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Sunday, July 19, 2009

The blog Infinite Thought beat me to the punch in announcing the publication of Polygraph 21: Study, Students, Universities, which contains a short book review by me of the indispensable Marc Bousquet's indispensable How the University Works that concerns in part university endowments in the wake of the financial crisis. Here's a bit from the beginning of my review:

Bousquet begins with a pointed rejection of the Lapsarian myth-making that typically characterizes discussions about what has happened to the University in recent decades, a notion that due to pernicious external influence or betrayal from within the purity of the University has somehow been corrupted. Bousquet’s University is not the victim of late capitalism; it is its agent. As Bousquet puts it: “Late capitalism doesn’t just happen to the university; the university makes late capitalism happen.” An analysis of the student as already a worker forms an important part of this picture, as we will see—but it is worth taking a moment to simply peruse Bousquet’s prodigious list of intersections between university capital and late capitalism writ large:
apparel sales; sports marketing; corporate-financed research, curriculum, endowment, and building; job training; direct financial investment via portfolios, pensions, and cooperative venture; the production and enclosure of intellectual property; the selection of vendors for books, information technology, soda pop, and construction; the purchase and provision of nonstandard labor; and so forth.
That’s an awful lot being monetized at “not-for-profit” institutions. And most of these functions have little or nothing to do with humanistic paeans to the “value” of a liberal education or the fantasy of the pure pursuit of knowledge for its own sake; in fact, the intellectual mission of the University rapidly recedes into the background as a type of side business, if not, indeed, a kind of hobby. There’s more truth than we might at first admit to the truistic assertion that NYU (to pick for a moment on the corporate entity responsible, among other things, for the publication and distribution of Bousquet’s critique) is a real-estate trust running a college for tax purposes.