Monday, February 8, 2010


Professors have a “material interest” in fighting the budget cuts, regardless of whether or not their own positions are endangered by the cuts. That is because, as we all know, people do not go into teaching for the money, but rather because they love to teach, to research, to participate in scholarly life. We have to face the facts, however, about that life. Students are learning less and less—and not only because of the degeneracy of American culture. Three-quarters of students work while they are in school. It is almost impossible to achieve a high level of concentration, in or out of the classroom, when one’s mind and body are racked by work. Classes are getting bigger. Students have less interaction with their professors, and thus, they have less emotional and intellectual investment in what they learning. This situation has to be transformed, and it will be transformed only if we fight.

Last quarter, some students experienced a transformation for themselves, when they participated in occupations in order to fight the budget cuts. When students entered these occupations, they shed their identities. Undergraduate and graduate students spoke freely to one another, without regard for who had “more” of an education, or “higher” degrees. That’s because, in the context of a struggle, none of that matters. No one has an exceptional position, the one “right” answer, so we figure out what to do together. Most people experienced this openness as a freedom unlike any they had experienced before. All the discussion sections in the world are scant preparation for a real discussion, in which our bodies and beliefs are at stake.

Why is it, then, that professors were unable to participate in the occupations at that level? When they came into the occupied spaces, professors did so only as professors: they came in order to teach us something. Professors tried to bargain with administrators on behalf of students. They tried to convince students to be more mindful of the consequences of their actions. And when they showed up to support us for the final confrontation with the riot police, professors did so as “faculty observers” (to separate themselves, presumably, from the “student participants”). We say this not to criticize the faculty, but to point out what seems symptomatic in their actions. After all, when the riot police finally appeared to disperse the Kerr Hall occupation, they did not care who was a professor or who was a student. They cleared everyone out with equal force. In the end, it was a professor dear to us all who was hurt the most—he was taken away in an ambulance after he fell off a ledge.

All of this is to say: faculty are already participating in the struggle as individuals, even if they do not recognize that fact. This struggle is not simply an opportunity to “learn something.” It is not “preparation” for some future experience, in which the stakes would be “real.” By acting as if these ruptures in our everyday experience are not also ruptures in the fundamental hierarchies of the university, professors prevent themselves from entering the struggle as individuals, equal to everyone else. They prevent themselves from speaking freely, without regard for how their age or status might unduly “influence” the youth. This is what we need, more than anything, from the faculty—to speak, young and old, student and professor, as equals.

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