Friday, 22 August 2008

From the authority of the professor to the authority of the market

The tricky part in considering student protests, even when (as I am) confining myself to protests directly related to knowledge - (eg. admission, as in who deserves access to knowledge; curriculum (is feminism philosophy?), as in who decides what knowledge is; teaching, as in who is the knower; assessment, as in do exams function as an apparatus of power; knowledge and society generally, and concerns about power and violence) - is pulling apart all the nuances, slippages and debates. For of course each university had its on local issues and student culture and concerns, students very inconveniently disagreed with one another quite a lot and, worst of all, ideas slip into new ideas. For example, the idea of draft resistance (Vietnam), the idea of academic freedom as individual autonomy and the unsatisfactory outcomes of exams as adequate assessment tools all contribute to an Exam Resistor's Manifesto. Some students felt that all assessment should be abolished, as education is an individual and unique process while others just thought exams poor ways to evaluate the possession of knowledge.

Academic freedom for some translated into participatory democracy and equal say for students on all aspects of university governance. While for others student representation enables the university to justify decisions, by making it look like students were in on it and preventing any organised collective resistance. The "violence" of knowing, in that knowledge is imposed on reality rather than reflecting it, for some can become physical violence as a justifiable means of resisting authoritarian power.

Not quite universally, but remarkably commonly, pone thing emerges. The authority than once belonged to the professor is transferred to students. But this of course is no longer a singular authority. So how is curriculum organised? Through market forces - or things that sound extraordinarily like market forces (though I am certain this was not the intention).

Intention, sadly, is not the same as cause: and commodification is probably the unfortunate outcome of this transference of authority.

The loss of privilege

Following from the last post, we now know that the professors against whom protest was directed were not always being obtuse, or malevolent in their responses to student demands for increased say in their own education (though some certainly were and these are worth noting). But, even when some spitefulness is evident, this is not all that is going on. Professors in possession of a hierarchical schema of knowledge simply could not understand student expectations of participation in the university at the same level as the professor, nor could they justify or see any way of abdicating their professorial responsibility and authority: for they felt the weight of the responsibility to protect knowledge, both ancient and new and saw themselves as guardians of an important heritage. This guardianship doesn’t fit with the new schema of knowledge, which is less hierarchical – and it becomes, I suspect, tougher for the next generation of academics to argue for its importance in later years. For when professorial authority was undermined, so was the university’s privileged position as guardian of society’s knowledge.

These conclusions come out of historical stories that I’ll have to tell when I draft my next chapter. I’ll tell these stories later. They’re fun.

Knowledge in the sixties

The pre-1960s model of knowledge was hierarchical. And therefore so was the university. In this schema, it is universal truth that knowledge has a foundation, a core on which other knowledge is built. A novice must start with the core.

Knowledge, according to this system, builds from there to increase in complexity, is applied across other areas and also becomes increasingly specialised. The university structure, according to the 1960s and 70s generation, makes this the case – it does not reflect reality, it forms it.

For some, this makes the act of knowing an act of violence. For others, it makes it complicit in imperialism, capitalism and even war. For most, the act of knowing is a part of a regime of power: this is the point at which Foucault says the power apparatuses he had been exploring finally had a political phenomenon to give it substance and purpose.

In the old schema, knowledge underpins things in a hierarchical world. It underpins really important things, like a civilised society, a humane system of beliefs, a strong economy and an ethical world. After the Second World War, academics in all Australian institutions (except for one) were concerned about the increase in the percentage of intellectuals who would, in the future (as was then already increasingly the case) be devoted to science and technology. This was not (just – for there was some of this in there) because science and technology were grubby, applied, commercial disciplines that did not conform to aristocratic ideals of academia. The fact that Ian Clunies Ross was worried about this tells us that. The genuine concern was for the loss of humanity (due to a lower proportion of intellectuals in the humanities) in a world underpinned by knowledge.

It is no wonder that they (see my earlier Ashby quotes as an example) could not understand why students and junior staff were concerned about this. Yes, knowledge underpinned society, that is why universities sought to protect it. But the next generation were to see this as the problem with knowledge, not its justification. The next generation saw knowledge as justifying an inhumane society, as a falsely underpinning oppressive structures, as a tool for authoritarian power.

The structure of the university, curricula, and assessment schemes confirmed it. All power lay with the professor who was responsible for the protection and transfer of knowledge and who could (and sometimes would) veto any “unauthorised” knowledge going on. Curricula consisted of a core, protecting a canon that served to prevent social change.

