Goodman's Community of Scholars

IN THE PREFACE TO HIS NEW BOOK, The Community of Scholars (New York: Random House, $3.95) Paul Goodman describes it as "a little treatise in anarchist theory" and declares that it can be regarded as a footnote to a few sentences of Kropotkin's essay The State. The words of Kropotkin which he has in mind are these:

With these elements — liberty, organisation from simple to complex, production and exchange by guilds, commerce with foreign parts — the towns of the Middle Ages during the first two centuries of their free life became centres of well-being for all the inhabitants, centres of opulence and civilisation, such as we have not seen since then … To annihilate the independence of cities, to plunder merchants' and artisans' rich guilds, to centralize the foreign trade of cities into its own hands and ruin it, to seize the internal administration of guilds and subject home trade as well as all manufacturers, even in the slightest detail, to a swarm of functionaries — such was the State's behaviour in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

The connection between Kropotkin's view of the history of the autonomous institutions of the Middle Ages, and Goodman's views of the declining autonomy of the universities, he explains by saying, "Looking at our colleges and universities, historically and as they are, by and large one must say of them what Kropotkin said of the towns that gave them birth. It is impossible to consider our universities in America without being powerfully persuaded of the principle of anarchy, that the most useful arrangement is free association and federation rather than top-down management and administration. Nowhere else can one see so clearly the opportunities for real achievement so immediately available — for the work is teaching-and-learning and there in the school are the teachers and students themselves — and yet so much obstruction, prevention, extraneous regulation and taxation, by management and the goals of management."
America's 1,900 colleges and universities are, he says

the only important face-to-face self-governing communities still active in our modern society. Two thirds of them have fewer than 75 teachers and 1,000 students, who live with one another, interact, and continually decide on all kinds of business by their statutes, customs, and social pressures. The rural town-meetings that are left are not so close-knit, and perform only rudimentary functions. The congregational churches have come to play only a supportive Sunday role, not much different from fraternal lodges or clubs. Almost all the other face-to-face self-governing associations that once made up nearly all society — the municipalities, craft guilds, and joint-stock companies — have long since succumbed to centralization, with distant management.
Now these 1,900 colleges and universities may be autonomous communities, and yet "one could not name ten that strongly stand for anything peculiar to themselves, peculiarly wise, radical, experimental, or even peculiarly dangerous, stupid, or licentious. It is astounding that there should be so many self-governing communities, yet so much conformity to the national norm. How is it possible?" Goodman's book is about this lack of independence in independent institutions. One of the reasons he finds is the question of size: "the techniques of self-aggrandisement that are common in American society are being used with success by the colleges and are destroying them as communities." But his main thesis is that administration and the spread of the administrative mentality among teachers and even students are at the root of this unhealthy conformity:

It is the genius of administration to enforce a false harmony in a situation that should be rife with conflict. Historically, the communities of scholars have perennially been invaded by administrators from the outside, by Visitors of king, bishop, despotic majority, or whatever is the power in society that wants to quarantine the virulence of youth, the dialogue of persons, the push of enquiry, the accusing testimony of scholarship. But today Administration and the administrative mentality are entrenched in the community of scholars itself; they fragment it and paralyse it. Therefore we see the paradox that, with so many centres of possible intellectual criticism and intellectual initiative, there is so much inane conformity, and the universities are little models of the Organized System itself.

Yet when he looks at the history of universities, and in their medieval origins in guilds of either students or teachers, ("the spontaneous product of that instinct of association which swept over the towns of Europe in the course of the eleventh and twelfth centuries" as Hastings Rashdall describes them in his The Universities of Europe in the Middle Ages), he finds that the characteristics of the universal community of scholars, are altogether different: "It is anarchically self-regulating or at least self-governed; animally and civilly unrestrained; yet itself an intramural city with a universal culture; walled from the world; yet active in the world; living in a characteristically planned neighbourhood according to the principles of mutual aid; and with its members in oath-bound fealty to one another as teachers and students;" Apparently, he exclaims, the university was born free and yet everywhere is in chains — the direction, regulation, or sufferance of ecclesiastics, state Regents, lay trustees.

