Is the Exciting New Grad School an inherently anti-labor institution?
First, as Adam has already pointed out, perhaps one reason for the apparent excitement for the Global Center for Advanced Studies is the hunger for an alternative to the increasingly neoliberalized world of U.S. higher education. It is, of course, incontrovertible that higher education is under attack from a number of directions, and that, particularly from the perspective of students, skyrocketing tuition costs are one of the most troubling trends. After one reads past the alarmingly fantastic rhetoric on the GCAS website and facebook page, it appears that one of their primary marketing strategies is to present the school as a low-cost, easy alternative to traditional schools.
The burden of student debt, however, should be put into the context of larger trends, not only in higher education, but in primary education and the economy as a whole. There are serious problems with building social movements that are too narrowly focused on debt–a troubling trend coming out of the Occupy movement. Further, the idea that seeking funding from private institutions and launching kickstarter campaigns are the solution to rising student debt is to is, to be blunt, ludicrous. Those are not avenues of resistance to neoliberalism; they simply are neoliberal tactics par excellence. It has been demonstrated over and over that federal and state education policy are mostly to blame here. Higher education could be completely free if states raised taxes and the federal government redirected tax subsidies. Achieving those goals, however, would require political projects, not Silicon Valley-style gimmicks. The inner solidarity between the GCAS project and ideology that is espoused by the institutions that they claim to offer an alternative to is expressed in their use of master signifiers such as “revolutionary,” “creativity,” and “[labor of] love.”
In addition to these problems, I think it is vital that we examine the GCAS initiative from the standpoint of what it means for academic labor. Part of what has contributed to the neoliberalization of education in general, and especially higher education, is that there has been little to no resistance by organized labor to the policies of administrators and legislators. The 2012 Chicago Teacher’s Union strike has shown that long-term union organizing is the *only* method whereby these destructive policies of education “reformers” can be resisted. The recent actions in the university systems of California, Maine, and Wisconsin are glimpses of a future where administrators don’t sit by and allow tenure to slowly die out: they want to swiftly and completely destroy the one non-precarious form of academic labor. I don’t think that readers of this blog need to be reminded of why tenure is so important and how precarious it is to be in academia without it. Is anyone shocked that tenure has come under such fierce attack precisely at the time when it has finally begun to be extended to women, POC, and LGBT faculty? Are we shocked that those groups are also the first targets when tenured faculty are laid off?
The question becomes: what does academic labor look like in a GCAS world? As far as I know, there has been no discussion of how something like GCAS could build solidarity amongst its laborers. A pro-worker institution could, no doubt, take many forms. Something like a co-op springs to mind as one such option. I don’t think this would would ameliorate the multitude of problems, but it would at least be a minimal gesture. I don’t claim to have a utopian vision of a better system, but I am sure of one thing: privatization is not the solution.
A number of other questions come to mind: what disciplinary regime is incumbent upon scholars in a world of youtube instruction? Must we always be carefully building and protecting our public image? Who gets to decide the faculty of GCAS? Is it one or two white guys who answer not to any public body, but only to their investors/donors? What sorts of habits does this regime inculcate in aspiring academics? Become a celebrity so that you can get a one-class contract? Is there an implicit belief in Ayn Randian individual merit where somehow the most “worthy” academic up-and-comers will rise to the top and get recognized? Do we really want to be turning academics into philosopreneurs? Do we want to market education to students based on the celebrity status of the “faculty”?
Traditional universities have trained, established, and currently (in most cases) provide employment for the professors who are listed on the “faculty” of the GCAS. This means that, at best, GCAS is parasitical on the current academic labor system. At worst, it may be actively contributing to its destruction.
Adolph Reed puts it succinctly: Neoliberalism is capitalism that seeks to destroy worker solidarity and resistance. If we want higher education to be a site of resistance, we should be taking cues from workers movements that seek to build broad community solidarity, rather than modeling a “revolutionary” school on Silicon Valley MOOC-ification. Don’t forget: Silicon Valley hates workers. Does the GCAS?