$10.25, $505.80, $500 or more. With numbers like these to balance, it is no wonder most students avoid accounting. And yet, these are the numbers students will be thinking of as they fill their day planners this semester. Sling coffees for minimum wage in the morning, race up the hill to reproduce the neoliberal campus in the afternoon and then pay your landlord’s mortgage for the right to study and sleep so you can do it all over again.
Students know these numbers do not produce a sustainable situation, but that is what they are being sold. And that is before they actually make it to campus and receive their corporate orientation to cell-phone plans, laptops and the indispensable $15 yoga lessons. But you would never know it judging by the propaganda the university puts out to describe campus life. Besides the prominent corporate tents, any student taking the administration’s official orientation would think we live in a utopia. LEED buildings! No bottled water! Welcome to the sustainable university, circa 2013.
Unfortunately, minimum wage, course tuition and rent are not the only numbers intruding on a time in life purportedly set aside for challenging socialization and enquiring freely. Many students, I am sure, will be thinking of the 300 000 additional litres of radioactive water that were recently admitted to have spilled from Fukushima into the Pacific, or the 11 pipelines that corporations are proposing to build on the west coast before new undergraduates finish their degrees, or, perhaps most terrifying of all, the 400 parts per million, and counting, of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
With numbers and examples like these on their minds, students may be forgiven for thinking that sustainability is a word made up by people who benefit from systems of power in order to prolong those benefits. Students know that sustainability for administrators, bosses and landlords means rising debt for them. It is certainly no wonder that UVic’s former president, David Turpin, would champion the word. He made $504 000 last year and, in 2010, didn’t hesitate to threaten nine students with criminal prosecution when they helped build two gardens in front of the library, precisely to politicize how we understand sustainability.
It is also no surprise that UVic’s school of business would accept a $500 000 donation for its Centre for Social and Sustainable Innovation from Goldcorp, the notorious perpetrator of colonial crimes. I wonder what indigenous people displaced by Goldcorp would say if Saul Klein, dean of UVic’s Gustavson School of Business, had bothered to ask their opinion on sustainability. Perhaps they would remind Klein that the term does not exist in traditional indigenous cultures, as the question should never be “How much can we take from mother earth?” but rather “How little?”
If the administration’s orientation promotes a sustainable campus, I’d rather be disoriented. And when students stare at their day planners in the coming days, I hope they realize they are facing their first trick question: the numbers on offer by dominant culture cannot balance; they are based on a mathematics of exploitation that trap us into reproducing systems of power, not ending them.
Instead, I’d propose a different logic to students: fill your day planners with disorientation events! The answer to injustice always lies in resistance and organization. Let’s come together to resist the corporate and colonial campus. Let’s organize to build a campus of solidarity. See you there!