Stop the silence, and some suggested reading (more about the state of academia)

Here is my opening thought: What’s stopping us from rethinking and reshaping academia?


I’ll tell you one thing that’s stopping us: the belief that “nothing can be done” to fix the system.  As long as we all stand by and accept this, surely nothing will change.  That’s one easy way to keep the status quo going: Don’t hold out hope for alternatives.

Silence is another big part of the problem.  Silence, in some cases, because of a certain fear of retribution (loss of funding, or a job, or tenure, or [INSERT YOUR FEAR HERE]).

It’s almost like we really don’t believe any of that stuff we read and quote and talk about all the time.  You know, all the stuff about power and hegemony and social change and so on.

Ya, that stuff.

We anthropologists like to talk a lot about agency and power and other neato ideas, but for some reason when it comes to the internal political issues we face in academia, all of that goes away.  Everything becomes “too complex,” too entrenched, or simply impossible to even think about changing.  What’s with all the fatalism?

Yes, of course I understand the fact that there are certain “structural problems,” and that some issues exist at higher levels.  And I understand that certain things are out of our control.  But, beyond all of the structural determinism, what CAN we do to start dealing with the serious issues that plague the academy?  Anyone?  What things ARE in our control?  What can we change?

One thing is for sure: silence leads us nowhere.

Speaking of no longer remaining silent, please read this post over at Analog/Digital by Fran Barone.  Just read it.  Here’s my favorite quote:

It is almost laughable that I and many others are even vying for positions in this profession. And yet at the close of this blog post I will be applying for two more academic jobs, one research and one teaching. Glutton for punishment? No. The fact is that I love the work that I do when I’m able to do it; I believe in the value and worthwhile impact of my research and the quality of my teaching; and I think a strong academic sphere is essential to the wellbeing of society. Making change from within the system is not nearly as difficult as it is from out here. And it is really not that hard to be respectful, engaged, open and honest. I can’t understand why so many people struggle with it. I’m tired of not saying anything about it for fear of retribution or never getting a job and you should be, too. Maybe I won’t get a job in the future because of this post, but then it probably wouldn’t have been the right environment for me, anyway.

Go read what she has to say.  Then, as Fran says at the end of her post: SAY SOMETHING.


UPDATE 11/26/12: A few related links:

See Erin Taylor’s post “Producing academic scholarship: If universities are failing, where else do we go?” over at the OAC.

And check out Jeff Nall’s piece “Working for Change in Higher Education: The Abysmal State of Adjunct Teacher Pay.”

UPDATE 11/28/12: Check out Paul Stoller’s article on Huffington Post: “Changing Culture in Higher Education.”


Ryan Anderson is a cultural and environmental anthropologist. His current research focuses on coastal conservation, sustainability, and development in the Californias. He also writes about politics, economics, and media. You can reach him at ryan AT savageminds dot org or @anthropologia on twitter.

56 thoughts on “Stop the silence, and some suggested reading (more about the state of academia)

  1. Very well said, Ryan! I’ve already left a comment on Fran’s blog. I’m now interested to see who (besides your good self) has the guts to back her up and start making changes – changes that are long overdue!

  2. Situations like these remind me of Akira Kurosawa movies where people would rush out into the street for a sword fight and stand around in fear of getting getting cut.

  3. Seriously though, what can those of us at the bottom of the pile (grad students, recent grads, adjuncts) do to change things? I feel like I only have the selfish option of working to develop transferrable skills so I can vote with my feet if I have to, but that’s not at all systemic or helpful to anyone else.

  4. My rambling thoughts…

    Contacting your local hackerspace and starting a conversation with like minded souls is a good place to start.

    Another model to look at is the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research:

    In any case, there has to be more experimentation with 3rd spaces for scholarly work. The need and desire to engage in disinterested inquiry hasn’t disappeared, but the institutions which have traditionally supported it have. At this point the university and corporation have essentially collapsed into a single institution.

  5. Ryan, ‘all of that goes away’ because academics are, as a group (with some exceptions of course), fundamentally self-interested cowards. Sorry to be harsh, but someone has to just be honest and say it. This is the behavior the academy rewards–keeping your mouth shut, even when you see EGREGIOUS abuse going on right in front of you, and just focusing on your career so as to ascend the next rung of the academic/prestige-status ladder.

    Especially outside the sciences, and certainly in anthropology, academic scholarship–and ‘success’–is largely an individual matter. Everything about how the academy actually works, rewards people, and professionalizes graduate students, emphasizes individualism and competition. If you’re rewarding people in a hierarchical prestige economy that is fundamentally undemocratic and can sadistically retaliate against people for speaking up, what are you going to get? In addition to which, and as was mentioned in the previous posts/comments on academic precarity a few months back, the higher up one rises in the academic hierarchy, the more invested one becomes in maintaining the status quo of inequality–especially because of the psychic benefit and prestige the subordination of others confers on higher-ups (e.g. the example that was given of the former adjunct who secured a tenure-track position and now treats adjuncts like dirt).

    I just don’t see that a lot of people are going to ‘break the silence’, not simply because of fear–of which there is justifiably and understandably a lot (hey, if a top-ranked department is happily resorting to vicious racist abuse/ defamation and falsely accusing innocent people of crimes they have never committed so as to cover up the truth about racist-sexist bullying in their department, and to make sure discussion of this public bullying is censored on this very site, then people have good reason to be afraid)–or even because of structural constraints, of which there are also many, but because too many people are invested in the inequality of the status quo, at the most deeply embodied, affective-emotional level. The people with the most power to care are the least interested in doing so. And the people with the most motivation to want to see and affect change have the least power and can be most harshly punished. If more people were willing to band together and speak up, united, yes, things could change. But from what I have seen this does not happen because most people operate from cowardly self-interest. There is too much fear at the bottom of not getting a job, too much craven investment in the middle in getting to the next rung of the prestige ladder, and too much happiness benefitting from the status quo at the top (e.g. your bloated paycheck as the president/chancellor at a major university, elite private college). And when you start talking about forms of inequality like racism which are not deleteriously affecting the majority of academics, at each rung on the academic latter, the ‘sorry but I’m not going to care about that because it’s not personally harming me’ self-interest, and the silence produces, only grows–and feeds into and reinforces the feelings of superiority (i.e. I made it on my individual merit, because I’m smarter, work harder, am more ‘disciplined’ and know when to keep my mouth shut) that the academy socializes, professionalizes, inculcates, and rewards.

    As a wise friend of mine said to me some years back when I was in dismay over the self-interested cowardice of people in my department in not speaking up about the heinous incidents of racist-sexist abuse that were being committed and covered up (DDR, right): the academy is all about the reproduction of bourgeois privilege, it is not a radical institution. Wish it were, but it’s not, so one can’t expect more than silence. And as for my saying that academics are basically cowards, this is something another wise PhD who chose not to become an academic, because of her own battles with vicious institutional racism and sexism, told me some years back. Just didn’t want to believe it was true, but they are right.

    Learning capitalist culture: deep in the heart of grad school. Silence is rewarded in the academy, silence and compliance. And talking about radical ideals or ideas does not mean that when push really comes to shove, you will really be willing to fight for those ideals if it means giving up a job or deeply embodied forms of privilege (which also happen to help you in getting a job).

  6. Ryan, given how painfully ironic it is, I do have to bring up this post and how and why it was censored: /2010/02/08/receivership-berkley-anthro-or-ddr/. You are so earnest and well-intentioned, and yet on this very site are the very answers to why people choose silence and why things aren’t changing as you are suggesting.

