farewell to academe

Michael Yates mikey+ at SPAMpitt.edu
Wed Mar 7 19:04:24 MST 2001

Jim Craven is a rare teacher.  What you find generally is that when a
person is truly radical, that is, willing to act upon the notion that
capitalism is an  unmitigated evil and to say that this is so whenever
he or she has the opportunity, that person will be dismissed as a crank
and a fool even within the hallowed halls of academe, with its
pretensions of truth seeking, creating an informed citizenry, and blah,
blah, blah.  I consider Jim to be a brother.

Michael Yates

"Craven, Jim" wrote:
> As I am a few days away from 55, having spent more than 25 years in
> "academia" I ehco Michael's sentiments. I am planning to take a year
> sabbatical as a prelude to resigning my "tenured" position to move back to
> Blackfoot Country to finish out my remaining years at whatever job will give
> me enough to subsist (as a Blackfoot not according to the usual lifestyle of
> a tenured professor).
> I too find much of my work in academia meaningless; but, once in awhile,
> someone comes back to tell me that she or he will be involved in lifetime
> work of struggle for justice and against imperialism, fascism, racism,
> sexism, homophobia or any forms of oppression and that they got something
> from what I taught. But for the few pearls, there is so much pretentious
> posturing and bullshit in academia coupled with ruthless selfishness,
> ultra-individualism, title-mongering and grotesque appeals to highly
> spurious "authority".
> I made a conscious decision a long time ago not to keep a CV (I have no idea
> how many articles and publications of mine have been published or where and
> I don't care) or to go to academic conferences of professional economists. I
> do not want to ever profit monetarily from my work with survivors of
> genocide, nor do I want any of my publications to "count" towards any kind
> of "career advancement." There is nothing noble in my position, and a
> neoclassical would simply say I have a different kind of "ultility function"
> but that I am merely another kind of maximizer/satisficer--of psychic
> tranquility. Whatever.
> Good luck to you Michael; I know that wherever you are, you and your wife
> will be honest and faithful servants of the oppressed and resolute fighters
> against oppression in all varied forms.
> Jim Craven
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Michael Yates [mailto:mikey+ at pitt.edu]
> Sent: Sunday, March 04, 2001 9:05 PM
> To: pen-l at galaxy.csuchico.edu; marxism at lists.panix.com;
> lbo-talk at lists.panix.com
> Subject: farewell to academe
> 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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