Thursday, July 30, 2015

Book Launch on July 22, 2015: Free Knowledge and A Penny for Your Thoughts

Two recent books with significant involvement from the University of Regina (Free Knowledge: Confronting Commodification of Human Discovery,  published by University of Regina Press and A Penny For Your Thoughtspublished by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives) were launched as part of the welcome reception for the Public Engagement and the Politics of Evidence Symposium (#PEPE2015), that was held at the University of Regina on July 23-25, 2015.

What follows are the remarks made by Trish Elliott (co-editor of Free Knowledge), Daryl Hepting (co-editor of Free Knowledge), and Claire Polster (co-author of A Penny For Your Thoughts)

Trish Elliott (School of Journalism, University of Regina):

First, I would like to acknowledge the wonderful job the University of Regina Press has done publishing and promoting our book, including this happy event. Many publishers would laugh at the idea of simultaneously publishing a book Open Access ‐ but University of Regina Press took this as a chance to explore new paths. If you are looking for a publisher that will boldy go, look no further.

I would also like to thank our 14 contributors, who so generously gave their time and intellect to this collective project. Among the contributors here tonight are:
  • Joel Westheimer, who wrote about reclaiming the academy
  • Leonzo Barreno, who wrote about reclaiming and revaluing Indigenous knowledge
  • and of course Claire Polster, who literally wrote the book on the corporatization of universities
Please talk to them tonight and congratulate them on a job well done.

In 1963, forward thinkers such as Jack Boan, Dallas Smythe, Al Berland and Fred Anderson gathered in freezing cold cabins at Regina Beach to shape the foundations of the University of Regina. By linking the academic mission to “essential human values” and public service in the Regina Beach Manifesto, they gave us a strong set of ideals to defend today. While these values may be deeply threatened, at least we have them. We can thank our predecessors for laying out a clear path for us to follow through difficult times.

The introduction to our book ends on the hopeful statement that, in the long view, the knowledge commons is on the rise and the knowledge privateers are in retreat. It is important to note that this is not a natural occurrence. It will only come about by people coming together and taking action. The Politics of Evidence Symposium is a historic step in this direction. We thank Marc Spooner and James McNinch for allowing this book launch to kick off what promises to be three very exciting and energizing days.

Finally, I would like to thank Daryl Hepting for inviting me on board with his vision to start a conversation about the Knowledge Commons in Regina, a conversation open to people from all walks of life. Ten years later, that conversation is still growing and picking up steam. I will leave it to Daryl explain how it got started.

Daryl Hepting (Department of Computer Science, University of Regina):

Thank you Trish.Thank you to family, friends, symposium attendees, and members of the public who are here tonight in body or in spirit.

 I, too, acknowledge the University of Regina Press and echo everything else that Trish has said.

To explain the start of this endeavour that we celebrate in hardcopy tonight, I will go back to 2004, when I was asked to organize a Council of Canadians meeting at the University of Regina. I was lucky enough to find Terry Boehm and Terry Pugh from the National Farmers’ Union willing to speak. The night in question was miserable and my guests had driven from near Saskatoon in treacherous conditions, to make an impassioned presentation about seed saving to a small, but supportive crowd. That remains to me as an embodiment of “essential human values” and public service.

I remember seeing the contrast between patented seeds with their positive view of private intellectual property and free/open source software with the negative connotations attached to it by many. Wanting to do something to offer my support, I began a discussion with Trish and colleagues from Philosophy, Sociology, and Computer Science: we made a successful application to the “transdisciplinary project fund” at the University of Regina that permitted us to organize the “Free Knowledge” event in November 2005.

The idea for the book really came to life during the fall of 2007: something needed to be done and I thought “why not?”. Perhaps this way not so much youthful enthusiasm as much what I now know as ADD. However, I am glad that I took on this project and I am glad that Trish agreed to join me on this journey. I told Trish that I thought we made a good team on this project. If not for Trish’s contributions, there may not be a book to celebrate this evening. Although we began with a local focus, our net was spread far and wide. Our working subtitle was “Global Stories of Knowledge Enslaved, Devalued, and Emancipated” We are honoured to have contributors from Saskatchewan, Canada, the United States, and the Phillippines.

I came across a commencement speech by David Foster Wallace that included the following:
There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says "Morning, boys. How's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes "What the hell is water?"
For me, it seems that I continue to be surprised by discoveries of “water". 

A closing thought from the beginning of Computer Power and Human Reason, a  1976 book by  eminent computer scientist Joseph Weizenbaum.  “We can count, but we are rapidly forgetting how to say what is worth counting and why.”  Happily, not all is yet forgotten.

Claire Polster (Department of Sociology and Social Studies, University of Regina):

Because I had another book launch in Ottawa with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and my co-author, I'm going to start with some quick thanks only to some people who are here tonight. I want to thank Simon from the CCPA for selling the book, Trish and Daryl for being willing to do a joint launch, Marc for incorporating the launch into his conference, the awesome band, and Nickita for doing all the organizing of the launch.

My co-author Janice Newson and I had two main goals in writing this book. First, rather than describing or lamenting the current state of Canada's universities, we wanted to show HOW we got here, or HOW corporatization has unfolded in our universities. To put it in terms that relate to the title of this conference, we wanted to show not politics of evidence but evidence of politics. And we wanted to do this tracking of the development of corporatization to show that this process is neither inevitable nor a fait accompli, but open to intervention and transformation, and thereby to offer evidence of the possibility of change and to stimulate politics for change.

In her talk at our Ottawa launch, my co-author invoked Rosa Luxembourg to make the case for why it is so important to resist and reverse corporatization. It's not simply so that education and knowledge can be more widely accessible or that the uses and benefits of university resources can be redirected back toward public needs and interests and away from private needs and interests, but so that we can preserve freedom, which Luxembourg defined as the freedom to think otherwise. Although there are other places in society where the freedom to think otherwise can exist, our universities are both an important site for this kind of thinking and also a symbol of our society's commitment to this vital practice. We need to resist corporatization to enable our universities to fulfil their potential as critically-edged and creative social spaces and also to allow them to authentically affirm and defend the broader principle and value of thinking against the grain rather than succumbing to the intense and ubiquitous social pressures simply to go with the flow.

Of course, thinking otherwise is not only the end but also a means of resisting corporatization. That's why I'm so pleased to be a part of Trish and Daryl's book which is not only about making knowledge free, but about freeing up knowledge, and it is why I am so hopeful about the conference many of us are attending. That's also why Jan and I conceived of our book as, and hope that it will promote, a dialogue - not a monologue. In fact, whether or not you read our book, we would like very much to hear about and talk with you about your ideas and efforts to think about and be in your universities otherwise. We hope in turn to find ways to share people's ideas and experiences with other like-minded citizens to strengthen and advance efforts to preserve free thinking and public serving universities in Canada and beyond.

Let me close by thanking you all for coming out tonight, for taking the time to read our book if you choose to do so, and for initiating, supporting, and informing us of actions of your own or of others aimed at resisting corporatization. I also want to wish us all a lot of impossible conversation tonight and in the coming days, for as utopian educators remind us, if we talk and act only within the bounds of the possible, we will never get anywhere else.