What do we want?

On Monday the campaign for the old city arts had an open meeting to discuss what we want to do with the building when we get it. Up until this point most of our energies have been channelled into the ‘campaign’. A large part of this process was meeting up with a wide variety of people to tell them about the campaign and gain their support. The hope was that by keeping the future open in terms of what we would do with the building a space would be created that could allow others to feel included, to put forward their own projects and desires. While this worked to some extent it was thought that we also needed to think about what we wanted, to remember that we were not just ‘campaign organizers’.

Those who came to the meeting suggested what they were personally interested in doing with the building. There were several suggestions for educational projects that were explicitly in opposition to the forms of teaching and research that currently prevail in schools and universities. These included critical pedagogical and research methods that sought to learn from concrete, everyday experiences and problems, learning and researching with people rather than at distance; holding regular and ongoing courses on subjects that were not usually taught or available to people and workshops or collaborative projects, including, for example, a hacker space. Related to these projects was the idea of using the building as a resource or archive, such as a library, but including recordings or records of various events that took place in the building. Also as a place to generate publications, zines etc.

A specific project called ‘Radical Love’ was proposed to take place from the 13th-15th September. This would take the form of an ongoing seminar involving up to 30 people presenting their various work.

Following on from the recent emergence of people’s assemblies in North Africa, Spain and Greece, and now in Ireland through Real Democracy Now, it was suggested the building could be used to hold regular and ongoing assemblies for people in the city. There are not many indoor spaces in the city where this kind of event can happen. The assembly would be a place for people to meet, to voice their problems and angers but also a way to generate political projects.

Other suggestions were more general in terms of how the building could be a place to support other projects: a roof garden or community garden; a cafe; language classes.

The question arose again, a question which had defined the discussion from the start: how much was the building to be defined by us and our desires and how much by others?

On one hand it was argued that it is more important to fight with people than fight for them: that it is better to put forward our own problems and needs in the hope that they will resonate with people rather than setting up a  building to ‘facilitate’ other people.

On the other it was argued that the building could quickly turn into another ‘independent space’ which was full of ‘our’ creativity and desires but had no impact politically in terms of creating some sort of counter-power to the state and market. The danger in this situation is that the building becomes another ‘island’ with no concrete support from beyond its limited circle, no political potency. In order to become a stronger force, more than just a building, requires strong connections of solidarity to be formed with other communities and individuals around the city.

Rather than being two opposing sides a common idea is that there needs to be something concrete and real in our demands for the building (something more than just getting an empty space) but these demands need to be universal not just specific to us.

But there has been a concrete demand that has resonated with people from the beginning: a frustration and anger at the way our collective lives are being constantly undermined and destroyed by a present and future ‘reality’ which the government and other ‘experts’ tell us is unavoidable. The campaign for the building came out of this anger, and a desire to do something to challenge it- by claiming a building. This anger has the capacity to resonate.

Autonomy was suggested as a term or concept that seemed to encapsulate much of what we had been talking about. Autonomy from an ideology that tells us we can’t do anything on our own: whether that be a ‘reliance’ on state funding (community development, arts, university) or a ‘reliance’ on keeping the market happy (austerity, commercialization of education). The building is an assertion of our autonomy. Within it people can pursue what they want as an expression of this political statement of autonomy. This seemed to overcome the problem of labeling it ‘educational’ or ‘cultural’ or ‘social’ which can, especially now, tend to be generic and meaningless. At the same time autonomy can suggest ideas of self-reliance which is the opposite of what is intended in terms of the building being part of the generation of a real, concrete counter-power in the city and country. But concepts are not static. Having a term like autonomy at least allows us to develop some common understanding of what we are doing, or feel we are doing.

We ended by deciding to hold a series of events over three days at the end of August (Thursday, 18th- Saturday, 20th) outside the building. These events would be a demonstration of the things we would like to see happen in the building. By doing something, with people, we also leave the comfort, and sometimes frustration, of only thinking in meetings.

If people have ideas for the three days please come along to our weekly meetings, Mondays at 6pm in Seomra Spraoi, or else email campaigncityarts@gmail.com.

‘All power to the free universities of tomorrow’

The Copenhagen Free University began in 2001. It was an attempt to reinvigorate the emancipatory aspect of research and learning, in the midst of an ongoing economisation of all knowledge production in society.

It operated for six years out of an apartment. The question they asked themselves was:

what kind of university do we need in relation to the everyday?

This is in sharp contrast to the prevailing model, increasingly removed from the lived conditions, needs and desires of most people in society.

In 2010 a law was passed in Denmark that forbid the use of the name ‘University’ for any Institution other than those authorised by the state. The reason was to stop ‘students from being disappointed’.

Below is a statement against his law from those who were involved in the Copenhagen Free University. While their project stopped in 2007 the need to resist the ongoing colonisation of our thought and learning is more urgent than ever.

