Thinking Through Bureaucracy

Just read this account of the 21st century university by David Marshall.  He, quite rightly, takes on the forms and functions of traditional academic disciplines as he argues that we need to not only acknowledge the bureaucracy that creates our academic landscape, but think through it.

But I disagree with his glib history which argues:  “it seems to me that the problem in the humanities today is that we have twenty-first century students, a twentieth-century curriculum, and a nineteenth-century bureaucracy.”  I think it’s precisely the opposite, we have a 21st century bureaucracy – – i.e. a neoliberal bureaucracy that separates power and responsibility, ensures continued bureaucratic growth without ensuring growing faculty or knowledge or knowledge-producing activities — that works towards achieve nineteenth-century ends (disinterested knowledge that serves the state, a form of liberal education that serves only the upperclass, primarily men, and almost entirely white people.)  To think through bureaucracy is not to point to how little has changed, but rather how much has changed to achieve the exact same, somewhat problematic, ends.

His own article bears this out, for the growth of centers, labs, and cross-disciplinary initiatives that attract private funding – – his solution to a nineteenth-century bureaucracy — more often than not continue to serve nineteenth-century ends.  These centers, labs, and cross-disciplinary initiatives are only possible because in the twenty-first century, we’re committed to building bureaucracy rather than re-imagining what education is, how to produce knowledge, or transforming how we understand authority, humanities, or culture.


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