“Where Reputation Fucks Ambition”

There used to be these tote bags that Goldsmiths would give out at their Freshers Fayres. They had the university logo alongside the migraine-inducing catchphrase:

“Where reputation meets ambition.”

I remember, around this time last year, I was sitting around on campus trying to finish my Masters dissertation, resisting the temptation to scrawl an alternative version on a blank wall in one of the campus cafes…

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…Because Goldsmiths reputation does proceed it but all it is good for now is as a marketing tool. If that reputation gets in the way of good press, it’s no longer useful.

Don’t get me wrong: I was a Goldsmiths student and I have an endless amount of good things to say about its students and staff — which is not to suggest, at the same time, that most of the stereotypes don’t apply but that is our cross to bear. However, you won’t hear about any of the really good stuff in the university prospectus.

Goldsmiths, University of London, is not unlike any other neoliberal university in the UK, bound by a straight-jacket of bureaucracy and money-grabbing, but its reputation, rather than making it a better place to be, instead becomes another arrow in the management’s asinine arsenal.

I was thinking about this again today whilst walking around the university’s new art gallery: Goldsmiths CCA.

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On the gallery’s opening night, on Friday 7th September 2018, there were a number of demonstrations held as students and activists protested the university outsourcing its cleaning staff. This is a common practice all over this city but one which keeps workers on the outside of their workplaces, which makes for all sorts of ethical quandaries.

A friend of mine, who I met today whilst walking around, who was there on the opening night, said it was a shitshow.

The gallery’s response was to go into lockdown, only allowing a tight guestlist of art worlders into the gallery for its first private view, hiring security and putting up walls around the venue. Start as you mean to go on, by all means…

On the flip side, apparently troublemakers turned up and some threw punches — including at the hired security, who are affected by the same outsourcing situation as the cleaners…

None of this matters either way, it seems. As The Art Newspaper reports, Goldsmiths has seen it all before:

Unfazed by the protests, and speaking inside the new spaces, the head of Goldsmiths’s art department Richard Noble, said this was “fairly typical for Goldsmiths” and that the protesters would not be disrupted. The university has reputation for a loud and political student body, with a healthy history of protest. “This is the context in which the gallery has been created,” Noble added.

What a sickly paragraph to read…

What is to happen with the cleaners issue remains to be seen, but this attitude from Noble exemplifies my experience of Goldsmiths following the death of Mark Fisher.

Complaints raised about the mental health crisis on campuses across the country felt largely dismissed as the political football du jour at the time. Little seemed to be done by management to stop anything like it happening again. (If I remember correctly, there was a student suicide in Goldsmiths’ halls of residence sometime within the last academic year and still little seems to have been put in place to make a real material difference to student and staff experiences.)

Goldsmiths’ students are certainly full of ambition, for political and social change, particularly locally. It’s something that can be felt all over New Cross. Unfortunately, the university itself continues to use its reputation for such ambition against itself, sapping the hope out of all who try to make a difference. At this stage, it feels like the university’s reputation is precisely what is getting in its way.

Time and again, Goldsmiths is where reputation fucks ambition.

But it’s not Goldsmiths’ fault alone… That phrase could be the depressing mantra for an entire generation.


UPDATE: 

Fantastic statement on the “Justice for Cleaners” social media:

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