a(nother) sad day, a(nother) sad policy development, a(nother) sad country

 

I received a mail from, Zsuzsa, a good friend of mine – she sent it also to others; Adrian and John, also fiends of mine, circulated it via some mailing lists – and I want to do my part in distributing this news, hoping also to contribute to mobilisiation of as many as possible. Thank you for standing together, the only way to overcome. — While sitting here, writing …, no, I will not cry; and I will not answer in the biblical way of Exodus 22-25

22 “If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely[e] but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. 23 But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life,24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.

But I will make use of the energy, that comes from the confrontation with evil …

Here now

Zsuzsa’s mail

Yesterday [=August 8th; p.h.) (full vacation time, nobody at the universities) the government sent a government decree to all universities. There  was no previous consultation or discussion. The decree forbids the teaching of GENDER STUDIES.  Almost all universities have some such subjects, CEU and ELTE Masters degree studies. The decree allows those already enrolled to finish their degree, but nothing else. Despite the exceptionally hot weather there are already many signs of indignation and outcry, and some started to organise conferences or petitions. Civil associations will send open letters, etc.

Do you see any way foreign organisations – including SPA, BSA –  could join us? Maybe open letters to  our government? And how should it run?

Dear Prime Minister , or

To Prime Minister of Hungary, Mr. Viktor Orbán!

We have been informed by…? that a government decree enacted  without previous consultation with the interested parties have been sent out ordering the closure of the teaching of gender studies. (We understand that those already enrolled at MS courses may finish their degree but no new courses are allowed.)

Our understanding of the legal and real autonomy of higher education excludes such measures. However, even if it may be legal according to Hungarian legislation, it seems to us a major attack on social science. Gender studies form since … an integral part of …etc.

(If somebody  has official contacts with Hungarian teachers of gender studies, this may be mentioned.,)

We ask (?) the Hungarian government to withdraw the decree in order to…

….

Please, help with the letter, with possible forms of support, with whatever you think.

I have to add that 2-3 years ago they already prohibited the courses of anthropology and andrapedagogy, but then noise was not loud enough. (The original Law of higher education made it the right and duty of Univ Senates to found  or close faculties, degrees etc., but this was altered too, in 2015. Hence the current step is “legal”.)

sad greetings from a self-revelating  dictatorship,

Zsuzsa

Adrian’s mail, sent via mailing lists, accompanying Zsuzsa’s lines

I have just received this email from Zsuzsa Ferge whom I have known and admired for nearly 50 years. The first professor of social policy in Hungary, she has made a major contribution to the social sciences, and especially social policy and sociology. Recently there have been increasing attacks on the universities, reducing their powers and that of the Hungarian Academy of Science ( Zsuzsa was made the first social policy member some 15 years ago). This is the latest development.

I have a very poor record in getting my own government to change decisions, let alone another one. But it does seem to me important to show that there is wide concern at developments such as this one. I do not know whether many individual letters or group ones will have more impact – both probably.

Best wishes, yours, Adrian

Finally John’s mail

Thanks, Caroline. The BSA and European sociological networks have it in hand already. But as it hasn’t reached me via ESPAnet or the European social policy jiscmail, I’ve added them here and would encourage maximum further dissemination to all the networks we are linked with in whatever subjects even at the risk of overlap and duplication.

John

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Still, I may add one point – I discussed it actually frequently with John, with Zsuzsa and so many others: It is not just about Orban and Hungary, as little as the discussion about Turkey is about Erdogan and Turkey, as little as Italy is a just one single case, as much as “we are all Greek” – we are all …, if we are ready to be!

Annunci

social policy … and the value of values

Hum, in general Augustine is classified as theologian and philosopher … – and in general one can suppose that people’s remarks are based at least to some extent on personal experience. If so, and thinking for example about extremely high fees students have to pay, university administrator’s incomes increasing more than that of lecturers, and then looking at the fancy dresses of many priests, I am wondering what to make out of the following:

[I]t was Augustine who proposed to found not only the Christian ‘brotherhood’ but all human relationships on charity. But this charity, though its wordlessness clearly corresponds to the general human experience of love, is at the same time clearly distinguished from it being something, which, like the world, is between men: ‘Even robbers have between them [inter se] what they call charity.’

