May 4Liked by Branko Milanovic

Thank you for an excellent article which gives meaning to the récent confusing and ugly times: Universities are part of the capitalist system of production.

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I think there is certainly something to this perspective, however, I think there is something else needed to explain these circumstances.

I'm in graduate school at one of these universities (Washington University in St. Louis), and during my undergrad and many times before, protests involving very similar methods occurred. Even protests targeting the university directly (about minimum wage for employees, or fossil fuel companies on the board), they occupied space, or disrupted, whatever you want to call it, sometimes for weeks at a time without the university invoking the police. This time on the first day of protests the university took action.

The interests of the university as a "factory" certainly explain some of this, but there is certainly something different about this, something highly energetic driving this response.

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I agree. The reaction is way over the top.

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When three Ivy League presidents were chastised by a Congressional committee, and ousted from their jobs for not being proactive enough in suppressing the protests (& related speech), I'm betting every university administrator in the country started planning a more aggressive response.

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«there is certainly something different about this»

Consider the board of trustees of UChicago I wrote as a reply to another comment, or that for Yale, these are people who want absolutely zero political trouble and especially with potential donors:


* senior advisor to Bain Capital

* chief executive officer of Bath & Body Works, Inc

* president of Comcast Corporation

* managing director of Ithaka S&R, Ithaka Harbors

* chief executive officer of the Wikimedia Foundation

* co-founding partner of Astra Capital Management

* president of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF)

* president of Stony Brook University

* co-founding partner at Floodgate, a seed-stage venture capital firm

* currently an independent mediator with Judicial Arbitration and Mediation Services

* partner at SSW, a private investment firm, and is a senior adviser at Bloomberg, L.P.

* partner at Greylock, where he invests primarily in consumer technology companies.

* president and chief executive officer of Consumer Reports

* president of Morehouse College

* managing director of Albright Stonebridge Group, a business strategy firm he co-founded in 2009

* chief executive officer of the global advisory firm Brunswick Group.

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This ‘something highly energetic’ perhaps is the alignment to the single way of thought that does not allow neither fissures nor dissidence.

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This post is quite ahistorical. 'University administration would side with the students, invoke “the autonomy of the university” (that is, the right to be exempt from policing), resign, or be removed. This is the usual pattern.' This conflates the Latin American and sometimes European conception of the autonomous university with the actual history of American universities, which is mostly quite different from that.

American university administrations have quite often, and over many decades, been willing to call in the city police. In the modern seminal instance - the FSM at Berkeley in 1964 - the campus administration precisely lost the PR struggle when they took less than 24 hours to call in the city police to have the student occupiers of the campus chief administration building arrested.

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May 7·edited May 9

«the Latin American and sometimes European conception of the autonomous university with the actual history of American universities, which is mostly quite different from that»

It is actually the *catholic* idea of ecclesiastical privilege, as many universities began as theological colleges (priest factories) modeled on monasteries and thus enjoyed the claim of the church of not being subject to temporal law but to its own canonical law. Many such theological colleges were built and endowed by kings and princes in the same way they would build and endow cathedrals or sanctuaries or indeed monasteries.

In the USA once upon a time it was common for university students instead to volunteer as strike breakers to demonstrate their allegiance to employers and their difference from the servant classes.

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Thank you, Branko, for the insightful and precise explanation of a very complex topic! You make it seem not complex at all, so thank you. Indeed, the response by universities to protests reflects a capitulation to capitalism in its extreme form. "Business as usual" must always persist. The show must always go on, even when the show itself is rotten!

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I have remembered today reading several years ago an interesting post very much related to this post's topic by Brad DeLong on the evolution of a famous university:


«The belief that the taxpayers of California should pay for the young citizens of California to get as much education as they want for free is no longer politically popular. [...] Chancellors can no longer rely on the legislature of California to fund Berkeley at the level needed to keep it an exceptional university. Berkeley needs another and a different strategy.