    Do you know the kind of retaliation that took place after this attempt by some people to not be silent about the racist-sexist/public email bullying and ‘white public space’ issues which Paul Rabinow clearly did not want to acknowledge? Do you think the fact that a senior, well-known white male celebrity professor was allowed to come on this site and speak over facts and people experiencing the hostility of departmental ‘white public space’, and be rewarded for silencing others via moderator censorship, encourages people to be something other than silent, especially out of fear of retaliation, not getting a job, acts of *literal* racial terrorism and racist smear campaigns which would make Karl Rove and Lee Atwater happy?

    Did either Paul Rabinow or Chris Kelty see a need to address what happened in, with, and to the comment stream after AAA’s 2010 report on the state of minorities in anthropology, or “Anthropology as White Public Space?”, or “Racism in the Academy”?

    When professors are LITERALLY willing to help a known and documented bully who used a department listserve for public bullying (yes, public, as it went to HUNDREDS OF RECIPIENTS) to falsely accuse an innocent person of a crime, and to do so by knowingly lying to claim that an innocent grad student is a violent ghetto criminal, all so as to be able to keep saying that there are no hostile racial climate issues in their department, then how is the silence problem really going to change.

    The color of fear. Fear is racialized: including in respect to why some of us have more reasons to fear speaking up.

    It is too simple to ask people not to be silent, especially when the issue is also how viciously people will be silenced by others when they do speak up as you are suggesting.

    Now I’ll just wait for my comment(s) to be censored: yes, on a post that asked people not to be silent and to challenge profound inequalities in the academy…

  7. Dear Discuss White Privilege,

    You have every right to be concerned about racism. Even your username suggests that you are deeply angry. In fact, your username could be taken as rather racist in itself. I currently live in the USA where, it would seem, a great many people bear a racist grudge of one sort or another (regardless of colour). It really is quite disgraceful in this day and age. But is this thread really the place to vent your spleen on this subject? Perhaps you should start your own blog. Even as a white Englishman who has worked with people from all over the world, I have occasionally been on the receiving end of racist comments (and actions) at the hands of extremely ignorant people. May I suggest that we get back to the issues in Ryan’s and Fran’s posts. Perhaps you could also avoid back-to-back posting. Thank you.

  8. I really shouldn’t put my nose in here, but I have always felt someone should carry out a study of the psychology of tenure. The institution of tenure, after all, was created explicitly to give professors the security to make political arguments that might make powerful people unhappy – someone recently told me it was first instituted around the turn of the century after an economics professor (at Chicago? now I can’t remember) was fired for writing a paper denying that there would be any negative consequences from creating a minimum wage. Yet, somehow, the US university has managed to create a system where the habits of fear, conformity, deference and self-denial required to obtain tenure become so deeply ingrained that by the time one obtains it, one can no longer imagine anything to do with it that will in any way rock the boat. It’s really one of the more remarkable feats of ideological conditioning I know of and the people who do it to themselves are the very people who claim to study things like ideology for a living.

  9. @arch grad:

    “Seriously though, what can those of us at the bottom of the pile (grad students, recent grads, adjuncts) do to change things?”

    Well, maybe there is strength in numbers. If adjuncts represent around 70 percent of the labor force, do the math. If one day they all decide to stop playing the game, surely that will have an impact. Throw in grad students and recent grads and the numbers are higher. The situation might be really bad, but we are only powerless if we all keep accepting the terms and conditions that we are supposed to go along with. Just sayin.


    Thanks for the links. I like the idea of thinking about other spaces where scholarly work can happen. The universities have gone another route. Fine. Maybe at some point we all put our heads together and create something else, some other way of doing what needs to be done.


    “Ryan, ‘all of that goes away’ because academics are, as a group (with some exceptions of course), fundamentally self-interested cowards. Sorry to be harsh, but someone has to just be honest and say it.”

    More power to you. Honesty is a good thing. I certainly do agree that self-interest has a lot to do with the perpetuation of the status quo. No doubt about that.

    “Everything about how the academy actually works, rewards people, and professionalizes graduate students, emphasizes individualism and competition.”

    Yes, I agree.

    “I just don’t see that a lot of people are going to ‘break the silence’, not simply because of fear…but because too many people are invested in the inequality of the status quo, at the most deeply embodied, affective-emotional level.”

    I often wonder about that as well. It’s hard to say. Clearly, a lot of people are deeply vested in the current system. They are entrenched, content, getting paid–so why would they change anything? But, at the same time, lots of others seem to be getting pretty tired of what’s happening in and to the academy.

    “As a wise friend of mine said to me some years back…the academy is all about the reproduction of bourgeois privilege, it is not a radical institution.”

    Ya. There is a lot of radical talk. And then there’s what actually happens in academia in practice. To say there is a gap between rhetoric and practice is an understatement. We all talk about power and equality and all that, but what do we really do about any of it? We go to conferences, and we publish papers. Hmm.

    “You are so earnest and well-intentioned, and yet on this very site are the very answers to why people choose silence and why things aren’t changing as you are suggesting…”

    Ok. I’ll admit that you have lost me a bit with the reference to the other post. Clearly you have strong feelings about what happened, and I respect that. And I don’t think you are the only one that has had these kinds of experiences within academia. So how can things move forward? What can be done? Based upon your experiences in academia, what needs to change?

    “The color of fear. Fear is racialized: including in respect to why some of us have more reasons to fear speaking up.”

    I think these fears are legitimate concerns, and should not be downplayed. There are *lots* of reasons why people are not speaking up. And they are real concerns. So the question is how to first acknowledge and then do something about these issues. All I can say is this: My guess is that there is strength in numbers. Surely if we all stand by nothing will change. But then, maybe seeking change in academia is a waste of time. Maybe the solution lies elsewhere. At this point I don’t know.

    “Now I’ll just wait for my comment(s) to be censored: yes, on a post that asked people not to be silent and to challenge profound inequalities in the academy…”

    Look, there’s really no need to go down that road. Making these kinds of statements takes away from the good points you made earlier. Academia has some serious issues, and I think it’s important to hear about different perspectives and experiences. Including yours. And then hopefully we can all find some creative way to move forward. Although I will admit that my optimism about the possibility of change in academia comes and goes. The basic idea of this post, following the one by Francine Barone, was to try to push the conversation forward a bit.

  10. @David:

    “Yet, somehow, the US university has managed to create a system where the habits of fear, conformity, deference and self-denial required to obtain tenure become so deeply ingrained that by the time one obtains it, one can no longer imagine anything to do with it that will in any way rock the boat.”

    Yes. This. Exactly. And these are the folks that are writing and publishing all those books about power, agency, hegemony, and so on. Meanwhile…

  11. As always, Ryan, thanks for your considerate response. The comment on waiting to be censored was not directed at you, but at other moderators who have engaged in the aforementioned censoring and silencing; and it was based on an honest expectation that I would in fact be censored. The comment was not gratuitous or a virtual middle finger. Just a reference to censoring that has occurred multiple times in response to comments posted which were censored for reasons that weren’t *really* about violating the comments policy.

