America, national neoliberalism, and epistemologies of university models

My obligatory vacation from last week is over, alas. Anyway, continuing the project of reading about academic neoliberalism in global perspective, this week we’re looking at a set of papers on “Neo-liberal conditions of knowledge” from Inter-Asia Cultural Studies. We read about South Korea, Japan and Taiwan; one of the papers we didn’t read goes on to discuss Hong Kong. I have to say, I’m a little perplexed by the absence of China and India, the two largest Asian countries, from this collection. I’m left wondering what’s happening in their university systems — any reading suggestions there?

The story about South Korea, Japan and Taiwan is familiar neoliberal territory, at any rate. Korea apparently has been trying to create “business universities,” which, as Myungkoo Kang’s article comments, “refers to the commercialization of management, finance, [and] knowledge-production and the training of a workforce that directly serves the interest of industry” (197). This involves reshaping of the undergraduate curriculum, and, as in Taiwan, new research assessment measures, which are problematically based on English-language, American-run, quantitative citation indices.

Japan, for its part, has merrily been “corporatizing” its universities, according to Ozawa Hiroaki’s piece; this involves decreasing state funding (187), worsening working conditions for teachers (186-7), quantification of research output targets (183), contract-based research funds (184), and top-down, “dictatorial” decision-making (185-6). Yes, it sounds pretty much like the usual list of neoliberal reforms. And, as in the cases I considered in my last post, the reforms depend on this peculiar logic of neoliberal nationalism, where universal compliance to global neoliberalism becomes the national project. As Ozawa comments in closing, ” ‘Society’ has become analogous to the ‘industrial world’, and ‘public’ and ‘universal’ are not allowed to cross the boundaries of the nation-state” (189).

What I want to dwell on here in more detail is the use of the American Model and the peculiar figure of America in global university neoliberalisms. As Davydd Greenwood and Morten Levin (among others) have pointed out, new European university models — as well as Asian university models, as we’ll see — are “built on fundamental misconceptions about the university in the U.S.” (98). If we look at the Japanese case that Ozawa presents, we can see that he presents a deeply partial vision of American universities, one which apparently inspired reforms that seem to bear little resemblance to current U.S. higher education.

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Universities, nationalism and neoliberalism

I’ve begun a little reading group with Zach SW and Eli M. We’re trying to get a more comparative, more historical sense of what “neoliberalism” means and does in universities. We started out reading four articles: Andrés Bernasconi on the endangered Latin American university model; Robert Rhoads and Liliana Mina on a major student strike in 1999 at Mexico’s National Autonomous University; Piet Konings on ethnic violence and student politics in 1990s Cameroon, and Wendy Larner and Richard Le Heron on neo-liberal subjectivities in New Zealand universities.

Let me pause for a moment and say that this topic is somewhat new for me, since for years I’ve felt somewhat skeptical about ‘neoliberalism’ as a concept. I remember when I had no idea what it referred to and felt that it was some kind of meaningless sign that signified primarily that someone (probably someone academic) really didn’t like something. Then, later on as I did classroom ethnography, I began to feel that neoliberalism was part of broader metanarratives about universities that were abstract and often irrelevant to ordinary academic life. Now, though, as I slowly get a better comparative sense of national university histories, I’ve changed my mind about neoliberalism, because it seems that the term, in the context of university reforms, really does designate a historical process that’s happening worldwide. As far as I can see, ‘university neoliberalism’ designates the process that brings together many of the following phenomena (not necessarily all at once, but as a set of loosely linked processes with clear common themes):

  • Newly hierarchical, bottom-line, market-oriented academic management. Universities look more like corporations in their organizational and behavioral structure. Corresponding decline in faculty governance, pedagogical and disciplinary autonomy.
  • Withdrawal of public (i.e., state or governmental) money and a turn towards private sector funding.
  • Casualization (sometimes also taylorization) of academic labor.
  • Decline of the idea that education is a public good or a right; and a corresponding rise of ideologies of education as a commodity, and universities as an investment.
  • Privatization and branding of universities. Increasing provision of consumer services to students.
  • Development of systems of competition, ranking, evaluation and audit within and across academic institutions.
  • A shift from universities as small, elite institutions to mass institutions deeply involved in vocational reproduction and “economically useful” knowledge (one could take this as a particular ideology about what role universities should play in mass social reproduction). New ideas about the relation between education and job-related skill-building.
  • Increased organizational intimacy between universities and business enterprises – business-funded research, corporate partnerships, and the like.
  • Rise of the international and global context as the relevant context in which universities should be evaluated.

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Gender imbalance in anthropology

gender gap anthro phds

I want here to present some quick graphs that suggest the changing gender dynamics within American anthropology. This first graph shows the production of new doctorates since the 60s. It is commonly thought in the field that there has been something of a “feminization” of anthropology over the past few decades, and as we can see here, the number of doctorates awarded to women (in blue) has indeed been greater than the number of doctorates awarded to men (red) since 1992. We can see here that males were demographically dominant in the production of doctorates until 1984, after which there were eight years of approximate equality (where the two lines overlap) followed by divergence.

Important to note, it seems to me, is that although it’s true that the relative place of males and females has indeed been inverted, the overall picture here is that the two lines have risen together fairly regularly. Quite often, especially in the last fifteen years, we can see that little shifts correlate across genders, as in the little drops in 2001 and 2005. And the demographic expansion of the field in general is of a far greater demographic magnitude than the shift in gender balance. In 2007, we awarded more than five times the number of new doctorates as in 1966 (519 vs. 98) — a fact whose significance I will come back to later. But to get a better sense of changing gender ratios, consider a graph of women as a percentage of the total pool of doctoral recipients.
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How rich is Yale?

A really interesting section here from Gordon Lafer’s 2003 piece, “Land and labor in the post-industrial university town: remaking social geography” (which Zach suggested to me):

The common sense definition of “non-profit” is an organization whose income just barely covers its expenses. The designation of universities as non-profit institutions encourages one to think of them as organizations that are modest by nature. Even a school like Yale, which is obviously well endowed, is often imagined to be operating close to the margin, devoting whatever income it generates to the provision of high-quality education and leaving just a small cushion between the university’s costs and its revenues. The truth is that Yale pursues an active policy of accumulating surplus wealth, and that by 1996, its annual earnings exceeded its operating costs by nearly $1 billion.

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Universities on strange premises

engelwood vacant lot

It has slowly dawned on me that a huge number of universities came by their premises, by which I don’t mean their philosophical axioms but their physical environments, in exceedingly peculiar ways. Some of what follows below is hearsay and I don’t really have time to do historical research. But there’s more odd variation here than one might have predicted.

  • The Danish School of Education occupies a building that, I’m told, was during World War II the Nazi museum of Scandinavian folk cultures. (This apparently had something to do with creating an Aryan heritage, though I gather that Germans at the time were hard pressed to pass themselves off as more Aryan than the Scandinavians!)
  • Cornell University: Was once a farm (albeit financed by the massive business success of Western Union’s telegraph operation in the 1850s). University of Connecticut: likewise was once a farm.
  • The University of Paris-8 used to be in Vincennes but was forced to move to Saint-Denis in 1980, and all its original buildings were demolished on the government’s pretext that it was a den of drug dealers (according to a film I saw).
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