The Work of the University in Perilous Times

As wars rage across the globe and as narcissistic politicians stoke mistrust in institutions—fanning the flames of racism and anti-intellectualism—the university campus has become a battleground over questions of social justice and fact-based understandings of history and the roots of inequality. Japanese, American, and European institutions have certainly seen past instances of such violent clashes over the very purpose of higher education, but today we find political interest groups using both mass and social media to incite conflict in new and shocking ways. We who work at universities are on the front lines—whether as students, professors, staff members, or administrators. We must be prepared to act bravely, but also tactically, as guardians of historical truth, as defenders of science, and as advocates for the needs of those groups and individuals easily scapegoated.

This is not a call to martyrdom. However, if we are not clever and subversive, we will lose the very positionality that enables our work and effectiveness.

In this address which will reference (among others) works by Michel de Certeau and Michel Foucault, both of whom were embroiled in the radical politics that shook late 1960s French higher education, I will argue for the use of multivalent tactics that are radical in intent but also self-protective in nature.

In drawing on examples from an international array of academic institutions, as well as works of fiction, film, and theory, I will ask conference members to take the work of IAFOR—its advocacy for international, intercultural, and interdisciplinary understanding—back to their home campuses. Indeed, the empathy, self-awareness, and commitment to understanding that we learn to exercise at IAFOR conferences represent critical skill sets that we must draw on as we wrestle with and respond to the growing volatility of our academic lives.

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