We Can Challenge the TINA-Narrative with Untold Stories to Reverse the Downward Spiral of New Mexico’s Public Universities and K-12

We Can Challenge the TINA-Narrative with Untold Stories to Reverse the Downward Spiral of New Mexico’s Public Universities and K-12 – Blog Post by David M. Boje, Ph.D.

Figure 1: Two-Faced JANUS (figure by David Boje). 

Above drawing of New Mexico’s Two-Faced Janus, the duality of the mask of TINA-narrative facing one way, and the mask of Untold Story facing the other direction. The two-masks are inseparable, and yet are unable to communicate with one another in New Mexico’s crisis of public education.

I hear the The lawmakers’ TINA narrative: Yet another budget cut is the only alternative because of a downturn in oil and gas markets. It’s another TINA story (TINA is neoliberal speak for ‘There is No Alternative‘ to linking education to free market capitalism).

We have been hearing more ‘bad news’, more TINA-narratives for New Mexico’s public universities and for K-12. Saturday (Oct 8, 2016) the Headline of the Las Cruces Sun-News: “Cuts will cost LCPS, NMSU“. LCPS – Las Cruces Public Schools and NMSU – New Mexico State University, where I work these past 20 years. Lawmakers slashed funds to education, a $89 million cut to public schools, and a 5% cut to the Higher Education Department.In Las Cruces this means a reduction of $2.82 million from the K-12 budget, and the NMSU will have to cut $10 million more, after just making a $12.1 million cut that cost the positions of 101 faculty, and 19 staff, plus closures to a number of equine programs, and some of the health center programs, and the dissolution of survey engineering department (which has some resistance).

I am a Regents Professor. What I learned at last Thursday’s (Oct 6th 2016) meeting of the Regents Professor with the Chancellor and Provost is a ‘untold’ good news story: The NMSU Chancellor and Provost believe these latest reductions can be achieved through one-time cuts, rather than more position and program cuts. Good news indeed!

I am also an internationally recognized storytelling scholar (Boje, 2008, 2012, 2014), and my thirty-five years, of storytelling work, suggests that is an ‘untold story’ to the TINA,

there is an alternative to the downward spiral of public universities. I live in the content of Untold Story,  I enter the content of untold story, but the force of TINA-narrative, its judgment of budget cut necessity, is “a terrifying deadly, and destructive force” (Bakhtin 1993; 6).

My Hero: Mikhail Bakhtin (1895-1975). Bakhtin (1993: 2) wrote about the two-faced Janus, in his composition notebooks in the early 1920s. He calls it a two-faced (or two-sided) answerability of Sense (what I call TINA), and Content (what I call Untold Story).  The Sense-Answerability makes judgments based on ‘petrified narrative’, on intuition, on inductive logic from a few cases (or no cases at all). The Content-Answerability is the entire landscape of all the Untold Stories, of alternatives, that would do what Karl Popper (1934), calls falsification. TINA-narrative is the answerability of inductive sensemaking that tries to establish validity by theory-verification, case-by-case.  But, the problem of induction, is you need to disprove the theory, to falsify it with evidence of an alternative that does exist. If an alternative exist, the TINA cannot claim validity. If no alternative exists, then untold stories of alternatives, cannot be real!

  1. TINA is terrifying because it has surrendered to the will of budget cut as law of lawmakers.
  2. TINA is fearful because its induction is divorced from untold story content of actual existent alternatives.
  3. TINA is frightening parents, students, faculty, and staff o K-12 and public universities because the induction logic is not subjected to scientific research by falsification.
  4. TINA is deadly, a petrified narrative, that drains the blood life out fiscal responsibility to develop alternatives, such as a permanent rainy day fund.
  5. TINA is horrifying because as a dead narrative it has cognitively pronounced the end of history.
  6. TINA is alienating faculty and students from administration because it is against all ontological proof that there exist untold stories of alternatives.
  7. TINA is anti-science because it will not falsify its premises with study of empirical existence of alternatives.
  8. TINA is scary because the agents of budget cuts are detached from the reality of public education, preferring the advice of Deloitte consultants paid

    $618,905 for play to cut 19 staff, create span of control to reign in costs.

  9. TINA is stressful to faculty, parents, students, and staff because it is impossible to live life with out alternatives. “In that world I am unnecessary” (Bakhtin, 1993: 9). I am faculty without existence in TINA-world without future possibilities, I do not exist.
  10. TINA destroys academic life because since there is inductive logic that there is no alternative, no one is answerable to finding alternatives Being-as-event, a place with life has truth and “validity of truth” (Bakhtin, 1993: 11)

The Untold Dialectical Story of Two Doctoral Students treated as Adjunct Employees.

