Since we’re in the interregnum between “sign up for health insurance” time and “eat yourself into a stupor” time, it’s appropriate to notice something about pastoral power and our healthcare system. First, we’ll go back in time. Foucault proposes that pastoral power under medieval Christianity:
“Gave rise to an art of conducting, directing, leading, guiding, taking in hand, and manipulating men, an art of monitoring them and urging them on step by step, an art with the function of taking charge of men collectively and individually throughout their life and every moment of their existence.” (Security, Territory, Population (=STP), 165)
He then urges that this is not the same as political power, the power used to educate children, nor is it persuasion (“in short, the pastorate does not coincide with politics, pedagogy, or rhetoric” (164)). The pastorate does not disappear with the rise of modern power forms, as he emphasizes in a couple of places (STP 148, 150). Indeed, he makes a much stronger claim: “I think this is where we should look for the origin, the point of formation, of crystallization, the embryonic point of the governmentality whose entry into politics … marks the threshold of the modern state” (165).
In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.
My warriors, after Paris, much work remains to be done. But we have many new recruits. They are infidels, but they have to come to our aid, they will do our work with us. They will ensure that the Caliphate will find new capitals, that it will spread from sea to shining sea. They will turn upon the Muslims in their midst, the devout, and the apostates, those Muslims who--for whatever reason--do not grow their beards, whose women do not cover their heads, whose children do not memorize the Koran, who do not pray five times a day, who study in schools where the Koran is not taught, who do not fast in the holy month, who pledge allegiance to infidel flags. They will turn back refugees from their shores; they will prosecute their own citizens. They will drive them back into our fold. We shall welcome those who show contrition for their desertion; for the rest, apostasy means death.
Between the anvil of the New Crusaders and the hammer of our armies, the apostates, those who left Muslim lands and vainly sought a better life elsewhere--believing foolishly in the propaganda and lies of secular written constitutions with their pathetic Bill of Rights, and in mock-revolutionary declarations of liberty, equality, and fraternity--will be crushed. They will find no new homes; they will be turned back from the shores that were to welcome them. Those Muslims who imagined they could live in peaceful co-existence with infidels will find that there will be no such peace for them. They will be blamed for our work; they will be punished for it. Among them, we will find yet more soldiers.
Truly it is by Allah's Grace that those who imagine themselves the New Crusaders are instead our Jihadi brothers. Such is Allah's Infinite Wisdom that our enemies become our soldiers. They speak of waging war against us but first they will wage war against themselves. They are termites who nibble at their own foundations; we need only direct them from afar.
Allah is Great. Victory will be ours. Welcome the New Crusaders.
As is being widely reported, Steven Salaita has settled with UIUC, which has agreed to pay him $875,000 (some of which will resolve his legal fees). The press release from the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has represented Prof. Salaita, is here. A bit more detail about the trustees' meeting where the settlement was approved can be found here.
Prof. Salaita has not been reappointed to the faculty at UIUC as a result of this settlement. This is certainly disappointing, especially for his supporters at UIUC. But in assessing the significance of this outcome, it should be borne in mind that it is apparently rare, even when cases reach a litigated conclusion, for judges to force employers to reinstate employees who have been wrongfully terminated. The fact that Prof. Salaita has received significant compensation does constitute, then, as his attorney points out, "an implicit admission of the strength of Professor Salaita’s constitutional and contractual claims."
We should, and I certainly do, offer Prof Salaita congratulations for the vindication he has received and thank him for being willing to fight for a number of principles that are of great importance to all of us working and studying in the academy. I also think it is important to acknowledge the many faculty at UIUC who have supported Prof. Salaita, borne the burden of the academic boycott, and all too often seen their departments and programs suffer significant retaliation. One would certainly hope that, as part of UIUC's efforts to have the AAUP censure lifted, it will move to ameliorate the damage that has been done to its departments and programs, especially the American Indian Studies program.
Finally, for those who have questions regarding the status of the philosophers' boycott in light of this settlement, John Protevi has made the following suggestion, which I endorse:
While I was not in any sense the "director" or what have you of the philosopher's boycott, I was a catalyst, so I think I should say something here.
Unfortunately, there was some inconsistency in my statements: the letter sent to UIUC and BOT officials said "until Professor Salaita is reinstated" whereas many of the blog posts which alerted people to the boycott effort said "until an equitable resolution is reached." On reflection the latter standard seems the right one to me, but people should make up their own minds here.
