The Tuition Trap, as discussed by Christopher Newfield

I've been thinking about Chris Newfield's 2008 book Unmaking the Public University a lot lately, and I wanted to reproduce one great quote from page 182, about what he calls "the tuition trap": how by raising tuition fees, public universities undermine the case for public funding for universities, which shortfall they make up by raising tuition, undermining the case for public funding...:

"The tuition trap goes like this: The public is worried about college affordability, but its public university raises its fees. The university thus implies it does not actually depend on public funding, since it has the private resource of higher tuition at its fingertips. The university may also deepen this impression - that it can do without more public funding - by saying how good it is in spite of public funding cuts. Even worse, it may declare strong public funding a thing of the past in order to justify tuition increases or expanded fund-raising. Taxpayers then reasonably ask, if the university does not need more money, why does it keep raising fees? And since it keeps raising fees, why should we give it more public money?"

He goes on:

"If the university is just another cog in an economic system that is about getting ahead, charging as much as you can, maximizing your returns, and buying your way to the top, why should the general public pay for it?"

Both quotes from pg. 182.

Universities could be very valuable, making huge contributions to the general development of society and accessible to all. For that to happen, public universities have to get out of the tuition trap.

York strikers show the way — now let’s build a truly public university

Protracted labour dispute raises questions of post-secondary governance and funding

The strikes at York University, the University of Toronto, and elsewhere have opened a long overdue debate about student debt, precarious labour in the academy, rising tuition, and, to a lesser extent, university governance. The York University strike offers an opportunity to argue for the continuing relevance of universities as public institutions. The importance of the public in the public university is especially true for York, which, if it embraced its role as such, could tackle a new list of issues and lead the way for other educational institutions.
Precarity, debt, and defensive struggle

York's contract faculty are the precarious academic labourers whose difficulties have been brought into some public light by the York strike and other labour actions in North America. The contract faculty settled earlier in March. The teaching assistants and graduate assistants had to battle on until the end of the month to win their objectives.

Although the strike ended in a victory, the struggle was mainly defensive. In previous contracts, the union on strike at York, CUPE 3903, won a funding package that includes work as a TA (or, for work outside the classroom, as a GA). The total package offered to a student is usually in the range of $12,000 to $18,000 for the year. Out of this, a domestic student has to pay around $6,500 tuition. International students might get the same package, but their tuition is much higher — somewhere around the size of their whole funding package.

Students are eligible for such funding only if they have full-time status. If they work more than 10 hours per week outside of their studies and on-campus jobs as TAs or GAs, they are ineligible. So, when the administration presented the claim that TAs were getting paid $52/hour, they neglected to add that this was up to a hard limit of about $9,000 for a year. In order to get this $52/hour, students had to figure out how to live on about $30/day (or, for international students, $0/day). Of course, students could take on additional debt, the implicit solution that university administrations continuously try to impose on students.

The union did not go on strike trying to get its members out of this low-wage situation. The union went on strike because management was trying to assert its right to raise tuition while maintaining the funding package at the same rate.

Cease Fire, Resume Genocide: An Interview with Dr. Jacob Smith*

Dr. Jacob Smith (name changed) is a North American physician who has visited Gaza several times, working at several hospitals there in both clinical and training roles. I spoke with him about the medical system in Gaza and the state of Gaza under the current, post August-2014 intensified siege.

Justin Podur: Describe your work in Gaza's medical system.

Jacob Smith: I was initially asked several years ago by the Ministry of Health in Gaza to participate in a needs assessment for one of the subspecialties. At the time I knew very little about Gaza, wasn't involved in politics, and knew very little even about the history of the region. As a physician what I saw was a tremendously poor humanitarian situation that was in large part man-made. Most times humanitarian crises result from earthquakes, tornadoes, natural disasters. This disaster is entirely man-made. The health system is the area I'm exposed to most. But it's one small nidus of a multifactorial problem. The health system needs work, but so does the water system, so does rebuilding people's homes, there are huge needs in every area. Politically, the most important thing would be getting the borders open so people can export and import - these are simple things that people in a Western society simply take for granted. The blockade prevents medical supplies, medications, training of doctors. The actualization of an independent, sovereign people requires that they can interact with other people. To be able to be empowered to overcome poverty and other challenges, is really not something that they can do under blockade.

JP: Give us some examples of how the siege plays out in the medical system.

