Re: industry finger up the academic wazoo

Gary B. Palmer (gbp@NEVADA.EDU)
Wed, 16 Oct 1996 17:44:12 -0700

As an anthropologist, Ron Kephart knows as well as anyone that isolating
the university from capitalism is probably impossible. He could
do us all a favor by giving us a thorough cultural analysis of
the university as an expression of late 20th century capitalism.
This would enable us to see how our situatedness within capitalism
constrains and distorts the university, but also creates

This examination of the university within capitalism
should include some of the interesting linguistic ethnography
of students as customers. Here at UNLV, too, business management,
hotel studies, and finance all seem to have lots of money, but
then almost everyone has more money than liberal arts. The
probable reason that we have student evaluations of faculty is that
we are in fact partially isolated from the marketplace and our "product"
is hard to evaluate. Here at UNLV we are asked to fill out time
sheets once or twice a year. Summations go to the regents. I
am not sure whether they read them as economic or moral accounts.

Gary Palmer
Department of Anthropology and Ethnic Studies (5003)
University of Nevada, Las Vegas 89154

fax: 702-895-4357, phone: 702-895-3379
>For one thing, it grates a little when the College of Business can get an enti
>new building (they already had one) while we, in the foreign languages program
>cannot get one (that's right, I said ONE) computer for our language lab, which
>was already ten years out of date when we got it.
>It also grates that the business/capitalist metaphor is increasingly applied t
>areas where it is inappropriate, namely the diffusion and creation of knowledg
>Students are "customers" and "the customer is always right." Which means that
>if I try to teach them something (say, human evolution or the linguistic statu
>of Black English) and what I say goes against their "opinion" I'm supposed to
>accomodate to them or else they'll get me on those course evaluations. And,
>"productivity" means how many students have you attracted to your class. Seem
>to me that if the business metaphor really applies, and students are really
>customers, then we should be able to hand out envelopes the first day of class
>and tell them "OK, put whatever you can afford into the envelope; the top ten
>contributions will get an A, etc." But, the business metaphor is wrong, becau
>the sharing of knowledge does not diminish the quality of the knowledge.
>Suppose I teach one Spanish student to ask ?Que hora es?. Next day, I teach
>another student the same thing. The first student will still be able to use th
>question and find out what time it is; if the whole class learns it, they can
>all find out what time it is. Knowledge is not like capital, where sharing it
>with more and more people reduces the amount that each person can have.
>In my own little turf area, as anthropologist and foreign language teacher, I
>also find that the folks in business/industry mainly value us for what we can
>to help them exploit people in various ways. I am not interested in helping
>them do this; I am much more interested in teaching people how to protect
>themselves from predatory business and capitalism.
>This is why I think that education, at all levels, should be completely outsid
>the capitalist system (so, by the way, should health care and some other thing
>but that's a 'nother post, I guess).
>And speaking of those student evaluations, are we the only profession that
>allows ourselves to be evaluated by our clients/patients? Do doctors get
>evaluated by their patients? Do lawyers get evaluated by their clients? I'm
>not saying there's no place in our lives for student evaluation of our teachin
>I'm just saying that the evaluations should be used by us, to help us improve
>our teaching, not by administrators to decide whether we're any good or not.