Thursday, October 01, 2009

CA Dreamin' -- And Doin'

A few days ago in this space, we asked,
Today, in that way we have of answering our own questions, we offer some examples, all from the great, troubled state of California. We gather the material, which has been bouncing around the internets, for the convenience of readers and also for the sheer political pleasure and relief of hearing a full-throated, proactive, sustained critique of and alternative to the soulless, gutless, accommodationist rhetoric that has for too long dominated higher ed's efforts to speak on behalf of itself. (You know, like the kind of stuff we hear from this guy.)

Our first example comes from our new political heartthrob, UC Santa Barbara English prof Chris Newfield, whose blog we've been flacking throughout walkout season. Newfield and UC president Mark Yudof had a commentary smackdown in The Chronicle of Higher Ed the other day. We think the blogging prof won hands down over the funeral director, on the strength of his challenge to universities "to articulate a great social mission . . . that would justify the support they have needed all along." Newfield does a wonderful job of explaining how academic leaders have failed to articulate such a mission in recent decades and how they might begin to do so more effectively. The full commentary is accessible by sub only, but here is one paragraph that made our hearts go pitty-pat:
University officials must explain the humble yet extraordinary activities for which at public universities only public money pays. Everyone says knowledge economies require unprecedented powers of invention, vision, communication, and an understanding of other cultures and complex natural systems. Those capacities arise from the details of directed learning: math problems corrected, errors pains takingly explained, novel but unformed ideas elaborated through one-on-one conversation, intellectual goals and personal destinies developed class after class, office hour after office hour—with the kind of nurturing attentiveness that makes no one any money, but without which society doesn't move forward. The public needs to learn that government cuts fall the hardest on those unsung activities, all of which are crucial for fixing our underperforming states.
Here, here, kids! Sign me up! Raise my taxes! I want to get on board the Good Ship Higher Ed (gargantuan public model)! Let's hear it for directed learning!

Also in The Chronicle but x-posted on his more accessible blog, Marc Bousquet snags an interview with the unnamed spokesperson for the group of students still occupying the Graduate Student Commons at UC Santa Cruz. We're awfully curious to know who these folks are, but we are happy to quote them as an example of student speech, analysis, and activism on behalf of higher ed. The spokesperson speaks eloquently of the "deep critique" of a political economy "in which things are accorded value by nothing more than the bottom-line" that informs and inspires the occupation:

We’re tired of hearing UC President Mark Yudof talk about making the UC more “efficient,” more “competitive,” about “human capital,” not because we are against some notion of what it means to be efficient, to not be wasteful, but because his speech demonstrates he needs a more complex analytic of the dynamics over-taking the UC system in this crisis. A broad-based social movement that has the capacity to articulate an alternative collective vision to the narrow, corporatist special-interests that control our budgets and strategic planning will be necessary. Nobody is sure what this will look like yet.

For now, we believe one of the first steps to building such a movement is to show that escalation and occupation is necessary and possible. We hope that groups of students, faculty, and everyday Californians can begin to see themselves, too, as people who can organize, occupy, and escalate to fight back.

Damn, I wish these kids had a donate button on their Web site!

Finally, we'll end with a couple of vids from the Save the University teach-in held at Berkeley the day before last week's walkouts. You can access the whole collection here, but below are the speeches by Robert Reich, former Clinton labor secretary and public policy prof, and Wendy Brown, political science prof. We offer these two examples in order to highlight the significantly different styles of two very effective presentations. Reich grabs the mic from the lectern and stands before the speakers' table to deliver an impassioned speech that seems off the cuff but is really quite polished. Brown stands behind the lectern and reads a carefully prepared list of ten effects or forces that "privatization generates as it brings market principles into the very heart of the university." Brown's much cooler presentation has its own stirring effect, as she shifts in her last couple of minutes to delineating all that a privatized model of education as an "efficient instructional delivery system generating human capital" cannot do in terms of developing, deepening, and broadening minds.

Take a look at both Reich and Brown. Listen to their language, with its concerted emphasis on public goods and public values. Then go stand before your mirror and practice the speech you'll make at your next meeting, in your next class, or at the next reception where you find yourself standing next to some dyspeptic administrator in a slippery suit. C'mon, kids. It's a group project, and we've all got plenty to do. Get crackin'.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you SO much, Roxie. We sure need speeches such as this and thinking such as Newfield's at Queer the Turtle U. I'm going to distribute your wise words.

    Much love,


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