Nonexistent academic neighborhoods

There have been a bunch of articles on the borders of campus spaces. One thing they all have in common is an insistence that universities in some way manage their boundaries, and usually the surrounding neighborhoods too. People have chronicled how universities put up fences to keep out the poor, how they tinker in urban redevelopment, how they build science parks and sometimes fail, how they create low-income college slums and low-budget small businesses like copy shops, and so on.

But when I was visiting Aix-en-Provence last month — its iconic mountain is shown above — I was struck by the sense that the university just didn’t have a neighborhood. Sure, there were a couple of little sandwich shops and a café where the faculty ate lunch. There was a complex of dormitories on a hilltop and a nearby park where it looked like a lot of students were enjoying the sunshine. There were streets where you could see students and even a few teachers hurrying towards class. Nonetheless, in some directions you only had to walk a dozen yards from the campus gate before the university was entirely forgotten in the quiet streets.

Here, then, as a supplement to the scholarly research that has demonstrated the existence of campus boundary zones, I want to write about a few photos I took that illustrate the relative nonexistence of the campus neighborhood.

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Heterosexuality, the opiate of the people

Yesterday was the big day of student elections at Paris-8, just as there were elections in Aix that I covered a few weeks ago. But in the thick of the afternoon I was delighted to see that not all the groups were handing out election fliers, for right at the campus entrance was a new feminist collective. Such groups seem somewhat less common in France than in the US, where gender-based activism, while far from mainstream, is quite usual. And their flier, when I sat down later to look at it, turned out to be a good one:

Questionnaire on Sexuality

  • Where do you think your heterosexuality comes from?
  • When and under what circumstances did you decide to be heterosexual?
  • Could it be that your heterosexuality is only a difficult and troubling phase that you’re passing through?
  • Could it be that you are heterosexual because you are afraid of people of the same sex?
  • If you’ve never slept with a partner of the same sex, how do you know you wouldn’t prefer one? Could it be that you’re just missing out on a good homosexual experience?
  • Have you come out as heterosexual? How did they react?
  • Heterosexuality doesn’t cause problems as long as you don’t advertise these feelings. Why do you always talk about heterosexuality? Why center everything around it? Why do the heterosexuals always make a spectacle of their sexuality? Why can’t they live without exhibiting themselves in public?
  • The vast majority of sexual violence against children is due to heterosexuals. Do you believe that your child is safe in the presence of a heterosexual? In a class with a heterosexual teacher in particular?
  • More than half of heterosexual couples who are getting married this year will get divorced within three years. Why are heterosexual relationships so often bound for failure?
  • In the face of the unhappy lives that heterosexuals lead, can you wish for your child to be heterosexual? Have you considered sending your child to a psychologist if he or she has turned out to have heterosexual tendencies? Would you be ready to have a doctor intervene? Would you send your child to in-patient therapy to get him or her to change?

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Religion at Paris-8: Djinn and the Evil Eye

This is the last installment of my translation of some preliminary results from Charles Soulié’s study of religion among Paris-8 students, and this is going to be the post where I out myself as some kind of rationalist and modernist… Or at any rate where I express surprise at the non-negligible rates of magical and supernatural belief within the Paris-8 student body. I’ll sum things up: about 1 in 3 students believe in the Evil Eye (or at least they checked “yes” on the questionnaire), about 1 in 5 believe in djinn, and about 1 in 5 believe in astrology. These are minority views, in all cases, certainly, and are no doubt products of the radically transcultural space of Paris-8, where normative French national beliefs are often not in effect. A couple of these seem to be characteristically Islamic beliefs, others more diffuse across religions. To be honest, I can’t say I really understand what it’s like to believe in the Evil Eye, though I do have some idea what it means to believe in astrology (I give the astrologers credit for their acceptance that our lives are determined from the outside, though I strongly disagree that star positions are the most important node in this process of determination). For a devoutly secular person like me… there’s something always just slightly disquieting in reading over the substantial rates of non-secularism in the world.