(quoted from Hannah Arendt’s Human Condition, with reference to Augustine’s Contra Faustum Manichaeum)

One Belt – One Road – One World – Digitisation of Life as Chinese Lifestyle?

It is never an easy thing: dedication of some work – doesn’t it propose also agreement?
I do not know if and in which way Elmar would have agreed with what I presented – yesterday he passed away and we, critical thinkers with a genuine interest in progressive scientific work – progressive by way of contributing to progress of societal development so we will never know exactly. One thing we do know – the obituary of the scientific committee of attac [German] clearly states it:

ELMAR ALTVATER DIED

It talks about him as an

Inspiring critique of the capitalist economy

This he truly was – as such he encourages me to dedicate the presentation to him: as quest to me and to the students to take up this challenge of critical thinking.

The abstract of the presentation which is recorded here
may give some insight into what you can expect from the lecture — and hopefully you still will be surprised and inspired.
Living in China means as well getting used to a highly advanced level of internet-penetration in large parts of daily life. Often this is perceived as contradicting prevailing traditional ‘life styles’ and attitudes. At first glance this has not much to do with the future of social policy, or does it? – Social policy faces the difficult task of bringing an institutional system and ‘life worlds’ together. With globalisation and digitisation there is an additional challenge: the reference to the nation state and standard forms of labour are increasingly loosing or changing their role, or at least changing it. Is there any common ground for small island nations like Ireland and unimaginable countries like China?

time … appreciation …. value of values

… or
How academia today undermines knowledge and beauty.
“In his youth Albert Einstein spent a year loafing aimlessly. You don’t get anywhere by not ‘wasting’ time – something, unfortunately, which the parents of teenagers tend frequently to forget. He was in Pavia. He had joined his family having abandoned his studies in Germany, unable to endure the rigours of his high school there. It was the beginning of the twentieth century, and in Italy the beginning of its industrial revolution. His father, an engineer, was installing the first electrical power plants in the Paduan plains. Albert was reading Kant and attending occasional lectures at the University of Pavia: for pleasure, without being registered there or having to think about exams. It is thus that serious scientists are made.”
….
“Finally, in November 1915, he committed to print an article giving the complete solution: a new theory of gravity, which he called ‘The General Theory of Relativity’, his masterpiece and the ‘most beautiful of theories’, according to the great Russian physicist Lev Landau.
There are absolute masterpieces which move us intensely: Mozart’s Requiem; Homer’s Odyssey; the Sistine Chapel; King Lear. To fully appreciate their brilliance may require a long apprenticeship, but the reward is sheer beauty – and not only this, but the opening of our eyes to a new perspective upon the world. Einstein’s jewel, the general theory of relativity, is a masterpiece of this order.”
From Carlo Rovelli. “Seven Brief Lessons on Physics” – with regards to those who have a huge share of responsibility for irresponsibility

the market and … power versus respect and dignity

Musings from earlier this year – and in a way probably a foretaste of the future. From a mail I sent to a former student [well, I say former while my Chinese students don’t stop seeing me as their 老师:

Thanks for the mail, 刘嘉颖,
yesterday I submitted the reference. I think there is a general problem with these submissions, only very few universities showing respect. It is all set up to suit the universities, not the applicants. If they send a mail to he BU-mail they get an auto reply, asking them to resend the mail the esosc-mail which they do not do. I perceive this as disrespecting your interest of taking really care of your application. There are other things: the mail was marked as SPAM because an oeverload of graphs, depersonalisation of addressing the message, silly questionnaires and forms which, if submitted by a student as ’sample for how to design a questionnaire’, would result in ‘failed’ … – Well, all this is a simple economic issue

Image ref: Alex Slobodkin Getty Images/iStockphoto; from: http://fortune.com/2015/07/01/behind-the-rise-of-indian-students-at-top-u-s-universities/

* if accepted you will pay fees

* if you do not succeed for instance because a reference is missing they still have enough ‘paying customers’ = students who play fees

* they ask academics to help THEM, the university, with the assessment, and we do it for free – it seems as we would do it for you, the student – and in some way it is true; but economically we work free for those universities – imagine one alternative: they would employ external assessors? Would they work for free?

