The Rapidian

New school sets sights globally, organizes locally

The Global Center for Advanced Studies offers a new format for earning master's and doctoral degrees by engaging local students with world renowned philosophers.
Dr. Creston Davis and Dr. Jason Adams

Dr. Creston Davis and Dr. Jason Adams /Eric Tank

Fields and disciplines

  • Critical Theory
  • Political Economy
  • Media Studies
  • Critical Theology
  • Neuroanalytical Studies 
  • Global Studies

UICA /Courtesy of UICA

In an era where the corporatization of education and privatization of inherently public institutions are increasingly becoming the norm to the disdain of more than a few people, the Global Center for Advanced Studies (GCAS) offers an alternative. 

"What we're trying to do with GCAS is to establish again a commons, a notion that democracy is necessary. Knowledge is necessary for the vibrancy of a democratic -not just a nation, but- globe. A democratic global citizenry," says Dr. Creston Davis. "We're trying to give working class people a fair shake at an access to education."

GCAS is currently in conversation with institutions like the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts (UICA), Kendal College of Art and Design and Grand Valley State Universtity as to who will host the GCAS summer seminar. This will be the first in-residence program to be held in Grand Rapids this summer where GCAS will present a number of prestigious faculty lecturers to attendees and live-stream the event to students who would normally have little or no opportunity to study at elite ivy league schools or afford the tuition for large public universities. 

By means of platforms such as Google Hangouts on Air and the participation of globally diverse faculty, GCAS is doing what no other higher institution has done before: live, interactive online delivery of curricular educational content for credits toward a degree. This means that GCAS is able to facilitate course lecturers from all over the world and connect them with a relatively small classroom of students, no more than 30. Students are able to directly interact in real time with the lecturer, asking questions and engaging in dialog. 

"For instance", explains Davis,  "Alain Badiou gave a lecture for our students in which our students were able to ask him questions from his apartment in Paris."  

Faculty then, either in person or via Hangouts with up to 10 students can direct a follow up discussion in response to the lecture. According to Adams, "Alain Badiou's gloss on cinema as a medium of the 'mass avant-garde,'" is used to describe "how GCAS is doing this by being mass in terms of access and avant-garde in terms of content."  

GCAS has been in the process of organizing, structuring and obtaining the appropriate licensure since August of 2013. The new school is spearheaded by professors Jason Adams and Creston Davis, co-founders and directors. Michigan licensed in December, GCAS is listed as a non-profit proprietary school. It is authorized to grant certificates of completed coursework that can be applied to participating European partnering schools for MA and Ph.D degrees. Currently GCAS is unable to issue its own degrees but preparations are underway to accomplish this goal. 

In response to the traditional public/private university model, which Davis and Adams both argue has been compromised since the 1980's to reflect a neo-liberal agenda that has subverted the educational emphasis on critical thinking towards a corporate structure, shifting focus on financial gain to the detriment of an exorbitant amount of student debt. 

The results of this ideological subversion can be seen in the widening dichotomy between administrative and teaching faculty, rising costs of tuition and postgraduate debt. Responding to this, GCAS has initiated an accessible and affordable educational model offering critical interdisciplinary scholarship to anyone with access to a computer and a connection. 

"[The Global Center for Advanced Studies] is breaking down the distinction between professors and administrators in a way that is very different from educational institutions that exist today," says Adams.

"Our pedagogy, our educational structure is set to maximize their experience, their learning, their transformation and ultimately to fulfill the goal of GCAS mainly to serve democracy, to serve liberty, to serve empowerment and call into question structures in our society that are dangerous and undermine liberty," says Davis. 

Both Adams and Davis have an affinity for Grand Rapids. Adams grew up in Holland but spent his formative years in Grand Rapids before earning his first Ph.D from University of Hawaii and subsequently the European Graduate School. He currently teaches communications at Grand Valley State University. Davis is an alumnus of Calvin College where he earned his BA before pursuing post graduate work at Yale, Duke, University of Virginia . Both professors teach at the European Graduate school in Saas-Fee, Switzerland. 

Saas-Fee is a relatively small town in the Swiss Alps barely recognized for anything other than its ski slopes before the European Graduate School organized itself there in 1994. Now the village is renowned as a center for leading philosophical thought. With the establishment of GCAS in West Michigan, both Davis and Adams believe Grand Rapids can become a cultural center as well.

"If GCAS goes as we hope that it will, Grand Rapids could easily have the same outcome of becoming a globally known city and a center for critical interdisciplinary thought," says Adams.

Davis recognizes West Michigan's evolving art culture, working class history, in areas like the furniture industry and a local cultural pride. Adams hopes to dissuade young people from leaving the city by offering access to contemporary leading thinkers like Alain Badiou and Slavoj Zizek.

"How can this region become visible as a center for critical and interdisciplinary thought?" asks Adams.

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