Democratic self management and the university

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bootsy
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Sep 26 2011 04:56
Democratic self management and the university

So lately there has been a small group come together at my university to oppose some cuts to courses and forced redundancies for academics. Just today we had a small sit in and a meeting to discuss what our central demands are and a lot of the people there seemed extremely keen to implement some kind of more democratic student management system. I raised the point that surely our goal is not to participate in implementing cuts or redundancies but rather to simply oppose them, which most people agreed with. But still there is this major fetishism for some kind of formal, institutional change which will solve the current problems for students and other staff at the uni.

Since all you's in the UK recently experienced a bit of an upswing in student organising I wonder if you can share you experiences with this kind of democratic ideology and what success you've had arguing against it or changing it?

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brown spaghetti
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Sep 26 2011 17:17

Organize a student free school within the body of the university and have students teach other students through egalitarian lessons/discussions. possibly. also, forming an alliance with professors is a potentially good resource for institutional change/deconstruction i dunno I havent been to school in a coon's moon! Good luck comrade!

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RedEd
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Sep 28 2011 10:22

My experience is that people who wanted to do that sort of thing did it through the student union, rather than the anti-cuts group. There was some cross over between people (i.e. some people were involved in both) but not really any cross over between roles. You may want to argue that this is the best model, let the student union do the 'democratic participation' bit and the anti-cuts group doing the direct pressure opposing cuts bit. You can add that any individual can do both, but organisations ought to focus on their strengths and not duplicate work. Dunno what your student union situation is like though, so this might not be possible.

piter
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Sep 29 2011 19:44

or reject university as a whole and do some more interesting stuff...

(that's just another possibility, maybe your questionning about what to do with students in regards to the uni and the cuts is justified...but maybe not...)

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Arbeiten
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Sep 29 2011 23:42

I have to say, though i loved university, I think piter's suggestion is actually ten times more fruitful. I get the feeling that this whole 'run our own university' thing is a bit of a fiction. From my experience (and I'm happy to be proven wrong) it doesn't really show much potential of really becoming a 'dual power' movement.

On this note, I really think we could make that happen. But it will require some really tough existential decisions. Baring in mind we are all finite beings that are born into the world not of our own choosing, we have to make tough decisions every day between existential radicalism and 'living a life' so to speak. I am excited at the prospect of alternative educational spaces, but it seems a bit in bad faith to do this in the comfortable surroundings of the already institutionalised (and paid for) education space (and indeed time).

If what I have said here is unclear I am happy to discuss this more thoroughly. It is something I have been milling over for a while and would be happy for the help in articulating my thoughts....

bootsy
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Sep 30 2011 03:59
Quote:
or reject university as a whole and do some more interesting stuff...

(that's just another possibility, maybe your questionning about what to do with students in regards to the uni and the cuts is justified...but maybe not...)

I don't understand what you're really suggesting here??

What has been happening at my uni is some solid organising around a few different things all of which I would see as more or less class struggle oriented.

1. Is opposition to cuts to various humanities courses and the redundancies that go with that. So basically the group is opposing management attacks on the conditions of university staff.

2. Tied in to that but not related to courses as such is redundancies for other university staff such as library staff.

3. There are cuts to bridging courses which in effect render the university the domain of the wealthy once again and puts university education more out of reach for working class people.

4. Student fees which are going up next year as always.

The problem I'm asking about is how to push this struggle in a direction which promotes class solidarity and doesn't fetishize 'student democracy', the 'student voice' or the university as the 'conscience of society' and all that other rubbish. I don't see how just abandoning the university, as in not showing any solidarity to these staff who are a losing their jobs or defending our own access to courses, is at all beneficial to the class struggle.

Maybe you could elaborate on what you mean piter?

RedEd we have a student association here which is utter shit, at a demo earlier this week one of them came along and spent the whole time standing and chatting with the cops and management. 'Nuf said.

piter
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Sep 30 2011 13:27

I was talking on a more general level Bootsy.
uni is not really an institution we have to defend, and "radical" students wanting to do something can have more interesting things to do than defend universities (think for exemple of the situationnists in 68, they were not interested in the uni and what they did in La Sorbonne had nothing to do with defending it, but it was another context of course...).

but of course defending the jobs of the staff is ok (working myself in a university library I can't say otherwise wink... not as a permanent member of the staff but anyway...).

and since you're doing it of course it's better to do it in a libertarian way (solidarity, direct action, etc...).

but I doubt that "acces to the uni courses" is really beneficial to the class struggle...

