farewell to academe

Gary Maclennan g.maclennan at SPAMqut.edu.au
Sun Mar 4 22:04:57 MST 2001

Thank you for this Michael.  Good luck to you and your wife.  when I
eventually get around to visiting young Proyect in New York I will look you
up.  So keep in touch with the list.



At 00:05 5/03/01 -0500, you wrote:
>Dear friends,
>         I have rejoined a couple of these lists after a hiatus of several
>months.  I am about to retire from my job as a college teacher, after 32
>long and, of late, nearly unbearable years.  I have spoken about this
>before, but in my view academe in is a state of paralysis, at least as
>far as it being a center of critical thought and action.  It is true and
>to be highly commended that students on some campuses have begun to
>express outrage at the state of their campuses and the state of the
>world at large.  If only more of their professors joined with them.
>Unfortunately most professors, including those supposedly on the left,
>sometimes talk a good game but seldom do much else.  For every David
>Montgomery or Jim Blaut or Angela Davis, there are scores of perpetual
>conference goers and vita builders, intent on making names for
>themselves and impressing their more orthodox colleagues, while they
>oppose their graduate students' attempts to organize and mix and mingle
>with the common people only by accident (note that I am not here
>speaking of those admirable souls who labor, often heroically, in the
>backwaters of academe, themselves badly exploited workers).  Meanwhile
>the colleges and universities become ever more like businesses,
>becoming, as David Noble correctly points out, primary centers of
>capital accumulation.
>         And if there are some students who have begun to see the light
> (though
>as Doug Henwood and Lisa Featherstone have pointed out, they seem to be
>in dire need of a theory to guide them.  Where are their professors?),
>there are tens of thousands more who have not only not seen the light
>but are actively opposed to it.  Racism, sexism, homophobia, violence of
>all kinds, hyper-individualism ­ al are alive and well on our nation's
>campuses.  Not to mention a kind of almost wilful ignorance that has to
>be experienced to be believed.  I used to point out to students in some
>of my classes the deleterious effects of long hours of labor on a
>worker's intelligence.  Marx has a good example in Capital, vol. I,
>where he quotes a factory inspector, whose interrogation of child mill
>workers indicated that they knew virtually nothing.  One child said that
>a princess was a man, and another did not know that he lived in
>England.  Herbert Gutman in his book, "Work, Culture, and Society"
>quotes a New Jersey inspector to the same effect: One boy thought Europe
>was in the moon, while another thought that the word "boy" was a comma.
>These days, however, I wonder how much such examples mean.  Consider
>that I have a student in a seminar on Marx who wrote that the "Communist
>Manifesto" is a novel.  In my introductory class, a student wrote "The
>Unighted States."  Another wrote that a good that is not "inferior" (one
>for which, other things equal, as income rises, purchases fall) is
>"ferior." Still another asked seriously whether it was "demand and
>supply" or "supply and demand."  In the seminar, after I had explained
>Marx's concept of the value of labor power (its value equals the value
>of those consumption goods necessary for the worker to continue working
>and insure that the worker's children grow up to become workers), I
>asked the class what Marx says is the minimum value of labor power.  A
>student awoke from a dead sleep (this in a class of ten, all sitting
>around a seminar table) and blurted out "$5.15!!  I have seriously
>suggested that our school sell sweatshirts emblazoned with the slogan,
>"Proud to be stupid."
>         After three decades of increasingly disinterested students,
>accommodating faculty, and cynical administrators (who engendered the
>climate that encourages the first two), I have found it impossible to
>continue.  I had to wait til I was 55 to be able to access my pension,
>but now that I am of age, I can no longer continue to participate in
>this charade.  What has saved me from complete demoralization is that
>beginning in 1980 I began to teach workers outside of the college.  And
>for the past two years I have been teaching prisoners.  I am curious why
>more progressive academics do not do this.  It would be a way of
>practicing what they preach.  For example, I periodically teach
>economics to union folks at UMass-Amherst.  Now this is supposedly a
>hotbed of radical economics.  Yet I fly in form Pittsburgh to teach the
>class.  Where is Bowles or Gintis or Wolfe or Resnick or Pollin?
>Perhaps the pay is not high enough or they are away on academic business
>(the class is taught while most of the regular students are on break).
>         As I wind down my last term, I feel nothing for my academic
> career.  My
>wife and I have decided to leave town the week after the term is
>finished and never come back.  We are giving away nearly all of our
>possessions (I have already given away all of my books and journals,
>thrown away my notes and files, and put my various awards and plaques in
>the trash where they belong).  When we are done, we will have a few
>personal belongings, a used car, a computer, and of course, my pension.
>This has been the most liberating thing I have ever done.  We are moving
>to Yellowstone Park for the summer to work in a hotel there, she as a
>hostess in the restaurant and me as a front-desk clerk.  I haven't been
>so excited about a new job and a new life in many years.  I will
>maintain my connection with Monthly Review magazine, and I may move to
>New York to work for MR in the future.  And of course we will always be
>dedicated to the working class from which we came and whose liberation,
>while a long way off, is the prerequisite for the creation of a society
>with any pretension at all to freedom and democracy.
>Michael Yates

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