For what cause, O man, chargest thou me thy daily complaint? - Boethius

November 1989; pages 11, 12; Volume 1, No. 2

Why Manage the Crisis?

Dear editors:

There really is nothing "radical" about Scott Henson's solution to the continuing crisis of education (even if a solution was, what we really need). (Radical Alternatives to Understaffing, Polemicist, no. 1, p. 4-5, 11). In fact, Henson is actually engaged in the same project as the UT administration: managing a crisis caused by students. The crisis of education (of which UT is only a microcosm) has been going on for more than twenty years and clearly began in the student struggles of the 1960s. That It was caused by student demands and struggles has even been acknowledged by many including the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education in its 1973 report (in mystified terminology of course) which is more than we can say for Henson.

To understand why we do not want to manage the crisis, we must understand exactly what and for whom it is about education that is not working. Henson is right to point out that the fundamental role of education is disciplining us to accept work as our primary purpose in life. This has always been the function of the university from the point of view of the university. On the other hand, we struggle to make the university something completely different; a place where we can learn and develop in ways that subvert this process of molding into disciplined workers so that we can discover the multi-dimensionality and richness of life. So when Cunningham talks of the crisis in education at UT, he means that the university is not churning out well disciplined, retrainable workers ready to work for the next 40-50 years.

What we must do is to analyze just how this crisis was brought about. It turns out that the refusal of students to be molded into docile workers and their positive demands for using the university for their own needs are the causes of crisis that is wreaking havoc on the UT administration. Rather than digging deep to the roots of the crisis at UT and finding that it is students who have struggled to push UT enrollment by 15,000 in the last twenty years, Henson instead blames Cunningham and Mark for "their (mis)management" (p. 11) of a "problem" they have never been able to control. Unlike Henson, we have no desire to manage the crisis because it is not our crisis. Focusing on the administrators of the system, as Henson does, can only help to mystify the role our struggles have in causing their crisis.

In fact, Henson's solutions can be used by the administration to help them manage their crisis by destroying our power to use the university for our own needs. For example, Henson's first two ideas for solving the crisis are classic; divide and conquer. His proposals would divide undergrads not only from their potential allies, professors, but from their fellow students, graduate students, as well. Just as the purpose of education is different depending on whose side you are on, so are the activities of professors and graduate students. Henson clearly does not understand this fact.

Professors are used by the university to discipline students and get them back in line. Yet, both students and profs undermine this function when they struggle for a different kind of relationship that satisfies their own needs rather than those of the school. Henson's first solution, making profs work more by increasing their workload, is exactly what the university is already trying to do. Combined with attacks on grade inflation and other requirements of employment, UT is using our struggle for higher enrollment to force profs to do more work, thus hoping to turn them against students so as to blame us as the cause of their problems (which they are currently refusing to do). The question isn't one of overemphasis on research (we know that the university is a fundamental instrument of reproducing the system) but of using profs to instill discipline in students.

Turning undergrads against graduate student can only be another tool that UT can use to further divide use and defeat our struggles. By suggesting that graduate enrollment be cut Henson is suggesting UT's policy against undergrads against grads! If the source of the problem isn't enrollment, why does he propose intensifying what competition UT is already trying to create between us by calling for graduate enrollment cuts?! This solution makes clear his fundamental confusion over the source of the crisis. Instead of seeing the potential for graduate and faculty research for opening up space for areas of study - such as African-American or Womyn's studies - to subvert the discipline process he calls for attacks on us. What needs to be attacked at UT is not research because it is research per se, but those specific areas and uses of research that we find objectionable, like military research. The battle is not research vs. learning, because UT's version of learning is us learning to subordinate all of our life to work. The battle is between their process of discipline and our struggles to open up spaces to learn and develop in ways that subvert such molding so that we can discover the multi-dimensionality and richness of life.