Spikymike
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Sep 30 2011 16:32

bootsy,

Your second post was a bit clearer in giving background to your situation.

Student or University democratisation strategies are a red herring really but we all need to try and protect as best we can our material interests as present or future workers.

Did you have a look at the recent Glasgow 'Free Hetherington' experience which combined some protest action/occupation with a brief alternative educational exercise?

bootsy
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Sep 30 2011 21:03

Yeah for sure I get what you are saying piter and I think this is really what I was trying to ask about since like I've said I wanna participate in this without promoting any fetishism of the university.

In terms of the access courses again I kinda see where you are coming from... On a practical level defending access to courses has served as a unifying purpose for joint organising between students and academics and hopefully students and staff more generally. Of course on a personal level many of us a just pissed off that we can't do the courses we wanted to do.

A follow up question in response to both piter and Spikeymike would be do you reckon university courses, things like philosophy, history, film etc. (the kind of things which are getting slashed atm) are a condition worth defending even if much of them do reproduce the ruling ideas in terms of content?

Cheers Spikeymike for the suggestion, I haven't heard of it but will check it out.

Also piter I first read the situationists as a proscribed text for one of the courses which is being cut!

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Malva
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Oct 1 2011 07:13
Quote:
Also piter I first read the situationists as a proscribed text for one of the courses which is being cut!

I had the same experience. However ...

How far is the teaching of the Situationists at universities actually placing them in a deradicalised context that makes their works less easy to understand than if you just came across them through a politically engaged friend or comrade?

And more importantly: For every one one of us who is radicalized and better politically informed through university how many thinkers, academics and writers are being churned out to develop and propagate complicated apologetics for the capitalist system?

So I am more on Piter's side of this.

piter
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Oct 1 2011 12:05
Quote:
A follow up question in response to both piter and Spikeymike would be do you reckon university courses, things like philosophy, history, film etc. (the kind of things which are getting slashed atm) are a condition worth defending even if much of them do reproduce the ruling ideas in terms of content?

most I learned in the uni was during my Phd work, but it was working by myself...

and anyway I learned a lot more outside uni, speaking with more experienced people, reading lot of stuff, partaking in a few struggles, etc...

the best with being a student (at least in France) is that it give you acess to cheap concert or movie tickets, some money form welfare, things like that...
also the uni libraries are useful (and I'm not saying that because I'm a uni librarian wink !).

if you have an interesting teacher, then try to learn from him, but from my experience teachers in uni (well...teachers in general maybe...) are not that interesting, especially if you're into a radical critique of everything...

about courses about the situationnists usually it is mostly what the situs would call "recuperation", making their ideas harmless, etc...
usually the academics portray Debord as some critic of "the media" and understand "the spectacle" in the common sense of the word...or however fit them but never as the latest stage of capitalist development as it is in Debord's writings...
so I'm not sure you would lose much...you'de better read the situationnists writing and discuss it with people actually interested in radically changing society...

Spikymike
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Oct 3 2011 14:40

Well I didn't go to university but rather one of the old Technical Colleges (first full then part time) which was before the big expansion of the University system here so I'm not the best person to give any answers from first hand experience.

Generally tend to agree with piter and Malva's comments, and what little experience I have here is that the few remaining liberal enclaves that might have some limited space for those students of 'politics/history/economics' with radical views are already fast disapearing. If I was directly affected myself I suppose I might want to do something to keep them going but this is far removed from the general interests of most students let alone the rest of the working class ie not a basis for any more generalised struggle I would have thought?

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RGBlack
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Oct 3 2011 23:47

In my experience, the transformation of 'student unions' into 'student associations' meant that almost all participants are establishment types. This is lamentable but there is really nothing you can do about it. Direct action (and ignoring the powers that be) is going to be the best option.

If the school is running out of money, there is not much you can do to save certain classes (and the jobs of those who teach them). You would be better off finding students interested in studying the subject and teaching yourselves. Im not sure about your uni, but at mine, we could reserve classrooms after hours for study groups and meetings. We didnt even need to be an official organization, anyone could do it, and that was only classrooms with a/v projector equipment in them. Plain vanilla chalk board rooms were left unlocked to be freely co-opted, although we had to bring our own chalk. Point is, a free school model works very well for obscure subjects that are still interesting and important to some students but not enough to justify paying a professor to teach. Organizing a free school is also a learning experience in itself. If you can make it successful for a few semesters, you could even try to become a legitimate (i.e. funded) student organization. That would give you bargaining leverage with the admin. For ex. the free school agrees to hold any cut classes if the money saved goes to financial aid for the poor kids.