Into the Abyss: We Go Together

The nagging, a tickle, the haunting of some other voice.  A trace.  But you have developed ways to repress this secret voice calling you with its faint barely audible voice.  But it lingers still.  What to do?  Ignore it?  Too late: you can only do this for so long.  Reject it as irrational?  But it remains there all the same.  Irrational or not, there is a calling from the abyss that no language however analytic and clear can finally do away with it once and for all.  Finally, one must confront it, to acknowledge it and engage it–to tarry with the negative.

Recently, about 70 students signed-up to the inaugural Global Center for Advanced Studies (GCAS) seminar, “Introduction to Political Economy: The Crisis in Higher Education” and we immediately found ourselves opening up our lives with one another even before our first meeting.  We opened with the freedom to voice a fundamental contradiction found within the heart of each and everyone’s experience as we traversed through the “educational” process.  What we found was that although we were being “educated” we found something wanting in that experience.  We all passed the “tests” we all achieved the “success” of degrees (BAs, MAs even PhDs) attached to our names, but in the very appearance of the these letters we realized we had lost something too.  What did we loose?

There is a sense in which what we have lost was something much more profound, something barely audible–a whisper even.  I think, and I am summarizing here, that what is lost is that we had to put aside the fire and inspiration of the joy of collectively arriving at something as like a journey whose destination is the journey itself.  In short, this contra-voice emerges at the precise moment when the degree is granted and the journey is hijacked by the socially marked terminal point of a “degree”!  Congrats!  You have made it!  But in the “making it” to an end–we’re realizing a great dissatisfaction that we have been made premature “masters” of a subject whose end can never be arrived at.  We have come to realize that in the journey of learning there is an infinite endeavor that keeps requiring our lives, our attention, our desire.  It requires something more than ourselves.

In short, all I wish to say is that it is a joy to be part of a community, a mere seminar whose aim is not just about achieving something great, but more importantly it is a joy found in each other, and to realize that you are no longer alone.

A Student’s Interview on Why He Joined the GCAS

Sergio Andrés Rueda

Sergio Andres Rueda

Sergio Andres Rueda

What is it that attracted you to study at the GCAS?

A1: This question could only be properly answered with: everything.

We can then try to separate this answer into parts:

Part of it is the globally renowned faculty, which allows us to engage in a critical dialogue with the thinkers that we would normally read, and then bring this back to our home countries and environments, some of which desperately need this sort of intervention.

Another part of it is the ideals of the GCAS, as it is the first institution of higher learning in the world whose ideas about education coincide perfectly with the claims of millions of disenfranchised people in Latin America and in the entire world that are dissatisfied with an educational model created by and for the wealthy to maintain their structural position through the segregation of students into functional stratums.

What program are you studying at the GCAS?

A2: I’m going to start by transferring credits to my home institution towards the completion of my BA. This will provide the double opportunity of being both in a global environment (the GCAS) and local activism. This will include courses on the Crisis of Higher Education and Critical Theory.

What research goals are you seeking to accomplish at the GCAS?

A3: I hope to research mainly three areas:

  • The philosophical foundations of the category of Ideology in order to understand the way in which societies, such as Colombia, are fundamentally divided by a constitutive antagonism that is expressed through both discourses and material practices. This would help me explain a conflict of over 50 years which still divides most of the population and the causes the perpetuation of violent political imaginaries.
  • The possibility of access to the absolute through the materialist defense of a mathematical ontology.
  • The Colombian Armed and Civil Conflict itself in order to end the silence and invisibility of its victims.

What opportunities are you seeking after you graduate from the GCAS?

A4: I hope to be able to return to Colombia with better tools to continue working for the transformation of our society into a tolerant and peaceful community, where we can start the long work ahead of mending our differences, forgiving the culprits and joining the international community in our common responsibility to protect the Amazon and build a better world.

Concretely, I hope to work towards the creation of an open access editorial in order to combat a situation in which people can only access texts through piracy and photocopying, which is illegal, thereby criminalizing a population that wants to learn. Furthermore, after the end of the conflict, it will be necessary for the democratic and social forces of Colombia to unite for our common ideals, although it is still unclear exactly how.

Finally, we must document every painful episode of our past, not only our current civil war, but also the previous ones that go all the way back to the colony.

Here’s the Spanish:

P1: Esta pregunta sólo se puede responder correctamente de la siguiente manera: ¡todo!

Podemos, entonces, tratar de separar esta pregunta en varias partes:

En parte es por tener una facultad de renombre global. Esto nos permite  encontrarnos en un dialogo crítico con los pensadores que usualmente leemos, para entonces traer  todo esto de vuelta a nuestros países de origen y a sus ambientes, algunos de los cuales necesitan desesperadamente de este tipo de intervención.

