Sunday, May 10, 2015

"The Death of the University"

It's academic.
Yeah, so I’m kinda weird in that I have a couple years of Latin under my belt, and like to read old books to study history on the side. Way back in the day I even used to be a philosophy major, before I switched to Fine Art, as it was a degree with a bit more of a lucrative future and earning potential. Just to be perfectly clear here, that’s a joke, one that most of my philosophical friends didn’t get.

The first rough sketch, when I discovered I had no clue how to draw the concept.

By far and away my most influential instructors by that point were Doctors Walter Benesch, Barbara Alexander, Rudolph Krejci and Viola Cordova; and remain more so than any art teacher to date. In no other course was I ever pushed and challenged as much as in their rooms: no-one else had ever asked me "Why?" Ethics, Epistemology, Metaphysics, Aesthetics etc. these are the fields of studies which constitute the foundation of the Humanities. Arguably we as a species are losing our humanity, and increasingly abandon our capacity for critical inquiry and reflective introspection. Folks today tend more to regurgitating platitudes and mindlessly following directives from preachers, politicians and pop stars than thinking for themselves… and sadly this is self-evident and at the core of our current state of social affairs.

An example of the subsequent research for painstaking accuracy and exacting detail.

Sadder still to see the UAF philosophy program killed off, and how it reveals the misguided, pathetic priorities of administrators as they gut the very essence of what a college of liberal arts is predicated upon. There is no small degree of commonality with the cause for artists to be alarmed, angered and depressed at the erosion of education in this arena: when it comes to asking The Big Questions and the examination and exploration of the definitions, and the experimentation and expression of our individual answers, the Arts are the other side of the same coin. And this is a currency which may have no apparent commercial value, but it is just as crucial to what defines us individually as human beings, and collectively as a culture. The solidarity of artists with philosophers is also indelibly linked when we consider how both are considered equally suspect by the prevailing mentality which deems them esoteric, trivial pursuits. In other words it is far more revealing of an individual - and in this instance, an institution - when they are judged as being useless... that alone tells me where they stand on matters of importance. 

Round 2: rough sketches after reference.

In my mind I saw Socrates at a trial of university administrators uttering one of his more famous aphorisms: “I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think.” That right there would be enough to effectively doom any contemporary instructor, as it obviously doesn’t prepare students the consumer for the remedial skills needed to successfully compete in today’s test-driven, cost/benefits results-oriented trade school assembly line degree factories that abuse the very title of university. To whit, see how the UA administration characterizes a whopping five-to-ten-day furlough on a six-figure salary: "difficult." Indeed, I simply just don't see how on earth anyone could be expected to hold up under such a noble sacrifice. Case in point:
Gamble, who became university president in June 2010, plans to retire and says he will become a snowbird. He'll live in Alaska for half the year and spend winters in Texas, on a lake near the Louisiana border.
"I’m done," he said. "This will be it for me."

And by extension, as has been blogged/flogged about here on other posts, this is all hand-in-glove with efforts at systematically undermining and dismantling education on the statewide + borough level throughout our local school districts as well.
"But there is enough money. Under Senate Bill 21, the state of Alaska will give away an estimated $1.4 billion dollars to non-Alaskan oil companies in 2015. I’m sure the state could somehow manage to only give away $1.3 billion dollars, and keep the other $100 million for the UA system." - Zayn Roohi “Cuts to Education” UAF Sun Star
UAF is setting records for graduation. Yet they supposedly have an 8:2 ratio of administrative and staff positions to faculty. They are investing in empty buildings, and given the bureaucratic structure of the institution, nobody will be held accountable for the financial fiasco. Another case in point: they are literally giving away about as many degrees (honorary bestowments at this year's commencement) as there are were majors in the philosophy program. Just think about that for a minute.
Logic be damned.

Update: Via Alaska Dispatch (hat-tip Sine) comes this timely dovetail by Eduardo Wilner called “The Last Philosopher in Alaska’s Interior contemplates extinction” that frames the issue in a far more eloquent fashion:
“Socrates is reported to have concluded that an unexamined life is not worth living. I say, maybe so. But when you have the fortune of living in Alaska, and the terrible responsibility of deciding what to do when your state is undergoing a multifaceted crisis (climatically, economically, you name it) an unexamined life is, for sure, very dangerous."
Hat-tip Leah & Hannah Hill


  1. Care to comment on the borough vote to increase public education funding? Or is that not as cute a cartoon as shitting all over assembly member having to make hard choices when there's no money?

    1. To my understanding the latest Borough efforts (versus the state level of immolation) represent a reduction of funding cuts from 8% to 5%, which could conceivably be spun as a relative increase.

      Still merits flinging poo from the sidelines in my opinion - admittedly a biased perspective given my experience seeing classroom conditions firsthand + the state of education in general.

      As per links here and in other posted missives there are other options: capitulation isn't cute, and their choices are convenient and suspect within the context of an overall political framework that consistently seeks to devalue, undermine and defund issues such as public education. It's well worth fighting for and criticizing - including debate, so appreciate caring enough to comment.

    2. Update:
      "FAIRBANKS — The final budget approved by the Fairbanks North Star Borough school board Thursday reduces the school district’s operating expenses by roughly $8.8 million under last year’s budget. The reduction includes 39 full-time equivalent staff positions." - Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, June 19th
      Cutest cuts yet!