Jodi Dean Interviewed at Figure/Ground

As always, Figure/Ground has an exciting interview up, this time with Jodi Dean. My favorite part of the interview:

F/G: In 2009, Francis Fukuyama wrote a controversial article for the Washington Post entitled “What are your arguments for or against tenure track?” In it, Fukuyama argues that the tenure system has turned the academy into one of the most conservative and costly institutions in the country, making younger untenured professors fearful of taking intellectual risks and causing them to write in jargon aimed only at those in their narrow subdiscipline. In short, Fukuyama believes the freedom guaranteed by tenure is precious, but thinks it’s time to abolish this institution before it becomes too costly, both financially and intellectually. Since then, there has been a considerable amount of debate about this sensitive issue, both inside and outside the university. What do you make of Fukuyama’s assertion and, in a nutshell, what is your own position about the academic tenure system?

Dean: This is the biggest bunch of garbage I’ve ever read. I can’t believe anyone takes this seriously. Fukyama has it backwards: tenure doesn’t threaten academic freedom; it protects it. Can you imagine what a system would look like if people lived in perpetual fear of losing their jobs? How would their anxiety impact their students much less their ability to carry out research? In fact, it would look like the hideous financial sector with everyone thinking in totally self-centered ways and in the shortest possible terms. Much good academic work takes a long time –historians have to find collections in archives and then do their research; scientists have to design and carry out experiments. Scholars have to share their work with colleagues, subjecting it to critique and revising it accordingly.

The whole attack on jargon is barely masked anti-intellectualism. No one worries about the jargon of particle physics, neuroscience, or custody law. In fact, we recognize that knowledge takes multiple forms and speaks to multiple audiences. Not every audience needs to be (or wants to be) addressed the same way — and, again, it’s thinly veiled anti-intellectualism to imply that everything should be accessible to everyone. For example, I can’t read and understand a paper in theoretical physics, but I can read and follow a popular book on, say, black holes. That popular book would be worthless, however, without the real science backing it up. And, again, we shouldn’t expect that the same people who carry out the experiments, make the observations, and do the equations will necessarily be the ones to write the popular books.

You know, the real problem is this language of ‘costly’ — it points to what I already mentioned, namely, that the one percent has decided that it no longer wants to fund higher education for the majority. Why is it that tenure is costly but Lloyd Blankfein and Jamie Dimon are not? Their salaries in a single year –alone –would more than cover the salary of the entire faculty where I teach. Let’s not pretend that there is some kind of objective analysis of education going on here. It’s class war, plain and simple.

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