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Culture and the academy etc

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danps
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Culture and the academy etc

Beginning with the email content; add more thoughts/links in comments.

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Many are unaware of similar events that occurred at University of Wisconsin. It was one of our few victories over Walker.

Walker conspired with Biddy Martin (Chancellor of UW-Madison) to strip UW-Madison out of the rest of the University of Wisconsin system. UW-Madison would be governed by a new board, most of whom would be appointed by Walker (i.e. rather than remaining under the Wisconsin Board of Regents). Biddy Martin, who was Chancellor of UW-Madison, had been Provost at Cornell, becoming Chancellor of UW-Madison in late 2008. She basically had an elite public-private model in mind (essentially wanted to remake UW-Madison along the lines of Cornell). Biddy Martin and Walker had negotiated the plan in secret (even the UW System President and Board of Regents were kept out of the loop) prior to the public announcement. Martin and Walker kept talking about "efficiency gains" - largely codewords for laying off a lot of UW-Madison employees (particularly physical plant) and contracting out.

However, they failed to account for "culture". At University of Wisconsin, change occurs incrementally, and most importantly, by developing relative consensus. Change might not occur as slowly as at UVA, but it's still quite slow. And the consensus-style norm, that includes extensive consultation with faculty governance bodies, is deeply entrenched. Just as important is the "Wisconsin Idea" - a Progressive era legacy - under which "the boundaries of the university are the boundaries of the state". There's constant PR from the university lauding "the Wisconsin Idea". Along these lines, WI residents view UW-Madison as continuous with the rest of the UW System, and parents aspire for their children to ultimately attend UW-Madison, even if they start out their first couple years of college at one of the smaller satellite campuses.

Separate from the "culture" aspect, the politics in the UW community was a mixed bag. Anger at Walker, and anger at the secret negotiations, engendered some of the opposition. Biddy Martin is an astute, charismatic politician, and had previously worked to curry favor with UW-Madison faculty and generate personal popularity among UW-Madison undergrads. UW-Madison faculty were thus split on the proposal. The most politically active members of the faculty senate were opposed. Undergrads were also split - with Biddy's popularity carrying a lot of weight; at the time, the student government was under the control of conservatives, and the student government ended up voting narrowly in favor. The TAA came out foursquare against it, and worked hard to defeat it. UW faculty at non-Madison campuses were strongly opposed, as was the UW System President.

In the end, much of what carried the day was the force of established "culture" - the perceived violation of the "Wisconsin Idea" and the violation of consensus norms in UW decisionmaking. Given what they were hearing from their constituents, Republican state senators and state legislators started coming out against it. The proposal flamed out. Biddy kept pushing it until the bitter end, in an intransigent hubristic fashion - and that tin-ear behavior (she appeared to have no understanding of WI norms, nor a desire to learn or adapt to those norms) also helped contributed to its defeat. Biddy, widely reviled, left to become President of Amherst.

On a somewhat unrelated note - there are ways in which WI is culturally very different from much of the rest of the U.S. (and this would be entirely non-obvious to a visitor). The heavily Germanic ethnic composition is part of this (e.g. Not long after I arrived here, I was taking an Organic Chemistry class with ~25 other students - and discovered I was the only person in the class who didn't speak German. WI is now less heavily Germanic than it was then - but it's still a huge influence). A friend of mine, who is faculty at UW-Madison, had previously lived in Montreal, Seoul, Boston, Seattle, San Francisco, and San Diego - she says she had never experienced the degree of culture shock that occurred when she moved to Wisconsin. One of the things I was thinking of writing about is how this cultural aspect influenced the WI rebellion and Walker recall attempt; and why it would likely render certain strategies (advocated by people outside of WI) problematic/counterproductive.

Another side note: In reading about Otpor - the peeps planning actions were very attuned to Serbian cultural norms and history - making very effective use of this awareness in their actions and choices of symbolism.

Yet another minor note on "culture". When I was restarting communal housing coops in Madison, I viewed one of my most important tasks as helping to envision, create, and model a healthy, functional house culture. Prior attempts at housing coop restarts had failed in Madison - and I think one of the primary reasons was a lack of understanding/appreciation of the importance of culture (and how it organically propagates). People would put all the obvious pieces in place in a rather mechanical fashion, then the restart attempt would fail. Theoretically sound strategies and reasonable house rules were in themselves insufficient - no substitute for attention to the living, breathing, "heart" of culture.

On 6/26/2012 2:41 PM, lambert strether wrote:

> Actually, I'd flip that over. Somebody has to write the manual of procedure (Roberts Rules has exactly the same history) but it's the active agents on the ground that turn the rules into norms.
>
> Sent: Tuesday, June 26, 2012 3:39 PM
> Subject: RE: An important post in an unlikely context
>
> Speaks to the importance of having culturally fluent speakers leading movements. I'd be careful about weighing that too heavily though.
>
> http://www.quickanded.com/2012/06/the-tr...

lambert
Two things...

