As we are saw in the UK University Strike, universities are under attack by neo-liberalism. Until they have become a profit-generating commodity they are useless. This is no less true in Spain as Lina Gálvez relates concerning an unbelievable scandal in more than one sense.
Lina Gálvez is Professor of Economic History and Gender Studies at Pablo de Olavide University, Seville
Cross-posted from el diario
Translated and edited by BRAVE NEW EUROPE
Cristina Cifuentes (Madrid’s Regional President who purportedly was fraudulently awarded a master’s degree, referred to as “Master’sgate”) appeared on Thursday 4 April before the Assembly in Madrid and denied any responsibility in relation to Master’sgate. However, all the evidence points to her having lied. She received a master’s degree in regional law from Rey Juan Carlos University in 2010, but there are no records of her exams, papers, or end-of-course thesis exist. Instead, there is evidence that at least the marks of two of her master’s courses –including the final essay that counts for 24 out of 60 academic eurocredits- were changed in 2012 by an administrative worker close to her and Spain’s ruling Popular Party. Furthermore the signatures included in the final marks records appear to be falsified, as some of the names included have testified.
That that same 4 April, at 11.30 p.m., a few hours after Cristina Cifuentes appeared testified before Madrid’s regional parliament, I was in front of my computer catching up on my e-mails, exchanging comments and work matters with my colleagues.
Any other day, I would not have been struck by the fact that 90% of the recipients of these e-mails, some twenty colleagues, were also at their computers around midnight. Such is academic life, a constant incestuous relationship between our working time and our private time. After all, our work is vocational and we are privileged. We enjoy a flexibility that is much appreciated by those who do not have it and by us as well. Seen in a neo-liberal context the current system of constant measurement of productivity and competitiveness is leading us to self-exploitation. This is true for those of us who have secure jobs and more so for those trying to advance in the academic world, who are just exploited.
But on 4 April, the fact that my colleagues and I were working at 11.30 p.m. did catch my eye. On that same day, the Regional President of Madrid, Cristina Cifuentes, taught Spanish society a lesson. According to her, in order to justify her behaviour and the way she obtained her master’s degree, it is normal to enrol mid-term at the university, not to take the exams, to alter records, and refer to procedures of which there is no administrative documentation. But that cannot be true! That is not possible! Numerous protocols are established at the university that guarantee the legal integrity of the university community and give credibility to the degrees issued there.
I was also concerned about her appearance, because sullying the university in the way Cristina Cifuentes did is not just a hard-core episode, another anecdote to save herself from her own lie and what increasingly smells like pure fraud. To defile the public university, as Cifuentes did, can only be understood by the existence of at least three circumstances or phenomena that are endangering this institution.
The first of these three phenomena is the politicisation of universities, which is manifested at least at two levels. A more obvious and a crude level. The latter is that of the financial dependence of universities on regional governments, and which can allow favourable treatment in exchange for favourable finances, especially if the government belongs to a party such as the Partido Popular (the ruling political party in Spain notorious for its corruption), which is prone to compromising public institutions and resources, as we have seen in the already numerous cases of corruption. That is why Ms Cifuentes’ case is not just another case of university malpractice and corruption, as they have tried to make us believe. She is the president of the institution on which the financing and functioning of the university she got her master’s degree without attending any exam or delivering an end-of-course thesis, depends.
The other level of politicisation is more complex and has to do with the new model of society that is developing within the neoliberal model in which everything is commodified, including the university. The so-called Bologna process institutionalized the rules of the game that design the model of the university that serves as a legitimizing element of the neoliberal model where the generation of critical thinking is increasingly marginalised.
In this model, the prestige of a university and its faculty is measured by weight, through productivity that is calculated more in terms of where one publishes than the quality of the publication. Bearing in mind that the spaces where publication is most valued must be benchmarked in databases such as JCR or Scopus, all of which are in the hands of private companies that seek to provide rankings creating the dependence of universities that do business with them. Lengthy, critical or even, I would venture to say, novel works are in many cases outside of what is “appreciated” in this benchmarked university world. This means that, in many cases, only those who conform to the rules of the game that underpin the system can develop an academic career. Thus, most academics, especially those who have joined in recent years, are accustomed to “obeying”. And this is directly linked to the second relevant aspect of this equation.
