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.

Reimagining the Students’ Union

Student politics is broken. With the exception of those running for Exec. positions who have begun to believe their own bullshit, we all know this without having to be told. We see the bizarre spectacle of candidates and their acolytes in brightly-coloured matching t-shirt rushing around trying to give you a sticker or a packet of Haribo in exchange for a vote, and making promises so outlandish that to call them impossible would be to credit them with an undeserved sense of dignity, and we feel instinctively that this is not the way that things were meant to be.

But that feeling that something is wrong hints at another way of doing things – at a dim unspoken vision of what student politics should be, and could be in some distant future. This article is an attempt to give some solidity to that alternative vision.

Even Zimbabwe holds elections

Right now, the Students’ Union is not a functioning democracy. What we have is an on-paper democracy: we have democratic structures (elections, Union Council etc.) but without any participation by the vast majority of students in the decision-making of the Union.

Part of the problem stems from the way candidates approach elections, most of which doesn’t even rise to the level of Jackie Healy-Rae clientelism, who had, at least, some idea of what the voters of South Kerry actually wanted, and (when the cards fell right for him) some prospect of getting it. In student politics, the electorate is treated with the utmost of contempt. When you are handed a can of Red Bull and told “vote for me”, the message is that it doesn’t matter what you think, all the candidate is interested in is your vote. When you are handed a manifesto which promises a new indoor ice-skating rink or an international airport or whatever, the message is that you as an ordinary student are too stupid to understand the intricacies of actual decision-making. Worse still, students have become so used to being spoken to in this manner that whenever genuine people come along, they must either adopt this approach to campaigning, or simply fade into obscurity.

In between elections, then, Union Council is supposed to serve as the organ of popular decision-making. The reality is somewhat different. Every year, Union Council is populated by the same clique of SU insiders, many of whom have aspirations of running for SU office in the future, with another stratum of wannabe insiders who haven’t quite made it into the clique just yet. Once elected (i.e. once they’ve found ten of their friends to sign their nomination form), Union Councillors are able to drop all pretence of actually representing a constituency, or even caring what their classmates think about the Union, and pursue their own personal agendas through the SU structures.

The Exec., meanwhile, undertake only the most minimal and perfunctory attempts to get ordinary students into UC positions, which usually involve visiting a couple of 1st Arts classes, with the result that many constituencies don’t even have tokenistic representation is the decision-making structures. So what’s the solution? The solution certainly isn’t to be found in vague nice-sounding soundbites about putting the U back in SU, which are so popular with candidates at this time of year. Candidates have been using similar slogan’s for decades and the U is still quite firmly absent from the reality of the SU. (Also, you can’t spell Union without ion, although I’m not sure what relevance that has.)

Nor is a solution to be found in electing student politicians who are good listeners or more approachable or more willing to take people’s suggestions on board. The reality is that the average student isn’t a well of fully-formed Good Ideas just waiting to be tapped by the right person. Good ideas come about through a process of mutual discussion, where the unique and subjective experiences of individual students are brought to the table, discussed, argued over, perhaps even fought over, and a conclusion is reached which is better than the sum of the parts. The problem therefore is a deeper one of how decision-making is approached. We need an SU which really involves as many students as possible in decision-making and which gives them the power to actually make decisions.

Something like that already exists on paper within the structures of the SU, but in a way which makes it practically unimplementable, namely the Union General Meeting. If we’re serious about the idea of making the SU democratic in a real and practical way, then bringing back mass assemblies is something that must be looked at.

The Students’ Union is not the Make-a-Wish Foundation

Yes it would be nice if there was a new swimming pool complex on campus, or if the condom machines in the SU jacks sold cocaine, or whatever other Awesome Thing you can imagine. But not only are these things impossible, they are also not what student politics should be about. The Students’ Union isn’t supposed to be a mechanism for student to somehow get loads of Awesome Things from somewhere. It’s a Union. It’s about representation. It’s about collective bargaining. It’s about lots of struggles, some of them small and boring, some of them big and exciting, to make the lives of students materially better in tangible ways. It’s a real and serious problem that the everyday struggles which really matter to the lives of students never get seriously discussed, because we’re too busy talking about which of the Awesome Things that candidates plucked out of thin air is most desirable/feasible.

