Friday, September 28, 2007

DePaul: Class Education

I was requested by some students at DePaul to write a piece for a "Disorientation Guide" on the school. The guide never came out, the students just didn't have the initiative or drive to make it a reality. I'm posting this article with the hope that DePaul students will find it of use someday.

Welcome to DePaul. You are one of two kinds of students. The kind that can afford the school, or the kind that will leave with a large amount of debt. Either way, you have a responsibility to challenge the school place in our capitalist society. Whether it's in your own benefit, the benefit of your fellow classmates or the benefit of workers here or abroad, it's time to fight the power.

Before you run out and start blocking streets, occupying offices, and rioting, you should know a a little bit about the school that will regulate your life for the next couple of years. This guide that you hold in your hand will help you figure out the best way to make that change you want to see happen.

First of all, contrary to what the deans and administrators will tell you, there is an activist history at DePaul. There have been students fighting for justice since the early days of the school. Whether it be students speaking out against US involvement in World War I, shutting down the school in opposition to the Vietnam war or holding rallies to oppose the Iraq war today. Students have also fought against discrimination, from the Black Student Union's occupation of the Schmidt Academic Center in 1969, to fighting for the right to have a gay student group in the 1980's, to creating new academic programs like Latino Studies, Asian Studies, Black and African Diaspora studies. There have been academic freedom issues, where students and faculty had to take on a Catholic Universities dogma like in 1986 when students and faculty brought pro-choice speaker Eleanor Smeal, or in 2007 when students occupied the President's office to support pro-Palestine Professor Finkelstein. Students have held campaigns to support unions and against sweatshops, the same way they have always spoken out against the high price of tuition and in the early 1990's even held large rallies against increases.

One of the important things to keep in mind with the school and your dealings with it is it's position in society and the contradictions inherent in a Catholic University in capitalist America.

There have been times when the religious nature of the school and the business nature of the school have been at odds. For a school that talks so much of it's “Catholic, Vincentian and Urban” values, the instinct of many progressives might be to side with the value oriented religious nature of the school, against the greedy materialistic business aspect of the school, for example on labor issues, priests like Jack Egan were supportive of student anti-sweatshop struggles while the board of trustees was made up of corporate executives who were certainly not sympathetic to such struggles.

However in many ways the business aspect of the school has pushed progressive change. The priests certainly didn't want a Queer studies minor, but the business aspect showed that there was a demand for it and DePaul could make money with it. The business aspect also forced DePaul to open up more in terms of academic freedom in many ways, the school simply could not go on treating religion as something to be indoctrinated, and with the introduction of the curricular reform of the 1960's, DePaul allowed much greater academic freedom.

What to make of this? What to make of someone like Father Richardson, the former president of the school who would condemn students who spoke out against the occupation of Palestine. The same Fr. Richardson who testified to Congress in the 1980's to take money away from the military budget and put it towards education (a good suggestion, but maybe motivated by a little self-interest on his part).

What to make of it? Socialism. You will have to build a socialist movement that will challenge the school, and the society it exists in, to value all people. DePaul is not a democracy, or a cooperative, it allows more freedom to it's employees and consumers than say a factory, where speaking out against the boss gets you fired, but students, faculty and staff have no direct voice in the decisions that are made behind closed doors. We do not elect the secretive board of trustees or the members of the corporation. We do not set the tuition rate or decide if, where and how the school will expand. A socialist DePaul would be one where power comes from the bottom up. Until we have that new era, we have to fight for it. We can play the business and religious aspects of the school to get some of the changes we want, and we will get some concessions, some breathing room. Ultimately though we will need strong radical student, faculty and staff unions that will unite with the broader community and radical movements to fight for the basic demand of all progressive movements, “Power to the People!”

Whatever you get involved in, anti-war work, labor issues, women's rights, or civil rights, just remember that activism can be boring and frustrating at times. When you spend weeks handing out fliers, knocking on dorm room doors and talking to people, it can seem repetitive. Then when you have a rally and only 10 people show up, it can be disheartening. You have to keep fighting though. Maybe the people you spoke to weren't ready for a rally this time, but might be next time. Then maybe the 10 new people who did show up might become dedicated activists.

George Bernard Shaw once remarked that change only happens because of the unreasonable man, the reasonable man will simply accustom himself to the way things are. It should be clear that the way things are is not how things should be. It's time to fight for a better world.

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