What good does blaming the UT bureaucrats (such as in the Hans Mark piece) do for us in understanding the function of education in a society organized around work and our struggles to undermine it? Focusing on the crisis of education, or UT in our case, should offer a political understanding of our struggles for greater access, more space to study our true history and heritage so we can arm ourselves with knowledge to resist the present organization of society, and our demands that UT pay for it with more financial aid, and more Black, Chicano and Womyn faculty. If one intends to help us understand and extend our own struggles then blaming so and so for "mismanagement" is clearly dangerous if not actually in direct opposition.

Everywhere we look, students are engaged in fierce struggles against having their lives subordinated to schoolwork or any work. Cheating, sharing answers, and buying tests or notes are only refusals of the work required of us to learn to repress our desires for life to a lifetime of work. Skipping class (as your graphic on p. 10 advocates), using financial aid to go to Padre Island, buy a stereo, or even put together an alternative paper are powerful ,refusals of the work discipline that lies at the heart of education. What needs to be done is for us to examine how these activities are struggles that undermine the assembly line production of UT and how they lie at the root of the educational system's crisis. The school systems in this country are turning out "lemons," as Businessweek lamented in October 1988, who are worthless to their employers because they are unwilling to submit to a lifetime of work and boredom. Such refusals to spend one's life working did not magically appear out of nowhere but grew in the schools in the struggle against schoolwork and circulated to the workplace. These struggles are what lies at the base of the of and the system-wide crisis of education. Cutting enrollment is only a euphemism for attacking those areas of struggle in which we are strongest.

It is a recognition of the ongoing struggles of students as well as many others throughout this country and the world against spending their lives working that can go far in understanding the crisis in education and at UT in particular (as well as with drugs and El Salvador, as they failed to do in their other articles). Rather than offering better mechanism to manage the crisis, we need to highlight the struggles that caused it and circulate them so that we can rupture the use of work as the means to organize society and move on to exploring and experiencing the wideranging ways of living life.

Keep struggling and give 'em hell!

Ross Dreyer
Robert Ovetz

Henson Responds

I don't disagree with much of Ovetz and Dreyer's comments, in principle. After all, I took Harry Cleaver's classes too. But their proposals and method of critique are unrealistic and out of touch with the students they purport to champion.

As for my advocacy of cutting graduate student enrollment, I explicitly limited this suggestion to students who are little more than unpaid or even paid researchers for the interests of capital. Though I understand the controversiality of this stance, I will stand by it. Ovetz and Dreyer say that cutting enrollment is a euphemism for attacking students where they are strongest. But grad students doing, say, defense research, are so strong because they are acting as an arm of capital.

As for the research issue, emphasis on research has permeated other areas besides high-tech and military fields, to the detriment of the learning process. Ovetz and Dreyer suggest that if we would only shift emphasis of research to fields other than military and business-related research, everything would be okay. Yet the UT libraries are going broke trying to purchase the thousands of academic journals filled with the type of liberal research Ovetz and Dreyer advocate. The vast majority of this material will go forever unread because it is indeed useless.

As for Polemicist's tendency to pinpoint individual players in the UT community, the decision to bastardize learning in defense of profits was made by a handful of individuals who can be identified and held accountable for their actions. If they are allowed to run roughshod over students with no opposition but class-skipping and test-cheating, then the fundamental issues won't be confronted.

Incidentally, when Businessweek says the education system is turning out "lemons," it means that one-third of all American adults can't read or write. To celebrate this fact as "class struggle" means advocating mass-scale illiteracy and the subsequent loss of economic and political rights and opportunities. It's not a "revolution" I want any part of.

Ovetz and Dreyer seem to think that individual struggles like cheating, class-skipping and spending financial aid or leisure will eventually lead to some type of classless university society, much like Marxists' promises of the last 120 years. Albert Camus would call such fantasies an "appeal" - an appeal that will eventually be denied. Ovetz and Dreyer disregard the pressing issues of the day in favor of some promised future satisfaction. But that cannot be a strategy for change. Evolution is merely a word non-participants use to describe a series of revolutions over time. Failure to confront present injustices and those who perpetuate them in favor of abstract theory is the worst type of intellectual masturbation and moral cowardice.