    Getting to David Graeber’s point, I think we also need to examine *why* many people choose an academic career in order to understand the deep internalization of the ‘habits of fear’. If you came to the academy to have access to young female students, to have power over subordinates/students because you have an authoritarian personality, ‘speak for’ (non-white) others, have your summers off, be largely left alone to pursue your scholarship independently, not have a traditional boss (less true now given the corporatization of the university), then why would it be expected that you would be an outspoken activist, especially once comfortably entrenched in the academic hierarchy? Again, just speaking frankly, because these are the realities to be confronted if one wants to understand the silence, and ever possibly break through it.

  12. David, you are spot-on about the internalization of the habits of fear, etc. But I think it is important to add that much of this internalization is happening precisely because tenure is NOT seen as the professional finish-line. Especially not by the most individualistic and ambitious academics (to say nothing about the predatory, sociopathic, and or egomaniacal/narcissistic). If you want power, prestige, and wealth, tenure is only the beginning. Especially when you are determined to end up at the most elite university, with the most elite professional awards/fellowships/titles/board memberships/consulting opportunities/state-sponsored advisorial appointments, etc., and to claw your way to the highest levels of university administration.

    So no, once you get tenure you will not speak up, because you are not finished climbing to the top, by any means necessary, no matter how ruthless or unethical, especially given that universities now are guided by corporate, neoliberal logics of control, ‘brand management’, profit, and silencing of dissent (no matter how legitimate). (Worth thinking about as Nicholas Dirks was feted today on Doe Library’s steps, as Berkeley’s Chancellor-elect. How different will be be from Chancellor Birgenau, who had no qualms using the campus police and intimidating legal tactics to beat, punish, and silence Occupy protesters, and other peaceful dissenters? Should we believe that because Professor Dirks is an esteemed anthropologist he will not do the bidding of the UC Regents who confirmed him today? Do you think he’ll be delving into the cover-up of the events in the DDR or Receivership post so as to make sure the abuse hushed up in censoring it is not allowed to continue and be covered up?) As Jim Kim has shown via being appointed to the presidency of the World Bank, even the apogee of university administration–running an elite university–is not the professional finish-line for academics.

    So when tenure is not the finish line, neither is it the end of the habits of fear, conformity, deference, and silence.

  13. @ DWP.

    Yes I think you hit the nail right on the head – tenure is seen as a mid-point, at best, of a career where you continue to rise in the same way. At least, if you take the administrative path. But there is another element – as Bourdieu noted, there is academic, and there is intellectual capital, and while most pursue a little of both, some certainly take one path more than the other. Do you pursue fame or power? Or to put it less cynically, do you prioritize making contributions to scholarship or the running of the institution? My experience is that even at places where the institutional culture is atrocious (I’m not going to mention any names, but people can probably guess what I’m thinking of) there was a handful of people who really ran the department, and did the abusive things (none of whom really published any more), and a majority of the senior faculty, who could easily have banded together and stopped them, didn’t, because they knew that would mean all their time and energy would go into political battles and they wouldn’t be able to do any research. Because they actually were reading and writing and publishing things.

    Still – I’m thinking aloud here – there has to be something more complicated. I don’t think the situation was that fundamentally different in the ’60s and ’70s, when there were, indeed, a fair number of professors who took advantage of tenured positions to challenge the structure of the university. I suspect that after that, there was a general feeling among those running the system that this would not be allowed to happen again. The invasion of corporate, managerial principles in the university probably served as much political ends as economic ones. I went to an OWS seminar over the summer with Gayatri Spivak and she made one point that really stuck in my head: “even thirty years ago, when we said ‘the university,’ we meant, ‘the faculty.’ Now, when we say ‘the university’, we mean ‘the administration.’ One could say that three things happened:

    1) all intellectuals (even poets, artists) were assembled into the university structure, there are effectively no independent intellectuals any more
    2) the university, assumed since the Middle Ages to be an autonomous, self-governing community of scholars who conduct research and train other scholars – that is, as an institution organized around it’s own values – has effectively disappeared, replaced by an institution where scholars are seen as employees of a managerial elite pursuing values that are in no sense emergent from intellectual life but economic or political
    3) the endless growth of the administrative staff does not mean that the scholars are freed of administrative responsibilities, but, paradoxically, that such responsibilities fill more and more of their time. Because of the corporatization of university bureaucracies, it hands more and more power to those whose skills lie in professional self-presentation and marketing – that is, who, whatever their ostensible political positions, have most thoroughly internalized a neoliberal habitus

  14. Hey Paul. Sorry about that. We have a spam filter that’s a bit overactive and maddening at times. I fished around and restored your comments. If this ever happens again just email me directly and I will take care of it pronto.

  15. David, thanks for the insightful comments. You are absolutely right that those who best embody neoliberal habitus will flourish in the university as it is presently configured, and this is what is most depressing–and hilarious, in a really perverse, grim, and frightening way.

    It is ‘hilarious’, especially when it is anthropologists most railing against the predations of neoliberal capitalism and its encroachment into the university (e.g. protesting funding by BP at their university), who are then turning and around and supporting the same administrators they have criticized for their neoliberal practices and logics, so as to ‘discipline and punish’ subordinates in their departments who legitimately speak out about abuse and inequality in the department (and the university).

    I think what you wrote about the professors who stood back and did not rein in the abusers is most disturbing, however: especially in light of recent scandals involving people like Jerry Sandusky and Dominique Strauss-Kahn. When you are talking about people who are predatory sociopaths, and not just ‘garden variety bullies’, people should not be keeping silent. And yet even about these kinds of abuse/abusers they will not speak out, because the neoliberal habitus has become so deeply engrained. (And yes, DSK was not an academic, but his predatory behavior/misogyny relates to forms of sexist abuse which routinely occur in the university and are the kind of wrongdoing that universities and colleges most try to cover up: from sexual assaults between students up through professors/instructors preying on students and actively exploiting the power imbalance to coerce those who are vulnerable subordinates within the academic hierarchy. Sadly, all too often, as with the DSK situation, the predator’s friends and colleagues know the person is predatory and abusive but they just shrug their shoulders, make excuses for not speaking up, and ‘get back to work’.) As the rape scandal at Amherst shows, administrators are really only committed to covering up these incidents and trying to keep them from damaging the institution’s reputation.

    As I see it, the normalization of abuse is integral to neoliberal habitus: just be ‘responsible’ for yourself, right? Every day in the academy people are being socialized and professionalized to accept both hierarchy and abuse, and to learn to take it and be silent about it in order to be ‘successful’. People are daily being trained, in Pavlovian fashion, not to speak up about abuses small and large so as to advance their careers. And people so deeply internalize the abuse as normal and inevitable that those who speak up to resist it are seen as crazy, both implicitly and explicitly.

    I had several black graduate students and PhDs tell me, in short, that I ‘deserved’ to be racially terrorized for speaking out about departmental ‘white public space’ issues for being “stupid” enough to speak out publicly about them in the first place, and for being “stupid” in choosing to study whiteness. After the shock of these statements wore off, I analyzed them and realized how they illustrate the internalization of the neoliberal habitus we’re discussing: these people had decided that the department was so racially hostile and antiblack, and that the discipline more broadly had such entrenched ‘white public space’ issues, that they were focusing their research on black people (yes, because another piece of unpleasant honesty: people have no qualms about black people studying other black people, including in anthropology were certain colonial patterns persist and endure, but studying whites as whites have always studied blacks is just not going to be accepted, even without the structural barriers presented by racism/colorism/sexism that a darker-skinned black female anthropologist would face in ‘studying up’ or ‘studying sideways’); they were ‘not getting in white people’s faces to talk about race’, and avoiding any kind of open, public discussion of ‘white public space’ issues in the department or discussions of white supremacy that would ‘upset people’. (And this is a larger pattern in anthropology, especially around when, where, and how black anthropologists can talk about race, whiteness/white supremacy, antiblack racism. But I am already digressing.)

