Professional doctorates as a space of resistance in neoliberal times: a symposium

Educators within a ‘21st century agenda’ (Fullan & Langworthy 2013; Luke 2010) face many challenges. The drive for high productivity and performance in compressed time frames across institutions of higher education (Ball 2012; Mountz et al 2015; Sennett 2006) is one of these key challenges. The culture of commodification has transformed many universities into neo-liberal institutions where there has been a shift from “content to counting” (Mountz et al, p. 1240), which creates many additional burdens for academics (Biesta 2015). These trends can result in a loss of identity and worth, resulting in a need for open and transparent discourse in a safe place.Opportunities to discuss the implications of being employed in the neo-liberal university are rare; in a covert forum and associated with illicit conversation causing feelings of isolation and insecurity and a wrench to respond increasingly to “targets, indicators and evaluations”. This in turn can set pedagogical beliefs askew, causing us to “live an existence of calculation” (Ball 2003, p. 215). As Shore (2010, p. 26) argues, “there is a real sense that academic freedom is being undermined by an insidious ‘culture of compliance’ which results from centralisation of power and decision making within the universities, and reluctance or fear to challenge management decision”. Academics are indeed now part of the overall erosion, part of the restructuring, cutting and purging (Connell, 2015).For those who undertake the professional doctorate, a new and different space is created that enables participants to engage in engage in dialogue and banter, while sharing the nuances which can sometimes disempower and isolate. This space has become essential to facilitate discussion of the personal and professional complexities of neo-liberalisation, a place where the person and the profession have an opportunity to share tensions and express hardships; often through humour that we all ‘get the joke’ in trying to make sense of it all. Through this discourse we are able to rekindle our suppressed passion for education, our “primary habitus” to ‘make a difference’ (Zippin & Brenan 2003). The professional doctorate classroom thereby provides a metaphorical life buoy for surviving the effects of a bureaucratic, neo-liberalist organisation. As Sennett (2006) highlights, “unhappiness with an institution can coexist with a strong commitment to it” (p. 36). Through the reading of literature and analysis of experiences we can be comforted that our conflicting emotions of working within a neo-liberal environment are shared and understood.