Letters to an early career academic: Romancing the neoliberal university

Year: 2014

Author: Eimear, Enright, Laura, Alfrey, Steven, Rynne

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The past two decades of higher education reform have been marked by managerial and neoliberal policy turns, bringing about a shift in how institutions run and justify their existence. The neoliberalisation of the workplace has been particularly problematic for early career academics (ECAs), whose self-monitoring and internalization of new forms of auditing often occurs within a context of job insecurity (Gill, 2009). This project is an attempt to grapple with the experiences of ECAs, the role of the professoriate and the relationship between the two. Taking our lead from Rilke’s (1929) ‘Letters to a Young Poet,’ this project represents our attempt to stimulate dialogue between thirty Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy (PESP) ECAs and eleven PESP professors. First, the ECAs were invited to write a narrative around their experiences as PESP ECAs. Second, a narrative analysis was undertaken and three composite ECA letters were constructed. Third, these letters were shared with the professoriate, who were each invited to write a letter of response. Finally, six of the professors participated in a symposium, which focused on the letters.  The professors’ letters and the transcripts of the symposium constitute the dataset for this paper. While the larger project engages with ECA voices this paper focuses on what we have learned from the professoriate about the academy, the field and the ECA experience. Our preliminary thematic analysis generated the following six themes: ‘You are your cv’, ‘Playing the game’, ‘Do good work’, ‘Your career is a marathon, not a sprint’, ‘Romanticising the university’, and ‘What about the field?’ These six themes are discussed with reference to an expanding literature on the neoliberalisation of higher education (Ball 2012, Giroux, 2008), and a consideration of what is actually ‘speakable, thinkable and doable’ as ECAs in universities (Hatcher et al, 1999).   References Ball, S. J. (2012). Performativity, commodification and commitment: An I-spy guide to the neoliberal university. British Journal of Educational Studies, 60(1), 17-28. Gill, R. (2009). Breaking the silence: The hidden injuries of neo-liberal academia. Secrecy and silence in the research process: Feminist reflections, 228-24 Giroux, H. A. (2002). Neoliberalism, corporate culture, and the promise of higher education: The university as a democratic public sphere. Harvard educational review, 72(4), 425-46 Hatcher, C., Meadmore, D., & Mcwilliam, E. (1999). Developing professional identities: remaking the academic for corporate times. Pedagogy, Culture and Society, 7(1), 55-72. Rilke, R. M. (1929). Letters to a young poet. Leipzig: Insel Verlag.