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I’ve decided to pull out of the MSA race.  This was a hard decision for me (it was a hard decision to enter the race to begin with) and it’s something that I’ve been wracked with doubt over for the entire…week and a half…I was committed to running.  I believe that by presenting myself as a qualified candidate with strong ideas and strong ideals is doing a disservice to voters, after all.  I would only be serving for two MSA sessions.  Since the end result would be the installation of an arbitrary MSA representative in my stead by LSA Student Government, my running is harmful to the overall functioning of MSA.

However, this isn’t to say that I’m any less committed to the ideas I began this project on.  I will be assisting the Defend Affirmative Action Party with their campaign, and I plan to bring a resolution regarding the Creative Commons license for Ph.D. candidates to MSA before the end of the semester.  I remain committed to encouraging others to run in my stead — we need another write-in candidate for DAAP, or run as a write-in by yourself.  I’d be more than happy to endorse anyone who stands for lowering the cost of higher education and increasing access across the board.

I just think it is contradictory for someone who is running for the reform of student government to be putting hir seat back into the hands of an established student government group.  It is doing a major disservice to voters.

I’m not happy about this decision, but I also wasn’t entirely comfortable running for MSA.  I’m pretty frustrated with the whole situation at the moment, but I think it’s important that I withdrew from the race.  Nevertheless, I will still be speaking tomorrow in Angell Hall Auditorium D at the public hearing, which begins at 6:oo PM.  If you’re available, I’d love to see you come out.  I promise it won’t be one to miss.

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Many people who know me were surprised to learn that I am running for MSA. They were more surprised to find I am running with the Defend Affirmative Action Party. I think it’s worth knowing why, because my run is based mostly on the symbolic significance of my presence in the race and any contention for an MSA position.

I believe that MSA elections have historically been ignored due to a lack of candidates who distinguish themselves in the eyes of the student body as new, unique, and interested in actually doing something with their positions. It might come as a surprise to some, since I am a graduating senior, that I care very much about what MSA does. In fact, I hope to introduce very specific resolutions before the Assembly in the short period I am seated, with eyes on creating a more egalitarian campus. In some ways, I feel as though being elected will mean I have extra responsibility to my constituents to work on the projects they put me in office to work on.

My primary goal in MSA will be the passage of a resolution putting pressure on Rackham to allow graduate students filing Ph.D.s to license their works under a Creative Commons license instead of a traditional copyright license. Creative Commons was developed by Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig to better serve the needs of a digital community of thinkers, writers, and artists. I believe that this is an important step that students themselves can take to address the rising costs of education.

Currently, Ph.D. candidates are required to file their dissertation with UMI Dissertation Services, which is a division of ProQuest. ProQuest automatically licenses the dissertations under a conservative copyright, which is all rights reserved. Ostensibly, this is so newly minted Ph.D.s can make money on their hard work. In reality, the only people who make money in this system are really ProQuest, while also increasing the costs of re-printing dissertations. If I wanted to include your copyrighted dissertation in my anthology, I would be paying an absurd amount of money, mostly to ProQuest, in order to do so.

Creative Commons, on the other hand, is a some rights reserved license. Creators get to pick how much redistribution and reuse others get when they choose their license. The version of the license that makes the most sense for academics is the noncommerical attribution license – essentially it says that you are free to take my work, adapt it or reprint it, so long as you aren’t going to be using it to make money and so long as you attribute what’s mine to me. In an academic world that relies increasingly on digital publishing, Creative Commons makes more sense. And, in the long term, it will help drive down the costs of textbooks and maintaining library subscription services to academic journals.

Ph.D. candidates at the University of California at Berkeley have already set this precedent. Two dissertations were filed this year under Creative Commons licenses, and we have a chance to put our institution and our intellectual production in the vanguard of a new legal precedent for intellectual property. It just makes sense. It’s easy, it’s free, it’s practical, and the more scholars who take part, the less expensive education will become.

Above and beyond the work that I intend to do in the few weeks I would work in MSA, I believe my very presence sends an important message to everyone at U-M. First, that people who care can and should take part in student government. Second, that minority students at U-M deserve to and can have their own voices heard across campus. And third, that we are in fact living in a new progressive era, when service and clear thinking are valued above partisanship and identity politics.

I am running with DAAP as a gesture against the identity politics of the past, in hopes of taking steps toward the alliance politics of the future. Briefly, I think that identity politics, by virtue of its creation of monolithic identity groups, drives people apart. It alienates people with hybrid identities, and erases the important, unique experiences of the individual. We cannot afford that kind of thinking: we need the strength and expertise of each person and their specific experience.

I want to show that there is another way forward for progressives who care about diversity and social justice. It is time for us to start thinking of our movement as an alliance. In an alliance, we already know that there will be differences, disagreements, and negotiation. A progressive alliance has shared overarching goals: peace, justice, diversity, community service, and democracy are foremost amongst others. Yet we’re all individuals, with our own unique identities and styles and perspectives and strategies for success. There is no reason for us to stay isolated because of that. There is no reason we should be unable to stand together, and I am committed to serving in that spirit.

I am a long-shot candidate with big ideas. I am an idealist. I am a true progressive. I am also ready to give back to the university that has made me into who I am today, and I am ready to test the waters of public service. At the very least, I stand for change, and change deserves a chance.

So I’ve been working on the Program on Intergroup Relations‘ course materials for the gender dialogue for some time now.  I’ve added a lot of content, but one of the things that I’m currently wrestling with is the “Authorship and Copyright” box on the main page.  The original course materials book says this:

Authorship/Copyright
All materials remain property of The Program on Intergroup Relations at the University of Michigan, 530 S. State Street, 3000 Michigan Union, Ann Arbor, MI. 48109-1308, 734-936-1875, http://www.igr.umich.edu.  Materials may only be used with permission and proper citation of their source.

Now, this isn’t as draconian as it could be, but I definitely want the work that Jene and I have done on the gender course materials to be freely remixable and re-usable (so long as it’s not for commercial purposes, and so long as the remixers and re-users are down with sharing and sharing alike.  In general I think there’s a lot for academia to gain from Creative Commons licensing, and I sort of just want to change the Authorship/Copyright box on my new gender materials to a full-fledged Creative Commons license.

I kind of feel weird about it because my work is built on some other people’s work.  And they didn’t necessarily say that their work can be remixed and re-used.  Yet I’m the one doing this set of edits, and I have explicit permission to change and mash and delete and reconfigure, so doesn’t that give me the prerogative to re-license the material with Creative Commons?

I think it makes a lot of sense.  I was excited to see that Ph.D. candidates at UC Berkeley have recently made movements toward enabling students to file dissertations under Creative Commons licenses, instead of selling their souls to ProQuest.  I believe in the availability of academic work to everybody, regardless of their place in the academy, and Creative Commons is a great step in the right direction.  danah boyd, as always, says it better than I ever could.

Long and short, IGR, as a progressive, equality-motivated organization, is getting some Creative Commons licenses for their course materials.  It’s a little bit of another kind of rebellion on my part, and considering the entire project is really pretty damn subversive, I don’t see why not.  IGR should be sending the clear message that equality is for everybody, and I think Creative Commons is a super way to do that.

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