Reworking/Rethinking the University

Two Conferences at the University of Minnesota, April 11-13th, 2008; April 24-26, 2009

Conference – Beneath the University, the Commons

Call for Papers/Ideas

“Beneath the University, the Commons”
A conference at the University of Minnesota

April 8-11, 2010

// Antioch 05.08 // Rome 10.08 // Athens 12.08 // New York City 12.08
// Helsinki 03.09 // Zagreb 05.09 // Heidelberg 06.09 // London 06.09
//Santa Cruz 09.09// … //

Seemingly discrete struggles over the conditions of university life
have erupted around the world within the past year. These struggles
share certain commonalities: outrage over precarious and exploitative
conditions, the occupation of university spaces, and goals of
reclaiming education from state and corporate interests.  It is
becoming increasingly apparent that recent struggles over the
university are not merely discrete events. They express a wider
collective desire for direct control over the means of production and
forms of life; a desire to create relationships of learning,
collaboration, and innovation beyond the university’s attempts to
quantify and discipline them.

Although the modern university has served the interests of the state
and capital since its inception, the past thirty years have witnessed
tightened ties with corporate, financial, and geopolitical interests.
The subsumption of higher education under capital-driven business
models has intensified the expropriation of the products of
cooperative labor.  With the proliferation of student-consumer and
scholar-manager subjectivities, we increasingly find ourselves
uncomfortably and often unwittingly occupying the role of active
participants in these trends.  As the global struggles over the past
year have illustrated, however, opposition to these mechanisms of
capture is mounting, as are creative strategies for alternatives and
exodus.  Struggles against the corporate university are linking up
across borders; the slogan of the International Student Movement, “One
World – One Struggle : Education is Not for Sale,” and the slogan of
the Anomalous Wave, “We Won’t Pay for Your Crisis,” appear in actions
across Europe, the Americas, and South Asia.

“Beneath the University, the Commons” builds on the work accomplished
by activists, organizers, artists, and academics at the “Re-thinking”
and “Re-working” the University Conferences of 2008 and 2009
(, while expanding the scope of our discussions
and bringing together more international scholars in order to address
an increasingly volatile global situation.  Our goal is to aggregate
and accelerate our knowledge of university conditions and our
collective acts of resistance to them, including alternative forms of
engaging with each other and with the world.  To this end, the 2010
conference will draw together a diverse set of people committed to
exploring how we can understand, create, and experiment with the
commons beneath the university.  Our questions include but are not
limited to:

//How do we enact and sustain occupations of the university in the
exceptional times and spaces of the everyday?

//How do we generate an international “undercommons,” maintaining
subversive positions as actors within, rather than of, the spaces of
the university?

//How can unionization projects and occupation struggles learn from
and collaborate with one another?

//How do we negotiate the line between stability and revolutionary

//How do we open up sustainable and livable spaces for radical
research, education, and scholarship without being subsumed by the
publish-or-perish disciplinary apparatus?

//How can we collaboratively map and share research, information,
tactics, and cultures?

//In recognition that our conditions are a part of a larger set of
global occupations and injustices, how do we link with social
movements outside of and across the university?

This four-day event will consist of two days of conference sessions
bracketed by two days of workshops, writing collaborations, skill
shares, and plenty of time for sustained conversations among
participants.  We are accepting proposals both for formal papers and
for non-conventional forms of participation.

— If you would like to present a paper, please submit an abstract and
a CV or brief biographical statement.

— If you would like to participate in another way (by leading a
workshop, facilitating a roundtable, presenting media, etc), please
submit a brief (1-2 pages) description of the proposed activity and
include what kind of resources we would need to provide, along with a
CV or brief biographical statement.

All proposals should be addressed to conference [at-n0spam], and
must be received by January 1, 2010.

November 17, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Call for a Manifesto

Dear Fellow Reworkers,

As you all likely know, our upcoming conference coincides with the “Reclaim Your Education – Global Week of Action 2009.” In connection with associated protests taking place around the world, we would like to collaborate on declaring our visions, strategies, and demands in a public document that we can take back to our respective local struggles. And so, in the spirit of the Situationist’s manifesto, “On the Poverty of Student Life,” our goal is to articulate:

• A vision of what education could and should be, making explicit the desire and need for political action within and beyond the university

• What it would mean to reclaim our education, strategically, tactically, and as part of our everyday practices

• An alternative framing of the university in crisis, against the supposed inevitability of the neoliberal university

• The university as a terrain of political struggles, with the aim of dismantling the corporate monopoly on higher education by reworking the university into a common for alternative political projects

While not directly political activity in the traditional sense, we believe that the Reworking and Rethinking the University conferences are capable of contributing to struggles over education taking place around the world. It is in this spirit that we hope to write a statement that captures some of the intellectual and political work that goes on at this conference in a way that can be collectively transmitted to those who did not attend the conference.

