In 2008, my University started a campaign for promoting what a fancy research institute they were…or were planning to be. I recall someone saying that the goal was to be one of the “top 3 research institutes in the universe.” I started seeing signs all around campus, with “Because” in big letters. And I saw “because” billboards while driving around.
I was really bothered by this campaign. And I hated seeing the word “because” everywhere I walked on campus. It seemed to epitomize an education philosophy that shut down exploration and engagement instead of opening it up (even though it was supposed to be about how much they emphasized exploration and discovery).
After the financial crisis in fall 2008, the pressure to do research that was “serious” and that demonstrated that the U of M was not just a “diploma-cranking machine,” but a super-smart research institution doing “cutting-edge” work, meant that a small, inter-disciplinary department like the one I taught in (Gender, Women, Sexuality Studies), was pressured to prove its relevance and was perpetually threatened with being cut or consolidated. It became a very difficult and spirit-crushing environment in which to work. “Because” was a constant reminder of that pressure, and almost served as a taunt and command: You must be driven to discover…the things that we deem to be important and serious and profitable!
I tweeted the above image to my feminist pedagogies class, along with the following comment:
“The answer I give to my kids when I am tired of their “why” questions. What would Freire say?“
(as in Paulo Freire)