Re: industry finger up the academic wazoo

Ronald Kephart (rkephart@OSPREY.UNF.EDU)
Wed, 16 Oct 1996 14:23:35 -0400

In message <v02130500ae8aa88660b3@[]> John McCreery writes:

> I am not denying the
> strength or direction of [Wade Tarzia]'s feelings, which I suspect are widely
> shared. I am wondering, as someone who has read both Mary Douglas and Pierre
> Bourdieu, on category violations and the struggle over social capital
> respectively, if we couldn't be a little clearer about which boundaries we
> are defending and why the industry finger in question is catching such a
> lot of shit.

Allow me to respond, perhaps somewhat incoherently, and as usual probably not
directly at what you are aiming for (I've been writing all morning)...

For one thing, it grates a little when the College of Business can get an entire
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was already ten years out of date when we got it.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 to
areas where it is inappropriate, namely the diffusion and creation of knowledge.
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 status
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. Seems
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, because
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 the
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 do
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 outside
the capitalist system (so, by the way, should health care and some other things,
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 teaching,
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.

> What, too, of the role of the university in all this: virginal
> aunt appalled at being goosed or aged bugger anticipating something more.

It would be easy to respond stereotypically: (a) faculty; (b) administration.
But really, any given "university" is such a diverse community of individuals
with interests pointing in different directions, interests that change,
sometimes even from day to day, that I would say "yes" to both. Although I try
to be (a), I'm sure that I have fit both descriptions at different times.

End rant for today. Don't forget to watch the debate!

I almost forgot: CNN today reports that about 24% (don't recall exact figure) of
Americans are living below poverty level, the highest rate in the industrialized
world. Second place goes to Canada, with about 12%. Does anthropology have
anything to say about this?

Ron Kephart
University of North Florida