March “End Harassment at UGent”

Tonight, there will be a march to demand measures against harassment at UGent. The organizers have shared the following text:

“in 2020, a student was harassed by a PhD student at the Faculty of Science at UGent. she reported her case to trustpunt and was told by the ombudsdienst and tuchtcommissie that the perpetrator was sanctioned. a few months later, under pressure, rector Rik Van de Walle had to admit there was not given a sanction at all. the PhD student continues his work at UGent.

Ghent University claims to disapprove of sexual harassment and intimidating behaviour. yet, they don’t bother to protect their students.

we called for testimonies on harassment at UGent. in one week, we have gathered reports on 15 different people working at UGent.

all victims want to remain anonymous, fearing that speaking out will ruin their careers.

WE’VE HAD ENOUGH OF THIS SHIT

we demand:

📓. an external tuchtcommissie, so colleagues can’t protect each other

📓. a safe environment for whistle blowers

📓 transparency concerning the procedures and actions taken

📓. accountability for perpetrators

📓 zero tolerance for sexual intimidation and power abuse at UGent

📓 a university that protects our human integrity

JOIN US ON THE STREETS
15/2 18h30 STADSHAL

we will march to AULA to take back our university”

The Facebook-page of the event can be found here.

Protest at Ghent University after budget cuts

At Ghent University, a new plan to cut budgets is causing a lot of stir. We share an opinion piece which has been published today in DeStandaard (in Dutch). You can find the English translation below.

Nl/

Laat de pilaren van de UGent niet afbrokkelen

De besparingen die de UGent wil doorvoeren, baren doctoraats­studenten zorgen. Het inschrijvingsgeld voor doctorandi verdubbelt en hun administratieve en technische collega’s moeten vrezen voor hun job.

woensdag 19 januari 2022 om 3.25 uur,

https://www.standaard.be/cnt/dmf20220118_98034041

Schamper, het studentenblad van de UGent, maakte vorige week bekend dat de raad van bestuur van de universiteit een ‘vertrouwelijke’ budgetnota heeft goedgekeurd. Dat gebeurde ondanks­ sterke weerstand van het merendeel van de personeels- en studentenvertegenwoordigers. De voorgestelde besparingen brengen de kwaliteit en vooral de democratische aard van ons hoger onderwijs in het gedrang.

Een universiteit draait niet alleen dankzij de professoren en docenten, maar ook door de inzet van administratief, technisch, assisterend personeel en doctoraatsstudenten – vaak achter de schermen. Hoeveel examens zouden kunnen doorgaan als doctoraatsstudenten en assisterend personeel massaal zouden weigeren toezicht te houden of te verbeteren? Of als er niet meer gepoetst, geregeld en gepland zou worden? Onze collega’s van de kinderdagverblijven staakten donderdag al.

Aan de universiteit heerst zogezegd een ‘cultuur van overleg en participatie’, maar voor deze budgetnota werd een uitzondering gemaakt. De nota kwam tot stand via vertrouwelijke gesprekken met decanen, directeurs en beheerders. De meeste personeelsleden vernamen de maatregelen pas nadat de nota was goedgekeurd. Wij betreuren de ondemocratische gang van zaken.

Bij elke ‘kleine’ besparing verliezen wij meer van wat ons hoger onderwijs zo kwalitatief maakt

De voorgestelde hervormingen zijn niet min. De professoren bleven grotendeels buiten schot, het zijn de groepen met de minste privileges die de zwaarste lasten moeten dragen. Het inschrijvingsgeld voor ons, doctoraatsstudenten, zal verdubbelen. Studenten van binnen de Europese Economische Ruimte (EER) zullen bijna 2.000 euro betalen, studenten van daarbuiten bijna 4.000. Doctorandi moeten dus meer betalen om te ‘mogen’ werken voor de universiteit.

Onze administratieve en technische collega’s moeten vrezen voor hun baan, nu veel diensten geoutsourcet of afgebouwd worden. Daarnaast verliezen ze verlofdagen en wordt er aan hun hospitalisatie­verzekering geraakt. De studenten kijken aan tegen een verhoging van het inschrijvingsgeld voor manama’s. Internationale studenten van buiten de EER moeten voor alle opleidingen meer studiegeld betalen.

Op naar Amerikaans systeem?

We mogen trots zijn op de kwaliteit van het Vlaamse onderwijs. Maar politieke keuzes dwingen al jaren tot besparingen. Bij elke ‘kleine’ besparing verliezen wij meer van wat ons onderwijs zo kwalitatief maakt. De Vlaamse regering kondigde in september een nieuwe besparingsronde van 11 miljoen euro aan. Die beslissing zet de toon voor de toekomst van ons (hoger) onderwijs.

Deze nieuwe nota is een klap in het gezicht van al het universitaire personeel dat zich de voorbije twee jaar onvermoeibaar heeft ingezet om het onderwijs draaiend te houden. Doctorandi dragen niet alleen bij aan dat kwaliteitsvol onderwijs, ze voeren ook innovatief onderzoek, die andere kerntaak van de universiteit. Doctoraats­studenten en administratieve krachten zijn de pilaren waarop professoren en hele universiteiten rusten. Besparingen in het onderwijs zijn niet nieuw, maar we mogen niet vergeten wat hier op het spel staat.

Het gaat heus niet alleen over de jobzekerheid, de burn-outs of de inschrijvingsgelden. De algemene tendens in de verschillende niveaus van het Vlaamse onderwijs is dezelfde: veelvuldige besparingsrondes ondermijnen systematisch de kwaliteit en democratische traditie van het Vlaamse onderwijs.

