May 02, 2013 - Issue 515 A “Laboratory of Democracy”: Kazakhstan, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Wisconsin’s Black Prison Population - Represent Our Resistance - By Dr. Lenore J. Daniels, PhD - BC Editorial Board

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The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.

-George Orwell, 1984

Liberals have traditionally endorsed empire. They have occupied the forefront of imperial ambition...

-Neil Smith, The Endgame of Globalization

Today, corporate power and corporate think rule at most of the major universities in the United States. University administrators, donning tuxedos, roll out the red carpet, and close deals with the corporate world across polished conference tables, behind closed doors. Campuses like the University of Wisconsin-Madison are almost hard to find amidst the neon corporate logos and luxury highrises. The atmosphere is a far cry from that of 1967 when students protested the presence of Dow Chemical and its development of napalm-b used during the Vietnam War.

Those days in October 1967 are gone. Welcome progress!

According to an investigative report by Allen Ruff and Steve Horn, “‘Great Game’ Part One: The World Bank Brings Nazarbayev University to Kazakhstan,” (Counterpunch, December 13, 2012), the University of Wisconsin-Madison has entered into a partnership “with the authoritarian regime in Kazakhstan under the dictatorial rule of the country’s ‘Leader for Life,’ Nursultan Nazarbayev.” (Allen Ruff is a US historian and independent writer on foreign policy issues. He lives in Madison, Wisconsin. Steve Horn is a Madison, WI-based freelance investigative journalist and Research Fellow at DeSmogBlog.)

The University of Wisconsin-Madison is not alone. The World Bank brokered and “sealed deals” with “ten major U.S. and British universities and scientific research institutes,” “tasked to design and guide the specialized colleges at the country’s newly constructed showcase university” - the “multi-billion dollar Nazarbayev University. These institutions include Harvard University, Duke University, the University of Chicago-affiliated Argonne National Laboratory, and the University of California’s Lawrence Berkeley-Laboratory (U.S. campuses). As Ruff and Horn point out, these are institutions that “portray themselves as bulwarks of academic freedom of expression and inquiry, liberal tolerance, ‘ethical conduct’ and the rule of law.”

At the launching of the new Nazarbayev University (NU) in 2010, the ruler for life expressed his wish that young people study at NU: Yes, he agreed to the campus receiving his namesake - “so don’t let me down.”

The year before Ruff and Horn wrote this expose, on December 15, 2011, “Kazakhstan state security forces opened fire with U.S.-supplied weapons on oil workers on strike.” They dared to demand an increase in wages and better working conditions, according to Ruff and Horn. Fifteen workers were killed and another 70 wounded (Ruff and Horn).

On that same day, the day U.S.-supplied weapons were employed to mow down striking workers, “Western faculty members and administrators” were in Astana, Kazakhstan to shake hands with their new partners outside the new campus.

Unfortunately, this is no longer shocking. The U.S., as principle, shakes hands with dictators, supplies weapons to oppressive regimes, while it educates the world on how a true democracy operates. U.S. educational institutions have always been party to the spread of this democracy aboard. Partnerships and contracts between these educational institutions and U.S.-government / corporate / capitalist regime, has been long in the making. In fact, I would suggest it is rather euphemistic to speak of “partnerships” when it is really about corporate domination here and aboard.

This is a “partnership” made possible through capitalism’s representatives: World Bank, U.S. Empire, and the Willing, or should I say, the eager greedy looking to expand possibilities for profits. This is not about education, except as these institutions clone the next generations that will do their part to wheel and deal on behalf of capitalism.

As Ruff and Horn discuss at length, Kazakhstan has noted human rights violations, including those sighted by (of all things) “the U.S. State Department” in 2011, in which it listed the country’s “significant” offenses, including “restrictions on freedom of speech, press, assembly, and association; and lack of an independent judiciary and due process, especially in dealing with pervasive corruption and law enforcement and judicial abuse.”

Seems familiar!

Journalists critical of the government are “jailed and physically attacked.”

Again, sounds familiar! U.S.-sponsored one world approach to resistance of any kind. In the meantime, “education” goes on.

Ruff and Horn are particularly disturbed that the University of Wisconsin administration has justified its “partnership” with the Kazakhstan regime, citing the “Wisconsin Idea” as the primary motivation.

