Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

California (How Neoliberalism Works)

with 2 comments

The current crisis in the UC system came up again and again at the recession conference this weekend, and not only because a certain former Duke Lit student seems to have the uncanny ability to insert himself, Where’s-Waldo-style, in the center of  every photo coming out of the student protests. How the University Works had a nice post of all this, focused on the occupation of Wheeler Hall at Berkeley and the protests at UCLA. Democracy Now has an even better video report on the protests, as well great attention to the fiscal origins of the crisis. This open letter to Chancellor Birgeneau, holding him personally responsible for the police violence on campus, is making the rounds as well.

I don’t have much to add to all this except to reiterate the necessary structural point about the emergence of the corporate university that is being made by so many. There’s something closely akin to Naomi Klein’s famous “shock doctrine” currently going on in California’s university system; a fundamentally political crisis, caused by deeply flawed governmental institutions and bad decisions going back decades, is being misrecognized as a force of nature, something we must learn to be “realistic” about as we begin to make the “tough decisions.” This is how neoliberalism does its work. As zunguzungu puts it in the link above:

This is not, however, the difference between idealism and realism, even if that’s how the media has spun it. If you heard NPR’s account of the Chancellor’s meeting this morning, for example, you’ll note that they staged it as a conversation between students demanding money and Yudof saying the money was unavailable. One voice naively demands to be given more while the other voice regretfully and knowingly informs them that it just isn’t realistic. The reason this account is wrong is the same reason the UCSB Academic Senate officially called Yudof “a cynical opportunist with no commitment to education” and voted to censure him. As they put it, “UCOP has misrepresented the real nature of the University’s financial situation…The state cutbacks, though significant, are being used as an excuse to proceed aggressively with further steps toward transforming the University from a public resource, dedicated to the education of the people of California and the pursuit of knowledge, into a profit-making enterprise, a research facility of benefit primarily to industry and beholden primarily to commercial interests.” The university keeps spending money, on lots of things. And the situation is complicated; there are real fiscal limitations to what can be done, just as part of learning to be a teacher is figuring out how to limit what you can give, out of self-preservation. But it’s how those decisions get made, what principles you use to decide how the money gets spent, that determines the difference between an educator and a businessperson. Because you don’t want to go to, or send your kids to, a school that makes its decisions based on the bottom line.

…the best example of the bad educator is the administrator who, instead of thinking of what needs to be done for the students of the UC system, capitalizes on a crisis of funding to make those students into the cash cow for making the UC profitable. The difference is not between idealism and realism but between two very different sets of priorities, between the social function of education (educating students) and the economic function of being profitable. And that was why Yudof’s ridiculous “cemetery” line was so damningly telling: to make room for a corporation, you have to bury the school first.

The current situation—and, I suppose, this very post—is also yet another instance of the status update activism I discussed in my first HASTAC post back in August. Everything I know about the student movements in California, and all the links above, came to me through Facebook and Twitter.

2 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Don’t ignore the parallels to Obama/Arne Duncan’s policies concerning K-12 education.


    November 22, 2009 at 12:49 pm

  2. I confess I haven’t been paying enough attention to Obama’s charter school policy, but you’re right that what little I’ve read seems pretty bad. Two examples:


    November 22, 2009 at 12:53 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: