in the 70s, but I think that public infrastructure has gotten increasingly crappy during the course of my life. When I was a kid we didn't have days long power outages every year from inclement weather. I remember airports as feeling almost like church or art museums, quiet, reverential in a strange way, and clean. It's interesting to think how far down this slope we might slide as we become increasingly a nation of private opulence for a very few and public squalor for everyone else. But maybe nobody will notice much.
I don't own a television (one of many area men I approximate), but with the advent of Hulu now my wife and I watch an episode of some reality cooking show nearly every evening after the kids go to bed. I've seen nearly every episode of the Gordon Ramsay vehicles Master Chef and Hell's Kitchen. In both shows twenty or so people compete with one another in inventively designed cooking contests. One loser is thrown off every episode until the lone survivor emerges victorious at the end of the season. The ginned up drama is fun and there's lots of interesting food.
Recently though Ramsay's schtick has started to wear thin. Before throwing people out at the end of every episode of Hells Kitchen, he makes two or three people tell him why they deserve to stay in Hell's Kitchen. What follows are desperate platitudes about how they are a fighter and getting better all of the time. It's infantalizing. Then Ramsay strings it out dramatically, telling one person to step forward and starting a sentence where you might think one thing will happen and then ending it by telling them the opposite. It's frankly obnoxious. And of course he yells at and belittles the contestants in the manner of an abusive father starting to lose his temper. And nearly every episode has the obligatory bits where the contestants gush at length about what a wonderful person this obnoxious man is. It's Orwellian.
Thomas Frank has a nice analysis up on Salon.com on college tuition and debts. In it, he points out that the crisis is of long duration, and people have been asking for more than a generation when the “college bubble” will burst. Along the way, he shows that a number of standard explanations (overpaid professors, insatiable student demand for gymnasiums, etc.) don’t make any sense, at least not on their own. His concluding point, though, seems vitally important. Here’s a good-sized chunk of text (with significant ellipses); I’ll follow with a couple of additional thoughts:
Very nice report from the folks at Debt and Society here about higher ed's tango with Wall Street. Lot's of distressing stuff, including the change from old fashioned bonds to newer, more risky types of debt:
Private and public colleges in the past more commonly issued municipal bonds that would be repaid using only tax revenue or revenue from a particular project like a dormitory. Investment banking houses like JP Morgan and Barclays today have helped some higher education institutions to issue general revenue bonds that collateralize all college revenue in exchange for lower interest rates. Such bonds pledge state appropriations, project revenue, and even future tuition increases if necessary to repay bonds. Other institutions have gone a step further, adding variable rate bonds to their debt mix. Other institutions still, from Harvard to the Peralta Community College district have securitized these variable rate bond offerings with derivatives known as interest rate swaps. For-profit institutions, on the other hand can turn to corporate bonds, stock offerings, and private equity capital.
There is also a nice history of higher education financing, describing how and why student and institutional indebtedness has exploded recently. In one decade alone the amount of institutional debt has tripled, much of it spent on new buildings and things related to athletics programs. It's a vicious circle. Colleges take out loans to expand amenities to attract students who will pay higher tuition, which requires raising tuition to pay off the debt, which requires expanding amenities, which requires taking out loans to expand amenities. . .*
It's a very weird thing to have happened right after the financial crisis that caused the current recession.** Maybe not that weird though. . . If history teaches anything it's that very smart people can collectively do very stupid things.
[*Also remember that, as recounted here, universities with the highest paid administrators and coaches also are the worst at larding their students up with debt and adjunctifying the faculty.
**Also, check out Ed's piece from March here, which has a nice discussion of how the expanded institutional indebtedness ends up dictating administrative policy.]
So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went, And took the fire with him, and a knife. And as they sojourned, both of them together, Isaac the first-born spake, and said, My Father, Behold the preparations, fire and iron, But where the lamb for this burnt-offering? Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps, And builded parapets the trenches there, And stretched forth the knife to slay his son. When lo! an angel called him out of heaven, Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad, Neither do anything to him. Behold, A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns; Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him. But the old man would not so, but slew his son, And half the seed of Europe, one by one.
Back in March, I wrote a long piece about the effects of institutional debt on the current, destructive trends in U.S. Higher Education. In the same vein, there's a new article by Michelle Chen up at The Nation discussing a new report by the Debt and Society group called Borrowing Against the Future: The Hidden Costs of Financing U.S. Higher Education.
