University teachers join french student strikes

Liberation reports that twenty universities are still affected by student strikes, and more interestingly, that teacher-researchers are joining students in the streets. One said:

«La loi attaque la fonction publique», s’indigne Noël Bernard, maître de conférence en mathématique à l’université de Savoie, à Chambéry, et membre du Snesup-FSU, premier syndicat du supérieur. Il dénonce «le recrutement massif de contractuels», «l’autoritarisme instauré pour le président d’université et son cénacle», «les équipes qui seront pieds et poing liés aux bayeurs de fond privés».

“The law attacks the public function,” exclaimed Noël Bernard, a master of conferences in mathematics at the university of Savoie, in Chambéry, and a member of Snesup-FSU, premier union for higher education. He denounced “the massive hiring of contract workers,” “the institutionalized authoritarianism for the university president and his circle,” “the research groups that will be bound hand and foot to those who lust for private funds.”

The teachers have their own group, “Sauvons l’université” (Save the university), with its own call for action.

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academic activism in israel

Israel, it would appear, has an academic system no less controversial than any other… Haaretz reports that the senior faculty at several universities have been on strike for four weeks, claiming that they are not given adequate resources and, more interestingly, have rising anxiety about their professional status:

There is also a growing feeling that the status of academia in general in Israeli society is in a steep decline. However, some say that the academic world itself is part of the problem, because it is elitist and cut off from society, and has therefore made itself irrelevant… Faculty from various fields say the high social status that once adhered to the title of professor has been eroded…

The same debates are certainly heard in the U.S., where there’s a lot of anxiety about American anti-intellectualism, but also a horde of critiques of academic elitism. It seems that Israel also converges with U.S. critical discourses on postmodernism:

One of the main arguments of the veteran professors is that the decline of the humanities is partly due to a post-modernist trend “that has given a bad name to the humanities, because they have eschewed their task of presenting a clear scale of values,” one critic of the trend says.

The most sociologically interesting dimension of the strike is that apparently it’s led by senior professors, who didn’t bother to consult their junior colleagues before starting their protest. Last week, apparently, the scientific researchers joined them in their strike. They say, however, that they don’t feel that the public is paying any attention to them; apparently Israeli administrators have taken no definite action so far, and have announced no intention of doing so. They may be hoping that pressure on the faculty will increase as the strike lasts longer.

Apparently, also, a lecturer was suspended from his job after demanding that a student leave class. The student was wearing an army uniform and carrying a gun, and the teacher was “an Arab lecturer who does not identify with the Israeli army and who does not share in the naturalness with which many of us accept those who carry arms among us,” according to a letter written in his support by his colleagues. Obviously this has a lot to do with local Israeli politics; but it also raises, again, the question of how teachers can express their ethics or politics in the classroom, when they clash strongly with their students’ views, or with their students’ very identities. And to investigate this, we would have to return to the question raised by the first article: what is happening to professorial identity today?

Contradictions of graduate education in anthropology

I’ve recently been thinking a lot about socialization of graduate students in anthropology, and on Friday just had a very exciting session at the AAA Annual Meetings, which I titled Trauma, tactics and transformation. I won’t repeat here what I’ve said elsewhere about the ethical need to analyze our own profession and reckon with our own moral contradictions. But I do want to report on some of the major issues I left thinking about:

  • At an abstract level, how should socialization of graduate students look as a process? Should it be auto-socialization, self-socialization, where we mostly do the work of socializing ourselves into the professional world? Or should it be faculty-directed, top-down, a process of being led into the promised land of scholarly pleasure? Or should it be group-organized, a process in which students socialize each other and form a kind of social collective that learns from and teaches itself? Of course it is all of these, but I think that often our dissatisfactions have to do with the proportions between them. Each has its disadvantages: loneliness, authoritarianism, peer pressure.
  • Thinking about graduate education is a form of reflexivity, but reflexivity has its disadvantages: it can waste time that could be better spent elsewhere; it can be a means through which we end up resigning ourselves to the present; it can even become a weapon turned against our colleagues. Still, the first question in the panel, and one that I like very much, is: what are the costs of not being reflexive? As Anneeth Hundle pointed out, these can be very concrete: the perpetuation of bad racial dynamics in a department, for instance. And it seems to me that the ethics of the status quo are inherently bad ethics, because they seem to presuppose that the actual world is as good as it can ever get.
  • But the thing about reflexivity is that you have to be reflexive even about your reflexive moments: a potentially infinite regress. And one of the new questions that comes to my mind is: what kind of recognition and reward are we looking for in questioning graduate education? Do we expect to be pleased through the validation of our peers? The panel wasn’t perfect, in those respects; everyone surely had to walk away without feeling like their concerns were fully answered.
  • Dominic Boyer argued (gently) against me that reform is impossible, and that thus we should settle for therapy. My first thought here is that even doing therapy is already a kind of reform, and that he’s understating his own accomplishments in teaching theory reflexively. (Though the crucial question might be: does he believe in therapy that cures? Or just in therapy that helps us cope with what we can’t change?) My second thought is that I don’t really care if we call it “therapy” or “reform” as long as the underlying ethical and psychological issues are being addressed. But my last thought is that I wonder if it’s worthwhile for us as graduate students to try to reform the current system at this exact moment. What if we ask instead: how will we do things differently when we are in a position of institutional power, when we have our own students; how does graduate education look when we dream of ourselves as the professors? The status quo has so much inertia that I think we need to look for hope partly in the future rather than in the immediate present.
  • Finally, a major issue, raised by Anneeth Hundle but not finished, is: how are we silenced by academic institutions? And how are these silences structured and distributed? It’s a question with no immediate answer.