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Book Review: Dark Academia: How Universities Die by Peter Fleming

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 05/09/2021 - 7:00pm in

In Dark Academia: How Universities Die, Peter Fleming explores the destructive impact of the bureaucratic and neoliberal structures of academia, which have turned universities into toxic workplaces. The book powerfully evokes despair and despondency at the loss of the intellectual environment promised of academics, writes Chelsea Guo, yet she questions whether the traditional academic institution has ever truly been … Continued

Saving western civilisation: The IPA’s Aussie Crusade

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 02/09/2021 - 3:00am in

You…see white homeless men on the street and that completely debunks [white-privilege theory].

Dr Bella d’Abrera, Institute of Public Affairs

Who or what is the Institute of Public Affairs—‘A feudalistic patriarchy, a trompe l’oeil of birds and flowers hiding a hardhead pile-driving agenda’, as journalist Elizabeth Farrelly has it? ‘The voice for freedom’, ‘An independent, non-profit…think tank, dedicated to…economic and political freedom’, as the IPA describes itself? Both, perhaps? No, its much-touted ‘freedom’ is widely recognised as being reserved for business, and the bigger the better. Clearly, it doesn’t matter to the IPA that untrammelled freedom for business inevitably curtails freedom for the rest.

‘Big business created the IPA’, says the group’s current executive director, John Roskam. In 1943, several prominent businessmen, reportedly prompted by the collapse of the right-wing United Australia Party, formed the IPA with the goal of influencing Australia’s post-war reconstruction in favour of business rather than labour. Key among the policies of today’s IPA are limited government, free markets, privatisation and deregulation, including the abolition of the minimum wage. As well, and no doubt influenced by its many lucrative fossil-fuel-company donors, the IPA denies the anthropogenic factor in climate change.

Among the IPA’s most generous donors is mining magnate Gina Rinehart, whose company reportedly provided more than a third of the IPA’s total income for 2016 and 2017. Other donors include ExxonMobil, Caltex, Shell, Esso, Telstra, Philip Morris and British American Tobacco. In the 1990s, tobacco companies funded IPA research designed to attack the science behind passive smoking.

This year will see the opening of the Liberal-aligned Robert Menzies Institute at the University of Melbourne. The institute’s board members include IPA chairman Geoffrey Hone and right-wing commentator Peta Credlin. The Morrison government has contributed $7 million of the $7.5 million in funding to date.

There is no doubt that the ‘hardhead pile-driving agenda’ of today’s IPA is radical neoliberalism. Several scholars describe the IPA’s ideological move in the late 1970s away from Keynesian economics towards neoliberalism, in line with similar shifts in the United Kingdom and United States. With the IPA’s help, says Damien Cahill, Australian finance, mining and monopoly capital neoliberalised the Australian state and economy.

As to its beguiling trompe l’oeil, the IPA’s florid displays of comforting Western cultural motifs  serve to divert the public eye from a dark neoliberal underbelly.

The ‘research’ of Bella d’Abrera

I don’t know if [climate activists] are saying the world is hotting up or cooling down at the moment, whatever it is.

Bella d’Abrera.

The work of IPA’s researcher Bella d’Abrera takes us further into the IPA’s agenda, as she is the director of the IPA’s Foundations of Western Civilisation Program. Although much has been written about the IPA, d’Abrera and her program are less familiar.   

The Foundations of Western Civilisation Program, according to the IPA website, was established in 2011 ‘to defend and extend Australians’ understanding of the influential, historical role of the West in…our society’. As program director, d’Abrera spends much of her time advocating for the IPA’s education policies, mainly in the form of lavish reports to institutions and near-daily interviews, presentations and opinion pieces for right-wing media outlets. D’Abrera is all over the internet, particularly Sky News. ‘The internet is a powerful tool’, she says, ‘which, in the right hands, can be employed for the glory of God’. More on that shortly.

Several of d’Abrera’s glossy reports include data analyses of participant responses to brazenly biased agree/disagree-type questions—for example, ‘School students should be forced to apologise for their skin colour’; ‘Schools should make boys ashamed of being male’. D’Abrera, without the merest blush, declares the results: for example, 86 per cent of Australians do not want boys made to feel ashamed of being male. Among d’Abrera’s pet hates, including climate activism and un-Christian behaviour three bêtes noires stand out, namely, the notions of class, race and gender, which she views as apparitions of a fevered Marxist imagination. For her, they simply do not exist: ‘That we have a racism problem…is all complete lies. [Australia] is clearly not a racist country… It does not discriminate against you depending on your race or your gender’. Against all the evidence, Australia, according to d’Abrera, is free of racist, sexist and gender-related prejudice.

