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.
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