Disrupting the Degree Factory: ANU, the School of Music and their Future

The article and images below were submitted by the Canberra Space Invaders. Enjoy.

Looking around the vacant demountable as strangers danced freely with painted hands, it was clear that political manifestos and subversive art smeared across its walls were the residue of a collective’s liberation; of a society and all its dominations being dissolved.

Almost two months have passed since students occupied the old ANU Food-Coop in order to reclaim the vacant building as a space for music, art and emancipation. The second of two events held there in mid-March hosted a jazz trio, djs, and graffiti artists – not to mention everyone else who showed up. In fact, the latter group contributed more than any to the evening’s events. Rather than reproducing the banal social dynamics of a commercial venue (a.k.a standing around while an artist deposits their culture commodity in your brain) the crowd actively took part in the creative process, each producing their own experience through paint, dance or song. Conservatives and moderates write off this sort of activity as senseless destruction. To them we ask; what is senseless and destructive but a world which condemns us to a lifetime of boredom, passivity and alienation? The only thing destroyed by occupying and transforming its space is that very world itself. Let it rot.

The recent experiences of student movements around the world demonstrate that occupations – and occu-parties – are an excellent means by which the control of university administrations over our lives can be challenged. Students in Chile barricade themselves in to protect the classrooms from counter-revolution. Their schools are run democratically, by students and staff who have developed a curriculum in the interests of all. There are no grades, fees or assessment; no hoops to jump through on the way to a lifetime of subservience. In California, dance parties outside the 2009 occupations formed the basis of resistance to redundancies, exorbitant capital expenditure and a 32% fee increase at UC campuses across the state. They were not only a strategy for the reclamation of what already belonged to the students – buildings built with their debt – but a tactic of mass defense against police malfeasance. Under the pressure of up to two thousand supportive onlookers, cops released student occupiers without pressing the trumped up charges that have dogged other forms of protest.

It is within this tradition that the struggle against the cuts to the music department must find itself. As inspiring as the recent protest jam was, University Council’s decision to radically restructure the school despite widespread community dissent demonstrates that its position has not been determined by a failure to understand the incredible talent of the Music department’s staff and students. Nor does it reflect an incomprehension of their contribution to artistic and community life in Canberra. Rather, it is a reflection of ANU’s inability – shared by universities across the world – to speak a language other than that of profit and loss.

This reality is borne out by the fact that the changes to the music school have been imposed amidst some of the highest earnings and capital expenditure the university has ever seen. In fact, such economic success is itself a rationale for the job cuts; according to management, the high depreciation rate of shiny new buildings is partly to blame for ANU’s current ‘financial crisis’. One product of the university’s recent spending spree is the latest addition to the Crawford school of economics and government complex. The new building boasts some of the most sustainable design features on the market, and has attracted support from the federal government. So, as the music faculty are ejected from one end of the university, state of the art buildings go up at the other. We can only assume that glossy promotional material and greenwash are little consolation for the people whose lives are to be ruined by the restructure.

In the dim light of this bleak horizon, it is important to remember that human beings, not bricks and mortar make up the university. The production line of human capital is populated by us. As Mario Savio pointed out in 1964: staff at the modern university are “a bunch of employees, and [students] are the raw materials” [see a reference to that same speech on the EduFactory! blog here]. Our power is situated within this reality. If not for our attendance in classes, marking of assessment, competition for marks and performance metrics, or completion of exams the degree factory could not produce its product. Further, if its offices are occupied, management can’t turn the profit upon which it seems so fixated. Such economic losses speak to the university’s monolingual autocrats in terms they can understand.

ANU campus abounds with opportunities for occupation. As the campaign against the cuts to the music school and elsewhere mounts, keep your eyes open and your ear to the ground. The party is just beginning.

Canberra Space Invaders, May 2012

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