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.

#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.

Talking Shop 6: Citizens

Monday 25 July, 7pm Seomra Spraoi

 

The idea of the citizen has a long and ambigous history. In the Campaign for the Old City Arts Building we have been using this term to talk about ourselves as political actors and as people with rights, specifically the right to use empty NAMA buildings. But while citizenship can be used in this way, to talk about people’s politics as opposed to the state, it also raises important questions. For example, many people are excluded from official citizenship on the basis of nationality or race. Citizenship also describes the legal relation between people and the state, a relation which many people oppose.

 

In this Talking Shop we’ll talk about the idea of the citizen and question the politics wrapped up with that term.

ASYLUM SEEKERS’ AGITATIONS IN IRELAND – A REPORT FROM BALLYHAUNIS DIRECT PROVISION CENTRE


Alessandro Zagato & Luke Kasuwanga

1.     Preface

Asylum seekers agitations are firing up in Ireland. After last year’s events in Mosney, two new stories were recently reported from Galway by the mainstream media. On the 17th of May at Lisbrook House, formerly the Ibis hotel, residents protested over living conditions including food and overcrowded accommodation. Two weeks later 100 residents of the Great Western Hostel walked out of their accommodation at 6am after the State’s Reception and Integration Agency issued notice to quit to several residents. They said that there had been a build-up of frustration in the hostel – where many residents have waited up to 10 years seeking refugee status – for reasons ranging from lack of hot water in showers, to restrictions at night-time to access to television, to the self-catering kitchen and the pool room.

Sadly enough both events were followed up by episodes of hostility from Irish people living in the area. After the first protest many locals were irritated. They asked why asylum seekers should be angry. So many people are suffering the consequences of the economic downturn. According to them, migrants should be grateful for the support they get and adapt to the situation. After the second protest some asylum seekers were verbally threatened by State Officials who told them to shut up.

In Ireland many people argue optimistically that there is no racism because there are no racist organisations. We believe that if there are no such groups in this country – or they are extremely week – it is just because progressive movements are themselves inexistent or very weak. But as soon as a bunch of migrants are brave enough to do what Irish people are not doing – i.e. to rebel and to challenge the status quo – conservative and racist reactions are quick to come up.

However, asylum seekers were not frightened by these threats; since then other direct provision centres have become theatres of protest. This document is a report produced by Anti-Racist Network Ireland (ARN) on a protest that took place in early June in Ballyhaunis direct provision centre, Co. Mayo. It presents some of the ideas that emerged during the 5 hours long encounter that a number of ARN members had with the residents committee in Ballyhaunis.

2.     Agitation in Ballyhaunis

The Ballyhaunis direct provision centre is privately managed by the same company who is in charge of Lisbrook House in Galway. It was this coincidence that first pushed some residents in Ballyhaunis to advance a number of demands, after they had seen on the news what was happening in Galway.

Whereas in Galway demands were limited to basic goods such as food, cleaning powder, toilet paper and so on, in Ballyhaunis claims were extended to general living conditions including ‘immaterial’ instances such as respect from management and recognition of every resident as a human being – i.e. as a thinking person and not just as a living body to be kept alive by the system.

Indeed on one hand the enterprise was not respecting the terms of the contract that it had stipulated with the state and with asylum seekers themselves. According to the residents, food was not enough and it was also badly cooked; they did not have access to sufficient toilet paper and cleaning products, each time having to go and ask the managers for extra rations. They were finding this humiliating: managers were having a patronising attitude, suspicious that some of the residents might be collecting goods in order to sell them outside the centre. “For what? For one Euro each piece?” commented one of the residents ironically.

On the other hand managers were showing no interest in constructing any form of reciprocity with residents; spending most of the time in their offices doing bureaucratic work, not talking to the people and not really listening to what they had to say about the situation. Furthermore, each resident in order to resolve her (and her family’s) problems had to deal with the management individually. This was a source of fragmentation amongst the asylum seekers, with the administrators each time having the power to decide who to please and who not. A mother told us that she was recently refused a box of orange juice for her baby. How humiliating is it to insist for such a small thing? “It feels like we are constantly playing the game of Tom and Jerry” argued a resident.

The situation escalated after the general manager accused the residents of throwing food into the bins. “Why – he argued – do you ask for more food if then you dump it? In recession times this is something that people should not be allowed to do”. The fact that the management had taken the initiative to check what people were throwing into the bins was taken by them as an evident violation of their privacy. Moreover the residents argued that if there is food in the bins, managers should ask people why before condemning them.

After this episode some residents took the initiative of calling for a meeting where collective action was planned. As a form of protest it was decided that each and every family should show up in the canteen at an agreed time. Indeed people knew that the canteen could only accommodate a small amount of people; it had never happened before that the residents were all in the canteen at once. The plan was that some people would sit and eat, while the others would stay there waiting and chatting. This was to be repeated three times each day (for breakfast, lunch and dinner) for three 3 consecutive days. All the (approximately) 300 residents agreed to participate. The following morning they gathered in the canteen. Overwhelmed by the amount of people waiting to be served the staff did not know what to do – to the point that they had to call extra staff who were off duty that morning. In a short time the place was full of children and parents queuing for breakfast while chatting with each other in good humour and spirit. No demands or complaints were raised at that point; and no body informed the staff why everyone had shown up at same time. This single action was enough for the management to respond. Before lunch time they sent a letter to each household requesting to meet them that evening. Residents were also asked, in case they had grievances, to write them down.