A major part of d’Abrera’s role is to reassure her audience that claims about Australian bigotry are woke-ish lies,  a deception carried out by humanities and social science departments in the universities. After surveying, for example, several hundred handbook entries for history subjects, d’Abrera concludes: ‘The left-wing leitmotifs of class, race, and gender have replaced the essential core subjects [in] the history of Western Civilisation’. Hence, she says, Western civilisation is reduced to ‘not much more than a story of white male patriarchy wielding power over and oppressing women, racial minorities and the poor’. The IPA’s Foundations of Western Civilisation Program declares:

‘The ancient Greek and Roman Empires and Medieval Christian Europe…produced…enduring achievements [that] have not been matched by any other civilisation,’ so presumably an IPA-approved history course would take a hierarchical view of cultural achievements and encourage students to uncritically place those of Western civilisation at the apex.

And, if you thought the so-called ‘history wars’ were history, I’m sorry to disappoint. They might be a rerun of the 2018 recap of the 2014 rehash of the 2000s’ replay of the 1990s’ war against the 1960s’ invention of ‘new history’, which opened up the field of historical subjects to people who were not white or male or landowners, but they continue in outpourings on Sky and sister media about ‘Marxist’ history departments. Who or what might be ‘Marxist’ in their terms is never seriously examined. The epithet is merely a slur.

But let’s return to d’Abrera’s  role within the IPA and ask just what her ideological agenda is. It might be noted that Roman Catholic values and neoliberalism cohabit in her work. What then of her scholarly bona fides in relation to her educational brief, and  what has been the effectiveness of her campaign to influence Australian education policy?

On the first question, noted scholars in the field are scathing. ‘D’Abrera’s take on 19th-century Britain’, says 19th-century specialist Joanne Wilkes, ‘is completely clueless’. D’Abrera, says historian Christopher Hilliard, ‘doesn’t seem to recognise the history of Western civilisation when she sees it’.  

‘It cannot be plausibly argued’, says Dirk Moses, ‘as d’Abrera does, that BA enrolments have declined because of a Marxist curriculum dominated by class, race, and gender themes’.  Sidestepping the ridicule thrown at her, however, like Joan of Arc d’Abrera soldiers on.

What might we infer from the scholarly criticism? First, does d’Abrera have the credentials to back up her claims? She holds a doctorate in European history (albeit there are no refereed papers), which is a good start. But why the myriad claims against academia, among them:

‘Our entire Christian heritage is…erased from our history’;

‘Today’s academics mostly believe there is nothing we can learn from the 2500 years of accumulated wisdom and knowledge passed down to us’;

‘Historians have embraced Marx’s template and applied it…re-writing the past from the point of view of class, gender, and race…[replacing] the traditional canon of historical subjects’.

D’Abrera’s survey of history subjects, says Hilliard, is ‘badly inaccurate’: ‘As she looked over the lists of history classes on offer, d’Abrera must have skipped over the units on the history of human rights and European traditions, the natural law tradition and free speech… She likewise glosses over the ones on the French Revolution and Tudor-Stuart England’Why does d’Abrera’s report skim over myriad history units unmistakeably bang on topic?

Perhaps it’s her dualistic lens. Perhaps her commitment to a Manichaean good-versus-evil outlook obscures what is right in front of her. When d’Abrera peruses subject lists, perhaps she can’t believe what she is seeing—actual history subjects—so instead she sees what she already believes is there, namely, Marxist propaganda.  

What is it that she believes in, then? Here is d’Abrera’s ideological position clearly stated: her struggle to save Western civilisation is a holy crusade against Satan:

‘I believe it is a spiritual battle, and the Devil can’t win. It’s that simple. Christ will win and he’s going to be victorious and I’m on his side’.

Indeed God himself has called d’Abrera to fight: ‘We should be…fighting…that’s why I’ve been created, that’s my job… I’ve got to do it otherwise when I meet my Creator and he goes, “Look, I gave you those talents and you didn’t defend me”, I want to be able to say I did my best’.

Clearly, d’Abrera’s Manichaean version of Catholicism skews her view of history and the world. Similarly, it skews her view of the current draft national curriculum, which she also long and loudly opposes as ‘hostile to Christianity’. D’Abrera owns her religious views as entirely personal; and there is no suggestion that the IPA endorses them.

D’Abrera relates her religious views to those of her father, Bernard: ‘my father always told me despair is one of the tools the Devil will use on you, and you have to just resist that’. Interestingly,  Bernard d’Abrera was an avowed creationist, and, like his daughter, known for his amateurish views. An apparently gifted photographer, Bernard self-published photographic books on butterflies. His accompanying commentaries, however, were derided by lepidopterists as anti-science. Entomologist Arthur Shapiro described d’Abrera’s work as ‘peppered with anti-evolutionary flapdoodle’.