Update: Kirk Sanders, Chair of the Department of Philosophy at UIUC, has released a statement regarding the Boycott, which you can read here.
Update 2: There is a statement calling on the AAUP not to lift its censure of UIUC until some of the problems at the institution which remain unaddressed by the settlement are resolved. Those interested in signing may add their names here.
Update 3: Salaita himself has a long piece in The Nation, reflecting both on the significance of this settlement and articulating his sense of what remains to be done at UIUC, throughout the larger academic institution, and in the broader political sphere.
Update 4: Corey Robin posts a useful corrective to those inclined to see something wrong with Salaita's decision to settle the case—which, again, I wholeheartedly endorse.
Many years ago, I taught the inaugural edition of my Philosophy of Welding seminar. I began the semester by introducing some of the problems that would hold our attention during the semester: What is welding? How is it distinguished from other activities that claim to be welding? Is there a distinctive being-in-the-world characteristic of the welder and his tools? What makes a welded work beautiful? How should such works be shared? In the political economy of welding how is value created and sustained? Do we have a moral obligation to weld? And so on.
My reading list for the class was not excessively ambitious: I stuck to some of the usual suspects--Heidegger and some of the works of the Shipyard Collective, for instance--and concentrated on a few key passages in each, hoping close attention to them would repay dividends in the form of rich class discussion. Early in the semester, I began to notice that one young student did the readings diligently, came to class prepared, and engaged vigorously in all ensuing discussions.
This was no idle interest; no lofty, disengaged, from-on-high tackling of philosophical problems. This young man was in the trenches, on a mission. And it was quite clear what it was: defending--nay, aggressively speaking up for--welding and welders. He had air-tight definitions for welding: necessary and sufficient conditions for it neatly marked its domain off from the impostors clamoring to be let in; he offered an at-times-almost-mystical description of the relationship of the welder to the welded (and the tools that mediated that relationship); he spoke movingly of the affective responses that welded works provoked in him, deftly bringing in Kantian notions of the sublime; he offered a creative theory for how welded works could be copyrighted and welders granted patents for their work; he described the outlines of a political economy for welding that would allow welding to continue to generate surplus value in a world increasingly dominated by the intangible and the immaterial; and most movingly of all, he offered a passionate, stirring, argument whose fascinating conclusion was that we have a duty to weld, a moral inclination that must be obeyed.
It was on this last point that we passionately disagreed. Even though I recognized the importance of welding, I could not bring myself to accept this argument. Surely, one could assign a respectable position to welding in our hierarchy of valued activities without taking the final move to make our engagement something that acquired normative weight. But this young man would not budge. Welding, as an activity, had normative implications; it gave our lives meaning and value; it was the tide that would raise all boats. It was not the cement of the universe, but it was the tool that brought the fabric of space-time together.
By semester's close, our disagreements had grown sharper. When it ended, it was clear I had lost my student. My failure--and the rest of the class'--to accept and internalize his arguments seemed to have turned him off philosophy altogether. I do not know what had so animated his passion for welding, but it was clear and distinct, an important motivational force in his psychological dispositions.
Several folks in last night's Republican presidential debate, including Marco Rubio, apparently decided to use philosophy as a foil for some of their typically ridiculous claims about education. In response, lots of people are citing an average salary for people working as professional philosophers — sometimes attributed to the Bureau of Labor Statistics — north of 70k, much more than 'welders.'
I would like to take this opportunity to ask folks to think about what they're doing. I am, and the rest of you should be, extremely dubious of statistics saying folks working as academic philosophers are making $70k on average. There is, to be blunt, no way such numbers —if they are being correctly reported — are being arrived at without massively undercounting continent faculty working at multiple schools, all technically 'part time,' and almost surely making 'welder' salaries or less. None.
At very least, let's not gleefully paper over the economic reality of many members of the profession just to score points against grandstanding right wing politicians. That would be to continue one of the worst patterns of the current academy, namely that of throwing many of us, and the most vulnerable of us, under the bus in order to reinforce the narrative that there isn't a problem with the economics of our profession — a position which is flatly wrong and only serves the interests of the most privileged subset of professional academics.