The student and junior staff (often one would become the other, of course) movements served, as I’ve said before, to revolutionise university pedagogy and to shift universities from examining bodies to training ones. They did more than this – more, I suspect than they intended – which I’ll discuss later. The fact that a revolution in the purpose and character of university education could be effected in what realy was a remarkably short time was not due to the effectiveness of protest or “something about the period”, however. It was just because there was a generation gap: few new academics had been employed for some time and then quite a lot were, after the Murray review at the end of the 1950s. This meant that the generation against whom protest was directed were on the way out anyway and a very large number of new generation academics were on the way in. The probability of repeating a similar change in higher education to that of the 60s and 70s is very low, for we normally have a relatively steady flow of new academics entering the system.

All this is just the backdrop for new – and largely unplanned, I believe – consequences for the ownership of knowledge.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Another fragment

This is like somewhere between microblogging and actual blogging: maybe it is frogging? Fragment Blogging.

Here is another fragment of current work (quote, that is).

When I was studying during the early 1950s, one of the great problems that arose was that of the political status of science and the ideological functions which it could serve. ... What I myself tried to do in this domain was met with a great silence among the French intellectual Left. And it was only around 1968, and in spite of the Marxist tradition and the PCF, that all these questions came to assume their political significance, with a sharpness I had never envisaged, showing how timid and hesitant those early books of mine had still been. Without the political opening created during those years, I would surely never have had the courage to take up these problems again and pursue my research...


Foucault, of course, Truth and Power in Power/Knowledge.

Those familiar with my long-held feelings about F may be surprised by this. But in this current work I am doing - knowledge, power, student protest, professorial authority, legitimacy of knowledge types and sources, violence, universities in the 1960s and 1970s... could I really avoid him? Exactly what I'm going to do with him is another question....

Technology, humanity, public good and - power?

My fear is that as science and technology draw from an increasingly large proportion of those best endowed intellectually, we will have fewer and fewer men [sic] capable of contemplating in any adequate way the problems of national or international society.
Sir Ian Clunies Ross, 1956

This was in a letter to Eric Ashby - I was privileged today to read ICR and Ashby's correspondence 1949-1959 - and was Clunies Ross' comment disagreeing with Ashby's optimism for a "technological humanism".

The new rise and rise of technology in universities was perturbing to many and hopeful to some, after the Second World War. There were deep concerns that a reduction in the proportion of people studying the humanities might gradually reduce the "humanity" of society.

But what really stood out for me in the Ashby-ICR letters was the almost clerical calling Ahsby and Clunies Ross felt to the protection of knowledge and for the good of society. They felt that knowledge gave them a responsibility to steer society in good ways, to contribute what their intellectual abilities enabled them to, with gentleness and generosity.

It is no wonder Ashby could not understand that some people saw knowledge as a sort of violent power. H has no framework in which that particular analysis of knowledge or power made sense.

I think that is the wrong attitude

Sir Robert Wallace (Vice-Chancellor of Sydney University): They [the "Federal People", he calls them. I think he means the Commonwealth] don't understand the problem. There should be no difficulty at all. Sydney has put in for nothing it has not absolutely needed....if you can get us some freedom from this long round about way, and expensive and stupid way of doing things, we can get ahead. What has the State to do with it?

Chairman (Professor RC Mills, Chair of the Universities Commission -UC): I don't think the universities have been held up because of any requirements.

Sir Wallace: Could you use your influence with the State government?

UC Secretary, Mr Hook: Are you in a position to tell us what you want the Premier to agree to?

Wallace: To leave us alone.

Chairman: The delay at the moment is that you must have some plans and you won't tell us about them...We have to certify for the Prime Minister that it is essential..."

Wallace: What I am asking is that you give us the money and be done with it.

Chairman: It is a large sum of money and when the Government says "we gave this subsidy, did the universities find it all right?" we must be able to say something more than just "Trust the Universities".

Wallace: I think that is the wrong attitude.


(Conversation at the Conference of the Universities Commission with Vice Chancellors of Australia held at 119 Phillips Street Sydney 4-6 September 1946. Minutes accidentally filed in the National Archives with the Minutes of the Conference with the National Union of Australian University Students -NUAUS - in 1946)

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Ashby on the (legitimate) student estate and illegitimate protest movement

In order to direct my mind somewhere towards my two upcoming writing tasks (draft chapter two on students in the 60/70s and prepare a paper on Eric Ashby) I’ve been reading Eric Ashby & Mary Anderson’s 1970 book “The Rise of the Student Estate in Britain”. The train trip from Sydney to Canberra today gave me plenty of opportunity to read it.

