Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Dreaming of public universities for the public

“Many of us who labour in the university do so because we believe (or hope) that it is somehow different than working for exploitative corporations. In the US, the ideal that citizens should receive free education – further extended through land-grant initiatives of the late 1800s that granted states federally controlled land for the express purpose of building universities to give access to and teach all citizens practical arts and the classics – allows us to believe that public universities are indeed for the public, and based on the mission of providing knowledge and resources for the public good. However, even those of us organizing during the strike quickly realized that mantras of ‘Keep the University of Minnesota Public’ were misguided as the University of Minnesota and most public institutions have never really been public and have systematically excluded groups. A liberal arts education, even in the paradigm of land-grant institutions, has always been defined as the knowledge of elites, thus we cannot continue thinking about the university as an idealistic space, or that there is something that we nostalgically want to return to. We cannot continue to fetishize the roles of students and faculty as pursuers of knowledge when it is clear that knowledge has a price and is marketed as a product. Clearly, we must redefine the space of the university, our labour, and the relations between workers. These are the parameters to build solidarity: all as workers differently situated in the same economic/factory system.”

- quote from:
Amy Pason “We Are All Workers: A Class Analysis of University Labour Strikes”, Ephemera, volume 8, number 3 (august 2008) (pdf file for article),
- an article in the new issue (8.3) of ephemera: theory & politics in organization entitled 'University, Failed' -- just released at
This issue is a call to discussion regarding the modern university, and what we seek to achieve with it is to highlight the discussions already taking place within the university, and to spurn on some new ones. Yet, as the entrance to today's Humboldt University tells us, such interpretation is not enough. What counts is change. Such change cannot, we believe, be achieved solely by the university itself. This insight creates huge challenges for other issues and interventions regarding the university of tomorrow: to open the discussion to other shareholders and constituencies within the knowledge factory, to pave ground for other residuals, where a university may take place.
Where are these places? And what do 'the people' – the students, the politicians, the medias, the immigrants, the elderly, the people – want with the university? Underneath the seductive toasts and touching speeches that the university enjoys again and again, unmistakable signs of mistrust secrete. A dialogue about this mistrust (which dwells well, also, within the university itself) may be what lies ahead, meshed up with the ongoing grand failure of the university.
Journal’s special issue site; download the whole special issue.

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