Why I Must Refuse My Degree (short version)

I, Michael Vipperman, intend to renounce the degree I am being offered from the University of Toronto on June 14, 2012, in protest over the ongoing commodification and bureaucratization of education at this University, best exemplified by the increasingly intimate relationship between the University and such venemous institutions as Barrick Gold and the World Bank.

Education is an ongoing process, not a product which can be sold or received. However, the degree I am being offered represents an expensive end goal, accessible only to an elite few, not on the basis of whatever academic merit we may possess, but on our access to wealth and on our willingness to play by the rules of bureaucracy. It is a symbol of the priorities and values of this University, which in recent years has increasingly sacrificed quality on the altar of efficiency, constricting the freedoms both of students and of faculty. Meanwhile, funding priorities have emphasised generating wealth for industry over providing a quality education. This is the norm whenever such commodification takes place. One simply needs to observe the classroom sizes on this campus, where now even some tutorials are held in Convocation Hall, to be convinced of the extent of the damage done to the educational experience.

I stand in solidarity with the courageous students of Québec, who have been mounting fierce resistance against such political/economic warfare. They are clearly cognizant of where this road leads. Knowing that it is possible for us to do better, I would like to call upon my peers, in Canada and globally, to oppose the neoliberal hegemony that continues to deny what is rightfully ours: barrier-free education.

By rejecting my degree I mean no personal offence to either my peers nor the faculty at the University. I have fond feelings and the highest of respect for many who remain at this institution, and hold no ill will towards those who do not refuse their degree. However, I cannot stay true to my personal values and at the same time accept a degree from an institution which also honours and supports Barrick Gold and the World Bank. The values of this university are clear, and they are not mine. As graduating students, whether this is our first, second or third degree, we are all getting burned.

Thank you.

https://michaelvipperman.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/rejectioncover.pdf
https://michaelvipperman.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/rejectioninside.pdf

Late in 2009, Peter Munk, chairman and founder of the world’s largest gold mining company (Barrick Gold), made a “donation” of $35 million — to be paid out over an extended period (until 2017), provided he continues to approve of how it is spent — to support the expansion of the Munk School of Global Affairs, a semi-autonomous department of the University studying areas in which Munk has a clear conict of interest. That agreement, made without consultation with the Governing Council, requires that the government and the University each provide an additional $25 million toward the Munk School, while other programs are being closed, undergraduate tuition is skyrocketing and research funding for graduate students is being cut. Part of the Munk School is a non-academic right wing think-tank. This is nothing short of a corporate takeover of the university.

Some human rights and environmental violations by Munk’s company:

– Cyanide, mercury and other heavy metals contamination in Australia, Papua New Guinea, Tanzania and elsewhere, leading to numerous deaths from poisoning
– the burning of at least 130 houses, beating and gang raping of residents in Papua New Guinea by mine security staff to quell protests about their water’s contamination
– the massacre of unarmed villagers in Tanzania

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    • fs
    • June 14th, 2012

    u mad

    • Aw man, this was first post and I didn’t notice because the spam filter caught it?

      Well, it’s here now!

      and, in answer: obv. Srsly.

    • Richard Peters
    • June 14th, 2012

    Greetings from Oshkimaadziig Unity Camp in Awenda Park. We’ve been asserting our sovereignty as Anishinabe for 2 months now. We thought your move was solid. Pure solidarity for we are standing up again against corporate Canada and the global entities they serve! After reading aloud this essay aloud to my buddy, he decided to honor you with a TraditionHonor song

    • Thanks so much! While I didn’t hear the sound of your song, it means a lot to me that you would honour me in this way. The last year of my career at UofT was spent mainly studying issues connected with indigeneity and First Nations people (if you look at my recent posts on this blog, you’ll see a rap song I wrote about the history of salmon fisheries in inland BC — my “major paper” in an upper year anthropology course, “Native America and the State,” for which I was nominated for “most outstanding essay in critical anthropology.” There’s something wonderfully compelling about a song — a far better way to say something than just with prose, provided the passion is there). I’ve learned a lot, and personally benefited from listening to Anishinabe elders in particular, and I wish the best for you and your community.

      Thanks again!

      Solidarity

    • metis65
    • June 15th, 2012

    right on brother…congrats.

    • David Khan
    • June 15th, 2012

    None is freer than one who frees himself

    • Dodie Torres
    • June 15th, 2012

    Your’e right!! Education is for everybody i hope those monister of education will do something about it, i support your cause.

    • sask
    • June 15th, 2012

    Good for you, good for all of us. As a tenured professor at a Canadian university I am inspired by your courage. Post-secondary education in Canada is indeed in peril. The issue of the chronic underfunding of post-secondary education in general does not get the attention it deserves. As you’ve noted, the neoliberal approach to education leads to the corporatization of the university. Again, this problem is widespead.