I got permission from two NMSU doctoral students, to tell untold story. As one put it (and we are submitting our IRB to gather more):

“Yes, you have my permission to tell my [untold] story. And one point I like to clarify is that my situation is not unique in our department. To my knowledge, other students senior than me or my peers also … are assigned three classes each year and TA two to three faculties.”

At NMSU, truth be told, some Colleges, treat their doctoral students as students, and teach them to teach, have time and support for them to learn to be great researchers, to be able to survive as professors someday. But in my own College of Business, our newest doctoral students are treated as employees, and given courses to teach, every semester.  I know of two foreign students with untold stories, because they are too fearful to speak out. One has over 40 students in a distance education course, the other has over 50 students in a distance education course. They have never taught before. They are also taking a full load of classes, and keeping their grade point up. They are working 24/7 answering emails, grading their own courses, and one or two other faculty member’s courses. When I ask why, I am told its TINA (There Is No Alternative in our College, due to the budget crisis brought on by the drop in the State of New Mexico’s oil and gas revenue, those darned market prices). But wait a minute. Let’s get at the untold dialectical story developments. If a college, such as Engineering, treats its students as students, and another college, Business, treats doctoral students as ’employees’ then this is not TINA, its actually an unethical situation, called inequality. I have talked to our Dean of the Graduate Program, and was told, doctoral candidates are NOT employees of the university, they are here to learn. If students are too afraid, of their administrative evaluators, especially our foreign students, then we as Faculty, need to step forward, and intervene, get the situation of inequality dealt with. In my college, this is an ethical standard for faculty: “Make every effort to prevent discrimination and harassment.” Why did our director of the Ph.D. program, not intervene? Turns out the authority and participation for him to make scheduling decisions of classes to be taught by doctoral candidates has been removed and given over to other administrative officers of the college. He would never ever treat our doctoral students as if they were employees, to be assigned to make up for budget cuts by the State, to make up for 101 faculty position cuts, 3 in our department, or the people leaving for greener pastures (2 in our department), or people just retiring early to get out of the storm (3 by my count). As the department faculty size atrophies, TINA is the grand narrative told to us. But, its not the only way. Our expectations is doctoral students do not teach in first year, and after that teach in areas related to career goals. In the following three years, our first year students will teach, as ‘free labor’ three courses a year, that’s nine classes. some will teach twelve (without health insurance, without tuition paid).

There is an alternative to the tired TINA-narrative that sad and bad ‘petrified’ news account about faculty, staff, and students in need of another cut. The bad news TINA-narrative goes like this: it just how the gas and oil economy works. And the punch line: Sorry, your education budget is tied directly to fluctuations in the gas and oil market. It’s just market-based budgeting, nothing to be done, but submit to it. We are expected to just shut up about it, turn the other cheek, if we have a job left, get back to work. Wait a minute!  There are untold stories here, and other sides to the TINA narrative, some very important counter-narratives need to be explored. But, wait a minute, what if there is an alternative to TINA?

What is TINA-Narrtaive can be disproven? I can do so this instant. There are actually States (Alaska & Texas) with permanent funds, set aside to keep education from falling into the abyss, that swirling vortex spiral that sucks up poor people’s children, to keep them uneducated.

Therefore the aim of this blog post is to consider how a particular economic ideology — neoliberalism —- has become a TINA-narrative, and negatively affected the public university, spiraling public education downward into the abyss., because no alternative exists. What to do? Rather than assuming that the public universities in New Mexico inherent academic qualities are only determined and fated by oil and gas market value, let’s look at untold stories and counter-narratives, and find some really amazing alternatives in our untold stories. Then tell our lawgivers: please change the system, and add a permanent fund, it’s and alternative done in Alaska, in our neighbor Texas.

Here are three kinds of untold stories to counter-TINA:

(1) The Sky Is Falling Untold Story These are more bad news, the sky is falling, the ground is opening a hellish hole and swallowing up public education in New Mexico, because the rich tax payers see a way to not pay for the poorest children in the U.S. and the second poorest families in the U.S. (lowest is Mississippi), to attend public schools.  Tell more of these bad news stories, emotional contagion sets in, but at least parents can warn their children. Parents tell you children, our prospective students, NMSU is a sinking ship, spiraling headlong into the maelstrom, about to be swallowed by a huge swirling vortex sinking to the bottom of the ocean.

