Monday, February 14, 2011

Free University of San Francisco

Founded by Alan Kaufman []
- The following video shows the introductions of the participants at the initial organizing meeting for FUSF: []
- 2011-01-11 "Revolution 101 - CAREERS AND ED ISSUE: Free University of San Francisco takes a run at the system" by Caitlin Donohue from "San Francisco Bay Guardian" newspaper:

2011-01-21 "The Historic First Teach-in of THE FREE UNIVERSITY OF SAN FRANCISCO: 'Teach-In' Defies Privatization Of Higher Ed, scheduled for Sat & Sun., Feb. 5&6, 2011"
Contact: Alan Kaufman (415) 573-5766
Mila Salazar
Former Green presidential candidate David Keith Cobb, SF Poet Laureate Diane Di Prima, former President Board of Supervisors Matt Gonzalez, Outlaw Poet Alan Kaufman , V.Vale and Charles Gatewood of RE/Search, Environmentalists Martin Holden and Sharon Beals, and Bobby Coleman of the Revolutionary Poets Brigade will take a stand against corporate privatization of Higher Ed by banding together with supporters from around the Bay Area to launch the FREE UNIVERSITY OF SAN FRANCISCO: a money-free university-level institution for anyone who wants to enroll.
The Teach-in will take place on February 5&6, offering university-level lecture classes cost-free from some of the brightest lights in the Bay Area.
All classes listed below take place at Viracocha, 998 Valencia Street@21st, the Mission District, SF, CA
Sat., 9:30-11:30 AM “Criminal Procedure and Sentencing”
Instructor: MATT GONZALEZ is an attorney and former president of San Francisco County's Board of Supervisors.

Sat. 11:30-1:30 “Jack Kerouac, Thelonious Monk and Jackson Pollack”
Instructor: ALAN KAUFMAN is author of Matches (Little, Brown), Jew Boy (Fromm/FSG) and editor of ‘The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry’ and ‘The Outlaw Bible of American Literature/co-edited with Barney Rosset (Basic Books/Perseus)

Sat., 2-4 PM “Vision and the Visionary Poem”
Instructor: DIANE DI PRIMA is the Poet Laureate of San Francisco and a Beat legend.
She is the author of 43 books of poetry and prose, including Pieces of a Song (City Lights) and her memoir, “Recollections of My Life as a Woman” (Viking/Penguin).

Sat. 2-4PM "San Francisco Labor History and the Great Strike of 1934"
Instructor: BOBBY COLEMAN is an attorney and co-founder of the Revolutionary Poets Brigade.


Sun., 9-11:00 AM “Restoring San Francisco's Urban Wildlands”
Instructors: MARTIN HOLDEN is a writer, restoration ecologist, and partner in University Press Books, Berkeley. SHARON BEALS is a Bay Area environmentalist and professional photographer, specializing in native habitats and restoration efforts. Her most recent book, Nest: Fifty Nests and the Birds that Built Them (Chronicle Books) will be in bookstores in May.

Sun: 11:30-1:30 RE/Search Publications: V. Vale and Charles Gatewood
V.VALE , publisher of RE/Search Publications and CHARLES GATEWOOD, legendary underground photographer will present and discuss. The books in the RE/Search library are a constant source of imagination, curiosity and challenge to all preconceived notions of the world. An abiding interest in transgressive lifestyles manifested RE/Search’s best-selling volume Modern Primitives, as well as Modern Pagans and Angry Women.
Presented will be a 25 minute DVD in which Vale explains the conception and growth of the ideas behind "Modern Primitives," as well as giving a small publishing history of RE/Search. San Francisco photographer Charles Gatewood has been studying and documenting alternative culture since the mid-1960s. In 1977, Gatewood began collaborating with V. Vale, and he was a major contributor to the Re/Search books Modern Primitives and Modern Pagans.

Sun., 2-4PM “Abolishing Corporate Personhood to Create Authentic Democracy”
Instructor: DAVID COBB was the Green Party candidate for President of The United States in 2004. He is currently a national spokesperson for Move To Amend, a national coalition calling for a constitutional amendment to abolish of “Corporate Personhood."


