universities

Error message

Deprecated function: The each() function is deprecated. This message will be suppressed on further calls in _menu_load_objects() (line 579 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/menu.inc).

Richard Dawkins Stripped of Atheist Award for Questioning the Trans Ideology

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 05/05/2021 - 8:31pm in

This story was over a number of right-wing and gender critical websites last week, and it’s interesting as it shows the comparative power of the trans rights lobby against both organised religion and one of atheism’s fiercest polemicists. Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist and anti-theist activist, was stripped of his Humanist of the Year Award because he’d posted a comment on Twitter comparing trans people to Rachel Dolezal.

Dolezal had been kicked out of the White chapter of NAACP – the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People – because she’d declared she considered herself ‘transracial’. Although White, she identified as Black. This obviously left many people very offended, and so she was expelled. Dawkins followed this with the comment ‘Now we have men identifying as women and women identifying as men. Discuss.’ As commenters like Graham Linehan and Sargon’s and his fellow Lotus Eaters said, it’s a very mild criticism, couched as an invitation for discussion. And indeed Dawkins tried to excuse it as just that – an invitation to discuss the issue. But it was enough to bring down on him the wrath of the trans rights activists and their supporters in the various atheist and sceptic groups. American Atheists accused him of minimising the persecution of marginalised groups, and the British Humanist Society stripped him of his Humanist of the Year Award, which he’d been given in 1996. Dawkins then made an apology, saying that he had no wish to minimise the suffering of trans people, and did not want to ally himself with ‘Republican bigots’.

This is the man, who has a deep, bitter hatred of organised religion and its supporters. Dawkins is the author of the God Delusion, which was published with the explicit aim of destroying people’s belief in the Almighty and converting them to atheism. He was the leader of the ‘New Atheists’, who were notorious for their bitter invective. Dawkins has described raising a child as a member of a particular religion as ‘child abuse’ and called religious people ‘faithheads’. He has also been accused of islamophobia because of comments he has made about that religion’s traditional attitude towards women and the practice among many Muslims of Female Genital Mutilation. HIs attitude towards religion is so bitter and intolerant, that it has actually alienated many more traditional, tolerant atheists. See for example Kim Sterelny’s foreword for his book, Darwin Wars, about the feud between Dawkins and the late Stephen Jay Gould over their differing interpretations of Darwinian evolution. But Dawkins has carried on undaunted with the same bitter polemic. But when faced with attacks for simply questioning trans ideology, he automatically caved in.

This shows the comparative power of organised religion compared to the trans rights lobby, at least within the sphere of progressive politics. Critics of the ideology have described how the trans lobby has captured a plethora of organisations, including the gay rights organisation Stonewall, various, mostly left-wing political parties and have advised organisations like the police and feminist organisations. The only political parties resisting them are those of the conservative right, which explains why Dawkins didn’t want to be seen supporting the Republicans. The problem is, however, that there is a feminist dimension to Republican opposition to trans rights, and that Dawkins asked a perfectly reasonable question.

Sargon of Gasbag and the Lotus Eaters made a video about this last week, pointing out that the academic magazine Hypatia had published an article defending trans-racialism. Hypatia describes itself as a journal of feminist philosophy. It had asked why it should be acceptable for people of one sex to identify as members of the other, but not people of one race to identify as members of a different ethnic group. Historically, there have been other Whites, whose admiration of Black America and its culture has led them to try to live as much as possible as Blacks. Years ago in the 1940s, I believe, one man went so far as to paint himself with melanin in order to live as a Black man. He then published a book about his experiences with the deliberate intention of challenging racism and bringing Whites and Blacks together. The Hypatia article stated that the arguments for transgenderism and trans-racialism are exactly the same, and there is no logical reason why one should be acceptable and the other not.

One of the objections to the transgender movement is the feminist concern that it will disadvantage natural, born women in sports. On average, men are stronger and more powerful than women. Hence there is the entirely justifiable fear that if biological men and boys are allowed to compete in female sports it will put biological females at a disadvantage. Natural women are at risk of being pushed out of their own sports. This has implications for university careers, as it means that sports scholarships to universities will go to transwomen rather than natural women. Hence Republican politicians in Maine and New Hampshire have put forward a bill banning biological men competing as women in women’s sports as a deliberate defence of the latter.