(2) The Untold Story that Attracts Positivity Let’s try the other kind of untold story, a positive attractor that creates an upturn, an updraft in the spiral of education attainment. The media is not telling any good news stories, the thousands of students getting their K-12 and going on to university education, the thousands of college students that are being helped to be the first graduate of their family, ever to attend university. That by the way is my untold story: I love to help New Mexico students to succeed in university I as the first in my family tree to attend and graduate university, first to get masters, first to get Ph.D. I did it through the G.I. bill. I attended public high school, public community college, and public university. Tell more ‘good news’ stories and everyone will want to attend NMSU. Tell ‘good news’ stories about keeping faculty and staff, strengthening academic programs, and more people will sign up for Aggie-Experience tours. Submit your untold story of education-success, of positivity, to KRWG, the Sun-News and Albrqueuque Journal/

(3) The Untold Story that is Truthful and Historical in its Dialectic. Its easy to fall into the dualistic trap: there are only bad (negative thinking) untold stories of actual success-content (attractor to enrollment). But what if, there is a dialectical development untold story, in what Higgins calls the ‘untold story landscape’. What if Type 1 (negative untold story sense & judgement) and Type 2 (positive untold story content) are the Two-Faced Janus, each face facing different direction, unable to see, hear, or understand one-another, yet performing together acts and deeds because the two masks (faces) are inseparable?

My work on Tamara-land (Boje, 1995), and the ‘quantum story’  landscape (spacetimemattering), as read and extended by Linda Hitchin (2015) has “multiple, heterogeneous entanglements processing multiple threads and possibilities” (Hitchin, 2015: 227). The dialectics include the challenge of the illusion of ventriloquist or virtuoso narrative representations (like TINA) and the living story fragments and untold story webs that can be partly studied using ethnographic methods. “Quantum stories” in my work with colleagues (Boje & Henderson, 2014; Henderson & Boje, 2015) was thoughtfully combined by Hitchin (2015: 221) with Bruno Latour’s (2005) Actor Network Theory (ANT). ANT focuses on the assemblage of actors, actants, and things in moving and shifting networks that include “boundless and innumerable untold stories” for every narrative or counter-narrative that plays out in sociomateriality, where material actants have agency.  For example, oil and gas are both social, and material things, they are sociomaterial actants.

How can oil and gas be actants in New Mexico public education? Answer: There are socially determined taxes by the lawmakers, in most every State on Nature’s own materials: oil and gas.

The Untold Dialectical (His)-Story of the Sociomateriality of Earth to Market Oil and Gas entities. 

In New Mexico, the law makers in Santa Fe have created five taxes on the market value of Earth elements:  oil, natural gas, liquid hydrocarbons, carbon dioxide, helium and other non-hydrocarbon gases. When these Earth elements become severed from the Earth, the are re-signified as ‘products’ and have ‘market value.’ In addition, there  is an oil and gas conservation tax applied to coal, uranium and geothermal energy, as these become ‘products’ and have ‘market value.’ There are royalties paid on these severed Earth material elements, by the severing companies or entrepreneurs, to the United States Federal Government, or to an Indian tribe (or Pueblo), minus the reasonable cost of trucking the Earth elements from the production site to the first place of sale in the market place.

My point is this third kind of ‘untold story’ is dialectical in its historical development. I don’t mean the ridiculous idea that dialectic means thesis opposed by antithesis that results in a happy ending synthesis. The thesis-antithesis-synthesis model of dialectic, is often attributed to Hegel, but it was Fichte that asserted the errant model. In fact Hegel argued against synthesis. There is no ‘synthesis’ because in dialectical development, you begin with contradictions, and as the opposing forces play out historically, you get more contradictions. And according to Žižek (2012), dialectical development runs on contradictions.  For Žižek (2012), Hegel tells a very different dialectical story than Fichte, the dialectical development process without synthesis:

“… the story he is telling in his account of a dialectical process is not the story of how an original organic unity alienates itself from itself, but the story of how this organic unity never existed in the first place, of how its status is by definition that of a retroactive fantasy—the Fall itself generates the mirage of what it is the Fall from” (Žižek, 2012: p. 952).

“… the story of the Hegelian dialectical reversal is not the story of failure as a blessing in disguise, as a (painful but necessary) step or detour towards the final triumph that retroactively redeems it, but, on the contrary, the story of the necessary failure of every success (of every direct project or act), the story of how the only “success” the subject can gain is the reflexive shift of perspective which recognizes success in failure itself.” (Žižek, 2012: p. 520).


Who Sets the Gas and Oil Severance Taxes? Are these Tax rates on Extraction of Mother Earth’s Natural Elements Different State by State? Do Other States have a Permanent Fund to Finance Education?

The Untold Dialectical Development Story. Lawgivers determine education funding available. In this untold story, the lawmakers have ethical answerability (Boje, 2008) for education. By ethical answerability, I mean the lawgivers are in the once-occurrent moment of Being, with the ability, the duty to intervene and plan for the future of education funding, and put in a rainy day permanent fund. Lawgivers, not the invisible hand of the market, do actually set the tax rate on oil and gas severance, and those rates differ state to state, and some states, such as Alaska and Texas, actually to have lawgivers who plan for a rainy day, so that Education does not Spiral downward into dissolution and destruction.