I am referring to the total and shameful precarisation of university work, which can also be analysed in its different layers and levels. Among those of us who have a permanent position, those who are still up at midnight working, there is a certain freedom in this system that however forces us to publish non-stop, without necessarily opting for the highest standards in our work. I say some freedom, because it also happens that, if we do not publish in the journals indexed in the databases I mentioned earlier, we do not get the necessary recognition of our productivity from the benchmarking agencies, which have become the measure of all things. Their recognition is the basis for the award of research projects, the establishment of the number of class hours we have to give, the calibration of our ability to direct master’s’s and doctoral thesis programmes or to participate in certain tribunals or commissions. Opportunities that can allow us to create spaces of resistance, critical schools of thought within the university.
Let us not deceive ourselves, precarity is a way to discipline the workforce. The situation of the current generation trying to find a place in the academia is extremely precarious, so much so that a teacher without a permanent job can agree to falsify the certificate of defence of a master’s degree that, according to all indications, never existed in the Cifuentes case. We can think that the precariousness that prevails in the university is the same as that which affects most sectors. As Remedios Zafra explains very well in his book El entusiasmo (Enthusiasm). Due to the precarity of creative work in the digital age, researchers and cultural creators are part of the engine and, at the same time, the entrapped by enthusiasm. This vocational character that not only leads them to accept badly paid and even unpaid jobs, but also to fight over them with their peers, thus guaranteeing the self-discipline of competitiveness, and to consider them a necessary toll for what will someday come. This very well trained, poorly paid or free labour force, as competitive as it is enthusiastic, is the ideal legitimising substrate of a mercantilist system and, at the same time, mere cannon fodder to be used in such sinister episodes as the allegedly spurious master’s degree of Cifuentes.
Finally, we should take into account the widespread discrediting of the university. This is not a coincidental phenomenon, but a further piece of the transformation that the world is undergoing in this neoliberal age in which everything is being privatized and commodified. The desired degradation of the university is that of one of the few areas that is still partially beyond the control of capital. From the United States, we are beginning to hear the echo of a very powerful movement that is discrediting the knowledge and work of universities. Why go to college when there are free online courses, or better yet, YouTube tutorials that teach us more than the self-absorbed university faculty can do? Why go to college when what matters in this world is gaining money and fame, appearing every day in successful television programmes. You need not to go to university for that? If anything, you buy a degree. The knowledge that is transmitted at a university is considered worthless.
Why do I want this master’s degree, said Cristina Cifuentes, if I don’t need it? She does not need this knowledge; it is understandable, because she has the support of her party, as was made clear at the Partido Popular Convention in Seville, and of the voters. She failed to say that she also has the backing of a party, Ciudadanos (a populist neo-liberal party), whose initial objective was, theoretically, to regenerate Spanish politics and who, nevertheless, prefers corruption and lies to the possibility of Podemos (an anti neo-liberal, progressive party) gaining the slightest amount of power. And it proposes a commission of inquiry – which, of course, the Partido Popular has accepted – and commissions a few polls to decide its position, instead of joining the motion of censure on “dignity” promoted by the PSOE (Social Democratic Party).
Well, in order not to desire a master’s degree, Madam President, you have come a long way. Resign and take responsibility for this fraud and your lie. Neither you, nor your party, nor the party that supports it can turn the university into the fiefdom of the powerful, as if everything were business and whoever rules, does and undoes. The university is an institution and university autonomy is a principle that must be preserved. It is true that the university has been and still is a legitimising institution of power, but it has also served, and above all, must continue to serve as a space for counter-power and a generator of critical thinking. Let us not allow them to sully one of the few institutions that still escapes, albeit only partially, the extreme commodification of our society. Madam President, resign, public university degrees are not bought….yet.