Mindfulness in higher education: practices, perspectives and processes.

Year: 2017

Author: McDonough, Sharon, Lemon, Narelle

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

There can be little doubt that higher education institutions globally have experienced massive changes in the past three decades that have impacted on the work practices of academics. New public management and shifts in policy have introduced: corporate governance structures; strategic plans; performance management; quality assurance processes; a client-focused approach to students and curriculum; a commodification of higher education that has seen an unprecedented growth in international student numbers; increased levels of administrative tasks carried out by academics; and demands on research and funding, all of which have contributed to increases in burnout, mental health issues and expectations surrounding workload. Mountz et al. (2015) contend that increasing work demands on academics result in a "psychic and physical toll that is neither reasonable nor sustainable" (p. 1237). This illuminates the need for a disruption "in today's frenetic and constantly changing higher education environment" where "faculty and professional staff are in need of balance in their lives" (Beer et al., 2015, p. 161). As Berg & Seeber (2016) remind us, psychological wellness as higher educators is an ethical imperative and is an essential component of self care, thus preventing burnout, distress, and impairment. Self care is worthy of our attention.

Mindfulness helps interrupt this way of being and begins to place a spotlight on how we as scholars work. When integrated, mindfulness offers contemplative feelings of stability in the present moment and an approach to experiences with curiosity, rather than judgement that encourages an openness of mind to new concepts and a deepening of understanding of research, and scholarship of learning, and leadership (Beer et al., 2015; Cranton & Taylor, 2012; Kasworm & Bowles, 2012; Ryan, 2013; Wang & Cranton, 2012).

In this paper we draw from a series of chapters in a forthcoming edited book to explore the way that academics understand, embrace and enact the concepts of mindfulness. We use Goffman's notion of Dramaturgical Theory of Social Interaction to try and explain why we do what we do by means of comparing us to actors in a theatrical presentation. In listening to the voices of scholars, we illuminate insights and struggles in the context of pressurized university schedules, significant changes in structure and policy, and pressure to research impacting on academic life (McAlpine &