[iDC] Defending UC

Blake Stimson blakestimson at gmail.com
Mon Sep 26 21:09:17 UTC 2011

If I may jump in on this as well as respond to your earlier rejoinder, Brian, it seems fair to say that few would disagree that "the only way to defend the ideal university is to critique the real one," as you say below, and that many do denounce corruption in their universities or their unions or their public school systems or their governments. Just to repeat what I said earlier, however, the pivotal question today must always be about what larger social forces any given approach to critique aids and abets. "Total corruption" of public institutions is the watchword of the neoliberal right--Perry's rallying cry about social security being a ponzi scheme is only the latest example. More directly on topic is Jonathan Lebed's viral video "College Conspiracy" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VpZtX32sKVE). It affirms many of the particular critiques as well as the general argument for DIY higher ed in an effort to get families to redirect their college savings funds to his chosen investment (in a new twist on his older "pump and dump" profiteering scheme). 

As you noted, Adorno did say that the whole is the untrue but that applied equally to the concept of total corruption as it did to total enlightenment (if, in this day and age, one could even fathom such a concept!). More importantly, he also said that the partial is the untrue. In this context, we might think of the partial as both the neoliberal subjectivity you refer to but also that of the DIY self-educator insofar as both lean on individualized selfhood. For Adorno, at least, the corrective to the untruth of the whole is to consider it from the vantage of the partial, as you suggest, but likewise, the corrective to the untruth of the partial is to see it from the vantage of the whole. 

What adopting Adorno's old dialectical guideline would mean for us is mostly just the even older idea of immanent critique. Put schematically, we might say that the DIY higher ed movement (if we can call it that) has been valuable in critiquing the implicit and explicit role of the state in higher education from the entrepreneurial perspective of the market--i.e. from the perspective of agile start-ups responding to consumer need whether they are dyed-in-the-wool, "greed-is-good" Friedmanites or well-intentioned "social entrepreneurs." In the context of this discussion and the political-economic travesties that led to the current recession and its acceleration of the redistribution of wealth, however, we might also be mindful of the immanently-critical role of the state and defend it as an ideal. We could discuss why this might be valuable for higher ed and society beyond in positive terms, of course, but its value shines through all the more readily when we simply consider the ways that the DIY model lends itself to unfreedom in our era of massively increased powers of control permeating every level of the exchange of ideas and the massive erosion of the political-economic conditions that once supported the promise of equal opportunity. 


On Sep 25, 2011, at 10:40 PM, Brian Holmes wrote:

> 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 
> corruption.
> 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:
> http://brianholmes.wordpress.com/2010/02/23/uc-system-the-business
> http://brianholmes.wordpress.com/2010/02/27/ucsd-racist-incidents-again
> http://brianholmes.wordpress.com/2010/02/26/doctrine-–-debate-–-defense-–-invention
> 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 --
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