The strategy that Berkeley has settled on is to seek to produce the funding stream necessary to maintain a great University by becoming a finishing school for the superrich of Asia. This may be the wrong strategy -- I sometimes think so, many others think so, and you can certainly argue so. [...] A bad strategy is vastly preferable to no strategy, or to an unimplemented strategy. So we need a chancellor who can implement the strategy that we have. Such a chancellor would throw money at [...]

* Key subject areas: High-fee-paying out-of-state students will come and pay high fees only if they can reliably get the courses and majors that they want and have them taught well. This means that money has to flow like water to engineering (especially computer science) and biological sciences (especially pre-medical) and economic sciences (especially finance) and international studies (especially economics). These particular customers are kings»

And that's Berkeley. Try to imagine how lesser institutions are doing.

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<b><a href="https://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mariosaviosproulhallsitin.htm">Mario Savio</a></b> made the same point 60 years ago in Berkeley, at the very beginning of the 1960s campus activism.

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May 7·edited May 9

As to how universities are going today, it is topical to point out that many have closed down their Political Economy departments and replaced them with Business Studies ones. Here is a story by professor Steve Keen:


«This week, I commenced a new role as Head of the School of Economics, History and Politics at Kingston University, London, 41 years after my life as an economist began in 1973. That’s not when my PhD was approved, nor when I got my first academic job, but the date on which I participated in the student revolt over the teaching of economics in a dispute that led to the formation of the Department of Political Economy at Sydney University in 1975.

This dispute has always been tagged with a left-wing brush. Australia’s current Prime Minister Tony Abbott, when he was President of the Students Representative Council at Sydney University in 1979, supported cutbacks to University funding on the grounds that they would force Universities to stop running courses like political economy:

Abbott: “Quite frankly I think that these courses are not only trivial, but they are attempts by unscrupulous academics to impose simplistic ideological solutions upon students, as it were to make students the cannon fodder for their own private versions of the revolution. And I think that if there were further cuts to the education budget well then we would certainly see the Universities cracking down on that sort of course. The fact that they can offer that sort of course is to me proof that there is room for further cuts.”

Interviewer: “You also suggest cutting out political economy?”

Abbott: “That’s right”

(Tony Abbott, University of New England radio interview 1979)»

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«many have closed down their Political Economy departments and replaced them with Business Economics ones»

In particular many chairs of History of Economic Thought have been expunged as entirely unnecessary because of "the end of history", to avoid pointlessly exposing students to the failed ideas of the past.

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The protests directly challenge not only US foreign policy and the ruling class members that sit on boards of these universities but also the liberal self-identification of these administrators (many of which are Zionists, Jewish or otherwise). Many other protests have been allowed on campuses, but it is only the anti-Zionist ones that have been crushed in this way. This is about power, pure and simple. That is also why the Occupy wall Street protests were crushed after the elites were unable to co-opt them.

You need to study the underlying political economy of higher education and the drive to limit allowable political views on campuses through the pre-carity of instructors and the growth of the administrative control functions. The Presidents were put there for a reason, if they did not react in the way that the ruling class wanted them to they would be replaced. Just like CEOs.

Criticism of Israel and the questioning of Zionism is not allowed, and anyone not getting the message will be fired, disciplined, stopped from getting a job, expelled and beaten as necessary.

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In the UK there is strong government pressure on universities to reduce numbers on low-value courses, defined as those leading on average to relatively low salaries. Not surprisingly, these tend to be in the more artistic and socially-critical subjects rather than those more directly related to employment such as medicine and technology. We don’t hear much about the value of a broad liberal education anymore, only about what the capitalist economy needs.

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May 7·edited May 8

«In the UK there is strong government pressure on universities to reduce numbers on low-value courses [...] these tend to be in the more artistic and socially-critical subjects»

Actually *medicine* has been already defunded (2/3 of new UK doctors have foreign degrees) because there is a long queue of foreign doctors willing to immigrate to the UK, their degrees paid for by foreign taxpayers.

