EXCO offers free class at the U

The volunteer-run program is open to college students and the public.

Mukhtar Ibrahim

A free experimental class held at the University of Minnesota’s Coffman Union explores the correlation between social ideologies and government functionality.

The course, the Exploration of Societal Ideologies, is sponsored by the Experimental College of the Twin Cities (EXCO), a volunteer-run program that offers free classes to college students and the general public.

Omar Alansari-Kreger, the instructor, said he hopes to help students understand “the fundamentals and key attributes that basically formulate the initial basis of civilization,” and its impact on the rest of humanity.

Although 10 people are registered for the class, held Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., no one showed up at last week’s class. Alansari-Kreger attributed the poor attendance to the class’s timing and said some students may have trouble getting there.

All 10 students attended the previous week’s class, he said, and he expects all 10 will attend this weekend’s lecture.

EXCO was formed in 2006 by students at Macalester College who were against what they perceived to be the college’s policy of admitting students who have more money over those with less money. They fought unsuccessfully to change what they saw as an unfair admissions policy, said the organization’s co-founder and volunteer organizer David Boehnke.

In response, the students championed a “vision of free, diverse and participatory education intimately tied to the process of people coming together to meet each other, strengthen networks, build movements and create the world they would like to see in the present,” Boehnke said.

The program has expanded the number of courses it offers since its creation, starting at six classes and growing to 40 in the summer and 70 in the fall and spring, he said.

An American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees strike in 2007 prompted the creation of an EXCO chapter at the University of Minnesota.

University political science doctoral student and EXCO organizer Eli Meyerhoff said the AFSCME strike ignited interest among students.

“We want to kind of channel our energy into a constructive project to make the University a better place,” Meyerhoff said.

Meyerhoff now teaches three classes: University Struggles: We Are the Crisis!, Radical Feminism and We Are an Image From the Future: The Greek Revolt of December 2008.

“Education should be free and accessible to everyone,” he said.

Justin Paul, a recent graduate of the William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, said he’s taking Alansari-Kreger’s course in Coffman because he knew the instructor previously. He said the class breaks down and analyzes different forms of political and social world view, which he finds interesting.

The most popular and long-running class is Basic Bike Maintenance, which has been running for three years and has up to 25 students, Boehnke said.

Volunteers at Sibley Bike Depot teach the class.

Kevin Karner, a University sophomore, said he’s taken some EXCO courses over the past two years. He registered for the current one because its name appealed to his desire to “broaden my understanding of the social sciences,” he said, adding that, “It’s also a good place to meet like-minded people.”

Students who take the class do not get college credit, since the organization’s courses are not accredited by the University.

Currently, EXCO has three chapters in Macalester/St. Paul, University of Minnesota and Academia Comunitaria for the Latino community.

Boehnke said EXCO is planning to partner with the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood and eventually hold classes in the area.

Volunteer instructors from the community, artists, professors and students teach the classes for free and write their own syllabi.

“We work with them to help make their class as successful as possible,” Boehnke said.