On Friday, October 1, 2010, University at Albany President George Philip announced the discontinuation of French, Italian, Russian, Theater and Classical Studies, as well as the elimination of 160 full-time positions. Those working in the humanities were faced with an old and difficult question: why do the humanities still exist? Many responses have assumed that there is no ‘point’ to humanities research; ipso facto, in an age of anarcho-capitalism, the humanities must soon disappear. Others have celebrated the crisis as a time of ‘creative destruction,’ in which new institutional structures can rise from the ashes of an outdated model. Most are struggling to mediate their common-sense knowledge of how the university works with the realities of administrative politicking, neoliberal ideology, public perception and consent, local government structures, and the withered public institutions of contemporary capitalism.
Such announcements have become increasingly familiar, as governments across North America and Europe attempt to close budget gaps by defunding public higher education. Obviously, this is a particularly grim situation for the humanities. But it is also particularly difficult to understand: despite the recent fashion for publications explaining what the university is, and what is to be done, the question of the university in crisis has generated more heat than light. Marc Bousquet, in his books and blogs, has repeatedly underlined the analytical and empirical failures of public intellectuals and journalists to understand the institutional structure and political economy of higher education. There seems to be something about the current state of the humanities that resists quick diagnosis—something that leads writers into short-cuts and errors.
At the same time, politics continues: battles have been fought in the offices of universities and the streets of capitals, insisting that there is an alternative and that history is not at an end. While the quiet voice of analysis can seem unimportant next to the protester’s megaphone, it is our belief that in a time of political transformation and widespread ‘accumulation by dispossession,’ the voice of the humanities is more important than ever.
Just what constitutes this voice, however, remains to be seen. In this cluster of The New Everyday, we invite students, academics, and activists to contribute short narratives, analysis, and theory of the humanities in crisis. We are particularly interested in pieces which mediate the current state of the humanities against external crises in media, politics, economy, and society. Local dispatches are also welcome, as are pieces which consider how the humanities might position itself in the years to come, especially in relation to publishing, teaching, and digital technologies. As curators, we will introduce the cluster with some short pieces on the situation at Albany. Preferred length: 1000-1500 words. Multi-modal work is encouraged. Proposed cluster date: Early May.
Submissions from graduate students are especially encouraged.