For People and Planet: Not Profit and Self-Destruction
Can Universities make the move towards, or even lead 'transition'?
A National Weekend Conference
West Downs Centre, Winchester
February 5-6 2011
Resources, blogs and links associated with the conference are now available on a separate website: www.transitionuniversities.org.uk
Is human-time running into its hourglass? Or worse, is the hourglass broken and the sand rapidly spilling out? Instead of finally facing up to what is fundamentally wrong with our global society, the picture since Copenhagen (or is it the collapse of Lehmann bros.?), seems to be one where our political and economic leaders, policy-makers and opinion-formers, are not simply bent on avoiding, side-stepping, or even denying outright the crisis of the biosphere but are ploughing all their - and hence our - remaining energies into the restoration of the old, redundant, indeed suicidal growth model. Yet equally maddening - at least for those of us operating within academe - is the way our supposedly very clever university people, not least most of the ones who run the show, continue not simply to offer themselves as collaborators, advisers and handmaidens to 'business as usual' but to the promotion of exactly this as the strategic way forward for UK universities plc.
So, the purpose of this dissenters' conference is to consider whether an alternative university frame of reference can be meaningfully and practically developed. Thus, it is not interested in REF's or research funding per se. On the contrary, it seeks to ask a fundamental question for this age of Climate Change, Peak Oil and Global Inequality: can universities radically change course, and initiate a programme of genuine 'transition' not simply for their own benefit but for that of the wider common weal?
The Transition Towns movement has already made a significant contribution to developing an alternative grass-roots vision for a low carbon future. The resources and expertise at the disposal of universities should make them valuable partners for such an enterprise. But why could universities not go one step further and in their own right practice what they preach? As living, learning and teaching communities why might they not demonstrate to wider society that a green, sustainable, holistic approach to the crisis of the 21st century is not simply possible but that this is the most purposefully cooperative and convivial thing they now might conceivably do?
Following the Crisis Forum manifesto calling for Southampton University to do exactly this (see University of Southampton Transision) University of Southampton Transition Initiative comprising staff and students has begun to explore practical implementation. A parallel initiative has also come from the V-C and other academics at Winchester University with the view to thinking though how Hampshire universities might work together towards this same goal. Grass-roots activists from universities up and down the country are 'thinking' along similar lines. While all this necessarily goes against the 'normative' grain, it also suggests that the time needs to be seized now to put our collective heads together and pool our intellectual and practical resources to see if we can both imagine and then move beyond imagining an alternative approach.
We, thus, seek your input as speakers and participants. The conference is open to all, university students, staff - academics, researchers and workers (who keep the places alive and afloat ) - as well as the wider public. We hope you will come for both days, but if you can't, come for one! We have a fabulous venue in Winchester, the West Downs Centre
and some generous funding from The Marmot Trust to help us make it happen. But this is not a standard university event (at least not as they have become): instead we mean to run it according to transition principles. That means costs will be kept to a minimum as will the price to you (see below). There will be good, locally-sourced veggie food. We won't be providing accommodation (too expensive and complicated!) but will offer a list of local students and supporters for those of you who need a bed or somewhere to crash. There may even be a gig on Saturday evening but we'll keep you posted on that one.
As for the sessions themselves, we plan certainly to have speakers, and presentations (not papers!), but also participatory workshops and open sessions for discussion. There will be mix of theory and practice, but also with a strong emphasis on how we put theory into practice!
Here are some of the ideas we have for plenaries and workshops so far:
- An opening roundtable discussion on what’s wrong with UK Universities plc
- Curricula for an era of climate change and crisis
- Energy descent on Campus and renewable energy projects
- Us and the community (i): Useful research and positive action
- Us and the community (ii): Food, water and community gardens
- Us and the community (iii) Making the necessary world-wide links with the poor and dispossessed
- Debate: Are we fighting the establishment, or finding grounds for collaboration with it?
- The travel conundrum: Getting to work, going to far-away conferences
- Boffins or bodgers, who are the champions of the necessary step change?
- Final Plenary: Where do we go from here?
We would hope that a national Transition Universities network will be one outcome of this conference. Another might be a broad statement or manifesto of general principles and proposed practical action. A further might be a website compendium of resources, links, blogs and so forth.
Having read this and you would like to be involved, this is what you do:
- Contact our conference organiser Marianne McKiggan <firstname.lastname@example.org> to request a place at the conference. Cost £25.00 for the weekend, £12.00 students and unwaged. £12.50 for each day, or £6.00 for students and unwaged. This will include food!
- Offer any proposals you have for direct participation in a session or workshop (or possibly, failing that, a poster), or the name and email of anybody else who you think we ought to invite! If we have too many speakers w'll try and accommodate you in a workshop roundtable
- Pass this information on as widely as you can through your own networks. When we have further publicity we will send it on to you.
Simon Boxley, Winchester University
Mark Levene Crisis Forum
Dave McKay, Transition University Southampton Initiative
9 September 2010