3. World Bank University: The War on Terror and the Battles for the Global Commons
The scene is a hotel meeting room in 1950, Bogota, Colombia, and the main characters in the drama are Robert Garner, then Vice President of the World Bank, and Lauchlin Currie, director of the Bank’s mission to Colombia. Garner has traveled from New York to get Currie’s report on what the Bank should be doing in Colombia. He is not happy with what he hears. “Damn it, Lauch,” Garner cries out, “We can’t go messing around with education and health. We’re a bank!” (Benjamin 67). Garner is protesting Currie’s proposal to expand the bank’s capital investments in that country into human services such as schools and public health, rather than strictly productive resources such as agriculture, industry, and energy suitable for profitability. His proposal strikes at the heart of the conflict between opposing narratives in the postcolonial reconstruction of global geographies. On the one hand, we have the banker’s concern to invest in capital-yielding productive resources of industry, transportation, and wealth finance, and on the other, the political (and social) responsibility to invest in capital-draining human services such as education, healthcare, childcare, sanitation, water, and sustainable living and working conditions. Of course, these two domains sometimes seem to join hands, and sometimes split far apart, but ideologically separated they indeed were, and still are, for that matter, in many people’s eyes.
Garner’s remarks make great sense within the first third of what I will describe as a three-part history of the World Bank. I will return to this opening scene since I present it as a paradigmatic moment in the battles between private capital and public commons. What I hope to add to this general story is a refinement of the more direct links between the mutations of the World Bank and the alteration of working conditions in higher education. But before I get to that historical sketch, let me set the stage with some general reflections that organize my presentation of the history.
My basic project is to try to articulate the links between the war on terror and the battles for the global commons, especially as they impact higher education in the US. In order to do that, we need to translate from the vast historical archive of the global economy some simplified frames with which to comprehend the relations between the mutations of the World Bank-IMF-WTO complex and the alteration of working conditions in higher education. I have coined the term “World Bank University” (WBU) as a play on Evan Watkins’ term, “World Bank literacy,” and Amitava Kumar’s term, “World Bank Literature” (WBL), a term Kumar refers to as a “provocation” rather than as having any distinct referent. In short, rather than a definitive definition, “the phrase is intended to prompt questions about each of the words in that constellation” so as “to invite inquiry into globalization, the economy, and the role of literary and cultural studies” (xvii), or in my use, the role of higher education. Kumar’s point is that literary production in the post-war period of neocolonialism often directly confronts circumstances determined by literal policies of the World Bank. But in a figurative way, the World Bank also serves as a kind of synechdoche for all the various International Financial Organizations (IFI) that have shaped the geopolitical world since the 1940s. As a provocation, World Bank University configures the relations between education, knowledge, and the geopolitical economy.
As a general story, we all recognize that capitalism and militarism work to enclose the public commons serving many in order to expand private profit for the few.  The current “War on Terror” has its roots in the post-WWII “climate of fear” and the “permanent war economy” (Mills) established by the international financial policies for the organizing of capital. This paper offers three historical frames as a simplified narrative within which to describe the global orchestration of the links between state militarism and private capitalism, on the one hand, and, on the other, the dispossession, enclosure, and shrinking of the global commons represented by human services such as housing, water supply, sanitation, electricity, health care, and education. Regardless of our disciplinary position within the many sectors of higher education, we are all caught within these frames, and we can no longer avoid translating between the global geopolitical arena and the local effects of our academic work. What can, or should, we do in these circumstances?
I organize my story by focusing on the tension between the often opposing domains of productive economic resources and necessary human services. I will try to make these conflicts clear by borrowing David Harvey’s description of the organically linked but “dual character” (New Imperialism 137), or Janus-faced processes of late capitalism. On the one hand, in the mode of capital accumulation by expanded reproduction, assets are directly invested in industrial and agricultural productivity, or in debt financing itself as a mode of wealth production. On the other hand, the mode of accumulation by dispossession takes over when over-accumulated capital can only find new markets by breaking into the public commons of otherwise relatively protected, state-operated (or socialized) domains of basic human services. Even democratically installed protections of such services can be forced open under the rubric of deregulation and structural adjustment which are really just names for regulations that favor capital rather than human beings. These modes of neoliberal production combine violent economic and military operations that sustain and create terror; but they also sustain antagonism and resistance.
The virtue of Harvey’s formulation is that it takes account of both processes, production and dispossession, as they determine who gets access to both domains, resources and services. Of course, the mix of domains and processes can get pretty interdependent and complex, and that complexity is part of the message. Nevertheless, my sense is that conceptually distinguishing their operation in each of the three historical frames can help us to better describe the links between the World Bank economy and the restructuring of higher education.