    Please know there are many who support your cause, our cause.

  1. From all of us at the OSMC,

    Love.

    P.S. If anyone’s interested, there’s a street party next Friday en solidarité avec Québec. (sorry: just had to promo for a second there)

  2. fuck tha police ❤ from QC

    • jpaterson000
    • June 15th, 2012

    I have a question for you.

    If, as you put it, you “cannot stay true to my personal values and at the same time accept a degree from an institution which also honours and supports Barrick Gold and the World Bank”, what compelled you to remain and finish your degree? Wouldn’t your “personal values” convince you to withdraw?

    If you are actually refusing your degree, and this post isn’t some sort of stunt to showcase your support for what the, uh, “students” are doing over in Quebec, you’d be forfeiting any job and/or career position related to your degree. In other terms, you’d be wasting your time and money working toward something you will get nothing from, aside from experience (which I agree would be a good thing).

    What prompted you to stay? Surely leaving the university and forfeiting tuition would’ve been a similar move, and surely you knew the values and alignment of UoT prior to entering the system.

    I agree that education should be a barrier-free process, but disagree with how you’ve chosen to go about it.

    • I considered leaving many times, but the truth is I had a blast there. I learned so much and had so much fun, got to meet many wonderful faculty who profoundly benefited me, and that remained true right up until the end. I mean absolutely no disrespect to those faculty, or to those who remain at the institution. I just can’t accept honours from people who also gave an honourary degree to George Bush a couple years ago.

      Let’s be clear on something here. The woman activist who was recently shot in Guatemala for protesting a Canadian mining company has made a sacrifice. I have not. If anything, I’ve made my CV far more interesting and memorable, and gotten a bunch of people to read my academic works who otherwise would not have. It’s very likely that I will be accepted to a graduate program somewhere, on the basis of my meritous papers, and that I’ll be much happier at an institution that considers academic merit to be more important than bureaucratic hoops.

      The revolution has already begun. They are obsolete; I’m just one of the first people to get right in their faces and tell it to them and actually be noticed and applauded for doing so.

      Also, now I’ve got a good reputation and people have heard about what I did. Those who support it will be more likely to give me a job, and those who don’t support it can watch their hegemony gradually slip away while the revolution continues to accelerate.

        • Michael
        • June 25th, 2012

        Presumably any graduate school that would consider your application would also wish to view your academic record (e.g. your undergraduate degree). If you had truly renounced (i.e. given up, disowned, repudiated) your Hons. B.A., you would, in fact, have no post-secondary academic degree and I would question the graduate school which would accept you.

        You are in an interesting bind here, since every application for post-secondary study I have ever seen requires applicants to disclose their complete academic history. They would, no doubt, use this information to help evaluate your application.

        However, since you have obtained a degree from the University of Toronto, I would encourage you to use it and the associated works in the attempt to gain admittance to a graduate program. This action, of course, reduces your protest to a hollow gesture whose sole effect was to make you more well-known (and reviled by some).

    • Anonymous
    • June 15th, 2012

    You’re an idiot and an attention-seeker.
    You will change nothing.
    Fool.
    Bachelor of arts is a joke anyway.

    • lulz

      Thanks for trolling! Hard to believe you’re the first one on this comment list.

      If you want to judge my level of idiocy, you probably want to do so on the basis of my academic work. Specifically, this paper, for which I’ve received significant praise: https://michaelvipperman.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/inebriation-and-authenticity.pdf

      and yeah… Bachelor of Arts is a joke. Can’t you see that’s the point? I just got in their faces and treated it as the joke it is.

      • I think the need to experience first applies to adult fiction as well, Laura. Experience the emotions, I mean. Don’t you think the writer has to connect with those emotions in order to convey them believably to the reader? I’m preoccupied right now, but I do plan further exploration of how &#s082;tho2e seeds” are showing up in my current fiction.

    • a fellow student
    • June 15th, 2012

    “However, I cannot stay true to my personal values and at the same time accept a degree from an institution which also honours and supports Barrick Gold and the World Bank.”

    Yet you were happy to attend the school for years and pay tuition? So let me get this straight- you only decided to act on your values AFTER you finished the program and graduated?

    You’re right about the education system being broken but the fact that you are only starting to take a principled stand on this issue after you have nothing to lose shows no courage. I respect the fact that you made your opinion known in the ceremony but the only bravery that takes is the willingness to experience an awkward situation.

    An empty gesture is better than no gesture I guess.

