Michel Valentin

Retired University of Montana professor Michel Valentin. 

Before bellying up to the Spartan "table" set by ex-President Sheila Stearns and collaborationist faculty for President Seth Bodner (Missoulian, Jan. 7), a few points must be addressed.

If wanting to try to spare the University of Montana further insults and injuries dealt to higher education by postmodern capital’s free-market logic, the new president should know that:

1. Spirit and intellect (thought), knowledge (science), information and skills (technology) do not necessarily coincide and are often at odds.

2. Globalization in the 21st century presently favors skills and information (high tech) over spiritual and critical thinking (liberal arts).

3. “In the beginning was the word” is truer than ever. The spiritual/intellectual knowledge and critical thinking developed by “print culture” are not obsolete. They are urgently needed in an increasingly ignorant and lost society. Paradoxically, the “Googlization” and “Facebooking” of humanity do not make the world more intelligent/knowledgeable.

4. In spite of what utilitarian, Anglo-Saxon-based globalization promotes, the world is not mono-lingual. Foreign languages and cultures are essential; Google translator is just a pale palliative.

5. A capitalist high-tech society will not end human suffering in spite of what the fanatics of artificial intelligence, cognitivism, behaviorism and brain/gene therapy force-feed us. Making sense of the world, life and our condition requires, more than ever, a deeper understanding of past and present cultures, languages and histories — something only critical, textual theory can teach.

6. Faculty can no longer serve stale crumbs from Plato’s banquet, rehashed Classical leftovers, insipid English cold-cuts-cum-crummy-cucumbers literary sandwiches, French cuisine or German "kultur" with a Fargo accent. Only a revamped humanities program can show the way and spare us, hopefully, a Brave New World.

New ways of presenting dishes, new meals and different preparations must be invented, with new ingredients mixed into new sauces by international chefs such as Gayatri Spivak. The future banquet will be served across many disciplines, necessitating the abolition of parochial, vertical partitions and closed-in kitchens.

There are new ways to re-read ancient and past texts to make them urgently significant for millennials, who are not satisfied by the electronic menus and “social medias” dished-out by high-tech mercantilism. Many are hungry for what Rabelais called the “substantial marrow” only found in literature.

Globalization, its reductionist shortcomings and unifying sameness, must be fought by using its own methods/weapons to turn around human/animal-trafficking, exploitation, alienation, and invent a new intellectual resistance reaffirming our essential humanity.

Postmodern capital’s polluting and defacing challenges must be met head-on by a radically engaged humanism allied to a critically empowered feminism; political correctness, a reactionary academic movement, does not pass muster.

Time is of the essence. Ever since 2015 a passive, demoralized and reduced faculty and staff have been anxiously waiting for a savior with savoir faire. Others, hoping to save their jobs like courtiers or civil servants out of "Gulliver’s Travels" or Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks, are already trying to ingratiate themselves with the new power-figure, renewing the micro-culture of feudal favoritism.

Instead of only heeding local, ineffective pundits, or APASP (Academic Program and Administrative Services Prioritization), whose recommendations are flawed, destructive and abortive, President Bodner should listen to different, innovative, constructive opinions, and stop the “unmaking of a public university.”

Before lobbying for federal funding and private donations, he must help “flagship UM” find “its North star” (Missoulian, Jan. 7) and steer her accordingly. If need be, he can obtain inspiration from literary navigators: Christine de Pizan’s humanist Northern Cross of sapience, Martha Nussbaum’s defense of the humanities or Jacques Derrida’s "University without Condition."

Walking up the M with students will not spare President Bodner “walking the plank” if he does not turn the flagship around.

Michel Valentin is a recently retired University of Montana French professor and researcher for the Existential Psychoanalytic Institute and Society.

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