The University as such is now a place of nostalgia, where it was once thought that a rampant intelligence could thrive, not beaten down by the imperatives of cramming, the horrors of administrative self replication, and bureaucratic procedure. A place that once was a site of ideas (see Sloterdijk’s Critique of Cynical Reason).
We might think differently, we might say no more. Tell me, what are the administrators and policy wonks so afraid of, so keen to regulate education into vocational training and conformist thinking I can hardly recognise myself – opportunism by numbers, quality protocols [as opposed to care for quality], bottom dollar priorities … [the chant again, but this time its ‘tighter belts, tighter belts’ not war on terror, war on drugs – when Ho Chi Minh asked Mao for help against the Americans, Mao replied ‘tighten your belts’; Uncle Ho’s response: ‘Send us belts’]. Concern about knowledge itself is the key here, we might, just, still sometimes, think. There are those who believe the status of knowledge is at heart the main ‘problem’ that surrounds thinking as such, never more clearly brought home than in the controversy surrounding the ‘late’ thoughts of the German philosopher (and national socialist rector-cum-postal censor) Martin Heidegger. This has to do with the ways an activist scholarship intervenes in University administration (play the game or mash the game, the options are parallel). Is it any wonder that nearly every theorist of any worth must declare a relation to Heidegger. To what extent is the crisis of the university as manifest in 1933 and again in 1968 not a crisis that invites a meditation on the ‘vocation’ of knowledge and so on the foundation of the university as a space for thinking the most unthinkable of thoughts? No return to the hut on the hill, this here might be the place to rethink the role of teaching today – even as we endure an industrial action and a recalcitrant employers body incapable of offering adequate pay or following up on their promises… (sure, dock me 20% for not marking, but do not expect me to come in on weekends as I have always done, for free – with open day looming…).
Phillipe Lacoue-Labarthe makes the point that ‘the problem of the university is not an incidental or peripheral problem of Western societies, but their central, prime problem, at least if one grants that the West defines itself on the basis of knowledge and techne’ (Lacoue-Labarthe 1990:112). He links 1933 with 1968 as well (two crises) but I think more disturbing now is the way corporate privatisation of higher education is today still largely unexamined, especially in its relation to the labour markets of very late capitalism. There would be reason to suspect Lacoue-Labarthe might dismiss this as socialism, but the connection is already made in his text.
I want a fighting Union; a fighting VC; a pay settlement that offers an adequate wage; and a university that is a space for a maverick intelligence, a place of ideas.