“Based on data collected by the National Association of State Budget Officers (NASBO), states’ budget stabilization funds, also called rainy day funds, totaled $47.2 billion in fiscal 2015—greater than before the recession in both nominal dollars and as a share of government expenditures.”(PEW Charitable Trust).

Let’s Compare the rates of various Oil and Gas Severance taxes (yes there is more than one) to several other states (see more state by state comparisons).

New Mexico Oil and Gas Severance Tax
  • 3.75 percent of value of oil, other liquid hydrocarbons, natural gas and carbon dioxide
  Oil and Gas Emergency School Tax • 3.15 percent of value of oil, other liquid hydrocarbons and carbon dioxide; Four percent of the value of natural gas
  Natural Gas Processor’s Tax
  • $0.0220/mmBtu tax on the volume
  Oil and Gas Ad Valorem Production Tax
  • Based on property tax in the district of production
  Oil and Gas Conservation Tax
  • 0.19 percent of value
What if we compare New Mexico (above) to the State of Mississippi, with the highest family poverty level (New Mexico is 2nd highest)? The finding is While New Mexico has 3.75% oil and gas severance tax, in Mississippi, it is 6% for both oil and gas value of production.

By the way, Graduation Rate at Mississippi State University is 60%, while at NMSU its 46%, and at UNM 48%.

Mississippi Oil and Gas Severance Tax
  • Six percent of the value at point of gas production
  • Three percent of gross value of occluded natural gas from coal seams at point of production for the well’s first five years
  • Maximum 35 mills/bbl. oil or four mills/1,000 cubic feet of gas (Oil and Gas Board maintenance tax)
  • Six percent of value at the point of oil production
  • Three percent of value at production when enhanced oil recovery is used

The argument I hear in idle talk, is if New Mexico raised the oil and gas severance tax, businesses would not locate in our state. However, let’s look at the fact, e.g. at Alaska, that has a well funded Education offiering in K-12 and University.

Alaska Petroleum Profits Tax (PPT)
  • Ranges from 25 percent to 50 percent depending on net value of oil and gas, which is the value at point of production minus certain lease expenditures
  • 22.5 percent net value at wellhead
  • There is an additional surcharge for each dollar when net value exceeds $40 per barrel. This cannot exceed 25 percent of the monthly production tax value of taxable oil and gas.
  • Conservation surcharge of 4 cents per barrel and an additional 1 cent per barrel if there is less than $50 million in the Hazardous Release Fund

If you want to read a Lawgivers TINA-narrative of the history of Oil and Gas Severance taxes, here is a link (Warning, you need to be a lawyer to understand the narrative changes, history). You will not find something that Alaska or Texas has, called the ‘Permanent Fund.’

The Untold Dialectical Development Story of States with and without a Permanent Fund to Care for Education.

In New Mexico, there is no Permanent Fund to care for or ‘feed’ education of the State with the highest child poverty rate in the U.S., and the second highest family poverty rate. What about Alaska? Alaska lawgivers created a way to fund public education, New Mexico lawgivers did not plan ahead for market turbulence.

“The Alaska Permanent Fund is a constitutionally established permanent fund managed by a state-owned corporation, the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation (APFC). … The Alaska Permanent Fund sets aside a certain share of oil revenues to continue benefiting current and all future generations of Alaskans” (source).

My Hypothesis: If New Mexico actually had a Permanent Fund it would not have to Cut Millions of dollars from K-12 and Public Universities. Why? New Mexico would have saved ahead, to have reserve funds. This chart is from PEW Charitable Trust comparing New Mexico (Green) to Alaska  (Red).

The Untold Story of Permanent Funds for Education

“For many states, even pre-recession reserve levels were inadequate to plug huge budget gaps that opened as a result of the 2007-09 recession. Still, in fiscal 2015, just 19 states could cover more days’ worth of operating expenses with their reserves—counting both rainy day funds and end-of-year balances—than they could before the downturn. Only 15 states expected to end fiscal 2016 with a larger financial cushion than before the recession, according to estimates made before the fiscal year ended in most states on June 30” (PEW Charitable Trust).

Not just Alaska, but Texas also funds its public education (though not sure this is true in El Paso)

Texas Permanent Fund for Education

The Texas Permanent School Fund is a sovereign wealth fund which serves to provide revenues for funding of public primary and secondary education in the US state of Texas (source Wiki).

