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An uncanny anticipation fills the halls of American higher education today. It is the sense that a reckoning is coming. Whether it is the case that “the university is in ruins and higher education is in the teeth of a catastrophic crisis,” as one expert opines, or only that we are headed in that direction, many college professors and administrators can no longer stave off their suspicion that something is seriously amiss.
Most higher ed reckoning scenarios revolve around the unsustainable capitalist economics of perpetual growth. Inexorably tied to the omnipresent ideology of neoliberalism, such “growth” has rendered higher education a mere vassal to its corporate masters. The manacles of the university’s capture are visible in the rise of the all-administrative institution and the subsequent weakening of the faculty; in the creation of a massive class of precariously underpaid instructional non-employees called “adjuncts;” in the intelligence-mocking usurpation of the culture of assessment and its attendant mode of surveillance; in the life-long burden of student debt, and so on and on.
As crucial as such economic considerations are to an understanding of the situation, in this seminar we will focus on the pedagogical aspect. Our aim is not an analysis of the current neoliberal corporation known as the university. Our aim, rather, is to give thought to how we might actively disrupt the process at its very heart: in the classroom. The logic behind this goal is that there is a direct line from the instructor’s management of the class—with its contractual syllabus, its smothering semester-long work plan, its threat of punishments (points deducted), its promise of potential rewards (a good grade), its final payoff (credits)—to the acquiescent, if debased, capitalist subject who, on “earning” her degree, the student becomes. The conviction informing our call for classroom disruption has its roots in a venerable pedagogical tradition: the Kantian Enlightenment appeal to overturn self-induced forms of immaturity and stultification.
Our discussions will be initiated by excerpts from two texts: Jacques Rancière’s The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation and essays in punctum press’s new book The Pedagogics of Unlearning.
This seminar is intended for instructors and administrators in higher education. However, it will also be accessible and stimulating to anyone interested in education generally.
Facilitator: Glenn Wallis holds a Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies from Harvard University. He is the author of six books and numerous articles on various aspects of Buddhism in contemporary society. Since 1992, Wallis’s life has been entwined with higher education as a graduate student, adjunct and tenured professor, program founder and chair, faculty senator, member of numerous committees, M.A. and Ph.D. advisor, and corruptor of the (undergraduate) youth. He has taught at Brown University, Bowdoin College, and the University of Georgia. He is currently an adjunct at Penn State, Abington.