[iDC] Defending UC

Losh, Elizabeth elosh at mail.ucsd.edu
Fri Sep 23 17:51:46 UTC 2011

Hi Brian,

Of course, Henry Jenkins and I will be talking about the tensions between participatory culture and public education in our conversation at Mobility Shifts, but I don't think it is quite fair to characterize the whole UC system as "corrupt."

I run the Culture, Art, and Technology program at Sixth College in UC San Diego and also supervise our upper-division experiential learning courses with our Practicum Director, so I suppose I am one of those frequently demonized UC "administrators."  Because I have an interdisciplinary faculty appointment, I am also able to teach courses in three departments (Communication, Literature, and Visual Arts).    

In Sixth college we have a lot of first-generation college students and a lot of students who come in as transfer students from the community college system, so I am on the front lines of where tuition hikes and service cutbacks fall.   This poses a lot of challenges, because we also have a very ambitious curriculum devoted to what we call "utopian pedagogy" that covers everything from art-making to social action to computer programming.  You can look at the Sixth College Academic Plan for more information.

I have to say that one of the advantages of this particular large public institution is its relative transparency.  Certainly it is not perfect.  But we are public servants, and if you want to know how much I earn or how much any members of my team earn, you can look it up online.  That's not true of a lot of other educational institutions or philanthropic organizations or learning groups.  We take accountability very seriously, and we share information about spending very openly with the public, because we need their help.  

I know that isn't always apparent when listening to UC President Mark Yudof speak (or mispeak), but it isn't fair to paint such a large and diverse population of educators devoted to complex collaborators with a lot of stakeholders with such a broad brush.  What about Sixth College faculty members creating courses with our community partners so students can think about urban communities as sites of knowledge making?  We don't have budget to pay them to do this with course releases, but they do it anyway.  Are they corrupt?

You cite Bob Samuels as a good source of information about the UC system, and I have to disagree.    I've known Bob for over a decade, and I think he's a Class A hypocrite when it comes to the question of remaking the university.  For example, he was a very vocal opponent of a project that we launched when I was back at UC Irvine that was designed to encourage more online collaboration and pedagogical sharing among people teaching gen ed courses.  He actually defended individual ownership of "intellectual property" at those meetings.  

I work for the public and have absolutely no feeling of proprietary interest in further monetizing my own pedagogical work, and I put everything that I can online in the spirit of sharing.  If someone wants to take my slides and podcasts, which are all online, and copy my entire freshman core course on Media Seductions at http://losh.ucsd.edu/courses/CAT1.html, I would take it as the highest form of flattery.  There are a lot of other UC faculty, particularly those in Sixth College, who feel the same way.


Elizabeth Losh
Director of Academic Programs, Sixth College
Culture, Art, and Technology Program
249 Pepper Canyon Hall
University of California, San Diego
9500 Gilman Drive
La Jolla, CA 92093-0054
(858) 822-1666
lizlosh at ucsd.edu
From: idc-bounces at mailman.thing.net [idc-bounces at mailman.thing.net] on behalf of Brian Holmes [bhcontinentaldrift at gmail.com]
Sent: Thursday, September 22, 2011 6:40 AM
To: idc at mailman.thing.net
Subject: Re: [iDC] DIY: nightmare for humanities, social sciences, media

Hello Blake, hello Janet, nice to hear from you -

Yes, I have seen the TED talk on algorithms, and it's worth watching. It
shows how the demands of high-speed trading - in milliseconds - reshape
the very landscape, the "ground beneath our feet" as I've often said.

For the past fifteen years I've been studying the social consequences of
finance capitalism, and I've come to the conclusion that it has really
been the driving and shaping force of the whole informational era, along
with the hi-tech military of course. The reason for considering that the
universities are almost as corrupt as Wall Street is a trip I made to
the UC system around March 4 of last year: a little stroll down memory
lane, since I'm a California native and grad of UCB. As Blake surely
knows, the UC strikes produced a tremendous amount of information about
how that formerly public university is actually run, all the way from
"Regents" like the billionaire real-estate and construction mogul
Richard Blum (conveniently married to long-term CA senator Dianne
Feinstein) down to weapons labs at places like UCSB or UCSD, which cream
off vastly disproportionate shares of state and federal grant money and
turn it into the robotic solidiers that the US craves for its oil wars.
Although the occupations of late 2009 were tremendously effective in
raising consciousness, the walkout of March 4 which I went to encourage
and support was in fact very disappointing. Notably because of how few
professors - in southern California at least - came out in active
support of this adjunct-driven movement. (Though a few months earlier it
was interesting to see videos of one of my old French dept. profs, Ann
Smock, out protesting the attempts to more or less erase the foreign
language departments.)

