The University is Ours! A Conference on Struggles Within and Beyond the Neoliberal University

April 27-29, 2012
Toronto, Ontario

The university belongs to us, those who teach, learn, research, council, clean, and create community. Together we can and do make the university work.

But today this university is in crisis. The neoliberal restructuring of post-secondary education seeks to further embed market logic and corporate-style management into the academy, killing consultation, autonomy and collective decision-making. The salaries of university presidents and the ranks of administrators swell, but the people the university is supposed to serve — students — are offered assembly-line education as class sizes grow, faculty is over-worked, and teaching positions become increasingly precarious. International students and scholars seeking post-secondary or graduate education are treated as cash cows rather than as people who might contribute to both research and society. Debt-burdened students are seen as captive markets by administrators, while faculty is encouraged to leverage public funds for private research on behalf of corporate sponsors.

The attack on what remains of public education has been total. Over the last year we have witnessed the closure of humanities programmes, further tuition hikes, the replacement of financial support with loans, union lockouts, and the accelerated development of private, for-profit universities. Yet at the same time we have seen growing waves of struggle against these incursions, as students, staff and faculty in Europe, Latin America, and across the Middle East organize, occupy and resist the transformation.

Our struggles are not limited to the university, but are a part the widespread resistance against the neoliberal market logic subsuming all sectors of our society. The university is a key battleground in this struggle, and a point of conjuncture for the various labour, economic and social justice struggles that face all of us – workers and students alike. Crucially, these struggles occur on stolen indigenous lands and manifest through colonialism, racism, sexism, homophobia, ablism and other forms of oppression that hurt and divide us and that shape what sorts of knowledge are considered valuable.

We cannot cede the ideal of the university as a site for struggle and debate. We cannot permit the dissolution of proliferating research, ideas and innovations free from the demands and control of the market. We cannot watch as universities are degraded into a mere site for corporate or state-sponsored research and marketing. The time to mobilize is now!

This conference will connect and chart the varied struggles against neoliberal restructuring of the university in North America and beyond. We envision a series of debriefings on experiences of resistance, the creation of a cartography of local and global struggles, and a strategizing session for students, teachers, workers and activists. We aim to develop a North American network of struggles.

We encourage presentations that raise questions and generate dialogue among the rest of the participants. Ideally, submissions will indicate the specific outcomes they hope will emerge from the discussion. We encourage participation from those with first-hand experience of these crises, and those engaged in the fight for free and public post-secondary education, especially student groups and trade unions.

For a better future for all – join us!

POSSIBLE THEMES:

  •  mapping the terrain of campus struggle in Canada and North America
  •  connecting with and learning from global struggles
  •  waged and unwaged labour in the university
  •  abolition of student debt
  •  the university and the occupy movement
  •  the cultural politics of the neoliberal university
  •  the death of the humanities
  •  militarization of the university
  •  intersections of university struggles other fights against oppression
  •  environmental justice
  •  beyond public education
  •  radical pedagogy
  •  academic freedom
  •  the politics of research funding
  •  the economics of the neoliberal university
  •  university and student governance
  •  the undergraduate experience of neoliberalism
  •  alternative/free/autonomous universities
  •  organizing the education factory
  •  the suppression of on-campus dissent and organization

Please email submissions to universityisours@gmail.com by January 16th. Also,if you would like to attend the conference, please RSVP to the same address so organizers can plan for numbers.

This conference is organized by the edu-factory collective in collaboration with the University of Toronto General Assembly.

Praxis: developing a popular education model in Ireland by Margaret Crean

Margaret Crean’s ‘PRAXIS: developing a popular education model in Ireland’, originally written in 2008 and made available here, represents a vital intervention into the discussion around the role of pedagogy in social change in the concrete context of Dublin today. The paper was developed within the context of the Praxis collective, which brings together community activists and radical educators focusing on the possibilities of popular education in challenging the existing model of formal education. Drawing extensively on the work of Paulo Freire, as well as feminist practices of conscientisation, Praxis believe that drawing on experiences of oppression and exploitation can facilitate a form of education that challenges the dominant and all too pervasive ideological consensus.