Phase I: 1944–60
In July, 1944, the World Bank (officially, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development) was founded as a mediating agency in the historical transition between directly managed colonial rule by nation states and globalized market management through transnational agencies. As Michael Denning has explained in Culture in the Age of Three Worlds, the newly emerging terms of the First, Second, and Third Worlds became descriptors of the geo-political landscape of the rapidly expanding global economy partly because of the actions and mission of the World Bank to control development and its partner, the IMF, to control global monetary funds. The main thing to be managed was global productive resources, which referred primarily to tangible kinds of industrial, agricultural, and infrastructure projects suitable for capital accumulation. Productive resources were therefore intended to be distinctly separate from “human resources,” the “soft sector,” the “social welfare” domain championed by the New Deal. Accordingly, these educational, cultural, and service interests were strategically channeled off to the United Nations, a body that in 1946 founded UNESCO as the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. Economic development would thus be handled by the World Bank, IMF, and GATT; cultural development could be left to the United Nations, and all of these organizations were under the effective control of the United States.
The Bank certainly felt that its mission as a bank meant that it could not be seen as a social benefactor, or an extender of the principles of the New Deal to the rest of the world, but as an orchestrator of capitalist development of the Third World. The Bank’s strictly economistic mission was ideologically to distance itself from any social, cultural, political, or military mission. Ironically, higher education supplied exactly the ideological backbone for this plan. The university produced the discourse adapted by the World Bank founders: the division between economics and politics reflects the modern discourse separating knowledge from power, the scientific laboratory from the political state, the literary from the social, and this discourse was conveniently incorporated right into the founding documents. By focusing on objectifiable economic commodities rather than subjectively (and collectively) experienced conditions of human labor, the Bank could effectively obscure class struggle and power relations. All of this university-originating discourse produced the grounds for American exceptionalism: US interventions were on the side of knowledge, science, and development, not politics. John Harriss calls this a process of “depoliticizing development” as worked out by “the anti-politics machine,” the cruel irony being that the anti-politics rhetoric produced some devastating political realities. Political history is whitewashed with the myth of a well-worn scientific rationalism now operating in the social arena of global development. As Wendy Brown explains, “Depoliticization involves removing a political phenomenon from comprehension of its historical emergence and from a recognition of the powers that produce and contour it” (15).
Indeed, the World Bank archives are replete with recurrent arguments and tropes guiding policy decisions according to the idealized discourse of science as objective neutrality: knowledge, research, scholarship, all of these activities are to be fundamentally carried out as nonhistorical, nonpolitical, nonideological procedures (while, of course, exactly the opposite is really happening). The disciplinary double-vision produced by higher education is carried over, one might say, by the college-educated economists who took the lesson to heart in drafting the World Bank’s charter in 1944. It was called “nonpolitical lending,” and this rhetoric and practice begins at the beginning.
Consider, for example, Article 3, Section 5 of the World Bank Charter, which reads that all loans are to be made “without regard to political or other non-economic influences or considerations” (qtd. in Benjamin 35). Or even more expressly, we find in Article 4, Section 10 a heading called “Political Activity Prohibited,” and under that heading, the following policy delimitation: “‘The Bank and its officers shall not interfere in the political affairs of any member…. Only economic considerations shall be relevant to their decisions, and these considerations shall be weighed impartially” (35). Sound familiar? From our perspective, no doubt, these ideological mystifications are spurious, to say the least, but there they are, right in the language of the founding charter.
Now, these formulations of the charter help, in part, to explain why in 1950, Robert Garner was so upset at Lauchlin Currie. Among other things, it meant that the Bank was deeply concerned about its public representation as a manager of capital with the free market as the panacea for the economic ills of the world, not an extender of a kind of global New Deal concerned with social, historical, and political projects. It was as if private capital had nothing to do with public commons, however they might be conceived.
On an equally significant and parallel footing, the de-political myth was carried over explicitly in military training. In The Power Elite, C. Wright Mills quotes from a 1952 article, “The U.S. Military Mind,” published in Fortune magazine: “It is drummed into every military manager in the course of his not-inconsiderable education, from the day he enters West Point to the day death makes him eligible for an Arlington burial with honors, that he is to back away from anything resembling a political decision” (Mills 200).
Likewise, since education was the main producer of disinterested knowledge, there was good reason within the nation (even if not in the Third World) to provide considerable public funding for higher education, as represented by the 1944 GI Bill. Vannevar Bush’s influential 1945 book, Science: The Endless Frontier, had set the stage for translating the dwindling frontiers of US geographical colonialism into the socio-political landscape of “Big Science” with a nationalist fervor and World Bank assistance. And in order to have science, you had to have more education. So the 1947 Truman Commission on Higher Education for American Democracy (which later spurred the 1958 NDEA) provided the political discourse to translate these events into US funding for science education. These federal resources would propel me (and my generation) right through grade school and on into college. Indeed, all of higher education in the US began to ride the wave of the postwar boom—the GI Bill, NDEA, and deep investments in public education—even if it was driven by aggressive government favoring of science education so we could get to the moon first. Of course, the Cold War expansion of education had its backlash during the 1950s in the witch-hunting era of McCarthy. This period witnessed a large-scale purging of dissent in both public and academic life in the midst of a new synergy between American business interests, government policies, and university research (Schrecker; Harvey, A Brief History 8). Despite this ugly period of political purging, the nationalist project of investing in competitive science and thus the growth of higher education carried along with it a surplus: the “soft” fields expanded right along with the “hard” disciplines. The growth of public higher education became a huge experiment as a growing majority of an emerging generation was allowed to be college and university students for a prolonged period before they became workers. One unintended consequence of this investment was that in the end it produced a lot of dissent. But that’s a story that will have to wait for the next phase.
