“Austerity U is fracked” (but here are two ideas for unfracking it)

FindlayTalk-AUE-4Mar15Yesterday at Athabasca U, the AU Faculty Association hosted a talk by Len Findlay, U of Saskatchewan Distinguished Professor of English and Chair of CAUT’s Academic Freedom & Tenure committee. Professor Findlay’s talk was titled “Academics on Empty? Academic Freedom, Collegial Governance, and the Failure of Academic Leadership in Canada.” (Here’s the presentation from his talk.) This was galvanizing subject matter for a university and a province where academic freedom and collegial governance have been in question and imperilled for some time (as I’ve blogged previously).

Findlay critiqued the ongoing corporatization of Canadian universities, in the contexts of an increasingly authoritarian federal government that prioritizes resource extraction above everything, and an increasingly neoliberal (i.e. market-fundamentalist) governance of universities that’s restructuring them according to a reductive theory of value, entailing “intellectual species loss and desertification,” endangering academic freedom, and hollowing out collegial governance.

Findlay talked at length about his home institution’s “TransformUS” program prioritization plan, and how it was so effectively opposed by the joint efforts of faculty and students that it was ultimately abandoned.
Findlay is one of Canadian academia’s most gifted orators, and his talk was as witty in its form as it was worrisome in its content.

He recalled responding to a senior administrator’s claim that raising tuition would attract “the best and the brightest” by countering that it would instead attract only “the best-off and the whitest.” He described the colonization of education by business as a shift from the liberal arts to the “neoliberal arts,” and said (a few times) that “Austerity U is fracked.”
While that phrase resonated in the room, the ceiling – I kid you not – started to drip, likely from melting snow on the roof above. A few audience membes scrambled to get buckets and contact the building superintendent, while the rest of us marveled at the perfect metaphor trickling down into the middle of the room.
Findlay, undeterred, forged ahead with his talk. Maybe the most helpful take-away was that he identified two specific things that faculty and staff can watch for at any university that indicate collegial governance and academic freedom at the institution in question are under attack:

  1. Does the university president chair the General Faculties Council?
  2. Does the General Faculties Council (and/or other governing bodies, from the Board to departments and programs) use a “consent agenda” for conducting meeting business?

About the ironically named “consent agenda” (a trivial procedure in Robert’s Rules that has been rapidly adopted and widely abused “to bury sins”), Findlay suggested replacing it with a “dissent agenda.” The consent agenda concept seemed new to him, and may be news to many readers, so it’s something to watch for – as are ways to object to it.

About the managerial disempowering of Faculties Councils, he advised that a university president who chairs a General Faculties Council should be challenged about occupying that chair; “the Faculties Council should facilitate the faculty’s work, not impose the president’s will.” He talked about how U Sask students and faculty (including the faculty union) had organized to successfully relieve their president of the GFC chair. Findlay argued that these two governance trends suggest that “autocratic dictation” (in the guise of “institutional autonomy”) is supplanting “collegial discourse” in university governance.

Which should sound an alarm to faculty and faculty associations across Canada to mobilize towards protecting collegial governance, academic freedom, and the very university itself, as a public institution advancing the public interest – or, in Findlay’s words, as “the last redoubt of critique in Harperland.” In closing, Findlay exhorted us to work against the grain of possessive individualism (and the caricature it creates of the academic as self-interested careerist), and instead embrace advocacy and coalition-building as a vital part of the academic job description. (To which end, this post, along with all the live-tweeting, is one modest contribution.)

And, just for good measure, he also wondered aloud why tuition in Canada isn’t free. “Canada is a rich country, but not a generous one. We’re not generous to our young people, our Indigenous people.” Since Athabasca U’s particular mission is to remove barriers to university education – and tuition costs are the single most cited barrier – then free tuition is a public-interest ideal to strive for (especially in the wake of the abolition of tuition fees in places like Germany). But if that dream isn’t likely to become an imminent reality, neither can we justify raising tuition – as the government would now like to allow Alberta’s universities to do – without grievously jeopardizing Athabasca U’s mission and reputation. “For this university to become elitist by stealth,” warned Findlay, “would be a national disgrace.” I couldn’t agree more.