That being said, we recognize that there are considerable time restrictions which limit what can be collectively written during the course of an already busy weekend. That is why, in the run up to the conference, we’d like to invite you all to begin brainstorming ideas for this document here on our blog (click on ‘comment’ below and post your ideas via the comments section).

Beginning on the first day of the conference, we’ll post sheets of butcher paper on the wall to further collect and collaborate on our visions, strategies, and demands for reworking the university. On Sunday morning we’ll convene with these ideas to produce a manifesto and to develop plans for its dissemination. We’ll print and post online copies of it for you to distribute on your home campuses.

We look forward to collaborating with you all!

Committee on Revolutionizing the AcaDemy (ComRAD)

April 6, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

We made a new website for the upcoming conference, Reworking the University: Visions, Strategies, and Demands, to be held at the University of Minnesota – in Minneapolis, April 24-26th, 2009.  It is a free conference and open to the public, so please feel free to attend if you are interested (see the program of presentations and events here – and logistics here).  For more info, contact comradmn [at] (and if you would like to be on the listserv for the conference, email rethinku-subscribe [at]  Please feel free to comment here with your thoughts, suggestions, critiques, etc. about the conference.

April 1, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Reworking the University: Visions, Strategies, Demands

UPDATE: a new website for the conference is up at –  Check out the program and come join us in Minneapolis on April 24-26th, 2009!
Call for Ideas

April 24-26, 2009, University of Minnesota
The current “financial meltdown” has exacerbated the ongoing crises within the university, resulting in even greater budget cuts, tuition hikes, hiring freezes and layoffs. Responses from university administrations have been predominantly reactive and have served to fortify the university as an institution of neoliberal capitalism.  The administration and others have narrated this crisis as an external force that, while dramatic in the short run, can nonetheless be managed properly.  It is clear to many, however, that the neoliberal logic that has been used to transform the university over the past few decades has failed at a systemic level; the neoliberal death spiral has come home to the university.
In contrast to these reactionary responses, we seek to create a space for collective re-evaluation of the university in crisis as an opportunity for real transformation. Last year’s conference, “Rethinking the University: Labor, Knowledge, Value” (April 2008), sought to challenge the supposed inevitability of the neoliberal university.  As a continuation of this project, “Reworking the University” seeks to draw together academics, artists, and activists, to share and produce political visions, strategies and demands for building an alternative university in common.
“Reworking the University” seeks to generate a vibrant, political exchange by troubling the traditional format of the academic conference.  To this end, we hope to produce spaces for individuals and groups from different backgrounds and across a variety of institutional boundaries to converge.  While the conference will include the presentation of papers on the topic of “Reworking the University,” the committee’s selection process will prioritize workshops, roundtables, trainings, art installations, film screenings, performances, and other forms of creative engagement.
The conference organizing collective has selected several questions and themes that emerged out of the 2008 conference that we will address in various formats. If you have interest in participating, please provide us with a description of your proposed contribution.  We encourage you to self-organize a session (i.e. a performance, workshop, roundtable, training, etc.) and submit it as a whole.  Feel free to use this blog to help facilitate session organizing (click on “Comments” below and share your ideas and questions for sessions).
Below is a list of possible topics and we, of course, welcome additional suggestions.  In submitting your ideas for sessions, please give us as much information as possible—suggestions for themes, other participants and the session format.
The Reworking the University conference coincides with “Reclaim Your Education – Global Week of Action 2009” (April 20-27: Organizers also encourage suggestions for additional actions as part of this event.
Send your submissions (of up to 500 words) to  The deadline for submissions is February 10, 2009.
 – Confronting American Apartheid: Access to education
 – The financial crisis and the university
 – Counter/Radical Cartographies and Disorientation Guides
 – Corporate funding and the university
 – Autonomous/Open/Free Universities
 – The Poverty of Student Life
 – Post-Enlightenment Visions: Beyond the Liberal Model
 – Anarchism and Education
 – Adjunct Unionization
 – Organizing Across Campuses, Cities, and Regions
 – Post-Antioch Universities/the Antioch Legacy
 – Anti-militarization Movements in the University
 – Prisons and Education
 – Undergrad Education Beyond Commodification
 – Historical Struggles in the University: May ’68 and beyond
 – Autoreduction and Tactics for Direct Action in the Workplace
 – Contemporary Struggles in the University: The Anomalous Wave & Movements in
    Italy, Greece and elsewhere
 – Expropriating Institutional Space
 – Graduate student unionization and Radicalizing the Academy
 – Anti-professionalization; Anti-disciplinarity
 – Student Debt
 – Pedagogy of the crisis
 – Creating Radical/Open Access Publications and the Politics of Citation
The schedule and proceedings from last year’s conference can be found at:
Committee on Revolutionizing the Academy (ComRAD)

