Is Now the Time? Academic Protests and Their Fallout/s
Around the country, and world, faculty of all ranks and institution types are taking to the streets, media (whether print, broadcast, and/ or social), and courts to protest austerity measures such as hiring freezes, mass layoffs/ non-reappointments, even closings of entire departments and institutions, with actions ranging from petitions and opinion pieces to strike threats and authorisation votes. Solidarity seems to be demonstrated to an extent not seen before, across job titles, faculty ranks, and institution types. Given the increasingly competitive (academic) job market, these developments may seem shocking but are also being welcomed by many, much like the protests of police brutality and bigoted violence; like other crisis points, this one seems to be ushering in, if not forcing, change many deem long overdue.
On a related note, all parties involved and affected claim to be acting in the interests of students, also trying to recruit them to the cause, such as by participating in demonstrations and signing petitions, or using student complaints/ evaluations as a pretext for dismissing faculty. Public interest is also widely invoked, whether in claims of fiscal conservatism or reminders that education is a public good essential to a democratic, advancing society.
Welcoming and propitious timing notwithstanding, these actions thus raise many questions: how effective will they be, by what standard/s, and within what time frame? Will things now, finally, start to change, reversing decades’ worth of adjunctification, corporatisation of higher ed, and cuts and other austerity measures that have become the “new normal”? Who stands to benefit? What backlash may be expected, and from whom? Are those already marginalised and vulnerable, like contingent faculty and part-time workers, asked to take the greatest, disproportionate risks?