Putting the ‘politics’ back into student politics

The Student’s Union is also not some kind of apolitical neutral service provider. Like it or not, a lot of the struggles in which students find themselves (most obviously against fees and for grants, but there are others) are inherently and necessarily political struggles. But despite this, student politicians – even those with strong and deeply-held political beliefs – run a mile from even the whiff of a strong political position. Why? Anyone can say they are against fees and want to campaign against fees, and in fact every candidate in every SU in the country says precisely this. The important question is how and why?

There’s a big difference between someone motivated by left-wing ideology who believes the campaign is best fought on the streets and who sees the fight against fees as being linked in with the struggles of workers and a right-winger who believes that the solution is effective lobbying and that the fight against fees is a fight against (public sector) workers to decide who feels the brunt of the cuts. I’ve written elsewhere about why I think it should be the former and not the latter, but that’s not the point of this article. The point is these questions matter, and as long as candidates are allowed (and indeed encouraged) to pretend that they don’t have any political opinions, then we’re very much gambling that what they mean when they say “against fees” is the same thing we mean.

Aidan Rowe

University and the ruins of the present

Reading the manifestos of the candidates for Provost (President) in Trinity College you could be forgiven for thinking that we really had reached the end of history. Nowhere in their over-inflated promises is there any hope that the university has a future beyond the market, an endless competition for funding, private finance, international students, ‘top’ academics and ‘brand recognition’. They write of hiring ‘development officers’ in New York, Beijing and London to generate funds from ‘philanthropists’ while at the same time supporting the re-introduction of fees and cuts to teaching staff. They all accept the government’s decision to cut funding for public institutions because the banks and bondholders are considered more important than free and equal education. This consensus is mounting all around us and it makes no sense.

But there is resistance.

Below is an eloquent article from friends in America who remind us that: “there is great disorder under heaven; the situation is excellent.”

Read the article

Occupation and Solidarity

Here is a statement from the students who yesterday occupied a building in UCL. The occupation is in solidarity with lecturers and other university staff who are the latest subject of attack in the ongoing subordination of the university to the neoliberal consensus.

‘In solidarity with striking lecturers and support staff students from UCL have occupied the Registry – the main administrative wing of the university. As students, we do not have the power to withdraw our labour in solidarity with staff, and so we have decided to occupy in order to fight the current attack on our lecturers’ pay, pensions and conditions. Management may not value the staff at UCL, but we students do.

This is, however, a much broader fight. We are still committed to a fully publicly funded education system and to resisting the privatisation of higher education. Lecturers are suffering this attack because of ideological reforms to the higher education system, implemented under the pretext of a financial crisis that they did not cause. The students and lecturers are what make this university, not the financial managers. We refuse to be divided from our lecturers and treated as disgruntled consumers. The true divide is with management and the ideological destruction of higher education they are complicit in.

We stand with our lecturers. We urge all students to join us in occupation in solidarity with their lecturers. Their fight is our fight.

We are all in this together!’

The ‘porous’ university

There is a growing consensus that we need to find new ways of generating wealth. Sites and activities we may once have cherished as ‘independent’ or ‘autonomous’ become willing or unwilling agents in evolving mechanisms of capture and appropriation. One area where this is emerging is the university. Previously understood as the ‘ivory tower’ it was sheltered from the shifting demands of the market. As resources decline and global competition grows it must now find ways of situating itself within new networks of value. What is quietly transpiring is a fundamentally new type of institution. As the university slowly adapts as a hub for the ‘creative’ economy it must develop new relations with the city it once rejected.

In 2009 Dermot Desmond launched his new ‘philanthropic’ project: ‘Cultural Odyssey: Creating a Global University for Culture and the Performing arts’. Desmond proposed a global university based in Ireland which would become a hub for culture and the arts. It would be connected by the internet, and thus open to all, but based in a number of affiliate institutions that could hold events and real-world encounters. The online manifesto states: “Our ambition is to make the expertise and experience of universities in Ireland and around the world accessible to greater numbers of students. Equipped with the intelligence and reach of the Global Hub, we will broker the provision of modules from existing higher education providers. We shall do so by identifying demand and matching it to suppliers. This will provide new streams of income and new markets to participating institutions.

Desmond’s proposal is to ‘disrupt the current model’ of university education. What dictates this shift from the ‘traditional’ university to the ‘porous’ university? Desmond’s analysis, as usual, is accurate: the current university model is not sustainable. Even before the state decided to re-channel resources from public institutions to banks and speculators the writing was on the wall. Demand now far outstrips supply. The cost to a heavily burdened state of providing ‘traditional’ university education in Ireland alone is 428 million euro a year. Already the government and the universities have accepted the necessity of re-introducing fees as massive cuts to core funding are set to continue. As ‘traditional’ education becomes obsolete, new demands and opportunities arise. Currently these opportunities, and precisely how they can produce value, are hard to quantify: knowledge and creative output are not as easy to gauge as the production of cars or grain. One part of the institutional shift is the need to develop more efficient ways of identifying and capturing the wealth of ‘untapped’ creativity that flows through the university and the city.