But indeed, in these communities there is also a persistent underground tradition of having no government at all! They are all little anarchies and would as lief decide everything ad hoc and unanimously. Dean Rashdall, who was constitutionally minded, is continually puzzled by this in describing the early centuries, e.g., "If the studium of Oxford was in full working order by 1184 or earlier (1167). while no Chancellor was appointed till 1214, how were the masters and scholars governed?" Maybe they weren't. Or again, in Paris, "the intellectual ferment was most vigorous, the teaching most brilliant, the monopoly of the highest education most complete, almost before a university existed at all."
This is ancient history, but Goodman himself recalls examples of a faculty expelling a president as if by right, and of student strikes and protests forcing the expulsion of presidents:

Thus, there is nothing outlandish or untraditional about that eerie sentence with which Veblen ends The Higher Learning in America: "The academic and all his works are anathema, and should be discontinued by the simple expedient of wiping him off the slate; and the governing board, in so far as it presumes to exercise any other than vacantly perfunctory duties, has the same value and should be lost in the same shuffle." How many an apparently sober professor would secretly agree with this! I do not think that there are any other institutions of established society in which a subversive anarchy is quite so near the surface as in the faculties of colleges. And the students ready to follow hard after.

Goodman goes on to examine the University as a community, and as a corporation. (Maitland wrote in 1910 that "It has become difficult to maintain that the State makes corporations in any other sense than that in which the State makes marriages when it declares that people who want to marry can do so by going, and cannot do so without going, to church or registry."). He explores the relationship between society and its schools, and studies the role of the President of the university and the managerial bureaucracy (see Maurine Blanck's article

A bureau takes root anywhere in the state, turns malignant like the Narcotic Bureau, and grows and grows; always reproducing more of its own kind, until it chokes the host if not controlled or excised. Bureaus cannot live without a host, being true parasitic organisms. (A co-operative on the other hand can live without the state. That is the road to follow. The building up of independent units to meet needs of the people who participate in the functioning of the unit. A bureau operates on opposite principles of inventing needs to justify its existence). Bureaucracy is wrong as a cancer, a turning away from the human evolutionary direction of infinite potentials and differentiation and independent spontan- tapeworm, or a virus that has killed the host.
… Bureaus die when the structure of the state collapses. They are as helpless and unfit for independent existence as a displaced tapeworm, or a virus that has killed the host.

—WILLIAM BURROUGHS: "The Naked Lunch."

on "Benevolent Bureaucracy" in ANARCHY 17). A chapter on the academic personality discusses the relation of the teacher to the student:
I do not think that college teaching is a profession, for it has no proper subject matter. The sciences that are taught really exist in the practice of them. The youth taught are too old and independent to be objects of professional attention like children or the sick; yet they are not like the clients of a lawyer or architect who are given an objective service. Pedagogy, child-development is a profession, for the children are real matter and the subjects taught are incidental. (Indeed, if we treated the reading and arithmetic as incidental and did not spend so much time and organisation on them, perhaps they would be picked up more spontaneously and better. This was the Greek way.) But at the college age, one is teaching young people by means of proper cultural subjects, or even teaching proper cultural subjects to them. There is no way to be a master of subjects without non-academic practice of them; and it is in that practice, and not as a teacher, that the college teacher is a professional. John Rice says it well: "Teaching is a secondary art. A man is a good teacher if he is a better something else; for teaching is communication and his better something else is the storehouse of things he will communicate. I have never known a master in any field who was not also a master teacher."
Finally he looks once again at the "youth subculture" which was the subject of his recent book, Growing Up Absurd. The conformist college, like the society of which it is a part has failed the young, by discouraging them from growing.
Goodman's pragmatic approach, as he explained in his Utopian Essays and Practical Proposals is to aim "at far-reaching social and cultural advantages by direct and rather dumb-bunny experiments", and in his new book he devotes the two last chapters to suggestions for rebuilding the community of scholars. The first of these, on "reforms and proposals", discusses a dozen recent suggestions for reform within the structure of the universities as they are. For he notes that the widespread contemporary self-criticism in the American colleges proves that "the colleges are still living communities, though sadly fragmented. In no other area of our society, not in urbanism, economy, popular culture, or politics, does radical criticism lead to continual efforts at remedy." The second of his concluding chapters,

Perhaps it would be possible to heighten the esprit de corps of a group of willing students by stripping away the conventional middle-class architectural framework and reducing their little community to the poverty of its scholarly functions. Quonset huts, wooden barracks, or an old house in the neighbourhood serve well enough for dormitories and classrooms. (Robert Hutchins somewhere recommends tents.) A sandlot and a river are sufficient for games. Money could be spent only on books, scientific equipment, and scholarships. The fees could be lowered. Possibly, though, our society being what it is, such a poor college of a prestigious university would at once become the swankiest and most prestigious part.