    The point is that as part of the neoliberal habitus which I was supposed to be learning, embodying, and adhering to, I was supposed to have known–automatically and of my own volition–not to choose to do a project on whiteness which would upset (white) people(i.e. white anthropologists/academics) for speaking about forms of racial inequality ‘at home’ (v. abroad) in which they were deeply and personally invested (e.g. racial sexual politics, racialized beauty hierarchies–including georaciality, who does and does not get to be ‘thinking woman’s crumpet’: all topics which have and do clearly incense people, especially because the topics I research are hard for white anthropologists to displace ‘over there’, especially when I am interrogating questions of how they experience their own bodies in the world, as white racial subjects, and how those bodies are valued–and are usually over-valued, simply by
    virtue of being white–in relation to other, non-white bodies).

    One does not need to take money from the likes of BP or Monsanto, or even the Department of Defense or Energy, to have one’s research project/interests/conclusions structured by the neoliberal logics of the corporate university, you see. Simple fear of vicious retaliation and inability to get a job works equally effectively and produces the requisite self-censorship not to rock the academic boat. And if you know that those professors who can band together to stop the abusers in a department won’t, **even in the interest of creating a safe space for junior scholars to do their scholarship**–because that scholarship offends some people for confronting the very structural/institutional inequalities which the department’s abusers enjoy manipulating and benefitting from–then people quickly learn not to speak up (or not to speak up in ways that the powerful don’t want to hear).

    All good and well that people with the power to stop abuse are not doing so so as not to interrupt their scholarship. All good and well **for them**, that is. But what about ensuring that everyone has the same space to pursue scholarship, unfettered and free from abuse? But as you said above, scholarship for its own sake really isn’t the primary goal of today’s neoliberal, corporate academy: even if the primacy of scholarship will be used by abusers and their enablers as the reason they are refusing to speak up.

  16. Dear Paul Moore: Sorry for the double-posting, but I only now saw your comment. Especially given research on implicit bias, I have to wonder how race/gender stereotypes (i.e. the Angry Black Woman stereotype) influenced your comments to me and your decision to label me angry and my comments “spleen”. Did you still feel that way once David Graeber said I had hit the proverbial nail on the head with my comments about tenure?

    That you think the term/moniker ‘discuss white privilege’ is **racist**, and conflate racism with prejudice, so easily, is deeply troubling. Please familiarize yourself with the scholarly definition of white privilege, as it is used by critical race theorists, before accusing me of being racist–or stereotypically angry–for using this term. Especially given what I wrote about studying racial beauty hierarchies, particularly in the US, how on earth does one not ‘discuss white privilege’?

    As for your claim that I am “clearly angry”, two last points:
    (1) interesting that anger was the adjective used and not any other number of possible adjectives, singular and/or compound: passionate, outspoken, nonconformist, unconventional, righteously indignant, legitimately outraged.

    (2) yes, racist bullying and falsely accusing innocent black people of crimes they have not committed by invoking racist stereotypes of black people as violent subhuman animals and ghetto criminals is indeed behavior which disgusts and outrages me, or, in racially freighted parlance, makes me ‘mad’ and ‘angry’. Yes, I know that President Obama, exemplar for how all black people should behave so as never to ‘upset people’, never shows anger and must be dragged kicking and screaming to discuss antiblack racism and deeply structural racial inequality, so, not following this example of ‘good black’ neoliberal habitus, I must be publicly called out as the Bad Black Subject and Angry Black Woman–who needs to start her own blog (i.e. shut up, go way and stop talking about issues of intersectionality, and stop disrupting anthropological ‘white public space’ for those who like it as such).

    Dear Ryan: I once again suggest a Savage Minds series of posts on race and racism, especially because something is deeply wrong when anthropologists–who study all those neato concepts of power, hegemony, and agency you originally wrote about in this post on not keeping silent–can’t adequately define concepts like racism so as not to conflate racism with prejudice, and so as to understand why discussing white privilege should not be seen as in and of itself a racist affront.

    This post was about not being silent or silenced, and so I was not silent and spoke up–yes, from personal experience–to offer some observations and analysis (not spleen) on why people don’t speak up and how this relates to larger patterns and problems in the corporate, neoliberal university, which are not only about race and racism, or sexism, but also are inseparable from these other forms of inequality and serve to reinforce and coproduce academic hierarchies.

  17. By the way, just wanted to make clear – since it must be pretty obvious where i was talking about – I wasn’t speaking of sexual abuses. Lord knows such things happen, but I’m not aware of any cases when I was there. But other forms of abusive of power were pretty rampant.

  18. Thank you for the clarification. I did not mean to imply that such abuses took place in that department and you were referencing them. But predatory misogyny is certainly being covered up elsewhere, by other departments, as some of us well know.

    On a related note though, this issue was clearly worrying enough for Yale to issue a ban on all faculty-undergrad sexual relationships. So it is quite troubling that other department’s universities would not follow suit and address the issue of instructors abusing their power in this way, including addressing this issue when directly confronted with a situation in which it is clear to a department that they have professionalized a person who is actually interested in college teaching so as to be able to exploit the very coercive, hierarchical power imbalance at the heart of the 2010 Yale ban.

  19. @ DIscuss White Privilege

    Although I do not want to get into an argument with you about matters relating to racism, I stand by my use of the word ‘angry’ in connection with the tone of your posts. I am also somewhat bemused as to why a person who clearly resents silence and censorship should choose to hide behind an obviously (and glaringly) racially loaded username: ‘DIscuss White Privilege’. Have you ever considered that your repetitively angry approach might work against you sometimes? When I read your posts, I can almost feel you stomping on your keyboard. No one (myself included) has accused you of being an “Angry Black Woman”. I simply said that your username suggests that you are deeply angry. I never once used the word ‘black’ or ‘woman’. I do not think in those terms. There is also nothing insulting or detrimental about the expression ‘to vent one’s spleen’. It simply means to get rid of one’s feelings of anger. You have every right to be angry, and you have every right to speak up. I do recommend, however, that you stop getting upset with the people who are on your side just because they do not always agree with your approach.

  20. @ Paul Moore

    Well, you know, calling people “angry” is a traditional way of dismissing legitimate indignation over injustice (think “shrill” or “angry” feminists…) – so you should hardly be surprised if someone points that out. It’s also a classic rhetorical trap, like saying telling you “you’re always contradicting people!” – so that whether you agree or disagree, it still confirms their point.

    Oddly, my book Debt has been described as “angry” many times – which is odd, since it’s written intentionally to be friendly, entertaining, even at times humorous – all the more difficult to do without undercutting the power of the descriptions of violence and injustice it contains. But for some, radical ideas are “angry” by definition. One online blogger comparing my book with Fukuyama’s not only emphasized my “angry” tone but actually included a fantasy scene of me and Fukuyama on a panel together and me jumping up and repeatedly smashing his head on the ground. (Or something like that. I honestly forget the details.) When I asked why he was describing me this way (in what I thought was quite a civil way), others immediately intervened to say my challenge proved he was right.

