Category Archives: tenure

Short article on radical scholarship

Batterbury, S.P.J. 2015. Who are the radical academics today? The Winnower  6pp.


This brief article suggests radical scholarship needs redefinition in the reality of contemporary university life. It must include the conduct of research that supports justice; greater relevance and engagement outside the university; and more attention to  “…the ethics by which and toward which knowledge is produced”, meaning the maintenance of sound personal ethics in everyday life. To be rude, selfish and unduly ambitious demeans any remaining progressive agenda in today’s universities.

Please comment on the Winnower site.  Read by 2300 people in a  month!

Earlier blog version with comments:

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Filed under academic relevance, engaged scholarship, Open access publishing, tenure

Higher Education’s Silent Killer

Marc Spooner. 2015. Higher Education’s Silent Killer. Briarpatch Magazine. 1 Sept.

“The audit culture distorts scholars’ work by tabulating academic worth through the simplest algorithm: one that considers, for the most part, only peer-reviewed publication, journal impact rankings, and the size of research grants. Whole realms of endeavour are devalued or left out of the equation altogether, including activities such as “slow” research, alternative forms of scholarship and dissemination, devotion to teaching, or actually acting on one’s research findings – all vital aspects of the academic enterprise”enterprise. “


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Reaction to AC Grayling’s New College of the Humanities

I am in England right now and the debate over the New College of the Humanities has reached fever pitch. Britain only has a couple of private universities, including Buckingham.   The philosopher AC Grayling has set up a  new, private  humanities college (not really a ‘university’ – it has no students or decent facilities yet) in Bedford Square, London, funded from fees of £18,000 a year. Supporters of public higher education like Terry Eagleton have gone ballistic about this. The issue for them is a) it is private and b) it will cost a lot. A third contextual factor, c) is the rising cost of education to the student in the UK, now set to reach £9,000 a year for many university degrees following the withdrawal of central government funding in 2012 for arts and humanities undergrads (funding that has kept costs down so far to around £3,300 max until now). Grayling is seen as having broken ranks from the protester’s demands to ‘save’ public education from market forces and reduce costs to reasonable levels. The misery (see Vernon) affecting British Universities has only really kicked in since 2008, and many feel they need all the help from central government that they can get.

Of more concern to me was that the professors listed as teaching are not abandoning their existing jobs at all (except for Grayling) and thus they are only available to students during the hours or days they are in London and willing to work. I was  expecting to see a long list of hired academic staff, but the list of those is currently very short.  On the issue of fees – I am afraid £18,000 is almost what an international student would pay for full time study at our university in Australia. (Australian dollar is currently very strong).  Brits are not accustomed to these sorts of fees, which are also commonplace in North American private institutions.  In the unit I run in Australia, we are simply not allowed to profit from our students and all revenue is closely managed and kept by those responsible for the teaching, to pay for basic costs. For that price, which is unremarkable in decent research and teaching universities, you get access to an actual university.

In sum, the New College has attracted a bad press for the wrong reasons – mainly the fee issue. More important is the issue of how, exactly, teaching will occur and how it will be delivered. This is a ‘quality’ question. We wait to see and, since the College says they will make a loss in the early years, the jury is out as to whether it will succeed in the long term.

Will it? I have had experience of this. I was at the University of Arizona when the closure of its small and innovative public liberal arts college offshoot, Arizona International College, was announced after five years, well before it had consolidated its programs. There are parallels that Grayling would be wise to look into.  The pretext for closure was budget cuts. Jobs were lost. Here is a section for an article in the CHE that documents the closure.  

U. of Arizona Closes Experimental College. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Vol. 48, Iss. 10; pg. A.33 2001.

 “The University of Arizona announced in October that it would close its experimental liberal-arts college, Arizona International College, because of cuts in state support.

… “My reaction is one of disappointment, I guess,” said David C. Gnage, the interim dean of the college. “I’ve been involved with AIC since its beginning, but I realize this is a very difficult situation.”

The college opened in the fall of 1996 as a liberal-arts alternative to the state’s three traditional state institutions. Its unconventional curriculum allowed students to devise their own “learning contracts” and professors to teach in teams. To graduate, students were required to demonstrate proficiency in six fields of study, including critical thinking and computer technology. ……

Officials [at the UofA] say they expect the college’s closing will help them meet a $14-million budget cut they face.

Other factors that officials cited as leading to the decision to close included the fact that almost 50 percent of the college’s students transferred to the main campus before their sophomore year and that a majority of AIC students relied substantially on university courses outside the college.”

I am not sure commentators on the London College debate have hoisted in some of the parallels, since AIC would not be known to them.  The invective that had already been directed towards AIC in the 90s for its unconventional approach,  made it a target for cuts – and the lack of tenure for its faculty helped the process of shutting it down. Sad.

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Marc Bousquet’s “How the University Works“

Marc Bousquet’s “How the University Works” was published in 2008, with an attendant blog page.

 A great account of how, in the USA, decent long-term or tenured academic jobs are giving way to temporary teaching positions occupied by “adjuncts”. This suits American university managers – who now hold more power than ever, and are generally well paid – just fine, since it reduces wage bills and costs.

One criticism: Bousquet seems to miss in the parts I read,  that outside the USA, the tenure/non-tenure track/untenureable divide is less strong, or even absent. It is my view that tenure in the USA disadvantages contingent, adjunct lecturers and teachers. In the UK and Australasia, non-permanent staff with no chance at a permanent job at least get paid a decent wage and there is some prospect of further contracts and mobility in the sector. Also the ‘permanent’ staff can still be kicked out with persistence, if they do little or no work. This is fairer. We all end up on not-so-great-wages (except in Australia, but only because its currency is strong), but there generally more equality.

The book should really be renamed “How the American University Works”. In general, very few commentators on academic labour in the USA seem to acknowledge that different labour systems, often without the tenure/no tenure divide, operate elsewhere. I work in one. They aren’t necessarily better, but the absence of a ‘tenured class’ outside the USA reduces the awkward fact that, in the States, only a chosen few get to the top of a greasy pole that many people with PhDs never even get to approach. Life for the latter is not all that great.


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