Rabat - Normally, in modernizing and liberalizing social contexts, the academic institutions serve a safe space for constructive dialogue disseminating knowledge, ideologies and ethical tensions.
Rabat – Normally, in modernizing and liberalizing social contexts, the academic institutions serve a safe space for constructive dialogue disseminating knowledge, ideologies and ethical tensions.
In Morocco, the plough of modernization could not turn over the rocky soil of ‘security’ on which the educational institution is based. On a deeper level, there is a larger contradiction between liberalization and modernization, a lack of will that reflects both the practical tensions between “security” and “freedom of expression”.
The state has been unable to find the political will needed to beat down the atmosphere of mistrust and irreconcilable differences. Opening up a strategy of security is only plausible with a minimal level of trust and convergence of ethical visions. The academic institution, the example we convey here is the Moroccan university, shows that the liberalizing process is often censored.
In fact, the Moroccan university has never been a centre of research in the real sense of the word as it is the case in developed countries. At least before 1980s, Moroccans used to believe in University studies and students used to work and study at the same time. Grants given by the state were somewhat enough to cover students’ accommodations and studies expenses. The state committed itself to grant jobs to graduates. The emergence of Leftist visions of ideal social orders seen as ‘ethically threatening’ to the regime from departments of philosophy and political sciences with high stakes (seeing the world as starkly divided between the status quo and a radical alternative rather than as a safe space where compromise and engagement in ‘democratic debate’ is possible) has influenced the ruling incumbents to revise their mass-education policies, close trouble-making departments, persecute renegades and censor cultural innovation.
The state’s withdrawal from employing graduates in the public sphere starting a reform program of economy since 1980’s blocked the employment system and the university has been considered ever since a vestibule for unemployment, a waiting room to transfer people to the Street. Recent academic reforms cannot solve the problem because they aim to turn the university into an institute to learn some market labor skills though Moroccan economy is hypertrophied, and reform graduates often find themselves in the street at best in menial jobs or obliged to start a new training program to find a job.
Still, the government is recruited in emergency programs of educational reform albeit destined to failure especially that they are top-down parachuted without clear theoretical foundations. Moreover, the chestnut that university should be linked to its social economic and political contexts is a discursive process all players in the educational domain seem to reiterate but there are no visible theories of contextuality in practice, and very few economic organizations collaborate with the university in terms of training or research.
There is also the problem of the Moroccan entrepreneurs who have inherited their enterprises from their parents more than they are theoretically informed investors. Many of them would like to make profit on the sweat of subalterns’ sinews by lessening their costs via swindling out taxes, exploiting undeclared labor, rejecting regulated indemnities and cheating in the quality of product. How can the university establish collaborations with an economic man (Pocket Man) who is the enemy of science and ideology, who believes that education is an unnecessary labor and adheres to the motto that “making money by any means justifies the building of the Pocket Empire”?
At the ethnographic level, teachers, at least those whom we have conversed with, do not foster great expectations about the future of graduating from universities. In addition to the economic problems we have so far discussed and the small-mindedness of employers, there is a conspicuous decline in the quality of knowledge diffused at universities and students are not like their predecessors before 1990’s, tenacious seekers of learning. The teacher now finds himself face to face with an oblivious mind that prefers to graduate with the least possible quantity of knowledge. In fact, the main difficulty Moroccan typical top-down reforms encounter is this divorce between the discursive and the ethnographic.
At the level of discourse, one may come across well- organized ideas and measures to implement, an ideal discourse. But when implementation is at work, the ethnographic betrays hidden cultural structures and worldviews the reformative discourse has not taken into account. The result is a reform that adapts itself to long established worldviews, modes of thought and cultural representations. New laws and procedures without preemptive structural cultural work and mobilization of the population towards what is new will end up with dormant calcified laws very hard to stir into life again, a situation as dramatic as that of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure.
Furthermore, the infrastructure at Moroccan Universities does not currently fulfill the expectations of the reforms presented so far though at the level of discourse the state promises to revolutionize these structures. Our libraries are shelved with donated books from national and international organizations and obsolete references. Updating libraries with recent publications is a very slow bureaucratic and selective process often subjected to lower costs.
Research students, let alone teachers, find it difficult to document their research because of the blatant scandalous shortage of references. The annual subscription to scientific journals is very limited and some departments hardly benefit from any subscription. The recent rise of electronic libraries the Ministry subscribed to is not yet popularized at Moroccan universities and most of the websites are not accessible. There are no Wi-Fi systems at my university to make it accessible to students on campus, nor is there an off-campus connection for teachers. The ministry thus squanders public money on electronic journals that only serve to decorate some Universities’ websites.