During the 1950s, none of the geopolitical events ever got publically translated into simple terms other than as Manichean views of us versus them. None of the imperialist features of US history got translated into any meaningful venue in my (or most anybody else’s) primary and secondary education in the 1950s and 60s. Most of us white, middle-class baby boomers growing up in the shadows of the Second World War never learned an intelligent word about socialism or Marxism in our formal schooling, and what we did learn about communism was a congeries of evil, fear, and inhumanity. Understandably, of course, because all this rhetoric about the “apolitical” educational, economic, and military operations was being orchestrated by the emerging Cold War agenda. Thus in his 1947 speech that launched the “Truman Doctrine,” Truman himself “said the world ‘must choose between alternative ways of life.’ One was based on ‘the will of the majority…distinguished by free institutions’; the other was based on ‘the will of a minority…terror and oppression’” (qtd. in Zinn 426). Thus begins the post-war version of the War on Terror that established a “climate of fear,” a hysteria about Communism that fueled an escalating military budget for the “Good” (the “free world”) to battle the “Bad” (the terrorists). Thus, terror was external and from the “other.”
There was, of course, resistance to this agenda, even though it was often hidden from public view. For example, in 1956, C. Wright Mills exposed the depolitical myth because, as he explains, “the economic and the military have become structurally and deeply interrelated, as the economy has become a seemingly permanent war economy; and military men and policies have increasingly penetrated the corporate economy” (215). Moreover, even if the Establishment could bolster the myth of ideological disinterestedness for educational institutions, the rhetorical education of the general public demanded by the permanent war economy needed no such myths, and so it was well funded: in the early 1950s, the US engaged in a massive public relations effort whereby millions of dollars and thousands of publicists were employed to “define the reality of international relations in a military way” (220). And the reality was the opposite of the apolitical myth because higher education contributed deeply to that mission. As Mills argues: “some universities, in fact, are financial branches of the military establishment, receiving three or four times as much money from military as from all other sources combined” (217).
Let me provide one specific example exposing the myth about the separation of the economic and the political. The IMF would not lend money to Cuba because it would not “stabilize” conditions for private capital even though Castro had expanded the public commons through a nationalized system of education, housing, and land redistribution for peasants (Zinn 439–40). And listen to one official’s representation of that ideological agenda from Lester D. Mallory, Deputy Undersecretary of State for Inter-American Affairs in an April 6, 1960 memorandum to Roy R. Rubottom Jr., then Under-secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs: “Most Cubans support Castro. There’s no effective political opposition…the only foreseeable means to alienate internal support is by creating disillusionment and discouragement based on lack of satisfaction and economical difficulties…. We should immediately use any possible measure to…cause hunger, desperation and the overthrow of the Government” (Lamrani par. 8). When an official threatens hunger and desperation as an economic means to execute the political goal of destabilizing a so-called “terrorist” threat of Castro’s Cuba, it’s pretty clear who is producing the terror. Nevertheless, those rationales were, and still are, extended throughout US interventions in Latin America.
Mallory’s comments reflected the troubling circumstances emanating from the World Bank/IMF global reconstruction and development story. The main problem was that the pressure for human resources kept building during the 1950s, in part, because the development project showed too many signs of not doing so well. Indeed, despite the overall growth in world productivity, the gap between developed, First World nations of the North Atlantic, and the undeveloped, Third World nations of the southern hemisphere kept widening rather than narrowing. What could one expect when, despite the apparent consumerist glut in the developed countries, 85% of the world population consumption is limited to food and essential goods for survival (Chossudovsky 77)? The pressure was building towards a major shift in bank policy, a literal need to invest in poverty alleviation and human services. The sixties were about to happen.
Phase 2: 1960–79
I use 1960 as a turning point to the second phase because it marks the election of John F. Kennedy, the beginning of the Vietnam War, the formation of the IDA (International Development Agency), and the modification of World Bank rhetoric and practices as now shaped by the liberal interventionist strategies for the reduction of poverty. In 1961, Robert McNamara is appointed Secretary of Defense for 7 years, until he then takes over as President of the World Bank in 1968, a post he holds until 1981. In this second phase, capital can be extended, but in rigorously determined and circumscribed ways, to the human services area. Given the rapid expansion in world productivity, the World Bank works to both rhetorically and politically control the kind of investment in human services so that they can be scripted into the domain of productivity and wealth. In Harvey’s terms, the mode of accumulation by reproduction extends its rationale to cover investment directly into the domain of human services, (but now conceived as indirect resources) including education, health care, and other necessary services.