    • Well I only came around to this way of thinking after spending all those years there, so I couldn’t really have taken the stand before. That’s the double bind of it: I benefited tremendously from attending, and I won’t deny that. I just can’t allow my name to be affiliated with them if they’re going to also give honourary degrees to George Bush and Peter Munk.

      Hopefully soon we can fix the education system so that double bind won’t be there anymore.

      and, yeah, it didn’t take courage. People called me courageous… bullshit. The woman who just got shot for protesting against Canadian mining companies in Guatemala — she’s courageous. I’m just a privileged shit disturber. And you could be too!

      • I really want to be clear on this: it wasn’t risky at all. I take larger risks biking on Bloor street.

  3. Reblogged this on diaryofanoccupier.

    • asdf
    • June 16th, 2012

    Oh what a scholar!

    • lolol
    • June 16th, 2012

    You’re a fucking joke. Nobody cares if you refuse your degree; the university already has your money. If you really wanted to make a difference you’d make something of yourself, put yourself in a position of power and then REALLY change things. Your stupid methods accomplish nothing, and you don’t deserve a degree from U of T. You’re right though it has become more about money, which is why so many idiots are graduation with a degree from what’s supposed to be a good university. I’m glad you’re refusing your degree, because you’re clearly undeserving of it.

    • Sorry, my spam filter picked this up so I didn’t see it until now. I had no intention of censoring disagreement.

      In answer: I’m not sure why you think I don’t have a position of power, when I clearly do. What things could I “really” change by staying in the university? Profs are mostly pretty powerless. By working outside the institution I’m a lot more free to do what I believe will benefit society.

      Also, I take issue with your pejorative use of the word joke. Shouldn’t that be a compliment? All part of the problem… everyone is so serious business all the time, and people like you are convinced that everything’s about money and documentation, I’m more interested in art and ideas, and I got tired of people telling me to “just get the piece of paper,” so I eventually decided to say no, it’s not about the piece of paper for me, by refusing it when it was offered.

      If anyone else wants to take theirs that’s cool. I’d rather use the opportunity to remind people that there’s more to the world than strict quantification.

    • Jon
    • June 17th, 2012

    lol you are a complete fool and idiot. I will be graduating next Monday from this place and I loved it, especially in out-competing total retards like you so that I could go to professional school and make $. While I will be holding onto my HBSc from the U of T as a cardiologist making $300,000 a year, you can scrub the public toilets at the Costco where I live. lol

    • I loved it too, and I hope you enjoy your time as a cardiologist, and that you save many lives. Were my field cardiology, I would not have rejected my degree, because medical certification is pretty essential in order to act as a cardiologist.

      However, as my field is the social sciences, and there’s no such thing as social science certification, and no cushy $300,000 jobs just waiting for someone with my skillsets if only I had a degree, it’s not that big a deal for me to reject it. On the contrary, the number of people who’ve read my Inebriation and Authenticity paper as a direct result of it being linked above in this comment thread well exceeds the number of people who read most theoretical anthropology papers. That means my ideas are actually disseminating further and being more influential due to me having publicly embarrassed David Naylor and Peter Munk.

      By the way, I currently work as a landscaper, which is pretty fun, I get to play with pretty plants all day, the pay is enough for a modest lifestyle, and the hours are few enough that I can pursue art and writing projects. One that I go public with in about a month might actually secure me a decent salary. Not $300,000, but why would I want that? Honestly, it’s disgusting that people accept salaries that large (except in jobs that are intrinsically temporary or dangerous).

      The attitude of “I’m better than other people so I deserve more,” with this whole “out competing” thing of yours, is pretty noxious. Some of us are trying to work towards improving society and don’t need to make everything about personal gain.

      Life isn’t a game that you can win… it’s a sandbox adventure. Have some fun. Try not to take it so seriously.

    • Also, thanks for calling me fool! You guessed my costume! Note that the red square was intentionally worn as a diamond.

  4. Well I’ll disclose to any school that I rejected a degree from the University of Toronto. How they interpret/respond to that is up to them. I guess we’ll see… it’s an adventure!

    Michael :

    Presumably any graduate school that would consider your application would also wish to view your academic record (e.g. your undergraduate degree). If you had truly renounced (i.e. given up, disowned, repudiated) your Hons. B.A., you would, in fact, have no post-secondary academic degree and I would question the graduate school which would accept you.

    You are in an interesting bind here, since every application for post-secondary study I have ever seen requires applicants to disclose their complete academic history. They would, no doubt, use this information to help evaluate your application.

    However, since you have obtained a degree from the University of Toronto, I would encourage you to use it and the associated works in the attempt to gain admittance to a graduate program. This action, of course, reduces your protest to a hollow gesture whose sole effect was to make you more well-known (and reviled by some).

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