Als wij steeds meer moeten doen met minder mensen en middelen, zal de kwaliteit pijlsnel achteruitgaan. Ons onderwijs is nog steeds een motor voor sociale mobiliteit. Burgers uit alle lagen van de bevolking komen elkaar­ tegen op de schoolbanken, in de aula, als onderzoekers aan de universiteit. Met lede ogen zien wij aan hoe deze basisprincipes beetje bij beetje worden uitgehold door alweer een nieuwe besparingsronde. Willen wij naar een Amerikaans systeem? Met kapitaalkrachtigen die kiezen voor dure privéscholen of (buitenlandse) universiteiten en een steeds grotere kloof tussen de burgers?

Alle UGent’ers samen

De besparingen treffen ook het internationale karakter van onze instelling. Het kan niet de bedoeling zijn dat studenten uit rijke landen hier ‘profiteren’ van ons ‘lage’ inschrijvingsgeld. Maar de perspectieven en inzichten waarmee onderzoekers en studenten uit het Globale Zuiden onze­ universiteit verrijken, zijn onmisbaar. De studenten en startende onderzoekers van vandaag zijn de leiders, denkers en professoren van morgen. Zij mogen niet worden geselecteerd op basis van inkomen.

Bij de opening van het academiejaar vroeg rector Rik Van de Walle zich af ‘wie of wat is dat, de Universiteit Gent’? Het antwoord was eenvoudig: ‘Dat zijn alle UGent’ers samen, alle personeelsleden en alle studenten.’ Dat blijken holle woorden te zijn.

De rector riep ons ook op om de toekomst van de universiteit te blijven maken. Daarom protesteren wij met klem tegen de manier waarop onze universiteit bespaart, maar vooral ook tegen de weg die het hoger onderwijs hiermee inslaat. We vragen dat onze universiteit zich herpakt en deliberatie en transparantie opnieuw vooropstelt. We reiken de hand naar collega’s binnen en buiten onze universiteit en naar de studenten, om samen­ de democratische aard van het hoger onderwijs te beschermen. In de aula, en indien nodig op straat.

Marte Beldé doctoraatsstudent conflict & ontwikkeling,
Thomas Donald Jacobs
doctoraatsstudent en assistent geschiedenis,
Sam Kniknie
doctoraatsstudent conflict & ontwikkeling,
Allan Souza Queiroz
doctoraatsstudent en assistent sociologie
Charlotte Vekemans
doctoraatsstudent en assistent bachelor social sciences (allen UGent).

Verschenen op woensdag 19 januari 2022

En/

English version of the opinion piece in De Standaard:

Don’t let the pillars of the University crumble

Translation by Sara Wechsler

Last week Schamper, the student magazine of Ghent University, reported that the University Board of Governors approved a “confidential” budget note. This happened despite strong opposition from the majority of staff and student representatives. In our opinion, the proposed budget cuts jeopardize the quality and, above all,the democratic character of our higher education.

After all, a university does not run thanks only to its professors and lecturers, but also thanks to the efforts – often behind the scenes – of administrative and technical staff, assisting personnel, and doctoral students. Just ask yourself how many exams could still take place if doctoral students and assistants  refused, en masse, to supervise or grade them. Or if clean-up, scheduling, and coordination ceased. This past Thursday, our colleagues at the University daycare centers were already on strike.

The University administration supposedly espouse a “culture of consultation and participation,” but for this budget memorandum they were happy to make an exception. The memorandum came about through confidential talks with deans, directors and administrators. Most staff members only learned about the measures after the memo had been approved.

And yet, the proposed reforms are not insignificant. The professors remain largely unaffected, so it is the groups with the least privilege who have to bear the heaviest burden. For us doctoral students, the registration fee will double. International PhD students from inside the European Economic Zone will have to pay more than 2000 euro, those from outside can expect a bill of more than 4000 euro. Doctoral students who are not on the UGent payroll will therefore be required to pay more for the supposed privilege of giving the University their labor. Our administrative and technical colleagues may fear for their jobs, now that many services are being outsourced or scaled back. They will also lose leave days and their hospitalization insurance will be affected. Our students are facing an increase in registration fees for master-after-master programmes, and for international students outside of the European Economic Zone the bill is being raised in all programs.  

We regret the undemocratic course of events, and its implication  for our own futures. But we must also dare to look further. Political choices have been forcing cutbacks for years. The Flemish government announced yet another round of budget cuts, totalling 11 million euros, in September. These decisions set the tone for the future of Flemish (higher) education.

The quality of Flemish education is something we can rightly be proud of. But every “small” cut constitutes yet one more blow to the quality of our education system. This new memorandum is a slap in the face to all the University staff who have worked tirelessly over the past two years to keep education running. In addition to quality teaching, doctoral students also provide innovative research –  that other core mission of the University. Doctoral students and administrative staff are the pillars on which professors and entire universities stand. Cutbacks in education are nothing new, but it is crucial that we do not forget what is at stake here.

It is certainly not just about job security, burnouts or registration fees; the general trend is the same across the various levels of Flemish education: frequent rounds of cost-cutting systematically undermine the quality and democratic tradition of Flemish education.

If we have to do more and more with fewer people and fewer means, the quality will rapidly deteriorate. Our education is still an engine for social mobility. Citizens from all walks of life still meet each other at school, in lecture halls and as researchers at the University. We are saddened to see how these basic principles are being eroded, bit by bit, with every new round of budget cuts. Do we want to move towards an American system? With wealthy people opting for expensive private schools or (foreign) universities, and an ever-widening gap between our citizens?

The cuts also affect the international character of our institution. No, we must not allow for a situation in which  students from wealthy countries “take advantage of”  the “low” tuition fees here. But the perspectives and insights with which researchers and students from the Global South enrich our University are indispensable. Today’s students and budding researchers are tomorrow’s leaders, thinkers and professors. Selecting them on the basis of income puts blinkers on our society’s intellectual future.

At the opening of the academic year, our rector Rik Van de Walle asked “who or what isGhent University?” The answer was simple: “it is all UGent’ers together, all staff members and all students.” After reading the “confidential memo,” these words now prove particularly hollow. The rector also called on us to continue to build the future of the University.

