"The real University, he said, has no specific location. It owns no property, pays no salaries and receives no material dues. The real University is a state of mind. It is that great heritage of rational thought that has been brought down to us through he centuries but which does not exist at any specific location. It's a state of mind . . . The real university is nothing less than the continuing body of reason itself".
The 'he' in question in the first line of this quotation is the author, Robert Pirsig, a fairly unusual character at the best of times. This is part of an attempt to explain to his students why he was attempting to have his college de-recognised as a university, and their degrees made meaningless. He is trying to explain that there are two universities. One is a legal body which employs people, gives degrees, and validates graduates' rights to be seen as experts on economics, medicine, philosophy or whatever. The other is the real university. The real university is reason incarnate. It exists when anyone applies reason and logic to their world.
While we start from different concerns, this sums up a lot of what the free University of Dublin is about. It seeks to offer a forum for interested adults to critically reflect together on what is required to make our society more ''people" centred and less ''thing" centred. It is non-party political, does not seek to reproduce top-down models of learning, but does seek to creatively address major issues of contemporary society, through maximum participatory adult learning.
The Free University of Dublin is a university in so far as it is dedicated to using reason to understand the world we live in. It gives no degrees, and validates no-one's claim to be an expert. It is free in so far as it is designed to be cost free, open and participative in style, and liberating in outcome. It deals with major issues of contemporary society because it has not been created due to a love of reason in itself, but because of the belief that it is only through critical understanding of our world that it can be made into a more habitable place, socially as well as physically. While it subscribes to no political party, it is a political project, in so far as politics is concerned with the distribution of power in society.
What we propose to do is to provide a framework through which people who feel they have an area for learning and teaching on can have space and resources made available to them. Such courses should be based on promoting critical reflection and rational thought, and be organised in a maximum participatory manner. We would hope that courses will attract a wide variety of people from different backgrounds.
Roland Tormey is a research sociologist.
The Free University of Dublin's first event, described as an "Ideas Fair" on the theme of "Power: alternating currents", was held in Dublin on Saturday, August 13th. Despite the last-minute refusal of the legal university to provide a space for the real university, and what looked in the morning as if it would be a cloudless day, the event attracted about 50 participants, including activists from adult education, community groups and the women's movement. People made the journey from as far away as Cork, Galway and Mayo as well as from deprived areas of Dublin such as Tallaght and Ballyfermot. Inputs to the various sessions and workshops came from individuals working in areas such as community radio, development NGOs, adult education, adoption activism, the men's movement, and the Dublin Meditation Centre.
The workshops - "Is personal development enough?", "Does education disempower people?", "Empowering the genders" and "Thinking globally and acting locally" - seemed to be a success, not just in terms of content and enjoyment, but also in terms of participation and internal democracy. Virtually every hand went up at the plenary session when we asked who was interested in becoming involved in future activities. As An Caorthann goes to press the participants are holding a follow-up meeting to decide where to take the idea next, but it seems a safe prediction that we will be able to organise regular activities for the autumn.
An Caorthann (The Rowan Tree)
Irish green-alternative magazine
Editor: Laurence Cox
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