Bella d’Abrera seems genuinely distressed about what she sees as the imminent collapse of the Western tradition, which she appears to conflate largely with Christendom. But the problem is expressed in the shallowest terms: ‘We’ve rejected Christianity and we’ve invented a new religion in its place, which is wokeism…and therefore teaching Christianity again is too much of a threat to the new religion’. Wokeism, says d’Abrera, ‘has demonised what we know to be good and true, the idea…of truth…of family… It’s demonised everything which keeps society… functioning as best as it can given our…lack of perfection’. Resist despair, however, says d’Abrera, ‘that’s the Devil telling you that he’s won’. ‘Christ will win, his victory is guaranteed… It is a battle for the soul of civilisation at the moment’.

All the same, even if pigs flew and Christian orthodoxy regained some of its once-upon-a-time medieval hold on the university, today that orthodoxy would be merely a hollow neoliberal imitation. Over the past half century, neoliberalism has all but erased the potential for the survival of any value other than that promoted by  the capitalist market—an amoral competitive individualism and a consumer culture that have undone the family and community that d’Abrera celebrates. D’Abrera’s Christian code of ethics has long been under attack, but not from woke-ish Marxists holed up in the universities.

Like a liturgical mantle,  d’Abrera’s Christian values and the IPA’s vociferous defence of a tradition under attack deflect attention from the neoliberal reality ushered in with the backing of just such think tanks as the IPA. As a  conservative Christian soldier, d’Abrera pins IPA neoliberal education policy to a particular ancient Greco-Roman and Christian past Whether educational policymakers or observers are taking any notice remains to be seen.

Towards Inanition: Diminishing the Humanities, Communications and Arts at Our Peril

Baden Offord

Reason, rationality, calculation and measurement need to be transformed by empathy, compassion, imagination, dialogue, creativity and importantly the questioning of authority and power.

Big Brother is watching French academia

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 18/06/2021 - 9:24am in

Anyone teaching or researching racism, colonialism or Islamophobia will be accused of ‘Islamo-leftism’

It was not enough for the Macron government to prevent any discussion of ‘state racism’ by issuing a controversial imam charter that equates the denunciation of the state’s racist acts and policies with ‘defamation’, which ‘exacerbates both anti-Muslim and anti-France hatred’ (Article 9 of the charter). Now, it looks like the French government envisages issuing a good academics charter. The good academic is defined as a disciplined teacher who, according to the French minister of higher education, Frédérique Vidal, separates their lectures, tutorials and research from what she sees as their ‘opinion’ or ‘activism’. In fact, this control-and-punish approach creates an Orwellian educational system where Big Brother robs researchers of their autonomy. This dictatorial surveillance of academics clashes with the values of the Republic and with the values of the Enlightenment, which opponents of so-called ‘Islamo-leftism’ pretend to ‘protect’.

But what is the reason for all of this? What led Emmanuel Macron, who presented himself as ‘neither left, nor right’ during the last elections, to adopt this right-wing stance and discourse? The 2018 gilets-jaunes protest movement led to a huge decrease in Macron’s popularity. The next presidential elections are scheduled for April 2022. Therefore, in recent months Macron has been determined to prove that his government is cracking down on Islamist extremism. However, many argue that his strategy to win electoral votes has turned out to be an anti-Muslim campaign that heightens Islamophobia. A cornerstone of this Islamophobic campaign is the problematic accusation of ‘Islamo-leftism’.

So, what is ‘Islamo-leftism’? Pierre-André Taguieff coined this very problematic term in his 2002 book The New Judeophobia. Taguieff used it to describe a conspiracy between conservative Muslims and the left to ‘bring down’ France. Taguieff believes in the racist colonial ideology of French exceptionalism and in the need for France’s ‘civilizing mission’. Therefore, he considers the Left’s anti-war rhetoric and rejection of imperialism to be in opposition to France’s historical mission. While there are many leftists who are against French colonialism, the proponents of Islamo-leftism use it to indict what they see as an alliance of Islamists and leftists against Western values. It becomes a conspiracy theory when it alleges that a coalition between left-wing academics and Islamists has taken hold in Macron’s government. Believers in this conspiracy theory want the government to crack down on the supposed movement in French universities. While supporters used to belong to the far Right in France, mainstream society has become involved in this debate over the feared spread of ‘Islamo-leftism’ in France.

