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      The boiled frog and the dodo

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            Pluto Journals
            1 March 2016
            : 34
            : 1 ( doiID: 10.1080/prometheus.34.issue-1 )
            : 25-37
            Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies, University of Warwick, Coventry, UK
            © 2016 Pluto Journals

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            1. It was in the 1980s that we first saw the emergence and eventual triumph of a language that discussed the university as a ‘business’. This was the first move in a general tendency towards privatization of the sector over the last 40 years or so; and it culminates in its own logic in the Browne Report (Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, 2010), in which the university is seen as a private good, or as the means by which individuals can service their own acquisitive greed. It is to the great credit of students and academic staff that, while acknowledging the primacy of this ideology, substantial work nonetheless goes on to mitigate its worst excesses. This work is the proper ‘business’ - or, better, ‘activity’ - of the university.

            2. For a clear analysis of how this systematic transfer of commonly shared wealth into the hands of a few private individuals has happened in the UK, see Meek (2014).

            3. There is a governmental precedent for this in the UK, in the famous example of the former Conservative Secretary of State for Home Affairs, Michael Howard. In the 1990s, while he was Home Secretary and held responsibility for the prison service, there was a series of high-profile escapes and attempted escapes from prisons. Notoriously, and despite criticisms in the report from John Learmont (1995) (which Howard had commissioned), Howard refused to resign, and instead sacked Derek Lewis, who was the chief executive of the prison service. Howard's logic was that escapes were an operational matter, and not his responsibility, which was instead limited to matters of policy. For a good discussion of this, see Tomkins (1998, pp.45-55).

            4. A key example of this is seen in the dark underside of meritocracy. Increasingly, the political situation in which entire classes of individuals remain underprivileged is to be addressed through the ‘widening participation’ agenda. Those who still find themselves with limited ‘social mobility’ after this, are said to ‘lack aspiration’: the problems of poverty and the failures to fulfil human potential are no longer the problems of politicians in charge of our social formations; and instead the ideology says that the problems lie with the poor themselves. They are socially inadequate.

            5. The statement that we live in a ‘fast-changing environment’ is a cliché, and one that bears little scrutiny. David Hare (2016) is useful on this. In the abridged text of his 2016 Richard Hillary lecture, given in the University of Oxford, he comments on an abiding meaning of political conservatism: ‘You may say that the [Conservative] party aims, like all such parties, to keep the well off well off. That, never forget, is any rightwing grouping's conservative mission …‘. In other words, things are not fast-changing at all; they remain all too long the same. Perhaps worse, the university, as an NPM capitalist organization, is now complicit in keeping this particular economic structure unchanged.

            6. I borrow this observation from the academic irregularities blog of Liz Morrish, available from academicirregularities.wordpress.com/about/.

            7. Such instances are bad for the brand. In this light, see the efforts of the University of California, Davis and its leadership to erase all negative references to incidents where students were pepper-sprayed on campus, available from http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/article71659992.html [Accessed 31 October 2016].

            8. For details, see https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/02/09/mount-st-marys-president-fires-two-faculty-members-one-tenure [Accessed 31 October 2016].

            9. Further information on the national student survey in the UK may be found at http://www.thestudentsurvey.com.

            10. For a fuller exploration of this, with a documentation of ways in which direct forms of violence are increasingly normal, see Barrow (2014).


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