Freshers’ Week reduced to ‘showcase for commercial and business institutions’

University of Malta staff reactions to Graffitti censorship incident reveals malaise at the heart of corporate education 

Students chat to a Graffitti activist
Students chat to a Graffitti activist

Michael Grech, lecturer of philosophy, Junior College

It is obvious that one ought to condemn what university officials did in light of the right of freedom of expression which such institutions ought to protect and promote. To further censure the highest institution of learning for the lame excuse brought to justify this act which admits of no justification, namely that there should be no politics at University during Freshers’ Week, is equally platitudinous. 

What I find surprising however, is the surprise of many at this act.

The incident shows for the umpteenth time the institution’s commitment to not having students discuss political issues or rather, to have the rightful place that political debate and dialectics ought to have in a campus sabotaged by pseudo-political organisations like Pulse and SDM (given the University’s own rationale, these organisations do not do politics, otherwise it would have unleashed its security officers at them).

If politics is reduced to a matter of freebies, representatives that want to look cool regardless of substance, and networking, then it is ok for those who run tal-Qroqq; if it discusses what is going on in the polis (and regardless of their merits and shortcomings this is what Graffitti do) then it is out of bounds.

Moreover, Freshers’ week has for the past couple of years been reduced to a showcase for business and commercial advertising, with students’ organisations de facto marginalized. The set-up on display at the University’s Quad sustains, promotes and cements a consumerist and pro-business mindset; this is the best of all possible worlds, try to be successful and don’t venture thinking about alternative ways of how the economy and the public thing may be run.

If politics is reduced to a matter of freebies, representatives that want to look cool regardless of substance... it is ok for those who run tal-Qroqq; if it discusses what is going on in the polis then it is out of bounds

It is revealing that on Monday, on approaching the main campus a few hours before the Graffitti incident, I could hear the thundering voice of some DJ from a local radio station which prides itself on playing music rather than having discussion programs (not that many talk shows currently on air elsewhere are anything to write home about) transmitting live from campus. Hardly the type of sounds that set mental juices flowing. 

Laudably, academics condemned what happened. Yet many (not all of them obviously), including a good number who are critical and politically committed, fail to see that real politics has de facto been kicked out of University for quite some years; not forcefully, as was the case yesterday, but in a soft, firm and highly effective manner.

Dr Albert Gatt, Institute of Linguistics and Language Technology

This year, UM is celebrating 250 years as a state university. I find it deeply disturbing that in two and a half centuries, the highest educational institution in the country continues to fear the ire of the political class. So much has been invested into burnishing the image of the university, in branding exercises, in drawing up a strategic plan which, as the billboard proudly proclaims at the University gates, is now in its implementation phase.

That billboard says something to the effect that the UM’s mission is to serve students, scholarship and society. And yet, here we are: when push comes to shove, my university is still in the business of silencing criticism, it still gets an attack of the jitters when actions on campus don’t conform to the official playbook. I hope something will be done in the coming days to convince me – and many colleagues like me – that all our talk of service and scholarship and society isn’t just advertising.

Prof. Arnold Cassola, wrote to the Rector, Prof. Alfred Vella:

“I am sorry to see the university going this way which, in my modest opinion, is the wrong way. Going by this statement, I would then have expected the University to kick out MEP Miriam Dalli today. She was there mingling amongst the students, no doubt pushing herself and her party. But, of course, she was not protesting. So that is OK... a welcome part of the system! How very sad.”

And in another letter: “This is indeed a sad situation for two reasons: first, of discrimination. We have had enough of seeing PES and EPP stands on campus, with MEPs and their staff spewing propaganda for their respective political families. Should we expect that Graffitti do not protest Maltese politicians who are responsible for our country’s disrepute?

“Secondly, it would be grave indeed if in our university “we are not allowed to have political messages”. I hope this is just an invention of our security guards; otherwise we would have truly become a nursery school.”