That is why we strongly protest not only against  the way our University is cutting costs, but also against the path that  Flemish higher education is choosing  with such measures. We ask our University to pull itself together  and put deliberation and transparency first again. We reach out to our colleagues inside and outside the University, and to our students, and urge them to stand as one in defense of the democratic character of our higher education. Preferably in the lecture hall,, but also on the street if necessary.

The PhD community of the department of Conflict and Development; Thomas Donald Jacobs (doctoraatsstudent en assistent Geschiedenis); Allan Souza Queiroz (doctoraatsstudent en assistent Sociologie)

New edition of Slow Science doctoral school course “Another university is possible!”

Each year, we organise an Inter-University Doctoral Schools Course (UGent/VUB/UAntwerpen/KULeuven) regarding the question ‘What does it mean to be a researcher in 21st century academia?’ 

All information can be found on our website here.

The edition of 2021 will take place on the following days:

  • Thursday April 22nd
  • Friday April 23rd
  • Thursday May 6th
  • Friday May 7th

Registration is now open! You can register by following this link: https://eventmanager.ugent.be/whatdoesitmeantwentyone
Note that there is a maximum capacity of 30 subscriptions.

You can also check the website of Ghent University for all information: https://www.ugent.be/doctoralschools/en/doctoraltraining/courses/transferableskills/all/what-does-it-mean-2021.htm

Hope to see you there and then!

What_does_it_mean2021

General description

Over the past few years, numerous scholars and university personnel have raised their concerns about research deontology, increasing publication pressure and the changing professional environment in which academics have to work. Cases of scientific fraud such as that of Diederik Stapel in the Netherlands, suspended in 2011 by Tilburg University, caused quite a stir within the academic community. Stapel was exposed for fabricating and manipulating data for research publications, a malpractice that was apparently going on for years. The scope of Stapel’s case may have been an exception. However, in March 2013, the Belgian scientific magazine EOS revealed in a study that 1 out of 12 researchers admitted to manipulating data sometimes in order to cope with the increasing pressure to publish. Even where publication pressures don’t necessarily lead to malpractice, they play a decisive role in determining what topics are addressed and what kinds of questions are asked. This situation obviously raises serious questions about ethics, deontology, norms, the conduct of research itself, and the relationship between science and society/democracy in general. In response, Belgian universities have expressed an interest in raising awareness among the academic population and pointed to the Doctoral Schools as a way of accomplishing this.

Yet, while pertinent, raising awareness among young scholars cannot be reduced to a condemnation of individual practices alone. It is important to situate and contextualize these cases of individual malpractice within a broader context of academic internationalization and the position of local research institutions and universities in an increasingly global and competitive environment. The seminars and debate organized in this course – titled “What does it mean to be a researcher in the 21st century?” – address these broader questions. The course sets out to raise awareness among researchers not only of their individual obligations and role within academic institutions, but also of the broader context of the research environment in which they try to build a career. This course answers the structural need for thorough deontological, ethical and socio-political self-reflection about the changing role of academic knowledge and academics in our current society.

‘Towards a non-extractive and care-driven academy’

Article by Vijay Kolinjivadi, Gert Van Hecken, Jennifer Casolo, Shazma Abdulla and Rut Elliot Blomqvist.

Abstract

The white gaze permeates many aspects of even the most critical disciplines. In this piece, we offer some thoughts on how we might reclaim what the university could be – a place that equips people with the knowledge they need to unlearn/unmake/dismantle the framings and worldviews that lend themselves to white supremacy and other forms of oppression more broadly.

Across the country and around the world, people are coming out to denounce systemic racism in their institutions and in society more broadly. The Covid-19 pandemic has offered a magnifying lens to the deep-rooted inequalities and injustices prevalent in society. It has also shown how inequalities, such as those along racial, gender, and class lines, are reinforced and compounded in a relatively short time span in the efforts to return to “normal”. Returning to business-as-usual is precisely what institutions, governments, and corporations are so desperately seeking. Yet, the world before and during the pandemic was/is premised on white supremacy, colonial legacies of natural resource extraction and bondage of cheap labour. Consequently, returning to “normal” is not something that we should ethically and politically aspire for. As Indian writer Arundhati Roy writes, the pandemic should be a “portal” to deconstruct, and transform the world that we knew before. This does not mean making business-as-usual more comprehensive, holistic, or inclusive. Rather, it involves the harder work of “un-learning” and “un-doing” the current model of productivist and extractivist development disguised as modernity and “progress”. By prioritizing careful attention and consideration of multiple ways of knowing and relating to the world, we can be better positioned to support ongoing struggles in re-building a world premised upon justice above all else.

Universities and institutions of higher-learning have an important responsibility in these “unlearning” and “rebuilding” processes as they offer privileged spaces for enhancing critical thinking in dialogue with constant societal change. Improving societies by prioritizing justice is a core task of universities in the advancement of science and technology as collective commons. After all, what good is generating knowledge if it cannot be (re)produced, accessed, and understood by all? Even if scholars have advanced many long and fruitful discussions on how to break free from colonial legacies and extractive development models, these initiatives risk losing their meaning if they are inscribed into an academic environment which is both principled and conditioned upon competition and a growth-oriented knowledge economy. Much of the wealth of academic insights get sucked into the aspirations of an expansionary university in competition within a globalized academic industry. This hollowing-out takes place due to the ways by which the process of generating knowledge (including the labour of researchers and their collaborators) gets parameterized and packaged into predetermined “outputs” as stipulated in grant proposals and departmental performance rubrics. These quantified metrics are then used to justify academic positions (and indeed whole departments). The pressure to aspire for growth within academia risks knowledge getting detached from its situated context, losing its meaning, and instead becoming an end-product in itself.