This is shameless self-promotion, but I've just posted "Equitable Biopolitics: What Federal School Desegregation Cases Can Teach us about Foucault, Law and Biopower" to SSRN. This is my SPEP paper from 2014, and I've referenced it in a few blog posts here. So here it (finally!) is. The abstract is:
The present paper looks at the intersection of juridical and biopower in the U.S. Supreme Court’s school desegregation cases. These cases generally deploy “equitable relief” as a relay between the juridicially-specified injury of segregation and the biopolitical mandates of integration. This strategy is evident in the line of cases running from Brown to Swann v. Mecklenburg, and has its antecedents in pre-war economic regulation. Later cases have attempted to close this relay, confining equality and rejecting claims of equitable relief. Study of the school desegregation cases thus both shows an example of the intersection of biopower and law (which has been difficult on Foucauldian grounds), as an example of the biopolitical race war that Foucault identifies in Society must be Defended.
Consider these sentences, drawn from influential works of neuroscience (quoted in Figdor forthcoming, p. 2):
A resonator neuron prefers inputs having frequencies that resonate with the
frequency of its subthreshold oscillations (Izhikevich 2007).
In preferring a slit speciﬁc in width and orientation this cell [with a complex
receptive ﬁeld] resembled certain cells with simple ﬁelds (Hubel and Wiesel
1962, p. 115).
It is the response properties of the last class of units [of cells recorded via
electrodes implanted in a rat’s dorsal hippocampus] which has led us to postulate that the rat’s hippocampus functions as a spatial map. ... These 8 units
then appear to have preferred spatial orientations (O’Keefe and Dostrovsky
1971, p. 172).
These are completely standard, unremarkable claims of the type that neuroscientists have been making for decades. Figdor suggests that it's best to interpret these claims as literal truths. The verbs in these sentences work like many other verbs do -- "twist", "crawl", "touch" -- with literal usage across a wide range of domains, including organic and inorganic, part and whole.
Figdor's view sounds bizarre, perhaps. People literally have preferences. And rats. Maybe frogs. Not trees (despite 22,000 Google hits for "trees prefer", such as "Ash trees prefer moist, well-draining soil for optimum growth"). Definitely not neurons, most people would say.
One natural way to object to Figdor's view is to suggest that the language of neurons "preferring" is metaphorical rather than literal. I can see how that might be an attractive first thought. Another possibility worth considering is that maybe there are two senses of "prefer" at work -- a high-grade one for human beings, a thin one for neurons.
I’ve just been promoted to (junior)* full professor in Groningen, and while I’m still duly enjoying the accompanying feeling of achievement and recognition, it got me thinking about how I got here. It does not take much to conclude that, while I've worked incredibly hard for this, I was also *extremely* lucky. I know countless people who work just as hard as I do (or more), and who are as good as I am at what they do (or better), and yet do not get similar professional recognition. It takes an incredible amount of luck and, yes, privilege, for things to work out. So let me comment on two kinds of luck that may play a role in one’s professional development.
The first kind is simply the luck to have been dealt rather generous cards in life. While I am a woman in a male-dominated field, and while I had to overcome hurdles related to coming from the ‘periphery’ of academic action (originally from Brazil, and then developing my career in the Netherlands, which is ok but frankly not Top of the Pops), for the rest I’ve been extremely privileged. My parents were both academics (my mother still is), so in terms of academic support at home I was particularly well served. For a number of reasons, I also never had to worry about economical hardship and financial stability, and thus I could choose the risk of an academic career without having to worry whether one day I’d have no food on my plate. And, last but not least, I am white, not differently abled, cis, and I fit reasonably well within certain stereotypical standards of beauty.
Let me refer to this kind of luck as privilege-luck, and it is still a matter of luck because I might just as well have been born in different circumstances, and things might have been very different. One way in which privilege-luck manifests itself very conspicuously is with the so-called ‘pedigree’ phenomenon; depending on where you go to school (both undergraduate and graduate), your career will develop in very different ways. But we all know very well that the school you end up going to is almost entirely determined by the kind of socio-economical background you can fall back on.
As Melinda Cooper notes (recall here), one of the reasons Gary Becker – as opposed to other neoliberal theorists – was interesting to Foucault because of his emphasis on microeconomics, particularly the quotidian institutions through which micropower functions, such as the family. At the same time, Becker’s human capital theory has become increasingly important in neoliberal constructions of human nature. In a late essay, Becker applies himself to health economics. The result, I think, offers a very clear demonstration of neoliberal thinking and how it works nearly inexorably to distract from social problems, generally by constructing them as individual problems and ignoring the social determinants of an individual’s situation.