This is the first time I heard of the Wisconsin Idea, and I have taught at three UW campuses since 2000, prior to be blacklisted in 2006. In “partnership” with the U.S. Empire, I would say it is similar to the “American Dream” - it looks good on paper, sounds good in a lofty rhetorical speeches, but try finding it on the ground. I had to look up a definition of this Wisconsin Idea.

The Wisconsin Idea is apparently a Progressive-Era “political policy” to “foster public universities’ contributions to the state.” Under the Wisconsin Idea, these public educational institutions are suppose to direct research “at solving problems that are important to the state” and to conduct “outreach activities.” The Wisconsin Idea represents the state “as the laboratory of democracy.” The universities “embraced” the Wisconsin Idea and vowed to “solve problems and improve health, quality of life, the environment, and agriculture for all citizens of the state.” (Wiki-Pedia, and Wisconsin Historical Society).

On April 16, 2012, The Badger Herald cited the criticism waged by Ruff and Horn against the University of Wisconsin and its betrayal of the Wisconsin Idea. It also cited the university’s response: Not only will this partnership allow the campus to “spread the ‘Wisconsin Idea’ globally,” but “it would be a fitting extension of the ‘Wisconsin Idea’ for universities all over the world to dedicate themselves to doing work beyond the classroom that addresses the needs and concerns of their regions,’” according to Bill Graf, coordinator of the Wisconsin Idea Project.

And expansion of the Wisconsin Idea or the American Dream or Bush II’s “freedom,” and Obama’s “just wars,” is the American Way! It certainly is the corporate / capitalists way of operating globally!

I know Allen Ruff. He is a long-time activist in Madison, Wisconsin, and I am grateful for this report from Ruff and Horn.

But here is my take on this story. The University of Wisconsin’s “embrace” of the Wisconsin Idea is as problematic as its current project to “spread” the Wisconsin Idea in Kazakhstan.

According to the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s 2011 Headcount of Faculty and Staff by Gender and Race/Ethnicity, there are a total of 2,173 faculty but 49 are Black (23 women and 26 men) and 76 are Brown. The campus has 101 Blacks serving as academic staff. In terms of the administration, there are 25 Blacks in the category of executives/directors/administrators.

As of 2010, 7.3% of the Madison population is Black, only 0.4 is Indigenous, while 78.9% is white (U.S. Census).

If you cannot find the Wisconsin Idea on the ground at the University or at other workplace (Blacks are barely hired here), look to the Wisconsin prisons.

On April 24, 2013, National Public Radio, NPR (“Why Does Wisconsin Lock Up More Black Men Than Any Other State”) ran a story on Wisconsin and its Black prison population. Blacks make up 6.5% of the state’s population, (“national average 6.7%”), but “about 1 in 8 black men of working age (13 percent) are in state prisons or jails.” This, from a new study conducted at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the NPR report states. The study “found that the state has the highest percentage of incarcerated black men in the country.”

Wisconsin incarcerates Black men at the rate of 12.8%. Yet, out of 42, 595 students enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for 2012-2013 only 1220 are Black. Read more here.

The state of Wisconsin also “leads the nation in the percentage” of Indigenous men “residing behind bars; 1 in 13” Indigenous men are incarcerated in the state (NPR).

Most of this incarcerated population representing the Black, Brown, and Red humanity in Wisconsin are serving time for non-violent and drug-related offenses.

And do not for a minute suspect that the predominantly white population of students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison smoke marijuana or engage in any illegal drug use!

It may seem that we are a long way from Kazakhstan and the celebration of its relationship with the University of Wisconsin. But we are not. You could say that the Wisconsin Idea went astray in Kazakhstan. But did it? Was it only with these “strategic contracts” in a “dictatorial” country that we find this Progressive-Era political policy evaporated?

Was the Wisconsin Idea ever intended to serve all the citizens of Wisconsin? Or was it no more than the “American Dream,” and we know the reality of that myth for Black Americans.

At any rate, corporate / capitalist America wins! It spreads its laboratories of democracy, whether it indoctrinates or imprisons. Editorial Board member and Columnist, Lenore Jean Daniels, PhD, has a Doctorate in Modern American Literature/Cultural Theory. Click here to contact Dr. Daniels.

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