Reworking/Rethinking the University

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

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 |


  1. I participated in the recent conference as a graduate student (non-traditional) and a community member (I live near campus) concerned about the corporatization of the U as well as of everything else. Before I returned to higher education a few years ago, I had a partial career–one among several income streams, or dribbles is more like it–doing workshops on corporate power and what to do about it. Have also been involved in a variety of political and environmental activism over the years.

    I was mightily impressed by the brain power as well as heart that the conference planning collective assembled for the conference. I know that participation can be a challenging thing to build into conferences–people have come a long way to share their thoughts and expertise, and it’s essential for there to be a format in which a whole bunch of people listen to one or a few.

    It’s also important to not just passively know, but actively validate that every single person who comes to any event brings with them a storehouse of knowledge, experience, wisdom, memory, interest, ideas, etc. Having a conference structured to not just acknowledge this truth but engage it would be, it seems to me, one way to “rethink” the university that would begin to erase some of those lines and barriers between the person/people up front who have the knowledge, a fact that is affirmed by their position in front, and everyone else, who is, in this structure, there to listen and learn, affirmed by their position in rows facing the front. The truth is, as I’m sure most everyone who reads this would acknowledge, we are all learners and we are all teachers. Knowledge is something we create together.

    Having a conference structured to problematize the typical power arrangements and try some different relationships would be not just appropriate to the whole project here, but in and of itself is just a really good idea, in my opinion. Popular education has an array of techniques that I’ve seen applied in conference situations with some pretty interesting results.

    Comment by Betsy Barnum | April 24, 2008

  2. How about holding the next conference at one of the Antioch campuses, ideally the one in Yellow Springs? Given the recent events on that campus, I can think of no better place to continue a discussion about labor rights and universities than Antioch. The closure of a campus renown for its activism and the divestment of the college’s staff and faculty of the products of their own labor is alarming, to put it mildly. The rhetoric of those seeking to close the school should ring familiar to this audience: they want to rethink the university. Sounds like a conversation we should be a part of.
    I’ll write a longer post for this blog in the next couple of weeks that provides more information about the situation at Antioch and how it relates to the themes of the rethinku conference. All such information is available at the Antioch Papers website:
    I strongly recommend reading the 23 page “Antioch Confidential.”

    Comment by Kathleen McConnell | April 24, 2008

  3. If the conference is to be called “Reworking the University,” I suggest making clear that we’d like discussion of how OTHERS are already powerfully reworking the university, as well as of how university workers, students, and activists might try to rework it in response.

    Dick Ohmann

    Comment by Richard Ohmann | April 25, 2008

  4. I second the suggestion by Betsy to stir up the format of the conference, at least in part. Some places to look for ideas are the Open Space movement, Unconferences, World Cafe, Barcamp, Socrates Cafe, and Conversation Circles.

    There is a lot of prior work and thinking out there to alter/change the normal structure of a conference. To make the transition easier I’d suggest that 1 day of the conference be in a different format and the rest can be your traditional papers and roundtables.

    I’d also like to add an international link to another “Rethinking the University” conference in Antwerp, Belgium.

    Comment by Todd Suomela | April 30, 2008

  5. Todd’s links to ideas for non-traditional conference formats bring up another reason, besides mixing up the Medieval hierarchical order that still exists on most campuses, for trying some different approaches: the issue of traveling, usually by jet, across the country to conferences in an age of global warming and rising fuel prices.

    Some of his links are to ideas for internet conferencing. I don’t know much about this, and part of me actually dislikes it, because face-to-face is so preferable for the nuances of interaction. But there are tools and formats for having large and interactive meetings with no travel involved. I think these should be looked into by planners of future Rethinking the University conferences, as well as some of the methodologies for breaking down the internal barriers and engaging all the knowledge and all the affected and involved communities on an egalitarian basis.

    Comment by Betsy Barnum | May 8, 2008

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