April 11, 1998

Comments on "Universities in Crisis"

Stephen Barton

This is a good story and there is a lot to learn from it -- more with some additional work by the author. The material in it about race and class relations is thought-provoking and could become an important contribution to the dialog if given more emphasis, clarity and links to theories of race and class. In this draft, the intersection of race and class is too often buried under the frequent first draft problem that the author wants to lay out his world view and personal moral project in academe and hasn't gotten the paper really focused yet.

The section with a brief political economy of Long Island's east end is filled with the unexplained tag ends of theoretical references. For example, the concept of "secondary circuit investments" just hangs out there, unclear to any except those familiar with the work of certain marxist economists. And maybe they were a form of investment, but summer retreats may have been primarily use value for the rich. Should we care? I would rather have the author tell us what happened in clear language. The choice of what to tell us will reveal the underlying theoretical framework for those familiar with the theories, and undeveloped references to theories will not enlighten those who are not already so familiar.

The author also refers to "expansion of European and European-American power and domination." The underlying theories of racial formation and conflict are essential to a paper on that theme, so I think they should be brought forward clearly in a way that is linked more directly to the story, rather than remain in passing reference mode. It seems to me that after the initial destruction of the Native Americans, there is more "continuation" than "expansion" on Long Island, but perhaps there is more to the story here? And to what extent is it European power and to what extent is it capitalist power? Using the multiple meanings of accommodation under slavery seems overly dramatic, and unlikely to resonate with people thinking about free wage labor. Much as I personally enjoy the old IWW songs about wage slavery, they are scarcely widely sung today, and I think the analogy lacks power in this setting. There is a literature on working class accommodation to draw on and the effort to link race and class analysis is important and needs careful explanation.

I thought the use of Howard Winant's theoretical material on the social construction of race through social conflict fit very well and illuminated the story. A lot more could be done with it.

A couple of minor points:

"Knowledge for whom?" originating in the 1960's. I disagree. In the 1930's there was Lynd's book Knowledge for What?, and from the 1890s on there were Thorsten Veblen, Upton Sinclair, Scott Nearing, and other critics of the early University in the U.S.

"impacted" -- As a planner, I hear this word misused all the time, and I would prefer "affected", "shaped", "changed", and a few other words that aren't so bureaucratic.

I look forward to learning even more in the revised version of this working paper.