Sep 27 2009

Reading the Public University in Crisis

Category: EssaysBob Hanke @ 11:21 am

Communiqué from an Absent Future

(from the UCSC occupation barricades, excerpted from We Want Everything, September 24, 2009)

Like the society to which it has played the faithful servant, the university is bankrupt.  This bankruptcy is not only financial.  It is the index of a more fundamental insolvency, one both political and economic, which has been a long time in the making.  No one knows what the university is for anymore.  We feel this intuitively.  Gone is the old project of creating a cultured and educated citizenry; gone, too, the special advantage the degree-holder once held on the job market.  These are now fantasies, spectral residues that cling to the poorly maintained halls.

Incongruous architecture, the ghosts of vanished ideals, the vista of a dead future: these are the remains of the university.  Among these remains, most of us are little more than a collection of querulous habits and duties.  We go through the motions of our tests and assignments with a kind of thoughtless and immutable obedience propped up by subvocalized resentments.  Nothing is interesting, nothing can make itself felt.  The world-historical with its pageant of catastrophe is no more real than the windows in which it appears.

For those whose adolescence was poisoned by the nationalist hysteria following September 11th, public speech is nothing but a series of lies and public space a place where things might explode (though they never do).  Afflicted by the vague desire for something to happen—without ever imagining we could make it happen ourselves—we were rescued by the bland homogeneity of the internet, finding refuge among friends we never see, whose entire existence is a series of exclamations and silly pictures, whose only discourse is the gossip of commodities.  Safety, then, and comfort have been our watchwords.  We slide through the flesh world without being touched or moved.  We shepherd our emptiness from place to place.

But we can be grateful for our destitution: demystification is now a condition, not a project.  University life finally appears as just what it has always been: a machine for producing compliant producers and consumers.  Even leisure is a form of job training.  The idiot crew of the frat houses drink themselves into a stupor with all the dedication of lawyers working late at the office.  Kids who smoked weed and cut class in high-school now pop Adderall and get to work.  We power the diploma factory on the treadmills in the gym.  We run tirelessly in elliptical circles.

It makes little sense, then, to think of the university as an ivory tower in Arcadia, as either idyllic or idle.  “Work hard, play hard” has been the over-eager motto of a generation in training for…what?—drawing hearts in cappuccino foam or plugging names and numbers into databases. The gleaming techno-future of American capitalism was long ago packed up and sold to China for a few more years of borrowed junk.  A university diploma is now worth no more than a share in General Motors.

We work and we borrow in order to work and to borrow.  And the jobs we work toward are the jobs we already have.  Close to three quarters of students work while in school, many full-time; for most, the level of employment we obtain while students is the same that awaits after graduation.  Meanwhile, what we acquire isn’t education; it’s debt.  We work to make money we have already spent, and our future labor has already been sold on the worst market around.  Average student loan debt rose 20 percent in the first five years of the twenty-first century—80-100 percent for students of color.  Student loan volume—a figure inversely proportional to state funding for education—rose by nearly 800 percent from 1977 to 2003.  What our borrowed tuition buys is the privilege of making monthly payments for the rest of our lives.  What we learn is the choreography of credit: you can’t walk to class without being offered another piece of plastic charging 20 percent interest.  Yesterday’s finance majors buy their summer homes with the bleak futures of today’s humanities majors.

To read the rest of this essay, click here.

To download as an easily readable PDF with introduction, click here.

To download as a PDF booklet with introduction, click here.


Sep 19 2009

OCUFA Quality Matters Campaign

Category: News,Petitions,Point of Information,University FinanceBob Hanke @ 1:39 pm

On March 9th, the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations launched its Quality Matters campaign.

This campaign addresses the problem of chronic underfunding, which is at the bottom of the  issues that were raised during the 85-day CUPE 3903 strike and in the Ontario legislative assembly. As we face even deeper, cascading budget cuts this year, it’s time for faculty and students to do something about it.

Please take a few minutes right now to read more about the campaign, and to follow the links to send your message to Premier McGuinty and your local MPP.

OCUFA is using social media to support the campaign using paid electronic ads in print media and on Facebook.  Course directors and their TAs using a Content Managment System (Web-CT, Moodle) can also lend support the campaign by adding this website as an educational resource to your course.


Sep 10 2009

Collective Walkout in Defense of Public Education

Category: Events,News,University FinanceBob Hanke @ 10:00 am

(Excerpted in solidarity with the faculty, staff and students of the University of California system who are self-organizing to collectively walk out).

Under the cover of the summer months, UC administration has pushed through a program of tuition hikes, enrollment cuts, layoffs, furloughs, and increased class sizes that harms students and jeopardizes the livelihoods of the most vulnerable university employees. These decisions fundamentally compromise the mission of the University of California. They are complicit with the privatization of public education, and they have been made in a manner that flouts the principle of shared governance at the core of the UC faculty’s capacity to guide the future of the University in accordance with its mission.

On September 24, in solidarity with UC staff and students, faculty throughout the University of California system will walk out in defense of public education.

To read the open letter to UC faculty and the call for a systemwide walk out, click here.


Sep 01 2009

‘Top Five’ University Presidents Seek More Funding — for Their Own Universities

Category: News,University FinanceBob Hanke @ 2:31 pm

Low Blow From `Top Five’ Universities

by James Turk, Executive Director of the CAUT (excerpted from the Toronto Star, September 1, 2009).

There is a fundamental crisis facing all of Canada’s universities and colleges today, and that crisis is chronic underfunding.

Most institutions understand this, as do students and their families, but the point seems to have been lost on the presidents of the so-called “top five” (Toronto, UBC, Alberta, McGill and Montreal).

Instead of demanding much-needed investment in post-secondary education and academic research as a whole – or a bigger pie – they want a bigger slice of the existing pie for themselves, at everyone else’s expense.

The real problem is obvious. In the early 1980s, the federal government contributed one-half of one penny of every dollar earned by the Canadian economy to post-secondary education. Now, the federal government contributes less than two-tenths of a penny. Just to bring us back to the funding levels of the early ’80s would require an additional investment of more than $4 billion per year.

But rather than calling for a solution to the real problem, the “top five” university presidents say they want a bigger share of existing research money and graduate student education, and that other universities should focus on undergraduate education. Only this, they argue, will help Canada raise the international standing of some of its universities.

A disturbing implication of their proposal, of course, is that undergraduate teaching is somehow a lesser activity, to be carried out in institutions without a serious focus on scholarly work and research.

University of Toronto president David Naylor says we need more “differentiation” among universities. He says we need to move away from what he calls the “Canadian way,” which he says has been to “open the peanut-butter jar and spread thinly and evenly.”

Nothing could be further from the truth – there is already significant differentiation among institutions. Resources may be spread thinly due to underfunding, but they are not spread evenly. Naylor’s university alone already gets about 15 per cent of all research funding in Canada. Together, the big five already get about 40 per cent of the total available funding, and award about 45 per cent of doctoral degrees.

To read the rest of this article, click here.


Toronto Star EditorialSurvival of the Biggest, September 2, 2009


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