The report concerns the ways in which debt manifests itself throughout the system, and how these various forms are tied to one another—thus the titlte of Chen's piece "Colleges Are Buying Stuff They Can’t Afford and Making Students Pay For It." But Chen is right to highlight the institutional debt side of the equation, which has been overlooked despite the fact that it appears to be a structural driver for other forms of debt and institutional disinvestment in education, etc. She also emphasizes the degree to which one of the most pernicious consequenes of rising debt: the degree to which it makes even public institutions essentially subservient bond ratings agencies.
In the long run, however, these amenities often don’t pay off in terms of revenue for the schools, which grow increasingly beholden to bond investors. Those financiers, in turn, often favor not the highest-quality schools but rather “the safest prospects for investment.” Because of market pressures, the researchers warn, “bond markets can reward behaviors that generate greater revenue but are at odds with the goals of public higher education.” In other words, do you want your university’s future budget projections dictated by a Moody’s rating?
Or, as I've been arguing for awhile, rising institutional debt is what is making 'revenue at any cost' into a management imperative that trumps all others and essentially stripping institutional leaders of the freedom to make management decisions on the basis considerations like their institutions' primary missions, the best interests of their faculty, staff and students, etc. I urge folks to read the whole piece.
It would be nice if the suits at N.Y.U. had some cultural exposure to the Christian tradition (or even AA), where a confession is supposed to include at least attempted resolve not to do the same kind of thing and to make things better. Andrew Ross gets this:
“Apologizing to the workers is a good thing to do, but the university should use its resources and leverage to change the system that created the abuses,” said Andrew Ross, a professor at N.Y.U.’s New York campus and a leader of Coalition for Fair Labor, a student-faculty group that has called for better worker treatment. “N.Y.U. could help to ensure that all Saadiyat Island workers have a living wage, debt relief and the right to organize.”
. . .Ramkumar Rai, a Nepali immigrant who worked on the N.Y.U. campus until a year ago, told The Times that he and a friend were still waiting for the last six months’ of his wages, which were 16 months overdue. Told of the apology, he asked, “When will the money come? If the money comes it will be O.K.”
This makes as much sense as the embedded song above.* We're really sorry, and we're not going to do anything at all to rectify the situation? Why would you think that unless you really felt that there was nothing you could have done about the problem? But then why apologize at all?
[*Upon hearing it, poor John Lennon realized that side two of Abbey Road (mixed by McCartney and Martin) was really the first Wings album (not withstanding the fact that Sun King, Mean Mr. Mustard, and Polythene Pam were his).]
A few years ago in a discussion thread at Leiter Reports I was roundly pilloried for suggesting that universities would be better off if they went back to the system where university administrators worked part time and were appointed by faculty senates.*
But consider the takeaway from this article about university executive compensation during the great recession:
“The high executive pay obviously isn’t the direct cause of higher student debt, or cuts in labor spending,” Ms. Wood said. “But if you think about it in terms of the allocation of resources, it does seem to be the tip of a very large iceberg, with universities that have top-heavy executive spending also having more adjuncts, more tuition increases and more administrative spending.”**
How many people reading this got merit, let alone cost of living, raises during the three year period from 2009-2012?
While the average executive compensation at public research universities increased 14 percent from 2009 to 2012, to an average of $544,554, compensation for the presidents of the highest-paying universities increased by a third, to $974,006, during that period.
Brian Leiter and Simon Evnine have already signed this letter from students at The University of Saskatchewan who are attempting to convince university administrators not to gut their humanities programs. The organizers are inviting people to add their signatures by sending an e-mail to email@example.com with your name and any relevant information you would like to share (institutional affiliation, education, etc).
It's a very nice letter, citing Nussbaum and Bromwich on the value of the humanities while still explaining to the administrators how fantastically bizarre it is to claim to be building a top research school while destroying the humanities. With respect to the proposed changes, the authors write:
Such poor definition entails that the university has failed in whatever duty of clarity it possessed. We know from reading the brief only that some future program shall exist, taking ‘the best parts’ from each of four programs: Religion and Culture, Philosophy, Women and Gender Studies and Modern Languages. Forgive us if we remain sceptical of the virtues of such a combination. The attitude of presumption that must be required for university administrators to suppose that they, and not the cumulative force of tradition, are sufficient to develop a new program from the base materials of these four programs is beyond us, and our understanding. Most plausibly, the four programs shall be made into one ‘interdisciplinary’ program, which offers more upper-level classes than any of the four previous programs individually, but fewer than the four programs collectively. Most students, however, are not interested in a poorly-defined ‘interdisciplinary’ program, but instead are interested in Modern Languages, or Philosophy, or Women’s and Gender Studies, or Religion and Culture. Most universities, considering applicants for postgraduate degrees, are not interested in students who have taken poorly-defined ‘interdisciplinary’ programs, but are instead interested in philosophers, or linguists, with a thorough education in their subject.
