Hadmut Danisch

Ansichten eines Informatikers

Ode an den akademischen Niedergang Amerikas

22.11.2015 21:15

Oh, wie sind sie so blöd, so dämlich, so bescheuert. Das Ende ist nah, das Siechtum galoppiert, die Hochschulen liegen apathisch in intellektueller Agonie. Der Verwesungsgeruch nekrotischen Geistes liegt süsslich-schwer in der Luft, längst schwappt er hochinfektiös zu uns herüber und zieht uns unweigerlich mit in den Abgrund gesellschaftlichen Verderbens. Selbstvernichtung lautet das Schicksal derer, die keine echten Gegner haben. Und deutlich ist das Blubbern des Versinkens im Sumpf zu vernehmen, auf dass die Archäopatholen sie einst in besseren Zeit wieder finden mögen, zur Warnung derer, die dann nach leben könnten – falls, und das ist alles andere als gewiss, sie dann noch lesen könnten.

Albert Einstein wird der Ausspruch nachgesagt, er wüsste nicht, mit welcher Art von Waffen der dritte Weltkrieg geführt würde. Es sei sich hingegen sicher, dass im Vierten Holzkeulen Verwendung fänden. Ich möchte dem hinzufügen, dass das nicht unbedingt auf Zerstörung der Welt beruhen müsse, sondern vielleicht eher daran liegen könnte, dass bis dahin keiner mehr Bedienungsanleitungen lesen kann und die Leute für alles andere als Holzkeulen schlichtweg zu blöd sind. Bereits heute befinden sich Universitäten auf dem Weg zurück zum Stadium vor dem Neandertaler, Holzkeulen erscheinen modernen Studenten durchaus angemessen.

Und so ereilten mich aufs Neue Leserhinweise auf Neuigkeiten aus dem (zu Unrecht) gelobten Land.

So habe ein Dozent an der U.PE., der University of Practically Everywhere – man sehe mir nach, dass ich nicht mit letzter Gewissheit zu entnehmen vermag, ob nur die Ortsangabe, oder auch der Vorgang an sich fiktiv sind, was aufgrund des hohen Unterhaltungswertes aber einerlei ist – in der Begrüßungsvorlesung für Anfänger selbigen in aller Deutlichkeit erläutert, dass sie ebenso dumm wie ihr Aufenthalt vergeblich ist. Ob echt oder fiktiv, ich verspüre eine tiefe Verbundenheit und Seelenverwandschaft mit dem ungenannten Dozenten. Prädikat lesenswert und zur Lektüre unbedingt empfohlen.

To begin, you do not belong here. You are spoiled, self-important, narcissistic, infantile brats, unprepared for college work, in which you likely have little interest. In the past, students of your age were almost adult and trying to learn how to be adults. You are different, alas. Your chief interest for four years will be in avoiding adulthood. This will be easy because you are less mature than earlier students, less prepared academically, and less ready for university.

In all likelihood you will waste these four years of your time and mine in this institution, which once was a university—during which you will take absurd courses of your own devising, courses having nothing to do with the purposes of education, of which you know nothing. You may already have discovered English 205, Batman and the Legacy of Patriarchy, and Sociology 202, Subliminal Oppression and the Frontiers of Resistance. You will study such nonsense in a spirit of tiresome self-adulation. I will have to babysit you during this sorry process. I do not know who is getting the worse of the deal.

Deutlich konkreter stellt sich dagegen dieser Aufsatz dar, der sich zwar auch studentischer Dummheit an beliebigen Orten annimmt, aber pars-pro-toto Yale examplarisch in den Vordergrund rückt. Es scheint, als halte auch Yale im Wettbewerb unter die dümmste unter den Universitäten wacker mit. Ein anderer Dozent beschreibt seine letzten Tage dort und die Erleichterung, dem Wahnsinn entkommen zu sein. Im Unterschied zum erstgenannten Artikel beschreibt er jedoch auch seinen Zusammenstoß mit akademischen Kollegen.

