2 Pages

Introduction: Against McCollege

ByMichael Serazio

At the dawn of a new century, the university model of the last was feared to have been lost in twilight. Both domestically and abroad, this model faced many of the same pressures and assaults challenging other industries en route to “modernization”: efficiency, calculability, predictability, and control. If such forces sound familiar, it is because perhaps nothing so fittingly represents the paradigm for these patterns as “McDonaldization.” Sociologist George Ritzer coined this term, with its reliance on the four components above as a way of explaining the multifarious social conditions, settings, and processes now dominated by fast-food logic – the sense that living, working, consuming (and now, perhaps, educating) resembles the automated, prepackaged, drive-through experience embodied by the Golden Arches. Ritzer’s McDonaldization subsumed Max Weber’s notion of rationalization: the western world’s dehumanizing lockstep march into the “iron cage” of modern bureaucracy as “the search by people for the optimum means to a given end is shaped by rules, regulations and larger structures.”1 For academia of late, this, too, may sound dishearteningly familiar. In unique ways, and from different geographic and theoretical vantage points, the

chapters in this section point to similarly unsettling trends buffeting the traditional university model: market efficiency, standardization, prepackaging, assimilation, streamlining, franchising, productivity and accountability. Targeting circumstances as wide-ranging as the fundamental “unusefulness” of the university because it supposedly fails the test of profitability when students are constructed as “consumers;” the constraints created by outsourced curricula; rising demands for vocational “relevance” and labor downsizing; homogenization of local and regional singularities through the European Union’s Bologna Agreement; and the exploitation of “shrink-wrapped” (and politically neutered) educational modules to emergent campus chains in Gulf petro-states, the circumstances outlined in this section are dire. Ritzer himself foresaw them resulting from the pursuit of efficiency, calculability, predictability, and control

in higher education: the machine-graded, multiple-choice examination; the cold quantification of student qualities, course reviews, peer-reviewed publications, and university rankings; the non-negotiable, time-block constraints that delimit class periods, semester lengths, and tenure clocks; and, fundamentally, the feeling that students and faculty alike are “automatons processed by the bureaucracy and computers.”2