The Imperial University : Academic Repression and Scholarly Dissent

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I would love this book to really catalyze conversations in ways that carry forward the work that it is doing in the spirit of solidarities—how fabulous it would be to have a campaign or something concrete emerge out of this text, something that actively supports dissenting voices, or other texts and anthologies too. In a climate of hypersurveillance and regulation of Muslim American political subjecthood, what kinds of alliances and activism are permissible for college-age youth?

In general, it is always student movements that confront the academic-military-industrial complex in an organized way. Organizing among faculty is generally disappointingly weak and usually not sustained over the long term, including in ethnic studies. Furthermore, in trying to counter censorship of events related to Middle East politics, it is very evident that well-funded, off-campus lobby groups exert a great deal of pressure on administrators to suppress political views they do not like. But administrators too are increasingly part of the well-funded neoliberal academic complex that is in line with the security-surveillance state.

In this context, it is remarkable that a very small group of scholars organized a successful academic boycott campaign in the American Studies Association that shook up the imperial university and became an issue of national and global concern.

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The success of this campaign was due to the unwavering political commitment of the faculty involved, all of whom put this organizing above their own professional interests and career concerns at a time at a time when such a boycott resolution was considered unthinkable for a professional academic association in the US, and unpopular among US academics at large. The same is true of the conditions that made possible the academic boycott resolution adopted by the Association of Asian American Studies. It does not bring the rewards of promotion, and it should remain outside of the culture of academic celebrity.

I think this is key so that resistance to the imperial university is not appropriated, but rather remains oppositional and links the many movements that are challenging the neoliberal restructuring of higher education and the policing of radical knowledge production that is relevant to our times. As the US academy heads into open crises around labor issues, in particular, I want to be more directly involved with labor movements—in alliance with student-workers and other workers who keep our institutions alive and possible.

I was just speaking to a colleague and friend who was involved with adjunct and graduate student labor mobilization in the Pacific Northwest and was amazed by all that they had done. I think many of us could have earned a lot of money—and not deluded ourselves—by just being part of a bank, legal firm, or other corporation.

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It is clear that this is what the academy is—and so the battle must begin by first clearing up our illusions and delusions. I think that more tenured faculty, in particular, need to stand up and be counted and recognize their own incredibly privileged position at the top of this pyramid of the knowledge industry—and call out its violent, and often dishonest, corporate culture.

We should all be re-reading Fanon, especially his critique of nationalist intellectuals. Gramsci might have a lot to say about that, but I think as professional academics we are, on the whole, a compromised caste and class. It is midafternoon on a brisk and beautiful winter day in the Inland Empire of Southern California. The hallway is silent. It reminds me, sadly, of any colorless and functional corporate office building. I wish for sound, some sign of collective social life.

This alienating silence is particularly acute today given the noisy scenes of protest including some Rabelaisian revelries with drumming and chants taking place just a few hundred feet away in the student commons. The Board of Regents of the University of California UC is meeting on campus to address the budget crisis that has, for some years now, imperiled this great public university system and led to severe tuition hikes. Students know that their fees will be raised again. Contingent faculty and other workers know they will be plunged into further precarity.

But it also means that police officers and other law enforcement agents are in full gear and out in full force. Earlier in the day, I join other protestors who throng the site of the meeting and whose mood is quite upbeat. Plainclothesmen mingle with protesters, which is photographed by dozens of witnesses. Later, sitting in my quiet office, I suddenly hear a loud buzzing sound outside my window. A police helicopter is circling over the empty sports field adjacent to the building.

It might be an optical illusion because from that lofty mobile panopticon, it can see much more than I can , but it seems to be circling an empty expanse of green. It seems utterly mad: the silence within, the angry buzzing outside. Suddenly, a small troop of khaki-clad youth march around the corner to my right. They have little bandanas around their neck, they are in perfect formation—they pass by quickly.

I blink hard because it seems so unreal—the quick, youthful military march whose steps I cannot hear. This tableau feels surreal and I decide to move back to the noise and action near the student commons. The scene has now turned tense.


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