Friday, June 15, 2012

What’s Up With Universities – Whackademia or Just Grumpy Old Academics?

English: Protesting academics in 2006 at UKZN
Protesting academics (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Inger Mewburn, The Conversation:

When a friend showed me the blurb for Whackademia: an insider’s account of the troubled university, I immediately left the office to buy a copy, solely on the promise in the title.

I read it in just two sittings but finished with conflicted feelings. This book made me angry when I agreed with what it had to say, and even angrier when I disagreed.

It starts well; Dr Hil criticises academics for succumbing to a “culture of complaint” about university management, for accepting unreasonably high workloads, parlous conditions for casual lecturers and for failing to suggest viable alternatives.

He then goes on to rant for 200 or so pages without offering any viable alternatives. There is a short list of “tactics” at the end which are not, in my view, very useful.

On reflection, I would have been much happier with this book if had just been the memoirs of a grumpy old (academic) man rather than what it is: an extended essay on the ills of the contemporary university from a left of centre point of view.

Richard Hil went to university in the 1970s when, apparently, Things Were Better. It all went to hell in the 80s when governments around the world had a neo-liberal makeover. Suddenly academics were accountable to taxpayers, the HECs scheme was introduced and universities started selling education to students from overseas.

Now, according to Hil, academics are not trusted to do their primary job, which he believes is to produce engaged and informed citizens.

Hil claims that campuses have become like malls, with cafes and shops. Students are treated like “shoppers who have come to expect that they will get the degree they pay for”.

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