Thought for the Week

“Nothing we do can be defended absolutely and finally. But only by reference to something else that is not questioned. I.e. no reason can be given why you should act (or should have acted) like this, except that by doing so you bring about such and such a situation, which again has to be an aim you accept.”

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Culture and Value [1931]

The Means and Ends of Higher Education (Take 2)

Here is the revised version of the original post I wrote in the middle of the strike earlier this week exploring the theme of ‘the means and ends of higher education’, published as part of the online archiving of strike material at the Journal of Cultural Economy.

Archiving the 2018 UK Universities Strikes

Hey ho everyone, in case you are looking for some relaxing reading over the long weekend, those nice people at the Journal of Cultural Economy has just posted an online archive of some of the material generated on Twitter and on blogs over the last month or so investigating the wider contexts for the strike action by staff at pre-92 higher education institutions in the UK. This includes collated twitter threads by Gail Davies on the role of consultancy in shaping the landscape of HE pensions ‘reform’, Felicity Callard on the way in which what’s going on now in 2018 stretches back at least as far as 2014, and @etymologic on the cross-cutting networks that connect up UUK, USS, and other high-level HE advocacy and regulatory agencies; and re-published blog posts by Philip Roscoe on the construction of the USS deficit as an economic ‘fact’, Penny Andrews on what has been exposed by this dispute, and a re-versioned blogpost by me orn The Means and Ends of Higher Education (this includes a slightly filled out analysis of the example of the University of Exeter’s attachment to its capital investment programme – a reminder, ahead of further developments in this dispute next week that the key issue in all this is not the valuation of the USS scheme per se, but the question of how much risk Universities are willing to bear – that’s the issue that connects the pensions dispute to a series of broader issues that extend far beyond this dispute and will not be resolved by it whatever the outcome, all the way down to how we are micro-managed through annual reviews, income targets, poorly designed student appraisals, etc etc).

Thanks ever so much to Liz McFall and others at JCE for putting this together. It’s an important step in curating material that deserves wide accessibility both in the immediate term – this material leads off in directions that all UCU members should consider before deciding on the UUK-written ‘proposal’ to be balloted next week – and going forward, in facilitating ongoing rigorous scrutiny of UUK and other powerful actors in the future.

Just Doing Our Jobs

A colleague asked me today, in all seriousness and genuine anxiety, whether being involved in writing an open letter addressed to the senior leadership of our University, outlining a list of concerns about management structure and governance revealed by the handling of the pensions strike, risked staff members being accused of bringing the University into disrepute.

I wonder? There is quite tough opposition to even get into the Top 3 for THIS week:

There’s been this:

And this:

And this:

I’m not sure we are the problem. We’re just doing our jobs – as social scientists and humanities scholars and scientists – by helping people to reflect meaningfully on the attachments they have to the worlds they inhabit.

Sad Beautiful Tragic

A couple of weeks ago, LEGOVC (the real one, or the real pretend one, it’s difficult to tell) asked me whether there were any songs by a certain someone that spoke to the cause for which University staff in the UK have recently been striking (we go back to work next week, wiser and with our eyes wide open, while maintaining Action Short of a Strike). LEGOVC (the pretend one, who is plastic) has helped us learn in the last few weeks that it’s always good to laugh with other people and at yourself. And, now I think about it, I don’t think a plastic figure can pretend, which might mean that it’s real, but only real plastic.

Here’s a first go at a list. I’m afraid it’s the titles that might most resonate, but if you listen carefully, and depending on quite how you have experienced the strike action, one or two of them might have a deeper ring of truth for you too. And if not, well, they’re still all great pop.

  1. This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things
  2. Hey Stephen
  3. Tell Me Why
  4. Blank Space
  5. Bad Blood
  6. I Knew You Were Trouble
  7. We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together
  8. Shake It Off
  9. Never Grow Up
  10. Everything Has Changed

 

10 Things I’ve Learnt From Being on Strike

1). Don’t underestimate students. And not only the occupying ones (but ‘wow’ to them, too).

2). My University stole my money. So did the one’s I used to work for. And they were happy that I hadn’t noticed.

3). Twitter IS a space for intellectual analysis.

4). To listen. And to be careful what you say “Yes” to.

5). If you say out loud that the University you work at has an “institutionalised culture of bullying”, everybody nods AND shrugs at the same time and it feels normal. But also that the shrugging might be about to stop.

6). That a “liability” is not the same as a “risk”. And that there’s nothing necessarily wrong with either.

7). “I think we need to call into question the basic assumptions of your analysis” CAN work.

8). That the Dinosaur Cafe is awesome, the Devon and Exeter Institute is a hidden treasure, the WEA really are lovely, and that Billy Bragg can still excite. And to get carried away.

9). Snow days in the middle of industrial action are heaven sent.

10). People bring different things to a mobilisation: knitting, cakes, crochet, placards, nerdy skills, sociable skills, organisational skills, bells, sunglasses, insider knowledge, incisive analysis, babies, dogs [not cats], Canadians, plastic building bricks (apparently), layers, obscure Latin quotes that don’t piss people off, anger, relief, and irony, hugs, Duncan, playlists, retweets, cynicism, sacrifice, coffee.

11). That what my Head of Department says is right: “We’re Good at What We Do”. All of us.

Here Comes Love for Ever

I had a conversation the other day with my colleague Sean Carter on the subject of the apparent lack of songs about University life (we were on strike, so whether talking about this absence quite counted as a work-related conversation remains a little unclear). I think we agreed that there is no equivalent of the campus novel in pop – no identifiable genre of the ‘campus pop song‘. Anyway, provoked by that conversation, here’s a stab at a playlist to keep up spirits on [the way to] the picket line next week to support the UCU’s campaign against plans to gut the pensions of University staff. I realise that this reflects the tastes of a man of a certain vintage (but that’s OK – after all, I’m on strike to protect my PENSION). And in my defence, remember that most pop songs are about falling in love and/or broken hearts, and that most pop songs which are not about those things aren’t very good.

Songs to help energise and maintain mobilisation:

Which Side Are You On

Fight the Power

Standing in the Way of Control

Something Better Change

I Won’t Back Down

Not Ready to Make Nice

Weird People

 

Songs to remind you about the causes and stakes of this particular dispute:

Respect

Liar, Liar

Communication Breakdown

Save It For Later

Career Opportunities

Birth, School, Work, Death

Heads Will Roll

Us V Them

 

Songs to help you keep things in perspective (that is, to help us all remember why Universities matter, as well as why there is more to life than an education and that all sorts of things can be educational):

Why Theory?

The One on the Right is on the Left

Closer to Fine

Don’t Go Back to Rockville

Lazy

There Ain’t Half Been Some Clever Bastards

Waking Up

Resist Psychic Death