by zunguzungu

On the “Failure of Higher Education,” Dr. Crazy:

In his analysis of the repressive hypothesis, Foucault calls to question the given that the nineteenth-century was characterized by widespread sexual repression, that sex was the great “secret” or “taboo,” the “truth” of which could only be spoken through the liberation of the twentieth century…Basically, there is a jolt of pleasure in transgressing by speaking the unspeakable.  If we think sex – or fucking, I suppose – is the ultimate unspeakable thing, then when we “speak” it, we think that we have “power” while those before us didn’t.  We are “liberated” rather than “repressed.”  For Foucault, of course, this is a total mystification of how power actually works.  There is no outside of power.

In the current discourse surrounding higher education, I think that “failure” is the new “fucking.”  If we practitioners of higher education, or pundits, or columnists, or whatever, speak the “truth” of how higher education is failing, then we get that jolt of pleasure in transgressing what we have construed as a norm.  “The children are not the future!” we say.  “There is no future!  Everything’s going to hell in a handbasket!”  And then we get to take self-satisfied pleasure in how we are subjects who know, while everybody else is “naive.” Even if we present a more complicated or nuanced argument, if we start with the premise of failure – just as if we start with the premise of repression when discussing sex and sexuality – we are buying into a mystification. 

On who has failed in the University of California, Wendy Brown and Kevin Padian:

The UC executive administration is the only major component of the UC system that has failed in its mission over the past several decades. This can be measured in several ways.

a. Every other component of the University – from the faculty who have made its departments the best in the world, to the undergraduate and graduate students whose accomplishments are well established, to the tireless staff who work with faculty and students each day – receive consistent high praise from external, objective, quantitative sources. No such praise or external validation has accrued to our administration since the days of Clark Kerr. No one raids UC for its top executives. No one accords them honors other than themselves. And yet our citizens and legislature are told repeatedly that they must pay top dollar to compete for them.

b. The UC executive administration has consistently violated its own compensation policies and damaged its reputation in rewarding its highest-paid members. It has hidden “executive compensation” in perquisites, allowances, furnishings, benefits, and expense accounts that are not available to other UC personnel, and that have been repeatedly exposed and ridiculed by the press. It is difficult to find a segment of the California state administration held in lower esteem than UC executives. These practices have not been rectified since the years of Dynes and Atkinson; in fact, the administration continues to defend them, apparently tonedeaf to a public that has had it with overpaid executives. The most recent example is the September 2011 Regents meeting, where the main agenda items included approval of a number of such outsized compensation packages–including a huge bonus for a UCOP executive based on work done by personnel outside UCOP –coupled with a proposed 81% tuition increase for students. In addition to the damage these practices do to UC’s reputation with lawmakers and the public, top donors are now reported to be refusing to contribute further to UC because they no longer trust UC to use their money well.

c. The UC Administration has lost the confidence of the Legislature (including and sometimes especially Democrats) and Governor. It should have unremitting support from both but has reached this point by making short-sighted political deals, disregarding the norms and accountability expected of a public institution (including compensation issues), and failing to represent UC as the prime mover in California’s twentieth century economic and social success story.

d. The UC Administration has lost the confidence of much of UC’s faculty, staff and students. Undoubtedly, the Administration believes that this is the result of being scapegoated for having to do a tough job in tough times. We think otherwise. We believe that its executives are increasingly unfamiliar with the difference in mission between a corporation and a University, and that they are at too great a distance from the teaching and research mission of the University to pilot it effectively through these difficult times.