Why universities are being hollowed out
Sir, – As a lecturer happily retired from the University of Limerick, I can verify from painful experience everything noted by Sarah Alyn Stacey (September 16th).
Let me press the argument further. Why should the ordinary citizen care about this? It is truism that the health of a democracy rests in significant part on a genuinely free press, which entails freedom not just from state control but from oligopolistic private interests, and also encompasses the right and duty to speak truth to all forms of power. But this is no less true of the universities. Every society needs safeguarded positions at its margins that can evaluate its choices and values and, where necessary, challenge the status quo and offer counter-visions, even utopian ones. This has been one traditional role of the humanities and social sciences.
However, what we have seen over the past decades has been a blatant attempt to impose the ideology and practices of the corporation and the market on the ethos, management, work culture and even, in places, on the syllabus of Irish (and British) universities, generating the abuses described by Dr Stacey. Behind dog-whistle slogans of “accountability” and “relevance”, the neo-liberal state and private capital are between them instrumentalising and politically castrating the universities – a process that has been spearheaded by university presidents and with which some academic staff have self-interestedly colluded. As its name implies, the traditional university aimed to preserve and explore the richest, deepest and broadest visions of humanity and disseminate them. What we are increasingly being sold is a dystopian reduction of human potential to cog in the machine and stupefied consumer. This will ensure that in future there will be no one to ask why the rich keep getting fatter and the powerful less and less accountable. – Yours, etc,
Dr PETER LABANYI,