No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Open letter - against La Trahison des Clercs

This letter is for you, my dear academic colleague who are reluctant to support the student campaign against the rise in tuition fees and the attack on public university by the government of our country.

You think that many academics are not keen on seeing themselves as part of a Union;

you believe that many of us do not sympathize with the struggles of other groups;

you find that the anti-cuts movement is somewhat ideological and refers also to issues which are ‘ephemeral’.

In a sense, I am very grateful to you. In fact, I think that in the present situation these are exactly the issues that have to be addressed.

First, I am afraid that we academics are not going to go anywhere if we do not start questioning our middle-class, intellectual snobbery. We – and especially those who work in Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences – are one of the groups which will be hit most by the policies of this government. For several different reasons, linked to the devastating impact of the Browne review: because of job cuts; because students paying higher fees will be much more likely to behave as customers (with all the expectations on the staff that this implies); because our middle-class daughters and sons will be deeply affected by the rise in tuition fees. We are also one of the groups who have less societal sympathy surrounding us (exactly because of our tendency to live in a sort of snotty Ivory tower) and will be easily portrayed as a bunch of idle scroungers.

It is also time to question the lack of solidarity that academics share. The inability of sympathizing with other groups of workers is nothing but the result of widespread careerism, misconceived meritocracy (for which any of us in the end thinks that himself or herself is actually the main person entitled to benefit from it), unrestrained individualism. What kind of working conditions this mindset leads to is under the eyes of everyone, and one of the main reasons of this crisis. It is quite funny that those who believe to be the most critical minds within society are not able to be critical of the neoliberal propaganda they have been brainwashed with.

It is here that neoliberalism celebrates its own triumph. Its hegemonic rhetoric has been able to take over also those institutions and individuals who in principle should have worked as to undermine its power and build up a counter-hegemony. It is time to advocate again our role as critical thinkers, to put our critical thought into dissenting practice – and fight back!

The only way to deal with the present on public university to recognize that what is happening within university is part of a wider picture, which sees the crisis of post-war consensus and a massive attack on the middle and the working-class. Those academics who do not recognize this now will probably discover it brutally later, when it will be too late. I will not empathize with them, once they will have sunk with the whole boat without saying a word just because they were too busy looking at the distant skies of the Empyrean.

With very best wishes,

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