These are issues that at the very least need to be discussed calmly and logically, without accusations of bigotry and persecution. In my opinion, those attacking the trans ideology are right and are actually on the side of traditional feminism, and no amount of abuse will change this.

For all his deeply unpleasant intolerance towards religion, Dawkins was perfectly right in wanting it discussed.

Here’s the Lotus Eater’s video on the issue.

Here’s Black American feminist Karen Davies on the bill in Maine to protect women’s sports.

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.

read more

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. 


COVID Among the Palestinians

Micaela Sahhar, Mar 2021

As the pandemic raged, it appeared that Israel’s disregard for Palestinian life, an institutionally entrenched position, would be costly not only for Palestinians but for Israelis themselves.

Casual Wage Theft in the Corporate University

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 18/03/2021 - 3:00am in

The last year has seen the sudden loss of international student revenue brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, the further reduction of public funding under the Coalition government’s jobs ready graduates package, and the loss of approximately 17,000 jobs across the higher education sector, with further losses expected in 2021. From within this unhappy state of affairs has emerged an industry-wide wage theft scandal affecting thousands of casually-employed academics—a rare moment of reckoning that has seen universities called to account for their employment practices before a federal Senate inquiry. Casual academic staff have taken the opportunity presented by the inquiry to publicly speak up against senior management of the corporate university.

Academics have a frustrating tendency to regard themselves as exceptional. The products of a competitive education system, we toil in workplaces conspicuously dedicated to the achievement of ‘excellence’, inside institutions that have historically been accessible only to elites. We tell ourselves that our work is a calling, a passion, a privilege. But what is laid bare by the exposure of systemic wage theft in universities is that while our work may be a calling, it is also labour: the application of effort to produce a commodity in exchange for a wage, under conditions that we do not control. What we should learn from the evidence so far given at the inquiry is that academics are workers, and it is only as workers that we have any hope of transforming a higher education system that diminishes us all.

Piece rates as wage theft

We tend to think of wage theft as involving a breach of the law—a failure to uphold the rights and entitlements of workers as set out in our systems of employment regulation. Wage theft takes this shape in universities, too—for example, in the misclassification of work and failure to observe minimum engagement provisions experienced by professional staff. However, as the evidence given by unions and workers at the Senate Inquiry highlighted, it is the undervaluation of casualised teaching labour embodied in the industry-wide use of piece rates that makes wage theft systemic in universities. As piece rates are specified in university enterprise bargaining agreements (EBAs), much of the wage theft observed in the sector is legal. In universities, the industrial instruments themselves underpin the exploitation of casual workers.

Though no two university EBAs are the same, they are consistent insomuch as they provide casual workers with relatively few industrial rights. Payment systems include hourly rates for duties such as lecturing, tutoring, and marking. They also set out the number of hours a casual worker will be paid for specified tasks. For example, a paid hour of classroom time assumes one or two additional paid hours for associated duties, in which activities like preparation, student consultation, and administration are supposed to be accounted for. These systems rightly recognise that teaching requires work that is done outside of class time. However, they also legitimise exploitation by fixing the number of hours that can be paid for teaching work. This means academic casuals are effectively paid by the piece, rather than by the hour.

Unsurprisingly, these payment systems were defended as reasonable by the beleaguered vice chancellors appearing before the inquiry. Despite this, there is widespread acknowledgement among academics that piece rates radically undervalue the work required to provide quality education. Relics from our industrial past, these rates are unchanged from when they were created in the 1970s and 1980s, a time when lecturing did not require the creation of elaborate PowerPoint slides, interfacing with learning management systems, and responding to emails from students and managers. Classes were smaller. In the past two decades class sizes have blown out, with the teacher-to-student radio becoming seriously unbalanced. Piece rates do not reflect these realities.

