The University as deliberative space

These are my notes from today’s Home Affairs Select Committee conference on the Roots to Violent Radicalisation, held at De Montfort University. The highlight of the day was attending the Reverend Jesse Jackson’s award of an honorary doctorate. Along with receiving my National Teaching Fellowship, this was the highlight of my academic career to-date.

  1. The University is a crucial site for discussion, in which the balance of civil liberties and security issues might be deliberated as it is formed inside austerity politics.
  2. In response to the spread of the state of exception into the space of the University, occupations remind us of the courage that we share in debating what is legitimate, who is marginalised, and why power is wielded.
  3. The University is reproduced inside a broader, global set of relationships and political contexts, and this set both enables/disables the use of labels and interpretations about people and practices. This labelling comes in the wake of power, and affects who is scrutinised and which technologies are used to coerce and prevent, and for whom do we impose exceptional circumstances. Through critique we might work to push back against the University’s role in this reproduction of states of exception, and to re-politicise the forms of our University life, against meaningless, enclosed and universal narratives of justice and democracy.
  4. The University develops meaning as it enables working and living in public. The work of the University must be public, knowable and fair, and it must be care full. How we demonstrate our care is a crucial question. As we answer it, we might consider how we enable our students’ dreams to outlive our fears, and how we collectively develop the courage to keep trying.
  5. We might usefully consider the Realpolitik of University life. Inside capital and in the face of the rule of law what is the role of the University? How does the University help us to critique whose word is law? How does the University help us to understand what we are willing to bear in the name of freedom?
  6. The University becomes more resilient through the politicisation of its form as well as in the production of its content. This resilience emerges both from the University’s relationships with the range of communities in which it is embedded and that themselves broaden its engagement, and by its deliberate refusal to outsource its duty of care (for instance to the police).
  7. The University helps us to be against force and enclosure. It is a space that offers a critique of systemic, structural disenfranchisement. It is a space for deliberating rather than judging. It is a space for developing an avowedly political response to the collective punishment meted out as austerity and marketisation.
  8. The University is a space to recognise, critique and engage with the radical rejection of the processes of financialisation, precarity, poverty, war and demonisation of the other, which dominate our mainstream discourse. Where this work is done in public we are able to develop alternatives to the question of “who sets the climate for our world?”
  9. Those of us who work in Universities might usefully ask, “in the face of radical repression, what did you do?” The University is a site for the shelter and encouragement of active, non-violent resistance to radical injustice, which gives us hope that we might become free from the expansion of fear in our society.

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