The second phase of my narrative begins with a quote from Eugene Black, the then President of the World Bank, only now it is 1962, during his last year as President, and more than a decade has passed since his Vice President Garner protested so loudly against soft sector lending. As you will see, the Bank, and its directors, have dramatically changed their tune so that now, as Black puts it: “We are forced by our circumstances into trying to fashion a whole new orchestra of financial instruments designed specifically…to implant and cultivate in the underdeveloped world the many factors that make a society productive” (Benjamin 67). The key phrases here are “forced by our circumstance” and making “a society productive:” the sense of being forced is coming from below, which is to say the increasing pressure of many who are now objecting to the widening gaps between the wretched of the Earth and the wealthy North Atlantic nations. Making a society productive meant that the human services had to be included in the economic procedures of wealth production rather than in a social concern for working conditions and citizen’s rights.
As Brett Benjamin argues, the social and cultural had irrupted into the discourse of the World Bank just as it irrupted in the turmoil of 1960s protest movements, the changing demographics of higher education, and the emergence of cultural studies as an academic field. Under these circumstances, the World Bank had to adapt both policy and rhetoric to meet the times. It had to find a way of incorporating a changing mission that would include human services without abandoning its primary capital mission in expanding productivity. Robert McNamara was just the man for the job: a Harvard MBA business background, a Vietnam era hawk, a corporate leader, and, finally, a civilian form of military leader. Yet ironically, he became the Bank’s most liberal president. He brought human services under the rubric of systems analysis, the term he used at Ford and later developed as Secretary of Defense to make the administration of the military more cost-effective.
Systems analysis was the perfect rhetoric to liberalize investment policy, all the while avoiding anything smacking of social welfare or soft sector idealism. Social benefits such as education and health care had to be justified exclusively in the language of productivity and development: education could be productive if investment in vocational training could lead to more highly trained workers; health care could be productive if it kept more people on the job longer; sanitation facilities could be productive if they enabled more people to work for longer hours. For these kinds of development to succeed, only certain kinds of education, health care, and sanitation were necessary, and the development they contributed to was the development of more capital, more productivity. Of course, First World corporations and franchises could more “cost-effectively” produce the necessary services in the Third World, so most of the capital did not go into indigenous forms of public commons and socialized human services. Indeed, McNamara did just such scripting of human services into the language of capital productivity. For example, McNamara actually tripled education lending in the first five years as World Bank President (Benjamin 67). But, of course, there was a cost to this investment and to the associated rhetoric, because we begin to see the rise of managed education and the transformation of higher education into technical assistance and vocational training. As McNamara put it, “we must make teachers more productive” (qtd. in Benjamin 67). If we manage them successfully, we will produce more freedom for the market. In short, the rhetoric of the protestors about freedom, equality, democracy had to be appropriated by the Bank itself as a rhetorical way of silencing the protests themselves by so insidiously adapting the protest language.
Education had to serve the economic and military agenda and the fear of resistance was realized in the counter-cultural movements of the 1960s. Indeed, while the irruption of the cultural into the economic was real enough, higher education continued to serve the World Bank agenda. In fact, an interesting pair of surveys (1966 and 1970) by the University of Michigan revealed a remarkable inversion of expectations. According to Howard Zinn, “This showed that, throughout the Vietnam war, Americans with only a grade school education were much stronger for withdrawal from the war than Americans with a college education” (491).  In short, it appears that despite all the irruption on campuses, Chossudovsky remains correct in his claim that “the universities’ main function is to produce a generation of loyal and dependable economists who are incapable of unveiling the social foundations of the global market economy” (27).
This was particularly the case for the “Chicago Boys.” For that story, we have to backtrack a bit before we get to the first “little” 9/11, the coup in Chile in 1973. During the 1950s, it was at the University of Chicago under the free-market theories of Milton Friedman and his “Chicago School” that the move from Keynesian to early neoliberal economic planning began to coalesce (Harvey, A Brief History 20–24). But it was also at the University of Chicago where the “group of economists known as the ‘Chicago Boys’” were trained and funded by the US government “in a Cold War programme to counteract left-wing tendencies in Latin America” (8). This dynamic link from the Chicago School to the Chicago Boys was an academic experiment of a kind to test economic theory in political practice, one that prepared the way for the “little September 11” of 1973 when Chile became one of the first US neoliberal state projects (Puerto Rico might be the first). The consequences of this economic restructuring under Pinochet were devastating: food prices skyrocketed, wages were frozen, and “an entire country was precipitated into abysmal poverty: in less than a year the price of bread in Chile increased thirty-six times and eighty-five percent of the Chilean population had been driven below the poverty line” (Chossudovsky xxi).
