Beginnings – Going Astray

It is the great time of the year again – at least I like it: the students are returning, or are just arriving at the university. For many a huge step, something like entering the ‘large world’, another step to adulthood.

The other day I had been standing with Michael and Paddy in the student centre, looking across campus where the freshers had been shown by their older mates   how to get around. Well, somewhat oldish terms – and there is surely much of this in the mind: the freshers feeling like making a step towards independence, being a bit unsure about what all this about, the requirements and just …, well for many it will be the first time that they really leave the lap of their parent’s home …; the mates being proud that they can show a bit of what they learned already, showing a bit of their supremacy, and perhaps also a bit of their power: the abilities they achieved. And there the three of us are standing, talking about the way they and we actually go. Are we looking at students out there: the young people we have to teach – we the supervisors, feeling ‘super-wise’ …; are we looking at young colleagues with whom we will collaborate on this huge project which enlightenment failed to establish: a better world – a world which actually cannot be ‘established’ as such; rather a better world will always have to be a process, a movement of people coming together to make a world a common property (process of relational appropriation, as I define it – still grateful to Denisa: I brought this definition forward in class, elaborated it and … forgot the wording. She, at the time one of my Hungarian students, had all the notes from the classes …). Or are we looking at the future competitor on a market on which skills are traded, in societies and regions that aim on being

most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world.

Although I am in general very much on the side of those who consider the glass being half-full, I am worried: I listened to last weeks negotiations in Kassel – the German Constitutional Court approving the ESM – in my opinion a decision strictly based on nationalist interests without offering any answer on the problem of Europe which faces the danger of falling apart; I listened to Barroso’s ‘State of the Union’ address at the same time, repeating shallow phrases from over the years, (leaving the bloomy phrases aside) calling for a stronger Europe – sure, I am not against a stronger Europe as such, though the question of the overall aims remains to be asked and answered; and I followed the elections in the Netherlands, the results of which came to many (and also to me) as a surprise, moving the country under the VVD towards a questionable Freedom and Democracy.

And I remember the other day colleagues talking about a high number of registrations for a course:

There are people out there who are interested. We just have to find a way to answer the demand ….

Well, there is definitely interest in education – and now I mean the education in the true sense: education as means of emancipation. And this is something we have to encourage, we have to fight for ways that allow this to happen: this kind of education and this kind of emancipation – not a matter of individuals’ demand but of societal necessity for which we have to create space.

For me, every new teaching period is such a challenge – not primarily a question of what to teach but more a question how we can learn together, how we can develop relevant research skills: brave openings.

May be I be it is an absurd idea. May be not.

Talking about absurdities: The other day a mail had been passed on to me, sent via the staff-exchange server – a former employee from UCC, now retired, talking about the fact needs must be met ‘even in retirement’ and offering the service of a Training and Development Company she set up. It is about More to Explore and Rethinking your Thinking. And courses are offered on the premises of UCC.

Well, it may be I should rethink my thinking, my optimism: A university that is claiming to be ‘Ireland’s first *****-university’, a university that leaves part of the work to be undertaken by retired staff, a university that is particularly proud of sports people as bearers of the academic torch, just recently Five sports people conferred with honorary doctorates. – Yes, well done lads.

I wish you all well in the current academic year!

Indeed – and I hope we can do better!!


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