The neoliberal assault on academia


Today in articles that criticize “meaningless buzzwords” but then also use “neoliberal” in the title.

Seriously – if you have a graduate education, you are not the oppressed and marginalized party here. There’s no reason that professors should be getting tenure in the first place; why should this one small class of wealthy well-educated people get the right to keep their jobs indefinitely regardless of performance while their students rack up six figures of debt?

If there’s an assault on academia, it comes from the fact that post-secondary education is wholly unaffordable to students from low-income backgrounds. Being expected to provide a service in exchange for money is not assault. Any confusion on this matter is a good indication of why people are skeptical about giving you more money.

Just re: tenure. There are very, very, very good reasons to provide it. I know of a host of graduate students who are prohibited from communicating their research findings for fear of the potentially very serious blowback associated with their (entirely valid, grounded) research results. Others simply avoid research tracks on the basis that ‘no good can come of it.’

These individuals are working on issues of significance (e.g. how government engages in anti-democratic surveillance and interdiction of communications) that simply cannot be engaged with by most members of the public. Such members tend to lack the time, expertise, or safety to publicly engage in the research. Tenure is meant to afford faculty the ability to engage in such ‘risky’ work while also granting the space to do what might be seen as useless basic research. It also is intended, ultimately, to offer a shield that graduate students can retreat behind if needed. The absence of tenure weakens the already precarious conception of ‘academic freedom’.

Academe is, without a doubt, an increasingly bureaucratic domain. Faculty are often as guilty as government in this transition; it wasn’t always like it is today (which, I might add, also isn’t a reason to lust for the old days: grad students in the 90s complained about pretty similar issues as the students of today). The increased shift towards publish or perish, and in the UK the ‘tiering’ of publications, has been incredibly problematic for the quality of much literature: some publications are ‘slanted’ to accommodate the tiering model, as opposed to the actual way that the research may flow. Such attitudes and efforts to ‘game’ the system are linked to a systematic problem around academe. I don’t know that there’s a ‘fix’, but it also isn’t something that’s terribly healthy today.

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