ALTERNATIVE, AUTONOMOUS ACCREDITATION

ALTERNATIVE, AUTONOMOUS ACCREDITATION
proposed by thomasgokey

“HULK BELIEVE IN HEALING POWER OF LOVE. HULK ALSO BELIEVE IN HEALING POWER OF SMASH. HULK VAST. CONTAIN MULTITUDES.” –FEMINIST HULK

Since 2007 we’ve seen a renaissance of self-organized spaces where knowledge is freely produced and shared, such as hackerspaces, alternative and artist-run schools like The Public School, The Art School in the Art SchoolThe University for Strategic OptimismThe Experimental College of the Twin CitiesThe Anhoek School and many others. What these spaces prove is that the teaching and learning that happens at “real” universities is not so special or elevated or rare or inimitable.

Over the past 30 years we’ve witness the neo-liberal transformation of universities, both public and private, into corporations, ones that produce a social relation between students and teachers in which both are exploited. Tuition has increased 900% since 1978 while tenure-track positions have been replaced by precarious adjuncts and grad students.

Due to the economy and austerity measures (which never seem to require austerity from the rich) humanities programs in particular have come under fire since the values they produce are not values capital recognizes.

The university is a factory as our friends in the UK have reminded us. In factories, the workers themselves have all the know-how. The know-nothing owners need the workers more than the other way around. The only thing the workers need is access to the means of production. With the shift to the kind of immaterial labor that takes place in the humanities the only thing we need is the student-teacher relationship itself and this is something we ought to be able to gain control of and determine for ourselves. Any café, public squareuniversity quad (or even a bank) can be transformed into a school. This exposes the corporate university for what it is, nothing more than a legitimized diploma mill, an ivy-walled bank that exchanges one form of credit (tuition) for another (academic). In this light it makes perfect sense for Syracuse University to sell out to JP Morgan Chase, they’re already in the same line of business.

The corporate “university” produces no value, it is simply a vampire that mediates this social relation between students and teachers. What schools like The Public School have shown us is that we don’t need this vampire at all. We can do it ourselves, we can become autonomous.

But at present what we do at The Public School or the Art School in the Art School et al. is not a threat to the corporate university at all for one simple reason: corporate universities have got a monopoly on accreditation. Right now they are the only ones who can notarize our brains. This is why they don’t mind at all when professors put their courses on YouTube where anyone can learn for free because this kind of learning doesn’t “count,” it isn’t recognized. The only value that the corporate “university” adds to the student/teacher relation is accreditation. Only the kind of education you have to pay them for counts, even when it is 100% identical as in the case of the UfSO.

In the spring of 2011 John Hutnyk taught a class at Goldsmiths University on Cultural Studies and Capitalism that was open to anyone in collaboration with The University for Strategic Optimism. The educational content was the same, but the students enrolled at Goldsmiths got formally recognized credit for the course whereas the students enrolled with the UfSO did not. We ought to be able to change this.

The task is how to weaponize (a non-violent weapon to be sure) The AS in the AS, The Public School, hackerspaces and similar schools. We want to turn these alternative spaces into weapons that can smash corporations and build true universities in their place. We want the administrators at Syracuse University (or NYU or Columbia or [fill in the name of your favorite loathsome corporate university]) to be scared shitless about what we can do without them, that we can educate our selves and each other without their vampiric interference.

What is needed to weaponize such schools is a networked, autonomous accreditation agency based on mutual recognition.

Thomas Gokey and Joanna Spitzner, representing the Art School in the Art School, invite other alternative educational ventures to meet at the NY Public School, not just to discuss these ideas, but to begin the active creation of such an autonomous accreditation agency. We invite all interested parties to join us in the flesh or in spirit (and by spirit we mean Skype).

We are all for education for its own sake. We are aware of the many difficulties and dangers of such a proposal. But even so there are many reasons to be optimistic that we can create an alternative accreditation system that does not simply reproduce the same nubureaucracy that governs corporate universities and that preserves the “education for its own sake” spirit of these various DIY projects. All we are advocating is making these DIY projects a genuine threat to existing systems of exploitation that currently exist within the university system.

