1. This paper was presented at the MMLA Presidential Forum on academic
labor and is written as a talk, not an essay. I want to thank Leo
Parascondola, Jim Neilson, Barbara Foley, Patricia Carter, and Teresa Ebert for their
2. Lewontin et al, Not in Our Genes: Biology, Ideology and Human Nature
(New York: Pantheon, 1983), p.80
3. Julia Schor, The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure
(New York: Basic Books, 1991), p. 70. Schor notes that "however strong
[the] cultural predisposition to hard work, 'workaholism is to some extent a
creation of the system, rather than its cause. As long as there are even a few
workaholics, competition will force others to keep up. Employers will
prefer the hard workers, and these will win out over their colleagues who, either
out of personal preference or because they have family responsibilities, do not
put in the hours. One engineer noted, 'I don't like to put in 80 hour
weeks, but a lot of people do. And those are the people who get the projects and
4. Crozier, Huntington and Watanuki, The Crisis of Democracy (New York
University, 1975), p. 183-4.
5. Rolling Stone, September, 1992.
6. Cary Nelson, Manifesto of a Tenured Radical (New York: NYU Press. 1997),
7. Bertell Ollman, Dialectical Investigations (New York: Routledge, 1993),
8. See Istvan Meszaros' Beyond Capital (Monthly Review, 1996) for a 950
page elaboration of this paragraph.
9. Quoted in James Traub, "The Next University: Drive Thru U," New Yorker
October 20 & 27, p. 122.
10. Quoted in Beyond Capital, p. 238.
11. Jude Morrison, 10/8/97, from the e-grad listserv of the Graduate
12. Joseph Aimone as part of PMLA forum entitled "Letters on the
intellectual in the twenty-first century." PMLA, Oct. 1997, p.1137.
13. Dr. Linda Thor, President of Rio Salado Community College, quoted in
Chronicle. Harrison's phrase comes from Lean and Mean: The Changing
Landscape of Corporate Power in the Age of Flexibility (New York: Basic
14. Teresa Ebert, "Quango-ing the University," The Alternative Orange,
Summer/Fall 1997, p. 5. The article can also be found on-line in Cultural
Logic: an Electronic Journal of Marxist Theory and Practice at eserver.org/clogic.
15. Johnson's comment is from Profession 96, "Professions Beyond the
Academy," p. 64.
16. One form of this denial involves excluding the role of, in James
Sledd's words, "boss compositionists" in perpetuating two-tiered labor systems as
empowerment, not to mention, in the case at hand, the SUNY Dean's acutal
role in blocking "democratic process" (Ebert, AO, p. 23). See Ebert's discussion
in "Quango-ing" of the role of pragmatism in legitimating repressive
administrative practice--pp. 22-5. And for "boss compositionists," see
James Sledd, "The Culture of Composition." I want to thank Leo Parascondola for
sending me a manuscript version of this essay.
17. Even what might be considered to be in the rad pedagogy camp runs
aground on the micro/macro tension in efforts to politicize the personal.
In Teaching to Transgress, bell hooks notes:
There can be no intervention that challenges the status quo if we are not
willing to interrogate the way our presentation of self as well as our
pedagogical process is often shaped by middle class norms. My awareness of
class has been reinforced by my efforts to remain close to loved ones who
remain in materially underprivileged class positions. This has helped me to
employ pedagogical strategies that create ruptures in the established order,
that promote modes of learning which challenge bourgeois hegemony. One
such strategy has been the emphasis on creating in classrooms learning
communities where everyone's voice can be heard, their presence recognized
The grandiosity of this claim to undermine bourgeois hegemony in the
classroom seems to be undermined by the apparent assent she gives to the
"reproductionist" thesis by Jake Ryan and Charles Sackrey:
Critiquing the way academic settings are structured to reproduce class
hierarchy, Jake Ryan and Charles Sackrey emphasize 'that no matter what the
politics or ideological stripe of the individual professor...he or she
nonetheless participates in the reproduction of the cultural and class relations of
capitalism.' Despite this bleak assertion, they are willing to acknowledge
that 'nonconformist intellectuals can, through research and publication, chip
away with some success at the conventional orthodoxies, nurture students
with comparable ideas and intentions or find ways to bring some fraction of the
resources of the university to the service of...class interests of the workers and
Hooks wants to acknowledge the structural properties of class domination but
nevertheless feels that such acknowledgment somehow negates agency (it
doesn't). While I'm not entirely crazy about the way Ryan et al put the
case for challenge, it is far better than Hooks grandiosity. You simply cannot
really understand the structural domination of capital yet talk about subverting
bourgeois hegemony in the classroom. For one thing, there's the scale
problem. Individual's classrooms cannot subvert bourgeois hegemony. We can
resist some bourgeois assumptions in the classroom, though just by virtue of
giving grades and ranking in order to credential, we cannot resist much.
