The People's Free University: Alternative to the Corporate Campus and Model for Emancipatory Learning


  • Michael Collins
  • Howard Woodhouse



Our article describes how the People's Free University (PFU) emerged directly from a series of seminars at the University of Saskatchewan in the Fall of 2001 that addressed critical concerns about a discernible tendency on campus towards the adoption of a business corporate style of governance steered increasingly by marketplace priorities. The seminars, open to the public as well as students, staff and faculty, turned to a discussion on the significance of a "people's university" envisioned for the University of Saskatchewan by its first President, Walter Murray. Invoking Murray's vision opened the way to the remarkable beginning and subsequent creative program development of a free university. Examples of community-based adult education initiatives from which PFU drew are identified, situating it historically within an on-going critical legacy that has become even more relevant in the face of neo-liberal imperatives. The emancipatory pedagogy entailed is informed substantially through the theory and practice of Paulo Freire, Thomas Hodgskin and Alfred North Whitehead. Essential learning processes and guiding principles which characterize PFU pedagogy are illuminated under the rubric of "everyone can teach, everyone can learn."  In drawing a connection between the PFU experience and resistance to attacks on academic freedom at the University of Saskatchewan, we align the enlightened aims of community-based popular education embodied in PFU against profit driven encroachments of corporate business interests.