Wednesday, February 16, 2005

The Corruption of Universities

An excerpt from the Fall '04 issue of the ULA Herald:

"Visit the contemporary university-- U of Penn, say-- and one discovers an institution of enormous wealth; sprawling campuses filled with massive edifices. And always growing, spreading, gobbling more territory like a beast which must be fed.

"This is a gigantic industry whose purpose is not to produce art (which it does to a pitifully limited and lackluster extent), but to require certificates for entry into monopolized, professionalized positions. It's an artificially created gimmick-- the impressive campus and buildings part of the show. It's really about the money: the certificate is the necessary justification for the layers of inept professors and administrators; to keep the game operating. YOUR money.

"There are many fields where this can be rationalized, if not as the most efficient means of conveying knowledge, then at least better than nothing. But-- for the writer or artist who can learn more from art communities; from doing; from interaction with the world?

"Pay your money. Sleep through classes. Learn in the library or on the Internet. Receive the diploma certificate. Necessary? Not hardly.

"People attend writing programs not for what they learn in them, which is negligible, if not stifling and detrimental. They attend them, and conferences and seminars, in order to attain access to the established publishing system. Mere access!-- and for most writers anyway after all that trouble and expense it's still a dream."
(End of quote.)

In Philadelphia, U of Penn behaves like an expanding, sprawling beast, spreading gentrification, gobbling up neighborhoods. Generic chain businesses appear to serve the well-scrubbed Ivy Leaguers. Monstrous new construction goes up everyplace. Diverse neighborhoods containing small ethnic businesses (Ethiopian restaurants, say) are pushed out; more are threatened. The attitude of the "liberal" university seems to be that there are too many poor people in the vicinity. Such residents are being removed or contained (massive police presence) to protect Overdog U of Penn students-- the area's future leaders.

Where does U of Penn get the money for all this activity? Either the students are being ridiculously overcharged, or Penn has alternate streams of funding. It's a fact that major universities serve as R&D arms for government and for major corporations, who pump huge amounts of bucks into them. Students and profs engage in token gestures like protesting ROTC chapters-- but can't keep out the flow of MONEY.

To what extent are universities becoming mere extensions of the Defense Dept., of mad-scientist genetic companies, of corporate monopolies-- of even the CIA?? It's nice that Professor Noam Chomsky and others make placebo speeches-- but isn't his own college, MIT, the biggest recipient of CIA money? I wish him success in cleaning up smelly messes all over the planet. There may be one to clean up directly behind him.

If we're seeing a merging of big government, big business, and big academia, it can't help but have a bad impact on intellectual freedom.

No one inside the sparkling temples of learning questions the existence and expense of the academies THEMSELVES. It's curious that all the many students and graduates feverishly using the Internet have yet to construct the virtual university. To what extent are brick-and-mortar campuses already obsolete? Does one really need to spend $100,000+ for the alleged "educations" the schools provide? How much would be lost by superceding them? (Beyond the nice-looking buildings and the ivy?) These are questions which aren't being asked.

For literature anyway, universities have been a noteworthy failure.


Noah Cicero said...

"Learning carries within itself certain dangers because out of necessity one has to learn from one's enemies."

Leon Trotsky

Jeff Potter said...

I see literature as connected to the rest of culture. What happens to it is what is happening elsewhere. The Cult of Professionalism is trashing everything. Everyone is becoming a True Believer in the idea that once you get a certificate in some field you have to honor the omerta about it. Now, professions offer a superficially high level of performance, sure. Hierarchy works. To a degree. But our current state of having every field closing ranks about itself is a big problem. Ratifying the deceit, baby. It poisons the whole shebang from the inside. If we can kick ass for the sake of literature those in other fields will be heartened. That's the way to get these post-literates back to reading: show em their life depends on it.

Jeff Potter said...

PS: Maybe the poison of professionalization that I mention isn't obvious to everyone. (Ha.) It's in the idea that my interests aren't the same as yours, which justifies my circling the wagons and lying to you to protect my profession. This has become accepted---same as with the idea that identity groups and ethnicities also have interests that are separate from others. That their interest in food/shelter is somehow different from mine: thus justifying their taking mine from me. Professionalization results in fragmentation of life. Professions see themselves as competing against other professions. To build commitment and to increase performance the competitiveness is revved up beyond any natural need for scarce goods (in a world of plenty). Thus the pushing of pro sport. All this is acceptable in TQM (the mode of professionalism). The result: the war of all against all. And the result of that? General mental illness and other disease and crime (both legal and not). Welcome to today! --With its unquestioning leader, academia.

Amateurism is the opposite of this. It's doing for the love. Not the profit. And love appreciates other love. It's a bond and bridge. I don't see my job and hobby or identity as being cooler or separate from someone else's.

But at the base there needs to be merit and value in what we do. Deluded people love to do terrible things. Shared feelings of love aren't enough to justify anything. So we need to dig for truth and share it and promote the good stuff that works. Power always needs an outside corrective. Take yer medicine, MFA!