Lastly, in response to a Twitter query, I’ve put together, with Findlay’s help, a list of the research sources for his talk (along with some further recommended readings).

Works Cited in Len Findlay’s “Academics on Empty? Academic Freedom, Collegial Governance, and the Failure of Academic Leadership in Canada”

Collini, Stefan. What Are Universities For? London: Penguin, 2012. [Review in THE.]

Findlay, Len, ed. Rethinking the Humanities. Spec. issue of English Studies in Canada 38.1 (2012).

— and Paul M. Bidwell, eds. Pursuing Academic Freedom: “Free and Fearless”? Saskatoon: Purich P, 2001. [review in Canadian Literature]

Ginsberg, Benjamin. The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters. New York: Oxford UP, 2011. [Review in THS]

Kamboureli, Smaro and Daniel Coleman, eds. Retooling the
Humanities: The Culture of Research in Canadian Universities
.

Edmonton: U of Alberta P, 2011.

MacKinnon, Peter. University Leadership and Public Policy in the Twenty-First Century: A President’s Perspective. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2014.

Open For Business: On What Terms? CAUT. Ottawa. 2013.

Saskatchewan Federation of Labour v. Saskatchewan, 2015 SCC 4

Tuchman, Gaye. Wannabe U: Inside the Corporate University. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2011.

Further Reading

Barkawi, Tarak. “The neoliberal assault on academia.” Al Jazeera 25 Apr. 2013.

Canavan, Gerry. “Universities, Mismanagement, and Permanent Crisis.” 25 Feb. 2015.

Coetzee, J.M. “Universities head for extinction” [foreword to John Higgins’ Academic Freedom in a Democratic South Africa]. Mail & Guardian 1 Nov. 2013.

Findlay, Len. Rev. of Cary Nelson’s No University is an Island: Saving Academic Freedom. CAUT Bulletin, ca. 2010.

—. Rev. of Robert C. Post’s Democracy, Expertise & Academic Freedom: A First Amendment jurisprudence for the modern state. CAUT Bulletin, ca. 2012.

Fisher, Mark. Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? Winchester: 0 Books. [Preview a dubious proof copy of unknown provenance here.]

Giroux, Henry A. “Public Intellectuals Against the Neoliberal University.” Truthout 29 Oct. 2013.

MacDonald, Dougal and Natalie Sharpe. “Chapter 3: Online Teaching and the Deskilling of Academic Labour in Canada.” Equality for Contingent Faculty: Overcoming the Two-Tier System. Ed. Keith Hoeller. Vanderbilt UP, 2014. 65-74.

Readings, Bill. The University in Ruins. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1996.

“Report of the CAUT Ad Hoc Advisory Committee on Governance.” CAUT. 12 Nov. 2009.

Rooke, Constance. “The Engagement of Self and Other: Liberal education and its contributions to the public good.” The Idea of Engagement: Universities in Society. Ed. S. Bjarnason and P. Coldstream. London, The Policy Research Unit, The Association of Commonwealth Universities, 2003. 228-250.

Rumble, Greville. “Social justice, economics and distance education.” Open Learning 22.2 (2007): 167-76.

Turk, James, ed. Academic Freedom in Conflict: The Struggle Over Free Speech Rights in the University. Toronto: Lorimer, 2014.

A Partly Automated Sonnet-Cento About Copyright Present and Future

This partly automated sonnet-cento, about copyright present and future, is composed of lines from my tweets with the technical help of Poetweet (which I can’t stop using, now that #writing201 has alerted me to it).