Piece rates are well-recognised as a mechanism of exploitation. As Lauren Kelly points out, they are closely aligned with gig work and outsourcing. They break jobs down into discrete tasks that are defined and remunerated separately, which can then be ‘put out’ to a worker to complete using their own facilities and equipment. Piece rates are effective cost-cutting measures because remuneration is tied to output and non-wage expenses are borne by the worker. In the university setting, piece rates are especially thrifty for employers because they so vastly undercount the time required to perform the work, while establishing a disciplinary performance norm that is impossible to meet.

Casualisation, coercion and care

Insecure work has become the norm in higher education. Analysis by the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) indicates that 65 per cent of Australian university workers are in insecure forms of employment. Of this, 43 per cent  are employed on a casual basis and 22 per cent are employed on fixed term contracts. Only 35 per cent of university workers are in a secure job. In some of Australia’s wealthiest institutions, that figure is as low as 27 per cent.

Casualisation creates the conditions under which workers are compelled to accept exploitation. Casual academics are employed semester to semester, on zero-hour contracts, with a clear disincentive to speak up for fear of adverse action. The constant threat of unemployment and the impossible dream of a permanent job exert pressure to go ‘above and beyond’. The exclusion of the casualised workforce from university decision-making structures entrenches this disempowerment.

An outdated apprenticeship model of academic labour justifies exploitation on the basis that casual work constitutes a rite of passage on the other side of which lies a continuing position with a salary and workplace entitlements. The reality is that there are few continuing academic jobs available for casual workers to ‘graduate’ into. Conversion clauses, conceived as a bridge from casual to continuing employment, are laced with prohibitively narrow criteria and leave the power to decide outcomes with employers. The Scholarly Teaching Fellow program—a scheme initiated by the NTEU to shift ‘permanent’ casuals onto full-time teaching-focused contracts—has intensified workloads while failing to reduce levels of casualisation.

All of this leaves casualised academics in a difficult position. Do we work strictly to the fixed hours set out in our contracts, knowing we are short-changing students who understandably expect their teachers to be well-resourced? Or do we consent to unpaid work, knowing we are participating in an exploitative system and contributing to the normalisation of wage theft? If every casual teaching academic worked strictly to the hours set out in their contract, they would be providing a shallow and depersonalised education. In this respect, teaching is a form of care work, eliciting deep commitment from casualised workers and imposing deeply felt obligations. Acting out of a commitment to the practice of education and weighed down by the pressures of precarity, casual academics accept exploitation for the sake of their students, their future and their scholarly integrity.

Exceptionalism and collectivism

Robin Zheng identifies two myths that underpin the widespread acceptance of casualised work in universities: the myth of meritocracy and the myth of work as its own reward. Together, these myths constitute an ideology of exceptionalism that distances academic work from other forms of labour, individualising both the problem and its solution by displacing responsibility for precarity onto the precariously employed themselves. To the extent that academics buy into this ideology, she argues, we allow ourselves to be captured by a system that ‘forestall[s] collective efforts at transforming structural conditions’.

Perhaps this is why shifting the power relations that shape university workplaces has proven to be so hard. While there are important legislative interventions that might make a difference in the sector—such as more public funding for universities and enhanced access rights for unions—these are no replacement for the kinds of empowerment and autonomy that become available to workers when we have control of our working conditions. As the recent successes of public sector teachers’ unions in the United States make clear, workplace struggle can be a vehicle for challenging privatisation, austerity, and state violence. Unionism can be a means though which democracy is activated.

We must do away with the delusion that academic labour is different to other forms of work. If we were in any doubt about this, we need only listen to university management when they are asked to explain their employment practices. Among the many revealing comments made by vice chancellors and their representatives at the Senate inquiry were the following admissions: that balanced teaching and research workload models are holding the sector back; that universities would be able to employ more continuing staff if they did not have to pay academics to do research; and that universities employ casual staff in teaching roles because they are the cheapest option. And this was from university executives earning upwards of $1 million per year. While we might believe that education is a public good, our universities are thoroughly corporate.

Universities are embedded in the economy, not apart from it, and they are complicit in the legitimation of neoliberalism. Managerialism, marketisation, and audit culture shape the experience of work in higher education. We are all held captive to institutional rankings, journal league tables, pressures to commercialise research, consumer reviews disguised as teaching evaluations, and graduate employment data. In their Senate Inquiry evidence, the vice chancellors offered ‘academic autonomy’ as an explanation for systemic wage theft—we are free to rob ourselves. Really, academics have increasingly less freedom to determine the nature of our work and no freedom to determine its value.