The far-right leader Marine Le Pen used the accusation of ‘Islamo-leftism’ against her leftist opponents to suggest that their ‘alliances’ with Muslims have weakened the French state. Recently, Macron has started to use the term in order to appeal to far-right voters. This move has made what used to be a fringe talking point, heard only among members of the French far Rright, gain unprecedented visibility because the debate has reached the mainstream. The deliberate mainstreaming of this populist far-right notion has allowed French politicians to blame leftist forces in universities for the critical views many French students have of French society. The argument goes that the students’ outlook is due to their tertiary educators’ focus on racism, imperialism and structural discrimination.

In June 2020, Macron’s electoral strategy had him telling journalists: ‘The academic world has its share of blame. It has encouraged the ethnicization of the social question, thinking this was a good line of research. But the result can only be secessionism. This means splitting the Republic into two’. Following him, in October the minister for education, Jean-Michel Blanquer, criticised the ‘intellectual complicity in terrorism’ and warned that ‘Islamo-leftism’ was ‘wreaking havoc in society’.

On 14 February 2021, Frédérique Vidal declared on the right-wing channel CNews—the French equivalent of Fox News—that ‘Islamo-leftism is corrupting society in its entirety, and universities are not immune’. Vidal went on to say: ‘I am going to call for an investigation into all the currents of research on these subjects in the universities, so we can distinguish proper academic research from activism and opinion’. In the French parliament, Vidal said that the state would conduct an assessment of all the research that takes place in French universities.  Following the fury that Vidal’s suggested investigation created, Blanquer asserted that ‘there is something at work that is ideological and must be explicit in academia’.

Many people were offended by Vidal’s announcement and saw it as an attempt to kill academic autonomy. More than 22,000 people signed a petition calling for the minister’s resignation. France’s National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) has condemned the government’s move to investigate the research academics’ conduct. According to the CNRS, Islamo-leftism is a ‘political slogan’ that has no scientific basis. The CNRS considered the term ill-defined and accused the attempt to investigate universities as a move to stifle academic freedom. The CNRS insisted that it ‘particularly condemns the attempts to delegitimize various fields of research, like postcolonial studies, intersectional studies, or work on the term “race” or any other field of understanding’.

In light of what has been said, I would like to highlight the amalgamation and problems of the term ‘Islamo-leftism’, which conflates the religion of Islam with the Islamist political movement. This slipperiness is dangerous and misleading. As a Muslim feminist (and there are millions like me), I can be put under the Islamo-gauchisme umbrella—even though I am a fierce opponent of Ennahdha, the religious party in my country, Tunisia, and even though I loathe its leader, Rached Ghanoushi, who has destroyed my country and whose party tried to make Tunisian women lose their rights—simply because I teach courses and write articles that criticise racism, colonial patriarchy and anti-immigrant sentiment.

I would like to end this piece by saying that the authoritarian policing of thought advocated by the Macron government represents the real source of discord. The attempt to criminalise the research of those who introduce students to the atrocities of xenophobia and colonialism, and the new reality of an academic thought police that will allow research approving the government agenda only, will bring about the main sources of national division.


Universities and Palestine: three kinds of silence

Nick Riemer, 8 Apr 2021

If antiracism can be switched on and off as a principle—repeatedly asserted in print, but abruptly suspended when the question of Palestine is raised—then its expressions are degraded into mere performances.

Cheating: The Harvard Culture

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 27/05/2021 - 3:03am in

Academic misconduct, or what the rest of the world calls student cheating, is enjoying a renaissance thanks to the iron logic of capitalism.

We thought we had them when software programs such as Turnitin were licensed two decades ago at considerable cost to university budgets. These online detectives not only revealed collusion and plagiarism among the student body but also confirmed the stupidity of offenders who, despite ubiquitous warnings on assessment instructions, continued to roll the dice, undeterred by threats of exclusion for recidivists.

Soon the laws of supply and demand found an ingenious way around the risk of detection: contract cheating, more benignly called assignment outsourcing.

For a fee, students upload their assignment task to a website that within a matter of hours returns to them an original, high-quality answer that is undetectable to anti-plagiarism software. It isn’t the student’s work, but that is difficult and time-consuming to prove.

Invigilated examinations, good for little else, are a partial antidote to the problem because they can reveal inexplicable discrepancies between the quality of home-based essays and supervised examinations by the same student.

Interviews can also expose disparities between the quality of the submitted assignment and the student’s actual knowledge of the subject. However, conducting these investigations requires a stomach for confrontation and eats into the time of already overextended staff.

A solution remains elusive, and I blame ‘the Harvard culture’.

A decade ago, between infusions of Fat Kid and Morrocan Tbizla in one of Amsterdam’s less salubrious brown cafes, the problem was explained to me by my late friend, the historian Gabriel Kolko.

