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  • Writer's pictureKane Murdoch

Freedom isn't free

Evening all,

I've been doing the hard yards for the last couple of weeks, in preparation for going to Ireland next week, and England the following week for the AHE conference in Manchester. If you're going to be there, please come say hello.

Something struck me (again) last week amidst the backdrop of student protests and encampments on multiple Australian campuses, following the many around the world in recent months. I read this blog post by Melbourne uni academic Katy Barnett.

In the post she said she loves her uni, and..."This is precisely why I am sometimes critical. The opposite of love is indifference. If I did not care about my university, my Law School, and my students, I would be indifferent. I try at all times to be constructive, and to give suggestions for change. I am, after all, a remedies lawyer. I want to fix things, with a passion."

I 100% get that quote. I feel it in my gizzards. I feel the same. But I absolutely do not love the uni I work at, nor the one previously. And when I wondered about why that might be, I concluded that it's because unlike Katy I am considered a second class citizen by my uni, and all unis. There are countless examples, but none more so than requiring PhDs for roles where a PhD is objectively not required.

There is not so much a glass ceiling as a concrete ceiling for professional staff who excel at what they do. If I wish to progress, it is expected that I would completely dispense with all of my current knowledge and experience, and become a generic manager of some sort. It's depressing state of affairs, and unsurprisingly it puts severe limits on what I'm prepared to give to my employer.

Moreover, returning to Katy's post, the other thing I noted and have noted repeatedly in my travels around policy and procedure, is that undergrads and academics are considered "scholars" with "freedom", but professional staff are often excluded from these definitions. In other words, "the university" seems to considers that professional staff are not thinkers, and do not deserve the freedoms of thinkers. Which is pretty depressing.

However, rather than wallowing, I reached out to a friend of the blog who has been involved in contract bargaining processes across a number of unis, and what they told me was a pleasant surprise. I discovered that all staff at my uni have greater freedoms than I was aware. Not only can I express my views freely "within the limits of professional competence", I can also express unpopular views. So kudos to the bargaining team, I owe you all a beer, feel free to claim it.

What this tells me is that a) I should have read the damned policy earlier and b) don't let (now former) bosses gaslight you if what you're saying is in your wheelhouse.

To give closure to everyone who heard the title of this post in their head immediately, here it is in full YouTube glory.

Until next time,


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