The late 20th century was full of analyses of the growing post-secondary education market. These analyses came to the simple conclusion that the role of the university in society was growing and so with it, opportunities for good careers in scholarship. Democrats imagined a world of increasingly-civilized middle class people.
But scholars are not very organized. Meanwhile, financialized capitalism does organize managers and surveillance software commerce. Organization, it turned out, was the relevant variable.
Fast forward 30 years and now post-secondary education budgets, derived from both states and individual families, serve many economic purposes, from hosting the managerial labour market to the marketing labour market to the accountanting labour market, to construction industry and the surveillance software industry, and on to immigration screening and prep.
To accomplish this reorganization, most of the unorganized people undergoing the extensive and intensive education regime to become doctors of philosophy and scholars were converted into cheap, just-in-time, deskilled front-line service workers.
As conservatives identified, universities were in the business of rent extraction. The problem is where the rents come from. With neoliberalization, rents would be extracted from students’ families and scholars, rather than the tax-paying public, identified as the Trente Glorieuses source of rents in conservative economists’ shaky political revision of the rents concept.
This conversion to mining scholars makes lots of sense in a financialized era: As food pulp becomes an underlying commodity market securitizing financial rents on ag land, post-secondary education was converted into a commodity market undergirding managerial, marketing, financial, software systems, and construction rents.
In addition to securitizing financial and other rents, universities are also managed to provide auxillary services in support of capitalist social reproduction. From their traditional low-key side role supervising young elite men working through the often-rough early transition to adulthood, professors have been saddled with more and more extreme, unpaid, consuming social reproduction job responsibilities. Extreme odd jobs foisted upon professors in the neoliberal era include: 1) serving as an unpaid part of immigration gatekeeping, by helping attract, weed and secure skilled labor; 2) serving as an unpaid part of the university front line “accommodating,” AKA insufficiently providing caretaking services to young people with mental illnesses and sometimes suicidal tendencies. This additional responsibility requires reconceptualizing not only the professor-student relation as a form of crisis comms management, but also the classroom–not as a collective learning environment, but as an optional venue for amateur psychological and social group experiments; and 3) grant writing for public scholarly resources in order to both fund university rentiers and deploy young female students in symbolic support of the blasted, tattered social reproduction of dis-organized, racialized and poverty populations.
All this semi-official, multi-layered, inefficient and inappropriate redeployment of scholarly workers within the neoliberalized university is of course a symptom of core capitalism’s incapacity to simultaneously foster economic growth and the life conditions of economic growth. The borders have been militarized. The public mental health institutions dismantled. The students are supposed to take on debt to do post-secondary education work full time while doing remunerated junk jobs full time while lurching into young adulthood. The welfare state has been hacked back down to Nightwatchman Poor Laws. O, the abstract/elite liberty. Professors are serving as free immigration guard labor, amateur psychologists and social workers, and amateur social-work managers, and they’re doing that on top of their academic responsibilities simply because they have been identified as a remnant capable population of workers. Tenured professors are still capable because they’re getting paid just enough to live with only the crisis of overwork, while the rest of working families are drowning in crisis.
This proletarianization of a disorganized people who deferred income, and took on debt, in order to attain semi-sovereign and self-developmental work, is the function of management and surveillance software firms, which tend to be integrated. The proletarianized scholars tend to come from poorly-networked social backgrounds, such as working-class families, or they are female and subject to reduced credit and cooperation within the decent-compensation, semi-sovereign labour market.
Immigration and university privatization culturally cement this top-down-led reorganization. The internet abounds with triumphant stories, in extremely non-proficient English, of international students who were “friends” with the Anglo or American university chancellor or president (A friendship only possible above a very high wealth bar.), students who declined to do the work for a class, got a grade that inconvenienced them, and summoned their class network to kick the professor’s “ASS out into the gutter.” Global consumers clearly perceive this to be a global upper-class mafia age.
Scholars who study academia have reminded me to never forget that administrators see scholars as strictly “peasants.” That labour-disciplining, aristocratic entitlement culture, the expectations of servitude and expropriation, trickles down to the credential consumers, aligning them with the university’s internal and external array of gape-mawed rentiers in management, marketing, construction, finance, R&D, intellectual property rights, and surveillance software (including course/immigration skills-evaluation and testbank software, accounting software, classroom-allocation software, performance metrics and evaluation software, and consumer satisfaction metrics).
The culture is further amplified amongst those competitive academics with a system-gaming orientation.