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#Occupy the university

By Marko Beljac - posted Thursday, 5 November 2015


The market can be a far more insidious form of social control than the blunt hand of the state for the market can control minds rather than mere bodies.

Take, say, universities.

The university plays an important role in the public sphere for the ideas and discussions that occur within its walls can be used to either challenge or reinforce the very conceptual framework, often the product of academia, that we use to interpret and discuss social and political affairs.

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In a free society university life must necessarily be autonomous and self managed.

When the university is subordinate to the needs and interests of the dominant sectors within a society, and when it is governed by a hierarchical elite within, it no longer functions as a place for boldly independent, path breaking, foundational, but more to the point, critical inquiry.

A university subject to such control does not become the centre of humanity's efforts to overcome its self imposed ignorance, to paraphrase Immanuel Kant.

Across our campuses a control revolution has developed that threatens to undermine what remains of the autonomous and self managed university, and this control revolution crucially relies upon the pernicious effects of the market to achieve its aims.

As we all know progressive defunding from the state, part of a broader neoliberal attack on the public, has intentionally compelled the university to conform to the market rigours of supply and demand.

The university itself is required to make a profit, and must aspire to do so on a regular basis. The idea here is that universities provide a product to consumers, otherwise known as students, so that they may choose a well paying career in some industry upon graduation.

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This means the university essentially becomes a private enterprise supplying graduates to other corporations. The courses universities provide, the manner they are delivered, and the research that they do, necessarily will cater to the interests and concerns of the corporate sector.

If the graduates of a university cannot obtain employment with the firms of their choice, and research does not conform to commercial incentives, then a university will struggle to make a profit.

This means that the university becomes subordinate to the overall framework of power that exists in a corporate dominated society. It no longer functions as an autonomous institution free of external constraint.

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About the Author

Mark Beljac teaches at Swinburne University of Technology, is a board member of the New International Bookshop, and is involved with the Industrial Workers of the World, National Tertiary Education Union, National Union of Workers (community) and Friends of the Earth.

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