May 20, 2016

Producing anxiety in the neoliberal university


This article investigates processes of neoliberalization of the academy. It argues that neoliberalism entails shifts from exchange to competition, from equality to inequality,and turns academics into human capital. It suggests that auditing systems are key mechanisms of neoliberalization that produce unhealthylevels of anxiety and stress in the academy. This paper presents a theoretical analysis of the neoliberal production of anxiety in academic faculty members in universities in Northern Europe. The paper focuses on neoliberalization as it is instantiated through audit and ranking systems designed to produce academia as a space of economic efficiency and intensifying competition. We suggest that powerful forms of competition and ranking of academic performance have been developed in Northern Europe. These systems are differentiated and differentiating,and they serve to both index and facilitate the neoliberalization of the academy. Moreover, these audit and ranking systems produce an ongoing sense of anxiety among academic workers. We argue that neoliberalismin the academy is part of a wider system of anxiety production arising as part of the so-called soft governance of everything, including life itself, in contemporary late liberalism.


...Why might we care about this? Perhaps the recent death of Professor Stefan Grimm of Imperial College, London, provides a particularly graphic example of the impact that rising levels of anxiety and stress are having in the academy. It also illustrates how that stress is linked directly to systems of “performance assessment.” Professor Grimm was found dead in his home in September of 2014 after complaining that he was to be fired by Imperial College for failure to meet professorial grant “income targets” of £200,000 per annum as a Principal Investigator (PI) (Colquhoun 2014; Parr 2014a, 2014b, 2015). One month after his death— which was ruled to be a suicide by asphyxiation—an email was sent from Professor Grimm’s Gmail account to colleagues at Imperial College that outlined what he deemed to be his poor treatment. This email stated:

On May 30th 13 my boss came into my office together with his PA and ask[ed] me what grants I had. After I enumerated them I was told that this was not enough and that I had to leave the College within one year max...

There are, of course, other signs of the rising levels of anxiety and stress amongst university faculty. The Guardian newspaper, for example, has put together a collection of more than 40 articles under the title Mental Health: The University in Crisis and with the by-line: “Mental health issues have become a growing problem among students and academics. This series will uncover a hidden side to university life ” (The Guardian n.d.). The New York Times recently published an article about the rise of suicide deaths on campus, linking many of these deaths to the “ culture of perfection ” that predominates in university settings, especially among academic faculty members (Scelfo 2015). This is not surprising given existing levels of work-related psychological stress in the academy...

Complete paper at:

May 17, 2016

Tenure Denied - Dartmouth College

At Dartmouth, an Asian-American professor receives unanimous English department backing and is rejected at higher levels. The same happened to a black historian at the college. Many see a disturbing pattern. Tenure denials happen all the time, and they’re most often accepted by fellow professors and students as an unpleasant byproduct of the tenure system. But sometimes such denials rock an institution.

That’s what’s happening now at Dartmouth College, regarding the failed bid of Aimee Bahng, an assistant professor of English who faculty members and students alike say deserves a permanent position on campus. Beyond Bahng, concerned professors say the case speaks to bigger questions about commitments to minority faculty members, interdisciplinary research and shared governance at Dartmouth and beyond.

“The issue of faculty governance at Dartmouth is a heated one, and it extends to broader issues than [this] tenure case -- though that has been a trigger for many of the broader discussions we're having now -- and though it is widely perceived as unjust and shortsighted,” said Annelise Orleck, a professor of history at Dartmouth who criticized the tenure decision at a recent town hall about the findings of a campus climate survey. Several hundred faculty members, students and staff reportedly were in attendance.

In addition to the town hall, professors and students have taken their protest to Twitter under the hashtags #fight4facultyofcolor and #dontdoDartmouth; the latter features students and academics advising would-be applicants to avoid the institution. Public details on Bahng’s bid are few, and she did not respond to a request for comment. But fellow faculty members confirmed that she was unanimously approved by the department's tenure committee. Her bid fell short higher up in review chain, which includes the associate dean, the dean of the faculty and the arts and sciences faculty’s Committee Advisory to the President.

Dartmouth says it’s bound by confidentiality surrounding the tenure process, but that unanimous department decisions don’t always lead to tenure. And that’s true -- the departmental tenure committee merely makes a recommendation. Yet at many institutions, it’s rare for a unanimous faculty vote to be overturned. Orleck and others on campus say Bahng’s case is similar to several others in recent years, in which department votes for tenure and unanimous recommendations for tenure by outside reviewers are overruled by deans or the Committee Advisory to the President.

A number allegedly have been faculty members of color who were respected by their colleagues and students. One such case is that of Derrick White, now a visiting associate professor of history. White did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but his name and failed tenure bid last year -- despite the unanimous vote of his departmental peers and outside reviewers -- have been mentioned in many of the conversations about Bahng.

 In short, the most recent case appears to be something of the last straw on a campus that’s already facing criticism for what many see as a lack of commitment to diversity...

More info:

May 14, 2016

Useless UNISON...

I have been a UNISON member for just under 10 years. I ended up being disciplined and even though the process is still ongoing I believe and has been so for nearly two years, the rep clearly has not read any of the papers. When I put this to him in Jan 2016 and expressed my frustration that despite me explaining verbally to him and providing him with all the information he has requested he still doesn't understand. I am in a bullying situation and UNISION say that I have not followed advice so have refused representation...


UCU is not much better...