Music: Christian Death: Death Mix (1996)
I have always had immense respect for Mark Taylor, whose work on the project of the posts vis-à-vis deity is very good and often inspiring. His obituary for Derrida was rock solid and earned him even more respect. That’s why I just don’t get his recent editorial in The New York Times. I’ve already had my little rant over his argument on the Blogora, so I’ll spare you that. Basically he argues the university is a factory system and, to move to a better system, we need to scrap academic departments and tenure. Great, Mark. Academic hatemongers everywhere now have your remarks to hold up as more evidence of our widespread academic incompetence and irrelevance.
Taylor’s editorial, however, is part of a new genre of discourse about the academy: anti-academic academicism. Anti-academic academicism is a genre of trade discourse (e.g., Inside Higher Ed, The Chronicle, various professional newsletters, etc.) in which the following are featured: (1) the university is described as a borg-like factory producing mindless drones; (2) the author materially benefits from the very structures he or she critiques; and (3) capitalism is the answer. Otherwise known as fashionable masochism, anti-academic academicism provides new arguments and evidence for those engaged in the culture wars against the university system (e.g., David Horowitz).
Perhaps because I’m about to undergo the tenure-review process, I am more sensitive to anti-academic academicism these days, but I am noticing a lot of it lately. I always notice the factory metaphor comes up just before the policy claim for dismantling this or that. When I arrived at UT some years ago a faculty member whom I respect very much made the seemingly casual comment that I was hired because I am a good factory worker. The metaphor struck me on many levels, but I certainly didn’t like it. I also recently learned he thinks we should do away with departments.
To veer off topic slightly: The “tribe” metaphor works much better, I think, although I recognize some folks think that metaphor is too close to “family,” and folks don’t like to think of academic life as a form of public intimacy. The difference between cubicle culture and the academic department is precisely the forms of intimacy that make it function (yes, I’ve been reading Lauren Berlant today). Anti-academic academicism often takes aim at the mechanisms and conditions of such intimacy. Alienation comes before fragmentation and dissolution.
Taylor is just one of many folks who talk about the academy in terms of a factory system (“machine,” “borg,” and similar terms are surrogates); I think that is an ill-chosen metaphor, because it reduces the university to a production model that is blind to certain forms of intimacy (just think here of teaching–I mean, duh). Whenever you see anti-academic academism, you can most assuredly bet it is animated by the ideology of Economic Darwinism. The net effect of this discourse allows you to downside staff and phase out
brands departments. Who will be the next Pontaic? Sing with me: we’re on the road to becoming an adjunct city . . . .