So far the protest had been organised spontaneously. Residents now agreed that the time had come to appoint a spokesperson and to formulate specific demands and complaints. After the meeting the administration agreed to honour each demand. A week after the protest the Ballyhanis Residents Committee was formed. The committee is self-organised by ordinary people with no previous political experience. Some members even confessed that previously they used to dismiss independent organisations, thinking that they did not work.  After they started agitating for rights in Ballyhaunis they became the most outspoken members of the Committee.

3.     Debate, exchange and reciprocal learning

After the residents told us the full story of what happened in the centre, a passionate debate on asylum seekers in Ireland and strategies for action took place – with asylum seekers and ARN members (some of whom had already experienced direct provision) engaging in a process of reciprocal exchange and learning.

It is important to highlight that this encounter was quite different from those which asylum seeker are used to. Normally state bureaucrats and NGO or party officials come to them with their agenda and basically instruct them on what should be done. Indeed these professionals and the organisations they work for conceive themselves as having a representational power over people. Therefore they act as the ones who are in charge to ‘objectively’ describe the situation and take decisions on how to organise. In their view, ordinary people such as Asylum Seekers just need to let themselves be represented: their capacity to think, as well as their capacity to independently organise is dismissed – it is not part of the game. When intervening in people’s struggles it generally happens that these bureaucrats take over the valuable things people had previously fought for in order to give them back to them as ‘delivery’. It is like this that many politicians and NGO leaders build up their career.

However, ARN is itself composed by ordinary people who have no ambition to represent anybody but ourselves. Our idea of emancipation is that no one can do it on behalf of anyone else. No one can emancipate people on their behalf! This is why we find these self-organised protests in direct provision centres so precious. They are the result of the spontaneous creativity and courage of people like us – like you who are reading this report and like anybody else in this country.

So we approached the situation as people who intend to both learn something and share their experience in independent organisation, in order to provide what was taking place in Ballyhaunis with a greater consistency.

During the assembly two main perspectives emerged on how to conceive the on-going struggle and how to take it to another level. Some of us perceived it as something localised and shaped by very specific conditions (bad management, food, disrespect and so on) which make this situation different from any other. Others, by emphasising the fact that protest in Ballyhaunis was inspired by actions that were taken elsewhere, suggested that this specific case could also inspire other asylum seekers, since at the end of the day problems on the ground go beyond any specific local circumstance.

A meeting attendee who had already passed through the direct provision experience argued that internal struggles might be important, but people should not develop a strong dependency on the direct provision system. According to her there is a danger of getting used to the situation. To formulate demands on conditions – she argued – is a double edged sword. On one hand you can improve your living standards, on the other hand, by always demanding, you make yourself vulnerable, reproducing a condition of dependency, submission and humiliation. She also suggested that in direct provision centres, when everyone is openly protesting and speaking, the management is pleased because this allows them to control people – through the amount of toilet paper they use, through the 19.10€ that they receive every week, and so on. It is when you actually stop asking –she said – that they start being concerned about you, about how you organise your life, about where you get your goods if you are not even allowed to work. You have got no toilet paper? – She asked smiling – then you should take it from the guest room, so that their important friends will be the ones having to demand it. You have to make them understand that you don’t care, that you don’t want to stay there.

The debate radicalised when someone asked the question of why people are in direct provision service: what should be their ultimate goal as asylum seekers. Her answer was: to get out, to obtain full recognition as citizens as soon as possible – “you did not come to Ireland to spend your life in direct provision”. Indeed, according to her, life in direct provision can create dangerous forms of dependency and affect people’s future in many negative ways. The time you spend in this limbo (which for many people can last for years) gives you few possibilities to, for example, train and improve your skills. Moreover, the fact that you are not allowed to work for many years can condemn you to future unemployment.

At this point of the discussion the two lines of thought (‘local’ specificity of the struggle / ‘global’ meaning of it) started to merge. Everyone came to the agreement that while it was important to fight for better living conditions and dignity within the direct provision system, the ultimate goal was to live and get residency. There was consensus on the idea that on one hand it is important to organise local committees in order to create forms of collective strength and solidarity amongst residents. On the other hand people should avoid focusing too much on local problems because the risk is to keep the struggle fragmented.

It is important to make the struggle resonate at a national level. In order to achieve this, people need to be ready to get out of their comfort zone: they should meet with asylum seekers living in other centres and organise coordinated, large scale forms of protest.

The upcoming international refugee day was pinpointed as a great opportunity to articulate the two named approaches. A demonstration was called for the 22nd of June. In preparation for the upcoming event, we received encouraging news from Cork. Here the residents of Mill Street’s direct provision centre, after knowing what was happening in Galway and Ballyhaunis organised their own committee. They arranged to meet with the hostel management and all their demands were met.

