The crowdfunded university sounds like yet another euphemism policy makers would use to sugar coat their structural withdrawal from social responsibility. And yes, crowdfunding is indeed a recent addition to the neo-liberal lingo-bingo. It represents the policy maker's wet dream of delegating responsibility for cultural production to the utopia of a free market of private investors, meaning, that is to say, you and me and everybody else who has some money to spare to pledge for whatever project we find appealing. And actually we could just do that. An exceedingly valuable project in my life would be our university. And yes, maybe crowdfunding could even save it.
I love my job, indeed, love it so much that I'd rather call it a vocation than an occupation and I know that many of my colleagues feel the same about their life in academia. That is why so many of us are very much disturbed by the recent -often clumsily- executed budget cuts, the continuous interference of administrators with our teaching and with our research, and most importantly, the deterioration of academic values. Increasingly scholars are reduced to simply passing along approved knowledge and students are pushed to choose their studies concerning job opportunities instead of interest. Teaching positions are filled with unpaid students and are euphemistically labelled teaching experience. Funding is structurally extenuated with severe consequences for teaching and research.
We all are annoyed by the shallow market-friendly rhetoric of our policy makers and their cohorts of yes-men and -women. Who can stand any longer the pseudo efficiency and market lingo of an administration whose members themselves have hardly obtained experience in business and market competition, let alone delivered a single proof for their own efficiency? How long are we willing to see not only our core 'brand identity' (the Humboldtian academy) been demolished but also ourselves being increasingly confined in doing our job? The structural abolishment of democratic decision processes and the exclusion of the rank and file to participate in the policy making of our university has left us powerless, convinced we have no option but to simply let the juggernaut roll over us.
Actually we have an option. I suggest we use crowdfunding to make a difference. If each of us would invest a modest sum, something between 300 and 600 Euros, we could, all together, establish a serious fund. It might not be enough to bail out our university, but enough to buy ourselves into our university. For scholars, this amount is easily recuperated by giving a couple of extra lectures. And since we all work far more than we are paid for, why not take this tiny extra step further and make this university truly OUR university? You might wonder why on earth should we invest extra money, since we all are already working overtime and we even bring in extra funding that is then taken away and vanishes in a bottomless pit. But that is exactly the reason why we should do it. Let's invest in our university, let's pool our resources and become share holders.
We could liberate the faculty councils and the university council from their perpetual exercise in humiliation and have them act as true representatives of those who actually make and are the university, OUR university. We could request transparency and fact-check the incomprehensible figures with which we've so far been supplied, we could evaluate the performance of our bureaucratic and managerial class, and based upon it we could request appropriate measures. And even the unread philistine in The Hague who is presiding over the fate of the Dutch universities would have to put up with it. Crowdfunding is as VOC-mentality and as capitalist as it can get. It is a core ingredient of distributing risks and power in a capitalist venture. Let's combine that virtue with traditional academic values, and take back what has been so blatantly stolen from us over the past years, our autonomy, our dignity and an academia committed to Enlightenment.
(This text was originally published in the Digital Universiteitsblad, DUB, http://www.dub.uu.nl/artikel/column/crowdfunded-university-0)