Beyond Occupation: A Proposal to Form the Autonomous University of California

Occupation has emerged over the past 2 months as the preeminent tactic in the fight against privatization of the UC.  The philosophy is beautiful, expropriating our campus spaces for student use, radically attacking the subordination to administration and taking back our campuses one building at a time.  At 17 occupations across the UC and CSU systems in just two months, Winter break will be unbearable as we wait idly for the news of the first occupation next quarter.

But the tactic has its limitations.  While we can begin creating the foundations for an Autonomous University within liberated spaces, it will take more than just physical occupation; we need to explore the realm of metaphysical occupation as well: implementing free schools, mutual aid programs, new politics, and cultural expression.  UCI has already played with mutual aid, through RSU’s weekly Food Not Bombs servings and free bike clinics on Ring Road.  But the first topic, radicalizing education, is what I want to explore.

As we face class cuts, increasing course loads for lecturers and TAs, and faculty furloughs, it is clear that our access to critical education within the university is even less than what it has been.  Additionally, as we seek to build the Autonomous University, we cannot just restore funding to education, we must reconstruct it.  We must do away with the hierarchies of the classroom and the factory learning approach, and communize curricula and classrooms.  We must implement new modes of collective learning and teaching that foster critical analysis, support our communities, and meet our basic human needs.

This is a proposal to begin to do just that.  It must be criticized, critiqued, elaborated, expanded.  It should not be the only proposal, and it neither precludes nor excludes other proposals or actions.

Given the constraints placed on us by the university–time, money, and energy–it will be tough to establish a new educational system completely independent of the current one.  Perhaps the best we can do is construct a new system in the belly of the old, leeching it until it is tired and growing until it bursts.

Most strategically and easily, we can make use of the university’s 198/199/299 (Directed Study) classes.  All departments have such classes, and most faculty have access to course codes for these classes.  For this to work, we would need just one faculty member, but ideally at least one faculty member per department or school.  The faculty member at the very least would need to submit grades at the end of the quarter, though this could (and maybe should) be done pass/no pass or all-A’s as a rejection of the classist, arbitrary, and virtually meaningless grading system at UCI.

The topic and curriculum will be decided by the students in the class, in consultation with the professor or a graduate student volunteer.  The first quarter, topics may be preselected though subject to student revision.  The faculty or graduate “instructor” would do no more than facilitate the class and provide insight where appropriate, and would review final research papers for comments and critique though not for grade–this is an example of caminando preguntando, learning as we walk together.  Given the time constraints, if classes are weekly rather than biweekly, instructors might suggest an introductory reading.

From then on, students would determine the curriculum and decide which readings to do.  For a theoretical course, where readings are denser and require dissection, all students might read the same set of core texts.  For a more topical or survey course, students might each read something different and report back to the class, so that everyone is exposed to a large volume of information.  Discussion in the class would then incorporate each student’s reading of the materials along with their own experiences and insights.  In many ways the instructor would be there, not as holy purveyor of truth, but as a (more advanced) student.  Such a design may be useful to graduate students if the course corresponds to their field of study.

At the end of the course, students would carry out a research project tailored to their personal interests, related to the course materials which they chose.  Rather than the typical regurgitation of lecture notes, this research would contribute to the body of received knowledge on campus.  Such exploration would open the door to more advanced discourse about the crises, social alienation, and the potential for revolution.

Below is a sample of possible curricula, to serve as an example, if not starting point.  This plan is not perfect, it needs serious refinement, and major work to be implemented, but it may serve as a complement to occupation in our struggle for something better.

Courses of the future:

Af Am 199: Students of Color and the Crisis of the University: the origins and effects of the current budget crisis

Anthropology 198: Primitive Communisms: a look at egalitarianism in pre-industrial societies, gender, power, government, economies

Ch/Lat 198: Latin American Revolutions: Mexico 1910/Cristero/Tlatelolco/Zapatistas/Oaxaca, Chile Allende/Pinochet/Mapuches, Argentina Peron/Piqueteros/Factory occupations, Bolivia Morales, Colombia FARC, Cuba Independence/Revolution/Special Period, Honduras Coup, El Salvador/Guatemala coups/El Mozote, Peru Fujimori/Sendero Luminoso, Brasil WSF/Lula

Comp Lit 199: Postcolonialism: Fanon, Said, South Africa, Rwanda, Darfur, IMF

History 198: Orange County History: Irvine Ranch, Logan Barrio, UCI SDS, Donald Bren

History 199: Revolutionary Ideology and Practice: covering the Diggers, French Revolution/Haiti, Paris Commune, Russian Revolutions, Spanish Civil War, Chinese Revolution, Cuban Independence/Revolution/Che, Prague Spring/Solidarity/Tianenmen, Zapata/Tlatelolco/Zapatistas/Oaxaca, Paris 68/Greece 2008, Italian Autonomism

Lit Journ 199: Alternative Media: working group to publish alternative media such as a regular newspaper

Philosophy 199: New Communism: Gramsci, Lukacs, Althusser, Deleuze/Guattari, Agamben, Badiou/Balibar, Debord/Lefebvre, Ranciere, Zizek, Poulantzas

Philosophy 199: From Frankfurt to Foucault: Benjamin, Adorno, Fromm, Habermas, Marcuse, Foucault

Sociology 198: The Prison-Industrial Complex: Police violence, repression, private jails, prison labor

Sociology 299: Radical Social Movements: IWW, Black Panthers, AIM, Weather Underground/SDS, ELF/ALF, WTO

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3 Responses to Beyond Occupation: A Proposal to Form the Autonomous University of California

  1. ingrid says:

    don’t forget about the arts/humanities classes too!

  2. Pingback: Langson Library Now Open 24 Hours « Occupy UCI!

  3. sociolinguist says:

    Linguistics 198: The Engineering of Consent

    Examines how language is used by those in power, whether in dominant political parties or other state hierarchies such as public universities, to sustain public confidence in the democratic nature of unilateral decisions. Combines cognitive psychology, sociolinguistics, pragmatics and other fields of study to discover whether, and how, the public is convinced that the decisions of those in power are actually their own. Asks how intentional the current power structures are, how compatible they are with popular notions of democracy, how they are maintained through language, and whether they can be reconciled with our shared ideals. Possible topics include, but are not limited to: advertising (“I’m a PC and Windows 7 was my idea”); electoral politics (“Hope”, “Change”, “reform”, “tax relief”, etc.); public university administration; media coverage of public debates; the popular conception of “the marketplace of ideas”; etc.

    ANSC 198: Intra-Struggle Conflict

    Studies the use of “divide and conquer” tactics which pit certain identities, whether ethnic, religious, racial, linguistic, sexual, professional, etc., against others. Examines the validity of the resulting divisions by comparing and contrasting the needs, class status, and other properties of groups which experience animosity toward one another. Asks whether these divisions are created intentionally, and if so, why; whether they should be mended, and if so, how. Critically examines the use of intra-struggle conflict in maintaining existing power structures.

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