Anyhow, please take time to read the letter and if you support it send in your info to the above e-mail address.
“Whenever you have a 'southern' or a 'northern' or an 'eastern' or a 'western' before an institution's name, you know it will be wildly underfunded." –Richard Russo
On March nineteenth the Chancellor of the University of Maine System, as well as the President, and select members of the Board of Trustees gathered in front of a crowd of students, faculty and staff in the Hannaford Lecture Hall, a spacious and new lecture hall (more often rented out than used for classes) to unveil the University of Southern Maine's new vision as a “Metropolitan University.” Two days later, on the twenty-first, twelve members of the faculty from such programs as economics, theater, and sociology met with the provost of the University to be "retrenched." Both of these events followed the proposal to eliminate four programs (American and New England Studies, Geosciences, Recreation and Leisure Studies, and Arts and Humanities at the Lewiston Auburn Campus) the week before. It was a strange and tumultuous week, and one that I fear offers a frightening glimpse of a future of higher public education in the US.
As Protevi likes to keep reminding everyone on Facebook, it's been awhile now since I first started arguing that we haven't been paying sufficient attention to the role of institutional debt as a driver of the increasingly alarming developments in U.S. universities, especially those in the public sector. I've gestured in this direction before on NewAPPS, but the appearance of a new piece on the subject by Josh Freedman on Forbes.com provides a perfect opportunity to develop the point a bit more.
Let me begin, then, by making a fairly bold claim. Taking the problem of institutional debt seriously makes it possible to provide a consistent account of many of the major problematic trends in U. S. higher education: rapidly accelerating tuition costs; significant declines in financial aid coverage; cuts to or elimination of low-enrollment departments and programs, experiments with mass-market distance learning and online education, and a general move toward 'Responsibility Centered Managment' (RCM) administrative models; dramatically increasing pressure on faculty at the level of compensation, workload, job security and working conditions; the outsourcing of many university functions to private contractors; building booms, especially those aimed at increasing campus amenities or leveraging university owned real estate for commercial purposes; and finally, continuing increases in administrative spending, especially in development offices and other areas concerned with financial management and business operations.
All of this, which may otherwise seem contradictory and difficult to make sense of, can consistently be referred back to the urgent pressure that rising institutional debt imposes upon university operations: the need to maintain a sufficiently robust revenue stream to satisfy credit rating agencies and thus keep borrowing costs, and the costs of servicing existing debt, from exploding. Freedman provides, especially in the later parts of his article, an excellent discussion of how this works.
In comment #9 at this post, Susan makes a kind of canonical case I've heard from lots of assessment people.
First, I should say that I agree with 95% of the intended answers to Susan's rhetorical questions. We should be much clearer about what we want our students to get out of their degrees, and we should put in the hard work of assessing the extent that we are successful.
But "assessment" in contemporary American bureaucracies almost always accomplishes exactly the opposite of the laudable goals that Susan and I share. And there are deep systematic reasons for this. Below, I will first explain three fallacies and then explain why everyone involved in assessment faces enormous pressure to go along with these fallacies. Along the way I hope to make it clear how this results in "assessment" making things demonstrably worse.**
The story is here. I think there are two things to note here:
1: the threat to jobs of our colleagues: "The head of the University of Maine System said Friday that further state budget cuts could force the system to shed 95 jobs, on top of its plan to eliminate 165 in the next budget year."
2: the use of the seemingly neutral and technocratic term "revenue shortfall" here: "Page said the potential funding cut of nearly $10 million – part of an across-the-board spending reduction to cover a state revenue shortfall – could force the system to eliminate another 95 jobs in the year that starts July 1."
The problem with the use of that term is that it hides deliberate decisions by Maine politicians to cut state taxes, thereby creating the "shortfall" that is then the pretext to gut the university. I'd say this is a perfect example of ideology, as the hidden ratchet effect of taking previous decisions as unquestionable baselines.