This lack in infrastructure has left to a degree severe repercussions on teachers’ research career. Some have given up research all together and ventured in lucrative business activities; others slackened their tempo of research. Others still fight to write some articles for audience-restricted and non peer-reviewed local journals published by universities. Such publications with very limited audience and zero citations are usually intended for career advancement. Encounters such seminars and conferences or invited lectures are often organized in the form of ceremonial activities of barely no academic merit and quickly forgotten (not published). It is often the dean, vice-deans or teachers seeking rapid promotion who hasten to organize such activities so as to record them in their hyperbolic CVs—to say nothing of grants that have their own special hunters and may be distributed to the closest ‘asabiya.
In the same vein, our universities become centres for teaching obsolete information already superseded in the country of origin. Teachers, however, vehemently adhere to this knowledge and defend it against detractors with an ‘asabiya spirit as if they were the producers of this gospel truth. Ironically enough, they keep faithful to what they have learnt till the winds of change come from the country of origin. Decades after its emergence, the scientific novelty dawns upon them and convinces them to forsake their infantile attachment to the previous dogmatic knowledge. Again, they expedite to adopt the novelty with the same tribal mood.
Moroccan universities do not stand as corporate bodies with collective visibility to the outside world about what they are concerned with from issues, methods, modes of thought and discourse. Humanities students, for instance, often ask what teachers ‘want’. The obscurity of teachers’ requirements is the result of the low institutional visibility of the humanities in Morocco since the community of teachers do not belong to particular schools of thought or share common theoretical positions. We rarely encounter Structuralist teachers, post-structuralists, Neo-Marxists, Semioticians, Feminists, or political economists.
The Humanities teacher rather stands before the class not as a member of an institutional collective engaged in modes of thought but as an alien type whose instructions the students perceive as obstacles to circumvent with as little damage as possible to their career. The student’s task is therefore to determine the unique demands of each course and set them aside when the semester is finished and new courses emerge with new exclusive demands. How can the student by the end of his own degree assimilate and synthesize the disconnected experiences he has accumulated?
Up to now, ethnographic observation from the insider’s point of view reveals that the primary convention of teaching in the class-room is the ‘banking method’. Students are bank accounts which teachers have to store in them information. The more information the student can memorize from class the better the teacher is. This situation is enhanced by the impoverished libraries that students have access to. Banking method gives the impression that reference books are limited and education can be repetitive and static while other resources like the media force students into an immense flood of information. The banking method reinforces training in basic automatisms; hence the importance lent to memorization and repetition by re-adoption of rites and their repetitiveness and by valorization of leadership, which may lead to lack of critical thinking and loss of control over ideological issues.
Also, the obsolete information students internalize does not seem to be able any longer to build productive knowledge systems. What actually involves peril is borrowing from the West a ready-made knowledge without grasping the philosophical scientific foundations underpinning it. The dilemma becomes flagrant, for instance, in the process of importing technology as if this technology was isolated from the sciences that produced it. Without research and development labs, libraries and infrastructure to scientific research, this technology does not value anything.
At Moroccan universities, there seem to be a lot of constraints on scientific research, red lines in full—though the situation nowadays, as observers of Moroccan politics have debated extensively, witnesses ‘top-down’ liberalization, i.e., state-guided reforms. Scientific researchers are banned from dealing with issues that may expose the frailty of top governing institutions. Research on politics of governance is like a scandal since it may be scandalous in actual fact. Thus researchers are pushed to deal with secondary issues far from the sphere of ruling power because its security and political survival demand the protection of its ontological nakedness.
While the ruling power appears to be trying to create a safe public sphere, it seems to intend this sphere for stable change guided by one side only (the regime) rather than for constructive dialogue. Instead of letting researchers to enter the political arena, they are pushed out to deal with subsidiary issues. Academic research in general has to remain subordinate to the security of the regime. Presumably, the state sought reconciliation with the University by means of subsequent reforms in order to bring it back into national development and formal politics but it missed the fundamental point, however, that regulating scientific research by the ethics of security is a key factor for keeping it out.
Generations of researchers have wasted energy in dwelling upon trifling topics filling the pages of newspapers, magazines and academic journals. If it occurs that a research challenges this structure that controls the academic mind, censorship may block its progress, which explains the scarcity of serious academic research and abundance of religious books, which obscures, prohibits and quarantines the social meaning of existence.
The custodians of religion elect themselves not only as prohibitors of secular thought but sometimes even proclaim secular adversaries as apostates. The problem with scientific research in the Arab world is that it has to succumb to the will of rulers because the political game is not based on research and performance (al-ada’) but on obedience and subordination (al-wala’). Scientific research in the Arab world occupies a low rank internationally either in terms of cost or production. One of the main reasons is that these countries do not feel in need of scientific research either at the level of production, management, or political rule. Intelligence agencies and ‘asabiyas deputize for academically oriented political and ideological institutions to control the resources of these countries.
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