• Hot Topics:
  • Contingent Faculty
  • Program Closures
  • Employee Benefits
  • Napolitano
  • Online Education

Monday, December 31, 2012

Monday, December 31, 2012
2012 was like all years full of heroic efforts and thoughtless abetting of great evil.  In American higher education, it was the year in which the worst didn't happen.

Here are my candidates for this year's major trends. My New Year's Resolution is not to let my higher ed thinking be shaped by major trends. Resolution 2 is to map a comprehensive alternative funding structure and agenda. But that's for 2013.  Here's 2012.

1.Mitt Romney defeated.  Higher education won't have to face the ice-age austerity that Romney-Ryan would have imposed on higher ed along with the rest of the public sector, or his plan to reprivatize student loans among other things.

2. Austerity from Obama.  Now that he has been liberated from the need to win elections, Obama is doing exactly what he did before this liberation, which is negotiating in back rooms over how few resources to restore to the middle classes and public agencies.  Although various public university officials have called for new federal support for public universities, there was no sign of any interest in politics in additional support for public universities.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Thursday, December 27, 2012
As Scrooge leaves his counting-house on Christmas Eve, he encounters his cheerful nephew, who tells his Uncle Scrooge that Christmas is one of those "many things from which I might have derived good, [but] by which I have not profited, I dare say."   The good, the nephew continues, is to have the one moment in the year in which "men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys."

Scrooge dismisses this feeling and, with a final dig at his long-suffering clerk, leaves his office, only to be confronted by two amiable gentlemen who are soliciting "some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time."

Scrooge asks them, "are there no prisons?"  "Plenty of prisons" one replies.  "And the Union workhouses? Are they still in operaton"? Yes, he hears.  "The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour then? said Scrooge." Yes.  Well that is enough then, Scrooge replies.  "I help to support the establishments I have mentioned--they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there."  The gentleman responds, "Many can't go there; and many would rather die."  "If they would rather die," said Scrooge, "they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population."

Friday, December 14, 2012

Friday, December 14, 2012
For some time now, the humanities and the interpretive social sciences have been the canaries in the mineshaft of higher education.   Language departments have been eliminated or consolidated, plans put in place to charge students higher tuition for taking the time to study the humanities, a general mantra of the irrelevance of humanistic knowledge for the job market has descended upon our heads from politicians, and administrators continue to insist that the humanities are a drain upon university budgets.  Apparently the fact that you can make more money as a doctor than as a translator is a sudden and blinding insight that demands a fundamental rethinking of the value of knowledge.  The humanities now are supposed to return to being an ornament for the rich.

At the heart of the attack on the humanities is the assumption that the new global economy and the rise of the digital makes what we do indulgent and unproductive.  From this perspective, the support of the humanities and the social sciences was an effect of the modernist welfare state that followed the New Deal.  In that world of publicly endowed solidarity and expert knowledge, the humanities and social sciences flourished because they were signs of the shared possibility of social life and crucial aspects of society's steering mechanisms.  But that world, so we are told, is now gone forever: the state may exist as a military and political entity but it cannot control its economy and the global economy's destruction of all that seemed solid condemns everyone to an existence bound at most by family.  In this world view, the humanities are at best a distraction and at worst a block to the development of economy and technology.  The triumph of short-term finance over long-term management has succeeded where the culture war failed: with the delegitimation of the knowledge produced in the humanities.

But none of the attacks on the humanities, from their alleged irrelevance, to their elite qualities, on to their drain on university finances are true (well it is true that doctors make more money than translators but aside from that..).  Chris has just commented on some of the infrastructural problems with countering these false images in the world at large.  But I want to approach the problem from another direction:  suggesting that those of us working in the humanities and social sciences have simply been too defensive about the concrete social utility of what we do.  And that we need to stop being defensive if we are going to change the arguments and debates over the humanities and humanities funding.   Humanities scholars need to name their knowledge as such and to insist on its deeply productive role in the contemporary world.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Monday, December 10, 2012
I agree with Mark Yudof: one of many reasons never to leave Austin Texas is the "easy access to breakfast tacos."  

After an excessive helping of these, and before my anti-devolution lecture on fixing public universities, I spent an hour drinking coffee with some UT Austin grad students, along with several faculty and an undergrad who could have been getting his PhD for all I could tell.  Inevitably we got into the status of the humanities, since grads are the first to feel the effects of funding cuts and have been doused with the general backwash of disrespect for their forms of knowledge and practice.  As one put it, "I'm already doing way too much to acquire the difficult specialized skills that nobody wants."

My response was that they don't know that they do want them because they don't know what those skills are.  They don't know the knowledge that these skills produce. They don't know this because we don't do a good enough job of telling them.  (They also often don't want to know, since humanities findings challenge so many orthodoxies, but we didn't go down that road.)

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Saturday, December 8, 2012
As part of the continuing effort to remake UC in the vision of modern advertising and finance where the only important activity is the constant exchange of meaningless images, UCOP has decided to remove the old seal of the University and replace it with a brand new pointless logo.  Welcome to the 21st Century University I guess:

Let's see: on the left there is a book, a name, a tradition, and a commitment to increasing knowledge and to disseminating knowledge.  On the right there is.....

Maybe this is what Peter Taylor means when he talks about transparency and innovation at the University