Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Call for Participation: 2018 edition of the Geneva Challenge-- Advancing Development Goals International Contest for Graduate Students “The Challenges of Climate Change”

At Prof. Martina Viarengo's suggestion, who is chairing the academic steering committee, I would like to pass along information for what ap`pears to be a quite interesting challenge and opportunity for graduate students--the 2018 edition of The Geneva Challenge - Advancing Development Goals international Contest for graduate students. This year, students are invited to develop analysis-based proposals on "The Challenges of Climate Change".

For more information:

Prizes: The ADG contest distributes 25,000 CHF in monetary prizes. The winning project is awarded CHF 10,000; the two teams in second place will receive CHF 5,000 and the two teams in third place, CHF 2,500. 
More information follows, including the Concept Note.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Disciplining Orthodoxy in the Neo Liberal Academy: What Amy Wax and George Ciccariello-Maher Can Teach Us About the State of the Market-Place of Ideas in the Academy

(Pix  Larry Catá Backer 2018)

I recent Wall Street Journal essay authored by Professor Amy Wax noted
There is a lot of abstract talk these days on American college campuses about free speech and the values of free inquiry, with lip service paid to expansive notions of free expression and the marketplace of ideas. What I’ve learned . . . is that most of this talk is not worth much. It is only when people are confronted with speech they don’t like that we see whether these abstractions are real to them. (What Can’t Be Debated on Campus)
Professor Wax, of course, was writing about what she had learned in the wake of the publication of an essay she authored with Professor Larry Alexander (“Paying the Price for the Breakdown of the Country’s Bourgeois Culture”) which also lamented the state of affairs in academia that this aftermath reveals. This essay resonated with an earlier piece of reporting about the resignation of Professor Ciccariello-Maher from Drexel University,  noting that "Staying at Drexel in the eye of this storm has become detrimental to my own writing, speaking, and organizing." (here).

This got me thinking more generally about the way that academics are embedded in the production of knowledge and in their role as guardians of authority and legitimacy in . It is always interesting to see how the marketplace of ideas is being managed by its guardians.  It is even more interesting to see exposed its disciplinary character where orthodoxies clash for dominance within the idea factories that the university appears to have become. More interesting still has been the way that the academy has overtaken the Church and other norm producing institutions as the priesthood for those basic principles (not the premises underlying them to be sure--those are rarely debated) for the orderly management of the institutions of state, of society and of good order and proper thinking.    

As Professors Wax and Ciccariello-Maher might have inadvertently noted, Philadelphia, once the cradle of the core principles on which this Republic was founded centuries ago, may once again appear to serve as cradle, this time of a "New Era" ideological order, one which, ironically enough, is grounded on the alignment of core global market principles with the development and management of idea sets deemed suitable for mass consumption by ordinary people and authoritative enough for use in justifying economic, political, social and religious activity buy those in control of such institutions. One gets a sense of this new markets based working style for speech by considering the course of academic factional fighting involving quite distinct ideological-political academic camps.

Brief thoughts on this theme follows. The object is not to weigh in on the value or merits of whatever ideas have been causing contrioversy (and job related troubles) for faculty. There are more than enough of my colleagues eager for that job.  Rather the object is to think a little more deeply about the structures of managing knowledge and the communities that produce this commodity that appear to be giving form to and providing the rules of engagement for this important sector of production. One has already seen some of the realignments in the field of political speech by institutions (e.g., here).  One now sees emerging the bones of the new rules of production in the academic sector.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Flora Sapio: "Thoughts on the Globalized University and the Logic of the Nation-State as an Ideal Form"

(By Laurentius de Voltolina - The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=160060)

In The Globalization of University Education and Interference in the Domestic Social and Political Orders of States: Considering Chinese and Australian Approaches, I explored some of the political ramifications  in China and Australia relating in large measure to the management and use of higher education and the projection of ideologies of knowledge and to control of interpretation abroad. Some reference was made to Chinese efforts and to Australia's National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference (Bill 2017). I suggested the way that these sorts of engagements "move quickly, then, from a "thing" (knowledge and learning) to values, interpretation, management and ideology.  We move from the collection and deployment of data bits to (1) power (who determines what may be learned; and what is taboo),  and (2) form (what may be learned; the form does this knowledge take)."

Flora Sapio has been kind enough to offer further reflections on the themes raised.  Her essay, Scattered Thoughts on the Globalized University and the Logic of the Nation-State as an Ideal Form, follows below.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

The Globalization of University Education and Interference in the Domestic Social and Political Orders of States: Considering Chinese and Australian Approaches

(By Laurentius de Voltolina - The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=160060)

Globalization happily came to the university with the establishment of strong globalist principles at the end of the 20th Century. But the "Globalization Revolution" (like the Marxist Revolution that preceded it by a century) did not immediately result in the withering away of the state. That has produced a contradiction and a controversy, generally for the advancement of a coherent global system of norms and more specifically for the evolution of education. The contradiction arises because global values might at times conflict with traditional and national customs, norms and ways of seeing (explaining) the world in a context in which the state must effectively contradict itself in the training of its youth. The controversy arises from the use of the avenues of globalized education as an avenue for the extraterritorial projection of the education vision/mission of a state outbound into other states. Thus education globalization can serve to develop its own values consonant with the developing of norms, mores and outlooks at the international public and private spheres, it can be used to displace, challenge or develop national and traditional ways of understanding and explaining the world on which national societies are ordered, and it serves as a means to project national values outward.  Each has manifested itself simultaneously in the operation of university education systems globally. 

