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Binoy Kampmark Phd.:
The University Deception:
Rankings And Academic Freedom – OpEd

Binoy Kampmark Phd.:
The University Deception: Rankings And Academic Freedom – OpEd

3/15/2021

Forget the global university rankings of any list.  The global university promotion exercise is filled with snake oil and perfumed refuse, an effort to corrupt the unknowing and steal from the gullible.  The aim here is to convince parents, potential students and academics that their institutions of white collar crime are appealing enough to warrant enrolment and employment at. 

Writing in 2019, Ellen Hazelkorn, who has had an eye on the rankings system for some years, observed that 18,000 university-level institutions could be found across the globe.  “Those ranked within the top 500 would be within the top 3% worldwide. Yet, by a perverse logic, rankings have generated a perception amongst the public, policymakers and stakeholders that only those within the top 20, 50 or 100 are worthy of being called excellent.”

Rankings are complicated by a range of factors: methodological problems in arriving at the figure, what institutions themselves submit, their wealth (endowments, well moneyed donors, grants received) and age (old ties, networks), and, fundamentally, what is being asked of that institution.  Such grading systems have been found, as Nancy Adler and Anne-Wil Harzing describe it, to be “dysfunctional and potentially cause more harm than good”.

One factor that does not find itself into the rankings bonanza is that of academic freedom.  This surely would be one of the primary considerations in what is irritatingly called the “knowledge economy”.  None of the three most consulted registers – the QS rankings, Times Higher Education or the Shanghai Academic Rankings of World Universities – makes mention of it.

This has obvious implications.  Higher education institutions in countries where repression, censorship, surveillance and punishment of academics are condoned do not need to worry about being compromised in the climb up the ladder. An obvious example is the application of the Chinese National Security Law to Hong Kong, which has seen entities such as the Chinese University of Hong Kong sever ties with the freshly elected student union.  Campus events at both CUHK and the University of Hong Kong have also been cancelled for fears of violating the NSL.

The PRC is merely an obvious example.  Countries supposedly romping home in any academic freedom contest also face questions.  In Australia, thuggish administrators and academic turncoats are moving in on crushing the contrarians, reducing the entire teaching syllabus and research agenda to the drool of wonky projections and outcomes.  The idea is simple: You must be decent and liked, boringly acceptable in discourse and compliant in observing directives from management.  The project is guaranteed through such slime-coated documents as the “code of conduct”, which is meant to make everyone good by keeping education and incompetence in the higher echelons of university governance safe.  Discomfort is eschewed; different thoughts suppressed. 

Australian learning and research institutions, as in other developed countries, have been tempted by various powerful financial incentives – money from Chinese sources, for instance – to make any campus criticism difficult.  Last year, the University of Queensland took a dim view of the protest efforts of student activist, Drew Pavlou citing 11 allegations of misconduct in a bulky 186-page document befitting any show trial process.  Pavlou was suspended for “prejudicing” the university’s reputation by, in his words, “using my position as an elected student representative to express support for Hong Kong’s democratic protesters.”  UQ’s Vice Chancellor Peter Høj was damning in silence, telling the university’s alumni in a July 17, 2020 email that UQ lived and breathed “an ongoing commitment to the protection and promotion of free speech every day.”

A number of scholars and activists have suggested an institutional corrective to the deceptive picture of rankings.  The Academic Freedom Index is one such proposal, developed by members of the Global Public Policy Institute (GPPi), the Friedrich-Alexander Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU), the Scholars at Risk Network and the V-Dem Institute.

In their report Free Universities: Putting the Academic Freedom Index Into Action, Katrin Kinzelbach, Ilyas Saliba, Janika Spannagel and Robert Quinn hope to “bring a rights and freedoms perspective into debates on higher education governance and policy.”  They make the point that academic excellence and reputation are currently considered mere functions of outputs in the current scheme.  “As a result, institutions in repressive environments have climbed the reputation ladder and now occupy the top ranks.”  Confidently, the authors make the claim that featuring an adjusted rank “would lower the chances for institutions constrained by such restrictive environments to improve their international reputations and attract academic talents”.

The AFi is also drawn from 2,000 experts who were asked to contribute on various indicators “in the de facto realization of academic freedom”: the freedom to teach and research; freedom of academic exchange and dissemination; institutional autonomy; campus integrity; and freedom of academic and cultural expression.

As with any index, questions will be asked about what is left out.  There is also something inherently artificial in the exercise of correcting a ranking using the AFi measure.  Even the contributors to the report admit to not knowing “enough about academic freedom and the factors that sustain or threaten it.”  Declining levels of academic freedom are noted in Belarus, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka and Zambia; Gambia is earmarked as being stellar for permitting scholars’ freedom to collaborate and disseminate their findings.   

As Saliba explained, most states which had witnessed a deterioration of academic freedom relative to 2019 were those implementing “novel regulations that limit freedom to research, teach and publish” and initiated “repressive political acts against pro-democracy movements with a strong base among students and faculty.”  These are conventional measures, and do not consider the more subtle forms of suppression and regulation to be found in various Western states.  Australian institutions, for instance, maintain their undeservingly high rankings, suggesting that much more needs to be done to make the index accurate.

A recommendation to the collective can be suggested.  One of the most potent threats to the academy lies in the commercial and corporate bureaucratisation of the university, suggesting that the very notion of rankings, drawn from a global knowledge economy parcelled in the language of outcomes, is not only misplaced but deeply flawed.  The AFi has merit on some level, but does not shed light on the more sinister policies focused on reputation management.  In its current form, the index risks becoming a tool for managers keen to show they are making changes which leave no substantive effect.