“Can’t we cut a little bit more, drawn from our collective pasts”; or, To interest the public in the public interest

you to go to jail for sharing files
despite undecided legal challenge
and anti-democratic trade deals
poverty and climate change

and clarify notice-and-notice
amendments on controversial
users with baseless legal threats
for the use of copyrighted material

information in payment demands
models and monopolistic advantage
emphasis on the need for balance
use of Canada’s cultural heritage

exec started making some calls
your personal information to trolls

A “Latent News” Report: Found Poetry and Fair Dealing

When I studied at the U of Guelph and belonged to its Creative Writing Society, in early 2004, we created found poetry by playing the Surrealist game Latent News: “one or more persons cuts out each individual line from several different newspaper stories, mixes them up, and then rearranges them as quickly as possible into entirely new stories, the only rule being that the lines must be arranged into syntactically correct sentences. The name is derived from the impulse behind the game: to disorder the mystification called ‘news’ and thereby to reveal something of its latent content” (Rosemont 169, emphasis added).

Latent News Report, Jan. 21, 2004

women who band together to seek
For example, the new guidelines
to Understand Men Through Their
having boards take this / from one of Radio 3’s other sites,
Apart from the fans, who are being
revenge after their wealthy, / anesthesia for a procedure to
a history of heinous allegations.
where this stuff is going. But / Canada has vehemently denied
an interim ruling yesterday,
Along the way, the Patriots made
South Africa’s Kalahari Desert, to help
busy, complex surroundings of a
sampler. Each of the four singers
A PROVEN MONEY MAKER. You receive
the groundwork for universal suffrage and
stream of independent Canadian
of the Month and Young Wives.
successful, who could not find a
volume of more than 14 million
studies. And I was happy to be here.

mccutcheon_latentnews2004 Over ten years later, I can’t attribute my source more precisely than to guess that this latent news report is probably taken from then-current stories in The Globe & Mail. (I’m a bit amazed to find that the CWS’ webpage about our latent news reporting is still up. The Internet really is forever…sometimes.)

This repurposing of found text to reveal the “latent news” represents another practice of fair dealing, the users’ right in copyright law that allows you to reuse copyrighted works in limited ways. In this case, a substantial portion of a news article (or more than one article) may end up being used, but what is most significant here the selection and sequencing of the words, which serve to turn the original piece into a critique of that piece and by extension a criticism of the assumptions, biases, and other really quite narrow parameters of “news-worthiness.” That is, the latent news is first and foremost a practice of criticism, and as such is eminently defensible as fair dealing.

It’s arguable that as a practice of Surrealist poetry, the Latent News doesn’t demystify the news so much as it may simply trade one kind of mystification – that of corporate-biased, corporate-owned news media – for another – that of avant-garde appropriation art. Is the form maybe a bit outdated? In the age of social media, readers and users have found highly effective ways to demystify, criticize, and call out the embedded, encoded, and otherwise less-than-obvious premises and biases in mainstream journalism. A vocabulary of memes and tropes has emerged around social media users’ criticisms of corporate journalism. Take, for example, the trope of “fixing” stories and headlines. Here’s one of my favourite examples, in which the ever-incisive @FugitivePhilo “fixes” a headline for Bloomberg Business News:

Sarcasm seems to play a big role in the Internet’s memes and tropes of media criticism. Some of it is maybe prompted by the extreme economy of words that a platform like Twitter demands; maybe more of it is a response to the rampaging stampede of trolls the Internet sometimes seems like, where every single news article is graced – by virtue of affording a comment box – with its own hundreds-strong club of assholes. (Present readers excepted…blog commentators don’t seem cretinous; it’s mainstream news that brings out the trolls.)

But despite the new forms adopted and circulated by critical readers of news, there’s still a place and a role for the Surrealists’ Latent News, I think, and I think too that Latent News practice can readily adapt to the new media environment. (Maybe today’s Latent News can remix not only an article itself, but also its accompanying torrent of trolls.) New tools lend themselves to this game, tools like Poetweet, which eats lines from whichever Twitter account you feed it and spits out instant sonnets, rondeles, and other poems. With tools like these you can demystify your own news. Here’s a Latent News sonnet that Poetweet produced from my own Twitter feed, which tends to relay a lot of news stories (or else this process would produce not Latent News, strictly speaking, but centos more broadly):

Payment Demands

Emphasis on the need for balance.”
The social process of learning.”
Metric for measuring excellence.”
That it still needs explaining.)