By the period of student unrest (say) 1968-1975, Ashby was Vice Chancellor at Cambridge (I’m pretty sure, though he may have held another senior academic admin position in that period too).

All the obituaries of Ashby (copies held in the Sydney archives in Ashby’s bio file) talk about how well he handled the student uprisings: with respect both for students and for university traditions.

Without making too much comment at this stage, I’d like to record some quotes from “The Student Estate”.

“At the centre of the turbulence, in practically every university, there is a small group of dedicated students. They have one thing in common: they hate the consumer society. Their dedication has one aim: to destroy it … sociologists call these groups alienated and there are shelves of books analysing their origins (upper-middle class from permissive homes is a common description); their subconscious disorders (the Oedipal Rebellion against all father-figures is one hypothesis); their contempt of constraint (Clothes are a constraint, razors are a constraint; courses and examinations are constraints; …refined language is a constraint”); their rejection of the cumulative and consecutive structure of universities in favour of spontaneous emotional surges of self-realisation; their resemblance…to some early fanatical Christian sect…” p.123

“[According to militant students}… the universities have to be ‘restructured’ through non-stop seminars…about what the university is for, run by students on the unexamined assumption that the participants will always remain students. The one positive article of faith which students in his group seem to share is that now, in an age of plenty, utopias need to longer be dreams in books: they can become realities; though how this will be done if expertise in the universities is liquidated, they do not presume to know.” P.124

“…we are not discussing legitimate protests (hf note – legitimate according to who?)…What we are discussing is deliberate disruption for disruption’s sake or to secure by the short cut of ultimatum concessions which could be secured by legitimate means.”

“[There is] no evidence … of sinister foreign conspiracies”

“There is the singular logic of anarchy…violence is not smashing gates or assaulting members of parliament or battering at the police: it is the violence done by a repressive curriculum in capitalist economies and the ‘intolerable assault on the mind’ of the examination system; for these constrain personal development. (Curricula and examinations do need reform, but not by this sort of csnt).”

“If the university is wise, free speech flourishes, there is no sign of police, no one is victimised…if the university is unwise, the spiral…reaches its second phase; 50 occupiers become 500.”

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Random novel quote

I would like not to forget this passage from the novel I am reading right now, by Peter Høeg:

"That summer, for the first time, he saw his own age, objectively, in the eyes of these people; a sight which led him to doubt whether he had ever been young. He was seized by the uncertainty that strikes us all sooner or later, and particularly those of us involved in recounting unlikely extracts of the truth. He was no longer sure that once he had, in fact, roamed these parts with his own circus and presented the wonders of the seven seas and wild beasts from far-flung continents and the world's most beautiful women to these yokels whom he now endeavoured to delight by imitating the roars of his long-lost lions and by telling them of the circus princesses - all now dead - whose radiant beauty had once had their yokel forebears' tongues hanging out. Now they did not so much as flicker an eyelid, so sure were they that they had, in newspapers and books and at the great exhibitions, seen all - or at least, almost all - there was to see."

Reigeluth on assessment, labour organisation and instructional design

Continuing to think about a shift in assessment, not just as a change in thinking about the "best" way to identify student progress, but as a shift in the purpose and philosophy of higher education as an idea and institution.

Of course the staff and students of the 60s and 70s defined the educational philosophies that we've been drawing on in teaching and educational design for some time now.

Take this quote from Instructional Design guru, Charles M Reigeluth, in 1999, Instructional-Design Theories and Models Volume II A New Paradigm of instructional Theory p.18

"When you consider that student assessment has typically been norm based and that teachers sometimes withhold information from students to see who the really bright ones are, it becomes clear that at least part of the reason for standardized instruction has been to sort learners in K-12 schooling, higher education, and corporate training. Standardized instruction allows valid comparisons of students with each other, which was an important need in the industrial age: separating the laborers from the managers. After all, you couldn't afford to - and didn't want to - educate the common laborers too much, or they wouldn't be content to do boring, repetitive tasks, not to do what they were told without questions. So our current paradigm of training and education was never designed for learning; it was designed for sorting."

This suggests that there is a connection between contemporary pedagogy and post-fordist labour organisation. And more.