There has been a discussion about defunding degrees and research in "legacy" subjects like engineering and computer science, because all engineering products can be bought cheaper from China and all computer science workers can be hired cheaper from India, and there is no need for the UK taxpayer to spend money on those "legacy" subjects.

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May 7·edited May 8

«We don’t hear much about the value of a broad liberal education anymore»

That is quite wrong: the scions of the noble or rich still do "Greats" or History or Politics to garner a liberal education, because their universities are finishing schools.

Note: "Greats" means Latin and Greek literature studies.

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This looks like a struggle between the zionist liberal elite and neomarxist anticolonial elite. The question of elite circulation and symbolic legitimation is what makes policy irrational: https://polsci.substack.com/p/the-machiavellians-defenders-of-freedom

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I agree with this. But 1) there are probably plenty of instances historically of heads of universities urging, at least condoning, police attacks on student protestors. Maybe Kent State? 2) There's an Israeli, Western ideological dimension to the state brutally. There's no way there would have been such attacks on campus Ukrainian solidarity camps (had there been any).

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«There's no way there would have been such attacks on campus Ukrainian solidarity camps (had there been any).»

What would have happened to Donbas/Crimea solidarity camps?


Page last updated at 15:28 GMT, Monday, 8 February 2010

«Yes, for Mr Yanukovych it is a narrow victory, but it is still a victory nonetheless. We, the people of the Donbass region, have been waiting for this moment for five long years. [...] You cannot imagine how difficult it was to live under Orange suppression, when Ukrainians were separated into first and second-rank citizens. If you spoke Ukrainian, were a Nato supporter and an enemy of Russia, you were referred to as a first-rank Ukrainian, if not you were a second-rank Ukrainian.»


«Thousands of Ukrainian nationalists then headed to the east, forming volunteer battalions that served as a vanguard for the Ukrainian forces in the rebel regions. [...] Torch-bearing ultra-right activists regularly march to the beat of drums across the Ukrainian capital’s downtown, chanting, “Death to traitors of Ukraine!” During one scuffle at the memorial to a Red Army general killed in the second world war, an elderly woman approached a group of radical nationalists shouting, “Hang the Russians!” and defied them, saying: “I’m Russian, hang me!” [...] The ultra-right groups also have a strict, military-style structure, and many of their members have battlefield experience from years of fighting in the east. [...] International human rights groups have strongly criticised the Ukrainian government for failing to track down and punish those responsible for the acts of violence and intimidation. The government has promised to rein in the ultranationalists, but has taken no action.[...] early in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, some members of Europe’s neo-Nazi groups trained and fought with the Azov battalion, a Ukrainian ultra-right paramilitary group that advocated white supremacist views.»


"3,393 civilians killed (349 in 2016–2021)

13,100–13,300 killed; 29,500–33,500 wounded overall

414,798 Ukrainians internally displaced; 925,500 fled abroad"

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"the usual promotional, performative speech that top managers of companies nowadays produce at the drop of a hat. Not that anyone believes in such speeches. But it is de rigueur to make them. It is a hypocrisy that is widely accepted."

Quite. "We are committed to .." issued from a suit means "We have little interest in ..". It is very precisely the opposite of "We plan to .." No CEO is ever "committed to" increasing profits.

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seems to me you miss something here: Universities exist at the whim of the security state nowadays. Military and pharma dominate revenues. Students are appendages

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Student Loans are in a sense "laundered" through students. Close down that money window, things would change immediately.

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Good post, Branco. This reminds me of an interesting editorial I recently read in the New Zealand journal, Counterfutures (https://counterfutures.nz/journal.html), about universities and ‘fictitious capital’.


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Danny Anderson had an excellent essay recently about assessing students in universities and the idea of rationality and creating students who regurgitate information vs. truly original and imaginative students - https://untaking.substack.com/p/because-we-are-human-trading-assessment

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«creating students who regurgitate information vs. truly original and imaginative students»

The universities that are finishing schools for the upper-class already try to create "truly original and imaginative students", those that are training grounds for the administrators and professionals working under upper-class direction know they must aim at "creating students who regurgitate information".

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