Rethinking the University, Day 1, Part 2

The after lunch panels and discussions.

Roundtable 3 - Valuing the Liberal Arts

Jigna Desai kicked things off with “no time for fancy titles” about her experience in Asian and Women’s studies. She made a few good points about knowledge production as a form of social change, the “driven to discover” U of Mn branding campaign that subscribes to the positivist goal of more creating more facts, and the fact that marketing campaigns always have pictures of diversity. She also observed that the College of Liberal Arts is the center of teaching activity at the University of MN but it is furthest from the the areas of massive financial support. c.f. the recent donation to the medical school by the Masons, and the massive Carlson School of Management where the first day of the conference took place.

Margarat Werry discussed “value, liberalism, the arts: arguments for a viable future.” Arts have historically been underfunded, counter to the central work of university. Arts are activities as opposed to the creation of knowledge. Performance art, especially, is ephemeral and difficult to commodify. The arts appears in the public relations materials for universities but this doesn’t result in increased budgets or salaries. There seems to be an ornamental logic at work, arts add to the capitalist university by showing prospective students, donors, and alumni that self-fashioning can happen in the corporate university. Arts = collective inquiry through doing/action. The arts may be at “vanguard of the neo-liberal university” through the employment paradigms of the creative industries: performance epitomizes the service, or “experience economy,” artists are the ultimate flexible labor, modulating themselves to the current conditions.

Jani Scandura made some general comments about the value of the humanities and mentioned a recent column by Stanley Fish Will the humanities save us?. I particularly liked her comment during the question period about the faculty no longer being a monolithic class or interest of its own. Nowadays the differences in salary between professors can be 5 to 10 times depending on discipline.

Panel 4 - Radical Re-framings

Isaac Kamolo and Eli Meyerhoff on “Creating Commons: divided governance, participatory management, and the enclosure of the university.” Meyerhoff began with a description of the commons as those things that are recognized as accessible to all members. He proposed three types of commons: non-capitalist, capitalist, and anti-capitalist. Enclosure of the commons occurs through the identification of limits to capital, destabilization of commons, struggles over restablization, and the failure of political recomposition. Kamolo applied these ideas to the university. In the 1910s the AAUP reached a bargain with the administration to leave professors alone to publish any work they wished in return for professors leaving the management of the university to the administrations. Today the mantra is participatory governance in which a huge number of committees are created to give the faculty and students the illusion of input into the processes of the university. Some responses to this problem might be to create deeper alliances between workers at the university. So instead of saying “we support university workers” during a strike we should say “we are university workers.” A lot of interesting material here to think about. I didn’t have a chance to ask about open courseware or other technological/electronic commons that are beginning to develop.

Tim ?? from the Counter-Cartographies Collective presented “Mapping the 21st century university.” What does it mean to be a great, 21c, global university? We need to critique corporatization and knowledge factory metaphors. Consider research triangle park in North Carolina, conceived as literally a knowledge factory. During the development of RTP in 1960s university administrators criticized the plan by claiming that corporations wanted universities to be prostitutes for research. The plan was to create a route from pure research, to applied knowledge, to factory floor. Look at the RTP website 4 years ago, focused upon maps, research, triangular geographies. Today the website is focused on people, a transition from factory to affective labor. Companies are now after relationship goals - getting updates at local universities, working over time with grad students. Patent incentives are less salient, they’ve never really made much money for universities and have functioned mostly as a management technique. The largest growth in physical office space on campus has been administrative. Consider Tony Waldrop, whose job description has changed from promoting individual scholarly activities (the knowledge factory model original to research triangle), to a new mission to support interdisciplinary activity and promote economic progress. New spaces are being created that allow collaboration and show, through photos or large open windows into conference rooms, collaboration in process. These photos of students working together end up in marketing brochures, raising enrollment, and pushing the whole edifice forward.

Jack Jackson concluded on “Imperial Knowledge” but I’m afraid my mind was beginning to wander. I did catch some intriguing comparisons between the perceptions of suicide bombers today as terrorists and the writings of Winston Churchill celebrating the sacrifices of potential sticky bombers during WW2.

I had to leave before the day conclude. The rest of the schedule can be seen online.