On the U of T and York CUPE strikes, “labour disruption” or whatever you want to call it

If you are a resident of the GTA, and haven’t been living under a rock in the last little while, you probably know that the TA, contract faculty and other workers from largest and the 3rd largest universities in Canada are on strike — for reasons which I completely support – but that is not why I am writing today.

It’s really about contemplating what must have happened, and what continues to happen, within an education institution, something that historically is known to foster dissent to a considerable extentm to come to this; and what must have happened indeed, to feel so uprooted from the values that universities are based on. I am not writing this as an analysis of the neoliberalization of education and of knowledge production within Canada, because I have had far better days for that sort of thing, and there are some great people already writing about it. I am writing to talk about the kind of emotional and physical toll such an action, which I deem, very, very necessary can have on a graduate student who otherwise maintains an average interest in student politics, at least now.

In my undergraduate days, I felt far more driven to action whenever I was dissatisfied with how things were, and that happened to be fairly often. I had a mild reprieve from that sort of thing after I graduated, but the corporate world failed me too (what was I thinking?!), in ways I never could have imagined academia failing me. Thus, since coming back to school in September, my feelings about academia have been largely positive. I realize there are many areas that maybe improved upon but I liked that it was taking me in towards a direction where I could have a very personalized lifestyle, something that I don’t imagine many other options allow. I knew the money was not much, and I would just be getting by, but I was glad that there was something larger than the immediate degree I was working towards. I was doing entirely self-directed research, and nothing in the world is as empowering to me as that.

I must admit, since I came to York, I have been largely secluded from the world outside academia. I meant for this to happen – I pretty much treated the fall term as a boot camp to get used to humanities/social science graduate school, and though often very lonely, it seems to have worked out for me. I thought I’d be able to just coast by the rest of the year with this mindset, but I really underestimated how sensitive I can be to the learning environment at large.

People at York and U of T are not happy — this fact is apparent even if you stay one hour at a CUPE meeting or do a picketing shift. I don’t know where most of the energy comes from, but I’m glad it’s there, because all that I can come away with from it is sadness, to see simply how little of what we deserve we actually get. It’s isolating and demoralizing, because I realize now that my own inner world is affected by this, and the ivory tower itself is to blame.

The ivory tower has long been my refuge, and it feels like it has developed some kind autoimmune disorder that is tearing it apart — and everyone within it. This is more than an economic or political struggle, it’s an existential one. In the midst of a system of capitalism that challenges the very core values of the academy, we all must find a way to secure them, or obliterate ourselves.

Academia has seen better days, as have I.

Here’s a Nietzschean version of the Carly Rae Jepsen song ‘Call Me Maybe’ too cheer you all up.


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