The University in Crisis: Maureen McNeil and Intros

On Thursday the 18th Nov we held the second of a series of talks under the title, ‘The University in Crisis”. Prof. Maureen McNeil lead the discussion and the session was excellent: a great talk, a very nice atmosphere and plenty of discussion at the end. About 95 people were in attendance.

I haven’t got Maureen’s talk, but I just wanted to post below the introductions: introductions because we decided the first draft wasn’t prudent. I’ll post the actual introduction first, then the unedited version.

Thanks to all who took part in that evening’s event.

Wit

p.s. the posta was again done by Prof. Turnasol!

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Actual Introduction (Give or take a couple of lines):

Hello and welcome to the second in a series of talks to be held this term on the theme ‘The University in Crisis.’ Firstly we’d like to thank you all for coming – especially those of you who came to the last talk in the series too. We’d also like to say that there will be another given by Laurence Hemming on the 7th of December – keep an eye out for it. And finally we’d like to advertise the Lancaster anti-cuts coalition meeting that is happening at 7.30pm this evening at the Town Hall. At the latest, this talk will finish at 6.30pm so that people can get down to the anti-cuts meeting on time.

Before introducing our speaker this week we’d like to say a few words about where the idea for the series came from. It began almost a year ago, when a group of PhD students, teaching assistants, and temporary teaching staff from across the faculty of arts and social sciences began meeting to discuss the changing nature of our university and how these changes related to broader social, political and economic changes in society at large. We were concerned not only by certain tendencies we identified – the marketization of education, alienation from all decision making processes, and the exploitation of staff (particularly casually employed staff) and students – but also with the lack of any significant resistance to these tendencies. When we began meeting there was already thunder rumbling on the horizon – Labour was beginning to announce its cuts; the Browne Review had been commissioned. But, it seemed to us at that time that we were operating in a vacuum. It was in this context, then that the idea of the lecture series was conceived: as a strategy for bringing people together, stimulating debate, and potentially creating a situation from which further organised actions might spring.

How different, then, things look this week, following the events of last Wednesday, 10th November. Perhaps it will amaze some of you to think that we struggled to imagine such an event was possible: an event that attested to the existence of a mass student movement against – not only tuition fees – but, albeit to varying degrees, against the whole trajectory of society in this moment. Perhaps others of you will be amazed or sceptical at the idea that this is what Wednesday’s events represented. But, although we should be cautious about being too self-congratulatory, we have only to witness the virulence of the Government and media counter-attack to realise that what the events of Wednesday achieved was to put the repressed possibility of actual change back on the agenda.

In the last few weeks we’ve heard a lot about “common sense debate”, not least from the Vice Chancellor of Lancaster University, Paul Wellings, whose argument in the Guardian drew upon American pundits Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s “rally to restore sanity” in order to paint the student protests as irrational, hysterical, and grossly misinformed. Suspicious as some of us may be about the deployment of this discourse of “sanity” and “debate” by Wellings and others, we still feel that actual inclusive debate is both worthwhile and necessary.

So, in line with this, we hope that this series of talks can begin to provide a platform for people to question, collectively, the direction our university and the wider society more generally is heading. To that end we are delighted that Professor Maureen McNeil is with us this week to talk about her experience of working in universities over the course of her academic career. She describes her research as being at the intersection of cultural studies, feminist studies and science and technology studies. Since the late 1970s, she has been involved in the development of feminist studies of science and technology as a teacher and researcher, and she has been involved with academic institutions in Canada, the US, Berlin and the UK. Maureen was a part of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies in Birmingham, an internationally acclaimed research centre that was closed in 2002 amidst protest under the rubric of ‘restructuring’. She has been at Lancaster University since 1996, and has been involved with the Centre for Economic and Social Aspects of Genomics since its foundation in 2002.  Today, she will be talking about the changing nature of the university, with reference to the title ‘From gentlemen’s clubs to entrepreneurial hubs, to…’, which is of course very timely given its coincidence with ‘Global Entrepreneurship Week’, which has been running sessions under such interesting titles as “Should FASS be open for business?” We hope that Maureen’s talk and her reflections will stimulate a debate about the nature of our University, the direction it might be taking, and hopes for its future — -> Please give a warm welcome to Maureen McNeil.

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And the intro we chose not to use…

Hello and welcome to the first in a series of talks to be held this term on the theme ‘The University in Crisis.’ Firstly we’d like to thank you all for coming – especially those of you who came to the last talk in the series too. We’d also like to say that there will be another given by Laurence Hemming on the 7th of December – keep an eye out for it. And finally we’d like to advertise the Lancaster anti-cuts coalition meeting that is happening at 7.30pm this evening at the Town Hall. At the latest, this talk will finish at 6.30pm so that people can get down to the anti-cuts meeting on time.

