Posts Tagged ‘faq’

Frequently asked questions - Part one

Monday, April 20th, 2009

Q: What are you protesting?
A: We are dissatisfied with the catastrophic policies that are being systematically implemented on both the global and the local level, not only within the educational system, but also in all segments of the society. Although we see their causes within a far wider context, we have found the direct motive for action in the clear intent of the government structures to gradually commercialise education, which represents the first step toward the potential privatisation of public educational institutions, that is, the property of all citizens. The right to an education is the fundamental right of every citizen of this country. Rights are not there to be bargained with, nor offered up on the market.

Q: Why do you think that it’s a bad thing, shouldn’t the market dictate the criteria for excellence?
A: It is bad because such policy leads to further segmentation and polarisation of the society. An ever-growing gap emerges between the rich and the poor, the privileged and the neglected. We also hold that the patterns of the creation of labour relations based on the market logic are especially detrimental to the academic world. The state must not relinquish its role to private entrepreneurs, because privatisation makes universities primarily profit-oriented institutions. This is not, and should not be the function of educational institutions. The state currently finances the majority of universities, but may not interfere with their autonomy. In the case of privatisation, the independence of universities would necessarily disappear.

Q: You mention privatisation, what has that to do with the Ministry of Science, Education and Sports [MZOŠ]?
A: It has to do with the Ministry insofar as this protest is aimed primarily at the Croatian government, as it has the budget at its disposal. The issue of the existence of money for free education for all isn’t primarily an issue of accounting, but of politics. The moment the right to an education is taken as unquestionable, a new issue arises: not whether there is any money, but how to secure it. This is then a question of fiscal policies, in dealing with which, the people who have been entrusted with the mandate to tend the public interests can and should make good on their loyalty to these interests and ability to guarantee them.

Q: What are your goals, what do you stand for?
A: We demand that the taxpayers’ – ours and our parents’ – money be used to serve the public interests. We demand that the ladies and gentlemen from the Croatian government start keeping their promises concerning the so-called knowledge society, which can certainly never be realised with the state ignoring it and transferring responsibility to the law of the market. We demand respect for the fundamental right of all citizens to free public education and state protection aiming to preserve the autonomy of educational institutions. We demand that the stated problems be taken into serious consideration and not be perceived as an isolated case, because this situation is simply the reflection of a wider social problem, with people and their knowledge and services being reduced exclusively to the function of commodity. We demand free universities, where the state will invest more, not less. We demand the employment of the number of professors in universities as foreseen in the Bologna standards, which, however, are not being implemented. We demand the expansion of residential capacities of student’s dorms. We demand a larger number of scholarship grants, a larger number of adequate and functional classrooms and larger and more relevant library stocks. The system is supposed to be here for our sake, not vice versa!

Q: Isn’t it too late for all this, won’t paying for the studies serve as an impulse to finish them on time?
A: A bayonet in the back can also serve as a good impulse for finishing business on time, but it may not be justified by the goal, as the said method is exceptionally undemocratic, and compromises any declaratory democratic attitude that would put it to use. Besides, there is no scientific support for the thesis that there is a link between one’s paying for own studies and one’s academic achievements. Moreover, Vilim Ribić, the president of the Great Council of the Independent Science and Higher Education Union, states precisely the opposite in an interview for the newspaper Novi List, where he presents the data from a study commissioned by the Union, “which shows no correlation between levels of success among those who pay, and those who study for free. Therefore, those who pay are no faster than those who don’t.” (Novi list, 11 March 2007.)

Q: But won’t levying fees serve as a lesson for slacking students?
A: There already are control mechanisms preventing such misuses of the educational system, and our engagement in the struggle for a more just society doesn’t include encouraging people to study merely to gain student’s rights or any other form of an individual’s unconscientious attitude toward the future of this country. Besides, there is no empirical data on the efficacy of such pedagogy. Finally, if this trend of rising prices were to continue, the consequence will be the denial of the right to a higher education to low-income families, and generating the effect of debt bondage for the middle class.

Q: Do you think that everything should be free (including post-graduate studies)?
A: Yes. This is the only way toward a “knowledge society”. The experience so far has shown that introducing tuition fees hasn’t done anything to raise the quality of (humanistic) post-graduate studies, which was low enough as it was. What is needed is a thorough restructuring of the ways of their execution. Entrance exams should be sufficient to enrol a study.