Dr. Binoy Kampmark = Global News Aruba Contributor since 2018

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: [email protected]


 
 
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Will 2021 Be Public Banking’s Watershed Moment?

Report by Dr Ellen Brown Juris Doctor / Contributor of Global News Aruba


3/13/2021

Just over two months into the new year, 2021 has already seen a flurry of public banking activity. Sixteen new bills to form publicly-owned banks or facilitate their formation were introduced in eight U.S. states in January and February. Two bills for a state-owned bank were introduced in New Mexico, two in Massachusetts, two in New York, one each in Oregon and Hawaii, and Washington State’s Public Bank Bill was re-introduced as a “Substitution.” Bills for city-owned banks were introduced in Philadelphia and San Francisco, and bills facilitating the formation of public banks or for a feasibility study were introduced in New York, Oregon (three bills), and Hawaii. 

In addition, California is expected to introduce a bill for a state-owned bank later this year, and New Jersey is moving forward with a strong commitment from its governor to implement one. At the federal level, three bills for public banking were also introduced last year: the National Infrastructure Bank Bill (HR 6422), a new Postal Banking Act (S 4614), and the Public Banking Act (HR 8721). (For details on all these bills, see the Public Banking Institute website here.)

As Oscar Abello wrote on NextCity.org in February, “2021 could be public banking’s watershed moment.… Legislators are starting to see public banks as a powerful potential tool to ensure a recovery that is more equitable than the last time.”

Why the Surge in Interest?

The devastation caused by nationwide Covid-19 lockdowns in 2020 has highlighted the inadequacies of the current financial system in serving the public, local businesses, and local governments. Nearly 10 million jobs were lost to the lockdowns, over 100,000 businesses closed permanently, and a quarter of the population remains unbanked or underbanked. Over 18 million people are receiving unemployment benefits, and moratoria on rent and home foreclosures are due to expire this spring. 

Where was the Federal Reserve in all this? It poured out trillions of dollars in relief, but the funds did not trickle down to the real economy. They flooded up, dramatically increasing the wealth gap. By October 2020, the top 1% of the U.S. population held 30.4% of all household wealth, 15 times that of the bottom 50%, which held just 1.9% of all wealth. 

State and local governments are also in dire straits due to the crisis. Their costs have shot up and their tax bases have shrunk. But the Fed’s “special purpose vehicles” were no help. The Municipal Liquidity Facility, ostensibly intended to relieve municipal debt burdens, lent at market interest rates plus a penalty, making borrowing at the facility so expensive that it went nearly unused; and it was discontinued in December. 

The Fed’s emergency lending facilities were also of little help to local businesses. In a January 2021 Wall Street Journal article titled “Corporate Debt ‘Relief’ Is an Economic Dud,” Sheila Bair, former chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and Lawrence Goodman, president of the Center for Financial Stability, observed:

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"It Is Time To Remove The Debt Barrier To Economic Growth"

By Paul Craig Roberts & Michael Hudson

Out of habit, American economists worry about federal debt. But federal debt can be redeemed by the Federal Reserve printing the money with which to retire the bonds. The debt problem rests with individuals, companies, and state and local governments. They have no printing press.


We have explained that the indebtedness of the population means there is little discretionary income with which to drive the economy. The offshoring of middle class jobs lowered incomes, and after paying debt service—mortgage interest, car payments, credit card interest, student loan debt—Americans’ pockets are empty.

This situation has been worsened by Covid lockdowns. In the US the federal government has sent out a few Covid payments to help keep people’s heads above water as they face expenses without income. The financial press refers to these Covid checks as “fiscal stimulus,” but there is no stimulus. The Covid checks do not come close to replacing the missing wages, salaries and business profits from lockdowns.


Corporations have indebted themselves and impaired their capitalization by borrowing money with which to repurchase their stock. This has built up their debt in the face of stagnant or declining consumer discretionary income.


We propose to deal with the debt crisis by forgiving debts as was done in ancient times. Our basic premise is that  debts that cannot be paid won’t be. Widespread foreclosures and evictions would further worsen the distribution of income and wealth and further contrain the ability of the economy to grow. Writing debt down to levels that can be serviced would clear the decks tor a real recovery. Income that would be siphoned off in debt service would instead be available to purchase new goods and services.


A few economists muttered that we were overlooking the “moral hazzard” of absolving people of their debts. But leaving the economy stagnated in debt is also a moral hazzard.


Policymakers did not endorse our proposal, but, in effect, policymakers adopted our policy. However, instead of forgiving the debt itself, they forgave payment of the debt service. Individuals and businesses who cannot pay their landlords or lenders cannot be evicted or foreclosed until June. This doesn’t hurt the lenders or banks, because the loans are not in default, and their balance sheet is not impaired. The banks add the unpaid payments to their assets, and their balance sheets remain sound.

When June arrives, the prohibition against eviction and foreclosure will have to be extended as the accrued debt service cannot be paid. Extending the moratorium on foreclosures and evictions will just build up arrears.  Is the implication a perpetual moratorium?


The question is: If policymakers are willing to forgive debt service, why not just forgive the debt. The latter is neater and clears the decks for an economic renewal.

The US economy has been financialized. Debt has been built up without a corresponding gain in productive capital investment in order to carry the mounting debt.


In financialized capitalism, the main purpose of bank loans is to refinance existing investments, not to expand productive capacity with which to service the debt. It is not possible to grow out of debt in a financialized economy, because too much income is used for debt service. The way to deal with this problem is to write down debts.

EDITORIAL CONTIBUTION BY DR PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS PHD USA

 
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