The rally of the 22nd of June was finally the result of asylum seekers’ self-organisation, an opportunity for them to take the initiative and ask NGOs to support them unconditionally –without bureaucrats trying to impose their line, as they normally do in these situations. Since the main obstacle was the financing of transport to Dublin, all NGOs working with migrants were approached in order for them to hire buses on the day. More than 300 asylum seekers took part to the demonstration. Their main demand was the extension to Ireland of the Zambrano verdict, according to which not just the children of EU citizens can get residency but all children living in the country. For this sake children were leading the demonstration with banners saying “who lives here belongs here – with no discrimination! – stop deportations now!”

The Creative City

The Talking Shop is a new discussion forum organised by the Campaign for Old City Arts Building, Dublin Housing Action and the Provisional University, but open to everyone. Our second session looks at The Creative City.

Seomra Spraoi 6:30 – 8:00 Monday 30th of May

2nd Session – The Creative City

In the last decade, urban life has been characterised by words such as creativity, culture, participation and dialogue. These are not solely words, rather they refer to a specific direction in which the cultural – fine arts, performing arts, popular cultural, counterculture and more – becomes predominant and exploited by the neo-liberal project. In this context, it is cultural economies that make places attractive and powerful in capitalist societies.

In this session we’ll reflect on the emergence of a cultural Dublin in the last decade, asking who benefits from this, and if its still possible to be culturally political when culture is so easily co-opted by capital?

People might want to read “The Cultural Economy of Cities” by Allen J Scott (background reading, not essential)
B.Y.O.B

About the Talking Shop

Through our various projects we’ve come across the need to create time and space for the kind of political discussion that we usually don’t have time for within our campaigns.

We’ll take a different idea in each session and have an open and relaxed discussion, without trying to reach agreement or action. Each session will have a brief introduction.

We believe that, given the exhaustion of older forms of radical politics, today political action needs be accompanied by ongoing discussion and reflection, in order to develop new ideas and strategies that can make a difference here and now. The Talking Shop is also a space of ‘autonomous education’, it offers and alternative to depoliticised was in which learning generally takes place in college.


The Right to the City

The Talking Shop is a new discussion forum organised by the Campaign for the Old City Arts Building, the Provisional University and Dublin Housing Action, but open to everyone. Our first session looks at The Right to the City. Seomra Spraoi 6.30 Monday 16th of May

Through our various projects we’ve come across the need to create time and space for the kind of political discussion that we usually don’t have time for within our campaigns.

We’ll take a different idea in each session and have an open and relaxed discussion, without trying to reach agreement or action. Each session will have a brief introduction.

We believe that, given the exhaustion of older forms of radical politics, today political action needs be accompanied by ongoing discussion and reflection, in order to develop new ideas and strategies that can make a difference here and now. The Talking Shop is also a space of ‘autonomous education’, it offers and alternative to depoliticised was in which learning generally takes place in college.

1st Session- The Right To the City

Anyone living in Dublin over last decades can see that today the city itself is at the centre of social transformation and in particular the expansion of neo-liberalism. In this context the ‘right to the city’ has been proposed as an important demand for social movements. In this session we’ll look at the politics of cities today (property crisis, gentrification, NAMA etc.) and talk about the right to the city as a way of fighting back.

People might want to read David Harvey’s Right to the City (although it’s a bit academic).

You can also check out this video of Harvey talking about ‘accumulation by dispossession’

B.Y.O.B


CAO reform- end the points system

The Department of Education, under the new stewardship of Ruairi Quinn, has requested submissions from University and IT presidents on the reform of the CAO or ‘points’ system. While Minister Quinn has set out on a reform agenda, one issue, perhaps the most important, which won’t be discussed is the very principle of limiting access to 3rd level education.

While higher education is supposed to be a right, the existence of the point system has meant that many are excluded. The points system has two major effects. It prevents people from being able to choose what they want to study and it prevents others from accessing 3rd level at all.

I’m not sure if any rationale has ever been provided, but presumably some kind of pseudo-meritocratic thinking underpins the points system. It seems clear that something is not a right when you have to compete to access it – access to first and second level education, and indeed public services in general, is not subject to any kind of competition.

The points system is the key reason why people from disadvantaged communities continue to be excluded from 3rd level despite the free fees scheme. Many people either don’t get the points or don’t do the leaving cert in the first place. If the state is unable/unwilling to provide an adequate 2nd level education for everyone, than their can be no basis for excluding those who don’t have a leaving cert from 3rd level. The points system, moreover, is universally despised by 2nd level students as it is an extremely stressful and meaningless experience with virtually no positive learning outcomes.

The points system is possibly the clearest reason why we can’t pursue a politics of ‘defending the university’ or limit ourselves to resistance to 3rd level fees. It forces us to think beyond the question of free education and consider the nature of the universities and the non-financial exclusions and hierarchies it presupposes and reinforces.

If education is a right than universal access should be demanded. We should not be subject to arbitrary competitions that distract us from the real business of learning. The universities, after all, belong to everyone.

Mick O’Broin