1. As one of the reactions to the UVA events (we still don't know who the people driving it were) I found a quote from Peter Drucker: "Culture trumps strategy." Seems like we would do well to remember that (though in in terms of, er, strategy I don't know how it applies; but one advantage of decentralization and no demands might be to adapt more readily to local culture. Not sure. And surely the local cultures of Oakland, New York, and Phillly (not to mention Montreal) are very different. As is rural Maine from rural Vermont.

2. I bet there are many more examples of this than only UWI and UVA. I wonder how many?

OK, 3. Are teaching assistants not perhaps as temporary as students but still temporary? That might make adapting to local norms more difficult.

danps
danps's picture
Re: many more examples

We need to find a way to croudsource that. I think the way TPM busted open the attorney firing scandal is still really relevant. Readers started sending in local news items from around the country and Marshall just put them all together. That kind of thing is really powerful, but we haven't figured out a way to systematize it. We just get the occasional happy accident.

lambert
Well, I'm writing exactly that kind of piece every day

in two blogs. I guess I need better publicity.

affinis
affinis's picture
On "decentralization and no demands"

When Occupy first started I defended "no demands", but have come to see it as problematic. Historically, successful movement have had demands, even if the movement was larger than any specific demand (e.g. civil rights movement) and even if the specific demands varied from one locality to the next. The Montrealers currently appear to have two core demands (i.e. student tuition rate and repeat of Bill 78), even though the larger paradigm they're protesting is neoliberalism.
I've also come to see complete decentralization as potentially problematic, but think a very high degree of decentralization can be beneficial. Along these lines - Otpor was pretty horizontal and put a lot of emphasis on what they termed "Otpor From Your Neighborhood". I.e. they recognized that the tactics/themes/symbolism that worked well in Belgrade was not optimal for, say, rural areas around Novi Sad (due to cultural differences, etc.), so people from each locality were responsible for creating their own vision of Otpor. Though there was still a substantial degree of central coordination via the Belgrade office (so largely but not entirely horizontal) and all chapters had to respect the three central principles of unity, strategic planning, and nonviolent discipline.

affinis
affinis's picture
Well

it appears that this won't get done by Thursday (and I'm pretty swamped with work right now).
The first five paragraphs of my e-mail (ending with "Amherst") would presumably form the basis of the post.

danps
danps's picture
I'm more dependant on feedback for this one than usual

Because I haven't gotten any inspiration for jumpoff points. I've just been reading and nodding along, hoping someone would write something that would be the strike of inspiration I need to start making a post of my own out of it.

For the most part I'd just read what you'd written, then when thinking about making it a post going "affinis:(blockquote)hehindeedy"

So I'm not going to push to turn this into a post, though I'd appreciate continued activity in this thread, even if it seems unrelated. I haven't abandoned it, I swear!

affinis
affinis's picture
use of culturally specific humor

From: Antagonism, Absurdity, and the Avant-Garde: Dismantling Soviet Oppression through the Use of Theatrical Devices by Poland’s "Orange" Solidarity Movement
Lisiuni a A. Romanienko
http://home.netcom.com/~lroman/sitebuild...

Solidarity’s regional art student faction known as the "Orange Alternative" helped to dismantle Soviet aggression by unifying Poles under the rubric of culturally specific nostalgic humour....

Orange Solidarity members arrived at scheduled and unscheduled spectacularized public protests called "Happenings" dressed in orange elf costumes to perform their infantile societal function as obedient children by dancing carelessly at these demonstrations throughout the city of Wroc?aw. They frolicked around Soviet tanks, they sang nursery rhymes through streets blocked by overturned trams, they dancedaround burning military vehicles, they skipped about twisted metal and burning rubber, they even held hands and sang songs in infantile fashion poised in front of menacing weapons positioned on heavy military vehicles engaged in crowd control to isolate protesters throughout the city....

hundreds and later thousands of artists dressed as orange elves (known in the Polish vernacular as Krasnoludki) universally triggered nostalgic memories of Polish nursery rhymes among both communists and Solidarity. These nostalgic devices involving mythical figures who discreetly and clandestinely accomplished all of society’s necessary but complicated tasks elicited humorous emotions among demonstrators and the military. Soldiers could no longer raise their weapons against their comrades, tank operators could not hold their positions against their fellow citizens, and Solidarity members with a penchant for violence could no longer fantasize about retribution against the young confused soldiers in their midst....

lambert
In this country, it would be Disney characters

Or possibly Kenny....

lambert
Also, I see the central uniting theme....

... as corporatization. Turning everything into human resources driven by quarterly results. Exactly the opposite of what any great university should be, and, by strangling creativity -- for example, by treating education as training -- reinforcing existing oligopolies. (See quick link on Bobbit's The Market State for where I'm coming from on this issue.

Also, too, we need to fire all the deans.

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