What are people (in universities) for?

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According to the term coined by Stefan Collini (2012) [1], the dimension of research that supports up-to-date, innovative, and creative teaching action in universities can be cataloged by the Edspeak buzzwords, that is: “competitive, ground-breaking, cutting-edge, relatable, applicable, impactful, transferable, research cluster grant-winning, profit-generating, and easily packaged for media coverage”.

In fact, academia did not escape neoliberal reform trends, starting to operate according to market mechanisms and principles of economic rationality (Vicente & Stoleroff, 2016) [2].

The effects of corporatization on scholarship are advancing at full speed, alongside the responsibilities linked to teaching, with practices to encourage scientific production recognized in the rankings and ratings of scientific journals. Monetary prizes for authors with annual compliance with publication rates are part of the reward system. Scientific production has a high impact on teachers’ assessment of merit, by their involvement (or not) in national and international projects that require more and more funding, along with all the bureaucratic work and academic responsibilities.

And that is fine. It is not possible to be a good teacher without being a researcher. But, without time, in the frenzy of multiple projects and publication of papers, what seems to be urgent does not always reflect an important impact on the scientific and civil community. If the potential impact of projects were assessed a priori in academia, perhaps professionals could be more selective and focused on the quality of research, to the detriment of its quantity.

But unfortunately, the Academy is hostage to predatory practices that seem to legitimize environments of competition between professionals from the same institution, opening space either for the idolatry of the researcher’s “ego”, or for the ecstasy of individual performance as the shortest path to what was considered the meritocratic competition at the Academy.

At what cost? The corporate machine operates successfully and public management in the Academy has punitive resources, such as professors’ assessment, the non-accreditation of study cycles, and consequently, lack of funding, which one way or another, impact the flow of new candidates to join the institutions and its short-term stability.

Let’s call it incentive resources and an appeal to professional dedication and we have a scenario of a “culture of speed” (Berg & Seeber, 2016) [3]. That scenario deeply affects the climate of interpersonal relationships in institutions, a harsh climate that is not conducive to collaborative projects between research professors, and so rich in their interdisciplinarity, when they happen.

The so-called “holding environment” is now something of the old guard in some universities, formerly academic communities, where knowledge was produced and transmitted, in which merit was based on erudition, academic leadership and managed by collegiate power (Deem, 1998) [4].

The Academia of the 21st century is aware of its weaknesses but does not recognize the dangers of a precariousness that pushes toward the instrumentalization of the Other to fulfill individual production indexes, to the trampling of the Ethics of Time, of “time sickness” (Honoré, 2004) [5], for the growing apathy in the face of superhuman work demands.

The instrumentalization is the use the Other when there is no longer time to satisfy this demand alone and continue as an oiled member of the gear – the Other is useful. We are witnessing a moral erosion of the relationships between academic professionals and increasingly complex and persuasive power structures. The human face of the research professor fades into the face of students, who expect more from these professionals. More time, more availability, more empathy.

I find in this challenge comparison with the cultural, spiritual, and educational challenge in the Ecological Education and Spirituality field which, as Pope Francis says, will involve long processes of regeneration. Just as “the market tends to create a consumerist mechanism”, the capitalist paradigm of the academy of out-puts, speed, and neoliberal models of productivity tends to generate “self-referential individuals, who isolate themselves in their own consciousness and increase their voracity” [6].

Thus, instead of cultivating values ​​of integral human development, both in the individual and community dimensions, we are witnessing forms of moral degradation and collective selfishness.

A new conversion to Humanitude [7] in academic contexts is needed.

[1] Collini, S. English Pasts: Essays in Culture and History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.– What Are Universities For? London: Penguin, 2012.

[2] Stoleroff, A. & Vicente, M. (2014), “Avaliação do desempenho em tempos de austeridade”, VIII Congresso Português de Sociologia, Évora, Associação Portuguesa de Sociologia

[3] Berg, M., & Seeber, B. K. (2016). The slow professor: Challenging the culture of speed in the academy. University of Toronto Press.

[4] Deem, R.; Hillyard, S. & Reed, M. (2007), Knowledge, Higher Education, and the New Managerialism. The Changing Management of UK Universities, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

[5] Honoré, C. In Praise of Slow: How a Worldwide Movement Is Challenging the Cult of Speed. Toronto: Vintage, 2004.

[6] Francisco, P. (2015). Laudato SI’: Segunda Carta encíclica do Sumo Pontífice Francisco: Sobre o Cuidado da Casa Comum. Paulus, Lisboa.

[7] Jacquard, A. (1988). A herança da liberdade: da animalidade a humanitude. Martins Fontes

*Please find the Portuguese version of the article on page 2

*Para a versão em português da publicação, por favor aceda à página 2

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