JH: How to do this and still pay workers (including support staff, overheads, library, research, cafe, porters, what you would call janitors, grounds, tech, childcare, paint, etc)? Free at the point of delivery was a big consideration in our discussions – and there have been long discussions. In the factory, time is money, right, and workers control of factories still does not completely break that equation – a planned economy still requires some economic consideration. Differently distributed for sure, but… For this coming year, all our lectures in the Centre for Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths will be open free to the public (from October – though we are currently thinking about perhaps working up a viable sign up option so people are encouraged to come for ten week blocks). The degree will still cost for Goldsmiths students. So, how to make credit transferrable? The Europe wide Bologna process is a nightmare, but something like this/better than this can and must be pursued.

tax credits, corporate sponsorship, Govt grants and robbing banks – its been done – all on the cards I guess…

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Comments

  • Thomas  On 23/08/2011 at 02:25

    Money should be a part of the equation. The idea is to let students and teachers figure out the money side on their own, at least to begin with.

    For example. I got paid $1,500 to co-teach a grad seminar last year at Syracuse University (zero benefits). Some of the students who took the class were paying the full tuition sticker price for the class, about $2,500, some paid nothing, some paid something in-between.

    The school gave us zero support. We got nothing we couldn’t have gotten anywhere else. All we needed to teach was a place to meet.

    So this next spring we’re toying with the idea of teaching the same grad seminar, but not teaching it at the university. Since this is a bit of an experiment we want to offer it to the students free of charge. We don’t want to ask them to pay for something that the aren’t sure of yet. It shouldn’t be too hard to scrounge up $1,500 from someplace to cover what we would have been making at the university (this is one of the dangers to the university, they pay us so little we’ve really got nothing to lose by trying something else). But even if we were to charge the students it would really only cost them about $200 a piece to pay us each $1,500. Most of the students would be saving quite a bit of money. If they paid us all $400 most of the students would be saving a lot of money and we’d be making roughly twice as much. We just cut out the overpaid-underworked administrators.

    So although solving the money side of the equation will be the tougher part (especially on a larger scale), I think the first place to start is to solve the accreditation side of the equation.

    Next year we will be able to provide the same high level of education outside the university, but we also want to offer our students recognition for what they’ve learned. Between now and January I’ve got to figure out exactly how that will work.

    You might be interested in the Open Badges Project: https://wiki.mozilla.org/Badges
    You might consider offering a “badge” to students who attend a 10 week block of classes at the Centre for Cultural Studies but are not formally enrolled at Goldsmiths. This badges project is new and it’s not clear yet how it will work or what problems it will have, but I’m eager to give it a try.

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    • Micahel Chronopoulos-Mantas  On 28/08/2011 at 08:26

      OPEN LETTER
      by Michael Chronopoulos-Mantas on Thursday, August 25, 2011 at 11:48am
      I’m doing a 16m first person cinema project since June within the resistance movement in Athens Greece (transience, invisibility and viewing places as experimental stage within subculture spaces) I worked with TAZ identities in UK ten years ago. I presently find myself (safe and sound) and loving every moment of it, within the barackaded propilio building on University Avenue in central Athens. My calling card yesterday as usual was my vintage 1957 16mm bolex as I was shooting the student march against Government reforms in Education and this morning it was two enormous refrigerated watermellons in the sweltering Athens heat as a token of good luck and support to the amazing and courageous students. Communicating in detailed Greek is a bit of a problem and my ego doesn’t allow me to speak in universal English. Lots of gaps and missing nuanced leads but am doing my best at what I do best which is plugging in and simply riding the story. What I’m asking is, have you come across information as to what the fuck is going on here from a current academo-political gaze as this city seems to be falling into an ever quickening dark vortex within the context of the capitalist crisis, consistent claims from many sources of staggering government/police corruption, really vile stuff, legions of heroine users for example being ‘planted’ encroaching ever closer to the polytechnical campus site as nefarious agendas reveal themselves. University gov’t giving away student/political asylum status of Greek universities as negotiating ‘chips’ for example within the context of the sweeping education reforms just voted in overwhelmingly by the government and leading opposition parties. There’s a conference going on in Thesaloniki Sept 5th to 11th organized by REAL DEMOCRACY with international speakers that i’m thinking of attending, likewise do you know anything about this conference? The students are asking questions about the UK model during last winter’s student occupations in Britain where they were able to conduct classes within the occupied sites. Michael Chronopoulos-Mantas PhD Thesis Social Sciences Cardiff Uni.

