[iDC] Praxis-based Ph.D.s

patrick lichty voyd at voyd.com
Wed Jan 17 10:26:38 EST 2007

I was reading the posts and I find the whole situation quite
interesting.  I have always had a unique relationship to this matter, as
my work has always come from the "text"; that is, my artwork has always
begun with scholarly research or theoretical exploration first, then the
art comes from that.  Therefore, I have considered myself a media-based
theorist with an MFA, am considering a PHD (if I had the means), teach
%75 percent of my claeses in cultural studies in my art department, and
really try to avoid studio classes if possible.

That's my context. Now, in regards to the larger issue -  This is
leveled at the issues of North America, and I apologize to my friends
around the globe if these do not apply.

I feel that the continual raising of the bar (I originally typo'ed
'par') is a strange and complex matter, especially in the States.  In an
era in which competition is the dominant meme, the requirement is for
more, and more, and more credentials for entry.  My wife who
(thankfully) just got tenure at LSU, tells me that the glut of theatre
historians is so bad, that in order to even be considered for a term
position, let alone tenure-track, one has to have completed
post-doctorate studies, and preferably have significant progress towards
a book contract. In effect, this means that one has to go through 12-15
years of study, AND have a book in the wings in order to have a
$50-70,000 job (at least in the States), which is often untenable.

I agree with Kathy High in saying that the production rate of MFA's is
pretty astounding.  I remember that when I was in grad school,
acceptance tacitly assumed completion; a condition I disagree with, and
one I see in many places.  Also, I see that a student has to have
"significant difficulty" to not be awarded a PhD in many programs.  With
the emergence of the university as business model in the 80's and 90's
(at least in the States), providing cultural and research support for
the private sector though tropes like the "Scholarship of Engagement",
the university has adopted a production model, with departments being
judged on their amount of graduates.  

This is where I feel the university has taken a drastic turn in the
wrong direction.  The idea that the university should be so linked to
agendas of capital and production has created an atmosphere of
capitalistic entitlement (I'm paying for this degree...), overproduction
to meet administrative quotas set by Regents to maintain school funding,
and so on.  This is also exacerbated by for-profit institutions like
Capella U and University of Phoenix, which act as 'puppy mills' for fast
evening Master's degrees. The end results are many. Students become
increasingly results/task oriented, and the entry standards increase in
regards of quantity more than quality. With the increase of credentials,
institutions lose the ability to distinguish the 'distinguished', and
therefore do the best they know how, and increase base entry
credentials. In the end, one spends the labor per year more thinly over
a longer period, rather than creating a deeper engagement with the
subject, because of having to perform other functions, such as advising,
administrivia (especially grads), additional grantmaking, and so on that
were once taken care of by staff.

On the faculty side, the rhizomatic effect of shallowing of practice
with increase of speed increases as they are burdened with more
administrative functions while administrators hold disproportionate
salaries and eliminate middle administrative positions.  In many ways,
this is representative of globalist culture in that cost per labor unit
is being driven down through competition.  This may seem a leap, but not
so as we look at the spiraling increase and devaluation of credentials,
and the systematic effects of the private sector upon higher education,
base educational credentials in all sectors, and the edu-socio-economic
stratification of market competition as capitalism seeks to colonize

And this effect is pervasive. The academy is being spread thin,
non-profits are seeing a decrease in funding or are being linked to
private foundation results testing, and everyone is scrambling for new
sources. I'm always saddened to learn of our colleagues having meetings
to "think up things" for National Science Foundation funding, because
it's one of the last places left with large funds, and it again amounts
to tying culture to R&D.  Meanwhile, the socio/economic/edu
stratification continues, and the Wal-Mart "race to the bottom" where
all systems and symbols are exhausted (the end result of Capitalism)
goes on.

I hope that I have created a not-too-abstract illustration of my ideas
regarding the systemic problems that affect global society, with the
glut of MFAs and the consideration of the PHD as only a microcosmic
event.  However, I don't see the spiral abating anytime soon.

If I were in a perfect world, funding would have to go into
infrastructure, rather than spending it as we are now.  Governmental and
foundation funding, into non-results driven, non-profit parts of society
and culture (and even R&D) would have to increase.  I would also unlink
graduation production quotas from departmental programs, while
drastically cutting grade inflation and increasing standards to increase
quality and decrease output.  Of course my use of managerial terms is
purposely ironic...

But then, support and infrastructure for the lower classes has to
increase, reinstatement of limiting systems for upper and lower classes
to reinstate a middle class and 'general welfare' of the populace while
offering opportunity. We (at least on this continent) allowed ourselves
to slip into a neo-conservative capitalist morass over a period of 30+
years, and it stands to reason that I can see a guarantee at least
another 6.  

Here is the question:  
What is the paradigm breaker?  How can it be argued convincingly to the
agendas of the quantitative that the qualitative is necessary for
sustainability of society?  And, if the concentration of wealth cannot
be reasoned with, how can parity between profit/non, equalization of
standards (back to our original argument) and the unlinking of the
University with Taylorism be achieved without

Patrick Lichty
- Interactive Arts & Media
  Columbia College, Chicago
- Editor-In-Chief
  Intelligent Agent Magazine
225 288 5813
voyd at voyd.com
"It is better to die on your feet 
than to live on your knees." 

Patrick Lichty
- Interactive Arts & Media
  Columbia College, Chicago
- Editor-In-Chief
  Intelligent Agent Magazine
225 288 5813
voyd at voyd.com
"It is better to die on your feet 
than to live on your knees." 

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