Receivership: Berkley Anthro or DDR?

I haven’t been blogging about the crisis in the UC system, mostly because excellent blogging is going on elsewhere (see esp. Chris Newfield and others at Remaking the University if you are interested). But when it intersects with anthropology, it warrants our attention. Paul Rabinow forwarded this tantalizing, if brief, note about what’s going on in Berkeley…

The Department of Anthropology at UC Berkeley has been in a kind of unofficial receivership for a growing number of years now. The reason I can claim this is that we no longer choose our own chair (while this was always technically true, departmental wishes were traditionally respected and continue to be so in other departments). Not only don’t we get to choose, the results of recent polls have not been disclosed nor those of official votes. The results might be “disruptive” we were told by the chair appointed by the administration. Even the Karzai government goes through the charade of holding elections.

We are now in a kind of Stasi-like moment at Berkeley where e-mail is monitored, lists of attendees to public meetings kept, warning messages sent afterwards, students threatened with expulsion but denied the most elementary protection such as having a lawyer present at their hearings. On the other hand, John Yoo is passionately defended as an example of academic freedom.

Is this going on elsewhere?


Christopher M. Kelty is a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. He has a joint appointment in the Institute for Society and Genetics, the department of Information Studies and the Department of Anthropology. His research focuses on the cultural significance of information technology, especially in science and engineering. He is the author most recently of Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software (Duke University Press, 2008), as well as numerous articles on open source and free software, including its impact on education, nanotechnology, the life sciences, and issues of peer review and research process in the sciences and in the humanities.

12 thoughts on “Receivership: Berkley Anthro or DDR?

  1. The administration is :
    (1) Is afraid of the powerful anthropology dept.
    (2) Is getting its jollies abusing the powerless anthropology dept.
    (3) Is trying to fix a dysfunctional dept.

  2. The UC system’s current problems are mainly different in scale, not kind, from the problems of many other state university systems. We hear about even more draconian measures in other states, and at best most state university systems are under immense and intense financial stress.

    On the other hand, the internal problems of Berkeley’s anthropology department pre-date the current economic mess, and arguably have less to do with the kinds of crises that are filling Remaking the University, except to highlight how stressing the whole system can make local problems seem worse. Paul Rabinow’s lament about a lack of faculty governance is common these days, not just in selecting department chairs, but in all aspects of the new university as corporation managed top-down.

  3. Friends,
    Actually the department, at least the social cultural ‘house’ is not dysfunctional these days. Things are operating well. We just had over three hundred applicants for graduate admission.
    There are other explanations.

  4. The monitoring and other activities arose from the protests over the massive cuts to the University of California. Several of the leaders of the student protest are graduate students in anthro (the discipline is still alive).

  5. What does “operating well” mean? and how do you define dysfunction? As someone who is not a part of the Berkeley anthro department, but who has heard about its toxic environment for minorities from several different students, I really have to wonder who Dr. Rabinow is listening to, and thinking of, when he so confidently states that all is well in the sociocultural house? Despite what Dr. Rabinow may feel, word is getting around that Berkeley Anthro, and particulary Berkeley sociocultural Anthro is TOXIC.

  6. It does seem like it would be pretty easy, and yet I’m completely unable to find anything about this “attack” via google. Perhaps you could enlighten us?

  7. I’ve deleted the comments which make ad hominem named accusations, and those which re-post emails from a mailing list which as far as I can tell, is not public.

    I do not like deleting comments, but I think it is also totally inappropriate to use this forum for attacks on individuals, and even more so to re-post emails which are essentially private, even if posted to a large mailing list. This is a public blog for public discussion of anthropology and its vissicitudes, amongst which I do not include Jerry Springer Show-like displays of the breakdown of collegiality.

  8. Point taken. And larger point confirmed. It was precisely the Jerry Springer Show-like attack that took place on the Berkeley Anthropology forgrads list on 8/20/08 that first led to email being monitored in the Berkeley Anthropology department, from fall 2008 on. The very breakdown of collegiality that C Kelty points out is why some people posted to take issue with Paul Rabinow’s assertion that all is well in the Berkeley Anthropology department. There remain serious issues around collegiality and lack of respect, particularly in relation to racially-motivated verbal abuse. The kind of public statement/intervention that C Kelty made about ad hominem attacks was never made by the department Chair in the immediate aftermath of the 8/20/08 attack so as to make it clear that public bullying via the forgrads list was not acceptable.

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