Watches sunrise on giant TV screens
You to go to jail for sharing files
& thoughtful citizens.”
Vibes tickle your earholes.

Boots ’n’ cats
By children not vaccinated?
Users With Baseless Legal Threats

Public & the public interest.
Universal basic income as a right.
Paramilitaries to Clear Protest

The fact that Poetweet made this automatically points to another key Surrealist technique, automatic writing, which tries to free the writing process from rational control and self-censorship to the maximum extent possible. The Latent News offers an opportunity to closely read and materially engage with a journalistic composition; it lets you learn about such composition by taking it apart and not putting it back together the way you found it. It represents a warped, distorted kind of playback, and playback has proven an effective form of criticism in itself. According to playwright and critic Rick Salutin, playback is a major rhetorical device in the digital age, as demonstrated for instance by The Daily Show: “You simply repeat what your foe or target said, letting the audience realize how dangerous or vacuous it is. … [Jon Stewart] plays a clip by a public figure. Then he repeats it himself in an amazed tone. It’s devastating” (A17).

Latent News also deals in irony and timeliness (one of these is also a criterion of news-worthiness…guess which?). I’ve given a sample of the form made of news from way back in 2004, and I’ve lost the sources as well. So what news, precisely, was being demystified at the time is now lost to that time. It may be a kind of adaptation that works better – and that more effectively criticizes – when the reader can see the original and the cut-up remix facing each other. So maybe I should post again soon with a more current sample – together with a link to its source material.

That said, the Surrealists’ game of Latent News remains an engaging – and, let’s admit it, fun – exercise in close reading, critical reflection, and creative reinterpretation. It combines playback with cut-up, creating new contexts in which to understand “all the news that’s fit to print” – while exposing the contexts that made what’s in print seem fit to be news.

Works Cited

Rosemont, Franklin. “Surrealist Games, 2. Latent News.” Surrealism in the USA. Spec. issue of Race Traitor 13-14 (2001): 169-70.
Salutin, Rick. “Proud despite the facts.” Globe and Mail 18 Mar. 2005: A17.
The Globe & Mail, circa 2003-4.
van Veen, Tobias C. [@fugitivephilo]. “Fixed it for you: ‘How Big Pharma & Capitalism Failed to Stop Ebola Because Black People Aren’t Profitable’.” Tweet. 6:19 PM, 30 Sept. 2014. https://twitter.com/fugitivephilo/status/517106488717107200

“Cut Up”: an elegaic cento made of song lyrics

To observe Fair Dealing Week, and to fulfil the “elegy-fog-metaphor” assignment for #writing201, I’ve composed an elegaic cento – a poem made wholly of lines from other poems, or in this case from lines from the lyrics of some of my favourite pop songs (allowing only one line from any song or artist). The source list follows the poem itself.
This poem makes use of fair dealing (or, in the USA, fair use): the users’ right in copyright law that permits certain limited uses of copyrighted works for certain purposes (like parody, education, and review) deemed not to infringe on the creators’ rights. I’ve deliberately chosen pop song lyrics because licensing permission to reprint even short excerpts of song lyrics entails some of the most expensive fees going. I’ve heard that a single line from a Bob Dylan or Beatles song, say, can reportedly cost as much as $2000 (see McCutcheon 2012, p. 92). On that estimate, without fair dealing provisions, the following poem could cost me as much as $74,000 to publish.