Otra parte de ello son los ideales del GCAS, dado que es la primera institución de educación superior en el mundo cuyas ideas acerca de la educación coinciden perfectamente con el reclamo de millones de personas excluidas en América Latina y el mundo entero que están insatisfechas con un modelo educativo creado por y para mantener su posición estructural a través de la segregación de los estudiantes en estratos funcionales.

P2: Me gustaría empezar transfiriendo créditos hacia mi alma máter para la terminación de mi grado universitario. Esto proveerá la doble oportunidad de estar tanto en un ambiente global (GCAS) y el activismo local. Esto incluiría cursos sobre la crisis de la educación superior y la teoría crítica.

P3: Espero investigar tres áreas principalmente:

  • Los fundamentos filosóficos de la categoría de la ideología para poder entender la manera en la cual las sociedades, como en Colombia, están fundamentalmente divididas por antagonismos constituyentes que se expresan tanto a través de discursos como de prácticas materiales. Esto me ayudaría a explicar un conflicto de más de 50 años que todavía divide a la mayor parte de la población y causa la perpetuación de imaginarios políticos violentos.
  • La posibilidad de acceder al absoluto a través de la defensa materialista de una ontología matemática.
  • El Conflicto Civil y Armado Colombiano en sí mismo para ponerle un fin al silencio y la invisibilidad de sus víctimas.

P4: Espero poder volver a Colombia con mejores herramientas para continuar trabajando por la transformación de nuestra sociedad en una comunidad tolerante y pacífica, donde podamos comenzar el largo trabajo que nos resta para sanar nuestras diferencias, perdonar a los victimarios, y unirnos a la comunidad internacional para trabajar por nuestra responsabilidad común de proteger el Amazonas y construir un mundo mejor.

Concretamente, espero trabajar hacia la creación de una editorial de acceso-abierto que pueda combatir la situación en la cual el pueblo solo puede acceder a los textos a través de la piratería o las fotocopias- lo cual es ilegal- y por ende criminaliza a una población que quiere aprender. Más aún, tras el fin del conflicto, será necesario que las fuerzas democráticas y sociales de Colombia nos unamos por nuestros ideales comunes; aunque todavía es incierta la manera en que esto ocurra.

Finalmente, debemos documentar cada episodio doloroso de nuestro pasado, no solo en nuestra guerra civil actual, sino a través de todas las anteriores que se remontan hasta la colonia.

What is the Global Center for Advanced Studies?

GCAS Manifesto

“As President of GCAS, I want to recall to all our students and faculty that what is important is to keep in mind the very essence of our school: not to accumulate some knowledge for finding a place in the world as it is, even if to know the world is useful and to find a place a necessity. But to learn what is a true thinking for changing the world under the principles of equality and priority of the common good against the present dictatorship of private property and individual satisfaction.” –Alain Badiou

Screen Shot 2014-09-22 at 3.02.27 PM

Powerful economic forces are dramatically reshaping all aspects of our world into an authoritarian corporate outlook that directly undermines democratic organization and governance, of the people, by the people, for the people. Nowhere is this more visible than in the education sector.

Higher education has entered a crisis period on a global scale just when all models of economic growth and indicators of social wellbeing identify it as crucial for the future of humanity.

The first component in the crisis is skyrocketing costs.   In the United States alone the cost of so-called “posted tuition” – the sticker price for an average four-year college stint – for in-state students at public colleges and universities alone rose 258% from 1991 to 2013, according to figures supplied by the US Department of Education. The cost of living during the same period increased 52%.

The United States is not alone. Although ever fewer countries still maintain some form of free education, the overall trend from South to North America, from Australia to Japan, and from Europe to South-East Asia and Africa is rapidly moving to privatizing education.

The second factor, then, is the inability of students to pay for their education in both the short and long terms. The amount of student loan debt in the States, for example is currently $1.2 trillion, which has risen a massive 300 percent in only the last eight years. This trend is rapidly spreading throughout the world from Canada, to the UK and elsewhere.

The actual and possible means by which massive debt is and will be used against individuals (as well as the collective indebted community) is likely to be ominous and can further undermine the rise of democratic movements and organization.

The third tendency is the radical shift in studies away from the humanities in favor of business friendly subjects. Humanity studies are under attack on a global scale for fear of their empowering dynamic.

The fourth tendency is the proletarianization of the teaching staff. Adjunct faculty are underpaid and live in deprivation, while administrative costs are skyrocketing. GCAS believes that teaching staff are the heart of the educational process and has a collaborative process built on the idea of education as a commons.

