Parasitic Management and the Sick Student Body – The Marxist of Granby
That Higher Education is under attack by a neoliberal regime that seeks to rationalize everything under the sun in accordance with the logic of the market, is abundantly clear – hell, even the sedimentary crud under couch cushions in the SU will have its turn. The extensive and intensive fracking of our lives by a corrosive capitalism that has continual expansion as a structural necessity can leave no stone intact. It must be broken down then reconstituted to allow the frictionless extraction of profit. Anything superfluous, like, say, a philosophy department, unless it can be marshaled as market differentiation, is burnt off in the process. Scorched earth is the standard policy of those whose tactics are calculated by cost/benefit analysis. If the riots taught us anything, it is that fighting fire with fire remains a viable option.
The vanguard of this attack was and remains the infestation of the university by a parasite that goes by the name of Senior Management. The parasite gives nothing to the host. It eats, digests, counts, divides, surveys, quantifies, reports; then shits out spreadsheets, Research Excellence Frameworks, Student Experience Surveys, marketing and mission statements. Everything must be broken into atomistic form so that management might function with free hands, always with an eye to the market. The Mothership, in return, shuttles policy through parliament to accelerate the process. Unlike most parasites, whose numbers dwindle as their colony reaches a critical size and they begin to choke to death on their own shit, Senior Management’s effluent is neatly piped throughout the university. What is choked is the possibility of thinking, thought, learning and research. The only thing everyone must learn is how to thrive off the fetid new food source, or, face expulsion into the job market. And so, bit by bit, we learn to live in the muck. Our own thinking and learning becomes to resemble a tick boxed multi-choiced questionnaire, or the chronologised credentials of a C.V. Arse-to-mouth.
Take a recent example. The Tory government ran on an election pledge to reduce immigration figures to the tens of thousands, pandering to austerity exacerbated racists. Gleefully slurping this up the UKBA, invigorated with extra powers, began to make coming to the UK to study an even more tortuous and absurd process than it had already been made under New Labour. It was stipulated that teaching staff must act as border agents by forwarding attendance registers to the UKBA (presumably so tardy students could be murdered by G4S security on a deportation flight.) Finally, the new technology of discipline was used, in the style of a public execution, to revoke London Metropolitan University’s ability to grant visas to its international students. Thousands of international students were forced into a choice between finding a new university to study at or to leave the country. London Met, who has more students of colour than the elite Russel Group combined, and a higher proportion of students from working class backgrounds than any other university, was faced with a £20 million loss from its already completely fucked finances. Management at universities around the country were quick to deploy the most repugnant and intrusive methods of surveiling international students they could think of in a ham-fisted attempt to placate the fear that had splattered all over their Armani briefs. Swipe-cards for lectures, calendar searches of international staff, regular herding and passport presentation, unenrollment for misdemeanors, etc, etc. The list goes on.
The UKBA was forced to climb down from this position slightly once it saw what its maniacal underlings in the university had done, and released a statement asserting that: ‘universities do not need separate, tougher attendance systems for international students, and that they do not necessarily need to consider introducing physical checks such as fingerprinting.’ And so the new measures of surveillance were expanded to include all students and border surveillance began to double as market research. Also disciplined by the experience of the London Met students and a £30000 debt looming over their heads, students everywhere began to demand that their paperwork was in order and their attendance correctly registered. Their degree needed to make them shine on the supermarket shelf (which they will in all likelihood end up stacking) of the job market, not leave them tainted by the shame of a dysfunctional warren of misguided working class aspiration. And so the final suture is completed: self/surveillance, consumer/entrepreneur, student/labour. Arse-to-mouth-arse-to-mouth-arse-to-mouth. Marx’s famous claim that a school is formally no different to a sausage factory holds true. Now the same can also be said of content. The insides of a sausage or a university are both well described by the phrase: ‘it’s all lips and assholes, mate.’
The management parasite likes smooth functioning. An unobstructed flow through its pipes. The student body must reject this flow and wrack this smooth functioning with violent convulsions. Vomiting must be induced if we are to rid ourselves of this rabid infestation and refuse to pass on it its rancid excretions to the next in line. The issue is constitutional in a dual sense, the first sickly the second sickening. The student body is sickly and poorly prepared for the collective response that the current conjuncture necessitates. We need to pull together and build collective power. Differently put, learning to learn collectively to learn to learn to be collective. Secondly, the constitutional foundation of the university places sovereignty in the hands of a neoliberal managerial executive, itself gurgling fluid from a legislature that sprays stools at the demand of a ruling elite. From high above, and behind some hallowed and medieval cloud, that decrepit old bitch Elizabeth straddles all, perched on an imaginary covering a void, sucking up energy from those below and raining down piss from her puss riddled cunt.
Bleurgh. Yes, we need to vomit. Management must be regurgitated onto the pavement outside the front gates of the university (hopefully we can tear down those gates, physical and social, once management has slithered far enough back to its stink tanks, boards of infestors, and Home Orifices). But we may not want to run the university ourselves. We must be vigilant to the threat of turning into that which we are fighting against. Once voided from our stomachs – always a site of revolutionary power – we need to think and talk about how we want the university to be. Let’s be honest, it wasn’t great before: sexism, racism and classism has never ceased to be structural. That conversation, however, is premature and convulsive purging necessarily prior. It is not possible to hold that conversation in our universities as they are presently. But we will need to talk about constitution. We need new configurations of knowledge transmission and a new covenant of learning. We need to ask the question of organizational sustenance, so that we can no longer be made subject to the dictates of the digestive tracts of a bourgeois elite. After all, there are far more wholesome ways of being collective than a human centipede.