“We call for everybody to establish their own free universities in their homes or in the workplace, in the square or in the wilderness. All power to the free universities of the future.”

Read the full statement here.

From the university to the streets

A question often asked is what the university has to do with the general crisis in society? Clearly all public institutions are faced with cuts to their funding. In the university this has led to calls by university managers for a re-introduction of fees as well as a host of other options devised to generate resources from the private sector.

But these are symptoms of a more general crisis. While it is important that we fight against these tendencies the most we can hope for from such reaction is that we maintain things as they are. By constantly being defensive we turn the university back into the closed institution of the past. We forget to think about what it is we are defending- is it exams, jaded teachers, boring, outdated text books, hierarchies, bureaucracy, an increasingly worthless qualification in an economy with no jobs?

While we must reject the current consensus that subordinates everything to the market we have to go beyond that rejection. What we want must be fought for beyond the existing university walls. The university is not separate from the world that sustains it. Connecting to other struggles, turning education into something living, is a way to go beyond the limited hopes of defending what we have. We have to aim higher.

On 13th of May a contingent from the Knowledge Liberation Front will travel to Tunisia to meet up with students and activists who have been part of a living struggle. This is not only a journey to build solidarity but also a journey to learn. It is a living education.

Read the draft call

Liberation Without Borders Tour: From Rebel Universities to Tunisian Uprising

Universities and the New Manegerialism

Here’s another article by Kathleen Lynch (UCD). This one looks at some of the perverse effects of new managerialism in higher education and looks at some of the implications in terms of gender.

It provides useful information on the managerial structures which are being used to control research in universities but also on the subjective and structural effects of these measures. Kathleen argues that the way this interacts with gender is an important, if not typically addressed, element of this process.

Kathleen Lynch on Neoliberalism

This article is based on a paper delivered by Prof.  Kathleen Lynch (Equality Studies Centre, UCD) at the European Conference on Educational Research in 2005.

It deals with the neo-liberalisation of higher education as well as the role of adacemics as public intellectuals in creating a ‘counter-hegemonic’ discourse.

Open Letter to Dublin City Council

Today, the 2nd March, the provisional university sent an open letter to the City Manager of Dublin City Council demanding a space for student-managed teaching and research and denouncing the neo-liberalisation of the university and the destruction of the public good. This is the second step in our campaign to reclaim a space to fight for education as a right and to take back the university. The text of the letter follows.

Dear John Tierney,

We are writing to demand a student-managed educational and research space within the city. Our motivations are set out in what follows.

Both the State and those in control of the universities have abandoned any commitment to education as a right and to equality in education. There is a consensus between the political class and the university elite on the re-introduction of 3rd level fees (or other mechanisms to make us pay for university) and the subordination of research and teaching to economic objectives (i.e. the smart economy), as well as bureaucratic regulations which are often an end in themselves. These measures are justified with reference to the public deficit created by the same neo-liberal politics which are now proposed in order to save the university.

We are no longer willing to watch as the university ‘adapts’ to the global market. We are no longer willing to watch as the university gives away resources and space to neo-liberal projects which, under the cover of ‘partnership’ with the ‘business community’, have introduced the rationality of the market into the heart of the university.

We do not believe that education should be practiced as a hobby or a private interest. Nor do we believe it should be driven by narrow, market needs. Education is collective and open-ended, qualities which are at the centre of the university.

It is in this context that we perceive the necessity to resurrect the university as an egalitarian institution. As a first step this requires a physical space to organize open and independent research and teaching, without fees, points or selling-out to the market. As this space is prohibited to us within the university we now demand a space beyond its walls.

Five years ago Dublin boasted of the most expensive land in the world. Now empty buildings and For Let signs tell us of a sudden evacuation; a living ruin to a false economy. With hindsight everyone sees what went wrong yet NAMA hopes to recover its 40 billion worth of properties and half finished developments by selling them off in the ‘long term’. Not only is this wrong it is also unrealistic.

While we are told that the university has to be undermined because the state has no resources we know the state has at least one resource in abundance: empty buildings. If the state refuses to support education and other public services, we demand that a currently idle state-owned building be handed over to the citizens who believe in equality and education as a right.

There is no justification for maintaining empty publicly-owned buildings. We have no intention of accepting a negative response to our request as this could only be another expression of disdain for citizens and equality.

We perceive the crisis of the university and the crisis of the state to be the same: the mistaken belief that what is good for private interests is good for public interests. We believe in a different idea of the public good.

As students we demand a right to our university, as citizens we demand a right to our city.

While Dublin City Council may not have any formal powers over NAMA or bank owned properties we demand that as our elected representatives you put pressure on those who do. As our elected representatives you have a responsibility to act on our behalf.

We look forward to commencing a dialogue and to achieving our demand.

Yours in anticipation,

The Provisional University