“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest,” said Benjamin Franklin, who ought to have known as a highly successful businessman and politician. But the world no longer rewards us directly for our knowledge and intellect, or to put it another way, merit is no longer the metric, or even among the metrics now valued.
The academic system, which rightly in the past faced accusations of being a redoubt of privilege for certain demographics, is broken and all the attempts to fix it appear only to be breaking it further in some regards. The marketisation of higher education in places like Britain and America has led to reliance on precarious underpaid staff, the primacy of student as customer or client, and the incessant rise of a class of highly remunerated apparatchiks who dictate market values to academia.
Today I saw yet another inspiring and astonishing colleague out of work. Someone with multiple well-regarded books to their name, the recipient of international scholarships, with experience teaching in multiple countries. There’s no merit in this. If people like that are dispensable, one becomes baffled to see those who remain in position, despite losing fortunes in speculative ventures like foreign campuses, rash restructuring of institutions, and declining standards and institutional reputations.
Academia has really sickened me in the past few years. I’ve seen some truly horrendous things. Professors without doctoral theses. People who have literally never published a paper criticising the work of colleagues with multiple monographs. Demands that extend into the weekend, the evening, days off and even when staff are literally hospitalised from overwork.
I’ve seen some astonishing people laid off and let go from academic posts. Truly inspiring teachers, highly qualified, whose research is globally renowned. I’ve also seen cabals of admins backslap each other with ridiculous pay increases for shuffling reports back and forth at each other.
I don’t know how it can be fixed, or if it can, and I don’t know if everywhere is as bad as things appear to be in Britain. Maybe they’re actually worse elsewhere. The system is broken though, and if we don’t fix it we will literally enter a dark age – a time of ignoring experts, not checking facts, considering preening on social media to be preferable to learning about the world. At times I feel we are already deep into that process.
Today, I offer solidarity to my many colleagues worldwide, the ones who got hounded out, the ones who wouldn’t put up with it anymore, the ones who are still being ground down and bullied by the apparatchiks, the ones who literally died too young as a result of overwork. It’s all I have to offer, alas. But I can’t change the system. Only all of us can.