Being and consciousness in academe

Lou Paulsen wwchi at
Sun Dec 17 03:11:55 MST 2000

-----Original Message-----
From: Dr. George Snedeker <snedeker at>

>this is true enough, but how does it all work?  we come up for
>reappointment, tenure or promotion and our fellow teachers and the
>administration look at our personnel file for signs of "professional
>development." they look for team players. the rewards are not great.

It's worth looking at how it all works for a second, I think.  Yoshie was
right to say that "mental laborers" are not all of one class.  Tenure-track
college and university professors in the US, however, are of a stratum which
is intermediate between the working class and the bourgeoisie; essentially
they have managerial responsibility, and while they are not EXACTLY small
capitalists, still they are more petit-bourgeois than anything else.  THIS
IS NOT AN INSULT.  I am not accusing any individual people of having
"petit-bourgeois ideas" in an insulting way.  But it IS true that the nature
of the work that one does is petit-bourgeois, and it is also true that being
affects consciousness, although there are other aspects of one's being that
also have affects.

[I don't know if the above paragraph is controversial at all, but if it is,
here are some of the relevant features of the tenure track: (a)
individualistic publication; the importance of individual reputation;
competition with other academics for available rewards (b) managerial
responsibilities over students; responsibility for punishing misdeeds
(non-attendance, not finishing assignments, plagiarism, cheating) (c) social
responsibility for carrying out the process of stratification (you can't
just give everyone an 'A') (d) ideological responsibilities (this applies
mainly to the social sciences) (e) relatively high prestige (f) managerial
authority over graduate students, teaching/research assistants, and
departmental staff.]

All of this makes it very difficult, all other things being equal, to be a
working Marxist activist within the tenure track.  I don't say it's
impossible, or that such responsibilities are incompatible with being a
Marxist.  But I do say that it's difficult.  It's bad enough for professors
in 'ideologically neutral' fields, like mathematics or chemistry, but I have
known people who have done it, usually by leading the same kind of
dissociated life that other Marxists do who can't be open about their
politics on the job.  But in the social sciences you really ARE in enemy
territory.  The function of the institution is to convey lies about the very
things that Marxists have to tell the truth about.

In the social sciences, the pressure to conform is intense.  I'm referring
not only to the 'negative' pressure, that is, that if you're known as a
radical you may lose your job, not get hired, not get tenure, not get
permission to teach the courses you want, etc.  (This happens to feminists,
activists of oppressed nationalities, etc., as well as to Marxists, of
course.)  I'm referring also to the 'positive' inducements to conform: the
respect and acceptance that you get for doing and saying and publishing
things which are in conformity with the milieu, which you LOSE if you are
caught engaging in "vulgar" "extremist" socialist agitation.  Respect and
admiration are addictive drugs.  These are the WAYS that being affects
consciousness, and I'm telling you from personal experience, it has an
effect.  If you aren't careful, you get to the point where you won't put up
socialist leaflets in the university where you work - not only because you
might suffer materially, etc., but also because you will feel EMBARRASSED or
ASHAMED if some of your colleagues catch you doing it.   Little 'academic'
subroutines start working in your mind and affect not only your thoughts but
even your emotional reactions.

Nevertheless I have known some very dedicated revolutionaries who, by great
strength of will, have worked under these difficult circumstances; scorned
by their colleges and their departments, but appreciated by at least some of
their students.  But I never knew these people to be quick to jump to the
defense of "academe" when they heard it being criticized.  Indeed, they were
the most aware of the shortcomings of "academe".

Lou Paulsen

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