As well as setting out the specific role of popular education in relation to the current ideological context in Ireland, Crean’s paper engages with the problems thrown up around community development and, indeed, the notion of community itself. Community development, which represents (or at least once did) probably the most significant social movement in Dublin over the last decades, has become entangled with mechanisms of state governance, reducing it to a service provider and fomenting profesionalisation. Rather than falling into the trap of supporting or dismissing community development, Crean argues that we can defend the necessity of services provided by community organizations while recognizing the need for a renewed political engagement outside of the current logic of community development and the ‘partnership’ model. She describes this as ‘the possibility of claiming a space alongside the more instrumental aspects of community education and community development’ and insists on the continuing importance of community as a space of political intervention.

Insolvent Workers of the World: Interview with Andrew Ross of Occupy Student Debt

This is a short interview by Anna Curcio and Gigi Roggero of the Knowledge Liberation Front (website still being constructed available here) with Andrew Ross who has been involved in Occupy Wall Street and in Occupy Student Debt campaign. OSD is an example of the relationship between the occupy movement and new struggles against debt. Similarly, in Spain the Platform of Mortgage Holders (my rough translation – Platforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca) has built up a constructive relation with the 15M movement. In conjunction, the two movements have successfully resisted over 170 evictions and forced debt forgiveness (which they describe as the ‘right to start over’) firmly on the political agenda. This is no coincidence: debt (national and individual) is the principle form of exploitation and domination under financial capitalism.

 

Anna and Giggi: How was OWS possible, and in which ways is it changing the American context?

Andrew: Spontaneous political events are always “possible,” it’s just not easy to predict when and where they will get traction. I think if Occupy had occurred a year, or even six months, before, it would not have taken off in quite the same way. One factor was U.S. belatedness–when, we all wondered, would we see the global protests spreading to American locations? Another factor was that popular disgust with Wall Street’s occupation of the American political process reached a critical mass. I recall that just a few weeks before the occupation began, Doug Henwood and Liza Featherstone sent out an invitation to selected New York lefties to contribute to a symposium called Why Fucking Bother? It was intended to channel, or mitigate, the sense of despair many of us shared that anything would or could happen over here. Needless to say, there has been an 180 degree shift in morale over the last few months. I myself have been in the US for 30 years and have never seen anything like the momentum or sense of destiny that this movement now has. Those 30 years have belonged to Wall Street, the next 30 years could and should belong to us if Occupy maintains its energy and creativity. My own involvement in the movement is not untypical. It began for me as a resident–I live not far from Zuccoti Park–and then made a rapid transition to a participant–in the early mass marches and in the Empowerment and Education working group–and then as an organizer–on our Occupy Student Debt Campaign. Like many others I know, it’s been all too easy to get swept up into the movement, which is how a movement should feel. Many people talk of OWS as a sort of unpredictable event. But there are many struggles in the background of the movement: just to quote a couple of examples, we think of the NYU graduate students strike and the transit workers strike in 2005.

Do you think there is a process of sedimentation of political practices and subjectivity in the genealogy of OWS, or there is a predominance of new elements?

There are many tributaries that have flowed into the Occupy river.–the global justice movement being the most important. On the labor side, I think the capacity of the urban unions to embrace the academic labor movement has been a significant backdrop. As for the new elements, surely the burgeoning consciousness about debt is a primary factor. Responding to debt bondage has been a way of life in the global South countries for the last 30 years. In the last few years, the consequences of living in a debt trap has hit the countries of the North. It’s an example of the chickens coming home to roost, as Malcolm X once put it.

What is the composition of the movement in terms of class and race, as well as age and generations? And what about its forms of organization and communication?

The demographics of the initial occupiers was quite circumscribed–mostly educated, white, young people, many of whom had cut their teeth on the global justice movement, others for whom this was their first political movement. And then there was a quota of “travelers,” not necessarily all that political, who slept over in the park from early on. At this point, however, the composition is much more diverse–the public unions are more and more involved, there is a fully intergenerational cast of characters, and the People of Color working group has been a powerful presence. The consensus process of the general assembly (GA) is the organizational DNA of the movement, and it is beginning to penetrate parts of mainstream civil society. For example, some of the city’s high schools have replaced their representative forms of student government with the horizontal mode of the GA. It’s proven to be an infectious set of cultural norms. And, since any group can generate its own GA (there are many throughout New York City), it is an organizational structure that encourages and generates autonomy. So, too, the face-to-face nature of this form of decision-making complements the widespread use of social media to disseminate information. In fact, I’d say that the balance between the face-to-face meetings and use of social media is a key element.

