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(en) US, [MHR-News] Anarchy Class Refuses to Hand Over Papers By C. D., Durango Indymedia

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Thu, 5 Feb 2004 11:46:54 +0100 (CET)

The state of Colorado seems to have become an unlikely battleground for free
speech issues in higher education. It was in 2001 that Fort Lewis College was
thrust into the limelight when the administration prohibited English professor
Michelle Malach from teaching a course on pornography. Since then Colorado
legislature has entertained the idea of an “Academic Bill of Rights,” which
amongst other things, would require the hiring of more politically conservative
professors on campus, an idea popularized by the notorious David Horowitz-
one time radical communist now turn radical conservative. Horowitz included
several Colorado campuses in his speaking tour to combat what he calls
“indoctrination centers for the political left.” As this story goes
to print, state legislature is considering another bill- this one
would ban any discussion of “controversial” issues not
explicitly addressed in class syllabi. And so it seems
appropriate that the battle continues, once again in
Durango, Colorado.
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The class itself is also fitting, a course entitled
“Deconstructing Systems in the Pursuit of Anarchy.”
Mark Seiss, instructor of the course, explains the
class as this-
“The course was originally designed to sort of
understand the foundations of systems by seeing the
ways in which they are deconstructed. That is largely
what many of the intellectuals associated with the
anarchist movement have done throughout history and we
have a strong movement here in the United States; one
that is often not talked about. The course was also
designed to do away with many of the misconceptions
about anarchy in general and what it means.

Fort Lewis Senior Josh Rankin, one of the students in
the class, talked about some of those misconceptions,
“I was actually hitchhiking up to school this semester
and someone picked me up and she asked me what class I
was going to, sort of chit-chat, and I said I was
going to anarchy class. She got this really panic
stricken look on her face and she was like ‘you mean
devil-worshipping?’ and I said well that’s not exactly
what anarchy is and I gave a brief explanation of what
I thought it really meant, but it was really funny and
I don’t know if she pictured us in some kind of cult
sitting there with Mark sacrificing a goat in front of
the class or what. I think as a society we’re taught
that anarchy is a really destructive thing it can be
lumped into the same group as terrorism or something
like that, but whereas after taking the class and
reading anarchists I just got a different perception
of what anarchy means.”

In the class students unlearned the myths of anarchism
by putting down mainstream newspapers and instead
picking up books, articles and essays from a variety
of works expounding on the ideas of anarchists, from
Karl Marx’s fiery rival Mikhail Bakunin, to the
Russian scientist of a milder demeanor Peter
Kropotkin. They read the anarchist who didn't see
women as equals, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon as well as
outspoken feminist and passionate speaker Emma
Goldman. Classic punks came in to talk about the
connection between punk and anarchy and they used
zines such as the Colorado Springs based "Infinte
Onion" as reading material. From the class they
learned that anarchists didn’t seek out death and
destruction, but a life based on cooperation rather
than competition, freedom rather than coercion and
equality rather than hierarchy.
And so in putting these ideas of deconstructing
systems into practice, the students of the class
unanimously, with one abstention, decided that they
would not comply with a certain component of the
evaluation process for general studies courses.

It was when Seiss brought in a memorandum issued to
him from the General Education Council that the debate
began. The anarchy course, was one that fulfilled an
upper division general education requirement. As such,
the class held to a unique set of standards. On top of
going through a more rigorous review for approval, the
general ed. classes also had additional “assessment”
requirements. Amongst those requirements is one that
requires professors to submit 5 papers of randomly
chosen students in the class. Seiss felt obligated to
tell his class this. He expected protest, but what he
didn’t expect was a hands-on application of the
material taught in the course.

Using consensus, a decision-making method common
amongst anarchists, the class decided that they would
refuse to hand over the papers; Seiss supported them.
And so on December 19th the class sent out a memo
signed by the professor and all but one student (who
abstained from the decision) to the General Studies
Committee. The memo listed the various reasons for
their decision not to hand over their papers.

As a professor, Seiss thought that the extra
requirement was unnecessary since the class already
had to pass inspection from several committees and
also included student evaluations at the end. In the
memo, Seiss also wrote that “I find this personally
offensive to be surveilled by a group appointed as the
Thematic Studies Thought Police (TSPS).“

Gary Gianniny, Chair of the General Education Council,
took issue with the charge of the policy being a form
of thought police, saying that “there’s nothing about
saying whether or not professors should get tenure or
promotions. The privacy thing, when looking at
students’ papers- we white out all the names that are
in the paper, both who wrote it and if a person’s name
who is a member of our college or community that goes

Still, Rankin and other students had additional
concerns about the policy. Some wonder how an
outsider, who had not taken the class, participated in
the discussions or read the material would be able to
truly understand any of the papers, let alone make a
judgment as to whether or not the class was
worthwhile. Other students were not necessarily
bothered by the possibility of having their papers
read, but were offended by the fact that they would
have never known such action would take place had it
not been for their professor telling them. And of
course, there was always the fact that they were in an
anarchy class and as Rankin said “we had learned all
semester that we didn’t need that kind of patriarchal
force overlooking everything in society so why would
we let them overlook what we were doing in class?”

It remains unclear what decision will be made in
regards to students’ refusals to hand over their
papers. Administrators seem reluctant to pursue the
issue further and will most likely accept the class
decision. The class’s action has also lead to the
promise of review by the board of this method of
assessment in contention, possibly leading to the
actual removal of the policy. No matter what the
outcome of this situation is, those involved in the
anarchy class have made it clear that this is not an
isolated incident, but part of a larger issue- the
issue of free speech in the classroom.

Rachel Stryker, Sociology representative on the
General Education Council said, “ I feel that it’s an
incremental drift towards more state intervention into
higher education in the forms of surveillance and I
don’t think it’s a coincidence that there is currently
a bill in the Colorado Legislature that would
effectively censor us from talking about controversial
or political topics that are not explicitly mentioned
beforehand in the syllabus. So on the one hand they’re
determining what we can talk about and then on the
other hand they are creating laws to punish us for
talking about what we want to talk about and
evaluations methods fit into that as well because
based on evaluation methods they can determine whether
we’re good teachers or bad teachers and whether we
have jobs or not. So I do worry that this is part of a
larger problem.”

Seiss, shared similar concerns to Stryker
“There’s a real ethic of distrust that has been
created in the state of Colorado regarding higher
education and a lot of people see that from the
legislative aspects as a threat to their particular
political agendas. So they’re trying to discourage
first amendment rights of open speech and dialog and
democratic environments and I think this is the real
danger and shouldn’t be tolerated in a free and open
society if that’s what we are.”

It seems clear that the students in the anarchy class
are those people intolerant of such threats to free
and open discourse. They claim that they are still
committed to the memo they signed late of last year
and will not back down.

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