Worse still, this highly uneven process generates cultures of distrust, hierarchy, competition, and fast-scholarship in the race to produce more in the least amount of time. While obviously reflecting different contexts of privilege, the underlying mechanisms and logic behind this production process is no different from the discipline of a factory floor, in which researchers extract knowledge and are themselves the subject of extraction. This hierarchy of extraction can be seen when, for example, junior scholars, themselves engaged in extracting knowledge from third parties for their own projects, may be obliged to undertake menial tasks unrelated to their own research and which serve to benefit only their superiors. In addition, knowledge production in academia is reserved to those who are the best-placed to compete in this game, which is often to the disadvantage of women, people of colour and junior researchers, and those without academic credentials (including local community members who are often the “subjects” of research with whom especially social science scholars interact with in advancing either theoretical or applied knowledge).

This factory-floor model of academic production rooted in asymmetrical power relations  replicates a singular way of shaping and understanding knowledge generation. It is premised upon optimizing knowledge products as outputs dependent upon the labour (e.g. academic faculty and support staff) and resources (e.g. grant funding, partnerships, networks, and research “subjects”) required to produce these outputs in the most efficient way. This extractive process of mobilizing labour and resources for knowledge production cannot be centred on any individual, but is situated within a cutthroat industry where peer-reviewed journal impact factors, publication numbers, successful grant applications, global partnerships, graduate programs and percentage of successful graduates and even the number of followers on twitter are all instrumentalized for the purposes of showcasing which university, which department, or which faculty member wins the ‘gold medal’ in the globalized academic Olympics. The competitive tendency here already takes extraction and instrumentalization of relationships in academic collaboration as a normalized starting point and then builds on this mode of operation as a way to gain a greater share within the knowledge economy.

The instrumentalization within academia extends beyond internal collaborations within the academy to historically colonial relations of academics and their research “subjects” in the field. The relationship between historical colonial legacies in the perpetuation of the knowledge economy is indeed a serious cause for concern. Indigenous Maori scholar Linda Tuhiwai Smith argues, for instance, that social science “research” is itself one of the “dirtiest words in the Indigenous world’s vocabulary” having been inextricably linked historically to European imperialism and colonialism in terms of how “knowledge about indigenous peoples was collected, classified, and then represented back to the West.” Bhambra and colleagues take this further by stating that “[t]he foundation of European higher education institutions in colonized territories itself became an infrastructure of empire, an institution and actor through which the totalizing logic of domination could be extended; European forms of knowledge were spread, local indigenous knowledge suppressed, and native informants trained” (p.5).

This white gaze of a singular understanding of the world then gets reproduced through the production metrics and standards imposed by the knowledge economy. Implicit extractivism in the academy operates by failing to recognize and then act upon the asymmetrical ways that knowledge extraction preys upon the precarious positions of more vulnerable scholars. As scholars in Development Studies in particular, we acknowledge how insights from the so-called “Global South” have historically served and continue to serve Northern universities and research institutes. This process of translating diverse knowledges into a singular easy-to-digest narrative is precisely how white supremacy circulates, even unconsciously, in reproducing the homogenizing and simplifying patterns that have shaped colonial development since the 15th century. The factory-house model of organizing and optimizing knowledge generation follows the tradition of resource exploitation since colonial times and as such, carries with it the white gaze of what counts (and doesn’t count) as legitimate knowledge. A white gaze extends to the built-in hierarchy of knowledge producers propagated by national research foundations, where non-academic knowledge producers and researchers from the Global South are accepted only as informants or field assistants, with an incredibly skewed scale of remuneration. Ultimately, the academy extracts wealth from marginalized communities and organizations and justifies these logics by making those not under the accepted institution marginal, invisible, underfunded and with limited access to knowledge production resources.

Academics can no longer be permitted to surf this wave of deeply extractivist practice in how knowledge is generated. Transforming the university requires not only turning the mirror upon ourselves as academics in reflecting upon our practice, but also more fundamentally in actively dismantling the knowledge economy that is structured in the constant prospection, appropriation, and standardization of intellectual labour. Decolonizing the university means collectively re-establishing “the terms upon which the university (and education more broadly) exists, the purpose of the knowledge it imparts and produces, and its pedagogical operations”. Such an effort requires fundamentally different ways of political organization in how knowledge gets generated. In other words, we academics must self-reflect at the same time as we act to transform the university and society more broadly away from systemic injustices. Academics have a notorious tendency to pensively sit back and comfortably theorize on ways to dismantle systems of inequality, even as we paradoxically benefit from those very same systems of inequality in perpetuating the knowledge economy. Consequently, our privileged capacity to self-reflect risks replicating the very structures some of us write so vehemently against, particularly in the competitive arena of instrumentalizing academic relationships for the purposes of career advancement. The professionalization of social justice critique becomes trapped within a “hall of mirrors” whereby the emancipatory potential of co-produced knowledge gets neutralized by the predatory tendencies of the academic industry in which “knowledge products” are continuously stacked as if on an endless pile.

Having recognized these tendencies, the academy’s approach to responding to these challenges has been to performatively showcase universities as being “inclusive.” “Decolonization” becomes a topical buzzword for which academic pursuits can be channeled to tap into new sources of knowledge outputs for more socially-just economic growth in the knowledge economy. This new “decolonial frontier” is violently at odds with what decolonization is actually about; the frontier becomes a new way to extinguish any possibility of real transformation. As Tuck and Yang have argued, decolonization is not a metaphor; it must never be co-opted by being restricted to a checklist composed of “diversity and inclusion” statements by the university, institutionalized “codes of conduct”, or integrating “decolonial” curricula into more holistic graduate programs and the like. For Tuck and Yang, decolonization refers specifically to restoring native lands that were violently usurped in the process of settler colonialism. Elsewhere, it refers to dismantling the structures of European imaginaries that have to shape how “development” is defined and understood.

