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Students are not the monsters in our universities

  • 02 September 2016


The university is in crisis! That is sort of a joke, because at university, you can use the word 'crisis' on any contents page. You can say the essay is in crisis human rights are in crisis youth are in crisis, and you'd always be right, because our ways of being are constantly overhauled and complicated.

What I mean to say is that the golden age of the university, apparently, is over. That one where young people sipped sherry with their dons and then quietly walked out the gates with a degree under their arm and the wisdom of becoming.

But for most of us the golden period of the university is a myth, and like all myths, one that serves a useful purpose. In the golden era, I suppose, only a handful of people, selected for their potential to contribute to certain class formations, went to university.

And then there was a shift, in the Anglophone west, at least, and more of us went to university and this occurred within the supposedly democratising process of neoliberalisation.

But neoliberalisation went a bit far and so now when we teach in universities we don't have offices, and we don't know if we'll be hired next semester, and we don't know how to tell our students that while they are entitled to real, unfettered attention from their teachers, a lot of the time their teachers are basically volunteers for the charity called their expensive education.

And these two principles are connected, though perhaps they needn't have been — a greater and more diverse student body, and the rapid deregulation of the university sector.

For many of us whose fates were not included in the golden era myth of the university, teaching at the university as a sessional is a difficult enterprise because your position is twofold: on the one hand you represent the figure of moral authority posed by the institution; on the other, you are subject to the injustices of the institution perhaps even more than your students are.

And yet, it's a job, and maybe a stepping stone to establish yourself within the only remaining institution that can give you space for your research and writing.


"It is a similar fear to that which drives the performance of polite conversation in an uber. But to translate that fear into contempt for students is the wrong way round."


For the new sessional academic — Australian universities now employ more than