Why do things like "professional development," "continuing education," "team-building," and (yes, this too) "assessment" always have to tend towards infantalizing the poor people subjected to them?
It's one thing to bureaucratically humiliate people by making them waste huge gobs of time. But this business of making them engage in ritualistic idiotic performances (which always involve to some extent enthusiastically presupposing that everyone is not in fact wasting time) is a much higher echelon of evil. How can the adult human beings in this video (courtesy Washington Post) have any self-respect?*
Mark my words. First they came for the high school teachers. . .**
[*To be fair, everyone involved in making the video and smuggling it to the Washington Post gained back their self-respect fourfold.
**If I was doing my normal thing and putting a rock video in the upper right hand corner, it would probably have been Jane's Addiction's "Idiots Rule." But I realized that it didn't scan because even if team-builder/professional development/assessment types are self-deluded enough to believe in the rightness of what they make the rest of us do, it takes quite a bit of intelligence to get people so complicit in their own immiseration.]
There's a worrying piece over at Inside Higher Ed quoting the president of "a mildly selective private nonprofit institution that is tuition-dependent" saying that the institution has begun to reject some applicants that it would previously have admitted because of worries about meeting outcomes targets in the ratings system proposed by President Obama in his Higher Education Plan last year. Not surprisingly, the effect of this shift has disproportionately affected applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds — and while this is only one case,* it seems to neatly exemplify what many have feared will be the effect of the proposals.
I've written before — and I plan to write more — about the effects of prestige races on the state of higher education in the U.S. Until now, these races have been fostered primarily by the proliferation of ranking systems (US News and World Report, etc.) as structuring elements of the enviornment in which institutions are operating. It is not difficult to link competition for prestige to the sorts of spending and other institutional policy decisions that have led to rising costs of attendence and increased institutional debt loads** — all of which has also created pressure on institutions that traditionally serve less advantaged populations to abandon or de-emphasize those missions. The Obama proposals, as the article shows, seem to have already added to that pressure without even having been put into effect.
*There are definitely reasons to think carefully about what type of institution is being disucssed here, which may not be typical of those doing the most to serve students from disadvantaged populations.
**See, for instance, this New York Times piece from 2012
In his critique of Posner’s economic analysis of law, the late Ed Baker offers some remarks that might help us to understand current developments in educational policy. Posner defends what we will now recognize as a number of the core commitments of neoliberal policy, in particular the fundamental efficiency of markets and the price mechanism for the optimal allocation of social goods. The more people want something, the more they are willing to pay, and so goods get bought and sold (as they move from those who value them less – sellers – to those who value them more – buyers) until everyone is as happy as they can be, given constraints on resources.
On February 18, the tenure track and non-tenure track faculty who make up the University of Illinois-Chicago faculty union UICUF Local 6456 will walk out of the classroom and onto the picket line for a two-day strike. Barring a dramatic change-of-heart by university administrators at the bargaining table the weekend, it will be the first faculty strike at a major research university in a very long time....
Every entering UIC student takes at least one writing course; most take two. Not surprisingly, our writing courses are overwhelmingly taught by lecturers (i.e. non-tenure track faculty), on year-to-year contracts and paid a standard salary of $30,000. Furthermore, although the administration carries on endlessly about the importance of merit, they’re unwilling to mandate a promotion track for non-tenure track faculty, the whole point of which would be to reward merit....
The term “shared governance” is invoked to disguise this evisceration of power but what it mainly means is that faculty senates can “advise” the administration and the administration can then do whatever it wants. To call shared governance real governance is like saying your dog has an equal say in how your household is run because sometimes when he whines he gets fed.
One of our issues in this strike is to take back decision-making power over the issues that matter to us — curriculum, teaching conditions, the distribution of monies, and the like. The administration is fighting ferociously to retain that power — since giving it up would in effect be returning it from management to workers.
Full disclosure: I met Jeremy Gilbert at a Deleuze conference in Wales in the summer of 2008. He gave an interesting paper on Deleuze, Guattari, and Gramsci and I ended up talking to him at pub. The conversation was one of shared interests that went beyond Deleuze, it was a Deleuze conference after all, to include Simondon, transindividuality, and the broader problem of reimagining collectivity in individualistic (and individuated) times. As anyone in academia knows, the experience of meeting someone with shared interest is often ambivalent. There is the joy of finding someone to talk to, of feeling less alone in the wilds of academia, coupled with the sadness of feeling less original, less insightful. The latter feeling is of course intensified by a publishing culture that is predicated less on collective projects and more on developing a highly individuated name for oneself. In the years since then, as our projects progressed (his made it to print first) we joked about constituting a new school of thought, Transindividual Ontology and Politics (TOP)?
