On the 23rd of May the Women’s Academic Network held their second international seminar ‘Reclaiming the academy: Scholarship, gender and consumerism’. Our international keynote speakers were Professor Maggie Berg from Queen’s University, Canada, and Professor Barbara Seeber from Brock University, also in Canada. Notably, Maggie and Barbara are the acclaimed authors of the extraordinary book The Slow Professor: Challenging the culture of speed in the academy. The audience was deeply absorbed by both their keynote speech and workshop, which outlined why ‘slowness’ in academia is vital to university life. We were dismayed to hear of the bizarre attacks made upon their work, in which sexism and gender oppression were clearly implicated, echoing one of the presentations on the silencing of women’s voices by our old colleague, Professor Heather Savigny of De Montford University. Yet Maggie and Barbara’s work speaks with the authority of deep scholarship and conviction and, as such, is generating great support globally. In this seaside corner of the world it has inspired research at BU among WAN members, along with international conference presentations and a forthcoming keynote speech for a DAKAM women’s studies conference in Turkey in December 2018 by Professor Sara Ashencaen Crabtree; and finally, a planned ESRC research bid.
The seminar was well attended by a mixed audience of internal and external academics and PGR, where we, WAN co-convenors, warmly welcomed the support of our good male colleagues in the capacity of presenters and participants. We heard some excellent presentations, culminating in an evocative social dreaming session by Anne-Marie Cummins and Dr Lita Crociani-Windland of the University of West of England. Thanks to our friend, Dr Ian Davies, colleagues and students from BU Music provided a superb finish to the day with beautiful singing and musical accompaniment and the whole event supported by the invaluable help of Sarah Cronin in OD.
The evaluations by participants were (gratifyingly) completely outstanding, encompassing without exception the two highest points of appreciation. Comments related to the excellence of the programme, the relevance of the topic to the audience and the warm collegiality experienced throughout the day. The only criticisms received was that maybe next time a 2-day event rather than 1 (noted, thanks) and that the rather ferocious air-conditioning needed taming (agreed).
Upon reflection the topic of the seminar appeared to hit a strongly vibrating chord in individual participants resonating with growing concern permeating the sector about the morphing and future of academia. For instance, it is disquieting to note from the research literature that the UK appears to be in the vanguard of adopting corporate values, systems and processes that have been critiqued in the literature as damaging to the ethos, the practices and environment of academia – not only harmful to academics in all ways but also to students in terms of their motivations towards and engagement with their studies, owing to the policy vectors influencing a flawed understanding of the purpose of academia, if viewed as purely instrumental. Yet we note that the HEI trends towards quasi-business models lags behind the realisation of actual business and entrepreneurial industries that the target-driven corporate model in fact damages innovation, commitment, creativity – and ultimately the health of employees. The gulf between privatised business models and academia are great and need to be recognised as such, as celebrated academics such as Stefan Collini and Frank Furedi make very clear. Writing in the Times Higher Education, the brilliant sociologist, Laurie Taylor (the caustic creator of the satirical ‘University of Poppleton’) sought to remind us a few years ago that just as good actors hold their allegiance to the concept of the ‘stage’, so too do academics owe theirs to that of ‘academia’ – not to any particular establishment.
This seminar was thus both timely and significant in allowing the topic to develop through inter-related themes and enabling us to recognised shared concerns and identify a corpus of collegial interest that bodes well for future research collaboration focusing on the threats towards, the defence of and the recreation of what academics really value together with the role of what flourishing university cultures contribute to society.
Sara Ashencaen Crabtree, Lorraine Brown, Frances Hawkhead & Jayne Caudwell