We’ve lived so long under the spell of hierarchy—from god-kings to feudal lords to party bosses—that only recently have we awakened to see not only that “regular” citizens have the capacity for self-governance, but that without their engagement our huge global crises cannot be addressed. The changes needed for human society simply to survive, let alone thrive, are so profound that the only way we will move toward them is if we ourselves, regular citizens, feel meaningful ownership of solutions through direct engagement. Our problems are too big, interrelated, and pervasive to yield to directives from on high.
—Frances Moore Lapp√©, excerpt from Time for Progressives to Grow Up

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The role of academics and public debates

Click here to access article by As'ad AbuKhalil from Al Akhbar. 

In this piece the author touches on the issue of the corruption of higher education in the service of ruling class power. Although one often regards one important function of higher education as the promotion of critical thinking, it appears to me that this function has been transformed into one of indoctrination in service to capitalist empire builders.
Academics today are dealing with a thought industry. The university is no more a place where the inventiveness, creativity, and originality of thought is encouraged or rewarded except in the narrow rules and the establishment paradigms that one has little influence over. Just as the sciences are tied to the government and corporate sectors, the social sciences are also tied to business interest because universities are now run like businesses, just as the media are run like businesses.
Surely there never was a time of unfettered free thought in our country. As long as class structured societies are allowed to exist, you will find that ruling classes always influence every sector of society.

I remember well student activists, like Mario Savio, who in 1964 viewed education at UC Berkeley as something like a factory churning out standardized products. 
We were told the following: If President Kerr actually tried to get something more liberal out of the regents in his telephone conversation, why didn't he make some public statement to that effect? And the answer we received, from a well-meaning liberal, was the following: He said, 'Would you ever imagine the manager of a firm making a statement publicly in opposition to his board of directors?' That's the answer! 
Well, I ask you to consider: If this is a firm, and if the board of regents are the board of directors; and if President Kerr in fact is the manager; then I'll tell you something. The faculty are a bunch of employees, and we're the raw material! But we're a bunch of raw materials that don't mean to be—have any process upon us. Don't mean to be made into any product. Don't mean… Don't mean to end up being bought by some clients of the University, be they the government, be they industry, be they organized labor, be they anyone! We're human beings! 
There's a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part! You can't even passively take part! And you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels…upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop! And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!
So, I ask myself, are things really worse than they were 50 years ago? I think they are. It appears to me that many colleges and universities are more dependent upon the donations of ruling class foundations than ever before. Also, there seems to be serious efforts to eliminate the tenure system that previously provided many professors with a degree of security and independence.