On page 17 of the Texas Permanent School Fund annual report, “As of August 31, 2015, $64.0 billion in school and charter district bond issues were guaranteed by the Fund in support of public education in Texas. ”

In Type Two Untold Stories, there is a strange attractor force.

An Untold Story of Shift from Negativity to Positive Attractor: It was great to get a thank you from our university Chancellor today (Oct 10):

 I know there has been a lot of anxiety around campus regarding the special session and the budget reductions that accompanied it. This is especially understandable in the wake of the other budget cuts we’ve seen at the university. … To all of our faculty, staff, and administrators who work around New Mexico, I want to say thank you. Your work is what makes NMSU a caring community and an outstanding university. Please know that it is appreciated.”

We need to find more ‘untold stories’. For example, I hear that the Marching Band students at NMSU have an 80% graduation rate. Athlete’s graduation rate is above the 46% average at NMSU. Certainly there are stories of faculty working with students to overcome barriers to success.

The retelling  of neoliberal  narrative of more crisis in public university competitiveness in university (poor graduation rates, low ROI of tuition to earning power), low competitive college rankings, and infrequent faculty publication in top-tier journals) and the need to cut budgets with each new economic crises doe pervade public university policy-making strategic decisions by boards of regents, state legislature, and university administrators.

The Dark Side of Untold Dialectical Development Stories.  This third kind of untold stories, the dialectical historical developments of what is going on beneath the TINA narrative of there is no alternative because our education budget is tied to oil and gas market activity.  John Dewey, the father of American ‘democratic’ education, was against Social Darwinism, which he called the “Gospel of Greed). I submit that when New Mexico establishes its Permanent Fund for Education, there will exist and actual alternative to TINA.

One of the dialectical trends is for the Gospel of Greed to Starve Public Education. The strategy is called ‘Starving the Beast’ and the Beast is neoliberal speak for ‘public education’ so that the 1% Wealth families will not have to pay for the Poorest families education in public schools.

It is possible for Greed to control the dialectical process, manipulate the trajectory for the benefit of the most wealthy families.

Starving the Beast: A Tragic Untold Dialectical Development Story. 

In particular, I will hypothesis that it is the manufacture of scarcity (or ‘starving the education-beast’) that has led to specific initiatives to reengineer the organizational systems and job positions of public universities in New Mexico to achieve visions of neoliberal higher education progress that has thrown public universities into a downward spiral toward oblivion.

A public university is not just a cathedral of learning, teaching, research, and service. Rather it is becoming a landscape of colonization by academic capitalism mixed with the ideology of neoliberal capitalism. There are a growing number of voices questioning the efficacy of neoliberal and academic capitalism ideologies, asking for scientific evidence to justify the colonization of faculty, student, staff, and administrative life by these ideological discourses that has, perhaps, quite disastrous consequences. This article argues that these economic ideologies are playing a significant negative role, a downward spiral of public universities practices reduced to market performance representations and calculations.

“Neoliberalism has become the dominant socio-economic paradigm in the United States and as such has tremendous impact on all aspects of our lives.

“ (Saunders, 2007: 1). Neoliberalism promotes commodification, materialism, and consumerism (McLaren, 2005; Giroux, 2004; Harvey, 2005; Chomsky, 1998). Neoliberalism is closely linked to the rise of ‘academic capitalism’ in colleges and universities, as higher education uses business principles of administration and free-market methods for increasing revenue (Slaughter & Leslie, 1997; Slaughter & Rhoades, 2004). “Academic capitalism is broadly defined as “the involvement of colleges and faculty in the past twenty years (Rhoades & Slaughter, 2004, p. 37)” (as cited in Saunders, 2007: 2).

My university, NMSU, has been transforming research, teaching, and service into revenue generating operations, engaging in technology transfers of faculty and student knowledge, patenting and licensing and transforming core educational functions into commodities sold on the open market. The untold story is that, I am sorry by private markets are not robust enough to make up for the Lawmakers of New Mexico cutting funds to K-12 and Public university education budgets.

The Untold Dialectical Story of Digitalization of the University: We are supposed to make up revenues declines in Oil and Gas by doing more Distance Education courses. The untold story is many students taking this courses are not living at a distance from NMSU. Many are working two jobs, and need to fit in courses in-between, and distance education works well for this.

The Untold Dialectical Story: After Starving the Education Beast, implement Digital Discipline and Control of the Faculty Bodies. This neoliberalism and academic capitalism transformation has led to increased emphasis on digital outcomes measurement, outcomes assessment reaccreditation measures, and competition for ranking the university, ranking the college, and ranking the journals in which faculty publish. This is greatly changed the organization and the economic realities of student life and faculty work, as well as changing the mission of colleges and universities.

