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Introduction: Resistances and affordances of the economic“bottom line”

ByMario Rodriguez

Engaging the bottom line of higher education has both literal and metaphorical dimensions. Literally, it references the place where the modern university must confront entrepreneurship and profit and in so doing brings into close quarters learning and utility. The immediate effects of this proximity are now palpable in the daily experience of university life: research is evaluated for “impact” in an economy of “competition,” professors are viewed as entrepreneurs, and public-private partnerships between universities and business are increasingly common, an arrangement that calls for the intensifying instrumentality of teachers, students, and curricula. Confided here are personal experiences with computerized timetabling, underscoring the immunity that academics have tended to enjoy from such accountability. The fact that academics are now subject to the business clock (and in micro-increments) testifies to the penetration of the neoliberal mentality into university life and the degree to which universities have become beholden to private investors. Another indication is over-reliance on adjuncts. Metaphorically, the bottom line signals an interface where the academy meets the

winter environment of neoliberalism. While providing an unprecedented opportunity to reaffirm fundamental principles of education, the neoliberal environment raises questions about how to make universities matter in a terrain valuing private interests first and foremost. These chapters contain various recommendations for the academy in an era of neoliberalism, raising critical questions, not all of them resolved: do the forms of resistance and transformation envisioned here allow the academy to successfully adapt to twenty-first-century demands? Can solidarity among academics withstand the contemporary assault on collective intellectual capital wielded by private interests? These concerns are larger than the modern university, evident in one scholar’s recent claim that Facebook appropriates collective thought for advertising through its various applications.1 This parallels the university’s expropriation of collective knowledge into the private sector. Perhaps the solution lies in what Jack Bratich calls a “machinic intellectual” (MI), functioning more as a router for information – himself

or herself an interface in an “embedded” circuit of affiliated intellectuals, circulating “tools for transversals.”2 Another might be what Nick Couldry calls “voice” in the following pages, as a post-neoliberal value and counter-rationality to neoliberalism. Another theme that emerges, however, is the university’s permeable boundaries in

the wake of new media and the resultant shifts in the flow of information that seem irreversible. How should universities adapt to these trends? Is it useful to reconsider the original mission of the university to provide a space for free thought and pure learning by fusing its resources with those of the web, such as YouTube, TED (www. ted.com) and Facebook? Yet such opportunities to work within the neoliberal mindset are not limited to new media. An equally important question might be: is there any value in embracing management skills and self-promotion (e.g. McLuhan) to engage directly with public desires? From this perspective, educators function more along the lines of movie, music, or TV producers. If engagement with the public is integral to fulfilling this original mission and making the university matter in the twenty-first century (and according to all of our authors, a public function is key), what are the best channels through which to enact this publicness? One might consider the ways in which all of these solutions for action within the academy could be harnessed to counteract (or redirect) the instrumental rationality of a market logic grown so cold.