t byfield on Fri, 25 Feb 2011 19:35:00 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> How a Library Saved My Life.

memorse@comcast.net (Thu 02/24/11 at 04:02 PM +0100):

> Now, to repeat your question, what is being or can be done in regard  
> to an unsustainable system of student loans?

I'd be very curious to hear what faculty have to say about this, but 
they seem to be awfully silent on the subject, don't they?

This is the kind of observation that segues very naturally these days
into quoting Upton Sinclair's line that "It is difficult to get a man 
to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding 
it." It's apropos, for sure; but complicity in ensnaring students in 
staggering levels of debt has immense consequences, particularly since 
student loans are a privileged class of debt that can't be repudiated. 
And I don't mean 'complicity' in the lite late-80s sense of a cheap 
debating gambit masquerading as a profound insight. Rather, I mean that
we (I'm one, and at a private university no less) benefit from this 
infernal machine. 

Now we can cue the prevarications that we don't really benefit because 
we're salaried rather than having a speculative interest; that, of all 
the different kinds of higher-ed employees, we're (at least most of us) 
are the most precarious; that we have no control or even say over the 
compounding costs of running of a viable higher-ed institution (really
what am *I* supposed to do about health-care costs?!); and so on. And, 
again, these are all true -- but not all that satisfying, at least not
to my ears.

Higher ed in the US is in serious trouble. Costs are skyrocketing, even 
as the population that can reasonably cover those costs is shrinking --
which means that the people who *can* cover those costs will, over time,
because increasingly 'unreasonable.' (Of course, I feel compelled to add 
'not in personal terms,' but that's a Scylla and Charybdis: it wouldn't 
do to use such an impolite word to describe the wealthy en masse -- but 
nor would it do to suggest that the absence of students from, what?, 
'non-wealthy' backgrounds has no impact.) These secular trends, combined 
with ever-growing demand for educational credentials, put universities 
in a structural position that, in any other context, would seem a bit 
rentier (if anyone still used that word, that is -- it starts to lose its 
descriptive power in a property-obsessed and 'knowledge-based' economy.)

But you asked what is being or can be done? I think the traditional 
phrase is "What *is* to be done?", isn't it? Granted, that's a bit more
loaded -- which is sort of the point. I think it'd be unwise for faculty
to wait for operational administrators to move first in the direction
of driving 'tuition' costs down: it'll have staggering implications for
operations, sure, but it shouldn't be an operational question first and
foremost. And it'd be cowardly, unfair, and sophistical for faculty to 
wait for *students* to move first; and, anyway, in *this* context the
category 'student' basically means the larval stage of an indentured 
alumnus/a. So should we wait for alumni/ae to move first? Surely not. 
So who's it going to be? The 'financial services' sector? Obama? Maybe
Congress? The courts, which sit atop one of the most ruthless systems 
for exchanging legitimacy for putting up and paying up? The working 
classes who bear the brunt of the most exploitive manifestations of 
this technique of expropriation? The answer's pretty obvious -- about 
as obvious as the silence in those quarters.

If robbing younger people blind isn't a moral question, I don't know 
what is, but if I had to imagine a club I don't want to belong to it'd
be the Academics Opposed to Tuition Hikes -- talk about unbearable 
committee meetings, ecch. The heroic posturing, the studied silences,
the endless self-serving 'considerations,' the consensus-building...OMG
please just kill me now.

There's another way to approach it, which is both less and more direct:
de-instrumentalizing academic degrees. The first step would be for 
schools to stop requiring terminal degrees for academic positions. Poof!
(I can hear the cries of joy already. :) But, seriously, the moment an 
advanced degree is no longer brandished as *the* sine qua non for an
academic appointment -- from that moment -- we'd end up with a very 
different kind of discussion about what exactly academics are supposed
to do. We'd also end up with a very different kind of discussion about
what advanced degrees mean and how they relate to the tasks at hand. And,
not by coincidence, we'd also end up with much more explicit forms of
ideological warfare within higher ed -- less like an aristocratic
masquerade ball and more like a riot. (Guess who'd play the role of the 


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