I recently joined Twitter and uploaded some quick attempts to sum up what has been happening with job ads on PhilJobs this year compared to a couple of past years. I noticed, first, that there are fewer job ads this year so far than in previous years, at least on PhilJobs (with some nice caveats provided in comments here). Second, looking at first AOS, the most sought-out area of specialization this year differs from previous years. While in my initial tweet on this I said that value theory appeared better off than other areas of specialization this year, that was based on a mistake. (You can check out the Excel file I used for 2 and 3 if you want to help me identify other potential mistakes. 1 is based on PhilJobs searches, not a csv file.) In terms of percentages, all areas of specialization are down this year since open searches are up, relative to last year. I take this increase in open searches to be a good thing, in terms of potentially increasing the intellectual diversity of philosophy, but I am interested in what others think about this. Third, if you look at the full AOS listing for job ads, certain words are more frequent this year than you might expect, given the first AOS listing, such as "science." Finally, if you look at the first-reported AOS of the bulk of the placed candidates in the APDA database, the AOS balance is different yet again (favoring LEMM over history and traditions, for instance). (In the future, I can break this down by TT placement year, but I didn't have time to do that for this post.) These are initial numbers, and the season just started, but I think this is a space worth watching. Here are some numbers and images (with 2015 highlighted in yellow):
In her contribution to recent the Vatter/Lemm-edited collection of essays on biopolitics, Melinda Cooper argues that Foucault’s work on neoliberalism needs to be read in the context of his interest in the Iranian revolution. If she’s right, this stands current complaints about Foucault’s engagement with neoliberalism on its head. The standard complaint about the work on biopolitics is that Foucault ends up supporting (deliberately or otherwise) neoliberalism. The merits of that claim have been debated ad nauseam, particularly in light of the Zamora book last year, and I have no interest in revisiting them here (plus, Vatter’s paper in the same book does a great job on the topic, and I think he ups the bar considerably for future discussions). Cooper’s paper is of interest because she makes what is essentially the opposite claim: Foucault was so disturbed by the general diffusion of the oikos into the polis that defines neoliberalism (and really classical liberalism, too) that he found the Iranian revolution interesting precisely because it focused on restoring some sort of classic oikonomia. There’s thus two main steps to the argument in its most condensed form: (a) The Iranian revolution was premised on getting women out of the public sphere after Shah Pahlevi introduced a number of reforms that greatly expanded their integration into the full economy; and (b) Foucault thought that it would be a good thing if there was some sort of restoration of the law of the household as a bulwark against neoliberalism.
The new op-ed editor Juliet Lapidos is behind this trend. Encourage Juliet by sharing the LA Times philosophy links widely and by sending the LA Times your best op-ed queries. It would be terrific if this trend could stick and we could have another major U.S. newspaper that regularly publishes philosophers!
45 years ago, Michael Jackson and his troupe of brothers famously claimed that counting is easy peasy. But how easy is it really? (We’ll leave aside the matter of the simplicity of A B C and do re mi for present purposes!)
Counting and basic arithmetic operations are often viewed as paradigmatic cases of ‘easy’ mental operations. It might seem that we are all ‘born’ with the innate ability for basic arithmetic, given that we all seem to engage in the practice of counting effortlessly. However, as anyone who has cared for very young children knows, teaching a child how to count is typically a process requiring relentless training. The child may well know how to recite the order of numbers (‘one, two, three…’), but from that to associating each of them to specific quantities is a big step. Even when they start getting the hang of it, they typically do well with small quantities (say, up to 3), but things get mixed up when it comes to counting more items. For example, they need to resist the urge to point at the same item more than once in the counting process, something that is in no way straightforward!
The later Wittgenstein was acutely aware of how much training is involved in mastering the practice of counting and basic arithmetic operations. (Recall that he was a schoolteacher for many years in the 1920s!) Indeed, counting and adding objects can be described as a specific and rather peculiar language game which must be learned by training, and which raises all kinds of philosophical questions pertaining to what it is exactly that we are doing when we count things. Perhaps my favorite passage in the whole of the Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics is #37 in part I:
Reason is...the simple power of improvement; or, more properly speaking, of discerning truth. Every individual is in this respect a world in itself. More or less may be conspicuous in one being than another; but the nature of reason must be the same in all...can that soul be stamped with the heavenly image, that is not perfected by the exercise of its own reason? Yet outwardly ornamented with elaborate care, and so adorned to delight man...the soul of woman is not allowed to have this distinction...But, dismissing these fanciful theories, and considering woman as a whole...the inquiry is whether she has reason or not. If she has, which, for a moment, I will take for granted, she was not created merely to be the solace of man...
