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AUTUMN

10th September


As tenured bystanders we feel the vicarious sense of rejuvenation from simply being at the annual festivity of graduation. It is a moment to insist that another kind of university is possible and to resolve to act in a way to make it so.

Apocalyptic portrayals of the demise of the university as a place to think are cold comfort for they offer few clues as to how one might act as an academic writer and teacher. Ros Gill has argued that the neo-liberal university, with its individualisation of performance and value, results in a peculiarly toxic environment which is suffered secretly and silently. "Neoliberalism found fertile ground in academics whose predispositions to 'work hard' and 'do well' meshed perfectly with its demands for autonomous, self- motivating, responsibilised subjects," she argues. Here worthy characteristic like scholarly dedication and the ambition to do good work merge seamlessly with neo-liberal imperatives based on egotism and selfishness. The overwhelming experience of 'fast academia' is pressure, self-exploitation (which can mean putting off or sacrificing the personal fulfilment of having children, particularly for women), vituperative meanness and toxic shame. Our most deeply held values of engaged work, careful thought and creativity become cruel promises, but the conditions to realise them are no longer possible. If the university is in ruins, as Bill Readings has suggested, how is it possible to carry on with an intellectual vocation?

 


The quick pessimistic answer is to say it isn't possible: the forms of auditing, professionalisation and managerialism have dealt the university a fatal blow. I think we have to find a way to resist these shifts, loosen the grip of self-regulation and act differently. Reading back through these pages I realise my own answers are hidden in the detail of each of the entries. What do these moral tales add up to, what kind of academic vocation is advocated in them? Before ending I want to try and formulate an answer through proposing a series of key principles. The first of these is to slow thinking down - be it theoretical or practical - and to value the time it takes. It entails the cultivation of the capacity for judicious speech and crafted attentiveness. The overwhelming bureaucratic impulse to speed up academic production and make academics into tacticians preoccupied with the game of professional standing results in a concern with short-term gains. As a result the books and articles we write are destined to have a short shelf life. To combat this I think it is important to try and resist the temptation to think too fast and write too much too quickly. It doesn't mean encouraging PhD students to languish for decades without completing their PhDs or sitting on manuscripts that will never be read. A balance needs to be struck between the progression of a piece of research or a book and taking time to think and write, so that what we produce has a

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17 September