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October 10, 2011 | by  | in Features | [ssba]

Be Rational and Protest

I would like to devote this space to outlining some of the reasons why I belong to the relatively new movement on campus known as We Are the University. Principally, I have chosen to be involved with the project out of rational choice.

The administrators of VUW, led by Pat Walsh, continue to implement policies that radically change the provision of education by this institution with little or no real consultation with students. Most of the cuts are being made in the Humanities as part of an international trend towards the corporatisation of universities. The crisis is the subject of a recent paper released by, focusing on “the close relationship between the crisis in the humanities and the corporatization of higher education, and the deep political significance of that relationship. For the humanities, and the related set of disciplines known as the liberal arts, are so essential to democracy that an attack on the former is an attack on the latter. Democratic political culture cannot exist without the humanistic disciplines of history, philosophy, literature, rhetoric and so on. Running colleges and universities on a business model, focusing on profit margins as the primary objective of higher education, is a serious threat to the foundation of democratic societies.” The threat is real. Last month’s termination of two valued papers in the subject of International Relations at Victoria has reduced the discipline to a training programme for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and cuts to Criminology have devastated the quality of the major here. These ‘changes’ to our education, to use the euphemism of our detractors, do represent a process of dying education, as they represent only the most recent offensive in a sustained attack against critical thought.

We Are The University exists to promote discussion and action against threats posed to higher education in New Zealand by Government and university bureaucracies. Given that the administrators of VUW have shown that the ‘student consultation process’ in the form of written submissions is redundant, we have been looking at other ways to express our opposition to their policies of higher fees and corporatised education. Angry, militant protest action is not an illegitimate means of effecting political change. Struggles won through popular protest include those against slavery, apartheid, segregation, the war in Vietnam, and the list goes on. The Arab Spring should serve as a further example.
We have to understand that there is a time for dialogue and compromise in all circumstances, but when dialogue fails, new means of resisting illegitimate authority must be developed and employed. We must also understand that there are times when the interests of social groups conflict, and dialogue alone will do nothing to change that. Major corporations tend not to be in the habit of granting decent wages and better work conditions out of goodwill; workers win these rights by striking, demonstrating, occupying. In the same way, we cannot expect governments, public servants and students’ associations to represent the interests of students unless students themselves are willing to fight for them.

The most rational thing people can do is understand when their interests are threatened and take a logical approach as to what can be done to resist the threat. If dialogue has consistently failed, then the next step must be taken, and to promote dialogue alone, as a recent Salient opinion piece and guest editorial have, defies reason. Protest has worked here at Victoria; it saved the Film School in 2008. Please, if you have grievances concerning our tactics, I invite you to become involved in the group and be a part of the discussion. To do nothing and accuse us of being unreasonable is unfair and unhelpful.


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Comments (12)

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  1. Adam Osborne-Stmih says:

    yeah buddy!

  2. Naomi says:

    I gotta concur, In the words of Son of Nun..
    “We got the 8 hour day because of strikes/ not cause you wrote your congressman and got the right/ They can’t give a damn if you’re polite/ But hit them in the pockets and they’ll meet with you tonight.”
    Since time immemorial people have dismissed those who seek to protect and fight for worthwhile causes as deranged pariahs not capable of rationally chatting it out. Ultimately though, all the biggest social justice gains have consistently been made by the people who challenge the norms with more than just measured musings. It takes action. Not pretentious allusions about ‘rationality’ and sharing ‘dialogue’ with people who have zero intention of ever including us in the process.

  3. Adam O.S says:

    Agreed, people forget the current “age of enlightenment” and reason was actually founded on the mass slaughter of aristocrats. Not that I’m saying that’s a good thing or prerequisite for change but there is a point to actually weilding real power; which in reality always boils down to a direct kind of action.

    As Sam alludes to also, “We Are the University” (and lots of other students) actually did engage in the student “consultation process” against these decisions. They ignored us, and so we responded with protest. We didn’t just wake up one morning and decide to storm the hunter building.

  4. Alpha says:

    Just keep in mind that you don’t actually represent EVERY student on campus, as your name suggests. I know quite a few students who support the changes. That’s really why ‘rational’ discussion is so important–because it’s a forum for hearing multiple views. It’s possible that the university did not ‘ignore’ WATU, but rather that WATU just lost the contest of ideas.