Kolko wrote the definitive history of the Vietnam War and completed his PhD at Harvard around the same time Henry Kissinger submitted his. He told me Kissinger was universally disliked in Cambridge and had no firm political beliefs of any kind; he was simply an opportunist with a magnetic attraction to power.

Amid the smoky hash, Kolko regaled me with an anecdote about the great Keynesian economist John Kenneth Galbraith, a veteran of Kennedy’s Camelot and a pillar of the liberal establishment in Boston.

One night at a cocktail party not far from his office off Harvard Square, Galbraith was the guest of honour and introduced to his audience in the following way:

Tonight it is a great pleasure to welcome the distinguished economist John Kenneth Galbraith to our soirée. All of you will know Professor Galbraith from his frequent appearances in the media over the years. Many of you will have read his seminal textbooks in the field of economics. Some of you will have written them.

I can’t recall what Gabriel said about Galbraith’s response because my memory was impaired by the atmosphere and the incoherent ramblings coming from stoners at an adjacent table. However, I do recall his saying the story was unremarkably true because few of the Harvard professoriate appeared to have authored the books that carried their names on the spines.

To find out who actually wrote the books, you headed to the acknowledgements page, where low-paid postgraduates were begrudgingly thanked for their ‘help’ with and ‘contributions’ to the publication of the book. According to Kolko, this cottage industry of senior academics putting their names on work undertaken by postgrads was an open secret at Harvard: it was formalised plagiarism and particularly widespread among celebrity academics.

One Saturday morning after I returned to Australia, my  university asked me to interview Galbraith by satellite for a public seminar on globalisation. This was pre-Zoom and the great Keynesian was already in his nineties. I was thinking of a polite way to ask him about the Harvard culture, but he got stuck in a Massachusetts blizzard and for most of our allotted time we could only broadcast the image of an empty chair to the audience, much as 7.30 does these days when Prime Minister Morrison refuses to appear. The interview almost broke the faculty’s budget for what was ultimately ten minutes of bromides—enough time for Galbraith to complain about the weather but little else.

I was reminded of the Harvard culture a couple of years later when Norman Finkelstein, a scholar of the Israel-Palestine conflict, accused high-profile lawyer and Harvard academic Alan Dershowitz of plagiarism. In his book Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History, Finkelstein claimed that Dershowitz had included, without attribution, significant portions of a discredited work by Joan Peters called From Time Immemorial in Dershowitz’s book The Case for Israel—including the reproduction of incorrect citations and footnotes.

Ultimately, the charge was not sustained in an independent investigation. Dershowitz got his revenge when Finkelstein was later denied tenure at DePaul University in Chicago.

Beyond the merits of the charge, which readers can judge for themselves, Gabriel would not have been surprised in any way by the scandal, except for the fact that it became one.

Structural plagiarism in the United States has become conventional practice for many senior academics with large research budgets. It enables them to meet their research output targets and produce monographs at an alarming rate, though the final product is often anything but their own work. Just prior to publication they personalise the manuscript with a few signature phrases or some idiosyncratic punctuation and voila! From memory, this was the metod publikatsii also favoured by Stalin.

The commodification of almost everything, including university degrees, is one of the least attractive features of late capitalism. It is not easy to explain to today’s students, tempted by commercial solutions to looming assignment deadlines, that they cannot purchase their intellectual production until they have reached the lofty heights of a Harvard professor. But, as I tell them in their very first university lecture, at that point it may have become de rigueur.


Casualisation: Abuse by another name

Paul Gardner, 3 May 2021

Whole sections of departments in our universities are now staffed by temporary workers. The casualisation of the workforce by university managers means that the lives of these women and men are held in suspension…

Casualisation: Abuse by an other name

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 03/05/2021 - 3:00am in

The replacement of permanent staff by further increasing the number of hourly paid, causal colleagues is a consequence of post-COVID-19 strategies implemented by our universities. Initially, it was argued, the ‘COVID response’ was necessary to meet the economic shortfall caused by the loss of international students. However, these strategies are now perceived to be the enactment of intended fiscal rationalisation, introduced under the guise of post-COVID-19 expediency. My university department, where 81 per cent (N=151) of staff are casual teachers, typifies this general trend. Permanent staff are now positioned as unit administrators and human resource managers, as teaching is subjugated to the economic priorities of neoliberal bureaucracy. Alongside these structural changes is an emerging, obfuscating discourse. Indeed, the term ‘casual’, which derives from the Latin for ‘chance occurrence’, is an ironic euphemism for the deliberate reconfiguration of the workforce.

