The Free University Launches: an introduction

Below is an edited version of the speech delivered at our launch event about the Free University of Western Sydney. Our thank yous to all who have helped thus far can be found here.

We’d like to start by voicing our respect for the traditional custodians of this land, and acknowledging Elders of the past, present & future.

Hi everybody – we’re so happy you could be here tonight – we’re so happy we could be here tonight – this, the Free University of Western Sydney, is something we’ve been percolating privately in different groups for more than a year or two now. Some months ago, quite by chance, our small groups found out about each other, met up for what turned into a 6-hour long breakfast, & then, quite quickly, things started to come together & fall into place, & now here we are.

So what is a Free University? It’s free, as in no money comes in, no money goes out: we piggyback off resources available to us through our personal and institutional affiliations, and pool these to make our activities possible, from printing flyers to accessing space — a special thank you to BYDS and the Bankstown Arts Centre for making this space available to us.

These subterranean networks extend to the many personal relationships where we have been able to draw on talent and voices that can make critical conversation and learning – like what we are about to participate in tonight – possible.
So why a university?

In a world where the university is a key institution of globalized racial capitalism, we do not ignore or concede it as a site of struggle. But nor do we harbour a nostalgia for the fabled university of the past or the promised university of the future.

As such, we believe the neoliberal, neocolonial university cannot be saved.

The Free University will go beyond familiar complaints or calls for reforms. Instead we will call on all involved to challenge ourselves to imagine a radically different world and to organise and create spaces that make that possible.

The free university is free as in you are free. Free to come and go as you please; free to think, criticise and inform actions. At the free university there is no enrolment, no registration, no fees, no exams ….no degrees

The free university is free politically & economically, meaning that the interests driving us are our own, independen of and not reliant on the political & economic goals of institutions, governments, private bodies, NGOs; we run on the relationships forged with others who believe in what we are doing & want to be involved.

In a world where the notion of ‘freedom’ has been co-opted by corporate interest to mean total autonomy and self interest, we are part of many movements that emphasise our relationships and interconnectedness, and in this sense we are very much connected, through mutual respect, & the responsibilities between humans, between species, & to country, that go along with that.

How to realise this, and understanding the barriers to realising this, is something that I’m sure most of us have worked through in various guises through our lives – as academics, activists, social workers, through vocational callings, volunteer work, and in our everyday lives.

This panel tonight grounds us in a discussion that is critical to anybody living in the colonised country, on land that was never ceded. We believe that starting the conversation here is the best way to establish FUWS as a space for ongoing transformative dialogues that challenge racial, social and gendered stratifications.

It is through such exchanges that we hope to facilitate “a democracy where intellectual thought informs critique, embodies a sense of integrity, and reclaims education in the service of justice and equality” (Giroux 2016).

This goal will be ongoing – and we hope many of you join us in developing and realising this.

We look forward to how this will evolve, and to meeting more of you who are part of this space for alternative, respectful, responsible ways of thinking and being in the world as it is now, and as we imagine and enact it to be.

Find more about our launch event here and photos here.

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