A Response from Morten Levin

Morten Levin writes with a response to Eli Thorkelson’s recent comments on Creating a New Public University and Reviving Democracy.

Thank you for the review of our book. This is what we need for our own professional development. Our challenge is to be open and responsive for comments or judgement of the book but still stick to our major arguments/ideas underpinning the book’s major point. I am glad that you seem to appreciate the “simple “language we are using. Simple language is not the same as simple ideas. We have learned a lot from this German, Australian and Norwegian based researcher Philip Herbst.

It is unclear for me what you mean by using the concept “manifesto.” Too political and too little substance is what I fear. What we argue for in the book is a professional and substantive position which of course is a political-economic perspective.

Sound like a workshop mechanic. We have the ambition too, but only in combination with theoretical reflection. It is an integration of theory and practice what we are aiming at. The essential Action Research (A) argument — “learn from practice and feedback reflection to participants” — is the major message. This is the “long” argument in the book.

You expand on critical distance as an important issue. In AR it is important to identify own biases related to the field of research where one are working in. I like to identify this issue as controlling for biases. Keeping a critical distance has its counter-position in involvement in concrete research.

Neo Taylorism is basically a way to identify the now-dominant organizational models. Social democracy is first of all a joint labor: managers and public/political representatives join in the same activity. There are lots of books/reports in Norwegian on this issue. The perspectives differ quite a lot from your modeling of social democracy. Maybe your interest and experience from industry result in substituting social democracy with a capitalist model of organization.

The same argument can be used when it relates to social democratic vs capitalist ideology driven leaders. The literature in the field is a crazy mixture of research based text and, stories of leadership heroes. It is complex and laborious job to make sense of leadership. Participative leadership is our model.

The overreaching model for social organization is a model where participative democracy would be the engine that transform society through education for a democratic praxis. The long time perspective is that democracy in higher education would expand to all strata in society.

Maybe our ambition is unrealistic and far too big and complex. It might be too big and complex for engagement in one institution. Creating a democratic higher education would have to be a collective responsibility.

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