The language we use to name and describe human behaviour, social processes and institutional structures frames our perceptions; it influences how we think and how we interact with one another, as well as impacting on how we relate to the physical and social world. Behaviours and social attitudes are normalised through, and by, language. For example, feminists have drawn attention to how expressions such as ‘boys will be boys’ implicitly construct a dichotomised view of gender in which girls and boys are subliminally positioned as distinct, separate and contrasting entities. Additionally, boys’ behaviour is tacitly accepted. As long as such language remains normalised the behaviour it sanctions is perpetuated. It takes linguistic disruption to begin the process of changing perceptions and behaviour.

Challenges to the status quo have often precipitated new ways of speaking about the world. The radical Latin American educationalist Paulo Friere famously stated: ‘to read the word is to read the world’. Once we are conscious of this, we are more able to see the workings of power in, and through, language. Authorship involves linguistic decisions taken from specific stand points that can never be devoid of social positioning. Given that ‘voice’ is more often than not conferred on the most affluent, most institutionally powerful and most privileged sections of society, their social frames of experience implicitly influence their language, and so they establish the perceptual frame for others—the relatively powerless. That is, they will do this unless the relatively powerless, seize the chance to read the world differently and change the focal depth for others. 

It is possible to change decades of accepted practice by describing that practice differently. In workplaces across the country, employers and managers are filling once-permanent posts with casual workers. The term ‘gig economy’ is a descriptor of such a normative practice. Once associated with the music industry, ‘gig’ has been appropriated to describe a state, a condition, and as such it obfuscates by rendering invisible the lives of people beholden to temporary, precarious work for their livelihoods. Hence, the structural exploitation inherent in the new vernacular is masked by the word ‘gig’. This process of casualisation is under way in the university sector just  as it is in any other sector of the occupational ‘marketplace’. The fact that casualisation is now the prime influencer of employment practices in academia shows how thoroughly the neoliberal mindset has infiltrated our academic institutions.

What has been the net effect of such practices on the lives of casualised workers, who are often doing work that is ongoing and fundamental to the core business of academia? These are workers who are employed on temporary contracts that are continually rolled over to cover the work once undertaken by permanent staff. An increasing number of casual workers occupy the same post for two, three, four or more years. Many of them are women. Whole sections of departments in our universities are now staffed by temporary workers. The casualisation of the workforce by university managers means that the lives of these women and men are held in suspension; management dangles their futures  on a string. They do not know if in three months’ time they will still have a job. Their precarity means they cannot do not have access to economic facilities such as bank loans and mortgages that are often commonplace for fully employed workers.

In the workplace, they dare not make a mistake or speak up for fear that their contract will not be renewed. They become a mass of workers who are quiet, compliant and malleable in the workplace and anxious, unsettled and tearful at home. Their lives become tense and uncertain.

Universities were once the domain of academic freedom of expression, but a byproduct of increasing casualisation is silence: the containment of thought and the intellectual dialogue that is so often essential to the creation of new ideas, new paradigms and new ways of seeing.  

On the surface, ‘casualisation’ describes an employment practice, and as such it is dissociated from the people who occupy casualised positions; it is emotionally and psychologically neutral. However, if we humanise the process—if we describe it for what it is in terms of its impact on the lives of real people—we change the perceptual ‘frame’. If a dyadic relationship positioned two people inequitably, giving one total power and rendering the other totally powerless, we would say that was an abusive relationship. If the behaviour of one player in the relationship caused the other to feel continually uncertain, stressed and anxious, we would call it an abusive relationship. If the security of the powerless player depended upon their obedience and compliance, we would protest that it was an abusive relationship.

So let us call out casualisation for what it is: the corporate abuse of workers on a mass scale. As suggested at the outset of this article, ‘the language we use to name and describe human behaviour, social processes and institutional structures frames our perceptions; it influences how we think and how we interact with one another’. Nothing has changed for these workers in years. Maybe by changing the language we use to describe the employer–employee relationship we will initiate the paradigm shift necessary to give people security and peace of mind. 


Casual Wage Theft in the Corporate University

Ellyse Fenton, Liam Kane, 18 Mar 2021

Our challenge is to see our predicament for what it is: the displacement of class conflict between staff and senior management into the day-to-day interactions and inequities among different groups of staff—a divide-and-conquer strategy that keeps us all under the thumb.

Solidarity and Self-Organisation are the Weapons of the Working Class

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 27/04/2021 - 12:07am in

image/jpeg iconucu-strike-0.jpg

Leaflet distributed by the CWO during the last round of strikes at universities across the UK.

