My recent interest/experience with organizing at the university against neoliberalization processes is what led me to start blogging here. I’ve appreciated the opportunity to do this. The struggle of the employees and students of the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam on which I have based my thoughts and reflections in these posts, is still ongoing. So, too, is my interest and openness when it comes to hearing about others’ parallel experiences and/or analyses, particularly in creative ways that don’t necessarily stick to classic union formats or student organizing and appeal to broader participation.
Of course, I’m also curious to see whether and where links are made between the initiatives that focus on taking back control over the products of our work (through open access and other proposals concerning publishing) and initiatives that focus on gaining more control over the relations/conditions under which this work is produced at our universities (temporary contracts and overtime hours). I wonder what making these links would mean for our proposed solutions and alternatives, especially as public university funding shortages become increasingly related to governance problems.
“You know, you’re not going to stop neoliberal reform of the university.” A professor once wrote me this. I soon learned that she was equal parts critical of such reforms and resigned to them, and it seems like many of us exist in this contradiction. Now I admit, reading these words from a superior makes building a local counter-movement to these changes feel as effectual as trying to corral cats — and almost as silly. That might be the case most of the time. But not always. And definitely not this month at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam. So here’s what happened and how it might be of interest to others in parallel situations.
The latest trigger was when the university library staff received letters at home informing them they couldn’t count on keeping their jobs. Among the 168 staff members (of whom 56 would be cut) the frustration was unmistakable, and their response included a silent protest by about 150 at the latest meeting the works council had with the board. Three days later, the board announced their decision to put the whole reorganization of the library on hold while replacing its responsible officer. The outcome wasn’t ideal – many were convinced this was simple scapegoating, were uncertain what the replacement would mean, and knew delays didn’t mean the issue was settled. But it showed that the path to cuts and reorganizations could be disrupted by organized employees prepared to stick by their arguments.
I’ve seen some proposals for resistance to the corporatization of the university being circulated among anthro colleagues recently. These range from ideas about boycotting the peer review process of for-profit academic journals, to the Cost of Knowledge campaign, to the widespread action by academics to free their work from paywalls in the PDF Tribute in response to the tragic death of Aaron Schwartz, to the call not to pay (as many) conference fees by minimizing/strategizing conference attendance. The other day some colleagues of mine also suggested subversive, pro forma mass-co-authorship of articles in response to the pressure of quantitative publication norms as a criterion for good scholarship.
[This month, Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Donya Alinejad]
“For the first time I feel like this is my university.” Over the past year, hearing this comment – and ones like it – from colleagues in the hallways has been no coincidence. This past year at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU) has been marked by plans for a set of deep and unprecedented budgetary cuts and reorganizations that will mean things like jobs lost, fewer student services provided, and workloads increased. But this period has also been one in which national media and political attention turned, however briefly, towards a bottom-up, employee-led movement (that we started building at our university against these damaging measures. During this period colleagues referred to a sense of ownership over the university. It was a budding and unique engagement among the many of us involved in this workplace movement. But the feeling was also fleeting, a rupture that plainly demonstrated the contrast with how marginalized the university’s employees normally feel.