The Last Free Student in Corporate Academia (or TLFSICA)

By Geeti Das and Johann Jaeckel

The last free student in corporate academia is excited.  Her university is hosting a conference on Free Inquiry at Risk.  Being some sort of a Weberian-ideal type of the last free student in corporate academia, she decides to contribute a piece of her writing for the conference.  For the sake of a clear arrangement, and out of academic opportunism, we will refer to the last free student in corporate academia as TLFSICA – even though she strongly rejects any acronymization of her identity.

We know that, since she has just started her Ph.D program, TLFSICA is concerned about her standing within the university.  So, for obvious reasons, she prefers to write the article in an impersonal tone.  Moreover, she thinks it would be nice to keep it scientific.  Hence, the last free student in corporate academia decides to do some research, that is, to talk to her friends to try to find out what academic freedom means.

Just having entered the university building, standing in line for the elevators, TLFSICA meets the exchange student from Germany, the one with the tattoo and the big smile.  “A-ha, academic freedom,” he says.  “Did you know that the Germans invented it?”  TLFSICA tells him of course, she knows all about Humbolt and that she finds it odd that concepts like “Wunderkind” and “Blitzkrieg” are better known in the U.S. than in the good old German “Bildungsideal”.  He offers to show her some other German inventions on Friday night.  She accepts his invitation and exits the elevator.

We cannot tell you what department TLFSICA is in; she is in every department and in no discipline.  We can tell you, however, that on an unspecified floor of an unspecified department, she runs into the gentle red-headed girl with the iBook and the soy latte who asks her, “Where are you going sweetheart, looking so fly?” TLFSICA tells her, “I am looking for academic freedom.”  The gentle redhead is very fond of academic freedom.  Actually, being all about conscious consumption, she strongly believes in spending her parents’ money for her education at an institution with a longstanding tradition of critical inquiry.  TLFSICA is somewhat perplexed that freedom has to be paid for with money.  However, she keeps this thought to herself and instead asks the gentle redhead out on a date to a vegan organic macrobiotic sweatshop-free restaurant in the neighborhood.

So far, TLFSICA cannot make much sense of what people have told her.  But she knows just the thing to help her figure it out.  So TLFSICA goes to the courtyard of the undergraduate college, hoping to score some.  As she lights up, TLFSICA’s dissertation chair walks by and tells her, “Finish your grant proposal by Sunday.  If you make some minor changes in your research question and your methodology, you will have a good chance of getting some external funding.”  While TLFSICA tries to process the information she has just received, her professor continues, “I really hope you are focusing on what should be your first priority, don’t let yourself get distracted by non-academic relationships.  See you tomorrow in my office. No, actually, could you just write me an email?”  Now, TLFSICA is more confused than ever, and the weed is not helping.

A little later, she finds herself in what used to be the university’s library.  It is still called a library but for some reason it contains very few books.  Given the chemically and metaphysically-altered circumstances, our student feels the urge to reflect on empty signifiers and states of being and non-being for a while.  She gets rudely interrupted by the guy who still calls himself a Communist.  He has heard about TLFSICA’s project and feels he has a lot of knowledge to share.

“Did you know that the ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force?  The class that has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it.  The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas, hence of the relationships which make the one class the ruling one, therefore, the ideas of its dominance.  The individuals composing the ruling class possess, among other things, consciousness, and therefore think.  Insofar, therefore, as they rule as a class and determine the extent and compass of an epoch, it is self-evident that they do this in its whole range, hence, among other things, rule also as thinkers, as producers of ideas, and regulate the production and distribution of the ideas of their age, thus their ideas are the ruling ideas of the epoch.  By the way, would you like to go out for a drink tonight?”

By now TLFSICA has a major headache.  She gets what the guy who still calls himself a Communist is saying, but it just isn’t sexy to her.  She refuses the invitation and decides to go home instead.

On the train, TLFSICA turns on her iPod, which contains a seven-hour “Best of the 80s” playlist, and tries to get her mind off things when suddenly, there it is!  The answer she has been looking for all along:

“All we have to do now is take these lies and make them true somehow.  All we have to see is that I don’t belong to you and you don’t belong to me.  YEAH!  YEAH!”

***


Geeti and Johann were born in a class on the political economy of development about two years ago.  Ever since, they keep learning about all kinds of things from each other, such as useless vocabulary, the deeper meaning of the Big Mac Index, and the riven-ness of the field. What field? All fields. They like gin & tonic. They don’t like Bob Kerrey – with or without the lime.