—The Community of Scholars.

he describes as "a simple proposal", which is that the communities of scholars should "renew themselves, as often in the past, by quitting and seceding from their rich properties, and going elsewhere in lawless poverty."
Many of the recent critics of American universities have proposed smaller "colleges", relatively self-contained and self-administering, within the larger administration. Theodore Newcomb estimates that 300 to 400 is the optimum size. Riesman and Jencks propose 450 students plus 50 teachers, hoping that each such college will become unique through self-government and self-recruiting. Needless to say, Goodman comments,
this excellent Jeffersonion idea of local autonomy and federal co-operation could be profitably applied in our society elsewhere than in schools. Ancient universities, of course, were nothing but such a vast federation; their masters were licensed to teach everywhere; the students wandered from one university to another and brought new texts that were immediately copied; there was a lingua franca. And it was out of this anarchic universalism of local associations, communities and scientific academies, that, as Kropotkin liked to point out, there grew the amazing consensual system of modern science. They were all entirely lacking in "organisation"; they unanimously sought a common truth.
The second of the reforms is the opening of the university faculties to non-academic professionals. As things are,
We start with the fact that there are professions and tasks in the world that require learning, and they are performed by men. We make an abstraction from the performance of these men; those who can meet these "standards" will be licensed. We then copy off the license requirements as the curricula and departments of schools; and we man the departments with academic teachers. Naturally, at so many removes, the students do not take the studies for real; so we then import veterans from outside to pep things up! Would it not be more plausible to omit the intervening steps and have the real professionals do the teaching? …
The present restriction of faculties to professional academics almost guarantees that they will be manned by inferior professionals. But many of the best, who are now outside, would join the guild if they had freedom and some power. If the faculties were composed in this way, they could not easily be controlled by administrations. There would be too many distinguished independents; the combined voice would be too authoritative. More important, they would become a force to be reckoned with in society.
The third reform concerns the students. Goodman discusses proposals to make the first university year an exploration — an attempt to overcome past miseducation and the anomie and anxiety caused by what he calls standardised socialisation. "When I myself teach freshmen," he writes, "I find myself trying to fill, with little encyclopedic lectures, the abysses of ignorance that they reveal on the most common subjects — what a jury is, where the liver is — because I feel that otherwise they are lacking in confidence in any conversation or reading whatever."
Then there are proposals for student freedom. Simply as education, freedom is indispensable, he remarks, and that is all that really needs to be said.
A recent student proposal at a big Eastern school seems to me to be statesmanlike: to divide the dormitories into three voluntary groups, one without (sexual) rules, one with liberal rules, one with the present rules.

This would have the immense ethical advantage of making the law jibe with the facts. In other matters, the students should at least have the right to talk back… Students at Columbia are pushing an even brasher proposal, to review the teachers and course at the end of each semester.
Finally, Goodman's own radical proposal: since the significant reforms needed in the universities are the very ones which administrations must resist, since they curtail administrations reason for being and jeopardize its security ("reforms toward freedom, commitment, criticism and inevitable social conflict, endanger the Image"), why not go right outside the present collegiate framework?
Secession — the historical remedy of bands of scholars seceding and setting up where they can teach and learn on their own simple conditions — is, in Goodman's view, difficult but not impractical, and "if it could succeed in a dozen cases — proving that there is a viable social alternative to what we have — the entire system would experience a profound and salutary jolt."

The most important academic precedent for setting up shop in the face of the Establishment in the English-speaking world, he reminds us, was the dissenting academies which sprang up after the Act of Uniformity in 1662. Throughout the 18th century these academies provided the best education in England, they were the leading schools of science, and "some of them became centres of rationalism and even politically revolutionary thought, influencing both the American and French revolutions and the reform movement in England, developing modern science and letters, and producing major changes in educational theory and practice."

Modern American secessions were the founding of the New School for Social Research and of Black Mountain College. Goodman produces figures to show that a new secession is an economic proposition, even "pitching our prices according to the current inflated national scale of living". ("This is the irony of actuality: those who want to transform a system of society, rather than to withdraw from it or destroy it, must operate practically within it.") His figures seek to indicate that in a college of 150 students, the teachers could be paid a little more than the national average, while the tuition fees would be less than the average.
It is difficult to believe that there are not in America enough dissatisfied scholars and adventurous would-be students to put his proposal for new academies of dissent to the test.

I would like to draw attention to what I think may be an inaccuracy in Maurice Cranston's imaginary conversation between Marx and Bakunin in ANARCHY 22. Bakunin says in the dialogue that at that time the Spanish workers were libertarian almost to a man, but surely libertarian ideas were not introduced to Spain until the arrival of Bakunin's emissary Fanelli in 1868, four years later?
Southend-on-Sea PHILIP OASTLER.

Many people, university authorities in particular, feel that universities should be entirely autonomous, but the existence of this idea is doomed because about three-quarters of all the money obtained by universities comes from Government grants. Thus the Government has called the tune as to what kind of expansion is carried out.
—DR. R. H. HALSEY, addressing Leeds University
Social Science Society, 30th November, 1962.

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Oct 30 2017 00:22


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