In the transnational struggles around debt, the privatization and financialization of the welfare and social needs (education, housing, healthcare, mobility, etc.) is paramount. Also in Europe there is a claim for a “right of bankruptcy” for the workers, precarious and poor. It sounds very similar to your slogan “Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay, Don’t Pay”. Can you explain the “Occupy Student Debt” campaign?

From the outset, the agony of student debt has been a constant refrain at OWS and other Occupy locations. George Caffentzis, Silvia Federici, and myself all held open forums at OWS about debt during the same week in mid-October. We invited attendees to form a group to work on an action initiative that would bind the issue of student debt to the larger structuring of higher education. The central recognition was that U.S. colleges and universities are increasingly dependent on the debt bondage of the people they are supposed to serve. So we crafted a campaign that resonated with our political principles (the act of refusal, the threat of a debt strike, and the justice of a debt jubilee) that was designed to give debtors an opportunity to act collectively rather than suffer the torment and humiliation of debt and default in private. The campaign basically asks refusers to stop loan payment after one million others have signed up, and it is tied to four principles–all public universities should be free, students loans should be tuition-free, private universities should open their book, and the current debt load should be written off.

The social-democrats and liberal politicians and thinkers (for example, Paul Krugman) say: you’re right. But this aims exactly to reduce the radicalism of the movement to some specific demands, i.e. to the public opinion. On the contrary, it seems that the occupy movement represents also the end of the Obama’s hope, or it’s better to say of the hope in Obama. He has no demands for government change, but it’s immediately acting for a global change. So the claim against debt is first of all a practice of re-appropriation of the social richness. On this point of view, we could say that this is a constituent movement. What do you think about?

I agree. Our campaign is framed as an action initiative, not a set of demands, since we share the Occupy ethos that demands cannot be adequately addressed by the current political system, not when it is under the baleful influence of corporate dollars. Actions taken to re-appropriate wealth and power are not only empowering in themselves, they are also constituent, as you put it, of a new kind of political culture. Most Occupy participants will testify about their feelings of personal transformation–the language is often one of radical innocence, a manifest symptom of the birth of a new “structure of feeling” as Raymond Williams once put it. For sure, the political class will try to co-opt some of this, and, unlike some folks, I don’t see that as an unwelcome response–you cannot erect a nonporous boundary between a movement and the political establishment.

Recently we saw the active solidarity of the Transit Workers Union 100 to the OWS. What are the relationship between the labor movement and the occupy movement?

The public employee unions, at least, have been not only supportive, but also fully participatory at times. The solidarity shown for the Zuccotti Park counterculture by the “hard hats” working on the World Trade Center site just up the street was especially notable. Trade union leaders, and even more so their rank and file members, have been quite vocal about their respect for Occupy’s tactical successes in amassing attention and generating a political impact. There has been an established Labor working group at OWS, and the overlap with, and outreach to, labor has been impressive.

What are the relationships between OWS and the university as a site of production and conflict, as well as the university activists?

The Occupy Colleges phase of the movement is just beginning, but it is a natural next step. The evictions at Zuccotti Park coincided with this move into the universities themselves, here in the city, in California and elsewhere. In New York, at least, there had been an all-city student GA which met every week, regular People’s University events at NYU and the New School, and a series of mass student marches and rallies, including a one-day strike. Much of the attention has lately shifted toward the protest against tuition hikes at CUNY. Hitherto free (which helped make it one of the world’s greatest working class universities) fees were first imposed on CUNY students in the wake of the fiscal crisis in 1976. This move is generally regarded as the first strike of neoliberalism in public education in this country. All the more reason to focus on CUNY at this highly symbolic moment in order to turn the ship around. Right now, the Occupy Colleges movement is establishing a nationwide network. Some university presidents, notably at the New School, have been very accommodating, others have been damaged badly by their resort to police repression of free speech. As with Occupy in general, every time the police swing their batons or violently evict peaceful protesters, it has ruined public support for the authorities and increased sympathy for demonstrators. More than anything, perhaps, this is proof of the successful momentum of the movement at this point in time.