If recognition exists about these structural problems so ever-present in the expansionary aims of the academic industry, why does it remain so hard to impart long-lasting change that goes beyond optics? Like broader society as a whole, the answer lies in the uneven ways that power operates to discipline those who complain or deviate from standard practice in the academic profession. For instance, speaking out about some of these concerns has disproportional implications for junior scholars, and especially women and people of colour, who risk compromising their future prospects in the academy by exposing any of its potential flaws. On a broader scale, many research participants in the generation of knowledge are not even afforded a space to enter into the academy’s walls. They remain as “missing co-authors”, perpetually denied legitimacy to change the academy from within. Rather, they are charged with being essential to the research enterprise; essentially inputs for the production of knowledge products. Moreover, it is they who must absorb the implications of these “products” that inevitably shape their own livelihood capacities and potentials.

To re-emphasize, this intervention is not targeted to the specific actions of individual scholars (though these do need to be held accountable), but is rather exposing a systemic problem. As academics ourselves, we are equally complicit, and feel that it is our duty to support any type of alternative that confronts the root-causes of extractive practices in the academy. While saying this, we also recognize that writing an intervention like this comes from a position of privilege, which would not be afforded to many others, but this is precisely why we do this. Just as remaining silent about one’s own racial privilege, while claiming to “not be a racist” is how white supremacy continues to thrive, remaining silent about one’s privilege in the academic class structure is complicity in its reproduction. Either we collectively take active steps to end these exploitative ways of doing research or we stop making performative claims that we are somehow making the university more just, inclusive, and diverse.

How do we then build counter-power to address the exploitative logics underpinning the academic endeavour? Changing current academic culture and its underlying perverse incentive structure requires us to collectively stand up against an unfair system, while taking into account that any type of fundamental change is slow, therefore placing the onus particularly on the more established scholars with more or less fixed positions to change the rules of the game. Given the privilege of established scholars, this is of course a delicate process that must be conducted with great transparency and accountability to avoid reproducing new forms of inequality. Building resistance to business-as-usual does not require reinventing the wheel. We must join with feminist scholars who unequivocally state that “cultivating space to care for ourselves, our colleagues, and our students is, in fact, a political activity when we are situated in institutions that devalue and militate against such relations and practices” (p.1239). Likewise, “slow scholarship”, which refers to transforming academic institutions from the ground-up, by actively resisting against “the culture of speed in the academy and ways of alleviating stress while improving teaching, research, and collegiality”, offers a path for fundamentally transforming the power relations of knowledge production.

There is an increasing wealth of resources, strategies, and alternatives that are being advanced to stimulate fundamental structural changes in how the academy operates. By no means an exhaustive list, below we identify some key examples of how to move forward. These examples are even more relevant in a context of deep uncertainty and increasing precarity as a result of the global pandemic.

  • A minifesto for “building collectives of care rather than mere departments” by unlearning the boundaries of academic discipline;
  • Developing a ‘moral economy’ of knowledge co-creation that prioritizes the process over the end outcome and encourages timeless and caring spaces of interaction for genuine creativity, collegiality, and joy to be the drivers of knowledge generation;
  • Building an “ethics of mentorship” in which established scholars cede place to the learning trajectories of junior scholars and to prioritize quality and process over quantity;
  • Re-commoning knowledge for all by rethinking publication strategies to damage the pocket books of for-profit publishers and synchronously redefining and requalifying our “production”;
  • Building meaningful, non-extractive, and care-ful partnerships and collaborations for engaged social research. This requires engaging different publics, being comfortable to refine or even reject earlier ideas, fostering safe spaces to be more vulnerable about fears and emotions in the research process, directly linking research outcomes with activism and advocacy in highly political arenas, and generally amplifying the potential impact of our scholarship rather than moving on to the next product that “counts” to administrators”;
  • Reparations and redistribution of research funding such that recognition of non-academics in general and academics of the Global South is not just symbolic. A systemic reorganization process is required within the academy to recognize the shared knowledge producing labour of all partners in the process – from cleaners within the walls of the institute to participants in research endeavours in all corners of the world and in contributing to the knowledge commons;
  • Being accountable to the responsibilities that come with privilege, for example by taking the lead in shaking up evaluation protocols and shifting how accountability and evaluation metrics are established at the university and departmental level (“good enough is the new perfect”) or by ceding place in the publication race and instead empower and embolden younger and more precarious scholars to advance this agenda in their institutes and from their own lived experiences;
  • Building counter power through Internationalist unions of intellectual workers, involving unionisation beyond the established Western trade unions which often just support the privileges of the few university employees with tenure;
  • Making the work of universities function as integrated parts in a very different social metabolism – meaning that social reproduction both of research and of the university upkeep itself becomes an integral responsibility for all those affiliated with the university. In other words, this implies that the work of maintaining the academic endeavour cannot be cost-shifted to cheaper or more precarious labour, but must be a core responsibility of those who live and breathe within the university.

*We are incredibly grateful to Frances Cleaver, Tomaso Ferrando, Frédéric Huybrechs, Nathalie Pipart, Hanne Van Cappellen, and Juan Sebastian Vélez Triana for useful comments and suggestions provided on earlier drafts.

Vijay Kolinjivadi is a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute of Development Policy (IOB), University of Antwerp (Belgium).

Gert Van Hecken is Assistant Professor at the Institute of Development Policy (IOB), University of Antwerp (Belgium) and Research Associate at Nitlapan-Universidad Centroamericana (Nicaragua).

Jennifer Casolo is Research Associate at Nitlapan-Universidad Centroamericana (Nicaragua), and at the Pluriversidad Maya-Ch’orti’ (Guatemala).

Shazma Abdulla is a writer, innovator, and community organizer who focuses on social inequities, racial justice, and spatial justice. She is affiliated with the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University in Canada.

Rut Elliot Blomqvist is a doctoral candidate at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden exploring the transdisciplinary fields of utopian studies, environmental humanities, and political ecology to not only consider the structure and meaning of environmentalist political visions but also the role of literary and cultural theory in these fields. 

