This blog will look at environmental and political issues that will affect the quality of life for future generations of all species. Including; sustainability, media labels of "environmental issues," and different kinds of resistance to environmental oppression. I will also post on anything I think someone interested in the aforementioned would be interested in...

Monday, December 3, 2007

Student's, Take Back the University!

There is an ongoing war happening on our campus. It is happening between the collective good of society ("public interest") and the economic powerhouse of the corporation. ("corporate interest")

This war started at the birth of our university as an autonomous institute of higher learning. As university of Regina History professor James Pitsula describes in his book "As one who Serves," the university of regina was very much a child of the sixties. Our university was birthed from the decade of protest as a focal point for direct action. Student rallies and demonstrations that today mere hundreds attend would draw thousands of passionate student protestors.

Back then, the word activist was synonymous with the word student. As students learned to think for themselves, they began to think critically of the institutions governing them. They went further than their administrators intended and attempted to use their newfound knowledge as an agency for change that would benefit society as a whole.

These "student power" activists demanded control over their own affairs, without interference from profit-interest university administration. These students looked at the roots of society's problems; mainly a profit-interest business sector that supported the "military industrial complex." Peace is not a profitable commodity.

They demanded that their voices be heard by having student representation and involvement in university decision-making bodies. They advocated that their university education by paid for by the government, as it is providing a service that benefits the common good of society. They promoted the idea that (as Einstein put it) "The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them." They failed in their attempts to directly implement their new ideas into the institution that had helped inspire and network them.

Further, the institution became to take steps to prevent another outbreak like that from occuring (like cutting funding to the liberal arts).

Our student-ancestors argued that the university was modelling itself after the short-sighted, greedy, profit-motivated corporate entity they saw unravelling the morals of society. By modelling itself after a corporation, the university served the interests of the corporate elite and specifically the "military industrial complex" rather than the common good of society.

It's sad and a little scary to see how relevant their arguments still are today. Corporate power has grown much stronger, and its influence further-reaching. In a global economy where money is power and immunity from the laws that govern common people, corporations have become more powerful than the governments that created them. Several well-meaning individuals (like corporate CEO's) are caught up in positions where they have a legal (financial) responsibility to profit at the expense of the massive loss of life, biodiversity, and ecology. Because if they didn't, then someone else would.

Under our current economic model of progress; anthropocentric climate change, poverty, and toxic waste spills are all profitable things, because they stimulate economic growth. This way of thinking is destroying the world we live in, and a new way of thinking is needed. You'd think that the university would be the logical place for a school of thought that understands and respects the value of preserving natural ecosystems. But the university's directors are too strongly influenced by their corporate backers to let this occur.

There is escalating corporate resistance to this needed awareness. Corporations make countless billions of dollars of profits from delaying, denying, and continuing the debate around the issue of (for example) climate change.

Corporate interest is the opposite of public interest. Rather than serving the needs of a wider democratic society, it serves gluttonous short-term profit gains, given to an increasing minority of the shareholder-accountable elite. These corporations should have no place in shaping the institutions that educate us, yet their role is increasingly more influential.

The corpratization of our university represents the further erosion of a dwindling democracy. Profit-accountable corporations are more overtly controlling the mandate and discussion of governments, media, and education. As Ralph Nader put it, how different would our lives actually be if we lived in a dictatorship?

A democracy only works if it has a base of informed, responsible citizens. This is why corporations have a vested interest in preventing people from thinking critically. The Business-Administration faculty is helping this process along with their removal of the pre-degree arts supplement. But corporate influence is not only seen in the faculty of Business, remember a couple months ago when Calgary-based oil company Talisman gave the University of Saskatchewan a $350,000 grant to re-asses a growing consensus about human-influenced climate change?

The United Nations Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently released it's fourth and final report. It concluded that human beings are "unequivocally" disrupting the natural systems we are ignorantly dependent on. This will have "abrupt and irreversible" impacts. The IPCC scientist-spokesperson releasing this report said simply that we (as humans causing climate change) have the technology to prevent global catastrophe, but we lack the consciousness to implement our solutions. Meaning, our society has huge amounts of sustainable and renewable energy and production options, but because of the profit interests of the corporate elite that dominate our political culture, we have been very slow to implement them.

We need to move away from discussing problems and work on implementing sustainable solutions. Corporations like Talisman have a vested interest in preventing sustainable development, and are therefore directly profiting from causing climate change! This is why the most unethical corporations are funding and directing university research. In doing so, they steal time, energy, funding, and attention from areas that need to be in the public discourse. And they are making a lot of money doing it.

As highlighted in the article "the trouble with the commercialisation of university research" by (u of R prof) Marc Spooner and Tanya Shaw, in 1999 Expert Panel on the Commercialization of University Research added the role of "innovation" to it's three traditional roles of teaching, research, and community service. Innovation was defined as "bringing new goods and services to the marketplace." This move was another success of the corporate influence in the university.

Our administration's decision-making is influenced by corporate investing and advising giant KPMG. One of the 4 biggest investing corporations in the world. It has the usual corporate record of corruption and unethical profits, and it is shaping how our university runs as a financial institution. This problem isn't specific to the administration, in almost any general investment portfolio you will find funds that turn ecological and human exploitation into profits.

Many students want to use their university education agency to impact society for positive change, and they likely will. But they can also use their agency to transform our own university back to a free-thinking institute of higher learning. Student's have the technological know-how to achieve this. Do we have the conscious will to implement it?

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