Monday, October 11, 2010

Slavoj Žižek on Higher Education

Excerpt from Slavoj Žižek's "A Permament Economic Emergency" in New Left Review 64 (July/August 2010)
The state of permanent economic emergency does not mean that the left should abandon patient intellectual work, with no immediate ‘practical use’. On the contrary: today, more than ever, one should bear in mind that communism begins with what Kant, in the famous passage of his essay, ‘What is Enlightenment?’, called the ‘public use of reason’: with the egalitarian universality of thought. Our struggle should thus highlight those aspects of the current ‘re-structuring’ that pose a threat to trans-national open space. One example would be the EU’s ongoing ‘Bologna Process’, which aims to ‘harmonize the architecture of the European higher education system’, and which is in fact a concerted attack on the public use of reason.

Underlying these reforms is the urge to subordinate higher education to the task of solving society’s concrete problems through the production of expert opinions. What disappears here is the true task of thinking: not only to offer solutions to problems posed by ‘society’—in reality, state and capital—but to reflect on the very form of these problems; to discern a problem in the very way we perceive a problem. The reduction of higher education to the task of producing socially useful expert knowledge is the paradigmatic form of Kant’s ‘private use of reason’—that is, constrained by contingent, dogmatic presuppositions—within today’s global capitalism. In Kantian terms, it involves our acting as ‘immature’ individuals, not as free human beings who dwell in the dimension of the universality of reason.

It is crucial to link the push towards streamlining higher education—not only in the guise of direct privatization or links with business, but also in this more general sense of orienting education towards the production of expert knowledge—to the process of enclosing the commons of intellectual products, of privatizing general intellect.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Brief Introduction to the Canadian Union of Students

by Doug Nesbitt
This is based on the article "Students Attacking Students Redux" published in The Leveller, December 2009. It is written for a Carleton University audience.

“If I were the student press or a candidate in the upcoming council elections, I wouldn’t tolerate the neanderthal priorities of the average student council.”
Doug Ward, president of the Canadian Union of Students, January 1967.

It is understandable why images of long-haired students burning draft cards and marching in the streets dominate the popular imagination of the 1960s. Yet, the legacy of the 1960s student revolt is more readily felt in the in the prosaic concerns of everyday student politics. While episodes of student radicalism have been brief and sporadic since 1968, there remains the unending battle over the ethical soul of the student and their councils.

Prior to the 1960s, university students were almost all from the wealthier classes, and saw themselves themselves as apprentices to the professions or the intelligentsia. Canada’s university was a decidedly elite institution: as late as 1955, there were only 73,000 students. However, by 1970 enrollment had swelled to 309,000. The needs of the new economy – new technologies and expanding bureaucracies - transformed the university into what some student dissidents termed the “knowledge factory.” This transformation put enormous strains on the financial, physical and human infrastructure of the university system, leading many students to raise troubling new questions about the structure and social purpose of the university.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

"The Best Interests of the University"

Student and Labour Resistance to Administration Power at Carleton, 2004-2007
by Doug Nesbitt
A version of this article was originally published in The Leveller, September 2010

Student struggles at Carleton University in Ottawa have a long and largely forgotten history. In the early 21st century, during the twilight of Richard Van Loon’s university presidency and through the blink-or-you’ll-miss-it tenure of David Atkinson, student-controlled space was taken over, and labour rights were targeted by a university administration keen to establish complete control of the campus for its own ends.The current university environment is a product of those struggles.