  21. David … I do not recall giving the impression that I was “surprised” in any way. After almost four decades in academia, and spending most of my adult life living outside my own country, very little surprises me. Racism, inequality, bigotry, abuse and harassment can be found in all walks of life – especially where a hierarchical system is in play. We have all had experiences that make us angry. It is how we deal with that anger and channel it into something decent and productive that makes the difference.

  22. It is how we deal with that anger and channel it into something decent and productive that makes the difference.


    Also: Anger rarely shown can be highly effective when revealed. Anger on constant display fades into the background and becomes at most an irritant. Not a good way to influence people.

  23. Thank you for your comment on anger, David.

    Paul and John, keep giving me ‘advice’ on not being ‘angry’. It is certainly instructive for generating a conversation on implicit bias and what Paul Feagin terms ‘the white racial frame’. Basically, you both read me as ‘angry’ because I am a black woman and I am speaking frankly about everyday forms of white supremacy and white privilege in ways that make you uncomfortable. This is really all it takes for you to see me as ‘angry’. So please, let us just be honest about what is really going on here. And let us not forget, John, how you decided that I was an angry Black Power radical for simply making entirely measured and valid points about the role of racism and white privilege in Silicon Valley–a topic which many people write about, mind you–which is why I started posting under the pen name Discuss White Privilege in the first place. But why bother with actual facts about my motivations for posting as I have when we can just easily and lazily defer to stereotypes and implicit bias, no? Yes, when the expectation in the ‘white public space’ of anthropology is that black anthropologists/people will not speak frankly about racism in ways that make many white anthropologists uncomfortable, then it is easy to carp about my ‘angry’ tone and how irritating it is.

    But Paul, your comment about not thinking in terms of race and gender–i.e. that you did not think of me as ‘black’ or a ‘woman’–is really, especially for me given what I study, the most instructive comment of the day. ?????? Seriously????? Wow. Am I on an anthropology blog actually having an anthropologist tell me that whether or not he thinks in terms of race and gender–whether or not his thoughts, actions, and motivations are **structured** by race/racism and gender/sexism–is simply a matter of whether or not he consciously understands himself as thinking in such terms? (Yes, because as we all know, anhropologists always defer to whatever their informants tell them they believe their motivations to be and write ethnographies which consist solely of saying: This is what my informants told me they believe their motivations to be, and I have nothing to add!) What??? Either from a sociocultural or linguistic anthropology perspective, or a neuroanthropological one, when was this ever accepted as an answer **by anthropoligists**, about how we understand and analyze human behavior/motivation(s), language, or social relations? What????

    It just amazes me how self-reflexivity just went straight out the window, and, sadly, so often does, when a person like me asks for (honest and forthright) anthropological interrogation of concepts like whiteness and white privilege.

    Oh yes, the issue is just that I am ‘angry’. Of course it is.

  24. John, you’re an ad man, and you’ve made clear on many occasions how carefully you think about language and communication. So it is interesting that you would choose to use the word ‘pointless’ at the end of a discussion where the (racially) freighted use of the word ‘angry’ to dismiss people for legitimately speaking out against injustice. Once again the question of conscious v. unconscious intent (and dysconscious racism and sexism) arises. It is no small thing to say that giving me advice is ‘pointless’, after I’ve repeatedly been told I’m ‘angry’ (with the constant implication that I am the stereotypical angry black person talking ‘too much’ about race and racism). Because, yes, as you well know, words and their connotations matter.

  25. Ok, folks. Before this thread completely breaks down into an internecine battle, let me go ahead and restate the goals:

    1. The primary goal was to encourage people to “say something” as Fran implored in her post. So people can feel free to share their experiences and frustrations with the current state of affairs in academia. Vent. Complain. Whatever.

    2. The second goal was to brainstorm a bit about what can actually done. What can be changed? What alternatives do we have? Part of this requires identifying specific problems, whether we are talking about bias and racism in the academy, the neoliberalization of the university, or the fact that the whole show is basically being run by a bunch of administrators.

    The main goal here is to get more and more people to speak up. This is not easy, for any number of reasons. But it’s a good first step, I think.

    And, speaking of anger, I’ll go ahead and admit that many things that are taking place in the academy are not only seriously frustrating to me, they all make me pretty angry at times. And stressed. And pretty preoccupied with the future. And I am sure I am not alone in that regard. There is a lot of frustration out there, but we aren’t really hearing all that much of it because everyone is worried about getting funding, or a job, or tenure, or “making it” within the system in general.

    But I think a lot of us realize things are heading down the wrong path. And at some point we need to say enough is enough. Are we at that point yet? Hard to tell. It’s probably not a bad idea to start off by listening to one another, and trying to realize that in many senses we are all stuck in the same (sinking) boat. Maybe then we can start to build some sort of alternative or collective response and then work toward focusing on actual concrete ideas and tactics. But speaking up and sharing experiences is a good start. I think we all need to encourage that, for starters. That’s my take.

  26. Re-submission of post.

    “Anger rarely shown can be highly effective when revealed. Anger on constant display fades into the background and becomes at most an irritant. Not a good way to influence people.”

    Very wise, John. I could not have put it better.

    @DIscuss White Privilege

    I am not an anthropologist, as you assume. Just because I do not think in terms of race and gender in exactly the same way that an anthropologist would, does not mean that I do not understand the complexities of race and gender. As a linguist and a specialist in intercultural communication, I am only too aware of the importance of these two concepts.

    It would therefore appear that you have made assumptions about me without actually knowing the facts, including that I somehow knew that you were black and female before you kept repeating it. Although I know that you are going to dismiss this outright, it does not make me uncomfortable when ‘white privilege’ is challenged, only when people are racist.

    It is well known that the abused sometimes become the abusers. The same can apply to people who are subjected to racial discrimination. They can sometimes end up hating anyone who is not of their race, colour or creed.

    The cure for racism is not more racism.

  27. @DWP:

    “David, you are spot-on about the internalization of the habits of fear, etc. But I think it is important to add that much of this internalization is happening precisely because tenure is NOT seen as the professional finish-line.”

    Ya, that is a good point. I generally think of tenure as being the end point, but you’re right. It’s really not. Important point. If admin is the ultimate goal, then the whole system is definitely going in another direction.


    “I went to an OWS seminar over the summer with Gayatri Spivak and she made one point that really stuck in my head: “even thirty years ago, when we said ‘the university,’ we meant, ‘the faculty.’ Now, when we say ‘the university’, we mean ‘the administration.’”

    And this is another really vital point. The very nature of the university has deeply changed in the last 30 years. But I think a lot of us are still thinking in terms of what it was. I think this is also what helps pull in new generations of undergrad and grad students–the lingering belief in the university as a place of scholarship etc. But what we actually have is something very different. Yet, many people (including myself) persist and put up with this in hopes of……….?

    David again: “…the endless growth of the administrative staff does not mean that the scholars are freed of administrative responsibilities, but, paradoxically, that such responsibilities fill more and more of their time.”

    Yes, often to a ridiculous extent. Some profs are so busy with bureaucracy, internal reviews, and assessments that they barely have time to do their primary job. Some don’t even have time for that, really.

  28. These are very good points, Ryan. When I first attended university in the early 70s, no one (apart from the small number of admin staff who occupied a couple of offices somewhere on the campus) thought about administration. The lecturers devised their own timetables amongst themselves, the students got on with doing what students do (grin), and job applications for teaching staff were handled by individual departments; ‘the university’ really did mean ‘the faculty’. It was a grand time.

