RETHINKING RETHINKING SUNY- THE COSTLY IDEOLOGY INFORMING "COST EFFICIENCY"
William V. Spanos
The end of philosophy proves to be the triumph of the manipulable arrangement of a scientific-technological world and of the social order proper to this world. The end of philosophy means the beginning of the world civilization based upon Western European thinking.
- Martin Heidegger, "The End of Philosophy and the Task of Thinking"
Thus discipline produces subjected and practiced bodies, "docile" bodies. Discipline increases the forces of the body (in economic terms of utility) and diminishes these same forces (in political terms of obedience). In short, it dissociates power from the body; on the one hand, it turns it into an "aptitude", a "capacity", which it seeks to increase; on the other hand, it reverses the course of energy, the power that might result from it, and turns it into a relation of strict subjection. If economic exploitation separates the force and the product of labour, let us say that disciplinary coercion established in the body the constricting link between an increased aptitude and an increased domination.
Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish
On December 1, 1995, the Board of Trustees of the State University of New York "respectfully submitted" a report mandated by the state legislature to Governor George Pataki in which it recommended a radical "system wide" "reform" of the University based on "the public demand for the cost effective use of tax dollars,"' a reform that would radically transform the xisting structure, student population, faculty identity, and educational ssion of higher education in the State of New York. I want to talk about the sub-textual ideological agenda that informs the parody of thinking that informs this report entitled Rethinking SUNY. The progressive constituencies in the state--academics, students, educational administrators, parents, businessmen, financial experts, and not least the United University Professions (UUP)-- that would "save" the University from the fate the Govemor intends for it have universally undertaken their critique of the initiative proffered in this document in the limiting structural terms established by the Board of Trustees. As evervone knows-or should know--this Board has been packed by the Governor of the State of New York, whose policies, as indicated by his particular political affiliations, are overtly conservative, if not reactionary. Let us not be deceived by this masquerade, as, unfortunately, all too many of these progressive constituencies are. This document on the future of higher education in the State of New York, which the Board of Trustees represents as the product of disinterested inquiry into the economic conditions of the state, is ideological through and through. That should be evident in the very calculative, managerial rhetoric, so foreign the interrogative thinking it is the function of a university to instigate, that saturates the discourse of this document.
The Board of Trustees claims that the initiative to "rethink" SUNY is the necessary imperative of the difficult economic conditions facing the state of New York. As the Trustees put it in the first paragraph of this document:
Rethinking SUNY is respectfully submitted by the State Board of Trustees in response to a call from the New York State Legislature requesting a "multiyear, comprehensive, svstem wide plan to increase cost efficiency." As appointed overseers of the State Universitv of Nev York, the Board of Trustees has a continuing responsibility to assess its use of the state's investment and to seek positive changes to ensure that we are delivering the most effective services to the taxpayers and the students of the State of New York. (RS, 1)
The economy, of course, must play a role in any effort to address the question of higher education at the present historical conjuncture. But we should not be blinded by the Board's fundamental justification for radically downsizing the University in the name of "cost efficiency" into arguing the case for the University in these terms alone. As the prevarications about the source of this mandate (it derives from the governor, and only after pressure from his office, the legislature) and the calculative managerial rhetoric suggest, they are in fact, the eminently "reasonable" practical terms established by the Pataki admistration and the reactionary political machine he serves to limit debate about this highly complex practice called higher education to the site of economic constraints. That is to say, these economic terms are strategically intended to put a different kind of politics--a counter-politics--off limits. The fact of the matter is that this initiative to "rethink" the University is politicalty motivated in a fundamental way. And it is this political motive, which hides behind the alleged concern for the tax payer, that those who would really save the University must expose and challenge, as well as the Pataki administration's economic justifications for reducing it.
(This text is only a selection. For the complete essay please see our journal)