Okay so my stupid internet was being all, like, stupid, so I couldn’t get on to post my post which I wrote offline. Here it is. Stupid internet.

I got an email recently that the EduFactory email list and website will be kicking off a new round of discussion. (I posted about round one here I can’t get in to my email to check but I remember there being something about the hierarchization of the university in there and about possibly setting up some sort of autonomous university.

I’m eminently sympathetic to the project as I understand it and I’m happy to be part of it in some small way – be on the email list and all that – but I have some reservations about it too. First, while I do think there are some important changes going on in the university system in the US, I’m not sure that the changes are the important bit nor am I sure what those changes are. I don’t know a whole lot about that stuff because I don’t really read about the state of the industry right now nor do I know much about how it used to be. It seems to me that to say that things have changed we have to start from some place, some picture of how universities used to be and which they changed from.

Second, I’m not sure the changes in universities entail changes in the position of universities in society, which seems to be premise of the edufactory stuff. The earlier rounds of discussions and calls for discussion stuff made some claim about the university having the position the factory used to. I’m not sure I agree with some of the edufactory comrades that the factory had the position in society that they think it used to, that the position of factories in society has changed all that much, or that universities have taken on (some portion of) that position. I think universities are probably less important in the grand scheme of things than the edu-factory folk seem to think they are. I mean, university stuff is important to me, but that’s because I work in one. I’d be much more comfortable if there wasn’t a sort of implied pretense that university struggles are really important beyond universities (in a way that other struggles are less important). This is a common attitude among academics (“defend academic freedom!” meaning “defend my job!” not based on principles of solidarity – which imply defending anyone or at least any worker under attack – but based on a claim that others will lose something special if academics lose their struggles) and one which is I think questionable.

Third, I think the actual target/object of the project are academics, not univesity employees. That’s fine, but I’m not comfortable with the conflation of the two, particularly given that this is a common conflation among academics.

Fourth, I find that the edu-factory statement overstates language and the importance of linguistic production in the present, in a way related to my concerns over Negri’s recent work in this other post. On a related note, I think they presuppose changes in exploitation (a sort of mutation in the capital relation) which a) I’m not convinced has happened and b) is not required to explain some the phenomena (essentially neoliberalization) that the list wants to criticize in universities.

Fifth, while I’m interested in and sympathetic to the autonomous university self-education stuff, there’s something odd about this. Consider this in light of the whole factory-university parallel. To look at problems and struggles in factories and say “the answer is to start our own autonomous factory!” would be a little odd, just like it’s odd to look at struggles in food service work and respond with “let’s start our own food service business!” Why is it less odd to look at problems and struggles in universities and say “let’s start our own university!” I think there’s an implication here that the labor process of the university can be separated from the valorization process. Even if that’s so, it strikes me that there’s a world of difference betwen fighting the valorization process via workplace organizing kinds of stuff and self-managed alternatives. This is basically the difference between forming a union and starting a workers’ run co-op. I wish folk (in any industry) who strike out on the latter route nothing but the best, but I doubt it will a) survive attacks on it from their capitalist competitors [co-ops will survive because the market allows them to or because others wage union struggles] or b) pose much of a challenge at all for powers and forces and trends in the industry that making conditions in the industry worse. Put differently, there’s a big difference between building organization as in building and exercising power and building organization as some sort of alternative production arrangement.

None of this is to say I’m against the alternative university idea. I pretty regularly put on workplace organizing training and engage in more informal activities related to that, both of which are a form of of collective self-education outside the university. I also believe that reflection – including reading, writing, discussion – is a valuable part of movement and organization building. I find the “autonomous university” phrase a bit overstated for my tastes if the latter is all that is intended, though. And if more is intended, well… is the autonomous university really an answer to the problems in existing univerities? Aside from the problems related to this in my concern #3, just one other: how would this autonomous university be funded, if it were to really be an alternative (a competitor?) to existing universities? As someone who get paid (a pittance, but still, paid) by a university to teach and all that, a non-paying autonomous university won’t cut it as a sufficient answer. And if will pay, where will the money come from and how much will it pay and how will those decisions be made and what will keep it from becoming just another university w/ all the problems in the industry?