Tuesday, July 17, 2007

And my ill-informed take on the post below

Okay, now here's my ill-informed take on all of that, working backwards chronologically.

1. The university is being really heavy-handed in suspending two tenured professors without pay for basically criticizing the university's decisions in a national forum. It's not exactly an assault on academic freedom, but it is troubling. You expect an open marketplace of ideas to be open to ideas that are critical. To add insult to injury, they have also removed posts from the campus server that take the side of the two professors! Queensland University of Technology is also pushing to scrap the entire Humanities department for not turning a profit! Anyway, you see how much respect these increasingly corporatized McUniversities have for their long-time professors or for open intellectual discussion.

2. That said, the professors come off as real bullies in all of this. In the first place, it seems just as over-the-top to take your gripe with a student to a national newspaper. Not to mention the fact that they tie the student to ''cultural relativism'' and ''postmodernism'' and all of the other things that are sure to get the conservative readers of The Australian frothing at the mouths. (I'm guessing none of them will ever question the ethical implications of foundationalism, will they?) Will The Australian make a habit of publicizing this sort of unprofessional abuse? "My Employees are Lazy" by McDonald's Manager Phil McCracken? And apparently the two profs have also gotten a disabilities advocacy group involved in their campaign against the student, whose project is still unfinished and therefore not available for public scrutiny. I mean, who acts this way?

2B. I do believe that a PhD student is an adult, and so should be able to defend their work in the public eye. Therefore, I don't think QUT should suspend the professors. Yet, it really is douche baggery to go to the national press with this sort of stuff.

3. And what are the chances that the student's committee didn't address any of these concerns? These professors weren't privy to those closed meetings, but it sounds to me as if they won't feel that their ''concerns have been addressed'' until the student is forced to change his title or abandon the project. Again, they strike me as a bit bullying.

4. As for the project itself... I think they've got a point there. It sounds tacky, to say the least. Maybe the student's heart is in the right place. But he has said that he filmed this project- in which he sent two mentally disabled men to interview drunks in a bar- to confront society about disability in the style of Borat. Did anyone else in the world watch Borat and think ''Hey, now there's a PhD project!"? Somehow a PhD project in the style of Borat sounds like the definition of 'Philistinism' to me. I don't believe that cultural relativism leads to cynicism any more than foundationalism does; however, many of the defenses of the project that people have made seem to amount to ''but the world is cruel!" So maybe the term Philistine is correct; however, just like the readers of The Australian, I haven't seen the thing. Maybe it's sublime.

There you have it. Nobody comes out smelling like a rose here.


Holly said...

The suspension reeks of internal politicking. The PhD reeks of bullshit. Scrapping Humanities for failing to turn a profit reeks of current events.

I would very much wonder what's going on there, there the committee isn't featured prominently in any of this. Clearly the 2 profs who went to the paper felt totally certain that they could get no satisfaction inside the department, and in a fairly exact sense, they were correct. A dollar says they weren't suspended for THIS incident, but for being unbearable pricks over a long period of time...

... even if they ARE right about the steaming pile being passed of as PhD work.

Rufus said...

I certainly knew plenty of arts students who turned in utter tripe at the last minute and justified it with theoretical buzzwords. Actually, come to think of it, I might have seen that at some galleries that I've visited as well.

Holly said...

I've come to believe this is the reason that many MFA students just retreat into self-portraiture. It is incontestable, because there's no way to challenge whatever thought goes into it, especially when it's backed by the current lexicon. On the other hand, there is apparently no one willing anymore to say, "But... your art is totally lacking in skill, or technique! What have you been DOING for the last 8 years? Getting high in the park with your friends?"

Rufus said...

No, I've been mediating on conceptions of friendship in white anglo patriarchal western society and transgressing cultural constructions on drug abuse and the body in regards to notions of public space. Jeez!

Holly said...

Remind me to never tell you about the guy who did his master's show with only a half dozen sheets of newsprint with dirty footprints on them. Or the guy who spent *three years* "exploring the significance of nothingness in art" (meanwhile producing not ONE single object or written word) and then eventually assembled a supposedly fake porn site, although it seemed like maybe he was accepting credit cards in the interest of art.

Rufus said...

I think we had a guy who was planning to play video games for the four years and then write a senior thesis on the culture of video games.

For as much as I hate people on the outside who just assume that the arts are a scam, I have to admit that I doubly hate those artists who behave as if the arts are a scam.