A further note on this data: The last question here deals with wearing religious signs (strongest among the Greek Orthodox, as you’ll see). I’d emphasize here that our analysis of these religious artifacts ought to be somewhat different from our analysis of the rates of evil-eye-belief. A worn artifact is a sign of external identification (or verification) of one’s social identity in a way that a mental acceptance of some phenomenon (e.g. djinn) need not be. Even religious signs that are worn under the clothing, it seems to me, still have this characteristic of identity marking, even if one is thereby only signaling to oneself one’s own identity. (It’s interesting to note that among these signs of identity, only one, the headscarf, seems to have become a major public controversy. But we won’t get into the French politics of the veil just now.)

So without further ado…

Table 2: Belief in the Evil Eye by religion

Yes No No Response Total
Muslims 68.90% 24.41% 6.69% 100%
Christians 47.83% 44.93% 7.25% 100%
Other religions 44.57% 46.74% 8.70% 100%
Greek Orthodox 38.46% 53.85% 7.69% 100%
Jews 36.36% 54.55% 9.09% 100%
Catholics 35.62% 59.59% 4.79% 100%
None / NR 13.77% 82.32% 3.91% 100%
Buddhists 11.76% 88.24% 0.00% 100%
Protestants 7.69% 89.74% 2.56% 100%
Total 31.48% 63.44% 5.08% 100%
n 403 812 65 1,280

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Religion at Paris-8, Part 2

I see that Mike has already inquired as to the methodology of the report on student religion that I began posting yesterday. Most of his methodological queries are settled by the below section, which was actually the introduction in the original French version, but which I’m posting second because I wanted to start with some of the substantive conclusions.

This report looks into the ways that undergraduates [étudiants de 1er cycle] at Paris-8 relate to religion, and into their opinions and practices about their customs and politics. It is based on a questionnaire and interview study conducted in 2004-5 with a group of undergraduate sociology students at Paris-8 (Vincennes-Saint Denis). The project looks at these students’ undergraduate classmates who were present in class across a selected sample of some ten disciplines. It was initially planned as a form of research training through research practice.

The framework of inquiry

Paris-8 has the greatest fraction of foreign students of any French university. In 2003-4, grouping all levels together, they formed 34.7% of enrollments. At the same time, as a result of its location in Seine Saint-Denis [a working-class suburb just north of Paris], this establishment has a high percentage of immigrants’ children. The high proportion of migrants, and of children of migrants, thus makes the establishment a privileged observatory of the processes of religious, moral and political acculturation.


1,280 students responded to the questionnaire and around thirty interviews were conducted. 65% of respondents were first years, and 67.6% were women, the percentage of women ranging from 85.6% in psychology to 19.4% in computer science [informatique]. 80% of the students were French, 10% came from the countries of North and Central Africa [des pays du Maghreb et d’Afrique noire], 5.6% from Europe, 2.9% from Asia and 2.1% from America or elsewhere. The majority of foreign students at Paris-8, therefore, come from the countries of North and Central Africa, which are largely Islamic.

The proportion of foreigners varies by discipline. It’s highest in French literature (57.9%) and computer science (45.8%), and lowest in history (7.8%), plastic arts (9.9%) and cinema (10.2%). The particular nationalities also vary by discipline: the Europeans are most present in French literature and communication, the North Africans [maghrébins] in computer science and economics, the Central Africans in economics, and the Asians in French literature and computer science. This distribution also generally corresponds with the observable tendencies on the national scale.

We must also add that the notion of a foreign student, beneath its apparent bureaucratic simplicity (being a foreigner means having a foreign nationality), is a complex and ambiguous one. For some have lived for a very long time in France, or were even born here, while others are in positions of mobility; and this varies greatly according to nationality. 37% of North African students have a father who lives in France, against 20.8% for European students and 12.5% for those from Central Africa. These students’ family roots, and hence also their social, economic and cultural roots, thus differ strongly.