The effects of the Chicago Boys’ plan for free market fundamentalism has now been carried out over the past four decades as the global plan for privatized, deregulated, neoliberal capital. The results have been fairly devastating in most parts of the world, including the restructuring of higher education, and that’s the story for the next phase.
Phase 3: 1979–2010
The third phase of this three-part history of the post-war period begins with the Right wing takeover represented by Thatcher and Reagan, a period David Harvey marks with the intensified neoliberal re-writing of the conditions and possibilities of global lending. Almost overnight, they had piloted the re-writing of World Bank and IMF policy along the lines of what was called a “structural adjustment program” (SAP), a euphemism for orchestrating the violent processes of accumulation by dispossession (Henry Giroux calls it the “politics of disposability”). Under the new rules for “structural adjustment,” first world, supply-side lenders are protected, and third world debtors are forced to adapt neoliberal economic policies in order to secure the loans, which means that formerly protected public domains must be open to private takeover. Education now becomes a central focus of the combined World Bank-IMF-WTO mission, rhetoric, and policy; it is almost as if the market fundamentalists took Antonio Gramsci’s famous claim that “every relationship of ‘hegemony’ is necessarily an educational relationship” (350) and put it to work for their agenda so as to produce neoliberal ideology as the accepted norm of consumer culture for all citizens by restructuring education at all levels. This third period is also characterized by the sequences of massive debt crises, corporate bailouts, and increased world-wide resistance to the World Bank agenda as exemplified by demonstrations in Seattle (1999), Washington, DC (2000), Porte Allegre, the Zapatista rebellion in Mexico, the organization of the World Social Forum, the anti- and alter-globalization movements, and, more recently, the Occupy Wall Street movement. In short, the third phase clearly begins the shift to the primacy of the mode of accumulation by dispossession in which private capital dispossesses many citizens of various global, but locally differing, domains of public commons and human services. Needless to say, like many citizens around the world, many of us in the humanities have been pretty vulnerable to the logic of dispossession. What now gains international and lawful legitimacy is the invasion of private investment capital into domains otherwise protected by democratically elected provisions for a public commons, a domain of human welfare, public education, public health care, sanitation, land, air, water, worker’s rights, minimum wages, etc.
According to this agenda, the patterns of dispossession moved right into the university, the shift to a part-time, flex labor, cheap teaching core, that Marc Bousquet, Cary Nelson, Jeff Williams, and many others have described. The World Bank played its part: in its many publications, the Bank attacked teacher’s unions around the world and offered a version of education at every level modeled according to standardized business practices and vocational training divorced from any form of teacher autonomy, critical thinking, or public education models.
Within US higher education, the global policies of the World Bank found both legislative and judicial sanction in a new law (Bayh-Dole) and a Supreme Court decision (Yeshiva) put into effect in the transition year of 1980. Bayh-Dole fueled expanded reproduction through legalizing of patent rights for profit within higher education even as institutions maintained their non-profit status. The Yeshiva Decision restrained the right of faculty in private institutions to strike, thus dispossessing them of basic workers’ rights to contest their conditions of employment. It was, therefore, precisely in tune with the mode of dispossession. As Marc Bousquet argues, “the institutions of faculty and staff unionism are the survivors of a series of great judicial, executive, and legislative traumas after 1980” (109). Here’s where the two modes are organically linked: the dispossession of the public knowledge commons associated with the traditional functions of the university fueled a dramatic increase in the mode of expanded reproduction. In short, it favored certain segments of the university: where patents are possible, profits are likely.  So the class structure of higher education is not just full professors versus adjuncts; it is also the patent-creating sectors such as fields like bio-engineering, chemistry, computer science, botany, business schools, management schools, and nursing, as well as the vendors, sports-teams, and luxury suite dorms. New rules were put in place to facilitate rapid technology transfer in and out of the university, such as the WTO’s TRIPS (Trade Related Intellectual Property rightS). Some segments of the university have been deeply funded by private interests working according to the mode of expanded reproductivity, while other segments have been dispossessed of academic freedom through insecure working conditions.