Watching my colleagues in this unfettered state of consciousness, I realized that they were about as committed to a robust exchange of ideas as North Korean secret policemen; like the spooks of Pyongyang, these aging professors were dedicated solely to protecting their own Hermit Kingdom from outsiders and preserving their rigid and uninterrupted way of life. I treated myself to an extra martini at lunch that day, knowing that I was on my way out of academia, and now truly free to begin seriously engaging in a life of the mind.

I thought of that eventful morning this weekend as I watched the video of the shenanigans unfurling at Yale. The gaggle of grown-up toddlers demanding to be babied by their professors aren’t some weird anomaly on an otherwise well-functioning Ivy League campus dedicated to the open-minded pursuit of knowledge; they’re the inevitable product of an intellectually and morally sclerotic system. We should welcome them, as they are here to remind us that the stories we’ve been telling ourselves for the past four decades—about our system of higher education, about our culture and the banners that it flies, about our civil society and its priorities—are, for the most part, false.

Der Autor stuft die Lage nicht als Problem, sondern als Symptom des Problems an, dass unsere Gesellschaft schon an sich ein Fehler war, und hält Universitäten für nichts geringeres als den schlichten Beweis schwerwiegenden Versagens, und begibt sich sogleich in dessen Analyse:

Bound together, these stories go something like this: American higher education, having sprung into life with a handful of small abbeys like Harvard or Yale that catered to the sons of the notable and privileged, soon began slouching toward equality, abandoning Greek and Latin for more modern, useful fare and admitting and instructing the sons—and, eventually, the daughters—of the middle classes. With the GI Bill, and the Higher Education Act of 1965, additional hundreds of thousands of Americans were ushered into lecture halls and classrooms at low or no cost and encouraged to bask in the light of knowledge and wisdom. Higher education, we believed, was itself a virtue that would bring about social equality. It was such a lovely story that few, if any, bothered asking any questions.

And yet, even as we were not wrestling with our convictions, they were, behind our backs, wrestling with us. As WWII drew to an end, less than 5 percent of Americans held bachelor’s degrees; in 2012, the number reached 30 percent, a historical high. The new throngs occupying the universities needed massive infrastructures to support them, which meant that a whole new class of people had to be trained and hired to teach. These men and women, tempted by modest salaries and a tenure system that promised unprecedented job security, soon erected empires that, like all large bureaucratic structures, were dedicated first and foremost to the self-preservation of the bureaucrats.

Nearly every organic development in American academia since the 1950s was designed to serve this dreary principle: Academic journals were set up to ensure that the anointed speak only to the anointed. Tenure committees sprang up to hire more like-minded folks—and squelch dissenters. Real diversity—not of the color of one’s skin but of the content of one’s character—was snuffed out, in the name of other kinds of diversity, which had no necessary connection to what went on in classrooms. The result was an agenda of anxiety that traced the fault lines of identity in everyone and found discontent everywhere.

By the time I entered college in the late 1990s, what passed for excellence, at least in the humanities, was learning to recite the secret language these fearful men and women had invented to keep the outside world at bay.

Damit geht eine fundamentale Änderung dessen einher, wofür man eine Universität hält: Nicht mehr als Ort des Wissens und der Forschungs, sondern als Selbsterhaltungssystem der Dummen und Unfähigen, mit denen man das, was man früher noch Universität nennen konnte, in gesellschaftlicher Verblendung angereichert hat. Und er beschreibt süffisant, das Grundprinzip schon früh verstanden und genutzt zu haben:

I started Tel Aviv University interested in philosophy, philology, and the classics; a few awkward papers into my first semester, I got the message and began playing the game of Professor Simon Says. Within weeks, I was the department’s darling: An inchoate rant about Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Lacan’s object petit a earned me an A+ merely for coupling pop culture detritus with obtuse theory, a task so simple it could, given the right stimulants, be completed in an afternoon without taxing the cognitive faculties too much. I followed it up with analyses of movies and shows and songs, always conjuring some fashionably muddle-minded thinker (Derrida! Bhabha! Butler!) and always making sure my analysis ended by ranting against some act of injustice perpetrated by the Man against the Others, be they gay or female or African or the victims of a particularly severe tree-nut allergy. A friend who went through the same system and gleaned the same insights amused both of us by writing a paper stating that Hollywood’s practice of only using living actors to portray murder victims revealed a deep-set bias against real dead people, whose deadness was being culturally appropriated by the living. My friend had meant the paper as a joke; it got him a teaching assistant’s job.