    These days, the admin staff act as if they own the place. They do not seem to realize that without the customers (the students), they would not have a job.

    I have pointed this out to a multitude of middle and upper management personnel at numerous multinational companies, but the message never seems to get through. Universities (like many companies) have grown so large that the separate components that used to work together amicably no longer communicate with each other. In fact, they hate each other.

    Word spreads rapidly … like a virus. It is already clear to most observant students that their teachers are not happy. If the teachers are not happy, the students will not be happy either. Unhappy students are very bad news for any educational establishment. Without the students, no one has a job.

    Universities have become machines. Machines only function if the parts they are comprised of work in unison … and are well oiled.

  29. Like many, I also pursued an academic career because I naively thought I would be working in the university of 30 or 40 years ago, and didn’t see or understand the university as the rapacious beast that it currently is. But we should be honest about how universities, and probably Berkeley most of all given its association with Mario Savio and the Free Speech Movement, market themselves as bastion of unfettered intellectual activity and ‘diversity’, even if this is not what they truly are–anymore, or ever were.

    On this question of power and sham diversity, KALW had an interesting discussion of the state of ethnic studies, on their Your Call program, which is very much related to this post/conversation and previous posts on academic precarity. The link should be up later today.

    I think that one of the reasons that it is important to speak up, publicly and loudly, about the current realities of the neoliberal corporate university/academy as it is currently configured–including in all its unethical abuse and racist/sexist/homophobic ugliness–is to keep others from choosing an academic career without really understanding what they’re in for (because it is NOT the academy of 30 or 40 years ago), and to warn people so they can avoid being taken advantage of by the abusers. This knowledge is itself a necessary component of possibly being able to change the status quo. Know what you’re actually dealing with so you can fight back accordingly. (I say possibly because I am largely skeptical about the possibilities for progressive change given the realities of implicit bias, and the angry reactions that occur every time I try to discuss it and make an intersectional argument about structural inequalities and how they produce the inequalities and abuses of the hierarchical academy. Paul Moore is right to say abuse is to be expected in a hierarchy, and the academy is fundamentally and structurally hierarchical and undemocratic. So… )

    On this issue of fighting back, as well as speaking out with courage and calling out the bad behavior which typifies the current hierarchical inequalities in the academy (as Fran did), I want to address the issue of implicit bias and who is authorized to speak and who will be listened to. Especially in light of how often I am dismissed when making statements of fact and labeled an ‘angry’ black woman (implicitly and explicitly), I offer this interview, which brings up the same points about implicit bias and neuroanthropology which I wrote about above: I saw this link on Daniel Lende’s Twitter feed, linked to from Jane Henrici’s. (i.e. see, ‘real’ anthropologists, who are white, not like me, so please listen–because this is the move I always have to make, which often doesn’t work either as it often results in my being told I am being ‘too academic’, or shave too much ‘book-learnin’, or some such). I point this out to say that this is one of the problems we are dealing with in the academy, and one of the things which most needs to change, and it’s all also linked to the habits of fear and deference discussed above, as well as the rampant abuse of those lower down in the academic hierarchy, especially the farther from the straight, white, male norm a person’s body is marked as being and/or their behavior is *perceived* as being: the hierarchy of who is authorized to speak. And the way this creates a situation in which some of us are constantly ignored, dismissed, characterized as “loud/argumentative” “very dark-skinned South Africans” with no right to speak because everything we have to say is “meaningless” unless authorized by a white interlocutor (yes, people, the ugly racist vitriol i have been subjected to, in writing, by some very prominent anthropology professors, including in a confidential email i was never supposed to see) and relates directly to retaliatory anger over how Paul Rabinow was publicly contradicted in saying that all is fine in the Berkeley department, so as to cover up the truth about the racist-sexist email attack referenced in the aforementioned Savage Minds DDR or Receivership post. (So yes, like Fran, speaking out about bad behavior and disrespect for those of us seen as peons, academic and other, and how such disrespect shows up in email correspondence. Because anthropologists should speak truth to power right? And yes, Ryan, it did make me angry to see anthropology professors–who publicly market themselves as antiracist feminists–describing me via the implicit bias of the Angry Black Woman stereotype as “loud/argumentative” and frightening while referring to me as a VERY DARK-SKINNED South African, who they instructed all department staff to call the campus police on if they felt ‘”threatened” at the sight of me walking in the building with–wait for it, because yes, this really is what they wrote, verbatim–“a baby [i.e. my infant son] in a tummy pack”. So, no, given the realities of implicit bias, I am not particularly hopeful, but I still understand the value of speaking up and not staying silent, and understand that there are times when one must speak up, if only to prevent others from being abused by unethical and power-hungry academics who will stop at nothing to climb the ranks of university administration and to secure as much power and prestige as possible. When people like Paul Moore make comments about me being ‘angry’, it is because their experiences in white male bodies are so far from my experience in a dark-skinned black female body that they really just don’t know what I go through, what kind of racism and sexism and colorism a person like me faces on a DAILY basis, and why the prejudice they may face is really not the same as either the racism or sexism faced by people like me. And anthropology has been pretty bad about speaking frankly about such experiences, here in the US, in ways that don’t lead to people like me being dismissed as ‘angry’ and “meaningless” (or constructed as violent ghetto thugs just waiting to assault people, even when carrying infants strapped to our bodies, and when we are from lily-white small-town New England–oh yeah, and are not South African, though are parents did emigrate from West Africa. But, according to the anthropology professors who wrote the aforementioned racist and retaliatory directive against me, for speaking when not authorized by them, nothing they wrote about me is the least bit racist, especially since they never referred to me as black. Because, as we all know, if you don’t use the word black to describe be in ways consonant with well-known racist stereotypes of black people, then you can feel justified in saying you did not evaluate me and my actions through a racist-sexist prism.)

    When I speak about implicit bias and neuroanthropology, I am designated ‘angry’. When a white philosopher says much the same, different reception. To whom do listen and believe, and why?

    So yes, even if it makes me persona non grata, I am going to call people out for not speaking up when they see this kind of ‘you don’t get to speak because you are a subordinate’ behavior going on. It makes a big difference when someone like David Graeber speaks up about using the word ‘angry’ to dismiss people–especially those fundamentally perceived as subordinates, not equals, either within or outside the hierarchy of the academy–for speaking out about legitimate injustice(s) about which people *should* be outraged and indignant. And especially when you do have tenure–particularly as a full professor–these are the kinds of inequality about which one should be speaking out. It’s really just not that hard for people in such positions to do so. And we need to expect more from the and hold them accountable. Especially if they do see tenure as just a midpoint.

  30. @Ryan

    Speaking up and sharing experiences is a good start, yes. But we can go further by examining the world through the eyes of people whose job it is to make things happen. Consider, for example, Dan Hill’s Dark Matter & Trojan Horses: A Strategic Design Vocabulary (Strelka Press):

    Hill is an experienced practitioner as well as advocate of what he calls “strategic design” and contrasts with the “design thinking” recently popular in business circles. Design thinking begins with a project [also, I observe, a budget and a deadline]. The designer is focused on finding the most elegant or efficient way to achieve a specified goal. In contrast, strategic design begins with a problem, a situation in which the goal to be pursued may be unclear. The designer must then be ready to explore the total context [we anthropologists might call it culture] in which the problem arises. So far, so good. I see some common ground here.

