Thursday, February 7, 2008

Book Review: UNIVERSITY IN CHAINS

The University in Chains –
Confronting the Military-Industrial-Academic Complex – by Henry Giroux, 2007

This is one of those cases where someone reads a book so that you don’t have to. This book by a Canadian professor is heavy on the pedagogical and repetitious verbiage of academe, and low on clarity and brevity. Its laudable point is to warn about the present attack on academic freedom in the university, waged by fundamentalist Christians, corporate theorists and right-wing politicos. I assume its target audience are those academics who can tolerate academic jargon. He takes the title, of course, from an actual quote by Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican who looks like a liberal Democrat in light of the decay of politics in the U.S.

Giroux’s thesis is that after 9/11, the government and right wing in the United States have increased their attack on the ‘traitors’ in higher education, in an attempt to control the faculty, course content, research and direction of the modern college. He separates his book into three main chapters – one on the militarization of the universities, one on the corporatization of the universities, and one on the right wing assault, lead by people like David Horowitz, against academic freedom, progressive faculty, research and course material. To boil it down, Giroux thinks the right wants the university to train, not teach, and to prevent a free range of thinking, and replace it by allegiance to corporate and military America. The plan, in essence, is to have universities be the direct handmaidens of the military, the corporation and the government, and to eliminate ANY official space for democracy, and dissident thinking or research. This thesis fits with the thesis that claims U.S. society is slowly veering into a sort of absolutist ‘corporatist’ environment, a totalitarian ‘democracy’, call it what you will.

His first chapter on the military on campus is the most vague, generally attacking national government policy. Military penetration of the University has gone far beyond the ROTC program. Giroux identifies the military as the third largest source of research grants in the U.S. university system - 350 colleges engage in it, mostly in electrical engineering, computer sciences, metallurgy and oceanography. MIT, Carnegie Mellon and the U of Texas are the most prominent. Certain ‘for-profit’ colleges have now become almost exclusive higher training centers for U.S. military personnel, including internet universities like the University of Phoenix. In the 70s, the CIA worked with hundreds of academics over a hundred campuses. That number has now increased, as the military is absolutely flush with money. Prominent members of the Harvard, Yale and Columbia faculty openly encourage students to join the secret services like the CIA. The DOD even convinced some members of the American Anthropological Association to develop some of the techniques used at Abu Ghraib. Theories like ‘non-linear’ warfare, which says that the military should move LATERALLY through walls and buildings, or above or under obstacles, were developed by theorists in the university setting.

Needless to say, people who work with the CIA and DOD are secretive and trade in disinformation, compared to the normal openness required by academic research. This is one of the obvious democratic contradictions ‘military’ academics faces.

Giroux’s second chapter is about the penetration of U.S. corporations into the life of the university to an unprecedented degree. Anyone working at the University of Minnesota will no doubt be aware of this. Medical companies contract immense amounts of research at the U. In fact, nationally, Big Pharma spends more on advertising than research, as much of theirs is done at public institutions like the University, on the public’s dime.

The modern theory, according to Giroux, is that the University is not a democratic space for the pursuit of truth or facts, but a corporation itself. Students are consumers, professors should tailor their teaching to the ‘market of ideas’ and the administrators are the CEO’s running this show. Worried about costs, and returns on investment, and ideas which do not fit into corporate America, only those benefiting academic ‘entrepreneurs.” Money, not truth, is the new standard. Intellectual ‘property’ is more important than intellectual competence. In fact, 60% of academics are now without tenure, partly due to the efforts of these new “CEOs,” thus ‘proletarianizing’ the faculty. Part time faculty increased 82% from 1987 to 1993. Even tenure for those now have it is no longer secure, as certain recent cases have shown.

The first step is to welcome corporate America in the front door – grants from corporations for buildings and sports pavilions; food corporations taking over food service; Barnes and Noble handling the book stores; VISA putting it’s name on “university’ credit cards, and perhaps even mandatory product placement inside classroom Powerpoint presentations!