More Untold Dialectical and Historical Stories of Commodification: The side you are not hearing is how Lawmakers are Using Oil and Gas Markets to justify Cuts to the Poorest State in the Union in Child Poverty, Second in Family Poverty. There are effects of neoliberalism and academic capitalism on New Mexico’s public universities. The education product is being commodified to achieve better results in university rankings, college ranking, and faculty publication in top-tier journal rankings. States are providing increasingly less revenue support, while students are being asked to accept tuition and fee increases.   New Mexico has the highest child poverty rate, and second highest family poverty rate in the entire U.S. To gut K-12 and higher education, and blame it on a drop in gas and oil price, only tells half the story, and is an unconscionable legislative policy action. The other side of the story, and indeed the ‘untold story’ is that the legislature a decade ago, started to starve the beast by pegging education funding to the gas and oil market revenue availability. Did they foresee one crisis after the next, until hundreds of K-12 and hundreds more public university staff and faculty would take place. And in sequence, could they foresee that the next step, taking place now, is the gutting of program and service, cutting up the starved beast, reassembling it by Draconian policies, born in the time of Social Darwinism, to save the fittest, the wealthy class, from paying anything at all, to educate the poverty class, and now the middle class.

The Untold Dialectical Trajectory Story of Accumulation of Wealth to the 1% Richest Scrooges in New Mexico. A critique of neoliberalism institutionalization of ‘free market’ and academic capitalism is that they are related ways for the wealth class to dominate the lower and middle class, while maintaining control, to force public universities to be no more than vocational training for jobs in the service economy. It is accomplished by what Gramsci calls hegemony (or hegemonic project) to inculcate ruling class beliefs and values as the common sense value of all. This removes the idea of questing change, and TINA) (There Is No Alternative) just becomes the common sense reaction for faculty and students.

The Untold Dialectical Development Story of Students Changing their Career Due to TINA: Students have changed their goals, and motivations for attending colleges and universities. It is less about becoming good citizens, and more about getting training in a profession. Faculty is encouraged to believe that ‘free markets’ and improving university and college ranking is a good thing. Reality, the facts, however, is far different from the neoliberalism institutionalization of public universities.

The Untold Dialectical-Historical-Development Story of Vocation as the Transformation of NMSU.  

Neoliberalism institutionalization is an ideology on how to best structure organizations, such as public universities, with strong ties to ‘free market’ regardless of effects on society (higher tuitions, more student loan debt, vocationalization of the curriculum, treating students as customers, coercing research and teaching faculty into adjunct labor, and so on). The idea system has resulted in far-reaching experiments in social reengineering of public universities.

For ‘Neoliberalism institution’ to be more than a straw man, it must become a testable theory with actual deducible premises that are subject to disproof and replacement by better auxiliary theories. Neoliberalism institutionalization theory has four deductive premises, which are verifiable and can be subjected to Karl Popper’s (1973) scientific falsification tests:

  1. Reduces the world of public university teaching, research, service, operations, and administration to a set of calculable units of useable resources, including human and natural resources (Kallinikos, 1996).
  2. A fifth cause, revealing is disclosed. Heidegger (1977) calls it the ‘standing reserve’ in his essay, questions concerning technology where he adds such ‘revealing’ as a fifth causal relationship beneath Aristotle’s fourfold (efficient, material, formal, & final causes).
  3. It is a rationality that purges magic and enchantment from organizations by Weberian bureaucratic acts of hierarchy, rules, standardization, routinization, and standardization.
  4. It combines with digital technologic and digital signification to reduce the mystery of a education to code, in a digital machine assemblage that becomes a rhizomatic assemblage of digitized instruction, digital measures of faculty performance, digital rankings of university, college, disciplines, and journals.
  5. It collapses bodies, machine, and language into one another in an interlacing ontology, called the digital technological assemblage.

This ‘digital technological assemblage’ is producing a radical shift in public university practices that endured since mid-12th century with out their help. The assumption that public university science, research, teaching, and service has improved in the digital age, needs to be questioned: what is being lost?

There is a loss of enchantment in the public university brought on by technological collapse embodiment of teaching, research, and service, as the digital technologies interlace and morph into moving assemblages of students as digital customers, faculty as digital measures, teaching as digital machines, and everything as digital significations of outcomes assessment.

As enchantment is displaced, the public university transformation conflates students as consumers, humans as resources, and digital technology is efficient pedagogy and administrative aspects of the material conditions of faculty and student life.

The result is public university is valued by its immediate digital utility and digital functionality in all phases of teaching, research, and service. The university ranking, the ranking of disciplines, the ranking of journal faculty publish in, all become the means of digital calculation of value.

Utility and functionality are sustained in a network of neoliberal beliefs, assumptions, and values, rather than as facts.