What has tended to go under the radar in this analysis is the hidden reality uncovered by Christopher Newfield, who has demonstrated convincingly that despite all the public and private research money running into university science departments, the indirect research costs (IRC) of grant funding has meant that the humanities and social sciences actually serve to fund the debts incurred by the hard sciences. The myth is that scientific research is deeply funded, ergo contributing to public education wealth, but the reality is otherwise; IRC mean that the sciences cost more in terms of tuition and state appropriations money, mainly because the grants never cover all the research costs, so the humanities and social sciences produce the revenue to support the more costly scientific disciplines
In any case, Bayh-Dole and Yeshiva are internal to the US, but there’s a much larger stage of World Bank intervention in the global stage of higher education. Indeed, whereas in its first phase, education was never even mentioned in Bank documents and policies, in this third phase, education is everywhere formulated, discussed, and administered in online and print documents, hypertexts, books, essays, and flyers. Let me just give you an example from the book it published in 1994, called Higher Education: The Lessons of Experience. From the title alone you might be led to think they have a kind of progressive concern for “Education and Experience”—that is, until you start reading. What you learn is that one of the conditions for borrowing money is that any eligible country must also “agree to develop business-university linkages: including business investments in higher education programs, business funding of educational research, the appointment of business professionals as university faculty and as university governors” (The World Bank qtd. in Hurlbert and Mason, n.p.). The Bank persuades universities to have business leaders “actively define and design new curricula, monitor institutional management, organize student placement, and arrange for industry personnel to be seconded to tertiary institutions.” In addition, The Bank calls for “academic staff to have industrial experience,” all with the goal of “aligning education to the country’s needs and to the changing structure of the labor market” (75; qtd. in Hurlbert and Mason par. 19). Which is to say, manage labor in higher education to the tunes of capital management everywhere.
This alignment of business and education comes at a price. The borrowing nation must promote competition—euphemistically called “diversification”—in education (Task Force on Higher Education and Society 11). According to Bank logic, by breaking state control of education through the fostering of for-profit universities, such as the University of Phoenix, whose aggressive marketing The Bank praises (31), developing nations will improve the quality of the educational experiences of its citizens. But the reality is much different, and it radiates throughout all levels of the educational system in the developing countries. As Michel Chossudovsky explains:
For a good specific example of the links between dispossession and education, consider Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s account of the horrendous destruction of the small, black, Creole pigs indigenous to Haiti. These pigs were the mainstay of the rural Haitian peasant economy. Eighty-five percent of the peasant population owned these pigs, and they served many functions in the local economy: they ate garbage and thereby aided in rural sanitation; they were eaten as food; exchanged as gifts; sold to pay for special occasions such as weddings, “baptisms, illnesses and, critically, to pay school fees and buy books for the children when school opened each year in October” (14). But in 1982, the IFI informed the Haitians that their pigs were sick (they were worried that the diseases they might sometimes carry could be spread to countries in the North). The peasants were promised that better pigs would be sent to replace theirs if they would simply kill all of their own pigs. So the peasants did just that within thirteen months “with an efficiency not since seen among development projects” (14). Well, it took two years for the new, improved pigs to arrive from Iowa, and when they did, they destroyed the local economy: they required clean drinking water (mostly unavailable to the Haitian population) and imported feed “costing $90 a year when the per capital income was about $130” (14). Besides that, they didn’t taste as good as the Creole pigs. It has been estimated that Haitian peasants lost about $600 million dollars through this devastating dispossession of their pigs. And there were dire educational as well as economic consequences: “There was a 30% drop in enrollment in rural schools” (14), and that’s in a country where illiteracy is close to 85%, and only about 10% of school age children attend school. The Haitians have never fully recovered from this debacle with the Iowa pigs, and their poverty and the accompanying terror of deprivation is more than ever evident in all the images of devastation from the 2010 earthquake.
Despite these setbacks over the Creole pigs, in 1988, Aristide was deeply involved in educational projects to create a knowledge commons, and he sought “to create a popular university…. An experimental farm and environmental study center, a center dedicated to the study and practice of informal sector economics, a faculty of adult literacy…. A cornerstone principle of this university is that knowledge is not a commodity—it is meant to be shared” (59). He created an on-air educational radio program (Radyo Timoun) and a televised children’s educational station (Tele Timoun) that went on the air in 1999. Since Aristide was deposed in 2004, Haiti has been the victim of human rights abuses, increased drug trafficking, money laundering, and corruption of the small group (about 1% of the population) of wealthy elite rulers (Hallward). No wonder most people of Haiti were unprepared for the earthquake.
But to return to the World Bank’s instructions in the 1994 book, The Lessons of Experience, here’s what happens when we jump twelve years later to 2006. George W. Bush’s Education Secretary, Margaret Spellings, issues the Commission on Higher Education’s (CHE) report, A Test of Leadership: Charting the Future of U.S. Higher Education, and the future is charted, all right. In short hand, it is pretty easy to see now that Spellings and the CHE have quite literally taken the 1994 World Bank book on higher education and turned it into a model of cost-benefit, “value-added” basis for US education. Without tracing all the details, which is actually pretty easy to do, just listen to this line: “Student achievement, which is inextricably connected to institutional success, must be measured by institutions on a ‘value-added’ basis that takes into account students’ academic baseline when assessing their results” (4). In short, you test them first year, test them final year, subtract the first from the last, and that’s the measure of the value you’ve added. Now you can grade every school, every university on one scale. As Patricia Williams puts it, “Ostensibly a school’s grade would be used like the nutrient labels on tubs of potato salad” (10). We’re all so much part of the World Bank-WTO discourse of “profit-maximizing” that those areas that don’t yield profits directly, like humanities, arts, music, gender studies, race studies, etc., well, they can just be dispossessed of both public and private funding.
