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Making the Invisible Visible: Universities’ Institutional Debt, Austerity and Resistance

April 8 @ 4:00 pm - 5:30 pm


Over the past decade, vibrant organizing has forced student debt into the political limelight. Once considered a wild utopian ideal, debt cancellation has become part of the mainstream liberal political conversation. But it’s not only students who are buried in debt. Institutions are, too. Just as decreased state funding has caused students to go into debt to cover tuition and fees, universities have taken on debt to keep their doors open. Institutional debt is the invisible architecture of higher education. In an era of dwindling public revenue, universities build dorms, staff classrooms, and furnish libraries by taking on debt. Yet, more than a financial arrangement, debt financing creates a power relationship: the rules of credit govern campuses with more force than virtually any other institutional body.This talk examines the power relations of debt, and suggests possibilities for their resistance and reimagination.

Presented by Eleni Schirmer from UW-Madison. She is a PhD candidate at University of Wisconsin-Madison in the departments of Educational Policy and Curriculum & Instruction, and a research associate with Pennsylvania State University’s Center for Global Workers’ Rights. Her research looks at the contradictory capacities of social movements – particularly teachers’ unions – to shape institutions, identities and ideas. She is published in, among others, The New Yorker, Boston Review, and Dissent. She has also written essays in ESPN, on topics ranging from Serena Williams’ love of poetry to the endeavors of the neighborhood jogger.

This Zoom event can be accessed at https://uwm-edu.zoom.us/j/86158869374?pwd=QW5lKzBqZ0g3OVhBd0ZyUGNjQmxLQT09