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Affiliation withheld

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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

HBBYFCqK

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.

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Discussion

4 thoughts on “Affiliation withheld

  1. Bravo Karina. So well thought out.

    Regards,

    Helene

    Posted by Helene Mountford | July 1, 2016, 10:20 am
  2. It is a dilemma – all that you say resonates, and I appreciate your clear rationale. Academia.edu insists on a university affiliation and there are some benefits in retaining this, even though at present I am ‘in between’ contracts. As a casual, each of us has to take any benefit we can – I am torn because I want to learn more, I want to participate, I want to be included, so I go over and above ‘what I’m paid for’. I attend anything I can and appreciate being able to. (You may think this would all be reasons for making me a good candidate for ongoing employment but no… not at all.).

    All of the elements you mention in 6. Frankness are the things I relish in when I’m feeling insecure (often) and reading, viewing, listening and writing for interest and pleasure have little to do with affiliation, and the affiliation I have is so tenuous anyway (really in name only – and for now, library access). What I say is not (necessarily) as a representative of ‘my’ university but as a highly skilled, experienced and educated representative living the perils of insecure (casual) employment like too many others. As an ‘independent academic’, will I have the same access to information, to discourses, to seminars and workshops, to people, to what is actually going on in my field? And does my university benefit from me retaining affiliation and contributions? In the long term, do I?

    Posted by Annabelle Leve | July 1, 2016, 12:05 pm
    • Hi Annabelle,
      Thank you and yes, you’ve reminded me of other things that went through my mind, both in writing this and also during the panel session. Including the fact that some days, quite honestly, I am here, working in this university, just for its library card, the inter-library loan system, and the journal access privileges. None of which I consider small or non-valuable.

      I’m not sure about being an ‘independent academic’, but I am most definitely an independent scholar. This has turned out to be quite a sturdy identity, one that will always incorporate teaching AND research, and one that has refused to be defined or limited by my employment status or job title or job level or job classification or current job position (or, for that matter, by university brand or status or ranking or other institutional obsession).
      Working as on a contract as a professional/administrative staff member hasn’t injured my identification as academic or as scholar. I actually don’t think it could. After all, I’ve the academic qualifications, the knowledge, the know-how, and the experience. I still work and collaborate as academic when I (co)author papers, or (co)investigate or research assist. And if/when I leave the university’s paid employment, I’ll keep on scholar-ing. At the moment, I pay the bills through an alt-ac job that provides the library card and the access and opportunities for scholarly collaboration. I am very okay with this way of paying the bills and my academic identity is still very much intact.

      I no longer see myself as needing to make contributions to the university. The university will take exactly what it needs and wants from me, and it most definitely can look after itself. I direct my effort/s to scholarly conversations, to discipline/s, to projects involving research and/or teaching, to my colleagues, to students. And I’m still in the loop, somehow, even though I’m not employed as a full-time / permanent / academic staff member.

      Posted by Karina | July 4, 2016, 11:53 am
      • And thanks for that too Karina – gives me strength and reminds me too of that easily forgotten fact that getting paid by a university to ‘teach’ doesn’t negate the rest of my skills/passions and abilities and my choice to identify as I see fit. A year away in Laos may well relieve me of my dependence on university affiliation. Please keep up your fantastic work – and sharing, that ‘loop’ you refer to needs to continue to happen outside of the institutions that limit and claim what can/is and cannot be said and to whom we owe nothing more than what we are paid to do.

        Posted by Annabelle Leve | July 4, 2016, 6:39 pm

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