Frequently Asked Questions about the Free University of New York

Q: What is the Free University of New York City?
A: The Free University is a collective educational experiment. In solidarity with students, laborers, debtors and families, the Free University offers a public space for the 99% to disengage from an unequal system and imagine a model for alternative education. Those gathered in Madison Square Park, and those meeting in other spaces in solidarity, will create a university that is open to all, without debt or tuition for students, without pre-requisites, age limits or any other disqualifying requirements. Learning can only happen through interaction, exchange, and dialogue. To create a living future together, all must be included and welcome.

Q: Why are y’all here?
A: We must create the Free University because our universities are becoming less and less free. Higher education is made less accessible by withdrawal of public support, the rising cost of tuition, and an admission system that makes university campuses replicate inequalities in wealth and societal power rather than reverse them. Higher education is devalued through austerity measures, corporate streamlining, productivity metrics, and budget cuts. We refuse to allow the university to become a place of ever-increasing surveillance, policing, and repression of dissent. We oppose the modeling of the university on corporate structures from unjustified executive compensation to the unnecessary standardization of the curriculum to the exploitation of contracted and adjunct labor. We strike against being doomed to lifelong debt, constant training and re-skilling, and against a system that saddles us with the cost of producing exploitable workers for the market. We refuse an educational system governed by the dictates of competition, individualism, and profit.

Q: Who’s involved?  Who’s affiliated?
A: The Free University is a coalition of students, faculty, and community members. We are mainly based in NYC, but retain constituents all over the northeast. As individuals, we each identify with multiple activist/community groups; but when we get together to organize an open educative event, we are the Free University of New York.

Q: How do I participate?
A: The Free University is an open invitation to educators around New York City to participate in our various Pop-Up University events. During the day, lectures, workshops, skill-shares, and discussions will be held — all open to the public. If you are in solidarity with the Free University but cannot cancel your class for a particular event, bring it here! We also invite all educators interested in volunteering special sessions and classes for the day. We will have designated spaces for the quieter and more intimate classes.

Q: I’m with an organization that would like to endorse the Free University, how can we do that?
A: Make the decision amongst yourselves however you do that, and get in touch by e-mail If you want to be actively involved, attend our weekly meetings every Sunday.

Q: I’m a faculty member with a class on the same day as a Free University event, how can I participate?
A: There are a few ways you can participate:
1) Bring your class to the event and give your class there.
2) Bring your students to the event and have them attend other classes.
3) Come to the event and participate as a student in someone else’s class.
4)  All of the above.

Q: If I come/bring my class to the Free University, what kind of risk will we be taking? / What steps are being taken to keep the Free University as accessible and safe as possible for all participants?
A: Free University events generally take place in public parks, which daily host gatherings of all kinds, formal and informal. It and the pedestrianized spaces of New York City are free and open to the public everyday. The activities of the Free University do not involve breaking Park rules or preventing others from enjoying this space.

However, no public activity is without risk. We know that New York City police have deployed against a variety of gatherings in public spaces in recent months and years. While we do not expect our experiment in public education to be a focus of their attention, we are prepared for the possibility. We will make sure you are not alone, will advocate for your and our right to the space, and will send out public updates about the safety of the space via Twitter and other means.

While the activities of the Free University are legal, we know that a variety of legal, medical, and personal conditions can make even the possibility of arrest or police violence a greater threat to some people than others. For a summary of legal, physical safety, and immigration status issues, you may want to read the documents hosted at

Q: How does Free University make your events inclusive and accessible?
A: We actively work to make Free University events inclusive and accessible. Please reach out via email (, or call our number 347-670-FREU (3738) with any questions or concerns about the inclusivity of a specific event.

Q: What if I have children with me?
A: Bring them along!  Children are always welcome at Free-U events. Some events may have dedicated childcare, while others may not. If you have questions about whether childcare is available at a specific event, please reach out at

Q: Why struggle for a free university?
The Free University is an expression of collective desires for educational justice: for knowledge to be a genuine commons and a collaborative process – not a source of profit. It is a call for free access to education at all levels and for all people, for an educational system emancipated from the shackles of racism, patriarchy, homophobia and all other forms of oppression.

Q: What is “horizontal” organization?
quoted from the online manifesto of OccU, (Occupy University: How We Want to Learn):
“Some people seem to think that learning happens best when you have an authority at the front of the classroom, who deposits the truth in the minds of everyone else… Many of us have started to wonder what education might look like if we instead started by assuming that everyone – teachers, students, everyone – shares a basic equality of intelligence.  Of course we realize that people have different levels of knowledge and skill in particular areas, and we’re not questioning that. But what if we put a bit less emphasis on that, and instead put a bit more emphasis on our common intelligence? What if it turns out that people learn best as part of a less hierarchical, more collaborative process – one that takes place between equals?”