Is Neoliberalism a Straw Man Argument: A Counter-Narrative

An economist colleague I have worked with for 20 years, tells me, ‘neoliberalism is a straw man.’

Yes, neoliberalism is a straw man if used inductively,  tossed around as a way to characterize opponents of one’s own economic position. Ideologies are straw men, every one of theme. However, if there is a deductive theory of neoliberalism, complete with premises, then according to Karl Popper, we can use falsification (testing of the premises), but still cannot use verification of case after case, one by one. In such a deductive approach to falsification we should be able to deduce if an idea system, policies, strategic agenda, etc. is neoliberal economic theory.

Let’s Try Science: How to develop a deductive theory of neoliberalism?

First let’s define neoliberalism premises. Paul Treanor gives this widely quoted definition:

“Neoliberalism is a philosophy in which the existence and operation of a market are valued in themselves, separately from any previous relationship with the production of goods and services . . . and where the operation of a market or market-like structure is seen as an ethic in itself, capable of acting as a guide for all human action, and substituting for all previously existing ethical beliefs.” (“Neoliberalism: Origins, Theory, Definition.”).

Let’s adapt Treanor’s definition, to neoliberalism theory to New Mexico’s public universities.

We can rewrite the definition as follows and give it an Adam Smith:

Neoliberalism is a system of ideas (or ideology) in which the operation of ‘free market’ such as oil and gas in New Mexico, is tied to public services, such as public universities, and where the operation of the market’s ups and downs, is seen as the movement of the ‘invisible hand’, an ethic-in-itself, capable of guiding human action, and displacing all previously existing beliefs.

Adam Smith (Wealth of Nations, g. ed. p. 456) says “By preferring the support of domestic to that of foreign industry, he intends only his own security, and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. Nor is it always the worse for the society that it was no part of it.”

It’s interesting that the Scottish economist preferred to build up a country’s own industry, and that such a self-interest, would “led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention”.

If I understand Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ theory, that be acting in self-interest, the market promote an end that is somehow a greater good. The market, can therefore be said to have ‘agency’ to which ‘there is no alternative’ (TINA).TINA is shorthand for “There Is No Alternative” to neoliberal reality of market driven public education financing. TINA!

In times of highly turbulent socioeconomic crisis, radical changes to public universities are not all that difficult to make. If oil and gas prices fall in New Mexico, we are told ‘There Is No Alternative.’ I keep being told, ‘TINA!’, when I propose alternatives to the cutting of faculty and staff slots, the cancellations of classes, the wholesale dismantling of entire academic programs at the public university, where I work.

As Stanly Fish puts it, “ethics” is reduced “to calculations of wealth and productivity”.  In this approach, administrators can let there hiring and firing decisions be dictated by the market forces, just calculate the wealth and productivity involved. End or story. No ethics involved!


Rather than asking the State legislature and the governor to come up with alternatives to the loss of jobs in K-12 and public universities, and the diminishing number of students willing to enroll, and to sit down and come up with alternatives, we are told the ‘free market’ its invisible hand, will sort it all out.  We are just told TINA, get over it already.

Is that all there is? There is no alternative to neoliberal free market financing of public universities?

Here is the logic of the neoliberal ideology in higher education: Question the administrator asks: “Is the value of this older tenured faculty productivity, when lost to the next budget cut,  greater or less in  Instruction and General (I&G) State dollars that would be allocated to replace the older professor with two  younger adjunct lecturers on short term contract, who will double the number of credit hours produced?”

If the answer is ‘yes’ the older faculty person provides more value than the resultant I&G dollars saved, the principle of ‘invisible hand kicks in’ and the old faculty position stays.

If the answer is ‘no’ the old faculty person provides less value than the resultant I&G dollars, the principle of ‘invisible hand still kicks in’ and the faculty position goes away so only one adjunct can be hired, who are more productive in terms of more credit hours realized.

PREMISE TWO: Starving The Beast

The beast is ‘ public education’ in general, and the ‘public university, specifically. The self-interest is to not pay for it with taxpayer money. To bring that about, there is a strategy called ‘starving the beast. It has several events, in sequence.

First event, peg funding of a state such as New Mexico to a market, such as oil and gas. This happened in New Mexico in 2008-2009 legislative session, under Governor Bill Richardson watch.

Second event, when the market drops, demand cost cuts to the institution’s budget. A few months ago, $5.7 million in cuts resulted in 120 positions cut, dismantling the Engineering Survey Department, equestrian center, and employee side of the health center being outsourced to Memorial Medical Center.  Yesterday, Legislature finished meeting, and demanded another 5% cut in public university allocations.

Third event, use cost control as legitimation to institute organization redesign, reengineering processes. The $618,905 spent on Deloitte consultants who proposed staff reductions (mainly by attrition) and a business process reengineering program to regularize span of control reporting relationships.

