Repurposing university teaching-and-research: A socio-ethical argument

Year: 2021

Author: Zipin, Lew, Brennan, Marie

Type of paper: Individual Paper

Covid-19 should prompt universities to expand the portion of academics who teach-and-research. Yet sector-wide governance reduces the portion, further separating ‘teacher’ from ‘researcher’. This presentation makes a socio-ethical case for teaching-and-research expansion, and addresses governance that stands in the way.There is urgency to re-purpose academic labours in care for local-and-planetary futures, at a time of burgeoning crises of climate, economics, politics, culture, and unjust power inequalities across these domains. Most people experience such structural crises as ‘glitches’ in local infrastructures (Berlant) that meet life-sustaining needs. Local communities deserve support from knowledgeable academics, not by visits but through projects that build citizen capacities to collaborate, across diverse groups, on ‘problems that gather them together’ (Pignarre & Stengers).Crucial, among socio-ethical capacities to care-take towards viable and just social futures, is capacity to pro-act with others knowledgeably on ‘problems that matter’ (PTMs; Zipin & Brennan), which are emergent, as are knowledges to address them, including ‘funds of knowledge’ (Moll et al.) among people who live the problems. Academics thus need to learn-and-teach with diverse groups in those lifeworlds, in projects that research PTMs in pedagogic practices of dialogic democracy wherein all ‘apprentice to the problem’ (Pignarre & Stengers), building citizen-capacities to make knowledge of emergently richer use-value. Academics involved in such project need practiced strength in both teaching and research. While some academics might mainly ‘teach’ or ‘research’, all should interact within robust teaching-and-research cultures sustained by a healthy core portion who combine both.As well as staff numbers, a healthy portion means reasonable workload time for both. Here, decades of a crisis of governance weigh heavily. Governance increasingly performs ideological functions of simplifying the complexities of lived problems, as federal/state governance apparatuses apply narrow political-economic logics, reduce university funding, and impose market-competition criteria. In turn, university ‘leaders’ invest in fewer ‘high-performance’ researchers while milking low-payroll ‘productivity’ from overworked teaching-only staff. A simplistic justification – shared by university and federal/state governance – is that students primarily need teaching ‘specialists’ to cultivate ‘work-readiness’. These trends accelerate under pandemic-induced budget crunches and ‘snap-back-the-economy’ logics.Yet counter-senses of perilously complex futures also abide among both academics and people living the perils, who need capacities well beyond ‘skills for work’: at-once researchful, pedagogic and proactive. Perhaps academics working with student and community actors, in projects that repurpose university education, can mobilise critical mass for a politics that pushes ‘the governors’ to rethink social-ethical purposes for teaching-and-research.