Blake, I assume you were at UC Davis at the time and your read may be

I came back from California with two words in my head, which had not
been there when I left. The words: total corruption. My claim is that
most of US universities have become systemically corrupt --that is,
captured by interest groups - in the course of the neoliberal period,
essentially since the passage of the Bayh-Dohl act in 1980 which
reengineered the conditions under which knowledge is patented and sold
by the intellectual property departments. Three key books on the
systemic corruption of the universities are: The University in Ruins, by
Bill Reading; How the University Works, by Marc Bosquet; and Unmaking
the Public University, by Christopher Newfield. But there are many
others, check out the work and blog of Bob Samuels which is spot on.
It's also well worth reading Charles Schwartz's questions about the
"public" nature of education where undergraduate tuition pays for the
administrative execs, real-estate deals, six-figure professors and
corporate labs:


Now, indeed, I fully agree with Blake that in an era where the critique
of public institutions is carried on by the corporate class, the point
is not to destroy those institutions - and that is exactly what I've
been arguing here in various posts. However, what has actually happened
in the UC system and in many other cases (as I infer on the basis of
less detailed study) is not so much the destruction as the appropriation
and remodeling of those formerly public institutions. The ground has
already changed beneath our feet. So to worry about whether we are
losing the Enlightenment, at this point when the universities massively
manufacture, not only neoliberal subjectivities but also neoliberal
policy and technology, is, I am afraid, to be exactly the kind of
humanist that the Frankfurt School thinkers would have excoriated for
being unable to see that - how did Adorno put it? - "the whole is the
untrue." What would be needed, but what we don't have, is someone like
Marcuse who would incite both students and professors to revolt on the
basis of deep, searching and totally uncompromising work that engages
its author body and soul. Instead of doing that in a way that would
match the demands of the times, professors go on producing peer-reviewed
articles on tiny details, jetting around to fancy conferences, building
their pet gallery, media lab or whatever, and climbing the career
ladder. They are an interest group.

Many people who think this way just want to burn the places down, they
are active readers of The Coming Insurrection. Not me. I think it's
necessary to create autonomous sites of egalitarian-ecological critique
which can encourage the desires of students to ruse up against a corrupt
system, and also challenge professors to do the same, which does not
mean just having nice thoughts about possible arcadias. Since the Second
World War, with just a short pause in the 60s-70s, the American middle
class - what you might call the organic intellectuals of global capital
- have been enriching themselves while our country despoils the planet.
Now the wonderful neoliberal governmentality, described so well by
Foucault in his book on The Birth of Biopower, is destroying the
American middle class the way it destroyed the Latin American middle
classes decades before. Intellectuals need to take risks in the name of
equality. Unless, of course, they are just parasites...

The words are strong. But the situation is too. The whole issue of the
middle classes, of a place situation between the dominators and the
dominated, is which side do you take in a structurally compromised
position? I'd say the difference between left-liberal critique and the
corporate variety is that the latter is transformative, it has
appropriated and remade the institutions, while ours has largely been
just commentary, a bunch of moot points for which you get a minor prize.
To defend the university as it is, means defending a highly advanced
state of corruption. After all that has happened in the last decade, and
in the face of a total makeover of society under the guise of the
response to a crisis created by finance itself, I just don't see any
excuse for remaining naive.

Shouldn't we try to stop business as usual? And start something else?

best, BH
iDC -- mailing list of the Institute for Distributed Creativity (distributedcreativity.org)
iDC at mailman.thing.net

List Archive:

iDC Photo Stream:

RSS feed:

iDC Chat on Facebook:

Share relevant URLs on Del.icio.us by adding the tag iDCref

More information about the iDC mailing list