The University is Ours!

Our University

Saturday, May 5, 2012

by ENDA BROPHY from the Edu-factory Website

Is the university worth saving? The question arose insistently at The University is Ours! Conference, organized by the transnational edu-factory collective along with local Canadian allies and held last weekend in Toronto (April 27-29). In its current form, wracked by crisis, the academy produces precious little that can extend our collective capacities and much that diminishes them: hierarchy, exploitation, debt, precarity, cynicism, greed… The restructuring of university systems has brought corporatized administrations, rising tuition, departmental closures, expanded class sizes, noxious corporate food, anti-strike legislation enacted against academic workers… In a world where knowledge, culture and communication have been commodified as never before, capital has turned its attention to the academy and is completely dedicated to its wholesale transformation. This university is most certainly not ours.

And yet, as participants at the edu-factory conference made absolutely clear, within, against and beyond the neoliberal academy lies our own university. The austerity-stricken university is combustible, and knowledge is incandescent. Across today’s campuses struggles proliferate, from Rome to London, from Santiago to Berkeley, from Cairo to Dublin. Students, academic workers and their allies have flooded the streets, and universities have been one of the key sites of resistance to the market over the past five years. At the Toronto conference, participants gathered in an atmosphere marked by joyous affect, mutual respect, and non-sectarian engagement. On Friday a busload of students arrived from a Quebec rocked by protest, where red felt has run out as the carrè rouges, or little red squares multiply across the jackets of hundreds of thousands of students, faculty and supporters who have faced off against the police and brought the post-secondary system in the province to halt against proposed tuition hikes. It is not about high tuition, or even less tuition anymore, says CLASSE, the student organization that is leading the struggles, but rather about no tuition. The carrè rouge symbol itself traces the recent circulation of university labour, student, and broader social struggles in central Canada: originally used during anti-poverty actions in Quebec, then becoming the icon of the 2004 student strike, reappearing during and after the York University strike of 2008-2009 (the longest in Canadian history), the little red squares are now teeming in the streets of Montreal every night in spontaneous demonstrations which have brought hundreds of thousands out against the tuition hikes. In Toronto Quebec activists met and shared counter-knowledges with trade unionists, campus activists, and radical professors from Italy, the United States, Mexico, the Czech Republic, the United Kingdom. The struggle for free education and dignified working conditions is global, one in which anti-racist activism entwines with queer pedagogies in a knowledge produced from below, aimed squarely against those transforming our universities from above.

In Toronto the struggles of students against tuition hikes linked up with and learned from those involved in union drives for teaching assistants, research assistants, and postdocs on campuses across North America. Labour activists doing solidarity work with gendered and racialized cleaning staff, admin assistants, and food workers reminded us that students and precariously employed professors are not the privileged subjects of transformation. Analyses of the ways hierarchy pervades and segments the neoliberal campus encountered the Occupy movement’s offshoot (Occupy Student Debt) responding to the shameful debt burden imposed on those who want nothing more than an education and a decent shot in the labour market. The University of Toronto General Assembly shows us that a parallel governance structure can be created within and against a university addicted to shady corporate donations. How do we create a political language of broad appeal across these groups? How do we create new practices of critical solidarity that engage not only those who produce knowledge on campus, but also those who toil on it doing the cleaning work, the service work, and communities whose lives are affected by university development more broadly? In our university we ask ourselves these questions and craft answers we will bring back to our communities.

The Toronto conference had other, vital horizons however. The weekend also heard from autonomous education initiatives existing beyond the university, experiments brought together in networks of inspiration, reflection, and critique. From these multiple sites, concepts wrapped in action: exodus, the common, occupation, decolonization, self-organization, autonomy – expressed and rearticulated through projects such as the Mess Hall, Social Science Centre, Lincoln, Convivial Research and Insurgent Learning, The Toronto School of Creativity and Inquiry, Purple Thistle, Uninomade, Occupy… At several Toronto locations across three days, these experiences intersected, recognized, learned from each other. What it is that sustains our experiments, and what makes them die out? How is it that we can build alternative spaces for a knowledge production that are other than, oppositional and constituent? These institutions of the common, in which ideas circulate but money does not, point the way toward an independent relationship toward knowledge, outside of the confines of the neoliberal university. Struggles within the academy will need to link up with these experiments occurring beyond them.

