Why Faculty Should Join Occupy Movement Protesters on College Campuses

December 29th, 2011

Published on truthout, by Henry A. Giroux, December 19, 2011.

In both the United States and  many other countries, students are protesting against rising tuition fees, the increasing financial burdens they are forced to assume, and the primacy of market models in shaping higher education while emphasizing private benefits to individuals and the economy. Many students view these policies and for-profit industries as part of an assault on not just the public character of the university but also as an attack on civic society and their future … //  

… Young people can make clear to faculty that, over the last 30 years, they have been written out of the social contract and are no longer viewed as a symbol of hope, just as they have been written out of the power relations that govern the university. No longer regarded as an important social investment or as a marker for the state of democracy and the moral life of the nation, young people have become the objects of a more direct and damaging assault waged on them on a number of political economic and cultural fronts. They have been deprived of decent scholarships, disrespected in their attempts to gain a quality education, foiled in their attempts to secure a decent job, and denied a voice in the shaping of the institutions that bear down heavily on their daily lives.

Big banks and large financial institutions view them as a drain on the nation’s financial coffers and as a liability in making quick financial profits through short-term investments. Young people are now challenging this toxic form of casino capitalism and, in doing so, are changing the national conversation that has focused on deficit reduction and taxing the poor. They are shifting this conversation to important issues, which range from poverty and joblessness to corporate corruption. Put differently, the Occupy protesters are asking big questions, and they are not simply being moralistic. They are also demanding an alternative vision and set of policies to drive American society.

Faculty need to listen to young people in order to try to understand the problems they face and how, as academics, they might be unknowingly complicit in reproducing such problems. They also need to begin a conversation with young people and among other faculty about how they can become a force for democratic change.

Young people need a space on campuses to talk back, talk to one another, engage in respectful dialogue with faculty and learn how to engage in coalition building. Faculty and administrators can begin to open up the possibility for such spaces by offering the Occupy protesters an opportunity to speak to their classes, create autonomous spaces within the university where they might meet and engage in dialogue with others. They can go even further by joining them in fighting those economic and political forces that are destroying higher education as a social good and as a citadel of rigorous intellectual engagement and civic debate.

Young people no longer recognize themselves in terms preferred by the market, and they no longer believe in an education that ignores critical thinking, dialogue, and those values that engage matters of social responsibility and civic engagement.  But students have more to offer than a serious critique of the university and its complicity with a number of antidemocratic forces now shaping the larger society. They are also modeling for faculty new modes of participatory democracy, and exhibiting forms of pedagogy and education that connect learning with social change and knowledge with more democratic modes of self-development and social empowerment. Clearly, academics have a lot to learn from both the ways in which students are changing the conversation about education, important social issues, and democracy, and from what it might mean to imagine a new understanding of politics and a different future.

All of these issues are especially true for those faculty members that believe that scholarship should be disinterested and removed from addressing important social issues. The questions students are raising are important for faculty to rethink those modes of professionalism, specialism and social relations which have cut them off from addressing important social issues and the larger society. Professionalism does not have to translate into a flight from moral and intellectual responsibility … (full long text).

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