  •  STARVING THE BEAST “examines the on-going power struggle on college campuses across the nation as political and market-oriented forces push to disrupt and reform America’s public universities. The film documents a philosophical shift that seeks to reframe public higher education as a ‘value proposition’ to be borne by the beneficiary of a college degree rather than as a ‘public good’ for society. Financial winners and losers emerge in a struggle poised to profoundly change public higher education. The film focuses on dramas playing out at the University of Wisconsin, University of Virginia, University of North Carolina, Louisiana State University, University of Texas and Texas A&M.” See film clip http://www.starvingthebeast.net/the-save-act/

Neoliberalism politicians wanted to “starve the beast’ lowering taxes in time period one, so when the beast is starving in budget deficit in time period two, then force it to cut spending and into downsizing of faculty and staff and programs in time period three. Its an intentional process to starve the University-Beast, to force it into budget deficit, then into forced reengineered labor processes.

PREMISE THREE: Academic Capitalism As the reorganization proceeds on the academic side of the public university there is greater likelihood of academic capitalism taking root.

Academic capitalism’ contributed to the mishandling of the Macchiarini case by officials at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, argues Olof Hallonsten., 03 October 2016. Olof concludes, Corporate culture has no place in academia.

Neoliberal governors (republican and democrat) are saying the same thing, We are facing a massive budget crises, so TINA. With public university shrinking, the corporate university has more space to take over the old public university real estate. University education under corporate control is the end game of neoliberalism, a net-feudal society, where all teachers work for corporate overloads. Financial implosion si producing justification to make a corporate autrocacy (Naomi Klein, Shock Effect). What is the last thing standing in the way of neoliberalism take over of public university to make them privatized. It is our staff unions. To drastically remake New Mexico public university education, the staff unions, that beast is being starved, so that TINA takes over, and radical reorganization is implemented, and its name is business process reengineering.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xXJOSMgA34c

Global capitalism is a global initiative, a movement to turn public universities into university businesses. As academic capitalism movement enters New Mexico, public universities are abandoning shared faculty governance, in order to hunt for money to deal with one budget crisis after another, and ways to brand and rebrand the university to be a stronger brand. For principles and mission of New Mexico public universities are at risk of being replace with management practice and values form the corporate world. (Nature 538, 7 (06 October 2016)

With the competition for business college rankings, and university competitive ranking, the risk of fraud increases.  Universities want to increase the rankings in order to bringing more students, attract better professors, and obtain more federal research grant awards.

The core principle of faculty shared governance is self-organization, rather than corporate managerial practices of top down control.

“Academic capitalism: is counter to shared faculty governance, and degrade research, teaching and service to be subordinate to economic goals of market force

Has NMSU and UNM abandoned sound academic practices in favor of maximizing the ranking of colleges and university in the free market competition.

PREMISE FOUR: Concentration of power in hands of wealth elite (Harvey, 2005: 19).“The income gap between New Mexico’s richest and poorest households is the widest in the nation, according to a new report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Economic Policy Institute. The average income of the top 20% of households is 9.9 times the average income of the bottom 20%.” (Nov 2012  http://www.nmvoices.org/archives/2417).

“Over the course of the last economic cycle, from the late 1990s to the mid-2000s, the incomes of New Mexico’s richest fifth of households grew by 30.2% percent while those of New Mexico’s poorest fifth grew by just 7.4%. IBID.

“Underlying extreme inequality in New Mexico are serious problems in the state’s job market,” Bradley said. “New Mexico has an array of jobs: excellent jobs, good jobs, poor jobs, and no jobs. The excellent jobs are in the national labs and at Intel;  the good jobs are in health care, manufacturing, and education; the bad jobs are the poverty-level jobs in hotels, restaurants and call centers; and the ‘no jobs’ are because the demand for labor in New Mexico is very weak for workers with low levels of education.” IBID.


New Mexico needs to get over the TINA narrative that says gas and oil market forces, the invisible hand determines funding for education. Our elected lawgivers are the agents who determine whether or not, education has a rainy day fund, a permanent fund to finance public education. Two other states, Alaska and Texas, have rainy day funds for education, to ride out a turbulent spiraling tornado.  Other states, besides Alaska and Texas, such as Mississippi, have lawgivers who set higher Earth natural element (oil, gas, coal, and so on) severance taxes to fund public education (among other things). And this explains why New Mexico has low public university graduation rates, why lawgivers as elected agents, are shortchanging public education K-12, and public universities, to the disadvantage of the poorest of children, and second poorest of families in the United States of America.

There is an Alternative, and its called the Permanent Fund, for rainy days, like today.


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