May be even they would – there are ways to make such jobs ‘attractive’ – one could beat them with a note in the CV: External Assessor of …university.

That these procedures of universities upset me more then it probably should has exactly this reason: universities of this kind, money making machines that live on the back of others, without respecting even basic rules of market relations are just one example of an endless number of today’s mal-practice businesses, though they babble about dignity, social responsibility etc. It is the same irresponsible behavior as the behaviour of an airline that ‘allows’ people with a licence as pilot to join as co-pilot, without paying them – as those pilots do not have any proper alternative, they accept it because they need a certain number of hours per year to maintain the license. Many other things could and should be mentioned, in academia the tenured positions are becoming further reduced, people like myself working on ‘occassional jobs’, doing so without social insurance etc.. And it also undermines the ability and capacity of universities to offer proper education as in some universities even for teaching obligatory courses there are only ‘casual lecturers employed. [I am not sure anymore, I think at the university of Vienna ca 40 percent of teaching staff is not-permanent]  – You may see many issues I was talking about in the economics classes: about the invalidity of the law of supply and demand, the laws of the market being laws of power and not of free choice, contracts not realy about what they formally suggest to be, and also the externalisation of cost and even the production functions, here in terms of a change of the function due to the wrong basis for the calculation: part of the work is not included into the calculation. And it goes on as at the end it is of utmost relevance on the micro- and the macro level. Just think briefly about issues of taxation. …

So, end of the lecture 😉 ….

 And possibly the end of a string of posts on this topic, which could be drawn together under the heading
 Not sure, if this is the complete list of related posts, at least some:
 .
 It remains to be added that some universities that I contacted directly with complains, came back to me, asking for apologies, and exact information to consider changes of the procedures, also opening them for a more personal way of assessment. Though all this is often and seems to be a waste of energy … – perhaps it worth to move on, of course in the best case it is not just a matter of private initiative but a collective move and protest against the fall of higher education.

elementary knowledge for university admin staff

OPEN LETTER

I regret and feel very sorry: I would have expected that staff working in academic institutions – while we are writing the date of

Il giorno 20/mar/2018, alle ore 04:54,

apparently have to write

• Email submissions: We regret we are unable to accept references emailed to us

It is all about elementary knowledge, back to the real blackboard

Yes, I would have presumed the ability to deal with simple information technologies instead of uploading the burden on academics who surely have other and better things to do.

It is a commonly known problem though: specifically qualified staff not knowing about basics.
Feel free to contact one of my former students – they are surely most obliging and willing to help – and they do not even charge you such tremendous fees as universities like yours do. — I know, reading such things is frightening – as everything ugly is frightening if we see it in a mirror, feeling helpless especially if we are aware that we are acting as string puppets, being danced [yes, I hope for you that you don’t feel as dancer yourself] on others who are even weaker. – In any case, if YOU do not read it others will.
Positive thinking allows me to say that you fortunately are yourself worried about the low standards — otherwise you would not regret.
My recommendation: have a look if Warwick university offers offers some courses like
* basic IT-skills
* the problems of externalisation of cost: they multiplay and at some stage they return to the originator.
More positive thinking even: some universities came back to me, asked for apologies and promised changes. Unfortunately, after they asked for help and advice, they turned down my offer to support them further for a minor fee.
Sincerely worried – poor souls you are, a long way to academic standards [well, you remember E.P. Thompson? Top academics like him had been forced out …, history does to repeat, but lack of honesty and commitment apparently does …
Peter Herrmann
PS: Surprising for me is that a huge number of colleagues – students, administrators, academics – and surely most of the common people, using their common sense do agree .. and swallow.