The twenty-first-century century War on Terror precisely fuels that kind of dispossession. The move to enclose the educational commons proceeds through the more general attacks on freedom of speech, the PATRIOT Acts, and the hyper-security state. The World Bank University represents that phase of higher education where the global financialization of world debt is carried deep within the nation’s (and the world’s) institutions of higher education (Martin). In addition to the overtly political suppression carried out by the many infringements on academic freedom that we have witnessed in recent years, the WBU carries out internally to higher education the external IFI policies of market fundamentalism by way of massively increasing student debt, casualization, and the flex labor teaching force of temporary, non-tenure track faculty, retrenchment, and down-sizing. At the same time, during the past decade, we have witnessed the massive accumulation of buildings, grounds, endowments, and administrative hires while exploiting students and non-tenure track faculty. These systematic financialization processes reduce and enclose the knowledge commons, which still remains one form of hope for human well-being. 
Possibilities of Resistance
As my three-part historical sketch reveals, neoliberal capitalism seeks to totalize its enclosure of all public commons, but it has never worked: the litany of horrors and abuses produces and sustains antagonism and resistance. Karl Polanyi called this the “double movement of society”; Marx called it class struggle. If the resistance movements do not produce some form of commons, they will be ripped apart by capitalist enclosure (i.e., single issue movements are vulnerable). Higher education has long been deeply part of the capitalist project, but it has also engaged battles for a knowledge commons. The university still offers some social spaces (and time) for resistance and dissent that to a limited degree are still in place: academic freedom, classroom freedoms, free exchange of ideas—these concepts remain part of the discourses about the commons, even as they are being enclosed. The struggles and resistances are real and widespread, as witnessed by Occupy Wall Street and by student strikes around the world speaking out for the educational commons necessary for any imaginable version of human flourishing (see Emancipating Education for All). The different value practices of such commons emerge within context-specific classrooms, departments, research groups, labor unions, and student organizations of various kinds.
Secondly, I share Hardt and Negri’s assessment that “The most significant event of the first decade of the new millennium for geopolitics may be the definitive failure of unilateralism” (203). The World Bank and the other IFI represent the failed efforts of US global unilateralism. The system is broken. The recent disastrous economic shocks register the end of the project of US unilateral hegemony, and it is unlikely that there will be any single successor, whether nation or global body, to take the place of US imperialism in the form of military dominance and capital systems of unification and control. We are living through a period of transition where the old forms of imperial governance are yielding unprecedented levels of instability in many parts of the world. What may emerge from these struggles remains uncertain. But as educators, these troubled times are dense with teachable moments. From my limited experience, the troubles are so great that more students than ever are willing to listen when we teach about capitalism, socialism, anarchism, and communism. All these movements have histories, and they provide us opportunities for re-inserting history into the ahistorical rush of hyper-capitalism. Because the litany of capitalist aggressions emanates affective resistance, these moments are thus also dense with organizing moments, political alliances of the left [the peace movement, the anti- and alter-globalization movement, the human rights movement, the environmental justice movement, the feminist movement, etc.]. Conversely, of course, we should recognize that these times are also teachable moments for skinheads, neo-Nazis, and fundamentalists of all kinds.
Third, many domains and elements of the commons remain invisible to the dominant discourse. For instance, in their highly provocative Disorientations Guide, the Counter Cartographies Collective (3Cs) offers this formulation regarding the unseen labor, often located in what we might call the commons: “UNC is a space of multiple and unseen kinds of labor made precarious under the pressures of the economic crisis; UNC is a site where borders and migration policy are put into effect; UNC is a site of historical struggles” (EduFactory par. 2). 3Cs focuses on UNC, but their point is that it is only a synecdoche to the broader context of public higher education in the US university where these unseen labor practices are often the struggles of the contingent teaching force, the free-way flyers, mostly women. But in the context of the World Bank University, the point is that these US laborers suffer under the same basic neoliberal, global economic policies suffered by the unseen laborers in distant parts of the world. We have developed many different but related terms to designate these others: the unrepresented, the subaltern, the marginalized, bare life (as Agamben uses the term), the dispossessed, the disempowered, the wretched of the earth, etc. These terms are not, of course, just synonyms, as they do reflect real semantic differences grounded in real material differences. They are indeed “multiple and unseen,” but the biopower of the unseen is not the same as the administration of biopolitics by the IFI. There is, of course, real powerlessness: an inability of the dispossessed to magically end the exploitations of global capitalism. Hardt and Negri offer the idea of the “multitude” as a name to replace Marx’s notion of the proletariat, the workers whom Marx thought would end capitalism. The multitude may idealize the commons unless we are extremely careful to recognize that the material circumstances of various groups within the multitude is so different. But a large part of our job as educators is making visible the lost histories, the invisible commons, the precarious forms of labor—Gramsci’s “war of position” suggests the material struggles registered in the affective task of making them visible as part of the alternatives to global capitalism.
