notes on a lively conference on universities

The mood last weekend in Minnesota was sometimes fiery, sometimes like a storm about to break, with groves of raised hands waiting to be called on; other times a bit calmed, a bit weary from ten straight hours of sessions, or sobered by the complexity of the topic or even the complexity of the discussion. It was a conference called “Rethinking the University,” three days long, at first in a dark business school ampitheatre, and then in an old assembly hall with wooden beams and weak sunlight seeping through opaque windows.

The crowds ranged from thirty to ninety, I’d guess; panels dealt with everything from academic labor and grad student unionization to radical pedagogy, the liberal arts, academic knowledge with its marginal branches like theatre and design, Marxian theories of affective labor and Italian autonomism, and of course academic branding and corporatization. A high degree of political commitment, and widespread involvement in the labor movement, set the tone of debate; a number of participants were labor historians, union organizers turned grad students, past members of SDS, or “seventies feminists” (as one woman called herself). Only a few non-academics showed up, raising questions about how to bridge the gap between academic discourse and other kinds of organizing.

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American conferences on the university

I was making a little list of conferences on the university and I thought, for quick historical reference, it might be good to post them here. When I try to make a list – and I’m sure this is a very incomplete one – it turns out that there’s a pretty continuous flow of scholarly interest in the topic. (And this is all ignoring the work of ASHE and other education research groups that I don’t know.)

increased American interest in philosophy

An article called “In a New Generation of College Students, Many Opt for the Life Examined,” in the Times, reports that the number of undergraduate philosophy majors is climbing across the country. The interesting thing is that the reasons given for the increase in enrollment are far from traditional justifications for philosophical inquiry. A student at Rutgers, Didi Onejame, is said to think that philosophy “has armed her with the skills to be successful.” What are these skills? “It’s a major that helps them become quick learners and gives them strong skills in writing, analysis and critical thinking,” says the executive director of the APA. Students also, apparently, find it “intellectually rewarding,” “a lot of fun,” good training for asking “larger societal questions,” and a good choice for an era when the job market changes too fast, supposedly, to pick a more reliably marketable field.

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Philosophy course listings, University of Vincennes 1969/70

According to a curious book, Christopher Driver’s The Exploding University – a journalist’s reflective late-60s tour of universities around the globe – the courses offered at the University of Vincennes as of 1969/70 were as follows:

  • La 3ème étape du marxisme-leninisme: le maoïsme (Judith Miller)
  • Problèmes concernant l’idéologie I (Judith Miller)
  • Problèmes concernant l’idéologie II (Jacques Rancière)
  • Théorie de la 2ème étape du marxisme léninisme: le concept du stalinisme (Jacques Rancière)
  • Introduction aux marxistes du XXème siècle: (1) Lenine, Trotsky, et le courant bolchévique (Henri Weber)
  • (2) Les écrits de Mao Tsé Toung (Henri Weber)
  • La dialectique marxiste (Alain Badiou)
  • La science dans la lutte des classes (Alain Badiou)
  • Problèmes de la pratique révolutionnaire (Jeannette Colombel)
  • L’idéologie pédagogique (René Scherrer)
  • Logique (Houria Sinaceur)
  • Epistémologie des sciences exactes et des mathématiques (Houria Sinaceur)
  • Epistémologies des sciences de la vie (Michel Foucault)
  • Pb. épistemologiques des sciences historiques (François Chatelet)
  • Critique de la pensée spéculative grecque (François Chatelet)
  • Nietzsche (histoire et genéalogie) (Michel Foucault)
  • Les idéologies morales d’aujourd’hui (Françoise Regnault)
  • A propos de la littérature et del’art (François Regnault)
  • Le signe chez Nietzsche (François Rey)

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