Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Material World

You would have thought that the whole point of publicly-funded higher education was to enable essentially unprofitable but highly desirable centres of excellence to exist. Exist, but maybe not flourish, or at least not in an ostentatious way: no-one expects the Malthusian Professor of Hierophantics to drive a Ferrari. However, every move of government in relation to higher education in recent times has emphasised, re-emphasised, double-underlined and highlighted in flourescent pink ink one single point: KNOWLEDGE IS A COMMODITY.

From that ill-advised, philistine point of view, every undesirable thing that has happened to our universities has flowed. It's been going on for so many years now we have come to think it is normal, an uncontestable, rational view. Universities themselves have internalised this poison so thoroughly that it has begun to seem like wisdom: KNOWLEDGE IS A COMMODITY. And we all know what happens to factories that produce commodities for which there is insufficient demand, don't we?

The latest victim of this cast of mind is the well-regarded, world-leading Textile Conservation Centre at my own university. Having devised a brilliant strategy for our institution which has led to massive overspends (not entirely by following the lead of our political masters -- there is still some scope for local folly, I'm glad to say) the university central management have been desperately looking for luxuries we can no longer afford, in order to cut costs. The TCC, it turns out, is going to be one of them. After all, the idiots were so busy repairing Freddie Mercury's trousers and polishing Henry VIII's football boots that they failed to fund themselves! It's their own fault!!

But, wait. How came it about that the TCC is Southampton's to dispense with? Founded in 1975, the Centre was a charitable trust based at Hampton Court until 1998. How did the Centre end up at Southampton's Winchester School of Art, in purpose-built accommodation? Indeed, what is the University of Southampton -- renowned worldwide for its eminence in engineering and computer science -- doing running an art school anyway, and one based in Winchester, which it absorbed in 1996? And why has the university changed its view so radically? I have my own, ill-informed answers to all these questions, but they are deeply cynical, and I value my continued employment, so I will simply point out: KNOWLEDGE IS A COMMODITY. The TCC was a failing enterprise, with an inadequate business plan. End of. We're running a business here, and times are tough.

The idea of honour (as in, "a matter of honour", "honouring a contract", etc.) is a very dated idea, and not one we see, um, honoured in public life any more. Ministers do not resign, financiers do not blush at their personal greed, and vice-chancellors whose visions have led educational institutions into financial dire straits continue to reap large financial returns from the public purse. After all, top flight universities are now not even embarrassed by no longer offering Physics or Classics as subjects of study (unprofitable!); why then should we blink at casting off into unemployment the entire staff of a tiny "centre of excellence" to whom reassuringly warm words of welcome were spoken just a decade ago?

It's tough all over, people, and it's time you looked up from your needlework or darning or whatever it is you do all day over there in Winchester, and learned the truth: KNOWLEDGE IS A COMMODITY. Listen: Have you considered starting a really top-drawer t-shirt business?

Some weasel words on the subject

Some angry words on the subject


Anonymous said...

The vast majority of website operators don't have the guts to allow this post, anything like it, any searchable lines, or links. They have been deleted more than 90% of the time. The vast majority of syndicated talk radio hosts are screening their calls and won't allow this topic. The vast majority of callers don't have a clue. We are in big trouble. The truth is so Earth shattering, that no public figure has the guts to acknowledge it. Very few have the guts to allow a statement anything like this in their forum. The truth is being suppressed. We are in much more serious trouble than we have been told by any public figure. Don't be fooled by fluctuating economic indicators or short term market stability. The entire foundation of our economy is crumbling. Get ready people. Get your affairs in order. Get your households in order. Get your communities in order. Be prepared. This is no 'correction'. This is no ordinary recession. This won't be just another Great Depression. This will be much worse. Save this post now before it gets deleted.

Sometimes, I wonder why I bother fighting so hard for the little guy. Whats the point if they are too stupid to listen? Say that reminds me.

Amazing. The worst economic and cultural crisis of all time will go down in history horribly misunderstood. What a pathetic bunch of ignorant fools we have become. Consumer junkie credit card morons. Perfect little victims.

Don’t believe one optimistic word from any public figure about the economy or humanity in general. They are part of the problem. Its like a game of Monopoly. In America, the richest 1%, now hold ALMOST 1/2 OF ALL UNITED STATES WEALTH. Unlike ‘lesser’ estimates, this includes all stocks, bonds, cash, offshore accounts, and material assets held by America’s richest 1%.

Mike C. said...

Dear Anonymous, thanks for taking the trouble to comment -- however, I've edited off about 90% of what you wrote, though, as (a) I have limited space and (b) I'm not a soapbox for random speeches.

Mauro Thon Giudici said...

Its a pity. The comment was sooo amusing. I was expecting and end as Nostradamus says the world will crumble in few years or the Atzec Calendar is running out :-D. There is nothing better than a cosmic rant. see hereBTW on the serious question. The State University in Milan, dep. of Philosohy, decided, a few years ago, that the courses which did not have a large number of followers where to be shut down this obviously lent to the decline of the more challenging disciplines as Formal Logic and Philosophy of Sciences and Linguistics.
Unfortunately research and cultural development requires, and has required, vast amounts of dissipation of resources. This is the way in which evolution works. The side you are depicting will only reduce the variety of the environment.

Mike C. said...

Do you get these people, too, Mauro? I guess it's a hazard of blogging. I don't mind rants, even actionable rants, but I do mind receiving essay-length comments ...

In British universities this is the 2nd or 3rd round of cuts we've gone through. I came to my job as primarily a language specialist, and the university immediately abolished Russian, Classics and (whisper it) Italian. Oh, and Philosophy.

I'm working up a Swiftian satire (I wish) on how to combine the urge to (a) abolish the Humanities altogether, but (b) continue to rake in the cash from popular subjects. Watch this space!

Mauro Thon Giudici said...

With a bit of envy I confess to not have such marvelous kinds. I have mostly people from the right wing telling me to change country, nothing so amusing.
Maybe it is also because I'm in such abstruse thoughts.
In the end I think is exactly what I meant for dissipation. Internet has changed a lot of things in cultural terms mostly for the option people has to be part of the "marvelous variety" and, if needed, trow in resources in the try, even without success. After all the evolution of blogs from forums and before bbs came from the continuous tension between ranters and reasoners.
And that's why cutting is very dangerous for our culture. At the end is the idea to invest only in successful ones endangers the variety, more when some reveal themselves not so successful.