To change this, we must collectivise. There will be difficulties, not least of which is the segmentation of the university workforce and accompanying inequalities. 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. The sooner we accept this, the sooner we can build the power to create something better.

Last Chance for Universities?

Simon Cooper, 5 June, 2020

How bad will it be? Up until the COVID-19 pandemic, international-student revenue for Australian universities had been around 25 per cent across the sector, with many of Australia’s ‘sandstone’ universities relying on international students for at least a third of their income. The loss of much of this revenue for the near to mid-future represents the biggest crisis the sector has faced. …universities will act vigorously to manage their finances.

Book Review: The University and Social Justice: Struggles Across the Globe edited by Aziz Choudry and Salim Vally

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 13/03/2021 - 9:00pm in

In The University and Social Justice: Struggles Across the Globe, editors Aziz Choudry and Salim Vally offer a new collection exploring university-based activism and social justice movements around the world. With rich accounts that cover diverse repertoires of action and collective struggles, this book is essential reading for anyone interested in the state of Higher Education across the globe, finds Shreya … Continued

Complementing Defenses of Academic Freedom with Understanding & Advice

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 11/03/2021 - 4:14am in

As reported earlier this week, there’s a new organization, the Academic Freedom Alliance (AFA), that aims to defend faculty whose academic freedom is being threatened.

The AFA joins the ranks of other organizations also concerned in defending academic freedom, such as the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), as well as disciplinary organizations that have among their concerns the academic freedom of their members.

Despite disagreement over

  • the extent to which academic freedom is currently threatened
  • who the serious threats to academic freedom are, and
  • some hard cases in which it is unclear whether academic freedom is being invoked to deflect legitimate complaints of unprofessional behavior,

shoring up the defenses of academic freedom with organizations that aim to level the playing field between threatened faculty and their employers is a good idea. Ameliorating the worries (substantiated or not) that some people with unpopular views have about the bad consequences of publicly arguing for them is a good idea.

That said, it seems that something is missing from these efforts.


[Brett Weston, “Hand and Ear”, 1928]

Challenges to academic freedom often combine the voicing of a substantive moral or political complaint with a call for a procedural remedy (e.g., firing someone, retracting a paper). Defenses of academic freedom are aimed at combatting the remedy. I think there often are also reasons to both explicitly convey an understanding of the substantive complaint and to advise the students on alternatives to their proposed remedy.

It might be useful to work with an example. Suppose some group of students learn that a faculty member has been publishing opinion pieces online, perhaps related to her research, in which she expresses views they take to be disrespectful or demeaning to some types of students (that’s the substantive complaint), and they call for the faculty member to be fired (that’s their remedy). Academic freedom groups get wind of their efforts and launch their campaigns opposing the students. One concern is that the students see this opposition as opposition not just to their procedural remedy but also as opposition to, or at least a failure to take seriously, their substantive complaint.

If we’re interested in promoting and defending academic freedom, this is not a good result. First, people tend to not react cooperatively to not being taken seriously. If they feel dismissed, that may cause them to redouble their efforts. Provoking a bigger and louder threat to academic freedom, even if ultimately averted, is not a win for academic freedom. (And dismissing student concerns rather than engaging with them is to forgo an educational opportunity.) Second, there is the risk that people will come to identify academic freedom with the substantive views they’re opposing and treat it as the enemy (progressives may see academic freedom as anti-progressive; conservatives may see it as anti-conservative).

Were the efforts to defend academic freedom combined with a demonstration of an understanding of the students’ substantive complaint, maybe even a sympathetic understanding of it, that might counter their feelings of dismissal or disrespect. It might reduce the extent to which the students take those opposing their remedy to be ideological enemies, or ignorant, and might lower the risk that they come to see academic freedom as the problem. Perhaps a section of a brief an academic freedom organization submits to a university or shares with the press could contain a section which presents in as strong a way possible the substantive complaint of the students.