Online Privacy Is Worth The Extra Work

This past week, Laura Poitras's documentary, Citizen Four, won the Academy Award for Best Documentary. When he provided the documents that revealed the details of universal spying by the US National Security Agency (NSA), the subject of the documentary, Edward Snowden, wrote an accompanying manifesto. His "sole motive", he wrote, was "to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them. The U.S. government, in conspiracy with client states, chiefest among them the Five Eyes - the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand - have inflicted upon the world a system of secret, pervasive surveillance from which there is no refuge." (1)

Snowden, who made careful plans to try to avoid capture before he could get the materials out, nonetheless assumed that he was going to be spending the rest of his life in prison. Even though his greatest wish was for the public to know about the surveillance programs, he was pessimistic about the possibility that the programs would be reformed through the existing political system. His manifesto concluded with the repurposing of a quote from Thomas Jefferson about the U.S. Constitution: "Let us speak no more of faith in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of cryptography."

In other words, maybe if the public found out, they would find the idea of being surveilled by unaccountable powers unappealing, or maybe they would not. If they rejected universal surveillance, they might demand that the program end. But maybe the political system was in fact so closed, undemocratic, and unresponsive that it could not change in response to such a demand. But even then, the public had options: the public could change their behaviour in order to make universal surveillance more difficult. How? What are these "chains of cryptography" to which Snowden referred?

In a lecture at the 31c3 conference late last year (2), Tor developer Jacob Appelbaum and Laura Poitras showed the systems that the NSA have so far been unable to crack. Taken together, and used carefully, these systems offer the continued possibility of privacy, a fundamental right, a right which enables people to form their personalities, their philosophies, and their politics, a right which has been taken away by spy agencies for their own grandiose plans.

My Radical Teacher article - A summer in Islamabad, and a student view

Radical Teacher's 101st issue is about Teaching Across Borders. In it, you can find my article about my experience teaching in Pakistan in 2008, which I've also written about in this blog.

Since then, I saw a new article by Aamna Shafqat, a student at IIU-I, and found the student perspective fascinating. If you want to read a bit about teaching and learning in Pakistan, I'd recommend both!

The Rojava Revolution and the Liberation of Kobani

Since September of 2014, the city of Kobani has been in the news as the site of a battle between Kurdish forces from the Rojava region and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). At the end of January, the Kurdish forces (YPG and YPJ) announced that Kobani had successfully repelled the attack. But ISIS is still in control of villages surrounding Kobani and maintaining its threat to other parts of Rojava.

Sardar Saadi is the coordinator of the Rojava Media Project, a media production and training project for young people in Rojava, the Kurdish region of Syria, and a doctoral student in anthropology based in Toronto. I interviewed him on February 7, 2015.

Justin Podur: Can you describe your visit to the Rojava region, and tell us a bit of the geography so we can orient ourselves.

Sardar Saadi: The Rojava region is the Syrian part of Kurdistan, in northern Syria, estimates are of a population of 3 million. It has borders with Turkey and with Iraqi Kurdistan, which is governed by Masoud Barzani. It has three enclaves or cantons: Jazeera, Kobani, and Afrin. I went to the Jazeera canton and Qamishli, which is the biggest Kurdish city in Syria, for three weeks in August 2014. I was there as part of a team to establish a training center for a media project, rojavamediaproject.com.

There is not a lot of info on our website right now, but you can find some basic information on what our goals from this project are. I was also very curious to see what's going on on the ground in Rojava, and basically to talk to the people there and do some preliminary fieldwork for a possible future study.

Taylor Swift's Millions Aren't Worth a Single Prison Term

At an awards show at the end of 2014, musician Taylor Swift accepted her award saying that 2014 was an important year because it was the year she stood up for herself as an artist. In July 2014, she wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal about the future of the music industry. (1) Swift makes economic arguments about the value of an artist's work: “the value of an album is, and will continue to be, based on the amount of heart and soul an artist has bled into a body of work, and the financial value that artists (and their labels) place on their music when it goes out into the marketplace.” She reasons as follows: “Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for. It's my opinion that music should not be free, and my prediction is that individual artists and their labels will someday decide what an album's price point is.”

What does Swift blame for society's failure to recognize this value? “Piracy, file sharing and streaming have shrunk the numbers of paid album sales drastically,” she writes. By blaming piracy, file sharing, and streaming, Swift has adopted what author Rob Reid called in 2012 “Copyright Math”, in which the movie industry claims that the “economic loss” from file sharing of movies amounts to US$58 billion dollars – more than most of the value of US agriculture (2).

Unfortunately, as outrageous as it is, copyright math is no joke. In the same year the millionaire Taylor Swift stood up for herself as an artist, one of the best known, and most defiant, file sharing sites, The Pirate Bay, saw its founders arrested in an international manhunt. The three file-sharers, Fredrek Neij, Gottfrid Warg, and Peter Sunde, were handed prison sentences by a Swedish court in 2009 (3). They went into hiding. Sunde was arrested in June in Sweden and is serving an 8-month jail term. Warg was arrested in Cambodia and is serving three and a half years. Neij was arrested in November 2014 in Thailand. The investigation into the Pirate Bay was extensive, the seizures of equipment massive, and the attempt to shut the site down has been thorough and vindictive (4). The Pirate Bay is being made an example of.