Frappierend die Realität, die jeder ihrer Persiflage spottet.

Daran habe sich, so der Autor, die Kommerzialisierung der Universitäten angeschlossen, die mit einem Ausverkauf der Qualität einhergegangen sei, und in der Folge Zweck, Ziel und Inhalt eines Studiums zersetzt haben:

These changes caught the tenured classes by surprise. They had always peddled two promises along with the inflated price of tuition: One was the ability to find a better job with your diploma than you would have without it, and the other was the privilege of learning deep secrets at the feet of the masters. The first promise was clearly defunct when a reasonably bright kid could pitch some venture capital firm on an idea for an app and leave the room with a check for $10 million. The second, too, was no longer viable: Promoted largely for their ability to impress their narrow circles of peers, most American professors have little ability to speak about meaningful things to any large numbers of people. In fact, they had come to see even teaching students within the university as a liability, something you do little of and only when there’s absolutely no other choice. At my former department, for example, nearly two-thirds of all classes were taught by adjunct professors, itinerant teachers—many of them still in graduate school—who were paid under $500 a month per class, which meant they had to teach many classes just to eat, and which also meant they could hardly afford to spend any time with students who needed their help and guidance. With nothing more to sell, with no way of competing, what would professors do to justify their miserable existence?

The answer was as familiar as it was dispiriting: Go radical. Political correctness, assumed to be as much a relic of the ’90s as Lilith Fair and plaid shirts, was resurrected with a vengeance. Detachment gave way to outrage. Critical was out; combative was in. Students, of course, took notice. Anyone graduating from my former department could’ve easily gone through four years of classwork without knowing that mankind had ever generated other ideas save for the quibblings of the post-modernists, post-colonialists, post-Marxists, and their ilk. Why read any book written by the perceived oppressors? Or, for that matter, why read a book, any book, when books themselves are simply yet another means of oppression?

Radikalität als Nahrung der Armen im Geiste, als Mittel der Wahl für Analphabeten, als Ersatzdroge für jene, die die Freuden der Intellektualität nie erreichen werden? Warum noch Lesen, wenn es günstiger und effektiver ist, das Lesen zu verdammen? Der Sieg der Quantität über die Qualität? Der Triumph der gewalttätigen Dummen über die unerreichbar Gebildeten?

Dem Leser ist fraglos die Metapher geläufig, welche besagt, dass jener, welchem nur der Hammer vertraut ist, zwangsläufig alles als Nagel erkenne. Auch an dieser Kerbe macht sich der Autor trefflich zu schaffen:

And when you’re taught to see oppression and injustice everywhere, why wouldn’t you see it first and foremost in the figures of authority closest to you? When you are trained to see everything as an aggression, how would you know to tell the innocuous from the truly menacing? And when you’re praised for pointing out the vicissitudes of victimhood, why not play the victim, and whine endlessly about your pain, instead of doing your homework and going to class?

Freilich rechnet der Autor nicht den Studenten die Schuld für ihre Unfähigkeit zu, sondern stellt dies denen in Rechnung, die die Torheit zu verantworten haben, Universitäten mit untauglichem Material zu befüllen:

There’s hardly a point in faulting these kids for trampling on academic freedom or free speech; these were never their values, nor the values of their teachers. By stomping their feet, these useful young idiots are telling their elders something true and valuable: Your time’s up.

Und so sage ich Euch: Bereuet! Das Ende ist nah! Zu retten ist da nichts mehr.