Defenders of academic freedom could also to include in their response information for the students about academic-freedom-friendly alternatives for putting forward their substantive concerns, advice on how to pursue those alternatives or on how to engage with their opponents, and perhaps even funding for the pursuit of some of those alternatives. These steps would aid the cause of academic freedom by providing education and support for students and promoting their participation in the “marketplace of ideas”, rather than by trying to shut them down.

Being able to adequately express understanding of students’ complaints and provide useful advice to them about how to push for their views in a university setting is also credibility-enhancing for an organization claiming to be “viewpoint neutral” and hoping to demonstrate a broad, cross-ideological commitment to academic freedom.

Admittedly, these suggestions may not be relevant to all kinds of threats to academic freedom. There may be cases in which a demonstration of understanding is possible, but those calling for a remedy incompatible with academic freedom are, say, a million people on Twitter to whom no substantive advice could realistically apply. And there may be threats to academic freedom based on complaints that are incomprehensible. But for many cases, the suggestions would be quite practical.

Perhaps, then, the AFA could consider adding an “Understanding & Advice” committee to its organization.

(cross-posted at Disagree)

Academic Freedom Alliance Formed

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 09/03/2021 - 10:00pm in

A group of scholars have created a new non-profit organization dedicated to supporting the academic freedom of higher education faculty

The Academic Freedom Alliance (AFA) aims to protect “the rights of faculty members at colleges and universities to speak, instruct, and publish without fear of sanction or punishment.”

Members of the AFA will “defend faculty members’ freedom of thought and expression in their work as researchers and writers or in their lives as citizens, within established ethical and legal bounds; freedom to design courses and conduct classes using reasonable pedagogical judgment; and freedom from ideological tests, affirmations, and oaths.”

The AFA will also help with “providing legal support to faculty whose academic freedom is threatened by institutions’ or officials’ violations of constitutional, statutory, contractual, or school-based rights.”

The AFA aims to be a viewpoint-neutral defender of academic freedom:

The AFA seeks to counteract pressures on employers to take actions against employees whose views, statements, or teachings they may disapprove or dislike. We oppose such pressures from the government, college or university officials, and individuals or groups inside or outside colleges and universities. Recognizing the array of political viewpoints in a college or university that respects academic freedom, the AFA’s defense of faculty members’ academic freedom does not depend on viewpoint, nor does it endorse the content of what they express. What we defend is members’ right of expression.

Membership in the AFA is currently by invitation only, though membership is not required in order to be recipient of its assistance. The organization currently has nearly 200 members, including many philosophers. You can learn more about the organization at its website and in an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

 

Twitter Peeps Educate Universities Minister About What Decolonising the Curriculum Really Means

It’s not about censoring history but about including the ignored or omitted perspectives of the colonised peoples themselves.

Zelo Street put up a brilliant piece on Sunday refuting nonsense printed in the Torygraph by their reporter Christopher Hope. Hope had been talking to the universities minister, Michelle Donelan, who was extremely concerned about the ‘culture war’ being waged in the universities. She was afraid that those unis, who were decolonising their curricula were engaged in a massive piece of historical censorship. Like the former Soviet Union, they were removing those incidents that were not regarded as stains. This greatly concerned her as a former history student who was also a vehement champion of preserving our history.

This provoked a number of academics and/or students, whose universities were involved in this restructuring of their history curricula, to put her right. They informed her that this wasn’t about removing awkward parts of British colonial history, but adding to it by including the perspectives of the subject peoples we ruled and all-too frequently abused and exploited.

Alex Stevens from the University of Kent put this up:

Dear [Michelle Donelan] ‘Adding stuff in to enrich our understanding’ is *exactly* what decolonising the curriculum is doing at my university”.

Edward Anderson of Northumbria University also agreed, posting the following

When we decolonise curricula, it’s almost always ADDING more stuff in: scholarship & perspectives from the Global South, source material of the colonised not just coloniser, etc. [Michelle Donelan] must know this, but chooses to peddle a straw man, fictitious idea of what uni’s do”.