Ok, so before introducing our speaker this week we’d like to say a few words about where the idea for the series came from. It began almost a year ago, when a group of PhD students, teaching assistants, and temporary teaching staff from across the faculty of arts and social sciences began meeting to discuss the changing nature of our university and how these changes related to broader social, political and economic changes in society at large. We were concerned not only by certain tendencies we identified – the marketization of education, alienation from all decision making processes, and the exploitation of staff (particularly casually employed staff) and students – but also with the lack of any significant resistance to these tendencies. When we began meeting there was already thunder rumbling on the horizon – Labour was beginning to announce its cuts; the Browne Review had been commissioned. But, it seemed to us at that time  that we were operating in a vacuum. It was in this context, then that the idea of the lecture series was conceived: as a strategy for bringing people together, stimulating debate, and potentially creating a situation from which further organised actions might spring.

How different, then, things look this week, following the events of last Wednesday, 10th November. Perhaps it will amaze some of you to think that we struggled to imagine such an event was possible: an event that attested to the existence of a mass student movement against – not only tuition fees, as the NUS and others would have you believe – but, albeit to varying degrees, against the whole trajectory of society in this moment. Perhaps others of you will be amazed or sceptical at the idea that this is what Wednesday’s events represented. But, although we should be cautious about being too self-congratulatory, we have only to witness the virulence of the Government and media counter-attack to realise that on Wednesday the repressed possibility of actual change was on the agenda – and that it scared the shit out of the Government.

It is worth quickly pulling apart this reaction. There were, of course, the usual Mafia-style threats issued by the police – “We’re coming for you – we’re going to mess you up for what you did to us”. But it is the reaction of the bureaucratic elites that was most striking.

Before the protest even took place, the Vice Chancellor of Lancaster University, Paul Wellings, was borrowing the discourse of “rationality” and “common sense discussion” from Jon Stewart. Plainly this is a containment strategy, for – whilst deriding protestors as animalistic, irrational and hysterical – the promise of “common sense discussion” (as we all know) translates directly into the sort of farce that was the Entrepreneurial week session: “Should FASS be open for business?”, or the “independent” review of ex-BP Chief Executive Lord Browne, to which our glorious VC so helpfully contributed sound-bites. Indeed, at a University where all decisions apparently undergo “consultation”, and yet where the overwhelming evidence is that we have been completely alienated from decision making processes, we are all well aware that “common sense discussion” translates directly into the droning monologue of neoliberal bureaucratic praxis.

We must also condemn here the idiocy of Aaron Porter, NUS President, who, like any good tyrant, attempted to ex-communicate those who stepped beyond the agenda laid out and self-policed by the NUS. Apparently he does not even recognise the protesters who forced their way into the Millbank Tower as students. The reified logic, here (perhaps the general logic of bureaucratized “representation”), is that, rather than him representing us, we are supposed to represent him. Thus we see before us the logical conclusion of the self-referentiality of alienating bureaucracy. Faced with this, we might simply reverse the whole equation and ask of Porter, “and who the fuck are you?”

Finally, we must give a moment to our glorious Prime Minister, who has likewise condemned “the violent minority of left-wing extremists” who “ruined the protest for everyone”. The day after the protest he was reported by the BBC to have commented that: “the proper place for this debate is not on our streets, but in the Houses of Parliament.” He added: “Look, even if we wanted to, we shouldn’t go back to the idea that University is free”. The most striking point here is that, having alienated students and staff from this debate by reserving it for the bureaucratic elite that is parliament, he effectively necessitates the sort of mass action we saw on Wednesday. Moreover, the situation at Millbank is the logical conclusion of Cameron’s own argument.  Finding themselves effectively marginalised from any of the many pseudo-rational debates that are supposed to be happening, it makes perfect sense for protesting students to decide to take the message of student discontent directly into the dark heart of the heart of the nation that is Tory HQ. In the face of this, Cameron stresses the impotence of protest – effectively saying “because this is a democracy you can protest peacefully, but don’t think we’ll listen to you”. This makes perfectly explicable the form protest took on at the Millbank tower. For, what was it that we saw on that day but the affirmation of the possibility of action crystallized in the actuality of the action of shattering all those plate glass windows.

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Best
Wit

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~ by Wit on November 24, 2010.

One Response to “The University in Crisis: Maureen McNeil and Intros”

  1. […] original here: The University in Crisis: Maureen McNeil and Intros « Unspeakable … By admin | category: LANCASTER University | tags: chancellor, common-sense, few-weeks, […]

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