Sunday, Apr. 29, 11:20-12:50 Session 6

SS2102 Amphitheatre

Occupy Student Debt

This panel will discuss the struggle that is underway between student loan debtors (most of whom are not students any longer) and the various government agencies and banks that are keeping a lock on the debtors? future. We will also examine the role of the recent Occupy Student Debt Campaign in the debtors? struggle.

Robert Oxford (New York University)

Tuition as Profit: How Student Debt Functions In America

I will explore how the student debt cycle works from the perspectives of the individual student, government and banks in our current political ‘age of austerity’ to create a culture of student indenture.  

George Caffentzis (University of Southern Maine)

A Brief History of the Anti-Student Loan Debtors’ Movement in the US

After a briefer discussion of debtors’ movements in US history, this talk will focus on the recent development of anti-student loan debt organizations in the current social-political-economic crisis: their differences and prospects.  

Annie Spencer (City University of New York)

“Those promises have turned out to be empty”: Affect, Moralism, and Occupy’s Campaign for Student Debt Refusal

Much has been written about the present crisis in student debt in the broader context of the crisis of education and the neoliberalization of the university.  Taking this literature as a jumping off point, this talk seeks to address a different theoretical and strategic question regarding student debt?the potential for an effective campaign against it.  With increasing numbers of U.S. adults under the disciplinary grips of increasingly large sums of student debt, the anticipation of a counter-debt movement hangs large in the imagination of activists and social movements scholars.  Yet, despite the seeming urgency of the material consequences of student debt in the everyday lives of millions of Americans, efforts at organizing for a broad-based debt abolition movement are limited by a number of constraints.   The atomizing effects of student debt, combined with the strong cultural stigma of indebtedness and an ideological bias that student debt is “productive” debt, engender social conditions that are counterproductive for a counter-debt movement.   Drawing from the recent experience of the Occupy Student Debt Campaign, this talk will explore these and other constraints and how we might overcome them.

Robert Oxford is a graduate student of American Studies at New York University whose research involves cities, cultural geography, racism, racial violence, and intellectual history. He is also an organizer with the Occupy Student Debt Campaign.

George Caffentzis is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Southern Maine. He is a co-founder of the Midnight Notes Collective and the Committee for Academic Freedom in Africa. He is the author of many books and articles on social and monetary themes. He now works with the Occupy Student Debt Campaign.

Annie Spencer is a doctoral student in Geography at the CUNY Graduate Center and a teaching fellow at Hunter College.  Her academic and political work focuses on questions of debt, dispossession and resistance under global economic restructuring.  She is a member of the Occupy Student Debt Campaign.


The Organization of the University: Social Struggles Within Neoliberalization (III)

Soo Tian Lee (Birkbeck School of Law, University of London)
After the High, Then What?:Questions without answers about post-protest-wave student struggles in London, UK

The 2010-2011 winter protests against the tripling of UK university fees was a time of excitement about the possibilities of student struggles against accelerating neoliberalisation. 1 ½ years later, however, the student movement is deflated. The March 14, 2012 day of action saw 300+ students march in London in what seemed an attempt to spark off a new eruption akin to that from the November 10, 2010 Millbank occupation. While there’ve been some recent successes, e.g. in student union elections, recent actions have lacked imagination or even a cohesive idea of what we’re fighting for. This presentation aims to raise questions about student struggles after the ecstatic effects of ‘moments of excess’ have faded away. Issues include sustainable organisation, the replication of now irrelevant tactics, the role of extra-institutional groups/collectives, and the relationship between university struggles and wider struggles. The presentation, drawing from debates within London student circles, won’t provide answers, but seeks discussion between participants who may be asking similar questions in their respective contexts.


Soo Tian Lee is a PhD candidate at the Birkbeck School of Law, University of London. He has been involved in various things in the last couple of years, including the Save Middlesex Philosophy and Save Philosophy at Greenwich campaigns, as well as university-centred groups/initiatives such as Open Birkbeck, the Autonomous Reading Group (ARG) and the anticutsspace. Given that many of these groups have proved to be transient, he is keen to understand how sustainable organisational forms can be brought about. He spends too much time nursing eclectic music tastes and thinking about the radical potential of animated moving images.

Nicola Short (York University)

Neoliberal Academic Restructuring and the Antinomies of Intellectual Labour: Notes for an Analytical Framework

“Intellectuals develop slowly, far more slowly than any other social group”
– Antonio Gramsci

This paper seeks to develop a framework for analysis for understanding the relationship between intellectual labor and neoliberalism in historical-material context. To do so, it will examine the ideological, juridical, and material dimensions of relationship between the academy and society in historical context. It will consider how such conditions have structured the nature of scholarly work – including their articulation to logics of ‘collegial self-government’, the affective and psychological demands of scholarship and the particularities of intellectual inquiry as a form of labour – and how the logics of neoliberalism operate strategically to exploit certain tensions and antinomies within the contemporary academy. The praxeological purpose of this inquiry is to understand the particular role of faculty in the failures to defend the academy from neoliberal restructuring, especially given its assault on the erstwhile foundational principles of the modern university. The paper will conclude by considering the implications of such an analysis for identifying the foundational elements of alternatives for an intellectually robust, socially responsible academy and sites where such goals may be most strategically pursued.

