Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Glossy brochure blowback and universities

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It had to happen one day – the modern two-tier system for academic labour is subject to a direct action campaign. Not, of course, by either tier of employees (only one tier is unionised, and it has a strong vested interest in the status quo), but by students.

In 2003, students may or may not have as much general propensity to protest issues as students of the past 35 years. Clearly though, students going in to bat (and brick?) for staff – and sessional staff at that – is a new development.

And the protesting VCA students are being quite clever about it. The obvious angle for them would have been to mutter vaguely about course quality and then rather awkwardly segue into a neo-Marxist diatribe about how exploited sessional academics are – all true, but also absolutely nothing new. Instead, we get this:

“What was promised to us in the glossy handbook when we applied to the art school is not being fulfilled” [a] second-year drawing student [said].*

Which claim nicely illustrates my newly-christened theory: that one two-tier system begets another; or, if you prefer, two-tier systems divide and multiply. Glossy marketing brochures have proliferated in universities over the past fifteen years because of cutbacks – understandably and harmlessly enough, you may think. But once you start connecting the dots, the glossy brochures promising sandstone – but delivering only chipboard – start up an engine of reverse causation.

This means much more than unleashing student-as-consumer grievances – a fact that VCA management currently fail to grasp (or perhaps, choose to ignore):

[VCA director Andrea Hull said] “we are not reducing the education being offered to the students”. She added that sessional staff were casuals with no guarantee of ongoing employment. (same URL)

Oh yeah? “The quality remains the same” – that tired, tired New Right refrain and insult to basic biology (there IS a point at which repeated, severe pruning harms the organism; i.e. amounts to a cumulative “lop” and not a prune)

In students unpacking what was always behind the glossy brochures, and so questioning the a priori disposability of sessional academics, one under-tier has found another.

* "Student anger over staff cuts" by Georgina Safe The Australian 22 July 2003 (no URL)

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