The University of Edinburgh prides itself on innovative thought, challenging ideas, and passion-driven students. The reaction to these ongoing strikes shows me that these students are few and far between. These are the ones who spend their time actually fighting institutions through organising causes, mobilising support and protesting for change. The ones who sit behind and type out, “I support the strikes, but…” represent the vast majority of the university and make up a culture which causes the masses to resent students both in Edinburgh and beyond. It is this view of privileged bootlicking to structure and power that pervades amongst us.
Most right-wing television shows will tell you that university lecturers and students are somewhere left of Stalin and inherently dangerous to the world they inhabit. Look to an actual institution like ours and you’ll find this could hardly be further from the truth. Sure, university lecturers are generally not conservative, but plenty of them love to maintain and teach the values of neoliberalism, with critiques here and there.
As an International Relations student, it feels somewhat embedded in the curriculum that realism and liberalism, two inherently normative theories, are the only views that can be respected as logical. All other mindsets are pushed to the side as ‘critical’ and we are expected to fall on one side of this narrow ideological aisle. It is this status quo politics that is drilled into us and, as it is taught to students who are then told that they are critical and well-thought, it maintains the same cycle of perpetuating institutional power, promoting imperialist values, and never questioning the unbridled capitalism we are used to.
All this extends to the embarrassing reaction the populace of the university has regarding the strike. I am sympathetic to some of these concerns, sure. I am an international student and pay the highest tier of fees; I too will be disadvantaged from missing these weeks of class and have certainly not gotten the most out of my courses because of it. However, the consequences of the strike for us students are much less severe than things would be for lecturers had they chosen not to strike. These strikes were years in the making and come from the university’s choice to use their £459.9 million endowment on renting out more expensive flats to students and building new sport centres, rather than paying their lecturers. It might sound hard to believe, but if your lecturers aren’t being paid, why would they be incentivised to help you get your prestigious University of Edinburgh degree?
“Rob,” you might say, “I support the strikes, but don’t see why they have to interfere with my choice to attend class by occupying buildings.”
Well, first of all, choosing to attend class is inherently undermining the strikes to begin with, and while I understand it in many circumstances, going alone is already acting against them. Second, and more importantly, the reaction to the occupation has shed light on our generation’s general lack of understanding what protest is.
Protest in the past few years has seemed to be reframed as standing in a field with a cute sign with a pun, marching down an organised path while the police lead you. This is not protest. Believe me, I want protesters to be safe – not every uprising has to be Stonewall – but it is important to recognize that unless true disruption occurs, it does not truly push the university towards positive change.
It takes actual occupation, barring students and lecturers from crossing the picket, to show those at the top, who would be more than happy to hoard these funds, that they actually need to respond to these strikes if they want their precious university to function.
I feel for students worried about graduating; I feel for those who feel like their opportunity to learn at university is being squandered. But the occupiers are not the enemy. The university, and those who deny their worker fair pay, constitute the enemy. These are the people that are forcing us to occupy and to fight. By framing the occupiers as the problem, it just causes unquestioning obedience and a lack of dissent to spread even more.
All I ask is that you question why the occupiers feel it’s necessary and why you’d rather trust these enriched chancellors running status-symbol institutions more than the actual professors. These are academics who’ve devoted their life to teaching, yet have to go without pay and be resented by students just to get fair wages.
Those at the top operate on fear: they want you to be scared for your degrees, scared of what occupation means. This fear is by no means exclusive to here, we witnessed hundreds of thousands of Americans vote for Joe Biden last week in fear of a candidate pushing the radical communist ideas of a working healthcare system and subsidized education. The people at the top tell you that these things are impossible, that they will make your life harder. Whether it’s education or strikes, you should always be questioning your institutions.
This is an interesting time to be alive: dissent is starting to brew against power structures all around the world. Fear of this change is natural, especially given that those being fought against will spend whatever they can to make you resent the change. But if Edinburgh University really does breed the change-makers and challengers it advertises on its site, then it shouldn’t be hard to see the bigger picture and fight for progress. Know your enemy.
Image: Moses Rodrigue Lov’n Boots via Wikimedia Commons