My Queensland colleagues Richard Hil and Kristen Lyons in their recent article talk about universities as occupied territories. They argue the joy of learning has been superseded by the imperatives of economic growth and productivity.
They say university managers are complicit, reinforcing this neoliberal agenda through their preoccupation in “promoting the corporate brand, selling a product and snaring market share”. To achieve this they require a flexible and compliant workforce who are managed by increasing workplace intimidation and micro-management amounting to bullying.
Unfortunately, many working in universities are also complicit in this: they accept their working conditions as normal and acquiesce to increasingly unrealistic performance targets. They accept the annual claims that we need to “tighten our belts”, “work smarter not harder” and “do more with less”.
... there is strength in collectivity: the more we can stand together as colleagues, the stronger we are and the more our voices can be heard.
For many staff, survival is the main goal, and keeping one’s head down (because there are bills to pay and unemployment is the alternative), going along to get along, following the rules even when they are pointless or stupid, are common coping mechanisms. Unfortunately not challenging what is happening is, in reality, maintaining the status quo. Hannah Arendt argues “compliance with manufactured mass opinion tends to occur without critical evaluation of the ethical and practical consequences”. Alvesson and Spicer are much more blunt: they position this as functional stupidity.
Of course questioning and challenging results in application of labels such as “troublemaker”, “unrealistic”, “ideologue” and ultimately “unemployable”. However, there is strength in collectivity: the more we can stand together as colleagues, the stronger we are and the more our voices can be heard.
We need to chip away at the neoliberal education system. We need to fight for collegiate governance, or at least collegiate voices in governance. We need to reassert the import of community values; to continue to argue that quality education is important and worth fighting for and that it is not okay to reduce quality in the interests of economics.
We need to resist increasing work demands; some may choose to not attend meetings, others may put their emphasis on what is important to them, some may make a point of having a tea break, others may choose to go home on time and not check their emails after hours.
Building solidarity and collegiality is crucial to resistance. Johanna Macy positions this as community and social connectiveness. At UNE, we can support the ongoing development of the professoriate as a vehicle to share collegial voice. We need to talk with each other and support each other. When we see a colleague being bullied we have a responsibility to step in, identify and name the inappropriate behaviour and provide emotional support.
Hil and Lyons call this “good old fashioned political courage.” It’s time we stopped being complicit in our own subjugation and stood up together. Margaret Mead once said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” It is our time. Will we have the courage?