Q: How to finance it all? Have you forgotten about the recent crash of world economies?
A: We haven’t forgotten, it is precisely this crisis that we are speaking out about – namely, it is a direct consequence of policies that some states around the world still insist on. Stock markets have crashed because of neo-liberal capitalist doctrine propagating the untouchability of private business whose basic aim is the to maximise profit. In and of itself, profit isn’t synonymous to progress; the advancement of society is dictated by far wider factors, which also include the relations in the distribution of the profit. In the neo-liberal system (don’t let the name fool you, this system has nothing to do with civic liberties), the needs of large capital come first, and the main weapon used by the owners of such capital to attain political and economic dominance is – market logic. All world analysts – both from the left and from the right – admit what caused the recent collapse, which is impossible to pass over, as the former president of the USA himself conceded what happened when he required state intervention to aid the stumbling economy (although this aid actually boils down to helping those who brought about this catastrophe). Although in this way many countries managed to avoid bankruptcy, the problem hasn’t been solved, but was swept under the carpet. Private capital is the basic determinant of the neo-liberal capitalist order, and it is unrealistic to expect that private investors would willingly give up control over their private playgrounds we gullible people call states. Let us backtrack a little: the money the states used to avoid bankruptcy is in fact the taxpayers’ money – our money. On the other hand, the private capital has remained under protection, and is always being given new chances to accumulate new profit. Metaphorically speaking, the people get the dregs from a coffee pot, while the tycoons collect the cream. The money exists, but the decision what to do with it should be left to the people (who earn it). It is up to the people to force states to a more equitable distribution (the so-called bottom-up pressure).

Q: Whom do you in fact hold accountable?
A: Everybody within this hierarchical structure (because autonomy only exists on paper). From professors and deans keeping quiet about these things (the problem is much wider than just the Philosophy Faculty) and expecting students to fight the battle against the commercialisation of education on their own, through the University, all the way to the Ministry of Science, Education and Sports, and finally the Government and the Parliament of Croatia themselves, as they make the political decisions on how much the state is willing to invest in the realisation of the so-called knowledge society, obviously a simplest platitude as no more than 2-3% of the annual budget is assigned to education.

Q: Does this mean that you admit that education has its price?
A: Of course it has its price, but the point is that education shouldn’t hinge upon the unstable and unsustainable laws of market logic. In terms of managing institutions of higher education the role of the state apparatus should be (and most often is) minimal, but if the state were to withdraw from the financing of this department, it would in fact pass the baton to the private sector, which isn’t bound by these rules. In the place of the uninvolved state, we get private investors imposing their own regime, in which the notions of “lucrativeness” and “maximisation of profits” take the front seat. Besides, it is enough to recall that taxes have gone no lower since students have started paying for their studies, and that the money is simply being redirected elsewhere.

Q: What do you aim to achieve with the blockade of the Philosophy Faculty?
A: The long-term goal is to stop the neo-liberalisation of this society (cutting public spending in the budget, which causes the perpetuation of socio-economic inequality), but we are aware of the possibility that the realisation of this goal will appear impossible unless we redirect our forces toward a unifying front. In other words, this means that our short-term goal is to achieve free education for all, from primary school to doctoral studies, that is, a publicly funded, publicly accessible educational system. With the blockade, we intend to bring the students and the public to awareness about these problems. It will end whenever and however it ends, but, in general, we don’t plan to release pressure as long as these two goals remain unsolved.

Q: Who are the organisers?
A: As part of the International Week of Action (against the commercialisation of education), an ad hoc initiative by students from the Philosophy Faculty in Zagreb is mostly in charge of the local level of organisation. However, in the spirit of the idea of direct decision-making, many members of various students’ associations, who have temporarily given up their authority as representatives and act purely as individuals with an equal vote as other students, have also joined the action.

Q: Isn’t the very idea of blocking the curricular activities in an educational institution a kind of an act of intellectual vandalism, nihilism and/or Machiavellianism?
A: A desire to obstruct the educational process isn’t what’s behind the idea of a blockade of curricular activities. It is precisely the opposite: we want to offer students an opportunity to be educated, among other things, about the very process of education in a state that, through a parliamentary mirage of democracy, directs and canalises social goings-on by applying various methods of deception and pacification of the populace. One of our goals is also to spur public debate on some issues, for example on the influence of the seldom-mentioned international GATS treaty (which grants complete freedom to expose our entire educational system to the market) on the bearing of the state toward the public services. During the blockade of regular curricular activities, we plan to link our program with all other matters with which we will attempt to touch upon the burning issues of education, the economy, democracy and similar. The idea is to provide students with the time and opportunity to become interested in something other than mere frenzied gathering of plusses, points, signatures and marks – all of which constitutes the only preoccupation of today’s educational machine.

