The following is an excerpt from an article in the 2014-15 UMD Disorientation Guide on the nature of the relationship between Students and the University…
The Student Worker – Challenging the Concept of the Student Consumer
In a wave of recession-era austerity measures, many states across the country dramatically reduced funding for education resulting in a disturbing increase in the privatization of our education system. Under this model, education becomes a commodity, just another thing to be bought and sold, where students are nothing more than consumers. The thing sold? Education? Universities offer students the promise of a livable future, luring young hopefuls with the institution’s credibility and bourgeois amenities before saddling students, their parents, and our country with crushing debt; a financial burden that weakens the economy and causes significant social strife.
Thinking of students as debtors makes invisible the ways students are actually workers. We are told that our education comes handed down to us by our professors, but we know better. We teach each other and ourselves, often learning as much on our own time than in lecture. Perhaps most important – through research, thesis papers, and schoolwork – students develop a body of academic knowledge that feeds the institution and raises the university’s credibility and standing.
For example, what do you call what you do at school? Work, right? It’s called “Schoolwork” or “Homework” because it IS work. Alongside professors, adjunct faculty, TA’s, and janitors, students ARE the university. Portraying students as consumers rather than the engine that powers the university legitimizes student apathy and complacency. Many of us are also workers in the traditional sense too, using our wages to pay for living expenses, tuition, and books, often to the very university that employs us.
Students propel human knowledge forward!!! That’s some important shit that many like to ignore.
Furthermore, education is not merely an investment in one’s own self-interest, but also a public good. After graduation, students are going to go on to add value to the whole economy and help their communities in ways they might not have been capable of before. Students are ambassadors for the future workforce and voting population. Just like the research we produce, our educated selves are sold on the labor market. Universities serve as sites of production for the skills our future employers need to continue functioning. Our educations are a commodity we make and sell, and yet only the university and their corporate partners truly profit.
What does it mean when students are paying exorbitant prices to produce their own education, the fabric of the institution, and the public good of education? It means we are getting ripped off. We should be getting paid! It means society is getting ripped off. Students should be paid for the work they do! While such ideals may be at home in a more enlightened future, lets at the very least demand an end to tuition hikes and the commodification of an educated society.
Yeah, the radical femme on the right is pissed and they’re going to get even more pissed if we have another tuition hike. Get ready for our zine which will drop September 17th at the University of Maryland College Park, First Look Fair!!! In the meantime, check out our old disorientation guide here -> 2013-14 UMD Disorientation Guide