[iDC] Defending UC

Brian Holmes bhcontinentaldrift at gmail.com
Mon Sep 26 05:40:19 UTC 2011

Hello Elizabeth -

Thanks for answering. It's vital for people who don't know each other to 
exchange, to debate, also to disagree. It's a chance for everyone (me 
too) to ask themselves, what do I really think? What do I know? Where do 
I stand?

My claim is that UC is systemically corrupt. I would not say it if it 
were just my personal opinion. I know that in its naked generality this 
is a very cruel thing to say, and I'm aware that most of the people who 
compose the UC system are not on the take and do not want it to operate 
that way. The unfortunate thing is that in American society generally, 
mere good will and due procedure is out of date. It has been superceded 
by a malignant tumor. That's the case at UC. That's the essence of total 

Once we had a public system. I know: I'm a middle-class Californian, it 
produced me. I was born in '59, so the generation just before me was the 
one to understand that the welfare state was first of all a warfare 
state. Huge efforts were made to reverse that situation, giving rise to 
ideals that you and I undoubtedly share. However, because I am not 
employed, because I have no stake, because I am simply lucid, I have to 
say what I see. Those ideals have failed. It's time to start again.

Your program is undoubtedly a good one. The university would be a worse 
without it, I can well imagine and I am glad for your efforts as I am 
sure many students are. Thanks also for putting the free stuff online! 
It's a great thing to do. However, crazy as it may sound, I have to ask 
you for one more effort. Yeah, I know it does sound like a bit much. I 
have to ask you to denounce the place you work in.

The social movement of 2009-2010 revealed that the always compromised 
notion of a "public university" has become a fiction. According to its 
own statistics and its own unfulfilled "yield program" (that's what they 
call it) UCSD is a racist university. Moreover it "educates" its 
students by producing intellectual property for sponsoring corporations 
and weapons for the imperial state. And it hikes the tuition so that 
undergrads can pay for all that. So much is apparent from a simple visit 
and a lot of collective research. Here are some notes I took on my last 
trip to California:


UCSD's confirmed inability to serve the underprivileged minorities of 
California is exacerbated by continuing tuition hikes that have the 
effect of raising a class barrier around the access to higher education 
across the entire system.  I well understand that this is not your 
doing. I gather from what you say that your work is oriented toward a 
quite different university. You are exactly the kind of person who would 
work with a wingnut precarious cultural critic like myself. But here is 
what I have to say to you from the specific perspective of my position: 
the only way to defend the ideal university is to critique the real one. 
Otherwise, the continuous decay of the ideal standards will go on 
unimpeded, as it has for at least the last twenty years. Neither the 
good intentions, nor even less the "excellence" of any single program 
can change that.

How does the university become totally corrupt? When, in the name of 
amelioration, all of those hoping to reform it hold their tongues and 
continue to work within the shrinking space of an idealism that serves 
to camouflage what really exists. That's massively the case among UC 
professors and American intellectuals generally. After a period of 
openly fascist government we now have the biggest economic crisis since 
the great depression, we see the corporate elites using it to 
restructure the institutions to their advantage, and we get radio 
silence from the people with jobs in the public sector. Idealism or not, 
it is singularly unimpressive.

So please, quit defending UC. Defend that which, in your own efforts, 
bucks the trend toward a return of the feudal system. And critique the 
rest! Act against it! Yudoff does not misspeak. He speaks the voice of 
those whom your silence makes into our masters.

respectfully, Brian

On 09/23/2011 12:51 PM, Losh, Elizabeth wrote:
> 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.
> Liz
> 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 http://losh.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 different.
> 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:
> http://www.mindingthecampus.com/originals/2010/08/who_pays_the_hidden_cost_of_un.html
>  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
> https://mailman.thing.net/mailman/listinfo/idc
> List Archive: http://mailman.thing.net/pipermail/idc/
> iDC Photo Stream: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tags/idcnetwork/
> RSS feed: http://rss.gmane.org/gmane.culture.media.idc
> iDC Chat on Facebook:
> http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2457237647
> Share relevant URLs on Del.icio.us by adding the tag iDCref
> _______________________________________________ iDC -- mailing list
> of the Institute for Distributed Creativity
> (distributedcreativity.org) iDC at mailman.thing.net
> https://mailman.thing.net/mailman/listinfo/idc
> List Archive: http://mailman.thing.net/pipermail/idc/
> iDC Photo Stream: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tags/idcnetwork/
> RSS feed: http://rss.gmane.org/gmane.culture.media.idc
> iDC Chat on Facebook:
> http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2457237647
> Share relevant URLs on Del.icio.us by adding the tag iDCref

More information about the iDC mailing list