    You’re free to protest. Just don’t claim to represent the interests of “[all] students” when that is clearly not true.

    Plus, since when was tertiary education a right?

  5. Your Name says:

    since it was believed to be one by the UN, the European Convention on Human Rights, the vast majority of NGOs and governments (at least ostensibly) and, i would hazard to speculate (no doubt to your utter dismay), the vast majority of people. higher education; like food, decent housing, healthcare, security and so on, should not be available only to those who can afford it. i think most people just accept that as a truism. but i do eagerly await your ‘how-do-you-know-what-everyone-thinks’ retort

  6. Adam O.S says:

    That’s a fair point Alpha – though we have never claimed to be fighting for the interests of every single student.

    The overall support for WATU is hard to gauge; what we do know is that we’ve had active involvement from around 400-500 students over the past few months. Usually if that’s the number of active involvement, then you could expect a higher number to also be in support of the ideas; though again you can’t be sure of what that number is.

    Even if that’s the case, it is clear from WATU’s impact (not to mention 400 students is no small number) that for many students these are clearly issues.

    Regarding your point about “losing the battle of ideas” that’s simply not the case. Having a half hour meeting at 9 am in the morning that isn’t publicised, in a secluded part of the university does not equate to gaining student mandate. Seven out of eighty concerned class representatives actually responding to emails regarding these changes again does not equate to consultation with the student body.

    Furthermore, the pannels who made the ultimate decisions were comprised of the people who put forward the change proposals themselves (or had an active interest).

    These processes are failing us, and have been for some time. I wouldn’t blame VUWSA or the current class representatives as these have been ongoing issues. What I can say is that was there not a lot of support for WATU, we simply wouldn’t have had a movement that could have as much impact as it has.

    Regarding the name, don’t read too much into it – I see what you mean but “We Are a Significant Part of the University” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

  7. Alpha says:

    Thanks for your assumptions, Your Name.

    Tertiary education is NOT a right. According to the NZ Human Rights Comission, the right to education is as follows:

    1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

    While I think it is a public good, and I think everyone should have equal potential to access it (and I think the student loan scheme does this amicably) it is not a right, and calling it such debases our actual rights.

    And Adam O.S., you have made the single most reasoned reply or comment in anythig I have read from WATU. Congratulations. Expecialy potent is the following statement:

    “Furthermore, the pannels who made the ultimate decisions were comprised of the people who put forward the change proposals themselves (or had an active interest).”

    I understand your concerns about being heard. However Elle’s orininal points still stand: your methd needs a little tweaking. Writing a childish and sarcastic letter to ‘Pat’, and then attempting to storm his office in order to ‘deliver’ it were silly, and certainly detracted from your message — and it is a message I, in principle, support.

  8. James says:

    I gotta concur – yeah buddy!

  9. Your Name says:

    @Alpha: “Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be *equally accessible to all* on the basis of merit.”

    Sounds like a “right” to me.

    Merit is not the same as having the money to pay for tertiary education. There can be people with the merit for tertiary education who don’t necessarily have the money for it. And there are people who have no merit to be at university but have rich mummies and daddies so it’s all good. You dig?

  10. thejackel says:

    “equally accessible to all”

    Yes – tertiary education is equally accessable to all. Anyone with sufficient merit can get a student loan, which they only have to pay back after they finish their degree – when they have more income because they are able to get high paying jobs only accessable by having a degree.

    Its basically these sorts of people you want the government to throw money at, at the expense of the kid who graduates from a South Auckland High School with bad grades and goes straight into a low paying job. If you think that is social justice then you have a pretty weird conception of social justice.

  11. Alpha says:

    Your Name, I think you misunderstood me. Absolutely merit should be, and is, due to our SLS, the basis for undertaking tertiary education.

    But it’s not a right, it’s a privilege. It’s a privilege to be at university, and it is something that not everyone is capable of doing (unlike our actual rights, like freedom of speech, freedom of assembly…). A University can bar you from being admitted to the University–because not everyone CAN participate.

    You may think everyone SHOULD participate, but that is normative, and it is not a right. A public good, yes. Something deserving of equitable and equal access, yes. But a right, no.

  12. Eve says:

    I’m feeling passionate this morning, feel open to check out my website!

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