Part of creating a new University is stopping the democratization of the University, and creating a ‘privileged’ elite, which can afford soaring tuition rates, even if they have to put themselves in peony for many years by taking on large student loans. Giroux estimates the average student debt now at $30,000, almost double just 5 years ago. This process has been obvious on the U of M campus, where tuition increases have been much higher than inflation for years. The old ‘land grant’ institution of the 60s-70s, which lead to tens of thousands of working class children going to college (and leading to much radicalism on campus) has been replaced by an ostensibly ‘elite’ school, with the poor and working class elements being sent to 2 year or out-state schools.

While people still study the liberal arts (a dangerous thing, that), the hard and useful sciences are where the emphasis of the modern University is, as the liberal arts do not translate directly into jobs, or act as very good feeder ramps for local corporations.

He gives examples of academics in the pay of outside corporations who have done studies that support the products they study, while routinely ignoring proper methodology. If the study finds problems with a product, sometimes it has been suppressed. Professors who’s research creates problems for certain products or ideas favorable to some corporation are attacked in public, and academic journals have pressure put on them not to publish their work.

Giroux points out universities may even face the great threat that blue collar workers have faced for many years – being replaced by a software program or ‘professor’ in India, teaching over the web, for a quarter of their pay. Students in the new corporate university will sit at home, alone at terminals, taking on-line tests, watching pop up videos, and will e-mail questions to instructors. Half of all universities in the U.S. now have on-line education. This way libraries, classrooms and labor can be trimmed immensely. Secondary education will become no more than mail-order ‘matchbox’ universities for many people. And of course the content of all these materials will be owned and controlled by the universities or the vendors that provide the content.

The third section concerns the right wing assault on the democratic space represented by the University. Giroux sees the best example of this in the myriad efforts of people like David Horowitz, a former leftist, now a lunatic reactionary who still sees commies and terrorists under every bed. Foundations dominated by extreme right businessmen, starting in 1973, have committed much money to black-listing professors that they see as insufficiently patriotic, or hostile to Israel, or as dissidents against the corporate state. They attempt to control curricula, staff, research and visiting professors. To do this, they work with reactionary yellow newspapers and cable channels, state institutions and conservative politicians, and corporatist ‘intellectual’ foundations like the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise, Manhattan, Hoover and Claremont Institutes. If it all looks somewhat like the McCarthy era, it is. Though Giroux insists this attempt is more sinister, as it is now directed, not just at ‘terrorists’ or ‘communists’ but at democracy itself. In essence, democracy has become explicitly subversive.

Giroux goes on to cite examples of attempts by Horowitz’s organizations to inhibit democracy on the University campus in recent years. Horowitz usually uses several reactionary students to either outright lie or to complain about hearing ideas they do not agree with, thus putting pressure on professors to tailor their courses to all their ‘customers’ – especially the conservative students. Instead of an exchange of ideas, normal for a democratic space, Horowitz wanst only a prescribed list of approved ideas. This can lead up to fights where conservative campus administrations and trustees, responding to massive pressure from right-wing groupings outside campus, and against the recommendations of department faculties, suspend or deny tenure to left-wing professors who have ideas and do research that does not flatter the corporate state.

An example of this left out of the book is the recent denial of tenure to Norman Finkelstein at DePaul University in Chicago, after much pressure by Alan Dershowitz and the Likud lobby in the U.S. Finkelstein's work centered on the misuse of the Holocaust in the service of a "my country, right or wrong" position toward the State of Isreal. Finkelstein, after being recommended for tenure approval by his peers, was denied tenure by the school's Board on Tenure, and that decision was upheld by the president of DePaul. This decision reflects both the weakening position of the faculty and the inhibition of scholarship.

And I bought it at May Day Books!
Red Frog, 2/6/2008

2 comments:

Renegade Eye said...

People like David Horowitz have to be taken head on. He says he is out to destroy his enemies, not debate them.

If he came to MN, I think he should be debated, since he considers that compromise. Have your picture taken with him and a red flag.

Red Frog said...

Horowitz is not a 'rational' actor, given to listening to both sides. I doubt debating would be very interesting except to give him intellectual credence. But if you want to do it, hey!