The World We Want

by on September 13, 2019 · 2 comments

in California, Education, Environment, San Diego

The University of California Has Been Shaped by Market Value

By Niall Twohig (Originally posted Sept. 13, 2019)

One thing I noticed in my decade studying and teaching at UCSD is that we—students, teachers, and our academic programs—rarely define the principles we want to live by in our university and society. By principles, I’m referring to what critic George Monbiot calls a “description of the world as we would like to see it.”

I see a risk in not defining our principles. If we do not describe the world we would like to see, we risk accepting the world we see as the only possible world. We risk accepting what is valued in that world as what is most valuable to us.

What is valued most in our current world is market value. This value is determined by how much profit one makes when one sells one’s product on the market. All that matters in the marketplace is whether you get back more than you put in. The more you get back, the greater the value.

Over the last four decades, our “public” institutions have been reshaped by market value. The University of California is no exception. Squeezed by economic and political forces beyond its walls, the university has been rebuilt as a for profit corporation masquerading as public. As such, it follows a corporate model that prioritizes profit over people, brand over reality, self-interest over the public good, materialism over humanism. (To see where our university’s values lie just compare a classroom in Mandeville Hall to a classroom in Rady School of Management. And if you say, “ok, ok, but they’re building a brand new arts and humanities neighborhood,” then you might take a few seconds to compare the salary of a Literature professor who has taught for forty years with a new hire in Rady)

In this context, we — students, teachers, and our academic programs — internalize market value. We let its standards and trends determine our objectives and how we fulfill them. We wear ourselves down and wind ourselves up to produce papers, books, research studies, and new apps that will make us marketable. We become competitors rather than collaborators, passive consumers of knowledge rather than active agents equipped with knowledge. We become insecure box-checkers who fill out rubric after rubric, midterm after midterm, research grant after research grant to justify our existence to the gatekeepers who own the house.

But, as the young climate rebel Greta Thunberg reminds us: our house is on fire.

In addition to the wildfires, drought, and super hurricanes that climate change has brought to our hometowns, students and faculty face food and housing insecurity. We face debt and the precarious nature of contract labor. For working communities, and communities of color, these crises are amplified. These communities have long faced economic abandonment; toxic air, water, and soil quality; food and housing scarcity; racist policing and carceral systems; inadequate healthcare; underresourced schooling and political exclusion. It’s no wonder that folks from these communities are underrepresented in higher education. Social systems are stacked against them. When they defy the odds, they find that their community wisdom has negative value in the whitewashed and elitist marketplace of ideas.

You might stop me here and point out all the good the university and its innovative faculty and students are doing.

I don’t deny that.

But as long as the university adheres to the value of an amoral market, its solutions—to the climate crisis, to food insecurity, to housing shortages, to lack of diversity—will remain systemically ineffective at their best and morally bankrupt at their worst.

Perhaps these solutions will give us momentary relief. Perhaps they will give our chancellor reason to brag to wealthy donors. Yet, as deep as these solutions may seem, they do not change the fact that our university invests in companies that profit from ecological destruction and warfare, companies that raise the price on medicines that our taxes helped develop, banks whose lending and speculative investing led to recession and housing crises, predatory companies that buy up our debt and charge us exorbitant interest, financial wizards who gamble away student tuition and fees to fill their client’s coffers, marketing teams that sell students on the entrepreneurial dream.

To achieve deeper solutions, we must divest our university, not only from market players, but from a market system that sacrifices our planet, and its most vulnerable people and species, for profit. It will be very hard to divest from that system. It will require a large-scale social movement, one connected to working class communities and progressive politicians beyond our university.

For now, we can divest ourselves and our programs from the market values that have trickled down through the neoliberal bureaucracy, from the corporations, to us.

We can do so by defining our principles and then acting from them.

Those principles can define what we study and teach. They can help us to craft our learning objectives and the problems we pose to ourselves and our students. They can set the pace, and pauses, we take as we work to achieve our objectives. They can define social life on campus: who we invite to speak, the events we plan, who or what we protest, how we speak to each other in the classrooms, dining halls, and streets.

I know what some might be thinking: “Well, it’s easy for you to point a finger from the safe distance of writing. What are you actually doing?” I’ve had this same thought this last year. I’ve asked the same question of myself. And if you’re thinking this, I agree with your criticism. It’s too easy to end my critique on the page. These words are not enough, especially when our house is on fire. Critique must turn into praxis.

I made a step toward doing so with my students this quarter. After discussing climate change for two quarters—after examining the forces that set our house on fire and the ideologues who profit from the flames—we defined our principles. We defined the world we want. We did so, not for a grade, not to sound smart, not to publish it here. We did so to give ourselves a moral compass that we will use to guide our actions, to direct us beyond market value. What emerged astounded me – this, from a bunch of millennials who are supposedly narcissistic and apathetic.

On behalf of these students, I offer our compass here in the hopes that our principles inspire you to articulate your own. Maybe we’ll find common ground in the process.

We want a future where…

there are no wars.
poverty is eliminated.
humans can peacefully coexist with each other and nature.
people hold hands with each other (and it won’t be weird).
the earth can flourish forever.
we can hear nature singing.
the sky is blue, the air fresh, and people do not worry about climate catastrophe.
industries use renewable energies.
nations cooperate with one another.
everyone has light in their hearts.
people prioritize the common good.
there is no more rape, sexual assault, and where women can go out alone at night.
every morning I won’t wake up feeling fear.
every person receives love and happiness.
pain and disease are minimized.
people will not die meaninglessly.