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    • john hutnyk  On 28/08/2011 at 08:39

      Michael, until you wrote I had not heard about the conference – and as we have events on at Goldsmiths here that week it would impossible to get to Greece even if it were a chance – but I am sure we would be very keen to read reports. Does this conference also engage with some of the more worrying nationalist-racist elements in the recent Square mobilizations that we have head about? Which, it must be said, also were an element in the recent riots here in the UK, though I think very much an opportunistic sideshow by some Nationalists and also latched onto by a media desperate for a story that might explain something other than capital’s crisis and cuts-led Big Society consequences – of course the media did not have the wherewithal to interview the multiculturalist youths…

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  • john hutnyk  On 23/08/2011 at 07:46

    Thomas, the badges thing looks interesting, even if a little corporate web 2.0 looking for my tastes (cotton badges you sew onto your shirt might be fun – but that way leads to Baden Powell and the scouts, or to the military). I’m no fan of LETS schemes and other fantasy escapes from the capital equation that aren’t really, but in the meantime (before the system dies its long brutal death) we do need to look at them. We tried having seminars off campus. But venue-squeeze was a problem then too. Taking the university to a venue outside ‘the university’ does not yet solve issues of how to fund the hidden parts of that ‘quality’/’high level’ – building, library, cleaning, intangibles like staff you want to hear from, college reputations (horribly distorted into branding, but still not nothing). How to get Capital/Govt/Corporate Tax to cover this, for all, forever. Even the fact that Capital is forcing us to think up the solutions is a bastard form of outsourcing.

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  • Thomas  On 23/08/2011 at 13:58

    We have no illusions about escaping capital with this set up for our class. Instead it’s more like a worker own business, one that still has to grapple with the same issues as the university, but where both teachers and students have a little more control over how things work.

    From within the class we do try to grapple with the larger problems. I should have mentioned that our grad seminar was called “Innovation in Public Libraries” and tries to re-imagine the institution of the public library for the 21st century. We look at the public library as a model of a commons. We look at technological innovations that will change the material conditions we live in and possibly open up new passageways to a different kind of world (3D printing, nano tech, etc).

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  • Liz  On 26/08/2011 at 10:54

    This is going to seem really uncharitable – okay, this is really uncharitable – but I can’t stop laughing and I have to somehow get this out of my system. I have to admit comrades, this makes me laugh out loud. In my long-ago days of doing academic union drudgery, it was always funny to hear academics or post-grads talk about how they would run a free university, cutting out all those pesky “overpaid” admin staff. So funny. The administration staff were always the lowest paid and the only ones who know how to book rooms, organise schedules, ensure that students received results in time (especially for things like visa renewals for international students) etc. I would really really love to see how you will manage some kind of new revolutionary credentialism without them. The free university projects I have seen always end with room clashes, missing speakers, and the same group of students and their teachers sitting around wondering why no-one wants to come to their free university. But its free!!

    I agree with John – this is a bastard form of outsourcing. I genuinely hope I’m wrong, but I still haven’t stopped laughing. Although if you were to finance it by robbing banks, or bringing in international students (and then allowing them to pretend they were going to class without actually doing so), that would be kind of cool.

    I think I’ve become very cynical, or otherwise I am just showing my hatred of academics honed over many years of watching them fuck over international students in the name of quality (and also treacherously screw over underpaid and over-worked administrative staff members of their own union).

    The idea of taking knowledge outside the university, freeing it from Capital is one I have seen repeatedly tried and failed. The problem always seems to be that when you leave them, the academics always want to come too…. (with apologies to Mental as Anything).

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    • John Hutnyk  On 26/08/2011 at 13:14

      I expect UfSO people will agree that this deserves consideration, and, despite the preamble, it is not uncharitable – anyway, charity is always an alibi for not doing the needful. Lets see how people respond – even if on some minor points there may be a case for nuance – ie., some middle and upper management admin are overpaid, and some academics can just about manage to book a room – this is minor compared to the places where, in general, these points are totally sound, and hint at a number of crucial things that have received only cursory, or absolutely no, attention so far.