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Religion at Paris-8, Part 1

The main point of this post is as follows: One of the most left-wing universities in France is composed of a majority — a very slight majority, mind you, but still a majority — of religious believers.

Charles Soulié, of the Paris-8 sociology department, kindly shared with me some unpublished results of a survey project on campus religious belief that he conducted in 2004-2005. I’m going to post my translation of it in three segments: first the basic figures, then his comments on foreign students, and finally some very interesting results about campus beliefs in magical phenomena like the Evil Eye (beliefs which, moreover, aren’t as extinct as one might expect in our supposedly postmodern era).

Here’s what the figures look like, broken down by discipline. (I’ll post some details about the survey later; for now let me just note that it’s a survey of undergrads.)

None* Muslims Catholics Other Christians Other Religions
Cinema 71,43% 8,16% 9,18% 0,00% 11,22%
Arts 64,93% 5,69% 10,43% 8,06% 10,90%
Psychology 56,15% 15,57% 9,43% 9,43% 9,43%
Anthropology 54,72% 14,15% 10,38% 9,43% 11,32%
Communication 48,31% 14,98% 17,87% 9,18% 9,66%
History 46,07% 25,84% 13,48% 6,74% 7,87%
Others 42,37% 25,42% 10,17% 10,17% 11,86%
French Lit 36,84% 31,58% 5,26% 19,30% 7,02%
Computer Sci 26,39% 45,83% 8,33% 9,72% 9,72%
Economics 22,63% 44,53% 12,41% 16,06% 4,38%
Total 49,92% 19,84% 11,41% 9,45% 9,38%
N (total 1,280) 639 254 146 121 120

* None designates no religion, atheist or no response.
Continue reading “Religion at Paris-8, Part 1”

Figures on American faculty workers

John Curtis of the AAUP Research Office was kind enough to provide me with their current compilation of government figures on instructional staff in the U.S.

1975 1995 2007 % Change 1975-2007
Full-time Tenured 29%
Full-Time Tenure Track 16.1%
Full-Time Non-Tenure 10.3%
Part-Time Faculty 24.0%
Grad Student Employees 20.5%
Total 99.9%
of which contingent staff: 54.9%

(This data comes from the IPEDS Fall Staff Survey. The AAUP notes as follows: “Figures for 2005 and 2007 may not be exactly comparable with previous years, due to a change in the type of institutions included in totals. Grad student figure in 1975 column is for 1976. Percentages may not add to 100 due to rounding.”)

There are three important things to learn here. (1) The current fraction of contingent instructional labor in U.S. higher education is just about 75% by these figures. (2) Contingents (i.e. everyone who’s not tenured or tenure-track) have grown enormously since 1975, but it’s important to note that even in 1975 they were already more than half the academic teaching workforce. As I wrote in my earlier post, even the golden age wasn’t that golden. (3) Interestingly enough, while the tenured faculty has grown noticeably over the last 35 years, the tenure-track faculty (assistant professors) have barely grown at all, even in absolute terms. In other words, as people on the existing tenure track have gotten tenure (or alternatively failed to get tenure and hence gotten fired), they haven’t been replaced by new tenure track slots.

In sum, nothing too surprising here, but it’s useful to have the figures handy.

The brief moment of tenure in American universities

Befitting the title and the subject of this post, I’ll try to be brief. Stanley Aronowitz, in his 1998 essay on faculty working conditions called “The last good job in America,” tells us the following:

“Organizations such as the American Association of University Professors originally fought for tenure because, contrary to popular, even academic, belief, there was no tradition of academic freedom in the American university until the twentieth century, and then only for the most conventional and apolitical scholars. On the whole, postsecondary administrations were not sympathetic to intellectual, let alone political, dissenters, the Scopeses of the day. Through the 1950s most faculty were hired on year-to-year contracts by presidents and other institutional officers who simply failed to renew the contracts of teachers they found politically, intellectually, or personally objectionable.