Coventry University’s Andrew Jowett backed this up with his remark

She has no idea what she’s talking about. It’s not about ‘taking things out’ of the curriculum, it’s about contextualising what is taught and ensuring other cultures and indigenous peoples are represented in the curriculum. Maybe she should attend a webinar on it”. 

And then came Dr. Priyamvada Gopal, who teaches colonial literature at Cambridge

 “Let’s break this down for [Michelle Donelan]. When we ‘decolonise’, we put the ‘offensive’ bits BACK IN. To give a random example, we tell [the] story of Winston Churchill not just as unimpeachable war hero–but as a man of empire & race science. We don’t pander to white snowflakery”.

Gopal was the centre of controversy last summer in the Black Lives Matter protests, when she was falsely accused of hating Whites because she’d put up a tweet ‘White don’t matter as White lives’, which I think she intended to mean that White lives have no more or less intrinsic value than anyone else’s. Their value lay simply in being human lives. This was in response to an enraged White chap flying over a local football match on a plane towing the banner ‘White Lives Matter’. I think another of Gopal’s tweets had been altered and the fake version reproduced by the right-wing press to present Gopal as wishing for a real White genocide. Gopal sued for libel, and I believe won.

The comments about Churchill were provoked by the denunciation s of the Great Man at a conference on his legal at Churchill College, Cambridge. Churchill was denounced by some of the speakers as responsible for the horrific Bengal famine, which killed 3-6 million Indians, and a White supremacist. Kehinde Andrews, a prominent Black racial activist, was present at this event, who is notorious for claiming that the British Empire was worse than the Nazis.

This provoked a reaction from offended Tories, like Nicholas Soames, who declared that if they were going to denounce the British wartime PM, then they shouldn’t use his money. The right-wing historian of Africa and the British Empire, Andrew Roberts, also wasn’t impressed. He is the co-author of a paper, published by the right-wing think tank Policy Exchange, defending Churchill. But I think that the allegations against Churchill are absolutely correct. He was an imperialist and White supremacist. It was the dominant ideology of the time and obviously very strong in the British and colonial ruling class. He was also responsible for the Bengal famine through the sequestration of their grain in order to feed British troops in Europe. The result was mass starvation in India, while the emergency requiring its use never came. Nevertheless, Churchill refused to release it to where it was really needed, blaming the Indians themselves for their plight. It was all their fault for having too many children. His attitude shocked many senior British officers and colonial administrators, who compared him to the Nazis.

Zelo Street described Donelan’s interview and her views as

Once again, we have a Government minister apparently not in command of their brief, with their ignorance amplified by a shameless propagandist for the sole purpose of riling up his paper’s base and demonising purveyors of inconvenient thought.

He concludes that, as for her reference to the Soviet Union, that is exactly where her government is taking us, but you won’t read it in the papers. Quite. We have a very authoritarian government, which really is determined to censor history. And the press are right behind her.

This looks like an attempt by a failing government to whip up some popularity by playing the race card. The approved Tory view of the British Empire as essentially benevolent is under attack from evil lefties, and so must be defended at all costs. Just as Britain is being invaded by all those evil refugees crossing the Channel in dinghies.

Meanwhile, people continue to die from the Coronavirus, and the government is determined to push through the welfare cuts which Mike has documented as killing the poor, the disabled and the unemployed.

But we mustn’t look there. They’re just welfare scroungers. We must be worried about the attack on our imperial history and great leaders like Winston Churchill. Even when those attacks are historically accurate.

See: Zelo Street: Decolonising Drivel Deceives No-One (zelo-street.blogspot.com)

Where Are All These Communists the Tories Claim Are Threatening Britain?

Okay, I might be a bit slow here, but I am starting to wonder what planet Nigel Farage, Priti Patel and the Tory party and press are on when they start screaming that British society is under threat from a resurgent, but covert Marxism? About a week or so ago now Zelo Street posted a piece about the McCarthyism that now seemed set to grip the nation. The smirking, odious, racist Priti Patel had announced that MI5 were looking into renewed threats from the Fascist far right and the Marxist left. According to her, the Socialist Party, or the Socialist Workers’ Party as it used to be known, might be infiltrating Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion. Yup, as in the days of the Cold War, the Commies and Trots are at it again, trying to infiltrate other left-wing groups and take them over.