Cut Up (an elegaic cento)

Heaven help the roses
Put a six inch valley through the middle of my skull

Any man who knows a thing knows he knows not a damn damn thing at all
I’m thinking about mortality, it’s a cheap price we pay for existence
There’s no more coming back this way
Say a little prayer for me my baby
The planet’s more fucked up than I’ll ever be

All we have here is sky
There’s a fog along the horizon
And the seas they’re all drunk and howling at the moon
These are the days of miracle and wonder
We’re swimming and I keep going under
The black of the blackest ocean
Twenty years for nothing, well, that’s nothing new
I can’t believe that I believed in you

In these old familiar rooms children would play
Please destroy me this way
Let me count the times that we swore and lied
With magic soaking my spine
Oh, those were different times

He said one word to me and that was dead
I just want back in your head
But if somehow you could pack up your sorrows
It’ll leave you breathless or with a nasty scar

There’s no fear of the end when you’ve got the world running in your veins
I’ll only hurt you in my dreams
Now the water’s running under the burning bridge
Shiver and sing the words of every lie you’ve heard
You will see me behind every door
Just listening to records and watching the sun falling
And I miss you since the place got wrecked
So make room in the bed where we hide
For another hundred thousand who have died
They shake their heads, they say I’ve changed

But I was so much older then
And now a thousand years in between
The flowers cover everything

Sources

Stevie Wonder, “Heaven help us all”
Bruce Springsteen, “I’m on fire”
K’Naan, “Take a Minute”
Bob Geldof, “Thinking Voyager 2 Type Things”
Sarah McLachlan, “The Path of Thorns”
The Mamas and the Papas, “Dedicated to the one I love”
The Jesus and Mary Chain, “Sundown”
Jane Siberry, “One More Colour”
Art Garfunkel, “Bright Eyes”
Nick Cave, “Straight to you”
Paul Simon, “The boy in the bubble”
Young Galaxy, “We Have Everything”
Tori Amos, Tear in your hand”
The Tragically Hip, “Wheat Kings”
Psychedelic Furs, “All that money wants”
ABBA, “Knowing me, knowing you”
Ladytron, “Destroy everything you touch”
Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, “Brand new friend”
The Killers, “Read my mind”
The Velvet Underground, “Sweet Jane”
The Rolling Stones, “You can’t always get what you want”
Tegan and Sara, “Back in your head”
Richard and Mimi Farina, “Pack up your sorrows”
Taylor Swift, “Blank space”
Transvision Vamp, “Sister moon”
Belly, “Feed the tree”
Crash Vegas, “Sky”
Echo and the Bunnymen, “Bring on the Dancing Horses”
Crime and the City Solution, “The Adversary”
Cowboy Junkies, “Sun Comes Up, It’s Tuesday Morning”
Leonard Cohen, “Closing time”
Go Van Gogh, “Bed where we hide”
Johnny Cash, “The Man in Black”
Joni Mitchell, “Both sides now”
Bob Dylan, “My back pages”
Led Zeppelin, “Tangerine”
REM, “The Flowers of Guatemala”

Poetry Potluck, the Public Domain, and “The Red Wheelbarrow”

The WordPress #writing201 poetry course has invited us to take a weekend break from writing, to share our favourite poems by others. I’d like to share a poem that is legal to freely reprint in full in Canada, but that would be infringing copyright in the USA and the UK. And then I’ll explain why this is important.

The Red Wheelbarrow
by William Carlos Williams (1883-1963)

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens

I want to share Carlos’ poem for three reasons:

  • because the poem (which I first read in my first university English class) exemplifies poetry as what Toronto’s former poet laureate Dionne Brand calls “a perfect kind of speech”;
  • because today kicks off Fair Use Week – a week devoted to raising awareness of the users’ rights in copyright law1;
  • and because the Canadian public domain lets me – as yet.
  • As a copyright scholar, I am as interested in how bloggers are sharing poems as in which poems they’re sharing. Whether #writing201 bloggers are infringing copyright by reprinting poems in full depends on where they are. For instance, here’s one blogger’s reproduction of a famous Robert Frost poem. Frost died in 1963, so his work is still copyright protected in the USA, the UK, and other jurisdictions where the term of copyright protection extends to 70 years after the author’s death. In Canada, though, the copyright has expired on Frost’s work – that is, Frost’s work is in the public domain – because Canadian copyright law only protects work until 50 years after the author’s death. So the complete works of some major authors – Frost, Hemingway (died 1961), Sylvia Plath (died 1963) – can now be freely copied and shared in full – but only in jurisdictions with shorter copyright terms, like Canada.

