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Welcome! I am Jason Nguyen, a graduate student in ethnomusicology at Indiana University, Bloomington, and this blog is where I make observations about music, culture, and academic life.

How bureaucracy produces silence whether it means to or not


For the past two days, I’ve been working with colleagues in the IU Communication and Culture department to figure out how we formulate a response to the recent plans to merge our department, Journalism, and Telecomm into one giant Media School. This is similar to other initiatives around the country, and perhaps should come as no surprise. What did surprise me a little is the extent to which fellow graduates (and I myself) felt like we should do something, but were always somewhat complacent. CMCL grads were in deep on IU on Strike last year–we know what it means to organize and express our opinions. But we weren’t really doing it for this one, and it seemed weird, since the fate of the program was really at stake. Maybe it is  the sense of inevitability, but I think there’s something more going on.

The following is a letter I planned to send to CMCL grad students to maybe light a fire under us. In consultation with some smart friends, I’ve chosen other tactics (check out the Facebook event), but I do think what I had to say might still be interesting.

CMCL Colleagues,

Either by conscious design or by some form of habituated institutional smokescreen, the mixed messages the University has given us thus far perform the function of rendering us paralytic and mute in the face of the changes to the Department of Communication and Culture (as well as TCOM and JOURN). I myself feel like I have no ground on which to speak, because there is so little concrete to which I can speak. However, we must remember that there will be major, tangible changes to come, even if the net result of the administration’s conflicting communications is that we remain in the dark until any voices of protest become irrelevant.

I do not think the Provost and the administration mean harm, but standard modes of bureaucratic operation and discursive tactics that avoid open conflict too easily strain the voices of constructive dissent. In other words, inaction and complacency are exactly the mind-frames upon which administrative regimes of power thrive, and the daily pulse of academic work also make it hard to find time to process the coming plans and speak out. I understand that. I should probably either be grading or reading for class right now. In some ways, it would be easier to throw myself into those activities.

But if we do not individually, and together, come to some sort of conclusions about what the merger means to each of us, then we possibly miss  the opportunity to do something more for our programs that have provided us so much. In the next few days, I’ll be formulating my thoughts so I can elaborate my opinions, but in the meantime, this is a plea that everyone consciously take out some time to read the materials provided by the University and decide what you think matters most to you once it is all said and done, both practically and ideologically. What kind of advocacy can we do on behalf of the graduate students already here to ease the transition for them, and what positive things can we imagine building out of the reorganization (and I do think there is potential good in the MSchool proposal)?


Jason R. Nguyen

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