What makes Desmond’s university for the arts and culture so special is that it is a not- for- profit organisation. Unlike existing universities that are being attacked for the re-introduction of fees in order to ‘survive’ Desmond can present his model as a benign, philanthropic charity encouraging the ‘best of humanity’. Fees will not be charged, state of the art facilities will be free to those who qualify on merit of their work. Money will be generated through the creation of a new brand. The aim is to create an institution like RADA or Julliard and from this brand to create connections and alliances with other institutions, spaces, activities and resources so as to build a thriving network of creativity; a constant circulation of ideas and innovation. Income will be generated by spin off projects that are be promised by such a rich concentration of creative thinking matched by the growing demand for new ‘experiences’.

Already this year, backed by artists, writers and academics, the project has a proposal to acquire the Grangegorman buildings as part of Dublin Institute of Technology. Taking up a permanent place in Bolton St. would allow the centre to develop vital connections with other institutions (including other universities) in the city and the country. Suggestions for the use of heritage houses and empty spaces (after the collapse of the property market) are made in terms of regenerating the area and developing on the already rich and successful tradition of residency programmes. These alliances would give the “incentive for the creation of a new bohemian quarter around Bolton Street and Henrietta Street, spreading towards the Liffey like a slow tributary tide, spawning galleries, studios, workshops, cafés, meeting places, exchanges and interactions of all kinds.”

 

 

 

Desmond is not the only one exploiting new possibilities in the provision of education and the economic value associated with it. Trinity College and UCD have been fomenting relations for several years now as they harbour ambitions of developing a united university ‘brand’. A central part of this is the idea of the university as part of a ‘creative ecosystem’ within the city.

Last year Trinity commissioned a report, ‘Creativity, the City and the University’ which identified the ‘knowledge’ city as the bedrock of the ‘smart’ economy. A ‘Cultural Policy Research Group’ is examining the ‘role of student extracurricular activity and its potential links to the university and city’, with a report due in May. A new post of ‘cultural co-ordinator’ has been established to develop and strengthen links between the university and other cultural institutions in Dublin. The example they are hoping to imitate is Columbia University in New York which had the mission of making ‘all of Manhattan our campus’.

University managers have been complaining for years about the difficulties of maintaining quality and competitive third level education without any new investment. They have been amongst the first calling for the re-introduction of fees as the only ‘rational’ thing to do. As blame for the abandonment of third level education is placed at the feet of an incompetent state these institutions are already thinking within a global context, fighting to ensure they can hold their own in an increasingly desperate struggle for resources: competing for quality lecturers who bring the promise of research funding, for international students who pay inflated tuition fees, for funding from the state, the EU and private investors, for contracts in the development of commercial knowledge for industries such as pharmaceuticals and gaming technology. The consensus that the market is our only reality becomes evident when our education is subordinated to this constant demand to ‘adapt’ to the irrationalities of global competition.

‘Creativity’ has the benefit of appearing as universally positive and benign. But it is clear that it is an intrinsic part of an emerging consensus on the future of the university, the city and the economy. The ‘creative’ university, in the ‘creative’ city, is not just the avant-garde of capitalism; it is also the emergence of a new form of institutionality, one that makes familiar distinctions between the ‘inside’ and the ‘outside’ impossible. When students stormed the university walls in 1968 their mission was to liberate new desires, to create a university open to all. Now we are faced with the prospect of a monstrous institution that is attempting to do just that. The institution becomes the instrument of market logic, enclosing more areas of the city, extending the consensus.

But our creativity remains our power, emerging from our thoughts, our desires and our relationships. Creativity is our commons. The question is how to turn this power into counter-institutional power, resistance that works against the consensus. To begin with we need to stop thinking so positively. We need to refuse the happy consensus on creativity. We need to resist being part of the solution. We need to develop a new counter-culture borne out of a negation of the emerging status quo. We need to claim spaces and activities of antagonism, ‘unaesthetic’ alliances and collaborations that challenge the limited and exclusive vision of the ‘creative’ city.

P. Bresnihan

 

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