Latour in the French debate on university reform
I am not sure how many Culture Matters readers have followed the French debate that has surrounded the government’s announcement that university funding will be reformed in accordance with the audit model that French commentators mistakenly identify as “American,” but which all of us elsewhere in Western Europe, Australia and so on have meekly accepted. (I recall how surprised I was by the atmosphere in a faculty meeting at Macquarie, in which there was no attempt to discuss whether or not we should go with the new “research assessment” system; rahter, the debate was restricted to “harm reduction.”) French university staff, by contrast, has gone on strike in protest.
In Le Monde, Bruno Latour has published an article rejecting the reform principally in the name of defending university autonomy. The article unleashed another round of the debate, in which Claude Calame of the EHESS took issue with Latour. Calame points out that the current system is hopelessly in need of reform and that, in any case, universities’ liberties are now limited to the liberties of/in the market:
the Sarkozy administration is so reactionary, in the neoconservatie sense of the word, that it has succeeded in making a situation that no one wishes either to defend or to maintain appear progressive. To denigrate the state, and the dependence it will impose upon teachers and researchers, is to forget that it is also the state of law and the guarantor of fundamental liberties. It is this ensemble of institutions and services that not only maintains a certain equality of treatment … but also allows citizens to exercise political control over the institutions they finance, so that they are not short-circuited by an oligarchy of plutocrats or that its tasks are not farmed out to the private sector.
Not being familiar with the debate in is entirety, it appears that Calame sees the state-imposed audit system as a guarantee of taxpayers’ control over publicly financed institutions, which is exactly the freemarketist justification that audit systems use everywhere, in both state-financed and non-state-financed systems (and of course the argument of those in favour of e.g. bank nationalisation). Yet Calame attacks freemarketeers and “plutocrats” (a word that, I must say, sets off alarm bells for me, all the more that in Eastern Europe it has often been used in the combination “Judeo-plutocrats”).
In any case I would like to see more serious discussion of the combined effects of bureaucratization, democratization, and most recently recession and a turn back to state ownership, on knowledge production. I wonder in particular what effect the recession is having on the largely privately financed U.S. research and education system.