Check your privilege, academics told

Warwick sociologist urges scholars to let go of their ‘sense of injury’ if they want to resist marketisation

July 3, 2014


Academics must address their own “privilege” rather than constantly focus on a “sense of injury” if they want to properly resist the marketisation of higher education.

That is the view of Gurminder Bhambra, professor of sociology at the University of Warwick, who told a conference last week that many scholars had buried their heads in the sand over government reforms.

Speaking at the Governing Academic Life conference held at the London School of Economics and the British Library, Professor Bhambra said that academics’ awareness of the changes since the Browne Review of 2010 had gone through three stages: first, “It’s complex and needs more research (funding)”, then “I need to concentrate on my research” and finally “What’s happening? Why didn’t anyone tell me?”

While those without qualifications “remain strongly committed to ideals of public higher education and its public funding”, continued Professor Bhambra, “we – tenured academics – allowed our mouths to be stuffed with gold and largely remained silent as government ministers, university vice-chancellors and many of our colleagues worked out how to make the best of the new situation”. Effective resistance, meanwhile, would require them to “address our privilege rather than our sense of injury”.

Meanwhile, Wendy Brown, class of 1936 first professor of political science at the University of California, Berkeley, argued that a system of faculty as “the managers of the academic side of the house” had been superseded by an environment where “in no meaningful sense do faculty now govern the university or their work as teachers and researchers”. She also said that students’ “indifference to the status as opposed to effectiveness and entertainment value of faculty reinforces the casualisation of academic labour”.

The conference, held to mark the 30th anniversary of the death of philosopher Michel Foucault, also considered how new forms of governance shape new academic identities.

One of the results of the introduction of “impact” as a criterion within the research excellence framework, suggested Michael Power, professor of accounting at the LSE, was the birth of some strange creatures known as “impactful academics” and “impactees”.

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Reader's comments (1)

Wish I could follow this as I'm sure it's replete with meaning. Instead all I can seem to get is a whole load of sound bites.

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