Current Reading

This blog is primarily for me to blog my responses to books that I'm reading. Sometimes I blog about other stuff too, though.

I'm currently reading Notes on the Death of Culture: Essays on Spectacle and Society by Mario Vargas Llosa.

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Saturday, November 21, 2015

Institutionalizing anti-institutional ideology

I'm going to tread somewhat lightly on some of the issues around student protests, not so much to avoid offense as to focus on bigger-picture ideas that I think many people should be able to agree on despite disagreements over some of the particulars.

The recent wave of student protests largely focuses on matters of race and institutional culture.  To the extent that students are demanding that their needs be better served by institutions, I think that the classic institutional response of "We are hiring a new Diversity Coordinator and increasing the staffing of student affairs professionals to serve the needs of under-represented students" is a plausible one.  Obviously a lot hinges on the particulars, but it's at least plausible that hiring people to work with people is a good way forward when the problem was that people's needs weren't being met.

However, to the extent that the protesters' rhetoric critiques institutional racism (a useful conceptual lens for understanding a real thing) and institutional culture, and to the extent that they want accountability from administrators, Freddie deBoer makes the point that hiring an additional diversity administrator just adds one more administrator to a group that will work to protect the institution.  Protecting the institution is hardly a bad thing, but it is not the only thing, and it is certainly not the thing that the students are demanding.  It is, however, something that will probably appease them.

My goal here is certainly not to critique exactly what an administrator ought or ought do, nor is it my goal to suggest that there is something uniquely naive in students being appeased by the appointment of a new institutional figure.  To the contrary, I find a striking parallel between students who are appeased by an institutional response to anti-institutional rhetoric and faculty who sit in workshops and nod excitedly as a person with countless establishment tokens talks about fundamental transformation and reform.  Faculty eat that shit up like pita chips and humus from Trader Joe's.  They'll sit in a hotel conference room whose AC is set to "liquid nitrogen" and get creepy grins on their faces as a Director of a (government-funded) Center for STEM Learning Initiatives talks about how their latest research project resulted in a new app for online quizzes, and how this completely changes the paradigm for education from a sage on a stage to something something.  Ironically, the Director of STEM Learning Initiatives is standing on a stage, persuading his listeners that he has something sagacious to say, and they are, to all appearances, acting out the role of Good Acolyte.  It's creepy.  Do they not realize that just yesterday that same suite was being used for a presentation by the National Association of Vacuum Cleaner Marketers?

Of course, one important theme of this blog is that All Of This Has Happened Before And Will Happen Again.  Hofstadter recounted how Dewey's excited disciples earnestly set about the Sisyphusean task of institutionalizing anti-institutional educational methods.  Today the newspapers tell the tale of institutions hiring new administrators to end institutional racism.  And in the not-too-distant future that hotel suite will be used by defense contractors holding a workshop on exciting new battle drones that implement Conditional Yardsticks for Longitudinal Operational Navigation (C.Y.L.O.N.).

1 comment:

KWK said...

Students have also shown they have no problem with agitating for certain administrators to be fired. So in principle, at least, they seem perfectly capable of distinguishing an administrator who serves them from an administrator who primarily covers the University's backside.