By historicizing her university, as well as through a close reading of the responses and texts of those in power, Ebert highlights the power of intellectual critique. The often heard phrase "There is nothing we can do, this is bigger than we are" is replaced by Ebert's "I know who is doing this and I am going to prove them wrong because they offend my sense of justice". Apart from the content of her analysis, the method of her undertaking is worth looking at. Very early on she sets a standard for herself of how Academia should look like, i.e. a space that produces "the knowledges that aim at educating citizens for an inclusive democracy with equal social and economic access for all". She then reads what went on at her university against this standard. This leads to very clever observations of discourses and attitudes that can be observed at German universities too. Here are some examples that will make German academics nod in recognition:
The valorization of "service"--as opposed to "intellectual" and "pedagogical" work--in the Department is part of a larger national trend in the corporatization of the university. Like corporations, the university is putting more and more emphasis on the "loyalty" and "service" of its employees. The notion that scholars and pedagogues are "employees" of the university and derive their "identity" from their "loyalty" (as shown by their "service") to the institution more than from their practices as intellectuals and knowledge workers is beginning to prevail. Like corporations, the university tends more and more to reward those who do its errands and do not raise questions about the principles and consequences of its policies. The privileging of "service" over intellectual and scholarly work is part of de-forming the university from a place of "critique" to one of "bureaucracy."
It is symptomatic of the marginalization of principled intellectual work that there is no "Distinguished Research Professor" nor "Distinguished Teaching Professor" in the English Department. The work that has been represented as "scholarly" in the Department has been, for the most part, works of "editing" (of anthologies of others' work), "textual editing," "textbooks," "study aids," "bibliographies," etc. Scholarly work--the product of original basic research, intellectual discovery and sustained conceptualization that contribute in a significant way to advances in the humanities--has been marginalized in the Department. A "book," in other words, has been understood more as a physical object (anything between two covers) than an intellectual construct--a work of rigorous conceptualization and an original contribution to human knowledges as a means for praxis. (...)
To declare the English Department "in crisis" because there is conflict in the Department and it does not offer what the Vice President regards to be a friendly "atmosphere" is to miss the entire point about doctoral research and pedagogy: a university department is not a therapy clinic nor is it a restaurant--its success is not measured by its congeniality or its "atmosphere" and ambiance but by the depth and breadth of its interrogations into the "making of knowledge" and of its understanding of the "questions that arise from the movement between theory and practice." These movements are interstices in which a new generation of scholars learns the complexities and pluralities (the conflicts) of critical citizenship and the responsibilities of public intellectuals--not only the achievements but also the anguish, agonies and travails that accompany the responsitibilites. (...)
Critique, of course, is a quite distinct practice from "Gotcha," "harassment" and "trashing." Critique is a public act aimed at examining what is taken for granted and put beyond argument--what is treated as a first principle. It is aimed at "practices" not persons; it works to open up space for all who are affected by these practices--to develop new spaces for knowledge and democratic practices of equality. In contrast, "Gotcha," "harassment" and "trashing" move in the opposite direction: they turn away from practices to focus on persons. "Harrassment," for example, is deployed by those who hold institutional power (or are the agents of those who hold such power) to limit not only access to resources but also the life-chances and free choices of other persons who do not hold institutional power. "Harassment" is the use of force and/or intimidation to maintain existing practices by naturalizing inequality and privilege and by silencing the questioning of these practices. Those in power have long called critiques of their practices "harassment"/"trashing"/"un-civility." In doing so they have tried to block any questioning of the legitimacy of their power. To equate critique with "harassment, "trashing," "un-civility"...is to obscure power relations and protect the dominant power.