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.

Ozawa describes this policy vision as follows:

…The times are now changing to informational capitalism (knowledge capitalism), which creates differences through the commercialization of information (knowledge). This understanding of the current situation gave birth to the ‘magic words’ of a ‘knowledge-based society.’ That is, in order to realize a ‘knowledge-based society,’ a societal system that formulates human capital and generates innovation needs to be constructed. For this goal, the university needs to become a source of industrial/technological talent, and thus, a transformation towards a research system, based on the production and protection of intellectual property rights, is desirable. (181-2)

Here, the argument is cast in terms of universal, global economic transformations. The “nation” isn’t mentioned, and the “society” is figured as a unit that must adapt to fulfill its economic function, an abstract functional unit in a global system. But in the very next paragraph, Ozawa goes on to tell us about the origins of this discourse:

This type of discussion originates from the United States of the 1980s. The US of this time, hoping to escape from the 1970s recession, aimed to fulfill both the desires of the industries, which were suffering from declining business, and the academe/universities, distressed over the tightening educational budget, resulting from insufficient tax revenues. In order to address both concerns, the US converted from anti-patent (technological freedom policies as represented in anti-trust laws) to pro-patent policies (policies encouraging the acquisition of patents). In this system of university-industry research collaborations, the universities would obtain patents, and would provide exclusive operational rights to a particular company. From it, the university would earn licensing income. This was established by a series of legislations, starting with the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980. This federal measure is sometimes referred to generally as the Bayh-Dole System. In this way, university research turned from open to closed system (while open to the particular company), and the state set the path for the fusion the industries, state, and academe by mediating the university-industry collaborations. (182)

Now, I rather suspect that an older generation who was working in 1980s American universities might remember the decade just a bit more complexly than this. In the humanities, it seems to have been a moment of “culture wars” and quarrels over the literary canon taught to undergraduates, the moment of “high theory” in literary studies, a moment of the controversial appearance of “postmodernism” in anthropology and elsewhere, of the contorted ending of the Cold War (which obviously has some bearing on the apparent shift away from military research towards more corporate research in academia), of the early stages of the Internet, of falling enrollments with the end of the Baby Boom, and so on.

In spite of Ozawa’s depiction of American reforms, most American academics, I would speculate, have never heard of the Bayh-Dole Act; and as others have shown (though I can’t find the citations offhand), this ostensibly “American system” of highly commercialized, patented university research is really a phenomenon of the top few dozen research universities, which tend to monopolize the big, lucrative research operations. And even there, big research is mainly carried out in certain branches of the sciences, like biotech and material science; there are no patents issued to the English Department. Not to mention that nowhere in Ozawa’s description of Japanese policy discourse does one find mention that “THE United States” does not exist as such, as some kind of intentional state actor — and above all not in the arena of university policy, which is often tenuous in the US, given its massive decentralization of universities across states and into the private sector.

My point here isn’t to give a serious history of 80s American universities, but rather to sensitize us to the fact that there is an epistemology of university models at work in this passage from Ozawa. It’s not a terribly rigorous epistemology; it’s one that tends to seize on key texts and key events, that tends to schematize and stereotype, to eternalize things like the “liberal arts college” model or the “Humboldtian research university model” by stripping them of all but the bare minimum of historical particulars. And people who work within this epistemology have, among other things, seized on the Bayh-Dole Act as if it were the dominant moment, the policy epitome, of 80s American university reforms; I hear it mentioned elsewhere, casually, always magnified out of proportion. University models, I’m gradually coming to understand, are an ideological phenomenon in themselves — a topic for further research. Here let me just note that Japanese policy discourse, as Ozawa presents it, seems to have depended on a massive leap from a global theory of capitalism and “knowledge-based society” to a very particular reading of U.S. legal changes at a particular moment. This blind equation of the general with the particular appears not to have been recognized as such.

But no matter; as Ozawa informs us,

In 1989, during the ‘Lost Decade of Japanese Economy’ after the bubble economy burst, Japan attempted to catch up with to the American Bayh-Dole system. This took place in the form of comprehensive policies by agents such as the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI, formerly Ministry of International Trade and Industry, or MITI) and Japan Business Federation (Nippon Keidanren). [New policies, though I’m skipping the parade of acronyms, involved research development, technology licensing, research patenting, industry review of educational programs, private capital used at universities, etc.] (182)

The Toyama Plan, submitted to the Economic Financial Consultative Conference in June 2001, presented the ‘policy for university structural reform,’ and listed the following articles: (1) boldly pursue the reorganization and consolidation of universities (national universities) to revitalize through ‘scrap-and-build’; (2) implement management approaches based on ‘private sector ideas‘ to national universities to a speedy transition to a new ‘national university corporation’; (3) introduction of third-party evaluation to universities, and introduce the principle of competition to create a ‘Top 30’ ranking system of national, public, and private universities, and create the highest quality universities in the world. These articles shocked and stunned university actors… However, this Toyama Plan was a rehash of the ‘Hiranuma Plan,’ which was submitted by the METI two weeks earlier. The term ‘Total War by Industry, State, and Academe‘ is used, in ‘Points to Stress for the Creation of New Markets and Employment’ (Hiranuma Plan, 31 May 2001)… in order to refocus resources to ‘fields of strategic platforms/fusing technologies.’ The university was positioned at the frontline of this battle, as the peons of this total war. Also in 2001, the second term of the Science and Technology Basic Plan was laid down… through this [plan], Japan will march towards the new national strategy ‘Constructing the Nation through Intellectual Property/Capital‘ (183)

The combination of global economic and national military logics here is striking, in my view. The “total war” of the universities seems to invoke Imperial Japanese military policy, but paradoxically this total war isn’t against any other nation, exactly. Rather, this is total war not to destroy a foreign country but to emulate one — and that country is the United States, of course. The USA stands here simultaneously as a particular national global competitor and as the universal sign of global dominance, as at once a particular place and a universal paradigm. There is a kind of seamless, invisible logical chasm, to my eyes, in the jump from “adapting to the global economy” to “trying to catch up with the United States,” a funny play of universals and particulars. And the identity between nation and capital is strong here; the slogan, “constructing the nation through intellectual property/capital,” really says it all.

