The Neoliberal University

“From San Diego to Rome, from San Juan to London and Amsterdam, 2010 will be remembered as the year of student protests internationally,” commented Antonio Carmona Báez, Ph.D., a political science lecturer at the University of Amsterdam. “Not since 1968 have university students stood up around the globe — simultaneously — against authority, this time to save public education.” (UC Davis Bicycle Barricade Blog)

David Harvey expounds upon neoliberalism as a hegemonic mode of discourse that above all, values the free market, free trade and strong property rights. Neoliberalism exhorts workers to be more efficient, productive, leading to greater profits for corporations and lower costs for consumers. Universities in the US have become more and more corporatized — an argument advanced by Chandra Mohanty in an extremely insightful book I read years ago called Feminism without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity. What does the neoliberal university look like in the US?

1) Small number of stellar faculty, but the majority of faculty are overburdened with overly populated classes for less pay. Faculty are usually so busy publishing, preparing for lectures, serving on multiple committees, and advising their graduate students. Minority and women faculty members face additional demands placed on them as the “token” faculty member.

2) Administrators making ludicrous decisions to hire adjuncts or temporary faculty to maximize profit. The result is that adjuncts tend to account for nearly half of the teaching force. Teaching assistants are part of the cheap labor force, which is not to say that the experience is not a valuable one. I have always learned just as much, if not more, as a teaching assistant in graduate school. However, graduate students are woefully underpaid, as demonstrated by an article on the “evolution” of TAs and unions

3) In the UK, research shows the annual cost of a degree has risen by 300% in two decades by the government. The situation parallels what happened in California, as governments on both sides are raising tuition fees (in the name of the “deficit” while they cut taxes for the rich) in an attempt to completely privatize public education. Reductions in public spending have precipitated student strikes around the world from Manila to Santiago to Jakarta. Check out these excellent blogs for more details, Reclaim UC and UC Strike.

A colleague of mine, Alex Posecznick captures this dilemma in a recent panel session invitation. We must be critical of the neoliberal university and strategize ways to resist.

“ABSTRACT As anthropologists in the 21st century, we are trained to be sensitive to our own positionality in the field and the ways that knowledge production is necessarily embedded in a social, political and economic milieu. And yet, many of us, as academics, remain less critically aware of our own ambiguous, contradictory positions in the commodification of education, the fetishizing of intellectual achievement, and in the projects of the neoliberal university. We decry the marginalized other in our fieldwork, but our departments rely on under-employed and under-appreciated adjunct instructors and exploit the labor of teaching assistants, who are heavily relied upon! to teach the undergraduate masses. This session invites papers that both reflect on the ways that scholars and academics collude with and creatively resist oppressive practices in the University. It challenges academics to engage the institutional rituals, policies and practices that reproduce inequity in their own departments and institutions, while theorizing the historical and contemporary relationship between individual agents, global systems of knowledge production, institutions of higher education and the state.”

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