Shelter from university, from degrees, tuition, and grades.
Shelter for study, for now, for everyone.
I. Why These Seminars?
With or without the university, we need to study. Ever tightening its grip on profit, the university is foreclosing on teaching, learning, and research. It tends to make students into consumers, teachers into automatons, and it tends to separate these two roles. Students and teachers need an alternative, accessible institution where active research projects animate lively, sustained exchanges between students and teachers. These Seminars happen when teaching and learning mingle, when we persist in our study against the odds, against the demand for profit.
We gather together to embrace the difficulty and the pleasure of study. Study is difficult when layers of injustice accumulate, restricting access to the institutions where study should happen, and afflicting study within those institutions. Injustices of racism, sexism, classism, colonialism, and all the -phobias do not only surround us, they make us up. Study happens when we gather to re-make ourselves and re-make the world, to recover our experience and to question it.
Study is difficult because we need time: to re-read, to re-think, and to re-phrase. We need time to practice: to practice reading, speaking, writing, and crafting. Practice requires failure, repetition, critique, and congratulation. Practice does not require grades or grading. And we do not need degrees to celebrate meeting the challenge of study in These Seminars.
In These Seminars, we do need each other. We need others who are different from ourselves, more radically different than slogans of diversity allow. So we commit to meeting regularly, to giving and taking our time to be virtually co-present, whether by means of our voices, our images, or our texts. Our commitment is not to becoming citizens of a nation or the globe, nor to becoming competitive on the market. Our commitment is to one another. We gather together to question the idea that study must be useful for the market or the state. We gather together to practice for more radically democratic forums of collective action, from the cellular to the cosmic.
II. What do we do?
These Seminars are times of inquiry, conversation, and debate that gather together diverging methods of thinking about a topic. We engage one another through a critical imagination that both answers and demands research. Seminars embrace the difficulty of research: the challenge of finding something, of letting it rearrange our worlds, the patience and urgency that allow for this change, and the practice necessary to communicate.
Teachers design seminars based on current research projects—that is, their own active efforts to learn. (There are no “service” courses or “prerequisites.”) Students commit to joining seminars and then shape the conversations there based on their own projects of research and action. (There is no “curriculum” and no “majors.”) These Seminars provide a space for students to reflect and redirect their research beyond the Seminars, whether at university or elsewhere.
These Seminars take up topics at the center of our lives together: race, religion, gender, environment, government, law, art, sex, economy, violence, translation, health, and death. We may approach these topics through the established disciplines: history, literature, film, anthropology, sociology, geography, philosophy, economics, politics, religion, or psychology. We may approach these topics through the inter-, intra-, non-, un-, trans-, and multi-disciplinary fields such as media studies, regional studies, environmental studies, gender studies, urban studies, or any of the arts.
These Seminars are synchronous events in which students and teachers commit to virtual co-presence. High-speed internet, appropriate screen-size, a degree of privacy, and any transcription technologies students regularly use are necessary for virtual co-presence. In general, seminars meet for about 2 hours per week over a ten-week term, resulting in about 20 hours of conversation. Participation is usually limited to ten students per teacher. Participation may mean speaking and listening for the hearing, or reading and writing for the sighted and the tactile.
III. Who are we?
We are teachers and students. We do not have chairs, deans, registrars, presidents, or provosts. We have no private-equity investment consultants, no police, and no loan officers.
The teachers of These Seminars are committed to research and teaching, learning and unlearning. Some have taken a terminal degree from an established university (MFA, JD, PhD, etc…). Others pursue such degrees. Some teachers have accumulated research experience in other ways. They may be elders or activists whose expertise does not fit in a university, or they may be tenured faculty. Teachers demonstrate commitment to research, intellectual generosity, interest in student experiences, and faith in student motives.
The students of the These Seminars are committed to learning and unlearning, teaching and research. They are qualified to study at university by sensible metrics but sometimes disqualified by senseless metrics, and sometimes disillusioned by metrics altogether. They are the students who may also pay for university and those who will not. They may have faith in the education of a university or they may not. They may be in a “gap year” before university, or a leave of absence away from university, or they may be recent graduates. Students demonstrate motivation and commitment to learn, the courage to listen to their peers and support their learning, and faith in the seminar design.
IV. How does it work?
Enrollment in individual seminars relies on the discretion of the teachers who convene them. Teachers offer seminar descriptions in 200-1000 words that identify the range of problems, approaches, texts, images, and contributions that make up participation. They will also name the modes of spoken, written, audio-visual, or other modes of communication for which they can best offer feedback. (That is, they will invite students to write essays, deliver oral presentations, produce video clips or art works.) But ultimately students chose if and how to sharpen their communication skills.