For example, until well into the 1960s the number of public Marxists, open gays, blacks, and women with secure mainstream academic jobs could be counted on ten fingers. And contrary to myth it wasn’t all due to McCarthyism, although the handful of Marxists in American academia were drummed out of academia by congressional investigations and administrative inquisitions. The liberal Lionel Trilling was a year-to-year lecturer at Columbia for a decade not only because he had been a radical but because he was Jew. The not-so-hidden secret of English departments in the first half of the twentieth century was their genteel anti-Semitism. For example, Irving Howe didn’t land a college teaching job until the early 1950s, and then it was at Brandeis. Women fared even worse. There’s the notorious case of Margaret Mead, one of America’s outstanding anthropologist and its most distinguished permanent adjunct at Columbia University. Her regular job was at the Museum of Natural History. She was a best-selling author, celebrated in some intellectual circles, but there was no question of a permanent academic appointment. Her colleagues Gene Weltfish and Ruth Benedict, no small figures in anthropology, were accorded similar treatment.”

(pp. 207-208)

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“Everything is going great”: the official lie of campus newsletters

As someone who’s young, as someone who hasn’t known the academic world for decades and decades and decades, this hadn’t occurred to me, but it turns out that something as seemingly innocuous as the campus newsletter may have a political history. At least that’s what I infer from this fairly bitter critique of campus newsletters on French campuses that I’ll excerpt and translate from Christian de Montlibert‘s 2004 book, Knowledge for Sale: Higher Education and Research in Danger (Savoir à Vendre : L’enseignement et la recherche en danger). My guess, though he doesn’t give any real detail, is that the very existence of a campus newsletter on French public universities is a fairly recent development.

Management at the University

Managerial university administration supports itself with numerous organizational measures; computer software on the corporate model, for example, has already profoundly modified universities’ operations. And the language of entrepreneurial discourse — “efficiency,” “control,” “evaluation,” “project,” “objectives” — is being transposed onto centers of teaching and research which worked, until now, according to other logics. The critical and cumulative temporality of knowledge, after all, has nothing to do with a realized project’s profit timeline.

Nothing shows this penetration of managerial ideology better than the realization of university “newsletters” (journaux). We find in these newsletters a clear expression of this “enterprise culture,” a cleverly disguised and hence valorized means for the indoctrination of a firm’s employees, whose aim is an interiorization of the objectives of productivity and an acceptance of organized forms of domination. These newsletters aim to give a handsome image of the university, without wrinkles or folds, which has no more relation to reality than advertising icons have to social reality.

The newsletter delivers an official lie: “Everything is going great.” It is in no way a public space that would allow a debate about campus participants’ activities and conditions of existence. One doesn’t talk about the misery of foreign students who go to the hospital in a state of physical deterioration because of malnourishment, nor about the short-term jobs that other students string together, nor about anguish in the face of precarity, nor about academic failure. Neither does one talk about the working conditions in the university’s offices or among its laborers. One doesn’t talk in this newsletter about the faculty’s working conditions, nor about the reactions to the latest ministerial injunctions, nor about the problems of research work. The newsletters keep silent on the reforms imposed on university workers, even though they could be the best placed to forecast the University’s development.

As the University is also a center of research, one can only be amazed to see that the newsletter doesn’t open up its columns to notes on current research projects, on the ideas currently up for debate, or on the knowledges currently being developed. In reality, the newsletter is copying business newsletters: it wants to be the vector of an “enterprise culture.” But everything shows us that the University, a place of confrontation between different knowledges and truths and research projects, loses itself in wanting to “sell itself.” It ceases to be by wanting to be what it’s not.

(pp. 46-47).

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The expensiveness of conferences

I was just finding out how much it would cost to attend the European Association of Social Anthropologists conference this summer, and the costs and fees run something like this:

Accommodation €105 (€35/night * 3)
Student conf. registration €90
Obligatory EASA membership €50
Roundtrip airfare to Dublin €150
Very cheap meals from restaurants €45 (€15/day * 3)
Total €440

By contrast, you could rent a room in Paris for an entire month (my rent is €400) for less than the sum cost of these three days. Yes, a month’s rent: which, from a student perspective, is a rather amazing sum of money. It’s enough to make one think that major academic conferences like this are structured around a sort of tacit class exclusion. They do, of course, have some participant funding available, but it apparently comes to €20,000 for a conference that’s supposed to attract more than a thousand people.