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    • Thomas  On 30/08/2011 at 02:32

      This was just published today it looks like, an excellent account of how full-time faculty have been replaced with underpaid part time/adjunct/grad students, and how administrative bloat has taken over. I’m not sure how this compares to universities outside the US, but this is spot on:

      http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/magazine/septemberoctober_2011/features/administrators_ate_my_tuition031641.php?page=all&print=true

      One of the things to note here is that the need to reign in administrative pay is an area that both the left and the right and everyone in the middle seems to agree on.

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  • flashbank  On 26/08/2011 at 14:14

    Seeing as John has commissioned us to respond, I wouldn’t want anyone to think that we don’t respect our peers ;-) As always, I can pretty much guarantee my comments don’t reflect those of the UfSO as a whole.

    I’m gonna respond to this by mentioning an idea that kept occurring to me when we wrote all that anti-uni stuff for various conferences in the summer:

    http://universityforstrategicoptimism.wordpress.com/2011/06/13/university-for-strategic-optimism-whose-university/

    If you take the workshop idea and think about how it would work within the existing university, I think it leads to the unpopular conclusion that it is the professors that are overpaid, because the learning should be a co-operative, collaborative project and that the existing economic relationship between professors and students is totally warped. If we abolish the authority position of the professor and take seriously the idea that the class can be a group learning project between equals, the professor acting at best as a “facilitator”, then I think the following should happen with the money: the professor should work out what proportion of his/her massive wage comes from this particular class of students, and then he/she should divide up this wage between him/herself and the students, because they would do equal work.

    The problem with this is that the professor would only be giving the students back the money that they have paid in fees, so the students wouldn’t be earning any real money from their work, where as the professor would be, albeit significantly less.

    I realise there isn’t really an argument behind this, and there wasn’t supposed to be because this just seemed to be a natural result of taking the workshop idea seriously, and not just as an intellectual experiment of the kind that all existing unhealthy relationships stay in place and nothing radical actually occurs.

    This is like the other side of the problem of how to finance a radically free university – the problem is how to take radical social learning seriously, and not assume that a lecturer should lecture and get paid for it. Call me naive, but it seems that mutual learning and teaching within a (politicised) social group of equals, which would therefore not be about a wage-heirarchy in the first place, is the only radical setup. If students want to support each other financially as well then this would be great, and more about genuine solidarity anyway.

    Prof. G Riddle, UfSO

    Oh, and regarding accreditation, this is only a problem within the university system anyway, which is an elitist state machine with no hope of being radical. You have to abolish the social-economic context for accreditation, otherwise this is an utopian project with only symbolic value. I mean, this is the extreme view, and I’m all for utopian schemes, but they will not change anything in the long run, they will only have a theatrical-critical effect. In a mutual learning workshop environment outside (or within) the university, the learning itself and social relations formed through learning are the object of study, and the group can produce a real result (a book, a political action, a film, a machine, a weapon, etc) which reflects all of their work and has no single name attached. Research and learning are one, and the result is not necessarily co-opted by Captial (or into the professors next book).

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  • UfSO  On 26/08/2011 at 20:02

    as another professor at the university for strategic optimism I will throw in some more words that do not necessarily reflect that of the uni as a whole.

    I do not think creating a ‘new’ university, a free university, means that it will be free of organizers, structure or ‘administration’. Rethinking the university is not about creating a charity either where everyone ‘volunteers’ their time instead of receiving compensation. I think it’s about finding a new way of not only of funding education but of presenting, representing and organizing it.  As much as it feels laughable that you have watched students time and time again attempt a free university, I find it enlightening… The idea keeps reappearing to new and different students over the years! It raises the point that these frustrations aren’t new, but felt time and again that we are paying into a system and feeling duped. 

    I recently found out a friend of mine has never, in fact, graduated from her university. She completed all of her coursework at NYU but in her final semester lost her 10k scholarship and could not pay the final fees. She has managed to now start a masters at another prestigious American University without ever completing her BA or even her high school diploma. How did she accomplish all of this? She said ” I found out the rules and worked the system.”  What astonished me is that she seemed to feel no injustice that the system was working against her, that for 10k (the school is 55k a year x 4 years) she missed out on the piece of paper.  [the loophole is that the college will send your transcript to any potential employer (you having a job means paying then), the transcript does not say you have not completed the course, bc in fact, you have. She just claimed the uni for her MA was a potential employer. Nobody knew the wiser.] 