[The above article was submitted to the slowscience blog by Gert Van Hecken. The original source is https://beyonddevelopment.net/towards-a-non-extractive-and-care-driven-academy/.]

Our slow science manifesto for a new praxis in higher education in post-corona times is now published

The last couple of months were for many of us a very strange period. Life as we knew it came to a halt, for better or for worse. Even though Belgian higher education continued their activities, the effects on the daily work and life of everyone involved changed dramatically.

For those involved in Slow Science, the pandemic meant the cancellation of this year’s doctoral school course, while focusing our attention on those other tasks requiring our attention. In the past weeks, we have worked on a slow science manifesto for a new praxis in higher education in post-corona times.

In this manifesto, we provide an overview of the effects of the corona pandemic on different groups within the university, and the specific needs we are facing. We urge governments, universities and funding agencies to address the various concerns and take actions to alleviate pressure on the short and long term.

You can find the manifesto in French, Dutch, and English on our website. We also encourage you to sign the petition if you support our aims and demands.

If you have an action or event you want to share with Slow Science, feel free to get in touch on info@slowscience.be.

Would you like to get involved? Have a look at our ‘get involved’ page, or get in touch!

Ethics Week 2019

The first week of December, the Vrije Universiteit Brussel organizes an ‘Ethics Week‘ with a focus on research ethics. They explicitly invite people from the Slow Science Network to participate and/or share their critical questions.

The topics discussed include issues that are central to the slow science movement , such as the problem of “publish or perish” and discussions related to positionality and diversity.

For more information and to register, see the website.

Slow Science & Sustainability: More than an amazing alliteration

Over the past year, our ‘foreign correspondent’ Sofia Pagliarin has contributed to this website through a series of interviews on themes such as the impact factor and the cultural hegemony of English in academia.

In the context of the University of Bamberg’s Sustainability Week she presented the links between the idea of sustainability to practices in contemporary academia. Though there are obvious issues ahead of us still, it is heartwarming to see scholars in other countries organizing around these common questions.

You can find Sofia’s presentation here.

Slow Science DS – 2019 edition

Last week, we concluded the 2019 edition of our doctoral course.

On Thursday, we met in Brussels at KULeuven, campus Brussel.

We started the day with a session on the topic of ‘Publish and/or perish’. The session was opened by our very own Freek Van Deynze. Freek gave us a general overview of the current state of academia in Flanders, with a special focus on the relation between the funding of the universities and publication pressure. Jon Tennant provided a passionate plea for Open Science (and against greedy publishers such as Elsevier, and related evils such as the journal impact factor). Consistent with his plea for Open Access, Jon’s presentation at our course can be found here. Next, Reine Meylaerts, vice-rector of research policy at KULeuven, talked about the societal impact of research and the complexity related to its assessment. We concluded the session with a general discussion, in which our participants shared their experiences.

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Jon Tennant

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Jon Tennant, Reine Meylaerts, and Freek Van Deynze

In the afternoon, we held a session on gender and diversity. Nellie Konijnendijk informed us about the ubiquity of implicit bias, and ways it could be addressed. The session included a practical exercise, in which the participants reflected on ways to make academia more inclusive.

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Nellie Konijnendijk

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Exercise on gender and diversity

In the evening, we organized a public debat in collaboration with Muntpunt. With Barbara Van Dyck as moderator, we shared our thoughts on the challenges posed by climate change and the role that the universities could/should play in addressing these issues. Our panel consisted of Anneleen Kenis, Chloé Verlinden, Mohamed Al Marchohi, and Tom Cox. Anneleen Kenis is an interdisciplinary geographer, with a background in political/ human ecology, sustainable development and psychology. Chloé Verlinden represented Students4Climate.  She is a Master student in Urban Studies (VUB-ULB), with a background in political sciences and anthropology. Mohamed Al Marchohi is currently working for GO! as an energy and climate policy advisor. In the past he worked for the Social-Economic Council of Flanders (SERV), he also conducted research in the field of Energy- and Environmental Economics at the University of Antwerp. Tom Cox  is a civil engineer, he is currently working as a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Antwerp, where he is affiliated to the Ecosystem Management research group. He was affiliated with the recent scientists4climate movement and has also been involved in other forms of climate activism (e.g. GroeNoord). The panelists provided their perspective on the issues at hand. One of the main points under discussion was the role of academics. Mohamed stated that part of the problem is that a lot of people are still not convinced that climate change is a problem. It therefore remains an important taks for academics to inform the public. Tom doubted whether this was the central problem, and countered that facts do not necessarily lead to action. He also voiced his doubts about the role of academia. First, academics are not special, they are just ordinary citizens. Moreover, academics (according to him) are bad agents of change. On an institutional level, he observed that universities do not make change happen. The lack of radical actions taken by universities [1] is a slap in the face of climate scientists. Chloé also noted a lack of action and mobilization amongst professors, but added that this was a problem in the student population as well. According to Anneleen, the lack of action taken by the universities themselves is especially disappointing given the fact that the measures to be taken are actually quite clear. Anneleen further applauded Students4Climate for their commitment, but had reservations about the way in which Students4Climate and Youth4Climate presented climate change as a future threat, whereas the consequences of climate change are already being felt, especially in the more vulnerable regions of the world. This led to a discussion of the issue of (white) privilege in relation to climate change.

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Anneleen Kenis, Chloé Verlinden, Mohamed Al Marchohi, Tom Cox

On Friday, we met in Ghent for the session hosted by Ghent University. This day focused on action. The morning session was organized by Omar Jabary Salamanca and Siggie Vertommen, who are both involved in the slow science network (and have organised the seminal edition of this doctoral course). Omar gave a short presentation on the roots and history of slow science. Siggie talked about slow science as a feminist issue. Siggie and Omar had invited Shiri Shalmy to give a presentation about antiuniversity. After that, we analyzed the landscape of the university and reflected on a better university and ways in which it could be attained.