#IStandWithPanzi

In the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, in the city of Bukavu, in South Kivu, on the Rwandan border, Panzi Hospital has been a refuge for survivors of sexual violence. So why is the Congolese government using the tax system to try to shut it down?

The director of the hospital, Denis Mukwege (1), has argued that the pattern of violence that he and his medical staff have encountered there constitutes a new pathology, a kind of weapon of mass destruction (2), deployed by armed actors to destroy the social fabric of the eastern DRC and control the region and its resources. Dr. Mukwege has won numerous humanitarian awards for his work. As a regional hub for survivors of sexual violence, Panzi has attracted international attention and support. Beyond his medical work, Dr. Mukwege has been a strong voice in international forums reminding the world that, as long as weaponized sexual violence continues, the Congo cannot be said to be in a "post-conflict" situation.

The Kivus are still overrun with armed actors. The Congolese Army is a major human rights violator. Militias sponsored by the DRC's neighbours, Uganda and Rwanda, as well as armed groups of exiles from these countries, operate in the countryside and victimize the civilian population. The Ugandan and Rwandan armies periodically enter Congolese territory to conduct operations of their own. And a multinational United Nations force, one of the UN's largest missions, has been in the east for about 15 years. Against this backdrop, Panzi has been a haven for civilians, a place where women could heal, and a place from where a lot of the energy and organization to help the region recover has come.

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Hacktivism

A review of Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: the Many Faces of Anonymous, by Gabriella Coleman. First published at TeleSUR English.

On December 17, independent journalist Barrett Brown, who has been in jail for two years without trial, had his first sentencing hearing (see the report by The Intercept). Barrett Brown was threatened with one hundred years in prison for analyzing documents that were hacked from private security companies HBGary and Stratfor. Brown never hacked anything - he received the documents and was reporting on them.

Interesting points emerge from a posting by Julian Assange of Wikileaks, who reacted to the sentencing hearing. Assange pointed out that the charges against Brown were of two kinds: the first, pertaining to his reporting on the Stratfor documents, which should be protected under free expression. The other, pertaining to things he said when the FBI threatened to charge his mother unless he turned over his source material. The worst thing Brown said about the FBI agent was a tweet that read, "illegally shoot the son of a bitch". Assange pointed out that this tweet was Brown quoting Fox News's Bob Beckel, who called for Assange's assassination. (Assange posted this link as proof.) Beckel has faced no FBI investigation, no legal consequences, no arrests. Barrett Brown, who quoted him, has been in jail for two years and is threatened with many more. Brown and his lawyers have gag orders against them - the prosecution told the court that Brown has shown "intent to continue to manipulate the public through press and social media comments," thus undermining the enormously powerful government's right to a fair chance of obtaining a harsh conviction against this independent journalist.

Anti-Authoritarian Current: A Review of Dixon's Another Politics

First published on TeleSUR 16 December 2014

In Another Politics, Chris Dixon presents a part of the North American left, defining it early on in the book as the “anti-authoritarian current”. A significant part of the book is dedicated to defining this current, its ideology, and its practices. Dixon is explicit about being a part of this current, and while the book raises some of the dilemmas and internal criticisms of the current, it is largely a celebration of the current's beliefs and methods.

How is the current defined? Dixon identifies three strands: Antiracist feminism, prison abolitionism, and anarchism. Antiracist feminism is Dixon's summary for what is sometimes called intersectional analysis or anti-oppression politics: the idea that there are multiple oppressions, along lines of gender, race, and class, and that true liberation requires liberation from all of these oppressions. Moreover, in this current, none of these oppressions can be assigned a place of primacy over the others. Prison abolitionism is “a set of politics aimed at the complete elimination of the institutions of incarceration” (pg. 38). On anarchism, Dixon emphasizes that this current is defined by a “reconfigured anarchism”, a bundle of features fusing “consensus decision-making, affinity groups, and direct action”, “a strongly prefigurative movement culture based on working together collectively, sharing resources equitably, challenging power relations, and supporting one another”, “along with a commitment to egalitarianism, mutual aid, and freedom as well as a far-reaching critique of domination.” The “glue that largely held it all together was a shared counterculture and template of activities” (pg. 42).

After defining these three strands, Dixon goes on to further define the current according to four “antis”: anti-authoritarianism, anti-capitalism, anti-oppression, and anti-imperialism. The four “antis” help define what the current is against; a chapter on prefigurative politics discusses the positive aspirations of the current as its members try to redefine relations within their groups as they challenge oppressive institutions in society.