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Re: <nettime> conjunctural analysis
Brian Holmes on Mon, 17 Feb 2014 00:28:53 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> conjunctural analysis

On 02/16/2014 02:25 PM, t byfield wrote:

A first step in a conjunctural analysis might be to note that
students and faculty are structural, maybe even 'natural,' allies. Step
two might be for faculty to act accordingly.

Understatement of the year award! ...

One of the most decisive
changes to the structure of the US academy came from a cumulative series
of federal-level legal changes over thirty years (1976-2005) that made
student loans nondischargeable through bankruptcy -- at first
governmental loans, then incrementally expanded to cover "private"

When I returned to the US from France in 2009 we had the UC walkouts, strikes and occupations over precisely this issue. Over the next couple years lots of militant knowledge about those federal-level changes was produced, such as this, which I did in the context of Occupy and Strike Debt:


However, the astonishing thing was precisely the *absence* of the tenured faculty from all that. Yes, there were a few professors involved, for instance Andrew Ross has really stuck his neck out, and there are a number of others in NYC and also out in California (people like Bob Meister). But no significant bloc of faculty have yet aligned themselves with students to transform the university business model. And so it just keeps on keepin' on, with the indispensible loans now issued directly by the US government since the collapse of the market in SLABS (yes, that means "student loan asset backed securities," and I think we can all imagine what that was like).

In effect, these changes have amounted to the restoration of indentured
servitude -- an inescapable bond of debt associated with a nearly
obligatory educational passage. The other thing it did was to reduce
creditors' risk to near-zero. With no immediate downside, it's small
wonder that the cost of education has skyrocketed. And as the cost of
education rises, it's small wonder that the jaw-dropping growth in
educational financial would attract every kind of predatory we can
imagine, and many more we can't.

For some more of what you can't imagine, it is worthwhile to read this article, focusing on UC Regent and multibillioniare Richard Blum:


Now, who cares? Who acts? Exactly this week , Berkeley students are again on the case, occupying the "Richard Blum Center for Developing Economies" - or rather, for "Predatory Extortion of Public Potentials":


Anybody on the ground in California who could tell us how this occupation went? And whether any faculty took part?

What we don't hear much about is, as I suggested earlier, any structural
alliance between faculty and students. A simple measure of that is how
rare it is to hear any faculty member at all -- or, heaven forfend, a
collective *faculty* -- declare that the cost of education is absolutely
unacceptable. ... failing to take a stand
is both emptier and, I think, equally suicidal -- just more timid. The
more serious cost is that faculty are squandering their credibility.

You know, Ted, I agree with you all the way down the line here, and therefore also about the uselessness of going to deeply into a word like "conjuncture." I don't give a damn about the term itself, but the way it was used by Staurt Hall did touch me somehow:


And the funny thing is, if you had to come up with one conjuncture where I think it is fundamental to intervene, well, the university is it. Like yourself, I actually do think the squandering of credibility matters. Because after all, why is American society so blind? Why are we so incapable of seeing that our society has become suicidal, and of acting on that knowledge? Maybe it's because our collective organ of perception - the university - has been distorted by its financialized business model. How it works (year-on-year compound growth on the backs of the students) is clearly visible and yet undiscussed, as though unseen. This incapacity to admit the existence of the obvious (the predatory university) is at the root of the even larger and more consequential incapacity to see, or really, to analyze and act upon something even more obvious: the motivational structure of our society, predatory neoliberalism.

As one department, school, college, or university after
another falls under the budgetary axe, others will benefit from the
growing supply and weakening demand.

Savvy administrators at wealthy institutions know that explicitly, and
are biding their time and 'building their brand.' Meanwhile, faculties
sense it but see themselves as powerless, as creatures of the
institution rather than creators of discourses, practices, contexts, and
networks -- at a crucial conjuncture but unable to analyze it in the
ways you described so well.

A bit depressing, no? Should we not build a "speak up" movement? Is it not incumbent on everyone involved to say, look, this business model is failing? Could we publicly admit that it's not even gonna sustain us? How could we act on those statements?

best, Brian

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