Action Day
Ready for action

In the afternoon, we were given action training by Vredesactie/Tractie.

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Theories of change discussed during the session with Vredesactie/Tractie

 

For us as organizers, this year’s course was a success again.

We will be back next year.

See you then!

Slow Science Network

PS [1] An open letter by academics has just been published on vrtnws. It calls for universities to do more to address climate change.

Slow Science DS & Public Debate

Tomorrow and the day after we will hold the second and third session of our doctoral school. We will keep you posted about this!

The doctoral course also includes a debate, which is open to all. In the debate, we will look at the role that the universities can and should play in addressing the challenges posed by climate change. Admission to the debate is free, but you have to register, which you can do here.

Related to the topic of the debate: a group of academics have recently written an open letter, urging the universities to do more to become committed players in the ecological and social transition.

Hoping to see you all in Brussels!

Slow Science Network

 

 

Is Ghent University stepping out of the ratrace? An interview with Jan Dumolyn about the goals, strengths, and potential pitfalls of the new personnel policy

By Valerie De Craene, Anton Froeyman, Freek Van Deynze

In 2018, the University of Ghent and the Socialist Trade Union announced a new personnel policy, calling it “stepping out of the ratrace” and “no longer wishing to participate in the ranking of people”. The press release (by the University of Ghent and the Socialist Labour Union) was picked up by many scholars and media, also internationally. Inside Higher Ed even interviewed Rik Van de Walle, rector of the Ghent University.

Slow Science in Belgium read the new policy, followed the debates, and ended up with numerous questions. What is the new policy about? Will this policy be a start of a broader and fundamental change on the way universities are organised? Will this policy lead to different types of knowledges being valued and validated by universities and funding agencies, while preventing precarity in our universities? Or is this nothing more than window dressing with minor changes, and even only for the happy few? What about the broader context in which this policy is implemented? Luckily we found Jan Dumolyn -senior lecturer at Ghent University and, as member of the Socialist Trade Union, one of the people responsible for the negotiations and implementation of the new policy- willing to answer all our questions about the goals, strengths and potential pitfalls of the new direction Ghent University seems to take.

 

Slow Science: Very briefly and concretely, what are the main characteristics of this new policy vis-à-vis the previous system?

Jan Dumolyn: The former system was completely based on so-called quantifiable measures. Not only publications (with an elaborate ranking system) were measured, but grant applications and service as well, sometimes to the point of ridicule. The terms for promotion from one level to another stay the same: five years as a tenure track lecturer (docent, maître de conferences, assistant professor); then ten years as a senior lecturer (hoofddocent, associate professor); then eight years as a professor (hoogleraar, professeur); after that, one finally becomes a full professor (hoogleraar). Now, the quantitative approach has been replaced by a more qualitative method. A commission of five persons will be created for each staff member. This commission will be consist of the head of department, the president of the ‘education commission’ of the programme in which one teaches, a close colleague who knows the field, an HR-specialist and a member of the faculty board. In the first meeting the staff member presents a plan for what she will do during the next couple of years, then there is a feedback meeting two years later and finally after five years an evaluation. The idea is that every staff member who does her job correctly and adequately (so research, teaching and service) will be promoted. If this is not the case, the promotion is delayed. There is the possibility to appeal when one does not agree with a negative decision.

 

Slow Science: How long has this policy been in the making? And why did it get introduced now? Are there any examples or templates which served as inspiration (e.g. website of Leiden manifesto suggest so)

Jan Dumolyn: As trade unionists, we have been protesting against the former system from the moment it turned out that it would be based upon a purely quantitative logic (something that we never agreed to in the first place and was imposed upon us by the faculties). This is already ten years ago now. I had not heard about the Leiden manifesto before you asked me this question. In fact, we can be proud to say we were much earlier in saying this with ACOD-UGent (the socialist trade union at the university). When I already protested against this metric fetishism ten years ago, I was mocked by almost every powerful person in the Flemish academic world. Gradually, opinions changed, and now those in power mostly agree with us.

 

Slow Science: In the new policy, there is an important role for the so called HR-committee. Is it possible that people’s research will be assessed by someone who might be unfamiliar with your field?

Jan Dumolyn: I don’t see that as a problem, on the contrary. The HR-commission should contain both specialists of the field who understand the staff member but also other people who might have a fresh look or are not implied in specific feuds or controversies within the field. The composition of the HR-commission is made up by checks and balances.

 

Slow Science: One of its members is a person from DPO (Personnel Department). Who is this person, i.e. what is their profile/expertise/background? What is her/his role?

Jan Dumolyn: Her role will be that of a trained HR-specialist, a kind of career coach. These people will be mostly trained as pyschologists I suppose. Their task is to provide general suggestions for career management.

 

Slow Science: Will one person be performing this role for the entire university, or will this be several people? Do you expect this person to, officially or unofficially, also serve as “antenna’s” to give the central university level an idea of hiring and promotion practices?

Jan Dumolyn: Our university is recruiting them at the moment. There will be a few of them. And yes, I suppose they will serve as antennas in that way.

 

Slow Science: Part of the new policy is the requirement for academics to submit a so called ‘inpassingstekst’ or integration text: a text in which they show how they fit in the department. What about external people who do not know the department that well? Won’t they be disadvantaged by the new policy?

Jan Dumolyn: I don’t see why, they should be coached in this as well by the colleagues of their department. It’s normal that when teaching and service are concerned as a newcomer you don’t know everything.

 

Slow Science: In the new policy, there is a bigger role for the academic to choose to prioritize research, teaching, and/or service. How will this be evaluated? Are there any minimum criteria? What if, for example, academics choose to not publish any articles but rather aim to make a documentary or book? Would this be considered enough? Does all research need to be innovative, or is popularizing (existing) research also considered as valuable output? What about arts? What if someone aims to write a new opera? Is this considered research output?  Services? If so, will faculties allow it? What if they don’t?