In short, Higher education has become a global industry dominated by cronyism as well a self-protective regulatory coziness between government bureaucrats, accreditation bodies, and corporate benefactors that prop up, rather than call to account, the dysfunctional system as a whole. It is time we organized to change this on a global level.

To break this toxic corporate siege on education we recommend a two-fold “inside/outside” strategy. Inside, students must revolt against the way their universities are being turned into businesses. Outside, we must organize sustainable public alternatives to education. Both sides of the strategy must work together, as one without the other will fail owing to the global, transnational reach of the corporatizing, neoliberal onslaught. GCAS is one way to organize the “outside” tactic, while supporting the “inside” wing of the overall strategy.

It is through the strategy of aggregating leading intellectuals, workers and activists from around the globe, fostering new lines of communication and a new sense of community among them, and making those intellectual resources readily available outside of fixed institutional constraints that the Global Center for Advanced Studies (GCAS) intends both to push for changes in the system while quickening the free, planetary flow of ideas and talents.

Significantly enhancing the flow of intellectual endowments and exchanges should create downward cost pressures on education, since redundancy of function, reduplication of overhead and non-academic amenities, and runaway administrative outlays for no other reason than to maintain institutional market share are some of the overriding reasons for cost inflation among colleges and universities.

The five principles of transformation in education to which GCAS is committed, therefore, are as follows:

  1. Accessibility. GCAS has as a key part of its mission the global democratization of knowledge and education.

GCAS wishes to offer courses for free. However, because we are a non-profit organization, currently neither supported by wealthy benefactors, nor by governmental agencies, we need to cover our licensing costs, faculty compensation, website, and e-school development and maintenance. As these costs are addressed so too tuition will correspondingly be reduced until reaching a sustainability point after which courses will be free of charge. We are also working towards accreditation so extra funds will go into covering these costs.

For example, we are applying for grants to minimize tuition costs and joining forces with many different universities to offset operating costs. These grants must be derived for like-minded institutions and individuals whose desire supports the overall mission of free global education for all. Through recruiting personnel the faculty can also help organize high quality seminars and programs at their location, thus grounding our strategy in both the local and global fronts.

In the meanwhile GCAS is offering free courses to incarcerated people, refugees, women in developing countries and people from war zones. That means that the minimal tuition paid by students also contribute to covering expenses for those who cannot.

  1. Partnership. GCAS is committed to an inter-operational model of higher education that allows students to receive the highest quality education from many of the world’s most respected intellectuals and leading activists.

GCAS is seeking to collaborate with Universities around the world in order to offer for-credit seminars and course in such disciplines as critical theory, political economy, psychoanalysis, religion, philosophy, global studies and similar subjects.

  1. Collaboration. GCAS is committed to the global collaboration of students and faculty from around the world.

GCAS seminars are intended to be sites where faculty and students from around the world can meet and share their research during intensive (1-6 week) seminars. The seminar format is intended to produce a more concentrated burst of intellectual collaboration with an aim towards local change.

  1. Social Justice. GCAS is committed to social and environmental justice.

GCAS explicitly invites its faculty to speak on and organize around issues of contemporary political importance. It hopes to provide a space and resources to aid students and faculty in their collective pursuit of social and environmental justice. In other words, it hopes to put its theories into action and not to restrict the political expression of its faculty.

  1. A Commons Organization. GCAS is committed to an organization of the Commons.

We believe that the faculty and students should control and operate the means of producing and maintaining our school, GCAS. The guiding principles of organizing include: equality, shared student/faculty governance, sustainable, debt-free non-profit economic model, and academic freedom.

We hope to countermand and disrupt the global commodification of the higher learning in recent years. We hope to counter the increasingly popular view that education ought merely to involve equipping students with “marketable” skills for the sole purpose of becoming part of a global capitalist economy. After all, in a global capitalism in crisis there is little space for technical jobs, so getting in debt for “managerial” education doesn’t make much sense in the first place. Education should be seen as a means for emancipation and a common good that contributes for the good of society, not an individualized commodity connected to debt.

The crisis of higher education will not go away, nor will it vanish with any one innovative solution, no matter how unique or transgressive. Yet we know that we faculty, who increasingly are becoming indentured to a system we no longer recognize as either financially sustainable or “humanizing” in the broadest sense of the term, let alone as a benefit to the students we find ourselves teaching, have to mobilize.

We mobilize not for our own self-preservation, but for the preservation of the very promise of education in a world whose future depends upon it. The democratization of education as a public good is our goal.

To that end we commit ourselves to the struggle we found together as GCAS.