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Universities and Palestine: three kinds of silence

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 08/04/2021 - 3:00am in

Edward Said’s 1979 book on the ongoing dispossession of his people was called The Question of Palestine. For Said, Palestine could be thought of as a ‘question’—an object of controversy. As such, it was something to which a variety of responses could be expected. In the decades since, at the same time that it has robbed Palestinians of their land and lives, Israel has also worked to rob them even of this ‘question’ status. For Israel, there can be no true ‘question of Palestine’ because Palestine does not, or should not, exist. And if, despite all its efforts, a stubborn Palestinian question continues to be posed, the only possible answer, for Zionist anti-Palestinianism, can be silence—silence about Palestinians, cultivated through rigorous censorship and lawfare, and silence from Palestine itself, imposed through Israel’s varied strategies of ethnic cleansing: the apartheid laws, the separation wall, the monstrous Gaza blockade, the strangulating occupation.

Universities are particular sites in which silence over Palestine is enforced. In recent weeks, I have come to a fresh appreciation of the density and violence of this enforced silence. The silence, as I have recently encountered it, is of three kinds: silence imposed, silence chosen and silence conceded. Together, these silences are as eloquent about the current state of the struggle for Palestine on campus as they are about the nature of academic professionalism in 2021. 

The imposed silence was that of a Palestinian colleague at a West Bank university. I had invited them—given what follows, I won’t even specify their gender—to present an online talk about the difficulties Palestinians face in higher education under military occupation. The talk was to be hosted by Sydney University Staff for BDS, a group of staff at Sydney University who support the Palestinian call for an institutional academic boycott of Israel. I was delighted and also somewhat surprised when my colleague immediately and enthusiastically accepted the invitation. But then, later, the apologetic email arrived: they couldn’t do the talk after all, even under conditions of complete anonymity, even with the camera turned off. Israel had recently denied another academic entry into Jordan because of their digital activism. My colleague simply couldn’t risk that, or any other possible consequences that might jeopardise their or their department’s work. Entirely understandably, they reached the same decision as many other Palestinian academics: silence was their only option.

The chosen silence was entirely different, and takes longer to relate. In February, Professor Alison Bashford, a distinguished UNSW historian of medicine and health, was named as one of the recipients of Israel’s annual Dan David Prize, which in 2021 recognized outstanding contributions to medicine and its wider public understanding. The Dan David Foundation is closely linked to the Israeli political and academic establishment: it is headquartered and administered at Tel Aviv University, and its chairperson is a former Israeli ambassador to the United States; Henry Kissinger sits on the board that oversees the annual prize. The prize was naturally understood as a celebration and international endorsement of Israel’s response to the pandemic, a theme that figured explicitly in Alison Bashford’s citation. The 2021 instalment of the David award thereby contributed to Israel’s image as a public-health leader, distracting attention from the fact that it is denying access to vaccines to the five million and more Palestinians under its thumb in the occupied territories. 

Accepting the prize was a clear violation of the call on academics by Palestinian civil society to cut ties with Israeli institutions until Israel abandons its apartheid policies. When efforts to approach Professor Bashford privately failed, an open letter was coordinated, by me and other colleagues, which made clear the rationale for turning the prize down, just as Professor Catherine Hall, a historian at University College London, had done in 2016 after encouragement from BDS activists. The letter has now been signed by over 340 academics and students the world over. Signatories include highly distinguished scholars like Rashid Khalidi, Judith Butler, Nadia Abu El-Haj, Wael Hallaq, Ilan Pappe, John Keane and others, as well as many other colleagues in history and related humanities disciplines in Australia. A few days after the letter was initiated, with over 220 signatures on it already, I wrote to Professor Bashford, alerting her to it and pointing out that the two major Australian Palestinian rights organisations, the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network and BDS Australia, both supported the call on her to decline the prize. Professor Bashford did not reply.

The open letter gathered many signatories, but not everyone we asked to add their name was prepared to do so. Some confided in us that, although they agreed, they weren’t prepared to say so publicly because they were ‘worried about the consequences’. This is the third silence on Palestine—neither directly and obviously imposed by the circumstances, like the silence of my Palestinian colleague, nor chosen, like Professor Bashford’s. This silence is conceded, with varying degrees of reluctance, to the prevailing taboos of the academic profession, among which anti-Zionism has a prominent place.

Partisans of this third kind of silence are rarely clear about what the consequences they so fear might be, nor about why the risk in criticising Israel is greater for them than for others. Their anxieties emerge from the half-light of misgiving, discomfort and evasion that Zionists have carefully fostered whenever criticising Israel is in question. This is not the tactical silence of the determined Palestine supporter, predicated on the need to choose one’s battles so as to more powerfully defend the cause later. The people who observe it are not, in general, biding their time so as to formally take a side for Palestinian rights at a more opportune moment. Explicit support for Palestine is simply not on their agenda.

