[-empyre-] academic freedom Laura Borràs

Jason Nelson heliopod at yahoo.com
Sun Mar 8 02:17:34 EST 2009

Regarding the case of Laura.....read below.....can those in Europe or indeed Spain comment
about the climate of academia?  One issue it brings to mind, is how many universities are seeing
themselves as companies or coporations....where profit is gawd.  And they use these private
overlords as a way to circumvent tenure and academic freedom.

From: Juan Gutierrez <jgutierrez at caviiar.org>
To: soft_skinned_space <empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au>
Sent: Sunday, March 8, 2009 12:27:55 AM
Subject: [-empyre-] Laura Borràs

Continuing Giovanna's intervention, I can add a few things.
My name is Juan B. Gutierrez. I am currently located at Florida State University, finishing my dissertation in biomathematics, and about to start a post-doc in mathematical ecology. I have been involved in the field of electronic since the mid 90s, when I started writing experimental electronic literature in Spanish. I was an instructor of electronic creative narrative in three Universities in Colombia, while I was a philosophy grad student (quite a shift for an engineer). Much of my work has never left the lab; only a few pieces of fiction and systems are published. I have done some work in mathematical modeling of narrative spaces.  So, it is fair to say that I perform in the field of electronic literature as an author, a system designer, an instructor, and a mathematical modeler.
Laura and her team had learned about my work years ago simply because she is one of the very few researchers in the field of electronic literature able to follow its development in many languages (she speaks fluently 5 languages). I met her in person at a conference in Madrid in 2006. At the moment we had a brief exchange; nevertheless, I was very impressed by her versatility, her deep knowledge of the field, her charisma, her beauty, and her enthusiasm. A year later we coincided in a panel about international electronic literature at MITH. In that opportunity, we literally (literarily?) got lost in Baltimore and found the idea for the Global Poetic System (GPS), which was funded by the Spanish Ministry of Industry with €200K, making of it one of the projects with the largest funding in the field. At that time, Laura invited me to teach a module in the masters programs she directs.
I have been involved with the UOC since late 2007, as a researcher through the GPS project, and as an instructor at a master's level. In my limited experience along 19 years as a student and instructor in three continents, it is in the UOC where I have found that dirty politics interfere the most with academics. Laura is under fire by incompetent people; I can attest the incompetence of UOC officials by the difficulties to start a funded research project; for example, the UOC requested that CAVIIAR, the non-profit organization I work for, transferred to them ownership of all its previous work (an artificial intelligence engine known as Literatronica, used also in biomedical research). It took nearly four months of bitter negotiation for them to “agree” to let CAVIIAR preserve its assets, and share ownership of the new product. It seems like the people whom has Laura under fire perceived a project of electronic literature as the opportunity to make
 billions in 2009 (I know, I know… stop laughing, this is serious… see what I mean by incompetent?)
Laura is a remarkable person. Some people follow a path in life. Some others, very few, make these paths. Laura is a trailblazer. She devoted her energy to grow the UOC, she founded one of the most active research groups in the field, she has been funded, she has been a facilitator, a communicator, a catalyst, she has produced technical articles, books. She is the will and wheel behind the only literary prize for electronic literature there is: the Ciutat de Vinaros Prize. She has reached with her work, either by referencing or interacting, all the corners of the world. And even something else that many people in the field do not know: she is also an author. She wrote in 2006 “Diary of an absence”, a noteworthy piece of electronic literature; she is too modest to let others know about it or impose it in the field. 
It is thus painful that one of our very best is subject to unfairness, injustice, perfidy, and all despicable circumstances and emotions, victim of those who are lesser and want her brightness out of the way. It is hard to speculate the undercurrents at the UOC, but it is easy to know that it is very difficult in Europe, and especially in Spain, to find an academic position. This whole business sounds like someone with decision power but no academic brain wants Laura’s space to put there an incompetent friend. The UOC is a public institution with private stakeholders. A university is an asset of the society it serves, but in this case the UOC is dilapidating it most valuable asset: its human talent. What type of service is then the UOC providing? The words of John Donne become prophetic: “never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee”. What is being done to Laura is a threat against all of us. Who among us will feel safe in the
 future, if our talent alone is not enough to secure a place in society? 
Juan B. Gutierrez
208 Love Building
Florida State University
Tallahassee, FL  32306-4510
Phone: +1 (850) 459-4274

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