And this conference, organized across the boundaries of time, institutions, hierarchy, and national borders, points to the direction to be taken as we occupy, appropriate, and construct our university. On the last day of the meeting we discovered that a comrade from Mexico had been kicked out of her downtown hotel, her belongings tossed into the hall in an ugly racist incident. The last act of the conference saw it march as a whole to the hotel, with over a hundred participants gathering outside to make it clear such behavior will be fought and exposed. In Toronto at the end of April 2012 we were our university prefigured in the present, a university that acts as an institution of the common, where knowledge breaks its bonds.

Day two. An interview with participants at “The University is Ours” . thank you everybody for being with us with your energy and enthusiasm!  and thanks to all the volunteers and the supporters of our conference. A special thanks goes to  the caring folks from Harvest Noon Café, who fed us for these three days the most amazing and healthy food we’ve ever seen at a conference

Day 1: spontaneous rally to raise awareness about students’ struggles in Quebec (with a delegation of students from Toronto, Canada and the US)

Our conference trailer by Zach Reuter

You can download high res versions of the posters here

The university belongs to us, those who teach, learn, research, council, clean, and create community. Together we can and do make the university work.

But today this university is in crisis. The neoliberal restructuring of post-secondary education seeks to further embed market logic and corporate-style management into the academy, killing consultation, autonomy and collective decision-making. The salaries of university presidents and the ranks of administrators swell, but the people the university is supposed to serve — students — are offered assembly-line education as class sizes grow, faculty is over-worked, and teaching positions become increasingly precarious. International students and scholars seeking post-secondary or graduate education are treated as cash cows rather than as people who might contribute to both research and society. Debt-burdened students are seen as captive markets by administrators, while faculty is encouraged to leverage public funds for private research on behalf of corporate sponsors.

The attack on what remains of public education has been total. Over the last year we have witnessed the closure of humanities programmes, further tuition hikes, the replacement of financial support with loans, union lockouts, and the accelerated development of private, for-profit universities. Yet at the same time we have seen growing waves of struggle against these incursions, as students, staff and faculty in Europe, Latin America, and across the Middle East organize, occupy and resist the transformation.

Our struggles are not limited to the university, but are a part the widespread resistance against the neoliberal market logic subsuming all sectors of our society. The university is a key battleground in this struggle, and a point of conjuncture for the various labour, economic and social justice struggles that face all of us – workers and students alike. Crucially, these struggles occur on stolen indigenous lands and manifest through colonialism, racism, sexism, homophobia, ablism and other forms of oppression that hurt and divide us and that shape what sorts of knowledge are considered valuable.

We cannot cede the ideal of the university as a site for struggle and debate. We cannot permit the dissolution of proliferating research, ideas and innovations free from the demands and control of the market. We cannot watch as universities are degraded into a mere site for corporate or state-sponsored research and marketing. The time to mobilize is now!

This conference will connect and chart the varied struggles against neoliberal restructuring of the university in North America and beyond. We envision a series of debriefings on experiences of resistance, the creation of a cartography of local and global struggles, and a strategizing session for students, teachers, workers and activists. We aim to develop a North American network of struggles.

We encourage presentations that raise questions and generate dialogue among the rest of the participants. Ideally, submissions will indicate the specific outcomes they hope will emerge from the discussion. We encourage participation from those with first-hand experience of these crises, and those engaged in the fight for free and public post-secondary education, especially student groups and trade unions.

For a better future for all – join us!


– mapping the terrain of campus struggle in Canada and North America
– connecting with and learning from global struggles
– waged and unwaged labour in the university
– abolition of student debt
– the university and the occupy movement
– the cultural politics of the neoliberal university
– the death of the humanities
– militarization of the university
– intersections of university struggles other fights against oppression
– environmental justice
– beyond public education
– radical pedagogy
– academic freedom
– the politics of research funding
– the economics of the neoliberal university
– university and student governance
– the undergraduate experience of neoliberalism
– alternative/free/autonomous universities
– organizing the education factory
– the suppression of on-campus dissent and organization

Please email submissions to by January 16th.Also, if you would like to attend the conference, please RSVP to the same address so organizers can plan for numbers.

This conference is organized by the edu-factory collective in collaboration with the University of Toronto General Assembly.

4 responses to “The University is Ours!

  1. I am extremely excited to participate in such a radical space dedicated to the liberation of education from the institution. I can’t wait to learn from all of those attending and continue to support such incredible organizing and mobilizing of truth and justice.

  2. PS. The group from the University of Western ontario will be exploring themes of radical pedagogy, North- South solidarity experiential learning and the undergrad experience of neoliberalism; among others!

  3. This looks like an exciting and VERY timely programme!

  4. There’s a lot of passion in your writing. Certainly the university is worth saving!

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