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UWI not for sale
Over the past 15 years there’s been a trend of cutbacks at universities. Faculty and students are told that governments can’t fund higher education as before. Universities are critiqued as being elitist because they focus on critical thought for its own end, faculty are considered too secure in their jobs so permanent positions are slashed and workloads are increased, and students are pressed into marketable disciplinary areas or seen as wasting taxpayers’ time. Universities that run profits, are re-oriented around industry priorities and needs, and which produce disciplined workers, like a trade school, are considered exemplary.
There are changes that universities should undergo to make them serve student needs better and create a new generation that can skilfully access a decent standard of living, and be kind and conscientious citizens. But, this is not what neoliberal changes seek.
Rather, they aim to run the university by the operations model of a firm, bringing output and impact metrics to evaluate its relevance. The governing question becomes how well is the university serving the global capitalist market. Students become ever more focused on a job rather than also deciding the fate of the future, and they emerge with some basic value, like sheep to be sheared, without any engaged opinion about their place in the overall chain of consumption, production and command.
This model priorities individual economic advancement, so they become Animal Farm’s pigs eating with knives and forks while sending Boxer the horse to the glue factory when he becomes expendable. It eliminates urgent requirements for a strong police state, for students stop investing in dismantling the status quo. It re-packages student as “clients” consuming education services, disconnecting them from the centuries old tradition of student radicalism.
For students in the Caribbean, already distracted by the escapism of social media, there is no Room 101, no torture and no war, so they don’t demand an education system that teaches them to collectively end these.
There’s a Room 101 in the Caribbean though, called Guantanamo Bay. There’s a war against drugs, led by the DEA, that is fueling hundreds of unexplained assassinations and preventing us from making billions from a medical marijuana industry. Doesn’t matter, students are already unwilling or fearful of challenging unjust laws, class inequalities, corporate corruption, political party hierarchies, homophobia and sexism, preferring to focus on their step on the ladder.
I’m not blaming students. They see Petrotrin destroying marine life while big boys collect fat pay cheques. They travel to the US and shop at Walmart, which pays its employees so little that they all rely on welfare to live. They see both PNM and UNC’s massive levels of misspending without a single politician or financier ever being convicted. They live in a world where 62 individuals own as much as the bottom three billion, and have never been to a class that teaches them how to take down and replace that global economic and political system with one built around justice: where no one goes hungry, where no one is desperately poor, where no industry is allowed to profit while killing life on the planet, where elites obey rules.
The economic model the world is built on is costing us more than it provides, even if we account for jobs, a growing middle class and revenue for social services. Six and a half million people died of air pollution in 2012. Calculate that socialisation of losses and understand that students need to know how to end corporate dominance and its privatisation of gains. Air, water and food will be our number one issues in another generation. The planet’s future ecology has to define students’ vision. Political elites need to be held accountable for they have us in this situation. UWI and our students must thus be a political force governments cannot ignore.
Beware of the language of cutbacks. There’s enough money in the world for students and workers, for species to no longer go extinct and for innovations that benefit society. Caribbean universities’ home-grown mandate is to challenge the economic and political systems established here in 1492, to reproduce the legacy of leaders and masses that took on and ended those global orders, to protect their dreams of humanity, sustenance and freedom, and to advance a world where we can survive and thrive without inequity and exploitation.
We are compelled to train students to become workers in the current capitalist order, but we resist its colonisation of their minds. Our vision is for more than their exchange value. Industry alignment, profit logic and cutbacks will not compromise our intellectual independence, or theirs. We teach to transgress, for who else will? Universities are spaces of freedom. Universities are not for sale.
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