Student requests for participation take the form of 200--1000-word statements identifying their motivation for the course and the relevant aspects of their geography, background, viewpoints that would shape their participation and modes of communication they want to strengthen. Ideally, teachers and students collaborate in sharing and revising the descriptions of their motivations. Participants are selected with priority to diverse geographies, backgrounds, viewpoints. Commitment to completion is essential to building relationships over time.
V. What do we need?
The distribution of needs and redistribution of resources is designed around the principle that relations of care and mutual support found These Seminars. Without financial resources available to us at present, we offer the following as an orientation to principles and values.
Needs Students and teachers commit to support one another in the completion of seminars, arranging for private meetings beyond the scheduled seminar to share insights and challenges.
Students who are committed to study need to give and receive support from their peers. They may need to meet one another outside the scheduled seminar meetings for reflection on their contributions, to structure or de-structure their time to allow for seminar participation, to access or process the materials of study, or to draft essays or other projects. Students commit to cooperate and support one another in sharing these needs.
Teachers who are devoted to research need the dissent, the questions, the interests, the perspective of students. Teachers also need commitment from students, a devotion to showing up and contributing to the seminar.
Resources Financial resources are risked in the Seminars as material remuneration cannot be guaranteed in their first phase. If or when we do acquire any financial resources, we commit to full transparency in the process of redistribution. These Seminars aspire to the model of financial resources captured by the phrase pay-as-you-can, take-as-you-need.
Students and teachers devote a portion of their time to gathering resources. This domain of ingenuity may derive from traditionally conceived labor, donations through web platforms, or other creative ways of procuring resources. Students who wish to contribute themselves are welcome to do so.
100% of funds raised will be distributed between students and teachers according to need. Following is the order of priority for redistributing financial resources:
Student Participation: Students commit to procuring necessary high-speed internet connections to attend seminars and the privacy necessary to devote their attention to those seminars. This may require child care, elder care, reduced working hours, access to private physical spaces, and/or technology including closed captioning or technologies that make the seminars available as text. Funds raised will be first redistributed to recuperate these costs for students who took financial risks to participate.
Teacher Remuneration: After all student participation needs are met, teachers who need income will receive it.
Student Subsistence: Remaining funds will be redistributed to students according to need to support subsistence.
VI. What are the results?
There are no grades, no degrees, no “credentials” to be bought, sold, or compared with what the university offers. The outcome of our study is the new version of ourselves, the new relationships, and adjusted habits of looking and looking away, touching and retracting, listening and making ourselves heard. We emerge better equipped for research, persuasive communication, and collective action.
Teachers provide individualized valuations of student contributions. These are not “evaluations” according to pre-given criteria, but “valuations” that acknowledge contributions as well as potential areas for future growth.
Students compose assessments of their contributions and learning experiences. They are composed according to criteria that students themselves develop across the course, and shared with teachers at its conclusion. Over time students may accrue a portfolio of valuations and assessments that document their growth, and it is their responsibility to make that portfolio as broad or narrow as their learning requires.
We do not produce citizens—neither “national” nor “global.” We do not serve “the market”—neither of ideas or employers or employees. Instead, we come together to develop the skills that equip us to rethink the demand that our study should serve nations or markets.
VII. When and Where?
In its preliminary stage, These Seminars require a shelter: access to private space, an appropriately sized screen, and access to high-speed internet. In later stages, the Seminars aspires to offer resources necessary to shelter students who may be unsheltered.
These Seminars are always multilingual, falling back on English for seminars and organizational communication if no other language is shared by all participants.
Scheduled according to the time zone of Baker and Howland Islands, no one sits at the center of the These Seminars. Because we all must imagine a time and a place where none of us are.
*This version was drafted by Andrew Bush on 31 August, 2020, with gratitude to the many people who inspired me through conversation or comment since 15 June: Jill Magi, Deepak Unnikrishnan, Hitomi Koyama, Alexandra Urbanikova, Daniel Gellai, Toral Gajarawala, Bridget Kustin, Mohit Mandal, Megha Sehdev, Rodrigo Ferreira, Alia Elkattan, Sara Haqq, Oscar Bray, and Michiel de Wit. I am also thankful for the published poetry, lectures, essays and conversations of the following teachers: Fred Moten & Stefano Harney, Marilena Chaui, Eli Meyerhoff, and John Lee Clark.