Jan Dumolyn: In principle, all this should be allowed as long as one fundamentally remains a scientist. Of course, a lecturer or professor cannot just say ‘I don’t want to write scientific publications anymore’ but changing the focus to books or focusing more on science communication is of course a very valuable option. Of course, a researcher should always continue to engage in innovative research, we cannot just be popularizers or artists, these are different professions. So let’s not take things too far. Most of us are paid by tax payers’ money.

 The quantitative approach has been replaced by a more qualitative method. The idea is that every staff member who does her job correctly and adequately (so research, teaching and service) will be promoted.

Slow Science: Related to the previous question: do faculties want to focus on and value teaching and service more? If so, what needs to change in order to make this happen? Think about academics who are often present in mainstream media (e.g. Koen Aerts – Kinderen van de collaboratie, Carl De Vos): Aside from playing an important role in bringing scientific insights to the larger audience, they only provide an indirect benefit to their departments, in the form of publicity and possibly higher student numbers. Which role does this type of service play?Will this change anything in the current relationship between research, teaching, and service?

Jan Dumolyn: I think this type of academics are exceptional when you start counting them. In practice, universities have already for a long time been happy with well-informed and eloquent researchers who appear in the mass media. In all fairness, I do not believe in academic positions without research, or mostly oriented towards service. There can be no academic teaching or service which is not based upon original research.

 

Slow Science: Do you think the FWO too can validate this type of service like the one discussed above?

Jan Dumolyn: I don’t think it should. Fundamental research is the main objective for the FWO and it should remain so. Other types of funding could be created next to it. Fundamental research is always potentially under threat so we should not give too much weight to ‘impact’ either. There should be a balance. Otherwise private companies will tighten their grip on the universities. You and me are from the humanities, but let’s not be naïve, we don’t really count in the bigger picture, when it comes to money and funding. When we say ‘service to society’ we mean something else, in practice this will mean ‘service to big corporations’.

 

Slow Science: (How) can individual professors and/or the university avoid that this new policy eventually still leads to an output focused on quantitative metrics? The discourse might have changed, but how can this be applied in practice? Especially since the incentives that lead to the use of quantitative indicators (such as the internal allocation model, the financing decree and the BOF-distribution key) are still in place.

Jan Dumolyn: Yes, this is the next step that should be taken now; this is already going in the right direction, but slowly. Some rectors support moving away from focusing on quantitative aspects in order to divide the money between the universities in Flanders. The KULeuven however is trying to block a fundamental change as it profits most from the current situation and it has the most outspoken neoliberal discourse since a long time. It is up to the colleagues in Leuven to more actively resist their university leadership in this.

Rethinking the career of PhD-students and the ‘scholarship’ system, which is de facto a labour relation, is on our agenda for the coming year.

Slow Science: To what extent is the new policy part of a larger process of change? At this moment, the (external) incentives have not changed: the Flemish financing system as well as international criteria for funding remain the same. What about those incentives that undermine the new UGent policy? Will this affect competition to other universities who do not implement a similar policy?

Jan Dumolyn: Yes, but we are only the trade union of one university, we cannot do everything at the same time and we have to start somewhere. I would urge academics to join a labour union and work in these structures instead of only writing endless blogs to complain about ‘academia’ in purely individualist terms or signing the occasional petition. Only through collective organization one can  gain strength. And that is in a union. Academics should learn that they are workers too and are not ‘above such things’ as a labour union.

Evaluators could use their position to settle scores with the person being evaluated. We would have wanted a veto right by the candidate against members of the HR-commission as well, when she would think they are biased.

Slow Science: What about the careers of PhD students and Post-Docs? Is there something in the pipeline for them as well? And what will be the effect on PhD students and Post-Docs as long as there is no specific policy implemented for them?

Jan Dumolyn: Rethinking the career of PhD-students and the ‘scholarship’ system, which is de facto a labour relation, is on our agenda for the coming year. We have also recently reformed the statute of the ‘scientific staff’ i.e. mostly postdocs financed by external funding. As to the problem of the postdocs in general, the main solution is to create a lot more positions of lecturer, so more of them have a chance.

 

Slow Science: What do you, as labour unions, foresee as potential problems within the new system?

Jan Dumolyn: The downside of not using a purely quantitative logic is that there is more room for purely subjective judgments. Evaluators could use their position to settle scores with the person being evaluated. However, due to the composition of the committee, which is supposed to be balanced. And there are also possibilities to appeal.

 

Slow Science: Are you as ACOD happy with the new policy? Are there issues you wanted to see included too? What proposed elements didn’t make the cut?

Jan Dumolyn: We pretty much succeeded in obtaining the most important aspects of what we wanted. We would have wanted a veto right by the candidate against members of the HR-commission as well, when she would think they are biased. We lost on that one in the negotiations. Now there is the possibility to protest and write a letter to the dean and the faculty council but they can then decide if they want to maintain the nomination or not.

 

Jan Dumolyn (1974) is a senior lecturer in medieval history at Ghent University, a shop steward of the ACOD (Socialist Trade Union) and a member of the Staff Negotiation Committee.

 


Read more

UGent press release: (Nl) https://www.ugent.be/nl/actueel/nieuw-loopbaanmodel-zap.htm
UGent press release: (En) https://www.ugent.be/en/news-events/ghent-university-talent-rat-race-transformation-career-evaluation-model.htm
ACOD (Socialist Trade Union) Q&A on new policy: (Nl) http://www.acod1.ugent.be/?q=node%2F1027

Interview with Rik Van de Walle in Inside Higher Ed (En): https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2019/01/23/ghent-university-belgium-embraces-new-approach-faculty-evaluation-less-focused#.XEiPVQo3dhI.facebook