    What, then, should the designer be looking for? Hill suggests three possibilities.

    1. The Macguffin. “The Macguffin” is a term coined by Alfred HItchcock to describe a plot device, the focus of attention around which the action occurs. The falcon in The Maltese Falcon is a good example. Note that it need not be of any other significance. A treasure map, a weapon design, a lost will, the Ark of the Covenant—all can and have been used in similar ways.

    2. The Trojan Horse. It may look like a straightforward solution to a particular issue, a solution that everyone is happy to accept. Its implementation, however, may conceal within it all sorts of unexpected and ultimately transformative innovations.

    3. The Platform. In Japan, NTT did it with Do-Co-Mo. Apple has done it worldwide with iOS, i Tunes, and the App Store. The goal is not a final, all-in-one solution but the foundation for an ecology to which all sorts of new players will be attracted to contribute.

    The “Dark Matter” in the title brings up another issue with its own possibilities. Every project is immersed in a normally invisible sea of habit, regulation, politics, existing institutions that purely technical or aesthetic solutions neglect at their peril. They may, on the other hand, offer opportunities to effect real change with no technical or aesthetic innovation at all.

    One of the most striking examples in the book is the city of Newcastle (not the one in Britain, the one in New South Wales in Australia). Like numerous other cities around the world Newcastle was left with a depressed and decaying center, hollowed out as prosperous people moved to the suburbs and businesses and employment followed them. Today that once-decaying city center is thriving and a major tourist attraction. How did that happen?

    A strategic designer observed that commercial space downtown was available only on long-term commercial lease terms, too expensive and risky for start-ups, artists looking for studios, people with ideas for new restaurants [the bunch that Richard Florida talks about as essential for the thriving of creative cities]. A small loophole/tweak in zoning regulations offered the possibility of short-term licensing, return-on-demand agreements that made it possible for landlords to minimize their risk as well. When the landlords bought into the idea and joined the design team in promoting it, the creative folk poured in, revitalizing the city center.

    Just brainstorming, now—but suppose you regarded the university as a now decaying institution whose revitalization is hampered by existing arrangements. Is there some point at which something like that licensing arrangement or something else entirely would transform the situation? We’ve got a lot of smart people here, people who know a lot and could easily learn more about how universities now operate. What if they were looking for opportunities instead of doing nothing but moaning about the barriers that currently exist?

    Just asking.

  31. John, I am wondering how proposing more corporate capitalist solutions will positively help transform the university and address the problems being raised. Isn’t the problem that many are identifying is that the university actually should be an institution driven by business models, and that if one is advocating for a university not predicated on reproducing hierarchy and inequality, or generating profit, then one is threatening the interests of many (and especially the most economically privileged)? The landlords in your example above were motivated by economic self-interest. What incentive is there for people at the top of the hierarchy to relinquish power and change things?

  32. Correction: meant to write the university should not be dictated by business logics and profit.

  33. DWP, that response is both predictable and off point. People who respond from a knee-jerk “business bad/my fantasy of what academia was good” perspective are part of the problem to be solved. Had you had the time to read the book—you plainly haven’t—you would have seen the thinking in question applied to a variety of public policy as well as private business cases. The true irony here is that most of those who now weep and moan about the corporate takeover of the university are arguing from a position logically identical to that of Tea Party members who rail against big government.

    The underlying question is the proper balance of measurement and judgment in organizing human activity. The argument for measurement has been increasing fairness—substituting clear and quantifiable standards for arbitrary and prejudiced judgment. Historically, the usual result has been the proliferation of bureaucracy and bureaucratic procedures, the “big government” against which libertarians rage and the “big administration” against which academics rage. “Don’t tread on me” is a good slogan for both camps.

    If, moreover, you read a bit more in the history of universities, you would know that they have always been bastions of privilege, first, and, only occasionally, opportunities for upward mobility, second. Today’s crisis arises in large part because the democratization of education has resulted in overselling the absurd idea that when everyone has access to higher education, higher education will continue to have the cachet it once had when it was rarer and harder to get, with its ramparts defended by the unmeasured judgments of those confident that that women, people of color, and other such lesser orders need not apply.

    Solutions to this crisis will not be found by those who have nothing to offer but thoroughly justifiable but also ancient and tedious complaints and seem unable to think beyond the cliches of “business bad, my fantasy good.”

    That’s my two yen.

  34. Wow, John, that was some vitriol for an answer I actually did not give. You actually made my point for me in saying that universities have always been bastions of privilege. So good of you to misread what I was actually saying and reduce it to me being a ‘business is bad’ simpleton. I think my previous point is still valid: the kind of university many people seem to be saying they want in discussions about academic inequality and precarity doesn’t seem achievable given what the university is, and has always been, structurally. So my pointing out that the kind of solutions you were referring to, and the business logics undergirding these projects, was actually not motivated by the simple-minded fundamentalism you have so haughtily accused me of. Your suggestions can certainly transform the university. I am simply pointing out the fact that such changes are not going to eradicate the structural inequality of the university, since, as you yourself noted, it has always been a bastion of privilege, even if for a few decades it was less so.

  35. DWP, you write as if you knew what the suggestions are. You don’t. The work in question does not directly address the current state of the university. It is what its title says that it is a vocabulary for strategic design, one of whose guiding principles is that you do not assume that you know what the problem is at the outset. My suggestion is that anthropologists, like those assembled here, might find thinking about the issues as Dan Hill might, in terms of Macguffins, Trojan horses, platforms and dark matter, a useful way to break out of the endless Punch-and-Judy show of “critical,” a.k.a., pointless, debate that our conventional thinking is stuck in.

    Insistence that the discussion remain confined to the issues and language that define a current preoccupation is, I suggest, equally unlikely to get anywhere. Whether the issues and language in question are those of dead white men, progressives, radicals, postcolonial, feminist or queer theorists, religious or market fundamentalists, they all, by precluding looking in other directions, share this fundamental flaw. That is what pisses me off about thoughtless, knee-jerk responses, my own included. If this be vitriol, so be it. Acid has, at times, usefully cleansing effects.

  36. I wasn’t making a comment on a book I have clearly not read. I was simply noting that the specific examples you cited in discussing it were all business examples in which economic/financial profit was motivating, and as such this kind of motivation would not solve the problems of academic inequality vexing people in relation to this post and others on academic precarity. So I was making a fairly circumscribed observation which you seem to have misread.

    Clearly I’m not going to speak authoritatively about a book I haven’t read. Thought this was clear.

  37. We may have to disagree here. In my view the moralizing stance that can only insist that a less prejudiced and hierarchical way of organizing higher education is needed (in principle, I totally agree) is doomed to failure in our current political and economic climate. Fresh ideas are needed. Some may come from business, public policy, or strategic design.

    Rejecting ideas because of their origins in particular groups or cultures isn’t very anthropological, is it. We do, after all, pride ourselves on being able to find meaning and function in ideas that the unenlightened take to be superstition.

    Do we allow ourselves to become narrow-minded when our own ox is gored?