Student elections in Aix-en-Provence

Last week I went to visit Aix, which might become one of my major fieldsites next year. The university building itself was falling apart; as it turns out, it was the one featured in last year’s complaint about the physical decrepitude of French universities. In spite of the physical decay, it was all lush with plant life.

Now as it happened, the week I arrived they were in the last days of campaigning for student elections to various university administrative councils, primarily the Administration Council (Conseil d’Administration, which is the major decision-making body) and University Life and Study Council (Conseil des Etudes de la Vie Universitaire, which handles pedagogical matters). Graduate students are also eligible to sit on the Scientific Council (Conseil Scientifique), which sets research policy.

This was the courtyard by the main entrance. In the center of the photo you can see the little group of people handing out leaflets, in what became practically a competitive sport to reach the maximum number of potential voters.

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But you ARE the professor…

Here is a handy anecdote that reminds us of the pedagogical contradictions of radical pedagogy (which I’ve covered before):

But my favorite story about him [one Andrew Levine] concerns the first class he ever taught. It was during the exciting days of anti-Viet Nam War protests and Columbia building seizures, and Andrew was totally engaged. I ran into him as he was off to teach his first discussion section ever. He explained to me that he was eager to break down the authority structure of the classroom. He was going to ask students to call him by his first name [this is back when no one did that], and would have the students sit in a circle so that he would not be in a superior position standing in front of the class. “Andrew,” I said, “these students are not stupid. They know that at the end of the semester, you are going to be the one giving them a grade. You can’t pretend not to be an authority when you really are one.” “No, no,” he protested, “this is going to be different.” Several hours later, I saw him again, and he was quite crestfallen. “They treated me like The Professor,” he said sadly. “But you are the professor,” I said.

The story is from Robert Paul Wolff’s memoirs from the 60s. Of course, it was naive on the teacher’s part to imagine that a change in naming and seating practices would magically transform authority structures. But there are still some things to learn here:

(1) We’re reminded that pedagogical innovation can emerge preferentially from politically charged historical moments, like the Vietnam protests. Implication: we can’t and shouldn’t presume that all historical contexts offer identical pedagogical options. I know this sounds really simple, but I find it hard in practice to have a sensitively historical and institutional way of thinking about pedagogy, even though I know this historicism can be therapeutic. If egalitarian pedagogy doesn’t work at my university in Chicago, maybe that says more about my institution than about the pedagogical project itself…

(2) We have here the rise and fall of a utopia in the span of a few hours. We’re reminded at the outset that the students are not stupid; they understand that outward signs of equality are hardly the same thing as equality. And yet the young professor still believed — we’re not told why — that this is going to be different. There’s something utopian about that kind of moment of stubbornness, about the refusal to accept the socially inevitable that can sometimes (though admittedly not in this case) itself help shift the parameters of social inevitability. Stubbornness is a brilliantly political emotion. I don’t have an analysis of that yet, though I’m interested in what happens when stubbornness becomes a political symbol. Perhaps I should think about pedagogical stubbornness as well.

(3) The moment of the professor being interpellated as the professor by the students seems worth thinking about. (“They treated me like The Professor!” we’re told sadly) Are the students demonstrating instrumental rationality in this moment, tacitly calculating that it’s just not worth their while to participate in their professor’s privileged anti-institutional desire? Are they just demonstrating some kind of typical student habitus of deference or a will to self-subordination? Or is there some more positive interpretation of this kind of student behavior? Autobiographically speaking, I’ve had lots of great teachers who I happily treated and recognized as teachers, even while usually still trying to assert my own intellectual agency one way or another… I haven’t really worked this through, so far.