In fairness, this was a tactic of the Socialist Workers Party, which practised something called ‘revolutionary entryism’. The idea was to infiltrate other left-wing organisations and try to turn them into front organisations for the party in an attempt to make Trotskyite Marxism something like a popular mass movement. They did it in the 1970s/80s to Rock Against Racism, which had been set up to challenge the rise of the NF, BNP and other Fascist scumbags. All that it achieved, however, was the collapse of the organisation as the majority of its membership left. They weren’t interested in Trotskyite Marxism. They simply wanted to hear some great bands while combating Fascism and racial hatred. It’s because of its antics attempting to infiltrate and take over every vaguely left-wing organisation, or capitalise on every left-wing issue at the expense of other organisations, that many on the left, from the moderate, reformist Labour Party to various anarchist groups, don’t trust the SWP.

Besides this is the fact that Black Lives Matter, or at least its American parent, is already a Marxist organisation. If the Socialist Workers were trying to infiltrate it, it would be a case of one Marxist group trying to take over another. It’s possible, but seems unlikely. It sounds like something from the Illuminatus! books by Robert Anton Wilson and O’Shea, about warring secret societies plotting against and trying to infiltrate each other.

As for Extinction Rebellion, from what little I’ve seen of its broader political content – and this comes from idly looking at one of the organisation’s posters put up on a wall while waiting for a taxi – it does seem to be a radical left organisation. It’s very anti-racist, anti-sexist and anti-capitalist. But it seems to me that this comes from the very radical programme adopted by parts of the Green movement. When it first emerged in the 1980s or so, the German Green Party – Die Gruenen – included as one of its leading members the lawyer for the Bader-Meinhof gang. There’s a section of the anarchist movement that is also very ecologically aware. The American anarchist intellectual, Murray Bookchin, was advocating a green, eco-friendly anarchism back in the 1980s and in the 1990s there was a British anarchist mag called Green Anarchist, I believe. You don’t need to invoke the Trotskyites of the SWP to explain Extinction Rebellion’s socially radical, anti-capitalist programme.

Would the SWP be interested in infiltrating Extinction Rebellion? I don’t know. Possibly. But they aren’t nearly as strong as they were. I think Marxism as a whole suffered a loss of credibility with the fall of Communism, which might be why radical anti-capitalists seemed to switch to anarchism or else an undefined ‘anti-capitalism’ that could take in a range of socialist and radical left views. The Socialist Workers, now renamed as the Socialist Party, are still about. You can find their videos on YouTube. But even before the lockdown they didn’t seem to be the visible presence on the streets they used to be.

The Tories and their press need to scare people with a threat from the radical left. I remember that in the late ’80s and ’90s they switched from trying to frighten people with the bogeyman of Communist infiltration – although they’d done that with the Labour Party in the 1987 election – to anarchism with the rise of Class War. Now that Class War has also gone the way of many radical movements and fizzled out, the Tories in Britain and the Republicans in America have turned once again to invoking the spectre of Communism.

And because of the very anti-racist, anti-sexist, pro-LGBTQ+ policies adopted by some universities, they’re now trying to claim that western education is under threat from Marxist infiltration. Nigel Farage apparently was in the pages of the Depress a few days ago, writing that the Marxist takeover of our education system was nearly complete. Really? I must have missed all that. There are Marxists in the universities, and have been for a very long time. And some of them are excellent scholars. I got a feeling that Vere Gordon Childe, the Australian archaeologist who first devised the notion of the Neolithic Revolution – the idea that agriculture and the rise of the first settled societies were linked and constituted a radical break with the hunter-gatherer societies of the Paleo- and Mesolithic – was a Communist. He was, however, a brilliant archaeologist and highly influential, even if recent excavations in Turkey have demonstrated that people were settling down into villages before the invention of agriculture. And yes, there are and have always been academics with very pronounced left-wing views. I can think of a number from my own experience as a student. But many others, probably the vast majority, aren’t. And some academics, who privately hold left-wing views, are very careful to keep them separate from their teaching. And whatever their political views, I think the main concern of all teaching staff, from university academics to school teachers, is simply to teach, not to indoctrinate students.