It seemed appropriate to begin a review of Common Ground: Democracy and Collectivity in an Age of Individualism with such a story, one that illustrates the way in which commonality of interests and ideas intersects with an institution geared towards individuation and competition. That we live in an “age of individualism” perhaps goes without saying. However, such a judgment raises as many questions as it answers. At what level are we to locate the individual? Is it, to borrow, words from Foucault, an “illusion,” an “ideological effect,” or a real functioning element of society? In short, are people deluded into seeing themselves as individuals, or is individuation a real material effect?
As a card-carrying Deleuzean, I'm supposed to be scornful of the concept of "ideology."* But it does have its uses, and here's a great example of ideology qua naturalizing the social.
Fatal traffic accidents occurred in New York, Michigan, Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois. Authorities said a woman suffering from Alzheimer's disease froze to death after she wandered away from her rural western New York home. And in suburban Philadelphia, as the storm approached, a worker at a salt storage facility was killed when a 100-foot-tall pile of road salt fell and crushed him. Falls Township police said the man was trapped while operating a backhoe.
I'd rewrite that this way:
A cruelly insufficient social safety net (the Alzheimer's patient) and dangerous work conditions caused by cuts to public workforce (the backhoe operator -- I wouldn't be surprised if he was working for a private contractor; at the very best he was probably pulling a double shift, hence exhausted) plus the grossly insufficient public transport system and poorly maintained roads, coupled with economic desperation (the car drivers -- dollars to donuts they were trying to get to a crappy service job, but don't worry, the Walmart where they worked will put out a collection basket) continued its reign of terror today, with the winter storm being the proximate cause that only a fool, knave, gull, or ideologue would blame for the social conditions that exposed these people to its effects.
There was a story in today's NYT about a number of colleges that are lowering tuition, sometimes drastically. The argument is that they can do this without loss of revenue, since so few pay full tuition anyway. Thus, they are lowering tuition and cutting financial aid and making a splash vis a vis the current concern over high tuition.
The article makes a number of useful points: that colleges have done a terrible job at advertising how few people actually pay the official tuition amounts that sound so scary, or that there is a significant phenomenon of high tuition causing a perception of quality. But one obvious point goes utterly unmentioned in the NYT coverage: that cutting both tuition and aid hurts the most economically vulnerable and benefits the less vulnerable. (The NYT mentions that the college it most focuses on will retain mert-based scholarships, but fails to discuss the effects of cutting need-based.)
All of which leads me to float a suggestion for discussion - one that I once raised with our university president at a party, predictably being responded to with a chuckle and a raised eyebrow: let's raise tuition. A lot.
This Slate article* about the recent Johns Hopkins plan** is symptomatic of a seriously -- and unfortunately widespread -- mistaken approach to the political economy of higher education, namely, a short-term and ahistorical focus on the TT section of the entire labor system, mislabeled as "the job market."
Abstracting for the moment from the details of the Hopkins plan, the article's premise that "there aren't enough [tenure-track] jobs for PhDs" is an unfortunate reification of the multiple decisions of university administrators to produce the current situation by their hiring decisions. The endorsed conclusion "therefore we should restrict the number of PhD students," by unquestionly accepting the premise, just reinforces the dynamic that produces the current situation.***
A few days ago, while trying to open the interwebs thingy to allow me to start entering my grades, I was prevented from doing so by a pop-up menu that referenced LSU's Policy Statement 67. The text included unsubstantiated and highly dubious claims such as that most workplace problems are the result of drugs and alcohol abuse by workers. And this was only a few weeks after all of the chairs at LSU had to provide verification that every single faculty member had read a hysterical message from our staff and administrative overlords that justified expanding the extension of pee-tested employees at LSU to now include faculty. The wretched communiqué justified pee-testing faculty because of new evidence showing that marijuana is harmful to 13 year olds.*
Anyhow, when I scrolled to the bottom of the popup, I had to click a button saying not only that I read the document but also that I "agreed" with it.
I honestly don't get this. Are my beliefs a condition of employment at LSU? There was no button that said I read it but didn't agree with it.