Alienation in Academia

Mulling over a vague feeling of disempowerment, boredom, and apathy, we discover again that Marx has some answers for us. By us I mean people who work for a living. Because of what I do, I speak more specifically of academia.

I often think of academics who work in spaces where faculty governance is not properly practiced, where embarking upon exciting new mid-career endeavors becomes a veritable minefield. One struggles to find meaning anew in the workplace, but these liberties are not available to all equally.

Autocratic administrators are loth to share control of faculty work. When faculty are delivered most decisions from on high, resentment and apathy grow. When faculty decision making entails only “Check yes or no,” they have little reason to be invested in the growth and creativity involved in academic work.

When faculty do not engage in collective decision making, resentment due to differential treatment also occur. After all, administrators like some faculty more than others, and they also fear some more than others. They may spend more time with some faculty more than others, and listen to some more than to others. Their decisions are informed and shaped by their subjective views.

Even routine matters become an activity devoid of personal meaning, as administrators hand down decisions with little discussion. In this climate of precarity, especially for junior and contingent faculty, any discussion of decisions can be fraught with danger.

Academic workers become alienated from each other, since the only route to getting the course, the sabbatical, the approval, or the funding you need is through the administrator – who divides and rules.

In such organizations, as apathy grows, collective investment decrease, and faculty lose the ability to work together, power becomes even more concentrated in administrators’ hands.

When it is difficult for faculty to design work that is responsive to pedagogical strategies, scholarly growth, long-term professional plans, or family and personal needs, they become alienated from their own academic labor.

An autocratic administrator is the death of an academic institution. He destroys the faculty’s desire to work by cutting off their creative and collective decision-making, gathering all power and all vitality in her/his own hands.

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