In any case, there are laws against political or religious indoctrination anyway. I think it was introduced by Blair. Teachers are not supposed to teach their political or religious opinions as fact. They are to avoid this as much as possible. If they can’t, then they are supposed to make clear that this is just their opinion. This legislation has been around since at least the middle of the last decade, if not earlier. It should provide sufficient protection already from attempts by the politically motivated to indoctrinate their students.

All these claims of a surreptitious takeover of the education system by Marxists seems to be a return to the days of Maggie Thatcher, when rags like the Depress, the Heil and the local paper for Bristol, the Evening Post, ran stories about Communist teachers indoctrinating their students. The Scum attempted to titillate and scare its readers with a tale about children in various London boroughs – possibly Brent – being taught to sing ‘Ba Ba Green Sheep’ as an anti-racist version of ‘Ba Ba Black Sheep’. This is supposed to have been invented by the wretched rag, but I’ve talked to people, who’ve claimed that it was done in their former school, so who knows? At the same time, I’ve heard that Thatcher also introduced legislation with the intention of purging Marxists from the education system. In fact the Marxists got round it by claiming to be ‘Marxian’. They were only Marxists in culture. It was a fine distinction, but it allowed them to retain their jobs.

But apart from this, university is supposed to be a place for the formulation and discussion of a wide range of views. A vital part of the university experience is the exposure to different opinions and encouragement to form their own views. The current scaremongering about the Marxists trying to takeover the education system is the opposite of this. It’s an attempt to limit free speech and discussion, as Zelo Street pointed out, only the approved Tory views will be heard. Hence the appointment of a ‘free speech tsar’.

Now I will concede that some student bodies are intolerant with protests against talks by visiting personalities they believe hold unacceptable views. Gender critical feminists and their allies, for example, have found themselves blocked from speaking at some universities because their views are held to be bigoted against the transgendered. But there’s also a cancel culture on the right. The estimable Tony Greenstein put up a piece last week about attempts by the Board of Deputies and Bristol University’s Union of Jewish Students to have one of the lecturers, David Miller, banned as an anti-Semite. This is not because of anything Miller has said against Jews. His cardinal sin is saying that Zionism must be destroyed. As we’ve seen, the Board and the other, establishment Jewish organisations are fanatically pro-Israel and conflate opposition to that nation, or simply criticism of its barbaric treatment of the indigenous Palestinians, with real Jew hatred. But Zionism has never been synonymous with Judaism. For many Jews, it’s diametrically opposed, as the graffiti on a wall in Jerusalem had it. Zionism is an ideology, not a people. Stating that Zionism needs to be destroyed is a contentious viewpoint, but it does not mean that the speaker wishes harm to the Jewish people.

Who is the free speech tsar, who will defend lecturers like David Miller? I think it would be a very brave politician who would risk damaging his or her career by doing so in the present political climate. Even if they had the inclination to do so, which the political establishment doesn’t.

I do find some of the radical policies now being implemented in some universities alarming, like the reports that students in some places of learning will be required to take compulsory anti-racism training in order to combat anti-Black racism on campus. It’s obviously very well intentioned, but as I’ve said, racism really isn’t simply a case of White on Black, and I am afraid such mandatory courses are based on a very simplistic view of Whites that sees White culture as innately racist, or inclined to racism. But I see absolutely no evidence that Marxists are behind it.

All this nonsense by Patel and the Tory press about Marxist infiltration is just another Red Scare in order to whip up support for legislation designed to purge the universities of anything that contradicts received Tory ideology. They are trying to destroy free speech, not defend it, and the appointment of a ‘free speech tsar’ is in many ways dangerous and hypocritical.

For further information, see:

Zelo Street: Free Speech Champion WON’T BE (zelo-street.blogspot.com)

Zelo Street: War On Woke = Government Censorship (zelo-street.blogspot.com)

Defend Bristol University’s Professor David Miller – Defend Academic Freedom – Defend Free Speech – Tony Greenstein

If you wish to defend Dr Miller from these outrageous allegations, you can sign a petition at Change.org here, as I have done.

http://chng.it/rTqY9r2FgM

Pages