[iDC] Introduction

t byfield tbyfield at panix.com
Fri Sep 26 15:56:36 UTC 2014

On 22 Sep 2014, at 16:31, Trebor Scholz wrote:

> And Ted, #DL14 will, in fact, address the situation of adjunct faculty 
> and
> many other things that are dismally wrong within the Academy.

Silly me -- I forgot to introduce myself.

I just left the New School faculty after eleven years there, where my 
'service' (what a wretched word) culminated, if you like, in co-chairing 
the university's faculty senate. In that role, I pushed through some 
pretty strong changes, including:

	(1) establishing precedents for direct faculty participation in the 
highest-level administrative committees;

	(2) a mandatory mechanism guaranteeing that concerns shared by a small 
but defined groups of across divisional faculties must be recorded into 
the senate minutes (which are public);

	(3) empowering the senate to convene open 'working groups,' not just 
closed committees dominated by political appointments;

	(4) prototyping a faculty-wide consultation system for 
policy-development processes; and

	(5) reorganizing pivotal faculty governance bodies in ways that are 
responsive to faculty and student concerns rather than abstract domains 
(e.g., 'learning environments' rather than 'infrastructure').

Educratic stuff, to be sure, but they make up key parts of the 
'toolchain' faculties will need to define an autonomous *collective* 
voice within the institution as such rather than individualistic 
approaches to *staying at* the institution. Now we'll see if the New 
School's faculties are canny enough to use them.

But the reason I did these things wasn't, as Trebor suggested in 
faculty-centric terms, "the situation of adjunct faculty and many other 
things that are dismally wrong within the Academy" (Marcel Mauss: "that 
signpost of ignorance: 'miscellaneous'"). Instead I saw over the years 
how rising educational costs were taking a growing toll on *students*, 
both transactional (tuition, fees) and collateral (living in the NYC 
area). Their precarity was becoming too real: accelerating displacement 
(lost in derogatory noise about 'hipsters'), problematic substance use 
(not just 'performance-enhancing'), alternative incomes (factor in 
gender), labor exploitation laundered as 'internships,' and so on. And 
for the most part these were privileged students. For many students (and 
faculty) who aren't so privileged, higher ed is becoming, as Joyce put 
it, the old sow that eats her farrow.

These issues shape the vitality, coherence, and 'sustainability' of 
education more than many of the measures that administrators focus on. 
Conventional analytical frameworks mask many of them -- often out of 
fear for liability or 'reputation,' or because the data isn't available 
(e.g, 'career prospects' for children of graying parents or 
'internationals' forced to their home countries for visa reasons, etc). 
Administrative 'best practices' -- which, as Benjamin Ginsberg put it in 
_The Fall of the Faculty_, is often a bureaucratic euphemism for 
plagiarism -- aren't suited to addressing problems like these. Faculty 
and students need to recognize that they're allies in the project of 
shifting priorities in the academy. That will require real faculty 
'leadership,' understood not as career milestones and millstones but as 
an activism measured in real risks.

But that kind of infra-institutional critique is very limited, so I've 
also tried to build things 'outside,' notably:

* I co-founded the Open Syllabus Project, a research network dedicated 
to collecting, it's hoped, *every syllabus in US higher ed*. The OSP's 
goal is to create a sort of 'openstreetmap' of what happens behind the 
promotional brochures that form the walls of educational black boxes at 
every level. It sees *everyone* -- prospective students, current 
students, faculty, administrators, policy and regulatory actors, 
independent and 'organic' intellectuals alike -- as researchers who can 
benefit from and contribute to this resource. And toward that end it's 
building an empirical foundation for self-defined communities of 
inquiry. It's *open*, so check it out. (http://opensyllabusproject.org/)

* I co-wrote a book with Gary Hall, Pauline Van Mourik Broekman, Shaun 
Hides, and Simon Worthington, _Open Education: A Study in Disruption_. 
It should be out in the next few weeks. 

Before academia sucked me in and spat me out, I did lots of other 
things: editing books (for Zone, the New Press, Pantheon/Schocken, 
Serpent's Tail, and DIA among many others), some consulting for 
foundations, digging into early internet governance structures (mainly 
ICANN when it was still a fresh tragicomedy), and more. It's a pleasure 
to escape from the zoo (or maybe bestiary?) and return to my natural 

Some of you may know the <nettime> mailing list, which is one of the 
first mailing list (maybe *the* first) dedicated to critical internet 
culture. I've been co-moderating that for the last sixteen years. It'll 
turn twenty years old next year, and we're thinking about having another 
meeting, like we used to -- hopefully late next summer, and *maybe* 
**maybe** ***maybe*** in Bucharest. But that'd be oriented toward what 
and where and how critical internet culture (if such a thing is even 
possible) is happening now, not some god-awful revival tour. Or maybe 
it'll just be a summer camp for the kids of activists, theorists, and 
artists, with parentcare facilities -- housing, food, and fun 
activities. Pencil that in if you're interested. 

twit: @tbfld

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