#occupyuniversity

Statement from the #occupyuniversity working group concerning the 16th November Union of Students in Ireland national demonstration

The #occupyuniversity working group which, for the past five weeks, has been involved in organising an ongoing series of educational events at #occupydamestreet, will support this Wednesday’s student protest against the ongoing destruction of 3rd level education in this country.

We need third level institutions that serve democracy and equality, not corporate power and profit.

Increased registration fees, cuts to grants, and the threats to re-introduce full fees and to remove state supports for postgraduate education are all actions which place the interests of financial markets and wealthy elites above everything else.

When it robs people of access to education and other public services on behalf of bankers and wealthy bondholders, the government destroys the democratic fabric of our society. It is ushering in a system based on privilege, instruction and obedience, not communities of learning and free independent thought.

We reject this. The ongoing pillage and commodification of education to keep banks on life support offers none of us any future.

The #occupyuniversity working group will join the march on the 16th of November. However, we also recognize the need to build a movement that goes beyond the Union of Students in Ireland. We need a movement that brings in all those who want access to decent public education for a fulfilled life in a democratic society: the 99%. We stand in solidarity with students and others presently attempting to build such a movement around the world.

We are the 99%. We are all the university.

Taking the Squares, Tweeting the Revolution, Organizing the Common

This is a new text from the Edu-Factory collective, a transnational group focused on the crisis of the university and cognitive capitalism and autonomous education as a form of the commons. Edu-Factory have had an important influence on struggles in the university through their theoretical and analytical work, for example in their recently published Towards a Global Autonomous University. They emphasise the relationship between transformations in the university and the increasing centrality of knowledge, which they understand in terms of cooperative immaterial production, to capitalism. Within this relationship lies an antagonism protagonised by ‘cognitive workers’. Edu-Factory also place an emphasis on the transnational and post-colonial dimension of political organisation today. This text provides a useful summary of where Edu-Factory is at now and how they understand the potentials and challenges confronting the movements today. Given the important theoretical dimensions of their work, the section on the relationship between theory and practice is helpful.

 

Taking the Squares, Tweeting the Revolution, Organizing the Common

 

Edu-factory is entering into its fifth year of activity. This period has been formidable, both for edu-factory as well as for the changes in the general context. First and foremost, there is the global crisis, which is to say, the crisis of global capital. Reading the daily catastrophic reports and the desperate alarms of governments, think-tanks and the mainstream media all over the world, who can remember that only twenty years ago the universal rhetoric was the celebration of the end of history? So, without any sort of idealist purpose, by means of a materialist analysis we can say that the proposition and prospect of revolution is no longer a pipe dream or fantasy. Such a possibility can be formulated from the classical definition of revolutionary situation: the governors of the global capital cannot live like before; workers, precarious, students and the productive multitudes don’t want to live like before.

When we started the edu-factory project, the crisis had not yet exploded. Nevertheless, focusing on university transformations and conflicts in knowledge production, we identified an important quality of living labor: living knowledge and its cooperative production, i.e. the common. Following this material transformation, we collectively argued that capital can no longer organize the living production of knowledge from above but instead is forced to capture it ex post, only after it is produced. This is the general trend that allows us to explore changes in the university. This also indicates the potential autonomy of living knowledge: since capitalist valorization is based on the common, the latter being its most important resource and most mortal threat, capital and its corporations – including the university – are continuously facing catastrophe. So, when the subprime crash violently emerged, we pointed out the limits of a cyclical analysis: the crisis is a permanent element given in the nexus between the common and capital. This is why talking about the global university means talking about the university in crisis. Read more of this post

We have a dream: towards a Euro-Mediterranean social strike

This text was written by Madrilonia, a Madrid-based blog that writes about and participates in social movements. Madrilonia has been involved in the 15-M movement, which began with the mass protest organized by Real Democracy Now on the 15th of May 2011 and inspired Europe with the occupation of plazas across Spain. This text imagines a new form of strike across Europe and the Euro-Mediterranean region, a strike which is up to the task of confronting contemporary forms of exploitation and control.

 

Translated by Mick O’Broin, the Provisional University

 

The original Spanish language version is available here.

 

 

Here at Madrilonia we recently woke up with an inspiring dream: a vision of the Euro-Mediterranean region paralyzed at the level of re-production and inserted in a process of irreversible change, a dream that might just awaken us from an apparently endless neo-liberal nightmare. This dream, still cloudy, poses new questions and suggests new answers with respect to the increasing plausibility that the 15-M movement and the grassroots trade unions call a general strike in the coming months.

