how to work with spaces for organising that still exist in the neoliberal university
June 16, 2016 § Leave a comment
This is a quote from an interview with Alison Hearn I think I may have read a few years back and come across again today on the undercommoning site…in addition to the following quote, I think the end of the interview where she discusses how academics respond to the idea of co-research is also quite thought-provoking.
One of the amazing ways that the Quebec student strike was organized was that they did direct democracy. They have these umbrella organizations, but there were assemblies that were held, and they did it faculty-by-faculty, and sometimes department-by-department. And every week they would have an assembly, and everybody in, say the geography department at McGill, would get together and discuss the merits of staying in the strike or not being in the strike and discuss the issues, and there would be a binding vote. There was a great piece posted on Recomposition about this (“Snapshots of the student movement in Montreal”): somebody from New York went up and hung out and they’ve written a whole description of the way the Quebec student strike works and how they’ve organized. It’s a very useful description of the organizing steps they took. What struck me about what they’ve done and is so amazing and sort of simple is this idea that you wouldn’t go to the student union. Like, if we had to go to the Western Ontario University student union where I teach, those guys are run by right-wing business school dudes. There’s no way we’d get anywhere. But, if you go department-by-department or faculty-by-faculty, and you use direct democracy, you have a whole group of people there, and students and faculty alike are there, and there are just more political possibilities.
In a way, it harkens back to older forms of the university, which were organized around certain ways of knowing, or disciplinary boundaries (which should never be written in stone and were never immune to outside influence, but were there for scholarly reasons too). So, I love that idea of basically getting rid of, or overlooking, student unions or universities. You could incorporate them, but you do direct democracy department-by-department or faculty-by-faculty, or even class-by-class. I feel very optimistic about it; Bill Readings’ metaphor of ‘the ruins’ is more salient now, in a certain way, to me than ever—because the institution is totally ruined, in my opinion. There are things I would never ever do; like, I would never be an administrator. I’ve sat on senate, I might consider doing that again, but it was just too depressing. But, you still have, as Readings says, the classroom. So, in the margins of the ruined edifice, the kind of infected administrative edifice of the place, you’ve got this opportunity, and it’s called: a class. It’s the classroom. Nobody’s coming into that classroom and telling you what can happen in it. At least not yet. And, I have tenure, which at least for now protects me, as long as I’m ‘performing’ and I’m ‘getting good evaluations,’ and I’m producing research, nobody can discipline me, and yet, I can go into these classes, and do my job, which is to teach and to facilitate collective learning and thinking. It’s challenging. There are a lot of issues and problems that can arise, but I feel totally optimistic about that possibility.
In the classroom, I have authority, and I didn’t want to abuse that authority by trying to mobilize them to my side in that particular political moment. It is about education; we need to lead to people to the facts, and then we have to respect them if they decide to take a different position, ultimately.