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Monday, June 17, 2019

Monday, June 17, 2019

UCOP is moving ahead rapidly to consider and implement dramatic changes in the structure of retiree healthcare at UC.  The have issued a Request for Proposals to remodel retiree healthcare (and apparently have received one).  UCOP has claimed that they are considering changes that will save up to $40M although they are also claiming that it will not substantially reduce the quality of coverage.  

At the same time it is quite possible that these changes will not be limited to retiree health care (where its burden of course will be especially heavy).  According to a letter from Rachael Nava to the Retiree Health Benefits Working Group this examination is being linked to a wider reevaluation of the entire structure of the University's health care plans.

We will keep you posted as we hear more.  But the best coverage of this issue is being done by Dan Mitchell over at the UCLA Faculty Association Blog.   His latest post includes links to his earlier, extensive coverage.  I urge all UC readers to follow Dan's coverage.  Please remember that unlike a pension retiree health is not a vested benefit.  So it is important that faculty and staff not assume it is stable.


Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Tuesday, June 4, 2019
This post is another in our ongoing series on Critical University Studies in the UK from the perspective of early-career scholars.

by Eric Lybeck, Presidential Fellow, University of Manchester

What is happening to the "academic self"?

I organised a conference on the apparently esoteric topic of ‘Academics, Professionals and Publics: Changes in the Ecologies of Knowledge Work’ at the University of Manchester in April.  It was a part of my Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship to track the long-term changes to the academic self, and with it, the idea of the university. When planning the event, I expected a handful of contributors and participants to meet for a workshop or seminar, but the event grew into a full-blown conference with twenty speakers and nearly a hundred attendees.  Clearly the topic(s) had struck a nerve.

The central theme of the conference revolved around our need as academics and professionals, working in and around the university, to reflect on the changes to the roles of knowledge in contemporary society. In particular, we noted the paradox in which experts have become subject to populist attacks even as the role of higher education and expertise are said to have become essential to knowledge economies.

We also wanted to reflect on changes within universities as new forms of expertise and professionalism have emerged, particularly the increased role of university administration and policy ‘wonks’ representing new forms of expertise within a context where academics lay claim to existing knowledge and authority.

Various talks engaged with issues surrounding the alienation of academic life, changes to university governance, and the reconfiguration of space within open-plan offices. We also heard from speakers, including Andrew Abbott, about the fact that ‘pure research’ has always been a free rider that gained a (likely temporary) foothold in universities: it may now be moving on due to decreasing institutional support.

Vivienne Baumfield spoke of the in-between role of academic teacher-educators.  She called on us to  recognize a mission to produce a generation of teachers who see themselves and act as public intellectuals. Linda Evans informed us of the way ‘academic leadership’ has become a catch-all term for an increasing array of job expectations that not even the most elite professors in the academy feel they can adequately live up to.

By the end of the day, my head was swimming with new ideas and, yet, despite the range of topics from several interdisciplinary fields, a few main themes came into view, which I would like to share.

First, academics and professionals may see ourselves as independent and above-it-all, but we are not. This positioning is not tenable within a populist political environment in which academics are targeted by the charge that we are out-of-touch elitists and cannot to be trusted. As Aaron Hanlon noted in his discussion of the commonalities between truth claims in the 17th century Enlightenment and those made on social media today, we cannot take public trust in knowledge for granted.  We need to communicate directly with the public, likely better than we have done hitherto.

Second, while the need to engage with the public is ever more important, it is discouraged by institutional pressures to chase rankings and by government mandates to ‘Innovate!’ and be ‘excellent.’ We likely need to rethink the entirety of our present system of work within our publish-or-perish environment if we are to realize these promises to the public.

Third, those of us involved in higher education research need to reach out beyond our specialization in education departments to involve the entire community of academics, professionals and publics in and around the university.  Every discipline should have something to say about changes to the ‘idea of the university’ or knowledge as such. For me, the most rewarding experience of the conference was the commentary from those in so-called ‘non-academic’ or ‘professional service’ roles, who were fully engaged with such as ‘what should the role of administration actually be vis-à-vis academics?’ We experienced a temporary suspension of the sense that the university is now two opposed hostile camps engaged in a zero-sum game.

In these and other ways, the event felt like an instance of the wider promise of Critical University Studies: real discussion across the full range of people in and outside the university about where it is going and what it should be. We can point to history in which academics seemed to have fulfilled roles as researchers, teachers and public intellectuals, but where do we find the time in the current system to do this publicly-engaged work?

We need to reclaim these public roles for ourselves and our students. We can only do this if we reclaim and reconstruct our universities.  And this reconstruction will also involve confrontation with the academic self today's universities expect.