    So what can we learn from this? That powerful universities are not as organized as they seem? That 10k matters more than an educated student? That the piece of paper is bullshit anyway? Is creating a free university linked with sabotaging the existing? How are they linked? Sabotage or debunk myths? Devalue? 

    Back to the original point, I agree that we all have knowledge, whether experiential, social, emotional, or traditional academic… And that’s to be shared and valued equally as should skills like organizing or booking a room be valued. But the issue arises when there is an inequality in value. I agree that a lot of administration is being shat on at the moment and there should be some clarity in who and what administration we mean. Certainly we have felt the affects of department secretaries and administrators hours being cut and in a new free university the structural elements will need to be considered. An openness to the public works best when there is somebody is charge of answering the phone or greeting people. I know entering the really free school squat earlier this year I felt while the stuff happening was amazing, when I entered the space I felt confused and unwelcomed. I watched an older tourist couple enter and after 5 (long) min a very confusing, spacey explanation was given to them as to what the space was.  The really free school only felt really free to likeminded, ‘stereotyped’ lefties. How do we move away from that? 

    Perhaps I’m pointing out the obvious a little too much. But if we want to practically implement a free school we should consider structure. One question that always pops into my mind is who is the school for? We say the public or the local community but I feel if that is the case then structure and organization becomes even more important. How can radical be accessible? A transition course, an intro to radical structures? With each class, becomes the implementation of more radical techniques? We have to consider how to get people in the gates before we throw everyone in the deep end. Those gates are traditionally administrator…  

    Yours,
    Professor Mildred Pierce

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  • Liz  On 27/08/2011 at 08:01

    Hi Professors,

    I thank you for your response. You articulated my concerns more effectively than I could. I think sabotage and devaluation is most definitely what I am into.

    Kudos to your mate managing to scam her way into the Masters! If only transcripts were that easy to manipulate in Australia, but alas they are not. We don’t have much of a tradition of good document forgery here in Australia (or I should say, insufficient contact with those crews in exile who are good at such things), and in the context of a once-booming international education industry, academic transcripts are becoming almost as difficult to forge as Australian passports – and with as much value in the context of border crossing!

    This is most definitely what I am into, which is why I applaud rather than tut-tut “scam colleges” which have been bringing “international students” in to the US, UK, Australia. As long as “students” are in on the scam, there should be more of it. The flip side of this to me is not trying to make the university free, but to circulate methods of developing knowledge outside of the university. Roland Simon, TC, metamute, Angela Mitropoulos – you know, some of these people and circles have relationships of sorts with academic institutions, but not always, and these relationships are not central to the process of production of thought, it seems, though of course it is great to get a scholarship or an academic wage and not have to work as much whilst writing stuff. Most of the writing I do is with an un-credentialled, dole autonomist (or bludger, depending on yr preference) and most of what we read and try to develop theory from is not from academics, though many have no doubt attended unis. This for us is actually a really important point about the way we see universities. I mean, I agree that it is somewhat heartening that students always want to try to make free uni projects, but I also think there is something to be said about what these are premised on, and seems to be the idea of “opening up” the university to those who otherwise can’t afford it, or variations on that theme. Which of course is what scamming international students across the border into “sham colleges” sometimes is: or at least, opening the world that comes with the credential up to those who would never have been able to afford it. Stealing from the university. The absolute and total lack of solidarity from the Australian “student movement” but particularly from radical and left academics with those border scammers who used the uni or the sham college as the means of obtaining literally a passport to whitey world, a ticket to a higher standard of living, was pretty amazing in this context – this context in which radical students and staff want to open up the uni, but not, it seems to poor foreigners who aren’t interested in attending class, or certainly not as interested as they are in getting access to residency. At least in the UK we have seen academics resisting being turned into border cops (having to mark the roll to ensure international students meet their visa requirements of attendance).