Fourth, all our terms, rationales, and struggles for and about the commons share at least three primary ethical concerns: 1) social justice; 2) human dignity; and 3) social and collective solidarity with and including the dispossessed of the world. The focus on the commons engages the multiple histories and possibilities of anarchism/communism/socialism as public sharing of resources and services. Let’s work as educators to translate our local work into context-specific articulations of these common goals for a better world. As the alternative higher-education movement represented, among many other organizations, through the work of the edu-factory collective puts it, “The commonality of struggles is always against the empty universality of power” (EduFactory n.p.). Struggles for the commons are struggles to work against the reduction of the life world to capital. In short, the battles for the global commons must confront and push back against the war on terror and the financialization and privatization of everyday life as represented by the World Bank University. As Massimo De Angelis puts it, “A different understanding of commons is re-emerging from the webs and networks of the alter-globalization movement” (244).
Fifth, these struggles for and about the commons must integrate three phases: 1) direct action (such as strikes, demonstrations, etc.); 2) coalition building (single-issue movements must form alliances with common causes); and 3) rigorous critique. With respect to the latter, much of the work that needs to be done in this area is, in my mind, less strictly theory-oriented (although of course we need theory), but history-oriented in the sense of retrieving, locating, telling the stories that have been denied by dominant education, the hegemony of mystified history that leaves out most of the real-world geopolitical history of the contemporary moment. Thus, the task of all humanities workers is inevitably an historical task to this extent: that each discipline, each worker, now needs more than ever a kind of self-reflective assessment of the history of its discipline, the history of the university, and the history of global capitalism. How we get access in different disciplinary spheres to these interwoven historical frames is of course a strategic problem of translating between those differences. (This paper is clearly oriented to that phase of the project.)
Sixth, a lot of our work as educators is as translators. Given the huge range of cultural, social, educational, ethnic, racial, class, and gender differences we confront in and out of our classes, nothing can be more important than translating between and among teachers, scholars, students, parents, public, and private domains. There are lots of people working at these tasks, and I list just a few examples: Adolf Reed’s Free Higher Education project (www.freehighered.org); Marc Bousquet’s blog (www.howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress); UNC graduate students’ Counter Cartographies Collective (www.countercartographies.org); and EduFactory (www.edu-factory.org).
In fact, I will end with an EduFactory statement: “A network of struggles and resistance has to be a common space of translation…of the different languages and practices, that is to say a common place from which to dismantle the conditions that support the regime of unilateral translation. Only in this way, can a network of struggles and resistance answer in a collective way the central question: how to build up a transnational politics of the common against the global university?” Or what I have been calling, the World Bank University. We should not give up these struggles.
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- I use a capacious sense of the “commons.” Marx used the notion of the commons as a reference to only those domains of strictly not-capital: those spaces free of any contamination from capitalism, and thus a domain that private capital seeks to enclose. Drawing on Marx’s key notion, I nevertheless use the “commons” in a somewhat broader sense (see Hardt and Negri, Commonwealth). Also, as Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri explain, “It is important to keep conceptually separate the common—such as common knowledge and culture—and the public, institutional arrangements that attempt to regulate access to it. It is thus tempting to think of the relationships among the private, the public, and the common as triangular, but that too easily gives the impression that the three could constitute a closed system with the common between the other two. Instead the common exists on a different plane from the private and the public, and is fundamentally autonomous from both” (282). So by global commons, I refer to all those local spaces of relative autonomy from direct capital appropriation of surplus value and from private property as regulated by public law. Such spaces occur in very different contexts and in differing relations to and struggles with capitalism around the globe. Historically speaking, capitalism seeks to enclose and dispossess such global commons, and militarism and terrorism have been deeply linked to those processes of dispossession. See Kamola and Meyerhoff; De Angelis.
- To summarize the statistics Zinn reports: in the University of Michigan study, in 1966, 27% of college educated people in the study voted for withdrawal, but 41% of those with grade school education were for immediate withdrawal. By 1970, the mood of the country meant that antiwar sentiment was greater in both groups, but there was more increase in the belief in withdrawal among the non-college educated: 47% of college educated were for withdrawal; 61% of those who had only a grade school education.
- See Jennifer Washburn’s University, Inc.
- For a disturbing example of the deleterious links between neoliberal capitalism and US public health, see John Abramson’s account in Overdosed America of how pharmaceutical companies’ exclusive focus on profit have quite literally increased levels of illness and disease among the population.