00:30 GMT02 December 2020
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    Is Academia a Cult?

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    Academia has compared to being a cult, in that higher education can be isolated, insular and self-focused, as well as exceptionalist. This program looks into this claim.

    Dr. Andrew Marzoni, who is a New York-based writer and editor, who was a member of a religious cult himself before he attained a PhD in English from the University of Minnesota in 2015, joins the program.

    Dr. Marzoni describes a cult as being a system of social control, but he says that there is more to it than that: "there are certain qualities that I associate with cults, both from my own personal experience, with them and also from the research that I have done. I think that cults tend to be isolated, insular institutions, which are self-focused, and in that, they are often exceptionalism, self-righteous in that they feel that they are somehow superior. With that, they are often evangelical, and very interested in getting other people to join. Structurally, they tend to be hierarchical and absolutist…"

    Host John Harrison argues that this description could fit many large corporations, with a strict hierarchical control system. Dr. Marzoni comments: "I think that you are right to an extent, I think that corporations can function as cults as well, and often do, but I think what makes academia different is the very sense of being different… It's funny how for many years, for decades, academics have been moaning about corporate deprivation of the university system. This is expressed in a number of ways. But those very academics who bemoan this have become largely impotent when it comes to fighting corporate interventions into universities, and universities are often more dysfunctional than many corporations which have been held accountable by members of the public to reform, and to answer to contemporary norms and expectations, whereas the myth of the ivory tower has still been able to persist."

    It is difficult to get a job in academia, perhaps more difficult than people realize. Dr. Marzoni comments: "…When I was at graduate school, I was aware of the crisis; that there are not enough jobs to withstand the production of new Ph.Ds. I nevertheless had the expectation that maybe I would get a job in academia, but in any case, I would have spent many years studying something I was interested in. However, I think what surprised me both in graduate school and in my time as a post-doctoral fellow, was the extent to which nobody really seems to be doing anything to address this problem; at the institutional level, at the departmental level, even at the personal level. New PhDs are at all-time highs, in many disciplines, while jobs are at all-time lows, that's been the case for many years and it is only getting worse. Berkley reported a few years ago that 25% of adjuncts (non-tenured lecturers) are on public assistance that is in the US specifically, in terms of welfare assistance, something like that. They usually make less than $5000 a year per class that they teach, and 62% of adjuncts make less than $20,000 a year. This is happening at the same time as fees are skyrocketing and legacy schools like Yale and NYU are continuing to build luxury campuses in places like Singapore and Abu Dhabi, and China…"

    Host John Harrison asks if this is all intentional, to keep universities in order? Dr. Marzoni says that this is a possibility, "I certainly harbored similar thoughts before, and this comes back to the corporatization of the universities. The scholars who are bemoaning this are letting the university administrations roll over them, and I think that the tenure system functions in that."

    As far as the future goes, Dr. Marzoni says: "I have spent my entire life either in university or in intellectual pursuits, and I really do believe that a functional education system is a necessity. I think that there are certain things that the universities can do, such as including statistics about adjunct labour on university rating systems, I think that there are many tenured professors who are not actually teaching or even present on campus, but are collecting very large salaries. They could retire, the faculties could unionize, I think that there are a whole lot of things that could happen… We should look at ways to de-institutionalize the universities."

    We'd love to get your feedback at radio@sputniknews.com

    Cult, universities, academia, education, society
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