[iDC] Doing away with universities?

Trebor Scholz trebor at thing.net
Sun Feb 12 15:16:15 EST 2006

In response to John¹s post:

Academia is an easy target. Sure, there are those ivory tower,
dead-wood-professors that you describe. The faculty meetings, -- I have
not been at a single one that had the character of what you describe.
Universities corporatize. That is all true. There are many far reaching
problems! Over the past year or two I encountered many who truly disdain
universities flat out. Fair enough. Let's hear the arguments. But for
one, more often than not, the critical faculty that  people contribute
to the knowledge-factory-debate was acquired during university study in
the first place.  And secondly, how much moral high ground can we claim
if we are part of this educational system. I consider guest lectures,
workshops, conferences and their attached (if very modest) financial
gain as being part of academia. So often people voice this all-out
disregard for academia while being part of it and having benefited from
it intellectually. I find that very contradictory and bizarre.
Generalized, sweeping accounts help very little. What actually happens
in universities is quite variegated. There is much of the horrible
horribleness that John describes but there are also very many pockets of
difference. This system influences and shapes many thousands of people
every year. It's no peanuts. It has effects far beyond its firewalls.
Can we really doom the university to a slow death (as John suggests)? Do
students really turn their back to the university? I don't even see a
modest trend in that direction. The university is quite alive but not
well. What are alternatives? Is network culture strong enough to take
over? With regard to new-media art education universities are, at least
in the US, the main locus for such work. They have the often-expensive
hardware needed for advanced tech projects. They are a breeding ground
for friendships. They facilitate human encounters. There surely are
distributed efforts. And I am not talking of e-learning or long-distance
learning, which I'd only support in select, rare cases.  But outside
universities there are of course countless tech forums online, chat
rooms, art projects that frame themselves as self-organized
universities, online repositories and more that constitute learning
communities. But that does not replace the complex layers of education
and sharing that take place in a graduate university context. In Europe
there are a few places that do amazing work in that area (i.e. DeWaag,
V2) but that does not change the fact that most educational work still
takes place in universities. Some people spit fire when they talk about
academia. I like and appreciate many of them very much. But I still
wonder, and respectfully ask, if there is not a bit of personal
biography-driven reasoning behind such total rejection. Perhaps this
argumentation relates first of all to personal life style choices?

>John wrote (in 1998):
>"the revolution will  not be televised, it will simply be a praxis
>embedded in the network that is community. the occupation is of the
>network, is of each other's lives, is of being, is of body, it is of it
>all." neoscenes is about the creation of personal spaces where-in the
>individual realizes the potential of individual and collaborative
>creativity. it is about seizing the opportunity presented by the
>internet and contemporary tele-communications to create active spaces 
>that are autonomous of the traditional 'institutions of higher
>learning'. it is about sharing."

This is an impressive statement, especially given the year that it was
written. Bey's TAZ meets network culture. I definitely see the value and
power of collaborative, distributed research. This list (and many
others) in a way does just that. There are wide fields of possibility
indeed. Alternative or parallel economies of sharing have to be reckoned
with. The potential is in the exchange of information and of group
formation online. But does that replace the heated debate in the
university cafeteria or the seminar room? I believe that a skillful
enmeshed structure would work best. For me, this discussion is not
motivated by a death wish for the university. There are already islands
of autonomy within "institutions of higher learning." Rather than
pursuing an, perhaps, utopian extra-institutional position, I argue for
cross-pollination between online groups and brick and mortar
institutions. I am particularly interested in ways in which bootstrap
initiatives can influence and perhaps even subvert traditional,
corporate, educational institutions.


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