    I should be clear about where my hostility comes from. The last invitation I received to participate in a “free university” discussion was – actually the last two invitations – was on the basis of my “involvement” in “Global South” struggles, one as a campaign worker for a creepy NGO (remember FairWear, John?), and the other because I was involved in campaigns against detention centres. Obviously this reflects something about the scary race politics of the Australian left, in that we usually can’t find someone not-white in our circles to talk about these things, so we fall back on NGO workers who “work with” (though we can always fall back on indigenous activist Gary Foley – yes, John he is still around, and still awesome, but I think a little tired of his role). I asked them why their panel on racism and international students involved, rather than an international student (cos you know, they are sooo hard to find when you spend your life on a university campus) an academic whose role seemed to be to play down the idea of racialised violence against Indian international students. I suggested that getting an academic to talk about violence against international students was like asking a detention centre guard why detainees go on hunger strike (an imperfect analogy, I know). My point being the university itself, what it is what it does, and in particular the role of academics implicated in its economy, implicated in the conditions which created racial hostility across the social terrain towards Indian international students, was NOT up for discussion. The university, and the idea that it should be free and accessible is, certainly in the Australian and UK contexts, part of the social democratic deal, the crumbling of which involves privatisation etc., which we are against. The crumbling of which has also meant the possibility of poor or not poor foreigners using the education system as a mechanism for accessing better material conditions. Going into debt, hocking the family farm in Punjab to come up with the cash to go to an Australian university and hopefully access residency. It seems we are against this too. Radical and left academics are so deeply implicated in the rip off that has been international education economy. Everyone knows many students want residency. So we sell it to them. It helps us to launder funds for “pure research” and other worthy unprofitable things. The problem is, with universities, the students aren’t in on the scam. They are expected to pass, subjected to academic witch hunts against plagiarism, not assisted to cross the border. Radical leftie academics hate international students, as they embody privatisation. Free university projects that I have seen are predicated on nostalgia for social democracy, when “knowledge for knowledge’ sake” was apparently funded. That nostalgia amongst leftie academics seems to go hand in hand for a desire to return to the days when we didn’t have pesky foreigners in the classroom. That’s why it makes me laugh. Cos I have a fucked-up sense of humour.

    I’m into the theatrical-critical, and good luck to those projects, I think they are most excellent.

    Also I suspect the terms “administrator” mean different things to you and I. In Australia they are called “general” as opposed to “academic staff” and most are poorly paid. I think it might be the distinction between “admin staff” and “manager” being lost in my rant.

    I’ll just have to trust what you say about academics managing to book rooms, John. I don’t know what crazy parallel universe you’ve got over there where academics can book rooms and don’t want to be border cops, all at the same time! This must be what drove you out of here in the first place….

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  • john hutnyk  On 27/08/2011 at 09:15

    Great Liz. For the record, and at risk of misrepresenting the character of higher ed in the uk, we in CCS include the person who leads metamute, the group who started the campaign against academics as border cops, one of us will be examiner of Angie’s phd and we are heavily involved with border and ‘fake college’ defense… Let alone a bunch of other stuff, so, many of the examples you choose – including Gary, who has commented on this blog – might give the impression that there is cause for optimism about the UK Ed scene (a crazy universe is right). My view: I think the optimism in UfSO is strategic and no one is under any illusions that ‘we’ can change university sector into progressive political formation by wishful wooly thinking (my speciality actually:). Still, my comment about booking rooms was an insufficiently clear plea not to tar all academics with the same hostile brush. Distinctions between managers and low-pay admin are important, but also many other functions in universities need to be considered and…

    Heidi, Gave. More soon. I have something on abolition of the university, abolition of professors, abolition of students… (why people want/need credit at all) … talk of credit is integral to global debt-system capitalism and its hierarchies – discussion of the wage relation is important – the suggestion that I work out a redistribution deal for my salary notwithstanding (I think I am actually owed beers) – this was indeed the original emphasis on my rider comment after the New York Public School post. ‘How to do this and still pay workers (including support staff, overheads, library, research, cafe, porters, what you would call janitors, grounds, tech, childcare, paint, etc)?’. The trouble is ‘we’ want this, but I see Willets (education minister mugwump) still talking rubbish and no change happening outside of Goldsmiths, and a precious little within. J

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  • Thomas  On 27/08/2011 at 15:05

    About administrators: it’s pretty widely accepted that in the US the main increase in university spending has gone to administrators (see here for just one report: http://www.usnews.com/education/articles/2009/01/15/the-surprising-causes-of-those-college-tuition-hikes )

    These aren’t low-level workers who book rooms or the janitorial staff. The place where US universities have cut back have been precisely in these lowly jobs that actually involve providing education to students, instructors, janitors, office workers, etc. Basically, if you are actively involved in a student’s education, you’ll get paid nothing.