This silence couches its anxieties about reprisal in the language of vulnerability. But subtly, and often no doubt thoughtlessly, it enacts the opposite: by refusing to expose themselves out of vague worries about ‘consequences’, observers of the third silence further isolate those who do choose to speak, whom they leave to face any possible backlash alone. This kind of silence is, of course, entirely human, and few have ever been innocent of it—if not over Palestine, then over other issues. But it is a major source of the tacit ascendancy of Zionism in universities.

When the David prize was announced, Professor Bashford’s success was noted briefly in the Sydney Morning Herald, and she granted an interview to the Australian Academy of the Humanities. When her award was being celebrated, she had no reluctance—understandably—to comment on it publicly. From a human point of view—one long denied to Palestinians—it’s also understandable enough that she has preferred to ignore Palestinians and their supporters when they have criticised her acceptance of the award. But in any scholar who emphasises their work’s relevance to current problems, such unaccountability is an intellectual and political failure.

Like the silence of the other David Prize participants, who have also been called on to turn down the honour, Professor Bashford’s silence in the face of Israel’s racism against Palestinians is a textbook case of the Palestine exception in progressive politics. It contrasts markedly with attitudes articulated in her published work, where she suggests an unambiguous opposition to all forms of racism, apartheid and political oppression, expressed in references to the ‘infamous’ White Australia policy, the ‘crude colonial racism’ of Australian history, or the ‘welcome’ undoing of racist immigration laws.

Sometimes, this antiracism is quite explicit, for instance, when discussing the Australian public health authority R.W. Cilento, who is said to provide an instance of a wider tendency in Australian tropical medicine: ‘In a stunning colonizing move’, Professor Bashford writes, ‘non-white people were rendered absent from this space, indigenous people were discursively minimized and contained as a manageable public health problem’. Yet this discursive minimisation is exactly what her own silence over Palestine accomplishes.

This kind of silence is symptomatic of a widely held aversion to decisive political action in the academic profession. The aversion is most glaring when it comes to resisting the corruption and degradation inflicted on universities by neoliberal management practices and the withdrawal of government financial support. There is plenty of opposition—in the abstract. But when it comes to speaking up when it counts most, the profession’s impressive critical acumen, more often than not, goes quiet.

Whether over Palestine or the degradation of universities, these silences reinforce the moral imposed for decades by the neoliberal wrecking ball: humanistic scholarship has nothing to offer the real world. It implies nothing about how individuals should act, or how society or even universities should be run. Outside the self-referential academic sphere and its treadmill of honours, distinctions and rewards, its values are irrelevant and meaningless.

If antiracism can be switched on and off as a principle—repeatedly asserted in print, but abruptly suspended when the question of Palestine is raised—then its expressions are degraded into mere performances. If they are not actually enacted, academic statements of antiracism principally function as markers of distinction, the insignia of an intellectual elite exempted from the need to put its principles into practice.

Since the open letter was published, the new Jerusalem Antisemitism Declaration has, despite its flaws, strengthened the hand of boycott proponents by recognising the fact, obvious to almost everyone except zealots for ethnic cleansing and apartheid, that boycott is a normal form of protest and not antisemitic. Further support comes from the simple fact that, as I’ve argued elsewhere, political boycotts are actually common practice in academia and should therefore not be excluded in the case of Israel.

This is even more the case when, in fact, an internal political boycott within the Zionist community shaped the very beginnings of Jewish higher education in Palestine. In 1914, Zionist teachers boycotted high schools run by the Hilfsverein der deutschen Juden, the German Jews’ Relief Organization, one of the sponsors of the Technion in Haifa (the first Jewish university in Palestine). Zionists boycotted the Hilfsverein’s feeder schools to force it to make Hebrew (not German) the principal language of instruction. Parents also threatened to boycott the Hilfsverein school in Jaffa by removing their children from it unless Hebrew was used to teach science. This episode has rarely been referred to in discussions of the academic boycott, which have rightly emphasised the long Palestinian history of boycotts, but it has a real significance: far from being beyond-the-pale violations of supposed universal norms of intellectual freedom, political boycotts like the one currently called for against Israel were instrumental in shaping the prehistory of the Israeli university system.

It is a sign of the remoteness of justice for Palestine that universities are currently a frontline in the struggle for it. For Palestinians’ struggle against Israeli apartheid to prevail on campus, and for Palestinian academics to be released from the silence imposed on them, Palestinians’ allies will have to find their voices, and the silences voluntarily chosen or reluctantly conceded in universities in places like Australia will have to be broken. 


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