December 16, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Guidelines for honoring labor disputes and boycotts


I’m seeking information on academic organizations that have honored boycotts and workers’ strikes by breaking hotel contracts, or shown solidarity by other means during a conference. This information would contribute to a discussion currently underway among members of the National Communication Association. 


In response to 1) the current boycott on the Manchester Hyatt Hotel in San Diego, and 2) a workers’ strike at the same hotel organized by UNITE HERE, members of the National Communication Association, which is holding its annual convention at that hotel in November, have called for NCA to adopt a formal set of guidelines for convention planning. Those guidelines outline how NCA will respond to labor disputes in the future and advocates support of green initiatives whenever possible. It is modeled on similar guidelines adopted by other academic organizations, all listed below.

Does anyone know of any other similar initiatives, or of similar efforts to rethink the planning of large scale academic conventions? Do any academic organizations offer carbon offsetting credits as part of their conference registration? Have those organizations referenced university labor, equal opportunity, and diversity policies to leverage support for unionized hotels and boycotts of states with discriminatory laws? What has been the general response to such initiatives within these organizations? Did any academic organizations respond to the the 2007 strike at the University of Minnesota?

Many thanks for your help!

Kathleen McConnell


The following is the proposed Resolution for Convention Site Locating & Planning drafted by Phaedra Pezzullo and available here:  Continue reading

September 30, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Free Universities

Here is another presentation from the Conference – Kathleen McConnell’s “Classes in Advanced Fantasy: A Brief History of The Free University.”

To see a contemporary free university in action, check out the Twin Cities Experimental College – offering 35 classes this summer, starting next week.

June 12, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

More papers from the conference

Tim Stallman (of the Counter Cartographies Collective) – “Carolina North.. mapping research, precarity, and labor in the 21st century (global) university” – (a draft of a radical comic book they are working on).

Jeff Williams (of the Minnesota Review) – “Debt Education”“Student Debt and the Spirit of Indenture” – “Teach the University” – (three papers that were the basis of his talk – the third has a helpful bibliography of university fiction, ideas, and histories).

May 15, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Papers from the Conference

Some of the conference participants have graciously shared their papers with us – a few as the original paper and a few in the presentation form.  Click on the links below to download them.  Feel free to post comments here in response. 

David Cerniglia and Heather Steffen, “Composing the University”

Randall Cohn, “Artificial Disciplinarity? Policing the Boundaries between Art and Design History”

Lisa J. Disch and Jean M. O’Brien, “Innovation is Overtime: An Ethical Analysis of ‘Politically Committed’ Academic Labor”

Isaac Kamola and Eli Meyerhoff, “Creating Commons: Divided Governance, Participatory Management, and Struggles over the Enclosure of the University”

John Mowitt, “The Neo-liberalization of Knowledge”

Richard Ohmann, “Talk on Radical Teaching”

Zach Schwartz-Weinstein, “Without Our Brain and Muscle: NYU and the Future of the Neoliberal University”

Barbara Scott Winkler, “Laboring in the Knowledge Factory: A View from Women’s Studies”

Jess Sundin, “Labor in the Neo-liberal University”

May 6, 2008 Posted by | papers | Leave a comment

Teaching and Research Assistants Collective Bargaining Rights Act

(from Andy Cornell of NYU/GSOC):

We have some exciting news to share!  Two of our allies on Capitol Hill, Senator Edward M. Kennedy and Representative George Miller, have just introduced federal legislation to amend the National Labor Relations Act to grant collective bargaining rights to teaching and research assistants at private universities and colleges. Continue reading

April 24, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Planning for Next Year’s Conference

The Rethinking the University Working Group would like to solicit ideas for next year’s conference. Here are a few things we might want to consider, but feel free to post comments with any other suggestions.

  • Where should it be held?
  • When should it be held?
  • What should the format look like? Or, what worked and didn’t work this year? For instance, a few people have made the suggestion that we incorporate seminars, or possibly reading groups.

April 23, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 5 Comments