Squalidness of a System – Gravediggers of Dreams – Murderers of Humanism

… which is all a continuation of the entries on boxing and the attempt to open the box and various other blogposts and you may have a look at
Sure, one may say it is not a great deal, all the advantages of the digital world will of course also be there to make universities a better world and even help to open the doors to these still somewhat sacred halls of humanism, Western education strongly claiming this tradition as still guiding principle, proudly showing the two Humboldt’s, sitting in front of the main building
[https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Datei:Wilhelm_von_Humboldt_Denkmal_-_Humboldt_Universität_zu_Berlin.jpg]
[https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Datei:Alexander_von_Humboldt_Denkmal_-_Humboldt_Universität_zu_Berlin.jpg]
Admittedly – oh vanity – it had been an delightfully exhilarating feeling when entering the building for [one of?] my first public presentations, passing the busts and insignia of the many ‘great forefather’ – and the few mothers mentioned. Being able to say ‘my forefathers’ allowed me to redefine my strange orphanage, knowing that it was indeed about moving on and moving up and stumbling through the academic world – witnessing and being part ….
Indeed, the baby can remain alive while occasionally the bathing water has to be changed. The problem, however, begins as soon as the new water proves to be poisoned.
*******
Warwick University is amongst quite a number that deserve being ‘reported’ as institutions boxing humans – and I will later return to this  case. Others are e.g. Brook [Canada], CUHK [HongKong], LSE [London], Oxford U and some UCL [somewhere on the island of independence-dreamers], being sufficiently arrogant to assume that everybody has to know who UCL is [actually it is possible to find out who is hiding behind the three letters: it is not Université catholique de Louvain, not the UEFA Champions League, Centre for Computational Psychiatry and Ageing Research … [interesting to see the differences in search engine results, depending on the location from which you search], but it is University College London – sure, symptomatically, being at such a UCL people begin to think like a puddle [see also here for the entire text about the Salmon of Doubt]: there is only one UCL – it is like the puddle being the entire world, only made for you], are part of the experience of disrespect and a ‘special kind of illiteracy’ which may well go as culprit to court at some stage – though for me the [il]legal side is only a wee part of a story that shows the squalidness which higher education reached.
*******
Now coming back to it: Talking about Warwick University means talking about one amongst many, denouncing one as example for a systematic defect. But it also means that it has some especially bitter taste as the history should have taught some wisdom.
Warwick is one of the universities founded during the times of a spirit of change: the forerunner, shock and also aftermath of the so-called 68-movement – forerunners, shock and aftermath also in a positive sense of taking up the need of investing in education, and understanding education as part of …, well not necessarily a revolutionary movement, but an emancipative strive in the spirit of the bourgeois enlightenment for which names like Kant and Humboldt and, yes also Mill and Smith stood. However
And at some this this culminated and
At stake was
And with this it was already at an early stage clear that the entire enterprise was concerned with a shift of understanding of subject matters, i.e. the self-uderstanding of disciplines. Here it changed for instance lets say from economics to ‘Management Science’.
Of course – and Andrew McGettigan makes us aware of it – this has to be seen against the background of the changing economic situation in Britain at the time – though it hadn’t been Britain alone.
It is an often forgotten factor, unfortunately – as seeing this context may help us to understand the moves today, for instance looking at the ‘Eon Energy Research Center’ in Aachen, Germany or the more or less recent ‘donation’ of twenty professorships: the technical university in Munich receives these from the discounter Lidl.
Much more could be said, also that Foundations [the professorships are provided by the Lidl-Foundation, not directly Lidl] are a kind of money-laundry-undertakings, other cases could be mentioned — mind snatchers are under way, even resulting in more or less funny …, perhaps Freudian slips? Briefly retuning to Warwick, we read that
Yes, God save the Queen and long live there multiple heirs. And though I recently looked into kind of shocked eyes when I mentioned the personal experience of the 1972 Anti-Radical Decree [oh, if official documents are looked at …and if some others are considered].
*******

Back to the presence and the bad habits and style when it comes to dealign with applicants and referees – again:

  • Students, naming referees, are asked to provide ‘institutional e-mail addresses’ – Shouldn’t a university that claims to be international and global accept that lecturers are international and global, sometimes not able to maintain mail addresses from previous positions, sometimes just making life a bit easier using onky one ‘private’ mail address instead of permanently changing and/or checking various addresses?
  • Mails sent out  to the institutional address are sent in completely automated fashion or at least the responses are not checked. Concrete: for my part I set up an auto-reply, informing the sender that the mail address they used is rarely checked and asking them to use another contact address. What happens? Nothing. The keen interest of students to get their application properly lodged and also the right of lecturers to be available in a self-defined way are not respected – even the self-respect of the universities diminished to the extent that they reduce themselves to illiterate, at most semi-literate machines.
  • This is completed then by the expected formats of references: a questionnaire any person who is at least a little bit qualified in data analysis [not to speak of common sense] would immediately see as inappropriate, lacking meaning and not allowing gaining any insight it the student’s ability. Personal questions about the referee that breach protection of privacy and are completely irrelevant …
    – Of course, the entire procedure may [and should] be questioned and there is the need to find better ways. But leaving this aside, it may deserve some further reflection: Should a questionable procedure, a matter that is extremely difficult to be answered, be followed up by further sub-standardising the way of dealing with it?
  • Useful, then, would be to to protect referees against being bombarded by advertisement from those universities, offering the referee to apply for a graduate course … — so, apparently undergrads can act as referee??
End Administrative infantilisation – Please stop it
Artificial intelligence … – I am more concerned about artificial stupidity – but then again, it is certainly true that computers, also intelligent systems, are just doing what they are told do by humans: in other words there is no artificial stupidity, even if messages are from academic systems, we should not blame those algorithms. And one may summarise, saying that algorithmisation, further administration and infantilisation are very much different forms of incapacitation.
Other things may be added, different combinations can be found – the bottom line: human issues are dehumanised and passed on to systems that are completely lacking empathy, and do not even show some basic mindfulness and respect of the values the system they supposedly represent, claims as guiding. Simple: If a university claims to reflect and pursue the values of humanism in the truest sense, the same university should make sure that the instruments and tools, used by its departments work by applying and supporting these values.
*******
Navigare necesse est, vivere non est necesse – Plutarco
The other day I talked with a colleague about all these developments in academia, she commented: ‘And we all accept it.’ I think it is really one of the problems, may be we get up, oppose on small items individually, may be even as small or large groups but at the end of the day  … – how can a system be changed, if changes are not approached on the system level, and systematically. Well, those who try have to pay. Those who have the say, always find a way. It is not least about  ‘squeezing more into less’.
To sum up, it is about universities and their development from academic educational settings to slaves of business further to administered systems, now to IT-led information providers.
Of course, the ‘old Bologna’ was also about business – and there Polanyi comes in: business was controlled by society – sure, we should not forget that it was a more or less rotten feudal society … And society itself is today actually often a stupid bubble economy, only leaving some small niches, suggesting real life is about withdrawing, looking for individual escapes … .
So, there you see me back, unsettled, opposing the temptation of a navigare necesse est, vivere non est necesse as already criticised by Plutarch. I just want to live, and I want for everybody the right to do exactly that. That is surely different  from permanently steering, moving from one emergency patch to another. And for the educational system it was already said by Alfred Marshall, thus even on the conservative side, stating

The schoolmaster must learn that his main duty is not to impart knowledge, for a few shillings will buy more printed knowledge than a man’s brain can hold. It is to educate character, faculties and activities; so that the children even of those parents who are not thoughtful themselves, may have a better chance of being trained up to become thoughtful parents of the next generation. To this end public money must flow freely. And it must flow freely to provide fresh air
and space for wholesome play for the children in all working class quarters. 

And we should never forget: at the end we are all complying! Nolens volens? Being algorithmicised, further administering life instead of living it or being infantilised – as long as we are not ready to stand up collectively and speak out loudly.