Sovietization

When I first heard that my university administrators tried to force students and professors to sacrifice a weekend for some collective cemetery cleaning, I experienced a strong feeling of deja vu. I knew that I’d seen this before somewhere.

And then I realized: this was one of the favorite “educational” activities of Soviet bureaucrats. Soviet academics and students were routinely forced to pick cucumbers, stomp on rotten cabbage (as a way of getting it to pickle), cleaning the streets, etc. They were forced to do it on weekends and even instead of classes.

Now, in the USSR this was done in order to humiliate intellectuals (who were considered the greatest enemy of the proletarian state) and lower the prestige of education.

Today, American college administrators are adopting one Soviet practice after another. I have started sounding like a broken record because whenever I get an email outlining a new university policy, I always exclaim, “This feels just like home!” This isn’t a happy exclamation, you understand, since home was a pretty nasty place.

What do you think the final goal of this Sovietization of American academia is?

About these ads

26 comments on “Sovietization

  1. Could it be done as a cheap way of getting good publicity for the university as a means of getting public sympathy and funding? I’ve noticed that a lot of “college towns” which are ripe for town and gown conflicts have the “town” people sneering at the educated ones for not knowing “what it’s like to get their hands dirty” and being “out of touch”, and community service is a very easy way of dispelling those myths in a way that satisfies them.

  2. Very few universities are for profit. So, for the most part, universities are run as some form of collective farm. Those who run them have no experience of the profit motive. So they choose not to understand that paying a fee for voluntary service is the most efficient and the most free way to pursue goals like cemetery renewals. Deep down, they also know full well that they would not pay from their own pockets and even from their university budgets to pursue such goals. Only when it is a completely free lunch to them will they indulge such fantasies.

    What you are experiencing,unfortunately, is in the nature of the beast. Some universities at least give course credits to students who participate. In some ways, of course, that is worse, because they are signaling that credits can be obtained without inputs into a course of education.

  3. These so-called bonding experiences, I first experienced 30 years ago or so as a high school exchange student, and they were not new then. Corporations do these same bonding exercises on retreats, from what I hear, and the Rotary Club and so on have activities like beach cleanup that are meant as an opportunity for them to “fellowship” (what a verb!) and also to build a good image in the community, as nominatissima suggests above. So this kind of “Sovietization” is really part of further imitation of the corporate model.

    A lot of the other weird policies are about CYA for lawsuits.

  4. Depends…cementery cleaning sounds absurd (though the former Goth in me can’t help admiring the unintentional brilliance of how it looks). But I don’t see anything wrong, if you are taking a class in, say, “US History, 1945 – 2010″, to make a require part of the syllabus that the students go to work as volunteers to an organization that helps citizens in inner-city neighborhoods for 10 hours towards the semester. The degradation of urban neighborhoods in the US is very tied to institutionalized racism (who could get a loan and who could not), specific urban planning policies (building freeways right through black neighborhoods, displacing its habitants and killing a community), etc. It’s good that the students see with their own eyes how that affects local communities until today. But you need to organize it properly, and have a pedagogical goal (as opposed to some abstract touchy-feeling goal). Of course, if the location of the school allows for it.

  5. tho, it does remind me of the annual ‘housekeeping day’ we endured at girls grammar school. I always wondered if they have the same at boys schools. They probably call it something much more butch…or more likely, dont do it at all.

  6. In response to SP above, I agree that outside-the-classroom initiatives do have merit. But I would also say that such events can be helpful if the PROFESSOR organizes it and believes that it will enhance the student’s learning experience. Then the decision is based on the professor’s pedagogical/subject area expertise. When adminstrators enforce activities however, they tend to be unhelpful at best and intended to teach “lazy faculty” some sort of lesson in humility at worst.

    • I absolutely agree, and would add that I’ve seen this kind of activity implemented by a section coordinator (in languages classes, for example), without any training to the instructor, and that is a disaster in the making.

