Not adjuncts, not lecturers ~ students. That is the group Henry Giroux identifies as the "new intellectuals." How and why did we miss playing a central role? Have we been chasing the wrong brass ring? In my admittedly personal opinion, changing the world trumps "professional dignity" any day.
Police pepper spray students at a UC Davis demonstration on Friday, November 18. (Screengrab: asucd - Click here for video)
Finding our way to a more humane future demands a new politics, a new set of values, and a renewed sense of the fragile nature of democracy. In part, this means educating a new generation of intellectuals who not only defend higher education as a democratic public sphere, but also frame their own agency as intellectuals willing to connect their research, teaching, knowledge, and service with broader democratic concerns over equality, justice, and an alternative vision of what the university might be and what society could become. Under the present circumstances, it is time to remind ourselves that academe may be one of the few public spheres available that can provide the educational conditions for students, faculty, administrators, and community members to embrace pedagogy as a space of dialogue and unmitigated questioning, imagine different futures, become border-crossers, and embrace a language of critique and possibility that makes visible the urgency of a politics necessary to address important social issues and contribute to the quality of public life and the common good.
Time for contingent faculty to combine necessary and pragmatic goals of improving our economic and professional lot with crossing a few borders. It's written into our mission statement. Nor are the two mutually exclusive. The famous Hillel quote comes to mind, "If I am not for myself, then who am I for? If I am for myself alone, then what am I?" Not a bad start for our brand and explaining who we are.
Hopefully, the Occupy Wall Street movements will expand their appropriation of public space to the university. And if so, let's hope that higher education will be viewed as a crucial public good and democratic public sphere. Under such circumstances, the university might be transformed into a new and broad-based community of learning and resistance. This is a huge possibility, but one worth struggling for. Unlike the youth movements of the past, such a movement will not crystallize around specific movements, but will create, hopefully, a community of the broadest possible resistance and political clout.In this way, the Occupy movement will connect to the larger world through a conversation and politics that links the particular with broader notions of freedom and justice. And against the pedagogical machine and political forces of casino capitalism, this expanding movement will fight hopefully with renewed energy. It will be determined in its mission to expand the capacities to think otherwise, and courageous in its attempts to take risks. It will be brave in its willingness to change the nature of the questions asked, fight to hold power accountable, and struggle to provide the formative culture for students and others to fight for those economic, political, social, and cultural conditions that are essential both to their future and to democracy itself.