In 1963, Clark Kerr wrote,
“The basic reality, for the university, is the widespread recognition that new knowledge is the most important factor in economic and social growth. We are just now perceiving that the university’s product, knowledge, may be the most powerful single element in our culture, affecting the rise and fall of professions and even of social classes, of regions and even of nations.
Becasue of this fundamental reality, the university is being called upon to produce knowledge as never before — for civic and regional purposes, for national purposes, and even for no purpose at all beyond the realization that most knowledge eventually comes to serve mankind. And it is also being called upon to transmit knowledge to an unprecedented portion of the population.
This reality is rehsaping the very nature and quality of the university. Old concepts of faculty-student relations, of research, of faculty-administration roles are being changed at a rate without parallel. And this at a time when it seems that an entire generation is pounding at the gates and demanding admission. To the academician, conservative by nature, the sound made by the new generation often resembles the howl of a mob. To the politician, it is a signal to be obeyed. To the administrator, it is a warning that we are in new times and that the decisions we make now will be uncommonly productive — both of good and ill.
Thus the university has come to have a new centrality for all of us, as much as for those who never see the ivied halls as for those who pass through them or reside there.” (xii, The Uses of the University)
Perhaps I’ve already been looking at class for too long, and I’m seeing it everywhere I look. In that short passage from Kerr’s preface to The Uses of the University, class is not only named explicitly, but also embedded in the connection between education and profession, in economic growth, in the understanding of knowledge as a product, in the acknowledgements of broadening inclusivity and gated exclusion, and in the Arnoldian reference to the mob.
Kerr was President of the University of California at Berkeley at the time, and the occasion was his delivery of the Godkin Lectures on the Essentials of Free Government and the Duties of the Citizen at Harvard University. Thirty-eight years later, in 2001, he looks hopefully at a situation for academia that he suggests itself seems to offer little reason for hope.
I’m reading Kerr, and after him Derek Bok’s Universities in the Marketplace and Stanley Aronowitz’s The Knowledge Factory, in order to more firmly ground my understanding of the relationships between class and higher education. After Kerr, Bok, and Aronowitz, I’ll move on to Shapiro and Varian’s Information Rules, Mark Taylor’s The Moment of Complexity, Manuel Castells’ The Internet Galaxy, and Lankshear and Knobel’s New Literacies in order to connect my understanding of the relationships between class and higher education to an understanding of the interrelationships among economy, culture, and computers. These connected understandings will constitute the classed context within which I locate composition as a discipline, via the histories of Robert Connors, Sharon Crowley, James Berlin, Susan Miller, and Joseph Harris, and within which I look for composition’s discourses of class.
All of this is survey stuff, review of the literarure. The next steps will be to revisit Bourdieu’s work in Distinction and Practical Reason, and to work through Reproduction in Education, Culture, and Society, and to perhaps refresh my memory of Dennis Gilbert’s fifth edition of The American Class Structure, in order to refine my own alternative conception of class. The biggest leap will be in attempting to connect that conception — or understand how it cannot be connected — to Feenberg’s critical theory of technology in Transforming Technology and to Dyer-Witheford’s construction of “high-technology Marxism” in Cyber-Marx.
I had a day full of pre-school-starting meetings today. The final meeting was with this semester’s pedagogy group; a bunch of TAs who get together every couple weeks and talk about issues connected to the writing classes we teach — for us, a group of veteran TAs, the classes in question being a mixture of honors, dormitory, and computer sections. We met in the computer lab the first day, and were warned not to touch the computers, since they weren’t working yet, and decided that for our future meetings, we’d want to get together somewhere away from those dead green-gray CRT eyes for a while. We chose the Cardinal Newman center, just off campus.
Kerr opens his first chapter with the statement that “The university of today can perhaps be understood, in part, by comparing it with what it once was — with the academic cloister of Cardinal Newman” (1).