Breaking Tradition at the Free University

College courses for people in California just got a whole lot cheaper. The Free University, located in the basement of a store in the Mission District of San Francisco, is offering students something they have always wished for – courses that do not require turning in homework, assigned reading, test taking, finals or final grades, and, best of all – tuition. Sure, you may not be receiving college credit for working towards earning your degree, but knowledge, skills, and training are still of upmost importance to Free University. With escalating tuition costs and fees, and the budget cuts in college funding and loans, Free University may soon be catching on like wildfire.

Free University, started by 59-year-old Alan Kaufman, a poet and former professor at the Academy of Art in San Francisco, was conceived with the notion that education should not be something that students have to pay for. Kaufman believes that students don’t really need anything specific to learn – they don’t need desks or walls to gain knowledge. Kaufman’s idea of Free University is that it is not only free in the sense that it doesn’t cost anything, but also free from constraints and any type of administration, according to an article posted about Free University in The New York Times.

Kaufman came up with the idea to start Free University in December of 2010. He launched it with the encouragement and help of Gonzalez, who is known for being Ralph Nadar’s vice-presidential running mate. AThe project was put to life on Feb. 5 with a weekend of lectures by a poet and former mayoral candidate of San Francisco. Class titles such as "Abolishing Corporate Personhood to Create Authentic Democracy" and "Restoring San Francisco’s Urban Wildlands" drew hundreds of students, the article stated. Starting March 6 of this year, the university will start a new cycle of seven classes, and students can expect to take them in either five or ten week courses. After that, more courses will be added and are being scheduled to start in June.

Kaufman is already working on a plan to take the university to the next step. He has proposed and started a plan to incorporate different colleges within Free University, which include a law school headed by Gonzalez and an art school headed by printmaker Chuck Sperry. Additionally, each school would have a male and female dean to meet the needs of gender equality. With the average California student graduating with $17,000 worth of school debt, the makeshift school is looking pretty hopeful. But there is always the worry that the school could not sustain itself if teachers didn’t have an incentive, such as pay, for very long. Even if the university fails because of volunteer teachers not being paid, it is likely that the concept would spread and more universities would follow suit.

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