We want to live in a society where…

we see everybody as brothers and sisters.
people get along and don’t want to hurt each other.
making money is not the most important thing on people’s minds.
everyone has a right to well-being and dignity.
people treasure the environment and peace.
relationships are more important than money and material things.
people actively work to address social problems.
mutual trusting relationships are formed.
justice is our most important guide.
gender equality is real, and there is no discrimination against LGBT communities.
there is no discrimination against people of color.
both poor and rich have equal opportunities.
individuals can pursue their happiness without hurting others.

We want to study in a university…

that teaches us how to be a human being.
where scientific knowledge is balanced out with humanities and ethics.
that is filled with inspiration and hope.
can provide students with practical skills and a sense of agency.
where students are not stressed and learn with passion.
where students are not just struggling for GPA but also deeper concerns.
that is affordable and accessible for all.
where people care about themselves and those around them.
that provides space for communicating about what is really urgent.
that teaches students to dream freely and act practically.
that does environmentally friendly research.
that doesn’t just focus on academic achievement, but on making us thoughtful people.

We hope to use the tools we gain from university to…

build a better world and protect that world.
inform people that the Earth is our only home and we must treat it, and its people, right.
give back to society and the university.
satisfy personal dreams while contributing to the whole society.
achieve for ourselves while making the world a better place.
find the time and enthusiasm to help communities in need.
erase misunderstanding, defeat lies, and enlighten others.
contribute to our family, our community, and society.
engineer things that would transform the world for the better.
correct the mistakes of the previous generations.
inform ordinary people of the truth of science.
build a world where people don’t get lost in the pace.
leave our names in history for the good work we did.

We want to work in a place where…

we enjoy the work.
we can see trees everywhere.
everyone feels like smiling.
everyone loves their jobs.
everyone is equal.
we are not hurting each other.
we can make our family happy.
discrimination does not exist.
colleagues can become friends.
people cooperate harmoniously.
people can express themselves.
profit is not the only driving force.
our basic human rights are protected.
trust and depend on each other.
there isn’t any racism.

We hope to get the following in return for our work…

happiness, health, and a group of coworkers as friends.
respect and understanding from others.
a decent life and a real feeling of achievement.
a safe and sustainable society.
decent pay, rest, relaxation.
stable life with sustainable development.
an impact on future engineers who want to help the planet.
hands on experience and a sense of belonging.

We want a government that…

genuinely cares about all people.
serves and protects people.
plays a leading role in protecting our Earth.
is effective and helpful without abusing its power.
is concerned with the mutual-benefit of nations.
allows everyone to share their perspective.
prioritizes the interests of common people rather than wealthy ones.
ensures everyone one has food and shelter.
speaks the truth.
truly listens to our voices rather than the voices of the wealthy.|
is afraid of us rather than us being afraid of it.
allows us to access information in unrestricted ways.

We want politicians that…

cooperate for the common good of human beings.
can put economic growth aside.
put public interest above corporate interest.
think as citizens think and represent their needs.
improve the healthcare system.
impassioned in making a better world.
communicate with the public to make better policies.
aren’t controlled by wealthy ideologues.
care about the commons, not just their own profits or power.
are approachable and that we can turn to when we have troubles.

We want an economic system that…

benefits both humans and the environment.
is fair to everyone / balances the needs of different people.
doesn’t allow companies to monopolize or mistreat the commons.
has a sustainable relationship with nature.
solves climate change rather than fueling it.
gives people access to necessary resources.
weighs human life more heavily than money.
slows the competition down a bit.
finds a balance with Mother Nature and Her creatures.
uplifts people out of poverty and poorly paid work.

We want to consume food, media, and products that…

won’t deceive us.
doesn’t do harm to the environment, our bodies, our minds.
made from healthy materials.
are healthy and affordable.
are cost-effective and made with a transparent production process.
won’t make us guilty for the price-tag of consumption.
were produced without unfair labor.
are not produced at the expense of the environment.

We want to get the things we consume from…

honest and loving producers.
the earth.
diverse people involved in production.
producers concerned with the quality of their products and the impact on the environment.
ethical companies or cooperatives.
people who have a sincere care for our society.
people who aren’t polluting our environment.
shops near our homes.
producers and sellers who are not monopolizing resources.

We want to form relationships…

where there is no need to wear masks.
where we can share our genuine inner voices without getting unreasonable attacks.|
that last a long time.
where no one wants to hurt each other.
that refresh us.
that are healthy and happy and make us better human beings.
where everyone knows to keep appropriate distance between himself and others.
that are mutually beneficial.
that help me see different viewpoints that give me deeper perspective on life.
with nature and its creatures that never treats them as a sacrifice.
cultivate a mutual happiness.

We want a community that can help us…

become better individuals.
grow peacefully and learn from each other.
reach our goals while we help others reach theirs.
be aware of the crises facing the people.
link to people who are in need.
grow as a united generation.
spread our love and care.
meet our basic needs.
if we lose everything.


Niall Twohig received his Ph.D. from the Department of Literature. He taught in the Analytical Writing Program for the past three years. He dedicates this essay to the AWP teachers, especially Karen Gocsik and Ronald Miller, who maintain an abiding love for students and a firm conviction that writing can liberate writer and reader.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

micporte September 15, 2019 at 7:35 am

perfect, wonderful, well-written, well thought out, poignant, ben franken-ish-, thank you, if you wanna impact , put all this in a Netflix video , they are out there looking for content… not a joke… dude, we all want the same thing, media it…scream it!!!, liberate us!!!! with your vision, you got me…


Micporte September 15, 2019 at 7:39 am

ps: we are taking about “the masses” here… be a good Shepard…


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