  38. Such is the nature of privilege, one only has to agree with equality and non-hierarchy in principle.

  39. One of the problems with changing anything in the contemporary academy is that the political economy of the institution is so tightly woven, that any one change necessitates a variety of other changes. How much we pay people depends on student enrollments, state budgets, endowments, etc. If we want smaller classes, we need to raise tuition or have more faculty and smaller schools. If we want to change the nature of tenure, we need to rethink the merit review process and how and what counts to maintain a position. So, really, any change really depends on a global vision of what’s to be produced, and I’ve yet to run across a really good model for the university in the 21st century. But I’m looking for it…

    In any case, people might enjoy some recent stories on APM’s Radioworks about changes in higher ed. One of the most intriguing is the 3 year university, but there are a number that might inspire some thinking on what might make the university a more humane institution:

  40. Matthew, yes, I think ‘global’ is the keyword here, alongside ‘cross-disciplinary’ and eve (or especially) ‘cross-profession’. From my perspective as an Australian working in a Portuguese university, American universities do seem rather more beset with problems than most I have encountered, and these seem particularly enhanced by the enormous competition for jobs.

    We could usefully compare universities around the globe from an historical perspective and consider what’s the same across the board, what differs, and why that’s the case.

    Then, those who wish to work from inside the academy to change its models and cultures can do so as part of a global community. Those who find (or create) work outside the academy will not only free up jobs inside the academy, but can also work at doing what universities do better than they do (including knowledge production), give them a run for their money, and prompt them to lift their game.

    In order to achieve this, we do have to think differently. John’s call to use language as a tool to prompt our creativity makes sense. So does learning from people with different experiences. If all the people who value knowledge production banded together, wherever they are – within universities, schools, non-profits, corporations, independent scholars – and across disciplines, we could perhaps find many creative ways to address this central problem.

  41. These issues are worth being angry about. Hearing people say that they would be willing to bring up issues after tenure is incredibly frustrating. Not only is tenure not the end of the road, it’s not a guaranteed safe ground for anyone’s future, and if we make all our decisions in fear and from safe ground, we’re basically pulling up the drawbridge behind us.

    Matthew has a good point about any structural change requiring such wide-reaching adjustments though. So I’m really not sure what change driven by justice and sustainability rather than fear would look like if it were go further than individual attempts at reflexivity and speaking up for people in vulnerable positions.

  42. Thank you Matthew and Erin, I found your comments insightful. In particular, I think Matthew’s comments speak to why I said that business logics will not solve some of the most vexing problems of inequality and abuse in the university, even though we do need to think about the political economy of the university. It is not that I am advocating not thinking about political economy, or enlisting solutions from business, it’s just that I am asking for awareness of the limitations of such approaches in making the university more humane. Then again, if inequality and inhumanity are not a concern, then there is no need to care about these limitations. (And this is truly not a snarky dig. But I do think it is worth thinking about John’s comments on universities having always been bastions of privilege, and the implications of and conditions under which one only has to care about inequality ‘in principle’ and not in practice.)

    While less competition for jobs, more funding for universities, better pay for part-time faculty, more tenure-track jobs, and all these monetary/financial/economic changes would make a huge difference in making the university a more humane place, they would still not solve problems of abuse, harassment, bullying, retaliation, and disrespect which result from the university being VERY hierarchically structured (and rooted in the habits of fear and deference so as to advance to the next rung on the ladder; and even restructuring tenure requirements would not be sufficient, especially as it would not protect *students*–and especially grad students highly dependent on their advisers, who can easily, viciously, and unethically retaliate against them–from many forms of faculty abuse), and abuses which result from implicit bias and the structural inequality outside the academy. Having more jobs and better pay and funding does not automatically lead to those who are *fundamentally* seen as ‘the lesser orders’ from being treated as such, or from being seen and treated as less authorized to speak and doing less ‘smart’/important/’meaningful’ scholarship; though the current scarcity of jobs and the competition it brings certainly does make abuse of those in ‘the lesser orders’ easier and more frequent (e.g. comments I dealt with from angry white male graduate students who were on the job market, angry and anxious about their prospects, and used me as a punching bag for their emotional abuse, including public email bullying, and told me to “keep your ‘privilege’ critique at home” because white men who went to state schools are the truly oppressed, middle-class blacks with Ivy League degrees are more privileged than they are and don’t actually experience ‘real racism’ and/or discrimination, and “non-whites get jobs and fellowships thrown at them”: yes the kind of politics of racist resentment one heard coming from Republicans during the last election, coming out of a top-five anthropology graduate program and university which has a reputation for being uber-liberal, and yet… ).

    Erin is right that competition for jobs makes the US academy particularly beset with problems. But this is not the only reason. It is also because US universities never want to acknowledge abuse–no matter how blatant, systemic, documented, or egregious–because the US is extremely litigious and universities fear legal action (even when justified). As was exemplified by the Penn State scandal, administrators prioritize protecting the university’s reputation above all else, along with not being sued (i.e. legitimately held accountable for harming people). Then again, if they prioritized not allowing abuse instead of covering it up (by any means necessary, no matter how illegal or unethical), they would be in less danger of legal action. But instead of prioritizing a more humane university–or the principles of inclusion, respect, ‘diversity’, equity, which they *officially* claim to value and promote–they make a cynical business decision to cover up abuse. (For example, university compliance departments routinely pretend to be investigating abuse which is reported to them when in fact they are covering it up, not investigating complaints, and just waiting for statutes of limitations on actionable violations to run out, including because students leave the university–either via graduation or leaving because the environment is too unsafe for them, the university’s refusal to deal appropriately with the abuse is too injurious. This latter reality is what is being discussed in the Amherst rape scandal, as well as other colleges that are now dealing with other such public complaints about administrators covering up campus rapes, not appropriately helping raped students.) If the university’s primary goal is to minimize law suits and settlements paid out for university abuse/wrongdoing–which is certainly also a matter of the political economy Matthew points out in his response–then you are *not* going to get a more humane university insofar as the minimization of abuse of hierarchical power, or because of implicit bias/societal inequality, are concerned. For the corporate, neoliberal (US) university, abuse is not a problem to be handled so as to actually make the university more human, but to be managed by university PR departments and lawyers/general counsels so as to cover up abuse and publicly claim that their university is humane.

    This interview, from Berkeley’s *public relations* department, is also germane to this discussion. In particular: the quote below, which makes clear that universities are selling the dream of the university of 30/40 years ago, though this is clearly not the reality of the present corporate neoliberal university, and Dirks explanation of how he demanded his name be removed from a divest from Israel petition (yes, because tenure is not the finish line).

    “ND: I think that the university, in some ways, is the last great utopian institution that we have in our society. And one of the reasons that I’ve enjoyed doing all the things that I’d done, whether chairing a department, setting up a program, working with students in some kind of new way or, for that matter, becoming the executive vice president of the arts and sciences at Columbia has given me an opportunity to try to engage at every level both the challenges but also the enormous opportunities that these institutions, these great institutions of both teaching and research, have afforded so many people in our society.”

    And let us not forget, Nicholas Dirks will be replacing Robert Birgeneau as Chancellor. Robert Birgeneau, the Chancellor responsible for instructing UC Berkeley campus to beat peaceful Occupy protest for locking arms, because as Birgenau said, linking arms is NOT non-violent protest, and then supported issuing stay-away orders, which the ACLU and many others decried as a shameful intimidation tactic, against protesters for engaging in legitimate non-violent dissent. Yes, because UC Berkeley administrators like to use the campus police and other arms of the police State to punish and intimidate those who peacefully and legitimately speak out against the administration and any wrongdoing it may be documented to be engaged in, all while publicly claiming to be a bastion of free speech–à la its 60s student protests and the pre-Prop 209 university it used to be.

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