Resisting bourgeois "values" is not the same thing as subverting hegemony,
which is a property of a mass movement challenging capital.
The conclusion of her essay on class returns to the discourse of
emancipationist fantasy.: "Any professor who commits to engaged pedagogy
recognizes the importance of constructively confronting issues of class.
That means welcoming the opportunity to alter our classroom practices creatively
so that the democratic ideal of education for everyone can be realized"
(from bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress (New York: Routledge, 1994),
177-89). All of this really comes down to the difficulty of breaking with liberalism. For
an excellent essay on this issue, see Barbara Foley's upcomimg review of
Nelson's Manifesto and Will Work, "'Lepers in
the Acropolis': Liberalism, Capitalism and the Crisis in Academic Labor."
18. Bertolt Brecht, "The Good Woman of Szechuan," quoted in Allison, Carr
and Eastman, eds, Masterpieces of the Drama (NewYork: Macmillan, 1974), pp.
19. The threats against tenure in the university are commonly made in the
high schools and are based on the same arguments about job security's
incompatibility with "excellence." There are other forms of speed up. For
example, with budget cuts, schools rely more and more on outside funding ,
especially neighborhood fundraising activities by PTA's not merely to
supplement budgets but to provide necessities: such a "fundraising frenzy,"
results in huge disparities since, not surprisingly, some areas raise a lot
more money than others: as the local PTA president in Greensboro put it,
recalling when her child participated in a fundraiser, "we raised 600 dollars while
the same PTA fundraiser in rich Irving Park raised 10,000 dollars, "in one day"
(Greensboro News and Record, Sat. Oct. 25, 1997, A3)
20. Gilbert et al., unpublished manuscript of CPE report, p. 11.
21. Steven Watt, "On Downsizing and Elitism," forthcoming in minnesota
22. At the level of the individual classroom experience, many teachers have
experienced (many have not) "the free exchange of ideas"--which is one
experiential basis for its seeming self-evidence. But the more we move from
micro levels to macro levels, the more we see the "free exchange" shaped by
the constraints of capital accumulation. The basically privatized notion of
freedom assumed here is I think brought out by Ollman when he asks "at what
point do a few radical professors become too many?" (Dialectical
Investigations, p. 125). I personally was quite proud of the principled
"free exchange" that took place in my critical race theory course, the last
graduate course I taught before losing my job--something I took to be an
impediment to "free exchange." But this doesn't lead me to believe that the
same "free exchange" takes place among boards of trustees, much less such
free exchange taking practical, institutional forms
People who question academic freedom--certain (the really vulgar
ones)Marxists especially--are often viewed as engaging in self-defeating
activity or worse a kind of gross naivete, a failure to appreciate the
difference between being allowed to speak and being thrown in jail . Well,
let me just say that I 'd rather be allowed to write this essay than be
thrown in jail. And with Habermas I agree that the unforced force of the
better argument is way preferable to force. Yet that is perfectly consistent
with my belief that as long as class society exists, force decides the
issue. And that any substantively free society would forcefully prevent the
return of class society. Moreover, I think the presuppositions underlying
the activity of argument and "undistorted communication" are at bottom
incompatible with some liberal notions of academic freedom--which are
premised on the idea that ideas don't matter and that "there is no such
thing as a false idea" (See Fish, 1994, ch. 9 for an insightful discussion)
There is, of course, the apparently opposite premise of the free exchange of
ideas--not only do ideas matter but the truth will out as a result of this
process, with the measure of truth being the market process itself (needless
to say, not a valid epistemic criteria) . We might refer to these
tendencies as the dematerialization of ideas and the decontextualization of
free exchange--both are rooted in libealism's mystification of power
relations under capitalism. ( I would insist by the way that reliable
systems of knowledge production require fallibilism. Fallibilism and
liberalism are not the same).
I think it is crucial to have this debate over academic freedom and its
entailments among and between Marxists and progressives, reformists and
radicals. Yet there is nothing self contradictory in my questioning
academic freedom while being committed to particular debates (but not all
debates. I think Fish is right in arguing that such openness is in
principle not possible. But we can see this empirically also. Assuming it
is true that the use of certain kinds of pornography in the workplace is a
form of sexual harassment, such "speech" in the workplace will be excluded).
Debates which are perceived to threaten the basis of a society's core
values and practices--production for profit for example--will, on my view,
be suppressed and/or marginalized. Conditions for Habermasian fair debate
will not be allowed to emerge (and will thus remain transcendental
presuppositions). Liberals, of course, disagree, thus the need for debate.
The irony is that the more this debate becomes public (especially in an
atmosphere of heightening class struggle and heated competition among
capitals), the more the antagonisms (on a Marxian view) between liberalism
and Marxism will exert themselves so as to undermine the conditions of
fruitful dialogue. Such, on this view, are the dialectical limits of even