In a sane world, this image would galvanize public opinion in the way that the images of civil rights protesters being hosed galvanized public opinion in the 1960’s. In our world, it only underlines the profound corruption that is rotting away the U.S. academic system. It isn’t dramatic, but it is the sort of evil committed by men (mostly men, so far) in expensive suits making small daily decisions.
It’s a cliché, of course, but it’s also a truism that the last three or perhaps four decades has been dominated by a counter-revolution aimed at the perceived accomplishments of the 1960s. In academia, this meant, more than anything, a determined and successful focus on the destruction of tenure, academic freedom of speech, and full-time employment. We’ve gone from majority tenure track to majority adjunct in a generation.
That shift meant an increasing concentration of power in administrative offices and a paradigm shift from public service to the competitive market. Meanwhile, as administrators increased their salaries , cut the cost of labor, and drove tuition up, student financial aid focused on loans and debt. Too often, like UC Davis, the administration armed themselves against their own students.
When students protest this system, the administration is ready to protect its own privilege and power with so-called non-lethal force, claiming that they had no other choice. Water-boarding, of course, is non-lethal too. At Penn State, the administration protected its own material and social privilege even when it meant tacitly allowing a rapist to roam its football program for years if not decades. How far do they have to go?