Monday, February 7, 6-7:45 PM:
TITLE: Marx from Modernity to Postmodernity (labor, time, fantasy)
LECTURER: Susan Shin Hee Park
OBJECTIVE: use a Cultural Studies approach to engage students in a discourse about a theoretical topic with immediate socio-political, concrete applications

Monday, February 7, 8-9:45
John Cage and the Spirit of Dada
Instructor: John Smalley
This class examines the life and work of American composer John Cage (1912–1992) in relation to the early 20th-century avant-garde art movement known as Dada.

Tuesday, February 8, 6-7:50 PM
Lecturers: Jordan Bohall and Elena Granik
Title: Critical Thinking (Introduction to Logic)
This special session of “Critical Thinking” aims to give a thorough understanding of the rudiments of logic.

Tuesday, February 8, 8-10 PM
Introduction to Nietzsche
Lecturers: Evan Karp and Andrew Paul Nelson
Brief introduction to the life of Friedrich Nietzsche, with a reading of select passages from various works with a special emphasis on Thus Spoke Zarathustra and a discussion on the themes and style that make this book so unique and important.

STAY TUNED FOR MANY MORE CLASSES, COURSE TITLES AND OTHER DETAILS....AND PLEASE SPREAD THE WORD ABOUT THIS HISTORIC OCCASION! Your attendance is your stand against the corporate privatization of university education. Join us!

Free University LINKS:

San Francisco Chronicle: []
San Francisco Bay Guardian: []
Education News: []

2011-02-28 "Free University of San Francisco - worth the price?" by Caille Millner from "San Francisco Chronicle" newspaper
The Free University of San Francisco, run out of a store basement in the Mission District, is a philosophical conundrum. The university, launched with a series of lectures on Feb. 5, has no grades, no official curriculum, no paid (much less tenured) teachers, no accreditation and no campus. Crucially, it also has no tuition. But the people who would be most likely to benefit from a free education - lower-income people and people of color - also are the least likely to show up. Does anyone care?
This country doesn't have a future unless it does a better job of creating educational access for its citizens. The cost of not having a college degree, for instance, has never been higher for a young person's long-term prospects - both financial and social. At the same time, the cost of getting a college degree has become prohibitive for the working class - and increasingly, the middle class.
California's community colleges - still the best deal in this state - are oversubscribed and overrun. So putting aside all of its revolutionary rhetoric, a place like the Free University of San Francisco could have a real, tangible, practical impact on its students. If it wants that.
I fear that it doesn't want that, however. Here's the university's current course schedule: "Evidence," "Literary Rebels," "Art Seminar," "Minorities and the Critical Decade," "History and Political Poetry," "The Essential Plato and Aristotle" and "Intro to Western Music."
The people who want to take classes like these can afford to pay for them.
"You're going to attract people who have degrees already, is my guess, with that kind of curriculum," Anthony Lising Antonio, an associate professor of education at Stanford University, told me. "People who have enough money and stability to pursue this. It's learning for learning's sake, which is good, but is not what's driving low-income folks to go to college."
So here we have the conundrum, and it is a conundrum taking place all over the higher education community. There's nothing wrong with the Free University's approach. In today's shifting, chaotic world, a liberal arts education might be a person's best bet for developing the skills needed to flow and bend with radical job changes and uncertain employment opportunities.
But for a variety of reasons, those who are most in need of higher education are unlikely to seek out liberal arts courses. If they're the first in their families to go to college, they're under pressure to make the huge investment pay off, and liberal arts courses have no immediate practical applications.
There's a social component, too - lower-income people don't know many liberal arts graduates, don't get assistance in choosing majors and careers, and feel (rightly) intimidated by environments where there's no one from a similar background.
That's part of the reason that online, for-profit colleges have been so successful at recruiting these students. "They focus on technical education, practical education," Antonio said. "And they have a very aggressive financial aid outreach. That's part of their model."
Of course, those for-profit colleges haven't been so good at graduating their students or getting them into income-earning professions. That's why they're under investigation.
And that's where we come back to the Free University. Courses in, say, database management or electrical engineering might be tedious, but they might have a bigger positive impact on San Francisco than the current curriculum.
With the state's public universities increasingly unable to provide an affordable education to Californians, a practical curriculum might even be a more revolutionary approach. In today's economy, it might even attract a large number of college graduates.
Imagine the possibilities if that were to happen - how exciting would it be if stratified San Francisco finally had a place with a diverse student body, made up of people from different economic classes? A place for different people to share their ideas and strategies? What better education could there be?
I know, I know. But that's the power of education - it teaches you how to dream.