    Each January 1st, the Public Domain Day organization announces which canonical authors and cultural producers are entering the public domain that year. But the coming years may see fewer entries as corporate lobbyists continue to press governments for ever longer copyright terms in trade talks, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, as a party to which Canada is now reported to have caved in to the demands of the USA to extend our copyright term to 70 years. Longer copyright terms don’t mean better pay for creators: major studies have shown that copyright need extend no longer than 7 to 14 years after publication (never mind after the creator’s death) to reap optimal financial rewards (Giblin 2015, Gowers 2006). All longer copyright terms mean is a diminished, impoverished public domain – our common cultural heritage – and increased control by corporations over the production and distribution of culture.

    Note
    1. Fair Use, or in Canada fair dealing, is the users’ right that allows you to make certain non-infringing uses of works that are still copyright-protected – as I did in my acrostic last week, which sampled lines from several contemporary US poets. The public domain describes works no longer protected by copyright. So fair dealing does not apply to the public domain, but both fair dealing and the public domain represent important provisions for users, rather than creators, of culture, which is why I mention Fair Use Week here.

    An acrosticento (for #writing201)

    The third #writing201 assignment is to write an acrostic on trust. This acrostic is also a cento, composed wholly of lines borrowed from other poems. While the poem contemplates trust in one’s beloved, its appropriative form queries trust in authorship and textual authority. So it’s an … acrosticento, then?

    the promise of no other

    holding the grass seed and the dune
    everything was ok. Eating it meant you embraced
    and people who are not us no matter who we are
    the promise of no other, the sleeper in the garden
    has a shadow—then the lilacs across the yard
    even magnanimous,
    rich with darkness. Inside the grass is the wish to be rooted, inside the rain

    Sources

    Each line above corresponds to a numbered entry below, to acknowledge and link to the line’s source. The sources are all poems distributed by the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-A-Day email service, which I can’t highly enough recommend subscribing to; it’s a great way to sample the spectrum of excellent poetry being published today. And composing a cento of standout lines from other poems is a great way to discover what kinds of poems and voices one is drawn to – and, in the process, to discover one’s own voice too. (David Shields revived the practice of cento and textual collage in his 2010 book Reality Hunger, which is thus also a source for this work, and also a must-read for writers.)

    1. CJ Evans, “The dandelions in the moment and then” (2015)
    2. Amy Gerstler, “Fruit cocktail in light syrup” (2014)
    3. Martha Ronk, “Location LA” (2015) http://academyofamericanpoets.cmail1.com/t/y-e-idhiulk-jrdihkkko-r/
    4. Joseph Fasano, “Testimony” (2014)
    5. Sara Eliza Johnson, “Combustion” (2014)
    6. Philip Schultz, “Afterwards” (2014)
    7. Joanna Klink, from “3 Bewildered Landscapes” (2014)

    “O Pioneers” (a topical limerick for #writing201)

    I’m taking part in WordPress’ online poetry course, #writing201, mostly for some structured writing motivation. I’m not blogging all work (I don’t think it’s fair of the course hosts to expect it), but I will share some. Like the assignment to write an alliterative limerick about journeys. This assignment gives me pause about the course, but writing limericks is fun. They lend themselves to topical, satirical subjects (they’re hard to take seriously, I think, because I always expect them to be dirty). So voilà.

    O Pioneers

    O pioneers of the mission to Mars,
    So keen to make history among the stars:
    Please ponder that science
    Says your trip speeds to silence
    ,
    Like the Donners, to leave families with scars.