A Free University for Auckland

The original Latin from which the word ‘university’ developed, was used at the time of the emergence of urban town life and medieval guilds, to describe specialised “associations of students and teachers with collective legal rights usually guaranteed by charters issued by princes, prelates, or the towns in which they were located.” [1].

An important idea in the definition of a university is the notion of academic freedom. The first documentary evidence of this comes from early in the life of the first university. The University of Bologna adopted an academic charter, the Constitutio Habita [2], in 1158 or 1155, which guaranteed the right of a travelling scholar to unhindered passage in the interests of education. Today this is claimed as the origin of “academic freedom” [3].

Further to this academic freedom is a demand from society, written into the Education Act of New Zealand, that the universities be “the critic and conscience of society” [4], to not merely accept society is what it is, but to critique and effect change.

In the intervening 1000 years, these twin ideals have become corrupted. Universities, particularly since the 1980s, have primarily become a system to create workers for the capitalist system. The focus is on technical disciplines such as engineering, chemistry, biology, and on business and economics. Any remaining notion of education in its pure form or critique of society is merely coincidental or fast being eroded [5].

Over the past decade, a number of free universities have sprung up around the world, including the ‘Copenhagen Free University’ [6] and the ‘University for Strategic Optimism’ in London [7], their aim being to critique the existing system of un-free, corporatised university and to offer an alternative.

We are creating a free university in Auckland, as an alternative to the current education system. This will feature reading and discussion groups, but will also include ‘interventions’ to highlight the failings of the system, through various means of direct action. The working title is the ‘University Without Conditions’, which is taken from the title of the Derrida text referenced above.

The university will become the critic and conscience of society.

The intention is to present the aims to interested individuals and gather feedback as to how we should progress. At this point, a meeting between these parties will be organised. If you would like to get involved, please leave a comment below and we will contact you.

[1] Marcia L. Colish, Medieval Foundations of the Western Intellectual Tradition, 400-1400, (New Haven: Yale Univ. Pr., 1997)
[2] Malagola, C. (1888), Statuti delle Università e dei Collegi dello Studio Bolognese. Bologna: Zanichelli
[3] Rüegg, W. (2003), Mythologies and Historiogaphy of the Beginnings, pp 4-34 in H. De Ridder-Symoens, editor, A History of the University in Europe; Vol 1, Cambridge University Press.
[4] New Zealand Government (1989) Education Act 1989, ‘Part 14: Establishment and disestablishment of tertiary institutions’, pp. 342-347. Reprint as at 1 February 2011 including amendments.
[5] Derrida, Jacques (2000) ‘The university without conditions’ in ‘Without Alibi’, trans. Peggy Kamuf, pp. 202-237. Stanford: Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-8047-4411-4
[6] http://www.edu-factory.org/wp/all-power-to-the-free-universities-of-the-future/
[7] https://universityforstrategicoptimism.wordpress.com/inaugural-lecture/

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