We were invited to sit on a panel on Academic Activism at the 5th International Academic Identities Conference 2016 Academic life in the measured university: pleasures, paradoxes, and politics.
Below is my response to the questions posed by moderator Agnes Bosanquet regarding why I withheld institutional affiliation in my conference biography and how I separate my paid job from my activism on casualisation (although still not sure I am an activist!).
Why withhold institutional affiliation?
- Prudence. Because I like my current job, and I love having a regular, fortnightly, very adequate income, sick leave, carers leave, and annual leave. I don’t need or want any of it to come unstuck. I was a full-time casual employee for the 3 years before this job, a contract full-time academic and professional for 2 years before that, and a casual academic and professional staff member for the five years before that. I know what I have right now. So I “consciously uncouple” from institutional affiliation, particularly in these sorts of forums.
- Transparency. Affiliation in the form of an institution next to my name in this forum would imply that I am a full-time permanent staff member of that institution with access to all working conditions and the eligibility to apply for all that full-time, relatively secure position entails. I’m not. I’ve been working in the same university more or less for over a decade and for about 2 years, I had almost-full access and eligibility – a de facto relationship. If that was then, perhaps I would have come here with an institution next to my name. Perhaps.
- Honesty. Affiliation in this context would also imply that I am employed as an academic staff member. I am an academic but I am not currently employed as one.
- Solidarity. If I was in the position of many casual academics, I would be up here with a whole string of universities and institutions after my name, indicating all the places I currently work at. It’s a point of high status for an academic to be wanted by many universities but it’s definitely not to be actually working at many. Monogamy is key. But I am not currently a casual employee, I am a contract one. So I come up here with nothing next to my name to indicate that I too am not affiliated to any one institution, at least in terms of the work that matters most to me.
- Anger. I do not want to be affiliated with a university as an academic worker. In this context, in the case of sitting up here as a representative of casual academia – those who are employed by the hour and who can be given notice by the hour, and who are now the majority of academic workers, and taking into account too, all the PhD students and tutors across the sector who front up each semester and walk away after 6-13 weeks to sweat over the next few months without a living wage – naming a single institution is not helpful, is not enough. Because this happens at every institution – every university relies more than it should do on an army of precariously employed teachers with no access to even paid sick leave.
- Frankness. I don’t have to be affiliated. I’m on a relatively short-term but mutually-beneficial professional contract, and if there’s any academic affiliating to be done in this time, it’s going to be with people, not an institution. I’m fortunate enough to not have to be affiliated with a university to do the work I enjoy most and that means the most to me – at CASA collaborating with Kate, at work with the much valued colleagues I research and write with. Not being affiliated means too, I publish but I don’t have to produce publications for ERA rankings. I write but I don’t have to constantly write to remain ‘research-active’ or ‘research productive’ or to meet the KPIs of others. I teach but I don’t have to cobble together a living from it. My Google Scholar citation count is a joy because I can ignore the numbers and go straight into those papers and see how others are responding to my research and my ideas. I can go slow – think, read, write – when I need to. I wouldn’t be in this situation if I was a full-time, tenured academic. I wouldn’t be in this situation if I had full institutional affiliation.
How do I separate paid work from activism?
I don’t. I can’t. You may have been expecting me to say something like – my paid job is just that – a job, one that’s in a discipline far away from my own – and that would be right to a certain extent. But it is a job in a research centre in a university, and I am an academic not employed as an academic, who is working closely with, and supporting people who are employed as academics. And I’m right next door to a department and in a Faculty, where there are thousands of undergraduate students – many of them from overseas. And I see early career academics finishing their PhDs while employed on six month teaching-heavy contracts, convening courses with 8 tutors and hundreds of first year students. I work in this, and with this – we all do. And because I have worked as an actual casual, I can’t un-see casualisation and its effects. Working in this job – this non-academic, professional job – gives yet one more rather grim perspective on casualisation; a bird’s eye view of yet one more discipline, one more scholarly cohort, that is being slowly hollowed out, drained. So I observe and I tweet and I message Kate and we file it away in any one of the CASA drawers that are labelled Doom, Impending Doom, and Glimmer of Hope.
Grateful thanks to Agnes Bosanquet, Tai Peseta and colleagues who organised the panel and the conference, and to the other panellists Barbara Grant, Cathy Rytmeister, Harry Rolfe, and Jakelin Troy who inspired.