Friday, May 1, 2009

The Creation of an Activist University

In honor of May Day, I join my colleagues and allies in celebrating the activism of students, faculty, staff, and alumni that was so clearly present at the Board of Trustees meeting on Wednesday. As I listened to our exhortations (boos, shouts, chants) and thoughtful comments, I felt proud to be a part of this struggle for our university. As a relatively new faculty member, this was a great feeling. As many others have said, this was a victory for us for the way it has joined us together in this struggle. I join others who say that our work must continue, and we must encourage students to continue their work as well.

In one of my classes yesterday, we were discussing student activism in the 1960s, which, by the way, had been on the syllabus for this day of class since the beginning of the semester – a bit of luck, I guess. We examined a document created by German students at the Free University of Berlin when they conducted the first sit-in at a German university in 1966. Some students viewed our discussion of this document as an academic exercise and did a fine job, but for the ones who have been particularly active in the student protest of the Board of Trustees, our discussion made a connection that went beyond normal study.

Here’s the main statement that resonated with students: “We are fighting not only for the right to study for a longer period of time and to have a greater voice in expressing our opinions. That is only half of it. We are more concerned that decisions affecting students be made democratically and with student participation.”

But the next statement in the document also made a connection to our current struggle: “What is going on right now in Berlin is a conflict, like that in society at large, the main point of which is neither longer periods of study nor increased vacation time. Instead, it is about dismantling oligarchic rule and implementing democratic freedom in all areas of society.” Among other things, we certainly saw oligarchic rule embodied in the actions of the Board of Trustees.

Our discussion of this document was a great teaching moment, and it reminded me of an earlier idea I had when the two “finalists” for the presidential search were announced without participation of the search advisory committee. The idea was to hold a “teach-in” that focused on discussing the way we want to see the university work – we could make it open to the entire university community as well as the general public. There are so many different directions we could take this kind of event, including making it an ongoing series of events. One of the points would be that this kind of event would create an open space for discussion and decision making about where we want to go from here. It’s not a well-formed idea right now, but I’ll toss it out there for further discussion.

No comments:

Post a Comment