2011-02-19 "At the Free University, in a Store Basement, the Tuition Price Is Right" by Reyhan Harmanci from ""
A version of this article appeared in print on February 20, 2011, on page A27A of the
"New York Times" newspaper National edition
The newest university to open its doors in San Francisco has no official curriculum, no accredited course work, no grades and no paid teachers.
In an age of escalating college costs, however, the Free University of San Francisco — which resides in the basement of Viracocha, a store in the Mission District — has one very large thing going for it: no tuition fees.
Conceived by Alan Kaufman, 59, a poet and former instructor at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, the Free University is an oh-so-San Francisco experiment in divorcing education from commerce.
“We don’t need walls, we don’t need desks to impart knowledge,” Mr. Kaufman said. “The idea of a free university is that it’s monetarily free, free of constraints, free of any kind of administration.”
The Free University kicked off Feb. 5 with a weekend of lectures. It was billed as a teach-in, where local luminaries like Diane di Prima, the Beat poet, and Matt Gonzalez, the former San Francisco mayoral candidate, held forth on a number of subjects. Class titles like “Abolishing Corporate Personhood to Create Authentic Democracy” and “Restoring San Francisco’s Urban Wildlands” drew hundreds of students.
On March 6, the university will begin a cycle of seven five-week classes. After that, Mr. Kaufman said, students can expect both 5- and 10-week courses. Another teach-in is scheduled for June.
Mr. Kaufman, who has long bridled against traditional education, came up with the idea for a free university in December. With the encouragement of Mr. Gonzalez, who is best known nationally as Ralph Nader’s Green Party vice-presidential running mate, the project was born.
A loose collective of about 50 people is the institution’s sole decision-making body.
Mr. Kaufman is working on a plan that would expand the concept even further. Nine colleges within the university — including a law school with Mr. Gonzalez as dean and an art school headed by Chuck Sperry, a printmaker — will be put to the collective for approval. Each school will have one female dean and one male dean to achieve gender parity.
“Call us crazies, San Francisco crazies, but we’re doing it anyways,” said Mr. Kaufman, his Brooklyn accent apparent even after 20 years of Bay Area residence. “We believe that we are a system-changing revolution.”
The makeshift school may be unusual but is hardly unique. “There’s a long history of free universities in this country, and the Bay Area in particular,” said John Hurst, a professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley.
But today’s rising cost of higher education makes the project newly relevant. According to the Project on Student Debt, a nonprofit research organization, the average California student holds about $17,000 in debt; student debt totals nearly $1 trillion nationwide. College tuition has increased 400 percent since the 1980s, a faster rate than that of escalating health care costs.
Robert Cohen, a professor of history and education at New York University, compared the Free University to the Freedom Schools established in the South during the civil rights movement of the 1960s — although then the issue was access more than cost.
“This is a kind of response to commodification of knowledge,” he said. “There’s no free public higher education in California anymore.”
The big question, of course, is how long the Free University can remain in session with volunteer teachers. Mr. Hurst wasn’t hopeful about Free University’s long-term survival without any financial exchange.
“The model has to be built on sustainability,” he said. “None of the ones that have been free-free have served for very long. Would that they could. Sooner or later, people have to live.”
Still, students and teachers — often interchangeable roles at the Free University — are hopeful.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” admitted Evan Karp, a writer and Web site founder. Along with Andrew Paul Nelson, Mr. Karp taught a class on Friedrich Nietzsche. “Everyone was passionate,” Mr. Karp said of his students. “Certainly, that was what I wanted out of a university experience that I didn’t get.”
Even if the Free University doesn’t last, its concept could spread. “Once you show that there’s a hunger for these kind of courses, maybe other institutions will pick up on it,” Mr. Cohen said, “Lawyers do pro bono work. Why can’t universities?”