Into this error men have, probably, been led by viewing education in a false light; not considering it as the first step to form a being advancing gradually towards perfection; but only as a preparation for life.
The power of generalizing ideas, of drawing comprehensive conclusions from individual observations, is the only acquirement, for an immortal being, that really deserves the name of knowledge. Merely to observe, without endeavouring to account for any thing, may (in a very incomplete manner) serve as the common sense of life; but where is the store laid up that is to clothe the soul when it leaves the body?
In the second para quoted above, Wollstonecraft, after asserting the existence of reason in women--via a theological claim--goes on to establish a normative standard for education: its function is not purely vocational but also a spiritual and moral one. The task of education is the development of reason, the business of bringing to full fruition the divine gift granted all human beings by their Creator. The task of education is not mere 'preparation' for a narrowly circumscribed sphere of profane responsibility; it is, rather, to elevate and uplift each human being by making it possible for them to exercise their reason--as part of a process of gradually 'perfecting' their souls. Education is not prelude to the 'real business'; it is the real business itself.
In the third para, Wollstonecraft asserts the importance of abstraction and generalization--implicit in these claims is the importance of pattern recognition. Humans cannot be content with particulars, with living from moment to moment; they must, through the mastery of these powerful intellectual tools, rise to a vantage point from which disparate phenomena can be tied together into explanatory wholes (and serve as the basis for future theory-building.) The 'common sense of life' is not the only standard that humans should aspire to; there are far loftier goals visible, the journey to which may only be made possible by the right kind of education.
(My Political Philosophy class and I read and discussed some excerpts from Vindication of the Rights of Woman yesterday; these two paragraphs led to a very interesting digression (ending up in computer science and binary numbers). Which is why I make note of them today.)
Note: This post was originally published--under the same title--at samirchopra.com. After posting a link to it on Facebook, I asked whether Mary Wollstonecraft features on philosophy of education reading lists. I would be very interested in responses. Thanks!
Two weeks ago, on 8 September, after finishing my morning stint my gym, I headed to the Brooklyn College campus. I arrived at 12:20, five minutes after the 11:00 AM to 12:15 PM classes had ended. The campus was overflowing with students: streaming out from classrooms and lecture halls, clogging the corridors, the walkways, the quadrangle, the benches outside the library and the library cafe. I walked among them, marveling once again at the splendid diversity--in the linguistic, cultural, ethnic, political dimensions--of our student body. I've been on this campus for just over thirteen years now, and these glimpses never lose their freshness.
I could hear, around me, Russian, Bengali, Urdu, Punjabi, Spanish, Chinese, Haitian Creole, Caribbean Patois, Hebrew; I could see headscarves and hijabs and chadors, yarmulkes, turbans, colored hair, ponytails, topknots, shaven heads. They walked in groups; they walked singly. They talked among themselves; they zoned out on their headphones. They sat; they stood; they sprawled out on the grass. Some rushed to the local Starbucks to refuel on caffeine; others began their lunch, outside, in the still gloriously warm weather, before the next round of classes began at 12:50. I walked on, through this riotous medley, feeling a curious melange of emotions surge through me; I felt protective, proud, and hopeful.
Like any teacher, I'm used to moaning and griping about my students: they don't do the readings; they're late for class; their writing sucks; they ask me questions whose answers are on the syllabus; they disappear for weeks on end and then show up, at the end of the semester, to ask whether they can still find redemption; they check their smartphones in class; they stare blankly at me when I ask them to show me they have understood the points made in last week's class; the list goes on and on. There is truth in all these complaints but there is much more to my students.
As I have noted on this blog, my students' interactions with me in the classroom are a constant source of intellectual enrichment for me; my understanding and appreciation of many philosophical works has been enhanced by my discussing it with my students; I might have a PhD in philosophy and the title of 'professor' but I'm still a student, and my teaching is how I continue to learn. It wouldn't work without my students; it takes two to tango and all that.
