by Ed Kazarian

Taking as read, for the moment, Althusser’s analysis of the ways in which the educational system functions as the core of the Ideological State Apparatus of capitalism, one can still wonder at the extent to which this system, and especially its key employees — teachers and professors —  have become the target of increasingly intense scrutiny and criticisms in the past several years.

We are, it seems, overpaid. Well maybe not, since this has in fact drawn one or two notable objections. But at very least, we seem to be woefully inefficient. Objections? Nothing too serious, it seems, as long as you don’t count the derisive howls of many academics I know when this was posted by several of us to various social networking sites. There, people felt no compunction about eviscerating Yglesias’ argument — a treatment which, indeed, it roundly deserves.

Nevertheless, let’s consider the symptomatic value of the fact that Yglesias was taken by many outside the academy to have made a fairly obvious point — one that he, himself, didn’t feel the need to research in any depth or supply evidence for. This seems to reflect a shift that is occurring within the educational ISA — and indeed within the State Apparatuses more generally, ideological or not. Under the guise of “privatization” in many instances, these institutions are being conceived of more and more as if they were businesses in the ordinary sense. This has a wide range of consequences, not the least of which is that worker-productivity or ‘efficiency’ appears to be an increasingly serious concern. Additionally, it may come to seem as if ‘technology’ — which, as an article of faith, is taken to increase efficiency in other realms — might well offer a way of improving matters.

But one objects: colleges and universities are not businesses, teaching is not a form of production, it is highly unclear whether educational technology improves efficiency or diminishes workloads, and so on. Of course.

So what is the function of this rhetoric? Broadly, its major use appears to be the same in both Levy’s and Yglesias’s pieces: to argue for spending less money on faculty, who are, it is claimed, the source of the rising cost of education. This, too, is false — as has been demonstrated repeatedly. It is also widely believed. And as a consequence, no one considers a much more likely source of many of the cost increases in higher ed over the past several decades: increases in spending on administration, and technology.