But now these three trends are beginning to have political effects.  This post briefly considers the glimmerings of those effects in China, and then considers the way that Australia is now contemplating regulation grounded in the protection of its sovereignty against foreign manipulation. These suggest the contradictions between a growing sentiment at international levels that education is an essential tool for managing the substantial interplay between the construction of law-based legitimacy and the control and management of the substance, and mechanisms for the development, of social and cultural norms (2017 Report of the Special Rapporteur (A/72/523), ¶ 92), the use by states of education to perpetuate their own customs, traditions and values, and the use of globalization by states to project their national values abroad through education projects. 

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Compliance and the Cult of Personality in University Administration: Administrators and the "Army of Survivors" of Athletic Sex Scandals

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2018)

Once again the institution of the university--that newly refurbished battleship of compliance headed by heroic bands of well paid administrators  whose offices, so well larded with officials of all sorts of descriptions charged with the constant and comprehensive surveillance of university personnel and activities (other than those, perhaps, of the administrator class)--finds itself embroiled in scandal.  I am not speaking of the consequences of that scandal--in this case of the man who abused numerous young women who trusted him and who is now facing a lifetime in prison.  Rather I am speaking to the scandal of the university itself as the great exemplar of the compliance institution par excellence. I am speaking to the failure--again--of what has been sold to the public by university boards of trustees, by the political classes, and by  fat layers of well paid non-academic administrator "experts," as a university cultures built on compliance and deep surveillance, of monitoring and reporting, led by  "herioic" university presidents sitting astride their all-seeing mechanisms of control, of reporting, of surveillance, of socialization, and of record keeping.  

The model of administration that the political, economic, and intellectual classes have fashioned of the university over this past generation has resulted in the monstrosities that one sees emerging across the nation.  Bloated institutions that are more machine than human centered institutions, it is not clear exactly what it is that these factories are meant to produce other than stability, good order, and the manufacture of a product that can be consumed as it is produced.  And this new ordering is fueled by the cultivation of a cult of personality around university leadership and their managers; as if by virtue of their high salaries and august positions within hierarchically arranged employment relationships, they embody the university itself. The construct is simple and straightforward: (1) a high salaried leader (or sometimes leadership) who become the incarnation of the university--their heroic leaders whose vision, drive and charisma give life to the institution and lead it to new heights; (2) an aristocratic bureaucracy detached from from the operational hierarchies of production, whose role is to protect the institution and its leaders and to discipline the productive forces of the university through risk reduction compliance regimes; (3) a legitimating structure of "rule of law" regulations that actually legalize systems of administrative discretion against abuses of which there is little remedy.  This model is the most efficient way of coordinating the institution of the university with that of enterprises and the state to produce a useful interlocking governance mechanism.  

That combination of cult of personality around "leaders" and an institutional framework grounded in compliance as a bureaucratic organism has proven to be quite useful in managing the smaller irritations of institutional life--at great expense and against the increasingly fungible bottom layers of the academic employment pool.  It has not, however, proven particularly useful when deployed against itself--when it is tested against its greatest challenge--to monitor, report and contain reprehensible behavior at the highest levels.  Time and again, it now seems, over the last decade certainly, the most elaborate machinery elites create to enforce and socialize compliance with consensus norms can do little to protect us against the depredations of the elites themselves. It is not for nothing that the worst scandals of the last decade have tended to involve people at the higher levels of the machinery designed to contain their excesses and bad conduct.  And yet universities built on cults of personality and on aristocratic bureaucracy will inevitably fail to meet the objectives these elaborate and expensive institutional machines were meant to manage.   

Harsh words but to some extent well deserved. They are not targeted at a particular institution or a particular individual. Rather they reflect thoughts about general social and institutional movements throughout academia that show up along a broad spectrum of related behaviors  in many institutions. That prompts the hope that it may be time to consider dispassionately the model so dear to those with money and the power to shape the institution of the university.  That this will be done is unlikely, but that it ought to be attempted--and by without conflict of interest, is a hope that is worth retaining.  What we will get is more of the same.  The elite will sacrifice a President (the downside of cults of personality) and put up another along the same model--after a wrenching period of formal self examination that will produce even more aristocratic bureaucracy and precious little effective protection against the people now more empowered than ever to protect us against themselves. Reporting on a recent event that prompted these very general thoughts follows.