But the point I actually set out to make is that the diversity on display that day on campus reminded me that the sheer range of lives and experiences I encounter in my students is another education altogether. My students raise points in the classroom that are inextricably linked with their backgrounds: the Puerto Rican nationalist; the lesbian Orthodox Jew; the working single mother; the trans men and women; the young man struggling to break free of a family afflicted by alcoholism; the immigrants; the native New Yorkers; the senior citizens who audit; the first-generation students; the religious; the skeptical; the conservative; the politically radical; they all bring missives from worlds I only partially experience and understand. They are walking encyclopedias all on their own; they edify and enlighten. They make me realize that my life, varied and rich as it has been, is only the tiniest sliver of all in the giant mosaic of human experience. They point me to much more that lies beyond the narrow confines of my life. Every classroom holds a veritable United Nations, a pleasurable Babel of language, class, ethnicity and political orientation.
I remain ever grateful that I'm a teacher--especially when my students write me appreciative notes!--and that moreover, I'm a teacher here in Brooklyn, in New York City.
A while ago, Daniel Zamora’s (re)publication of a series of essays designed to say that Foucault ended up embracing neoliberalism caused quite a stir in the blogosphere. As one of those invited to contribute to a forum in An und für sich), I argued that Foucault saw both that neoliberalism realized the need to create markets (as opposed to liberalism’s assumption that they just happened), as well as the need to create homo economicus as a form of subjectification. As I put it then:
Charlie Hebdo has offended again. A recently published cartoon titled “So Close to His Goal”, shows Alan Kurdi, the Syrian toddler whose tragic drowning death sharply focused the world's attention on the desperation of the migrant crisis in Europe, lying face down on the sand near a billboard featuring Ronald McDonald and advertising a 2-for-1 McDonald's Happy Meal with the legend: 'Two children's' meals for the price of one." The caption reads, 'So close to his goal.' And above it all, "Welcome to migrants.' A second cartoon titled “The Proof that Europe is Christian” shows a toddler drowning in the ocean. waters. Next to him a Christ-like figure walks on water. The caption reads, "Christians walk on waters… Muslims kids sink.”
Here is how I 'read' the cartoon, roughly: The West and Europe imagines itself the haven of liberal, secular ideals; it imagines itself the bastion of democracy, republicanism, and the social welfare state. In point of fact, it is as much in thrall to old-fashioned notions of Christian triumphalism and the blurring of the church and state as those regimes that it disdains. The West and Europe still fight holy wars; they still imagine themselves under attack from the 'Huns' and the 'Goths' and the 'barbarians' and the 'Moors.' The migrants might have thought they were escaping to this promised land where they would be welcomed with open arms and invited to make a new life. Little do they know that they were only heading for a vapid, shallow, xenophobic, insular, Islamophobic, consumerist culture, one whose patron saint is Ronald McDonald, and whose guiding slogans are not the call to arms of the great revolutions, but rather, sales pitches for cheap goods.
That's how I read it. I did not take these cartoons to be 'mocking' a dead child. I do not claim to know the 'intent' of the cartoonist, but given Charlie Hebdo's history, and the current context, my interpretation strikes me as at least halfway plausible.
I am not going to offer a systematic defense here of Charlie Hebdo, but want to make note of a couple of what I think are relevant points:
The famous cartoon of Barack and Michelle Obama exchanging fist-bumps in the Oval Office, while wearing 'Arab dresses' and carrying guns, appeared on the cover of the New Yorker. Had it appeared on the cover of the National Review Online, complete with a comments section of gibbering right-wingers rubbing their hands in glee, reactions to it would have been considerably sharper.
Charlie Hebdo's cartoons are bound to offend many and their choice of vehicle for making their political points might be questioned. But they have ample material to choose from and ample opportunity to offend; this world and its dominant species' arrogance and continuing self-destructive behavior will ensure that. Satirists exist and find work because we are worthy targets of satire.
It occurred to me, in the midst of a conversation where folks were marveling at the money being spent by a flagship state university on a marketing initiative, that it should, at this juncture,* be possible to formulate a very simple test for evaluating the wisdom of this and other university spending initiatives:
"How many part time lines could be made full time and / or how many adjunct lines could be made permanent with the money being spent on this**?"
*A conjuncture defined, let us say, by the circumstance that the majority—or even a significant portion—of faculty at US universities continue to be employed, against their preferences, in contingent positions without the full measure of academic freedom and the full participation in shared governance afforded by tenure and / or in positions that, by virtue of low salaries, lack of benefits, etc., make their very material existence substantially precarious.
**Depending on the conversational context, one may wish to add something like "bullshit" here. Use your judgment.