  7. Pingback: Quotebag #69 | In defense of anagorism

  8. All universities are run for profit. The differences come from: a) WHO runs them, and b) WHAT they count as profit. What’s needed is to abolish the laws that make it nearly impossible for instructors to run their own universities.

    • I second that, although I suppose if you go far enough with faculty governance it starts to expand at the expense of student governance. The ultimate in academic freedom would be one-to-one interactions of teachers and learners, with clustering according to intellectual interests, and maybe (hopefully to a lesser extent) social affinities. A university would be simply a locus of unusually concentrated interactions of this type. A ganglion, if you will.

      • I don’t see why we need administrators to “organize the basics of the learning process.” If faculty can agree on what should be taught and students can agree on what they want to learn, where does administration come in? (One of their tasks is supposed to be raising money, but they’re getting a bigger and bigger share of the university’s revenue every year, so that seems to be a losing proposition.)

      • Who will provide me with a space, the blackboard, the chalk? Who will make sure the bathroom works and the toilet paper is there? Who will organize the work of the library and the copy center? Who will provide the lab and stock it with everything? Who will make sure that the electricity bill is paid? Etc, etc, etc.

      • ” If faculty can agree on what should be taught and students can agree on what they want to learn”

        - Really? Have you seen any students lately? Conduct an experiment: ask your Freshmen to agree on what they want to study. Hell, ask them to agree on what the day of the week is. My Freshmen just sit there, staring into vacuum. It takes forever to get them to respond to anything in any form. The belief that they will agree on what to study, or even undertake the project of thinking about this matter (or any matter) on their own, is not based in reality.

  9. Pingback: Coercion vs. control | In defense of anagorism

  10. bloggerclarissa :
    Who will provide me with a space, the blackboard, the chalk? Who will make sure the bathroom works and the toilet paper is there? Who will organize the work of the library and the copy center? Who will provide the lab and stock it with everything? Who will make sure that the electricity bill is paid? Etc, etc, etc.

    For lack of a better term, let’s call them independent contractors, although on the planet Anarres, they’d probably be the warehousing syndics, the plumbing syndics, custodial syndics, the librarians’ syndicate, printing syndicate (and their beautiful bound editions bearing the Odonian logo) the laboratory syndicate and the electricians’ union.

    On planet Earth, I’ll settle for calling them independent contractors.

    • Also, we’ve been taught to think of the caregory of “university employees” as coming in three subcategories, which we’ll call “administration,” “faculty,” and “staff.” The indispensable services you enumerated are those of staff, not administration. At the better universities, faculty and staff are both union, and administration, of course, is just another word for bananagement. I hope your faculty organization considers itself in Solidarity with your university’s staffers. Faculty and staff are naturally on the same team. Faculty governance and worker control are not the same thing, but could be if the staff functions are “outsourced;” acquired by (hopefully worker controlled, or at least worker-friendly) firms for things like electricianry and the like. This sort of outsourcing might be preferable to those of us who prefer many small institutions over few large ones.

      • “Also, we’ve been taught to think of the caregory of “university employees” as coming in three subcategories, which we’ll call “administration,” “faculty,” and “staff.” The indispensable services you enumerated are those of staff, not administration.”

        - Yes, I am aware. :-) But somebody needs to manage the staff, right? And God forbid it should be academics. That would be as much of a disaster as managers designing a syallabus.

        The problems start when the administrators forget that their place is stocking bathrooms with toilet paper and start having opinions on intellectual and pedagogic matters. Then, the toilet paper goes, the curriculum bombs, and the intellectual environment dies.

    • “For lack of a better term, let’s call them independent contractors, although on the planet Anarres, they’d probably be the warehousing syndics, the plumbing syndics, custodial syndics, the librarians’ syndicate, printing syndicate (and their beautiful bound editions bearing the Odonian logo) the laboratory syndicate and the electricians’ union.”

      - And who will negotiate, meet, talk with them and supervise their work?

  11. Pingback: Hey Ho, Hey Ho, Bureaucrats Have Got to Go! | Clarissa's Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s