University : Anat Matar

Part III

To substantiate my point, let me postpone for a while my conceptual criticism of the dichotomist worldview and turn directly to reality. Kant, notably, did not ignore the political reality in which he lived. On the contrary; it is obvious that his insights regarding the higher faculties’ compliance with the regime were accurate. Their obedience hasn’t of course diminished since his time. Howard Zinn reminds us, in A People’s History of the United States, of the crucial involvement of the mega-rich, known as “philanthropists,” in the establishment of American universities:

Conwell was a founder of Temple University. Rockefeller was a donor to colleges all over the country and helped found the University of Chicago. Huntington, of the Central Pacific, gave money to two Negro colleges, Hampton Institute and Tuskegee Institute. Carnegie gave money to colleges and to libraries. Johns Hopkins was founded by a millionaire merchant, and millionaires Cornelius Vanderbilt, Ezra Cornell, James Duke, and Leland Stanford created universities in their own names . . . These educational institutions did not encourage dissent; they trained the middlemen in the American system—the teachers, doctors, lawyers, administrators, engineers, technicians, politicians—those who would be paid to keep the system going, to be loyal buffers against trouble.32

Capital, then, serves in such contexts as an extension of the regime. In my own academic home, Tel Aviv University, the annual meeting of the Board of Governors—consisting mainly of donors—is often decorated by symposia supporting Israel’s policies, and the participating speakers include senior governmental officers.33

At this point, it is crucial to clarify that relations between academia and the regime are not limited to the “higher faculties.” Even Kant knew very well that, unlike his reliable analysis of their power-bias, his description of the independence and liberty of the “lower faculty” was far from precise. In his famous Homo Academicus Pierre Bourdieu produced a pioneering sociological analysis of the academic world (in particular that of France in the 1960s). His research led him to represent university professors as “situated halfway up each of the two hierarchies into which the fractions of the dominant class fall, the hierarchy of economic and political power and the hierarchy of intellectual authority and prestige.”34

Professors are socially located, then, between those who are totally and officially submissive to the establishment and those who enjoy genuine freedom. Academics constitute “an upper petty bourgeoisie,” promote “domestic virtues,” and generally share an “aristocratic asceticism which underlies their lifestyle.”35 Professors conceive of themselves as advancing liberal values of the sort that guided Kant, but, according to Bourdieu, their solidarity networks and the effects of their work in an organization actually contradict these values.36

Further empirical support for my philosophical analysis is provided by Stephen Shapin’s The Scientific Life: A Moral History of a Later Modern Vocation.37 Shapin investigates the differences between the contemporary scientific model and Weber’s “science as a vocation.” He traces the consequences of secularism and the industrial revolution in changing patterns of scientific practice so as to better profit the State. He also stresses the introduction of private industries into the field of scientific research. These and similar developments have shaped scientists as bourgeois professionals, devoid of far-reaching aspirations to “truth.”

Scientists who regard their job as a profession rather than vocation refrain from asking questions such as: who profits from my research, whom do I eventually serve, what values lead my particular research, why do we opt for this rather than that study? Where Weber barred the essentially “constative” university from answering such questions—taking these to be illegitimate in academia—he considered it one of the most important tasks of science to clarify ethical dilemmas, expose the assumptions underlying their various solutions, and analyze their consistency and consequences.38 Today even clarifications such as these are being eliminated from academic curricula.

32. Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States (New York: Harper Collins, 1980), 262.

33. A paradigmatic example can be watched here: Video

34. Pierre Bourdieu, Homo Academicus, trans. P. Collier (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1984), 223.

35. Pierre Bourdieu, Homo Academicus, 222.

36. Pierre Bourdieu, Homo Academicus, 65. Note especially those disciplines in the Humanities which “tend to show as grounded in the coherence of reason things which in fact are based on belief or, in short, on the orthodoxy of a group” (original emphasis).

37. Stephen Shapin, The Scientific Life (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010).

38. Max Weber, “Science as a Vocation,” 18.

39. Gil Zohar, “Lifting the Veil. The article quotes at length the words of Isaac Ben-Israel, former director of MAFAT: “Unlike in the United States where research is conducted at national labs, Israel has no such equivalent institutions . . . Military R&D in Israel would not exist without the universities. They carry out all the basic scientific investigation, which is then developed either by defense industries or the army.” Ben-Israel was parachuted from the military General Staff, which orchestrated the oppression and war crimes typical of the second Palestinian Intifada directly to the comfortable professorship in TAU’s Security Studies Program at the Faculty of Social Science. But despite the clear particularities of the Israeli case, I do not at all wish to suggest that Israeli universities are exceptional in being deeply involved with the political and military establishment. The opposite is true, in fact. Henry Giroux, in his book The University in Chains: Confronting the Military-Industrial-Academic Complex (Boulder: Paradigm Publishers, 2007), offers a detailed argument for identifying similarly deep relations between the American academic sphere and the establishment. Compare also the two following cases: In Israel, Colonel Pnina Sharvit-Baruch was appointed as a lecturer of international law at TAU right after she quit the army, where she was responsible for granting permission to the Israeli army’s war crimes committed in Gaza on 2008. She is currently a senior research associate at the Institute of National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. In the United States, the faculty of law in the University of California, Berkeley, re-hired John Yoo after he quit his service at the George W. Bush administration, where he enhanced executive authority to undertake interrogation techniques usually regarded as torture.

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