Thursday, 31 October 2013

Of Revolutionary Dogs and £1 Billion Surpluses

Today (31st October 2013) was the Halloween University Strike across the UK, with a joint strike in Leeds with Unite, UCU and Unison. We met on the Parkinson Steps at the University of Leeds (see above). There was sun, striking lecturers/tutors (and some students) and a revolutionary dog (see below).

Along with leafleting from the main unions involved, there was also a student leafleting in support of our strike and asking students to understand the implications in higher education of historic cuts in pensions and a lack of pay rises, despite the £1.1 billion surplus of money in higher education pockets! This is what the leaflet said:
But this dispute doesn’t affect me.
It definitely does. Even if you don’t work here, it is your tutors and support staff on strike today and they need your support. Moreover, it’s a labour market. Bad wages and conditions become an excuse to attack the living standards of all workers.
Well said! Here is the leaflet, so you can read it in full:

One comment on an article in The RippleUOL Staff to Strike on Halloween’, posted by Brian, says “Lecturers already have a rather lazy and easy job, so striking must come easy for them.” and a comment in response to it says “Well you obviously didn’t read the article if you think it’s just lecturers. Tit.” LOL

Related Links:
J30: The City is on Strike
Public Sector Strikes: The Situation at the University
J30, N30 ?30 Go!

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Radical Spaces and Not So Radical Spaces in Stratford

Last weekend I went to the Radical Space Conference at the University of East London (UEL). The conference was held at the new building in the centre of Stratford that UEL share with Birkbeck based in University Square (see above), located right near the Theatre Royal. When booking my hotel online - the Ibis - I noticed it had a similar address to a building I used to work in in Stratford in the late 1980s. This was Solar House, 1-9 Romford Road and the Ibis is 1a Romford Road. So I really didn’t know what to expect when I got there.

When I arrived at my hotel, I found it had been stuck on the end just before Solar House (see above), hence the 1a extra number. Solar House used to be at the very beginning of Romford Rd, even as far back as 2000 when I used to power-walk down there, from Leytonstone. So, it appears that they’ve made a bit of extra space out of the one-way system and stuck on it the Ibis, Nandos, etc. Although, once you’ve seen the new space, it’s really hard to remember exactly what it looked like before.

I walked around the outside of my old office block, Solar House. It hasn’t fared too well and looks old and scruffy, although I’m pretty sure they have built that extra glass-fronted section recently, which improves it somewhat. It’s being rented for £16/square foot and according to a commercial rental site it is currently being refurbished. Wikimapia shows a good aerial shot of the two buildings next to each other. It was a little spooky revisiting a place I worked over 20 years ago, although I was only there for 10 months before being relocated to Wallington in Surrey, miles away from where I lived at the time, in Edmonton.

I didn’t get a chance to inspect the Olympic Park or the new shopping centre at Stratford (Westfield), which you can see from the train station and which dominates the area. I thought it had a quirky retro font and I wondered why the branding team chose it…

Saturday, 12 October 2013

University as City

In his book The University in Ruins Bill Reading’s provides an eloquent analogy of the Italian Renaissance city by way of a suggesting how we might go about negotiating the posthistoric university we occupy today:
Like the inhabitants of some Italian city, we can seek neither to rebuild the Renaissance city-state nor to destroy its remnants and install rationally planned tower-blocks; we can seek only to put its angularities and winding passages to new uses, learning from and enjoying the cognitive dissonances that enclosed piazzas and non-signifying campanile induce. (Readings 1999: 129)
He later goes on to explain that we actually never leave the city, it is where we continually reside, even if some of its elements are from the past: “Even if the University is legible to us only as the remains of the idea of culture, that does not mean that we have left its precincts, that we view it from the outside.” (1999: 172) It is apparent from Readings’s spatial reference to the university as city, that this is potentially useful as a modus for a critique of today’s university (indeed, this is what my thesis is on).

Clark Kerr also uses the concept of the city to describe the model of the contemporary university, what he calls the “multiversity”:
The ‘Idea of the University’ was a village with its priests. The ‘Idea of a Modern University’ was a town - a one-industry town - with its intellectual oligarchy. ‘The Idea of a Multiversity’ is a city of infinite variety. Some get lost in the city; some rise to the top within it; most fashion their lives within one of its many subcultures. There is less sense of community than in the village but also less sense of confinement. There is less sense of purpose than within the town but there are more ways to excel. There are also more refugees of anonymity - both for the creative process and the drifter. (2001: 31)
Kerr’s city analogy offers the positive and negative qualities of the contemporary university, also providing the model of the drifter as an individual who can move about university space and yet also blend into the landscape (the French for drift is dérive which was a method of exploring the city employed by the group of activists the Situationist International in their urban walking projects).

Related blogs:
Organ Pipe-clad Concrete and Lost Students
Negotiating Brutalist Space at the University of Leeds

Kerr, Clark. 2001. The Uses of the University (Harvard: Harvard University Press).
Readings, Bill. 1999. The University in Ruins (Cambridge, Massachusetts and London: Harvard University Press).