2011-02-06 "New university aims to take money out of equation" by Kamala Kelkar from "San Francisco Examiner" newspaper
Renowned author Alan Kaufman said he first conceived of his idea for a free school six years ago when he transformed his Academy of Art University pop-culture class into a protest campaigning for freedom of speech.
Now, Kaufman’s dream has blossomed into the Free University of San Francisco, where the courses taught in the classy Mission district antique store Viracocha are indeed on the house.
The university kicked off its classes last weekend with several fascinating, counterculture “teachers” with captivating stories to tell.
On Sunday, famed alternative publisher V. Vale and photographer Charles Gatewood told a class of about 25 students how they published the influential book “Modern Primitives” in 1989. The book, which celebrated tattoo artistry and body piercing, is credited with setting off the boom in both art forms.
That discussion was sandwiched between “Restoring San Francisco’s Urban Wildlands” and “Abolishing Corporate Personhood to Create Authentic Democracy.”
In a basement usually used for cozy art shows, Vale and Gatewood told their stories to men and women of all ages, shapes and hair colors.
It was the second day of class at the 998 Valencia St. store, which appropriately sells vintage typewriters, furniture and knickknacks. Kaufman said when he led a class Saturday about famed poet Jack Kerouac, jazz pianist Thelonious Monk and painter Jackson Pollock, “It was filled to the rafters.”
The author, who was instrumental in the development of the spoken-word scene in American literature, thanked a list of several supporters and fellow instructors, such as former supervisor and mayoral candidate Matt Gonzalez and attorney Bobby Coleman, the co-founder of the Revolutionary Poets Brigade, who all taught Saturday.
Although the university’s debut comes at a time when college tuitions are skyrocketing nationwide, Kaufman said he was really motivated by a desire to create a community free from monetary shackles.
“It’s about liberation,” he said. “The revolutionary essence of this is ‘free.’”
“We’re a lefty university,” he said jokingly, noting he lost his job at the Academy of Art after initiating a walkout to object the dismissal of a student and a teacher over First Amendment issues.
Students such as Sonia Lei, 24, who moved to the Mission district recently after graduating from Dartmouth College, appreciated the effort.
“It’s amazing,” said Lei, who attended classes both days.
Samples from course catalog
The Free University of San Francisco started classes this past weekend and will continue to offer them at the antique shop Viracocha at 998 Valencia St.
6–7:45 p.m. “Marx from Modernity to Postmodernity” with Susan Shin Hee Park
8–9:45 p.m. “John Cage and the Spirit of Dada” with John Smalley
6–7:50 p.m. “Critical Thinking (Introduction to Logic)” with Jordan Bohall and Elena Granik
8–10 p.m. “Introduction to Nietzsche” with Evan Karp and Andrew Paul Nelson
Learning curve: Alan Kaufman, far left, speaks to students at his new Free University of San Francisco at the Viracocha antiques store in the Mission district Sunday.

