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82

Exalted Slogans

The curse of radical academic discourse

by Yasmin Nair

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terms
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notes

i wasn't sure about this at first (wondered if it was, weirdly, a critique of lefties? Cornel West and George Ciccariello-Maher) but it made more sense as the article developed: it's a critique of academic discourse that isn't centering the material conditions of academia. good take

Nair, Y. (2018). Exalted Slogans. Chris Lehmann, 39, pp. 82-92

88

To this end, Salaita writes, in his book Uncivil Rites: Palestine and the Limits of Academic Freedom, that

it[’s] more productive to think about academic freedom as an idea constantly in flux, whose practice is not always aligned with its ideals . . . The preservation of academic freedom as a rights-based structure, in other words, shouldn’t be the focus of our work. We should focus on the development and maintenance of just labor conditions and the disengagement of our institutions from the exercise of state violence. Academic freedom is important insofar as it protects our ability to do our work. When it doesn’t offer such protection, then it becomes just another exalted slogan, the type many administrators evoke to conceal the ugly side of university governance.

—p.88 by Yasmin Nair 2 months ago

To this end, Salaita writes, in his book Uncivil Rites: Palestine and the Limits of Academic Freedom, that

it[’s] more productive to think about academic freedom as an idea constantly in flux, whose practice is not always aligned with its ideals . . . The preservation of academic freedom as a rights-based structure, in other words, shouldn’t be the focus of our work. We should focus on the development and maintenance of just labor conditions and the disengagement of our institutions from the exercise of state violence. Academic freedom is important insofar as it protects our ability to do our work. When it doesn’t offer such protection, then it becomes just another exalted slogan, the type many administrators evoke to conceal the ugly side of university governance.

—p.88 by Yasmin Nair 2 months ago
89

Conversations about how to increase higher education opportunities for lower income students, especially those designated as “minority” students, are often premised on the very logic that sustains inequality in the first place. So, for instance, there is much talk about how institutions like Harvard might do better in recruiting and graduating more students from lower income brackets. But implicit—well, actually, explicit—in this conversation is the idea that a “quality” education can only be obtained by those students if they go to elite institutions, in systems that effectively replicate the conditions of inequality that serve to keep out the populations they represent. Similarly, in reporting on the feasibility of vocational training versus college educations that, supposedly, don’t benefit students, the general analysis goes something like this: there aren’t enough jobs that require, say, silly stuff like the humanities, with all that useless knowledge about poetry, and they’re coming from institutions that don’t prepare them well for college anyway, so . . . let’s just track them into vocations! STEM!

—p.89 by Yasmin Nair 2 months ago

Conversations about how to increase higher education opportunities for lower income students, especially those designated as “minority” students, are often premised on the very logic that sustains inequality in the first place. So, for instance, there is much talk about how institutions like Harvard might do better in recruiting and graduating more students from lower income brackets. But implicit—well, actually, explicit—in this conversation is the idea that a “quality” education can only be obtained by those students if they go to elite institutions, in systems that effectively replicate the conditions of inequality that serve to keep out the populations they represent. Similarly, in reporting on the feasibility of vocational training versus college educations that, supposedly, don’t benefit students, the general analysis goes something like this: there aren’t enough jobs that require, say, silly stuff like the humanities, with all that useless knowledge about poetry, and they’re coming from institutions that don’t prepare them well for college anyway, so . . . let’s just track them into vocations! STEM!

—p.89 by Yasmin Nair 2 months ago

(adjective) deadly or pernicious in influence / (adjective) foreboding or threatening evil

91

discussions of that freedom are not linked to the baleful conditions created, in part, by the universities themselves

—p.91 by Yasmin Nair
notable
2 months ago

discussions of that freedom are not linked to the baleful conditions created, in part, by the universities themselves

—p.91 by Yasmin Nair
notable
2 months ago
92

In this moment, the campus left’s obsession with the far-right forecloses on the facts—that most American universities have already been taken over by neoliberal forces, neither conservative nor left, that see higher learning as a cash cow and the majority of their students and faculty as dispensable in their quest for profits. But the persistence of the left, in insisting that the real problem is that Nazis are threatening to take over campuses, ignores the simple fact that many public institutions like CSU have such enormously depleted student populations that the right won’t even bother with them.

This is a classic con of neoliberalism: it substitutes individual stories and sagas for larger, systemic considerations of the issues at hand. In the case of Radical Academic Discourse, we have only a lot of posturing, and matters are repeatedly framed in terms of “X Professor Who Said Y Faces Retaliation.”

What if we foregrounded movements, not the cult of personality and celebrity? What if we held on to abstract concepts? What if, instead of ceding our ground to Nazis by way of a belief that they threaten control of our bodies and minds, we start thinking about how to open up the university so that it shares its resources—forcibly gathered through land grabs and intellectual property theft from previous centuries—with surrounding neighborhoods? What if, instead of constantly trying to explain stray tweets, we sought to engage in long and complicated conversations about long and complicated matters like genocide as a founding national principle?

If academic institutions are to no longer be like a City on a Hill—or Hogwarts under siege—and if academic discourse is to integrate more fully into a vibrant public life and culture, academics will have to do better than simply casting themselves as heroes of their own sagas. R.A.D. indeed.

—p.92 by Yasmin Nair 2 months ago

In this moment, the campus left’s obsession with the far-right forecloses on the facts—that most American universities have already been taken over by neoliberal forces, neither conservative nor left, that see higher learning as a cash cow and the majority of their students and faculty as dispensable in their quest for profits. But the persistence of the left, in insisting that the real problem is that Nazis are threatening to take over campuses, ignores the simple fact that many public institutions like CSU have such enormously depleted student populations that the right won’t even bother with them.

This is a classic con of neoliberalism: it substitutes individual stories and sagas for larger, systemic considerations of the issues at hand. In the case of Radical Academic Discourse, we have only a lot of posturing, and matters are repeatedly framed in terms of “X Professor Who Said Y Faces Retaliation.”

What if we foregrounded movements, not the cult of personality and celebrity? What if we held on to abstract concepts? What if, instead of ceding our ground to Nazis by way of a belief that they threaten control of our bodies and minds, we start thinking about how to open up the university so that it shares its resources—forcibly gathered through land grabs and intellectual property theft from previous centuries—with surrounding neighborhoods? What if, instead of constantly trying to explain stray tweets, we sought to engage in long and complicated conversations about long and complicated matters like genocide as a founding national principle?

If academic institutions are to no longer be like a City on a Hill—or Hogwarts under siege—and if academic discourse is to integrate more fully into a vibrant public life and culture, academics will have to do better than simply casting themselves as heroes of their own sagas. R.A.D. indeed.

—p.92 by Yasmin Nair 2 months ago