Thursday, 24 October 2013

No Excuses: Double Binds and Academic Pay

My post about student employability gave me some worries after I'd published it. Maybe, I thought, to suggest that people are 'addicted' to excuses is too strong: after all, we all need excuses as ways of explaining the things that we don't do: I feel a need to excuse my addiction to excuses! There are many things I should have done two or three weeks ago that I haven't done that I need to make excuses for (and why am I blogging rather than getting them done??). Having said this, I recognise the pattern in myself: the excuse deals with the pain of guilt (guilt is not only a "Catholic" thing!)

There is something static and almost grounded about this cycle of feeling inadequacy and making excuses for it. Is there a comforting feel to going round the cycle. Which makes me wonder what happens if I genuinely break out of it.

Of course, what I have to do to break out of the cycle is to actually do the thing that I was making excuses for not doing. How do I put myself on that trajectory? Perhaps one of the main things that happens is that I see a way out of the cycle; I start to feel a sense of recognition about the cycle I am in, and at the same time know what to do about it (is the feeling of recognition also the feeling of knowing what to do?)

Deciding to enter an educational institution with some purpose of achievement is the kind of act that is designed to move people out of the cycles they are stuck in. Education promises (but doesn't always deliver) the required impetus to 'move on'. But if education reinforces feelings of inadequacy in students, it can make things worse. If my intellectual commitment and determination lies principally in education, it is because I believe this ought not to happen. Indeed, I think its dubious morality implicates those involved in a social ill for which nobody taking money from students (which those students will be repaying for the next 20 years) ought to be able to shy away from. My (overlarge) salary is part paid for by the European tax-payer and part by students (approximately 3 students yearly fees are needed to pay the remainder of my annual salary, which those students will be repaying for up to the next 20 years). Vice Chancellors typically require the "souls" of two students per month to pay their salaries. This makes me feel sick.

The rule is 'no excuses'. Vice Chancellors excuse their pay in the context of the 'global market' of higher education: bollocks, isn't it?? Most lecturers will defend theirs in terms of the cost of living. But our intellectual job, the purpose of our lives in education, is to think hard and well, not to become wealthy. Thinking carries its own rewards which do not require the subjugation of the future generation. Great thinking more often than not arises from positions of material hardship.

The problem is that we will continue to make excuses. We will even make excuses for not fighting the gross injustices and imbalances of pay within our own institutions. We will make excuses for not challenging people who are 'in charge' but clearly incompetent. But worst of all, we will make excuses for the status quo which increasingly will enslave students to alienating experiences for which many of them will still be paying for after we are dead.


Morsey said...

I find your first article about the cycle of excuses much fairer than this one.

The fact is that HE as with anything else is a market. If people did not feel the experience was valuable they would not enroll onto courses.

Whether or not the student gets the value from her course in my opinion and experience is mostly down to them.

It is doubtless that standards in academic staff could be improved but I would challenge anyone to find any field which across the board this is not the case.

Mark Johnson said...

is that an excuse?