Q: On 14th April 2009, the Ministry has made a decision to cover the expenses of graduate studies. What does this mean?
A: Let us quote: “it has been determined that in the following academic year, the Ministry of Science, Education and Sports will cover the expenses of graduate studies for all regular students enrolling for the first time in the first or second year of graduate studies. For this purpose, 25 million kuna has been set aside in the budget of the Ministry of Science, Education and Sports.” This news was published on the MZOŠ pages on the 16th of April, and already on the 17 April it was published on the pages of the Philosophy Faculty in Zagreb. This decision is no solution to the problem for a number of reasons:
a) we demand free education FOR ALL, not only for graduate studies;
b) this is also just a deferment of the firing squad for one year (because the tuition fees remain – the MZOŠ will cover them solely for the following year, and then wait to see whether new protests occur, if it were to happen);
c) dodgy financing – last year it was announced there would be 78 million kuna for a single generation, this year it is 25 million for two generations (?);
d) the 25 million kuna that were announced, beside obviously not sufficing to cover all expenses, aren’t any sort of new funds, but a case of blind transferral of last year’s amount, which hasn’t been adjusted to the real tuition fees that graduate degree students should be paying this year.
To present this decision as a well-thought-out solution to the students’ demands is a mere media manipulation.
e) The MZOŠ still hasn’t made the payment for the previous, that is, the ongoing year (according to the information we receive, only a third of the promised amount has been paid).

The ministry has announced the decision on covering expenses for graduate studies parallel to the activities of the Independent students’ initiative, which is planning to exert pressure on all the responsible authorities, something that has for some time been a matter of rumours.

Frequently Asked Questions – Part Two

Monday, April 20th, 2009

1. Why are you occupying the faculty instead of addressing the Ministry?
• the faculty is a public institution; we think it is legitimate to use it as a means and place for the articulation of public interests;
• the faculty as symbolic capital has great significance as a historically privileged place for articulation of critical thought (both abroad and in the local context);
• we think that socio-humanistic institutions complete their social function and responsibility for the society only when they rise critically against the processes we consider to be socially destructive; we consider commercialization to be among these processes;
• the autonomy of the University represents a strategic reserve for the articulation of positions for which there is no place elsewhere within the media and institutional space.

2. Why not simply protest?
• the public is satiated with the form of protest;
• the media too easily absorbs protests as one-time spectacles without consequences;
• the one-time basis of the protest form leads us into the position of dependence on media paraphrase;
• the point of having public discussions is also to create the space for articulation of our positions without falling into clichés of media representation, e.g. the stereotype of the “naive rebelled student” whose “vague attitudes” are yet to be translated into the would-be coherent parameters of the politically realistic;
• using public discussions as platforms, we show that we are capable of clearly and fully articulating our own political demands which cannot be reduced to the patronizing logic of media clichés in the production of one-time spectacles and scandals;
• a strategic protest leads to a position of subordination and waiting for the addressee’s reaction with the possibility of endless deferment or complete absence of a response.

3. Why the plenum?
• in a situation when formal representational mechanisms and student representatives have no real power to considerably influence questions directly regarding their status and future, it is necessary to look for a wider basis and different ways of articulating demands;
• The only possibility of democratic auto-legitimization that remains after exceeding the institutional frame of formal student representation is through the plenum, i.e. direct democracy.

4. Why collective appearance?
• the form of collective appearance is more appropriate for articulating collective demands;
• we want to prevent personalization and “professionalization”;
• this action is not reducible to a situation in which the division of the student body into the figure of a leader and an inert student mass could be valid;
• it is possible to articulate collective interests without such inner partition and tacit narrowing of the possibility of democratic participation to which the form of the representational model (i.e. having set professionalized representatives of collective interests) could lead;
• in a wider social sense, we think it is important to bring back dignity to the idea of collective interests and social solidarity, as opposed to the aggressive representational-media culture of the cult of the individual, and the logic of disintegrating and delegitimizing everything that surpasses the calculations of an isolated, egoistic individual > this is exactly what we consider to be an ideologically problematic model in the representation of social processes, one with far-reaching political consequences which include the abolition of social rights and institutions of social solidarity
• the aspects of the campaign for the delegitimization of institutions which guard collective social interests include attacking trade unions, social institutions, health care etc. by labeling them as “socialism”, which, in media space, is a word equivalent to a complete disqualification; the alternative offered in return is social Darwinism in which individual consummation and shopping centers are supposed to compensate for the abolition of the institutions of social protection and collective solidarity.

5. Who gives you the right to prevent the students who do not share your views from attending classes regularly?
• This is exactly what plenums are for – they are a form which enables democratic participation of all the students who are interested. We find the decisions of the plenum binding.
• We do not have an apparatus or mechanisms for establishing the opinions and attitudes of the majority in a different way: the plenum is the only mechanism of autolegitimation at our disposal.

6. Aren’t your methods on the verge of violence? Isn’t occupation of the faculty a violent act?
• we think that in comparison to our action, the social violence practiced by limiting the opportunity of access to education is an incomparably more socially destructive form of violence;
• commercialization is not a process neutral in value, but a transformation of the social purpose of educational institutions; to subordinate education to the criterion of profit (even in a camouflaged, euphemized version of “economic efficiency”) means to tacitly abolish its primary function; although bureaucratically articulated, it still remains an act of violence;
• The introduction of financial threshold directly prevents a large number of people from actualizing their right to education, so it de facto means its abolition. Money is a form of social power and a social force – to introduce it as a criterion of selection means to use mechanisms of social coercion for the purpose of social exclusion and prevention from actualizing an important right.