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Introduction: The University

Let's turn our attention to the university in 2015.

Molly Hankwitz and Mike Mosher

What is the university?

Almost twenty-four years ago, Bad Subjects began with a group of grad students who felt that the University of California, Berkeley was letting its proud multiculturalism obscure any serious discussion of class issues in America. A lot of those folks, and Bad participants who joined later, moved into academic positions, and some remained unaffiliated intellectuals writing for a variety of media. For our 88th issue of the journal, we now turn our critical attention to the university in 2015.

In the UK, the US and elsewhere, the public university (like other social services and common goods) is under siege by cost-cutters and privatizers, while the life and career choices of its graduates are constricted by student debt.

Knowing this current state of affairs caused us to ask a raft of questions. Who's got radical and innovative curricula? What can be learned from free universities, or applied from teaching children, prison inmates, retirees, the physically or mentally challenged? What about alternatives to college like trade schools and apprenticeships? Is the Ivory Tower at cross-purposes with Education in Everyday Life? What tools, technologies or tendencies help or hinder? How would you have redesigned your own university experience? Are universities serving all society, or increasing class divisions?

We are pleased to present a range of unique writing on this timely topic, with several pieces from writers completely new to Bad Subjects, who spotted our call and sent us their work.


Scholars invited to the seminar table include Cooper Union graduate Alice Yang, who provides a personal account of student protests and the end of tuition-free Cooper Union in New York city in "What Save Cooper Union Means."

Assessing Art History education from inside the classroom is Adam Barbu in "Notes on the Precariousness of an Art History Education".

Historian John Philipp Baesler unties the bow around the neck of many conservative commentators and mid-century political scientists in "The Politics of the Bow Tie"

In contrast to disheartening educational privatization is artist John Law's first-person tale of San Francisco's innovative "Communiversity: The Free School from the '70s that Changed The Way People Play" when a "free university" was located at San Francisco State.

Kim Lacey and Mike Mosher offer "Art, Sex, Identity and Existence: A Dialogue on Selfies" that examines the origin and taxonomy of selfies, a phenomenon that Lacey has adapted as a learning tool for the undergraduate classroom.

Rosalie Riegle's "Roethke and War" is adapted from research the emerita professor prepared for a talk in August, 2015 at the historic Theodore Roethke House in Saginaw, Michigan. In it she appreciates poems by her Saginaw homeboy, the normally-apolitical Theodore Roethke, that prefigured the anguish of World War Two.

Thomas Powell's "In Quest of Immortality" critiques academic debates from the "Immortality Project" at UC Riverside.

In "Fortress Campus and the Power Relations of a Google Bus Window", Molly Hankwitz laments the architecture of control, the constructed social and architectural barriers between educating the greater public and the corporate campus.

Long-time university educator Joseph Natoli now sees "US Higher Education: The New "Treasure Island" for Investors", as its pursued not as a societal good but a good return on investment.

Another artist is celebrated by Mike Mosher in "The Matter of Black Lives for Jon Lockard", an artist he studied with at a junior college, and the political context of the US and the Cold War art world in which Lockard worked, so often in critical opposition.

Omar Swartz's "Constitutional Structure and Social Justice: A Dissenting View of Normative Legal Thought" give thoughts to the legal ramifications of social justice work.

Pat Powers looks to the career of the US President of fifty years ago, "Lyndon Johnson: Political Strategist", whose strategies and tactics accomplished much.   One of the most successful American politicians of the second half of the 20th century, Johnson's lessons might prove of use to those of us negotiating power and influence in our own universities.

To end on a note of promise, Molly Hankwitz reports on the recent San Francisco educational experiment,"The University of the Commons: Story of a Free University in San Francisco".

Turn off your cell phones, for class is in session.

Your assignment: read!

Your take-home assignment is activism. 

October 4, 2015

Graphic adapted from the 1916 scrapbook A College Man's Record.

Copyright © Molly Hankwitz & Mike Mosher. All rights reserved.