2011-02-08 "The Free University of San Francisco kicks off teaching -- to a lot of white people" by Caitlin Donohue from "San Francisco Bay Guardian" newspaper
“A piece of blank paper means anything you want can happen,” SF beat poet laureate Diane Di Prima was imparting a rare free lecture on shamanic poetry, the marquee event of this weekend's popular first Free University of San Francisco teach-in at Viracocha. She had a packed the antique store-community center's first floor showroom, encouraging in regards to the FUSF collective's run at making free education available to all. But if the Free University wants to teach the world, why are the vast majority of its students – let's not parse words here – white?
“Diversity outreach, that is absolutely one of our top priorities,” says FUSF organizer Alan Kaufman when the point was brought up in a phone interview with the Guardian yesterday. “We're one of the most racially polarized cities, even in the progressive community. It's something that needs to be explored and discussed.” Kaufman said that as the collective that runs the university moves forward, FUSF is actively working to involve minority community members – especially undocumented immigrants, one of SF's populations who surely are among the least-served by the town's would-be progressive creative institutions.
It does seem like FUSF has the capacity to be a source of radical academia and community in the city. This weekend's teach-in (which continues through tonight, Tues/8) attracted capacity crowds to many of its popular hour-and-a-half long courses: Di Prima's “19th Century Visionary Poetry,” Kaufman's “Jack Kerouac, Thelonius Monk and Jackson Pollack,” and David Cobb's “Abolishing Corporate Personhood to Create Authentic Democracy” among them. Though FUSF's plan for six to eight week classes in the future and another teach-in may be a stretch to replace the value of an actual university degree for students, the success of its initial weekend course schedule does say that some people in the city are ready to rethink the way we view teaching. After all, as Kaufman reminded us, the cost of a four year degree at Stanford is now pegged at a quarter of a million dollars. “That can't last.”
But if it's going to be SF's new center of alternative, cost-free education, FUSF has to appeal to more than just the aging hippies and earnest intellectual young people who attended this weekend's teach-in.
How? Well, that's the question, really – one that many creative institutions in San Francisco have yet to resolve, if they've tackled it at all. “We're going to need to come up with new answers because the new answers are not working.” Kaufman mentioned that he is particularly impressed by the way SF's queer community has celebrated its diversity.
“I feel like there are reasons why different groups don't get involved in the beginning of these things.” Writer Maisha Johnson is one of the only African Americans who has been involved with the Free University planning meetings since she heard about its first get-togethers through her involvement in literary events like Quiet Lightening. “For me, living in San Francisco, it's hard to find out where the black community gathers. A lot of the time, the assumption is you go to Oakland for acitivities with people of color.”
“If you're looking at organizational power in San Francisco, it usually runs along lines of whiteness, maleness, and straightness. The only way to break down those social divisions is for people that don't feel like they're that similar to collaborate,” says Mumbles, a spoken word poet who is helping to organize an artist resource center called Merchants of Reality.
Mumbles says that the goal of Merchants of Reality – which plans to operate out of SoMa's Anon Gallery and Climate Theater -- will be “to help artists commercialize themselves so that others don't do it for them.” Its a pragmatic mission, one that will even involve what Mumbles refers to as the “realty community” in order to help artists find studio space in the abandoned buildings that dot the SF landscape. The center will also include darkroom facilities, digital video setup, screen-printing equipment, help finding studio space, and a possible performance venue, all for use by artists who normally don't have the opportunity to use professional-grade equipment and materials, presumably many non-white artists and performers.
Kaufman and Mumbles think that Merchants of Reality and the Free University can benefit from each other. “Space sharing is one way community can be developed,” says Kaufman, who told us the two groups are looking at ways to overlap each others' missions in the hope of broadening the community of both organizations.
Of course, its about more than organizational partners. "It requires more of an explicit effort to reach out to other communities," says Johnson who will be a part of FUSF's outreach committee and, adding that she's heartened by the university's chances to diversify itself. "Right now it's really open to people to come in and work on their own vision." Kaufman agreed that expanding FUSF's audience means working towards a curriculum that everyone finds useful and illuminating, incorporating classes and promotional materials in different languages, and connecting those typically excluded from professorships in the United States teaching positions. “There's whole areas of education that others might know about that we might not consider,” he said.
“I believe our university will become famous among universities – come to be known as the 'Zorro' of universities,” said Kaufman in an address to the university community. (Printed copies of his four addresses were available by the class sign-in sheets at this weekend's teach-in.) High hopes -- but if the school is meant to make a real difference in progressive education, it'll have to find a way to bring its message to everyone.
Free University of San Francisco's first teach-in
(Started Feb. 5)
Tues/8 classes:
6-7:50 p.m.: "Critical Thinking (Introduction to Logic)"
w/ Jordan Bohall and Elena Granik
8-10 p.m.: "Introduction to Nietzsche"
w/ Evan Karp and Andrew Paul Nelson
998 Valencia, SF

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