Public Communication and Power: Talking Capitalism, Theory and Critique with John McMurtry

Abstract: This interview with globally distinguished Canadian philosopher and author, John McMurtry, presents dialogue discussing capitalism, asymmetrical power relations, life capital, social theory, common life interest, life value, global problems, market theology, media, values of the market and free market ideology today in relation to public education, academia, intellectual fads and the broader intellectual culture in relation to enabling public understanding of meaning-making and power, totalising market culture, climate, dispossession, health, influence, energy, labour, income, slavery, corporate welfare, neo-liberalism, the global ecosystem, and inequalities of class and power.

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The University Wars: The Corporate Administration versus the Vocation of Learning | Prof John McMurtry (2009)

Address to Faculty and Students

Neatby-Timlin Lecture Theatre

University of Saskatchewan

April 7, 2009

by John McMurtry Ph.D, F.R.S.C.

My experience of the university extends over almost half a century. For the first 20-odd years, I was worried the place was disconnected from the real world in self-referential guild specialties. For the next 20-odd years, I have observed the cumulative subordination of the university to corporate-market methods and to rising financial-management appropriation of public educational funds by central administrations – all with no accountability to academic standards.

This invisible occupation of the academy by a corporate agenda forwarded by central administrations within universities has been analysed by University of Saskatchewan’s own Howard Woodhouse in his forthcoming book, Selling Out: Academic Freedom and the Corporate Market.[note]Howard Woodhouse, Selling Out: Academic Freedom and the Corporate Market. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2009.[/note] Tracking of this corporate invasion of the academy ultimately leads back to what is not examined – the unaccountable right of central administrations to spend public money on their own growth, privileges and salaries instead of the constitutional objectives of the university – advancement of learning and dissemination of knowledge. University presidents who once received a faculty member’s salary with a modest stipend now arrange with their business-dominated boards to be paid more than the U.S. President while incurring steeper debts and raising tuition fees for debt-ridden students.

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“The Human Vocation: An Autobiography of Higher Education” by Prof John McMurtry (2008)

To be honest, I backed into the academic profession after trying almost everything else. Until then, I perceived the academic’s work as a disconnection in symbolic spheres, “merely academic”. Only as I came to recognise that concepts are the governors of action did I realize that the real action was thinking through the life-blind programs I saw all around me. Since thinking through is the vocation of the university, that is where I ended up. But I am getting ahead of myself.

I had to experience the university first. From the day I was an 18-year-old on campus, it was the freest place I had ever been – freedom from the external routines of job and school, freedom from the authority structure that deadened my life-pulse, and freedom to be really good with the best. Eventually I got the idea of the searching mind as a common horizon that stretched from behind and opened over the millennia, and I never got over the exhilaration. It was like being timeless and unbound.

But it took me a while to get there. I began as a typical active boy. I did not like being in a classroom when I could be moving and self-directed, and I did not like exams. I just knew through high school that I had to do everything required “to get a university education”. This was a given in my family, but I had no idea of any career. The idea always seemed to me a closure. That was the beauty of the university. You did not have to choose a career. Who knew what you would want to do then when it was now, and you were still learning what really interested you. Intelligence is interest, I figured out early on.

A job? For me, it could be working in the prisons with the most oppressed people in our society, those who are caged, or it could be, at the other end, the applied psychology of advertising which fascinated me by tapping into people’s desires. Or it could be a lawyer like my father and two older brothers – my context was full of the legal profession. But I hated the idea of having to call judges “my lord” or being ingratiating to the rich. Perhaps I could be a writer since I’d published erratically since I was 12. But once in university, the questions faded. I was so busy giving myself full speed to what the academy had to offer that I had no time for the pre-laid road of a “career”. I blessed the university as a place where freedom from a career was possible – approximately the opposite conception of today when it is reduced to an instrument of “the job market”.

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“Education as viewed from the biological matrix of human existence” (2006) by Humberto Maturana and Ximena Paz Dávila

Extracted from: prelac journal THE BIOLOGY OF KNOWING AND THE BIOLOGY OF LOVING Education as viewed from the biological matrix of human existence Humberto Maturana and Ximena Paz Dávila Biologist, Chile. Matrix Mentor, Chile. The responsibility for education: whose court is the ball in? It seems to me important to reflect on questions that arise… Read More

“Education and the Market Model” (1991) by Prof John McMurtry with Comments and Discussions

ABSTRACT This paper analyses the underlying conflicts between the principles of education and the market. After identifying an international movement towards justifying excellence in education in terms of a goal external to education, namely “to compete effectively in the international marketplace”, the paper shows that: (i) this justification of education has been increasingly presupposed or prescribed by corporate, government and educational leaderships, and (ii) education as a social institution has been correspondingly subordinated to international market goals, including the language and self-conceptualization of educators themselves. The argument of the paper demonstrates that there are fundamental contradictions between the market and education models in terms of (1) Goals, (2) Motivations, (3) Methods and (4) Standards of Excellence. Counter-arguments to this analysis are presented, and replies are given. The article concludes that the long-term development of education and of civilization itself requires the autonomy of education from market command.

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