The term “occupy” is all over the news now, with the Occupy Movement gaining power and momentum across our country, and linked in solidarity to the occupy movements that began in the Middle East. There is a strong wave of a growing Occupy Colleges movement, long overdue to my mind, that is finally beginning to take hold. The irony of this is something I would like to point out. We may be occupying in protest. But for the last thirty years, it is academia which has been “occupied.” We have been colonized by corporatism, and subjugated to its power.
A few years ago, as I was struggling in the worst of the 2008 economic collapse, about to lose my home, losing my financial battle to live on adjunct salaries, I was walking across one of the campuses for which I taught as night was falling. Ahead of me were blazing lights in one of the several newly-constructed buildings on campus. Looking through the windows of this new student community center, I saw a huge party in progress, there in a warm, well-lit space – banquet tables filled with food and drink, trustees of the university dressed in gowns and tuxedos, chatting happily with each other, no doubt congratulating each other on the increases in enrollment, the new buildings that were going up…..entirely unaware of the solitary adjunct walking across campus, with a hole in the sole of her boot, her sock sopping from the puddle she had just stepped in, the fact that she didn’t have enough money in her wallet to buy food for that night….it was unlikely that I would have been welcome at this gathering, at this banquet table.
The realization struck me, left me breathless: We are not welcome at the banquet table.
We, the majority faculty, adjunct and precarious on college campuses across the country, were not in that banquet room. Our students weren’t in that banquet room. Only the Administrators, the Board members, the Trustees.
The “us and them” feeling was crystal clear in that moment. That wasn’t a university party I was looking at in that well-lit banquet room. That was a corporate party. A party of people, instruments of corporatism, whose profit depends on 1) maintaining a low-wage work force and 2) charging continually higher pricers for their “services”. Faculty is being squeezed from one end and our students are being squeezed from the other. And those people, in their tuxedos and gowns, at that well lit banquet, were having a wonderful time.
I realized: Academia is a culture, a long-standing worldview that values the on-going, rigorous intellectual, emotional, psychological, creative development of the individual citizen. It respects and values the contributions of the scholar, the intellectual, to society. It treasures the promise of each individual and unique student, and strives to offer the fullest possible support to the development of that promise. It does this not only for the good of the scholar and the student, but for the social good. Like medicine, academia exists for the social good. Neither should be a purely for-profit endeavor. And yet, in both the case of the HMO and the EMO, we have been taken over by an alien for-profit culture, our sovereignty over our own profession, our own institutions, stripped from us.
We have fallen victim to corporate colonization.
We, the academics — both educator and student — are “the other” in the parlance of post-colonial theory. If you look at this thirty year period through that lens, you can see just how much has been stolen from us, and for whose benefit. You see more clearly those betrayers who serve the administrative/managerial class and are the petty chiefs of the academic departments, keeping contingents in line with the fear of joblessness. You see the mindless bureaucracy created to numb the mind and paralyze the will of our students. And history has shown that there is no negotiating with the colonizer. You don’t go begging to those who have stolen your sovereignty for their own gain, asking for just a little of your former rights back. You have to build an all-powerful movement to demand the removal of that colonizer, and reclaim ALL of your sovereignty. That is the only demand worth making. All others simply reinforce the usurper’s power to “give”, to “acquiesce”, and reduce you to collaborator in your own powerlessness.
Our students are realizing this now.
They, too, are suffering and struggling in this edu-factory model created by corporatism. They have been terribly impacted by the disappearing faculty and the overwhelming power of a mindless adminstrative class.
Research is pouring into the population now about the drop in skill level, the intellectual and creative unpreparedness of our students. Then, of course, there is the crushing debt which will keep them docile long after graduation as they work menial, precarious jobs and struggle to pay back these ever-mushrooming loans. Joe Berry, Henry Giroux and others have spoken about how the development of the contingent class of faculty, the deprofessionalization of the professoriate has never been only about money. It has been about the subjugation and disempowerment of a certain worldview, a silencing of certain, more progressive, intellectual voices in our society. The simultaneous silencing of the left on college campuses, with the growing power of corporate “donations” which bought control of university culture, has resulted in the disastrous state in which we now find ourselves. This is being demonstrated with stark clarity now that students and faculty are standing up in protest of the state of our country’s higher education system. Police in riot gear are attacking peaceful demonstrators. In Berkely, the brutality of the police with their batons. The horrifying pepper spray incident in Davis that went viral immediately. These are only two of the incidents which I feel certain will continue as the number of people in this movement swells and the campuses finally, finally, become a place of outcry once again. I predict that it will become more and more clear just who controls these universities, and whose interests are being served and protected. The chilling video of the long walk of Chancellor Katehi of Davis through a sea of students, so powerful in their absolute silence, shows her driving off into the dark night. Let’s hope that this will prove to be a metaphor for what is about to happen to the managerial/administrative classes that have dominated and subjugated academia for these past 30 years. The battle lines are forming. We need to stand with our students and demand everything we deserve: Loan forgiveness. A return of free high-quality public university education. A return of the full-time, tenured faculty with full professional supports. We need nothing short of an academic Dien Bien Phu, and a commitment that we will do whatever is necessary to rid academia of the usurping managerial class, to reclaim our sovereignty in order to re-establish the social good that was once the culture, the world, of higher education in our country.