Now that our movement has overcome public opinion, taken the streets, and articulated, via assemblies, an incipient counter-power, we can begin to imagine the opening up of yet untraveled paths. On these paths we will find, as we walk, the fundamental importance of a dream governed by our collective unconscious, by that common sense (or sense of the common) which has served us so well until now. Dreams don’t allow us to see or feel with the same clarity as the cold light of reality, but they do allow us to enter, without fear, into the unknown, wherein we confront something as simple, yet definitive, as waking up.

If we decide to dream collectively and journey together in the unknown, we might just redefine the limits of the possible. To those who tell us that a Euro-Mediterranean strike is impossible, we respond that the path that has led us this far is made of such impossible dreams: taking the squares (Tahrir, Sol, Syntagma), creating virtual networks of collective intelligence, stopping evictions, assemblies in our neighborhoods, sit-ins, mass demonstrations, etc.

The question isn’t whether or not we can do it. The question is how to make it happen: how to turn this dream into a reality? The best way of beginning that process is to ask better questions: what will this strike look like?

Euro-Mediterranean Social Strike

Strike: Many questions confront us here and they represent major challenges. How might we construct the collective force necessary to interrupt the economy in the context we live in? Let’s forget those old images which have nothing to do with our lives. There are almost no big factories left. The assembly lines are gone. You don’t see many blue-overalls these days. In short, there’s no heavy industry. But there are public sector workers whose jobs grow more precarious every day; huge transnational service sector companies; networks of small sub-contracting enterprises; ‘freelance’ work with no security; hyper-exploited migrants; invisible workers in the home; the third sector; privatization; and a long etc.

Our social strike won’t be just about those we consider ‘traditional workers’ (although we hope they’ll join us), it will be about everyone. That’s what will make it a social strike.

Social: How can the unemployed go on strike? Or a community worker? Or a nurse? And what about a street-merchant in Cairo? How can we completely block production in a city or even in an international region? Fortunately, we have experiences which help to organize the phases of our dream (although these experiences don’t answer all our questions). Our experiences range from the road-blocking which shut down Buenos Aires in 2001 and the subsequent land occupations to the student mobilizations in Italy and the UK in 2010,  from the hacker attacks against the Sinde Act [1] to imagined but-not-yet-realized care-worker strikes or mortgage and rent strikes.

This is a Euro-Mediterranean strike which would paralyze or permanently reduce consumption in strategic sectors (transport, energy, etc.); which would return to collective ownership all that is being stolen from us, defending health care and education; which fights for free access to common resources and for the collective management of those resources against privatization. This is a social strike that would disturb the markets with constant attacks against the financial system (withdrawal of deposits, actions against the stock market); that would undermine the corporate media; send a message to the political class; and which takes back land, buildings and housing for social uses. Not a bad panorama.

Euro-Mediterranean: How can we even think about resisting the Europact without conflict on a European level? How can we challenge financial speculation without constructing a territory of struggle as wide as the territory of capital itself? How can we break with the exploitation by Europe of the southern Mediterranean countries, which are used as a cheap workforce and a source of energy, and where companies locate to benefit from reduced costs? How to eliminate the militarized border that stops the ‘threat’ sub-Saharan migrants pose to our ‘ideal’ welfare systems in Europe? How can we build real solidarity with our sisters and brothers in rebellion, from Greece to Egypt, without constructing moments of common conflict? The day of the French strike, the Spanish strike, or the Egyptian strike are over. We are immersed in shared problems and networks of exploitation, but we also have tools, organizational capacity and common interests that define our possibilities of attack and resistance.

The task is to change the scale, to transcend the national and ‘traditional worker’ identity of the strike in order to move forward in a new cycle of mobilizations. It is necessary to make clear to the EU institutions their responsibility in relation to the debt crisis. But we also have to put a stop to the complicity of Europe with countries that massacre their own populations. Only the response of our diverse Euro-Mediterranean societies can derail the policies and the politics which are pushing both sides of the Mediterranean towards disaster.

The movement must go on!

 

Notes

[1] The Sinde Act reinforces Intellectual Property and copyright laws in Spain and has been subject to widespread resistance.

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