[iDC] Defending UC

Sean Dockray sean.patrick.dockray at gmail.com
Mon Oct 10 07:40:42 UTC 2011

I have enjoyed reading some of the exchanges over the last month,  
including this one
over the past day between Blake and Brian.
After three years of adjunct teaching, followed by three years of  
working entirely in an
extra-institutional context, I would have hoped that I have developed  
a balanced perspective,
but in reality it's more confused than ever and that confusion will  
probably be palpable
by the end this...

My short history has paralleled the DIY U discussion: after a while as  
adjunct faculty
at a couple of UC schools, I began to think that the situation was  
kind of miserable. Surely,
there must be a better way of doing it. Talking to sympathetic  
supervisors, joining unions, etc.
felt like a start but didn't really accomplish much, at least it  
didn't feel like it did. So, I started a school,
partly with the fantasy that for all the thousands of unhappy grad  
students and adjuncts in the
UC system alone, there must be some way of gathering all that critical  
thinking and misery
into a new pedagogical project that wouldn't be premised on debt and  
competition. Opposition
seemed less interesting and less productive (from my position) than  
just working to the side.

Well, since then, David Cameron has of course promoted "free schools"  
as part of the
Big Society program, appropriating anarchist terminology in the  
process of breaking apart
public education. And I think that the general form of the argument  
against this has been raised on
iDC about a half-dozen times over the past month, in defense of the  
University - that any attack on the
establishment is in the service of conservative political or at least  
neoliberal economic forces,
regardless of its stated agenda. That "DIY U", broadly understood, is  
hastening the erosion
of the institutional gains that had been made over the previous  

Jumping back to recent exchanges -
phrases like "total corruption" or "eviscerated shell" for the  
University are obviously a little
hyperbolic, but they come close to describing the perception of many  
students and temp
faculty after some time in that environment without a salary,  
benefits, and a future pension.
The important, good work that happens in a University is meant to be  
rewarding enough in
itself to justify the working conditions (or it even obscures the  
understanding of what happens
there as work).

Brian doesn't seem to be advocating "abandoning institutionalized  
higher ed" so much as asking
*how* to both defend social conquests and make further advances in the  
present moment.

OK - I write that, but then I would be lying if I didn't admit to  
wondering *when* we should
begin to consider abandonment? What if the University is a failed  
project? What if we're watching
its implosion? What if the right - waiting all too eagerly for this  
moment when the left's last
remaining outpost would start to crumble - is now getting to frame the  
debate and future of
education because we're worried that moving would weaken our defensive  

What if the 'defense' of the University was actually best conducted on  
OWS right now?
and in general by supporting and developing extra-institutional  
educational projects with
time, expertise, and available resources? (yes, an appeal to the  
salaried and insured faculty!)
One of my worries about this conference is that because it is framed  
from within the institution,
it poses a question of what can institutions learn from, or gain from,  
extra-institutional projects,
when the inverse question is probably the more urgent one: how can  
these extra-institutional
projects be supported and strengthened by institutions and their  
faculties? How to construct
effective and just counter-institutions while there's still time?

It's great that the occupy protests are continuing throughout the  
conference - how do we see our
discussions in relation to what we're seeing across the US? (not to  
mention London,
Greece, Chile, Cairo, ....)


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