Amarela Varela and Alejandro Chora Camacho (UACM)
Itinerant Museum “SER UACEMITA”

Facilitator: Max Haiven (Nova Scotia College of Art and Design/edu-factory)
Respondent: Alison Hearn (Western University)
Translator: Patrick Canninghame


Labor, Creation, Production: Within and Beyond the University (II)

Zach Schwartz-Weinstein (New York University)

Provincializing Academic Labor: Academic Capitalism’s Other Histories

Critical accounts of the operation of the contemporary university too often ignore the biopolitical labor of the vast and increasingly outsourced and globally dispersed corps of service, affective, and even manufacturing workers who make possible the operation and expansion of the contemporary university.  That is, accounts of the university which treat upon the student as the privileged subject of class struggle or which account only for the university’s extraction of cognitive labor from an increasingly casualized lumpenprofessoriat fall victim to precisely the sort of occlusion of non-instructional labor’s central role in the production of knowledge.  My paper complicates a politics of exodus from the education factory by calling attention to the ways in which the preponderance of service work ruptures the artisanal pretensions of not only a politics of return to the era of faculty self-governance but also of some of the much more laudable politics of escape and marronage.  For U.S. universities, at least, an account of the political economy of university labor cannot stop at the classroom but must also extend to the payroll office, the kitchen, and the bathroom.  A radical anticapitalist and antiauthoritarian engagement with the racialized and gendered geography and histories of university service work allows for transverse connections between, on the one hand, the precarious cognitarians who have created and sustained the most promising and powerful critical accounts of higher education and laborers and, on the other, “lower grade” affective laborers whose labor is both reproductive within and productive of the violent topology of academic neoliberalism.  My paper will sketch out the ways in which service work is integrated into the neoliberal university assemblage, offering a historical genealogy of that assemblage’s reliance upon racialized and gendered forms of affective labor and an analysis of what the continuing inextricability of the university from the values it extracts from such labor means for insurrectionary movements which attack and create radical alternatives to the present system.

Bob Hanke (York University)

The Union Against Itself: The Mirror Stage of Contract Faculty Labour

I describe how the self-organization of the precarious at York University failed to restructure CUPE Local 3903 to give contract faculty relative autonomy and power. In 2010 and 2011, in the wake of the longest strike in English Canadian university history, a Unit 2 Working Group developed a proposal for a composite model that would give contract faculty greater representation. Despite a history of being the lead Local in the Ontario university sector, and an openeness to allocating resources to cultural politics, what has emerged is a disjuncture between the self-image of a member-driven, Local against becoming a business-like bureaucracy, and the executive committee’s reassertion of control. Static, centralized, top-down organization  was reinforced by CUPE National and the shorter-term interests of an active minority of graduate students and recent, indebted Ph.Ds  who elect the majority of the executive committee and occupy the general membership meetings. Thus, paradoxically, the university’s myth of meritocracy finds its inverse image in the marginalization of more senior contract faculty.

Bob Hanke teaches in the Departments of Communication Studies and Humanities at York University. His first foray into media studies, academic labour, human capital and the knowledge-based economy was published in the International Journal of Communication. His research on the network university is situated at the intersection of media studies and critical university studies. He is guest co-editor, with Alison Hearn, of “Out of the Ruins: The University to Come,” a special issue of TOPIA: Canadian Journal of Cultural Studies to be published in the fall of 2012.

Jesse Gutman (McGill University)

Organizing on Campus: Linking Worker’s Struggles to the Student Movement

It is essential to link the struggles of university students and university workers. In 2009, a campaign to unionize support employees and research  assistants/associates began at McGill, culminating in the certification of two bargaining units. Many student activists aided in the campaign and its success has changed the landscape of politics at McGill. In this talk, I would like to discuss my experience as a member organizer and its inextricable connection to activism within the student movement. Also, the talk will be rooted in the current context in Quebec, which has given rise to the student strike.

Jesse Gutman is an articling candidate at a union in Toronto. He is currently active on policing and homelessness issues and also at the Magkaisa Centre. He is a former high school teacher and has been engaged politically in Montreal throughout a BA and BCL/LLB at McGill. In 2010, he was a member organizer of the Association of McGill University Research Employees (AMURE)’s successful certification drive, and briefly held a position on its Executive.

One response to “Sunday, Apr. 29, 11:20-12:50 Session 6

  1. Pingback: Draft Program (as of March 21) | The University is Ours!

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