Sunday, March 04, 2012

Immanuel Wallerstein: Higher Education Under Attack

"In a situation in which money was scarce, or at least seemed scarce, universities began to transform themselves into more business-like institutions. This could be seen in two major ways. The top administrative positions of universities and their faculties, which had traditionally been occupied by academics, now began to be occupied by persons whose background was in business and not university life. They raised the money, but they also began to set the criteria of allocation of the money.
There began to be evaluations of whole universities and of departments within universities in terms of their output for the money invested. This might be measured by how many students wished to pursue particular studies, or how esteemed was the research output of given universities or departments. Intellectual life was being judged by pseudo-market criteria. Even student recruitment was being measured by how much money was brought in via alternative methods of recruitment.

And, if this weren't enough, the universities began to come under attack from a basically anti-intellectual far right current that saw the universities as secular, anti-religious institutions. The university as a critical institution - critical of dominant groups and dominant ideologies - had always met with resistance and repression by the states and the elites. But their powers of survival had always been rooted in their relative financial autonomy based on the low real cost of operation. This was the university of yesteryear, not of today - and tomorrow.

One can write this off as simply one more aspect of the global chaos in which we are now living. Except that the universities were supposed to play the role of one major locus (not of course the only one) of analysis of the realities of our world-system. It is such analyses that may make possible the successful navigation of the chaotic transition towards a new, and hopefully better, world order. At the moment, the turmoil within the universities seems no easier to resolve than the turmoil in the world-economy. And even less attention is being paid to it."

Read the rest of this article (March 2) here.

Comment: Edward Said used to say that academics are those in the business of academia and intellectuals are those engaged in ideas.

He was absolutely right and his differentiation is a damning critique of where universities are in this era of all pervasive capitalism.

Like Wallerstein says, the university is no more than a business.  It is run on a business model where managers wield disproportionate power over the processes of the university.

We live in a time where articles and books are seen as capitalized outputs.  Attracting grants/funding has become even more important than publishing ideas and making a contribution to learning.

Grants often speak to hegemonic notions of what is current in the world system and this means that if you are not on the inside you will perish from the business of academia.

I used to tell my students that the university is no more than a grocery store that sells produced goods - anything that is not packaged for mass saleability is considered unthinkable - not academic and therefore not on the shelves.

And so we are producing clones; folks who think the word 'entrepreneur' is a badge of honor and worthy of a doctorate on its own.

The trajectory of the university won't change until the edifice of what life is supposed to mean inside of capitalism is destroyed or it simply implodes.


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