Except that I’m still not quite sure what this “all” is. I only feel sure — as I think Ozawa would agree — that these reforms are more ideologically contradictory than policymakers make them out to be. The title of his essay is “domination by money power: one year after the corporatization of national universities” and I’m sure that the United States stands — though this is changing in the crisis, probably — precisely as a symbol of money power, as a sign of corporatization of the national, so to speak.

There’s more to say about this for the Korean and Taiwanese cases too, but I’ll leave that for my continuing dialogue with Zach, who raises questions about the local (=national?) production of knowledge and the “coloniality of power” which I don’t find easy to answer.

4 thoughts on “America, national neoliberalism, and epistemologies of university models

  1. The point about Ozawa an the Bayh-Dole stuff is interesting. Certainly Bayh-Dole occupies a somewhat overdetermined place in critical discourse on university capitalism, particularly given the long history of (private and reasearch 1 public) university-“corporate” relationships throughout the 20th century and particularly after the first world war. Kerr was talking about Harvard but also Berkeley in his 1963 lectures rhapsodizing about the potential for universities as motors of economic development structured around knowledge work. So I’m not sure I’m as critical of this history of the 1980s as you, if only because I think at least some of the critical formations in the humanities and social sciences you explore wind up having a rather instrumental relationship to the logics which Ozawa sees at the dominant frames through which to understand the export of “the U.S. model.” This is not to minimize struggles in the U.S. around the university’s racialized expansions and absences, or the ways in which student and labor movements have sometimes drawn upon, often reworking these critical traditions. But when the guy who wrote Cultutral Capital is ratting out every striking TA in his department to central administration, when scholars of queer theorist literary scholars are slashing entire years from folks’ felloships as part of massive restructuring of graduate worker employment, and when many of the faculty doing the anti-union work of the Yale administration in 1995-1996 are coming from the women’s studies, english, and history departments, this is something I think we need to take seriously.

    Bayh Dole’s inception was in U.S. anxieties over the rise of Japan’s technological dominance in the late 1970s and 1980. “The Bayh-Dole university” is, of course, an abstraction, but what does it mean that this particular abstraction, with all its ideological contradictions, gains such traction in Japan, the original legislation’s orientalized bogeyman, the spectre mobilized by lobbyists and their allies in congress to push the legislation through in the first place. Your aside in the penultimate paragraph about how symbols of corporatization and money power shift in relation to spectacular crises, etc, seems really key to me.

  2. hi Zach,

    yep, I think you’re right. While I would defend my stance on 80s, which ultimately comes down to defending a less reductionist theory of university history than that propounded by university policymakers, I agree that even the ostensibly critical branches of the humanities are far from exterior to the large sums of money that support rich universities or to the institutional politics that make these large capital accumulations possible. The Yale group of deconstructive critics was after all at Yale. I don’t feel like I really understand what you call this ‘instrumental relation’ in any detail, though… a really really interesting piece of historical/ethnographic research would focus on the rise of critical theorists to high institutional positions in the U.S. academy. If I ever have time to pursue it, I would really like to do that project, actually.

    I didn’t know that Bayh-Dole was a product of US anxieties about Japan. Does Newfield talk about that in his book? Anyway, it’s interesting to find out that the phantoms of foreign economic or economic dominance can be so symmetrical — it strikes me as quite ironic that Bayh-Dole, itself apparently prompted by U.S. anxieties about Japan, can turn around to become the instrument seized on in Japan to alleviate national anxieties about the U.S. or at least about its own place in the economic world. Or for another example, much European discussion about universities is based on a phantasmatic view of the “American university model,” but these European reforms may now themselves become models for new American reforms… if this is a historical logic, it’s an oddly nested one.

    Do you have any other thoughts about symbols of corporatization and money power in relation to crisis? I guess this would be a good thing to think more about, which I haven’t, actually. I wonder if less entrepreneurial, business-oriented models of the university is getting mobilized in California now that times are tough. I could see there being pressure to fall back on more traditional notions of the university in such moments. But so far I’ve only seen a couple of radical documents, not necessarily representative…

  3. Yeah, I don’t know – a lot of the stuff I have seen coming out of the California protests, especially the YCSC occupation, seems deeply rooted in the anarchoinsurrectionalist language of Athens and The New School, more invested in the university’s destruction than its rehabilitation to its phantasmic traditional state or core values.

    Jennifer Washburn’s book actually gives a pretty solid history of Bayh Dole and its implementation. I don’t think Ivy and Industry really gets into the 1980s much at all and I haven’t read his new one yet…

    1. well, the main thing that seems to appeal to fairly traditional “public good” notions of the university was this speech:

      It doesn’t really invoke nostalgic images of the past university, but I guess is more like a defense of the land-grant state U ideal that would serve its state’s citizens. I don’t really have time to do further research just now on the discourse coming out of California, but your characterization of the stuff circulated on edufactory etc is certainly accurate. Anyway, thanks for the tip on Washburn!

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