    Within the last couple decades, and especially within the last few years, we really have seen a super class emerge at US universities. These are 6-figure administrators are not actively engaged in education. Instead these are jobs that manage donors, pet projects (ones that often have little or nothing to do with research or education), “lifestyle improvements” and other ways to manage the “college experience” that US students expect to have. The best way to make money at a US university is to get promoted from an educator to an administrator. The job is full of bullshit, but you make a killing.

    I’m heartened by the perennial pursuit of free universities. In many ways I think our ideals have run ahead of our material conditions, and that as our material conditions shift the environment might become more conducive to some of these ideas. There does seem to be a different opportunity today than in the past. We’ve seen a genuine wave of new schools, and there is a possibility for networking these schools that has never existed before.

    As I think through my thoughts on this project, the place I keep running aground is money. Although it is important to provide students with free education, it is also important that researchers be given a truly liberating wage. Where does that wage come from? Ideally this would be publicly funded which is just crazy talk in the US right now. I’d love to hear some good robin hood/bank robbing schemes.

    Last semester one of our grad students was not a “real” student because he had defaulted on his student loans from undergrad. Each of our students was supposed to work on a final project that somehow made public libraries better. This student was working as a low-paid clerk at a public library. Although he has the necessary skill/knowledge to become a full librarian, he doesn’t have the required accredited degree to get a librarian position. And he couldn’t formally enroll in a Masters of Library Science program because his undergrad transcripts were being held up. He was surprised when we told him his project should be to find some clever way to get his transcript released. Since I’m trained as a visual artist I was interested in the transcript as a printed object and was advocating outright forgery.

    I myself have $49,983 of tuition debt from my masters degree. I’m selling the whole thing off, dollar for dollar, as a work of art. I obtained exactly $49,983 of shredded money from the US treasury and pulped it into four large sheets of paper. I’m now cutting up the paper and selling it off inch by inch for the exact amount it is made up for. One sq. inch is roughly $4.22. Not a solution to any of the underlying problems, but we’ll see how it goes.

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  • john hutnyk  On 27/08/2011 at 15:42

    I have literally just come back from sitting in on an organizing meeting at the ‘self-organizing’ bookshop that, eventually, will take up the space in the building/shopfront opposite my office at Goldsmiths. They have been doing a temporary pop-up down the old kent road in a former car display showroom – must have been nice cars judging by the tiles on the floor. The meeting, sitting on designer bean bags, discussed the aesthetics of bookshops and self-organized spaces, some of the criticisms leveled a the project (its ‘anarchist IKEA’) and how a not for profit and worker co-op can move forward and juggle all the different relationships – with SWP, Anarchos, greens, Maoists etc in some way. I was suggesting looking at how Brecht Forum works, and the whole Black Nationalist organising stuff from the Panthers and others. The perennial glorious built-to-fold squalor of anarcho self-run spaces was contrasted to the frankly slick and clean space of this pop-up – or rather not contrasted, more set into a continuum of strategic choices. Emile, my 3yo son, was having a great time scooting around the tiles space on his wooden balance bike. Ahh, alternative pirate utopias, he turned the bean-bags into boats and charmed all there, the meeting stopped occasionally to watch him do a trick, no-one blinked when he wet himself with excitement and I had to go change him. I was transported back to mid 1980s organising ethics and meetings where it was decided the chair would never address anyone by name so as to ensure no-one felt there was an in-group that did not include all.

    But the pop-up has been much concerned by a few no doubt well-meaning but righteous critics. Friends like these, who needs more friends – I think we need to keep strategy discussion on the boil, forever. There is no moment where everything is correct, and the revolution is not5 something that simply happens at point A – that way lies totalitarianism. Me, writing on the run, wanting to organise something that can win, I guess I don’t mind the hippy trippy stuff on the weekend, I was also very much aware how in the hour before the meeting 15 police vans and a convoy of 6 of their fully armoured ‘Jenkels’ thundered down the road heading off to ‘police’ Notting Hill Carnival – a very real reminder that well-meaning self-organization is not yet robust enough to do anything but warm itself at the side of the coming conflagration. Nothing is neat, but the alliances to be made are clear, and defense of those at the sharp end can be organized in whatever spaces can be booked. I’ve noticed that even a 3 year old wants to run away from the cops now, and I swear I have not encouraged him in this – he has just picked it up from the prevailing atmosphere.

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