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?’
The edition of 2019 will take place on the following days:
- Thursday April 4th
- Thursday April 25th
- Friday April 26th
(practical info: see “Program sessions” below)
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.
Session 1: Thursday 4 April 2019
1.30 pm – 4.30 pm: Introductory afternoon
(Universiteit Antwerpen, Stadscampus, Building A, 107)
Open space session
- Round table discussion (panellists to be confirmed)
The aim of this first session is to introduce the students to the problematic nature of current-day academic life. Participants will reflect on their own position in academia during an open space session, and a roundtable discussion with the invited speakers and the organizers of the course.
A broad range of topics related to academic work will be addressed: mental health and wellbeing, publication strategies, challenges of particular research environments, visions on the relationship between research, education and society, etc… Participants are encouraged to reflect on ways in which academia could be organized and developed differently to the benefit of all. At the end of the session, they will be provided with relevant reading materials in order to prepare for the next sessions.
Session 2: Thursday 25 April
10 am – 1 pm: Publish and/or perish and financing higher education
(KU Leuven, campus Brussels, Hermes 3, 6303)
- Jon Tennant (confirmed)
- Reine Meylaerts (confirmed)
Over the last decade, the Flemish government has urged Flemish universities to use bibliometric data as objective, quantifiable and repeatable measures to review the quality of research activities. Advocates of this strategy are convinced that publications in international journals with high impact factors are good indicators of the quality of academic research. Yet, others are afraid that the tendency to publish in English and in academic journals will hamper the role of science in the society at large. In this session, we ask the students to reflect upon their publication strategies and the research climate in which they are developed. Topics that will be discussed include the politics of indexing and ranking, the politics of internationalization and the politics of performance measurement.
2.30 pm – 5.30 pm: Gender and diversity
(KU Leuven, campus Brussels, Hermes 3, 6303)
- Nellie Konijnendijk (confirmed)
Diversity has been a part of policy jargon for years. However, too often ‘classical’ policy practices have yielded limited results when it comes to ameliorating the position of specific groups –women, ethnic minorities, disadvantaged economic classes– in university, failing to address existing intricate intersecting power relationships and inequalities. This session aims to dissect the basic assumptions underlying the term ‘diversity’ and the ways in which it neglects to address structural causes of subordination by veiling interpersonal and institutional mechanisms which (re)produce power imbalances. Concentrating on how the relations between social identities and their associated competences inform power relations between actors, we aim to formulate ways of countering inequality in its multi-layered forms. We will discuss reflections and tactics that have come out of feminist intersectional and interference thinking, as well as out of recent struggles against the Eurocentric foundations of global academia.
7.30 pm – 9.30 pm: Debate ‘The future of the university’
(VUB, location and speakers to be announced)
In order to broaden the discussion and allow stakeholders and others from outside academia to participate in the conversation, we will have a public debate on the future of the university. In line with last year’s debate (https://www.deburen.eu/magazine/2269/een-oefening-in-opstand), we will co-organise the debate with a Brussels-based organisation and focus on a timely topic which links the concerns discussed in the doctoral course with broader societal issues.
It is our explicit aim to start from the questions, concerns and suggestions themselves raised within the different sessions instead of starting from a prepared talk from each individual panel member. As such, we wish to incite our panel to answer directly to the issues that have been raised in the different sessions.
Friday 26 April
9.30 am – 12.30: Academia and society
(Universiteit Gent, Campus Mercator, A 1.04)
- Omar Jabary Salamanca
- Sigrid Vertommen
- Shiri Shalmy
Is the production of knowledge a political act? Can political action be an integral part of the academic act? When one thinks about ‘science’, one often associates it with hard evidence, objectivity (the preclusion of subjective observations and interpretations) and the formulation of falsifiable hypotheses and theories. However, facts are made, knowledge is produced. This act of production cannot be decoupled from power. Few people will of course deny that knowledge is produced and that “knowledge is power”. However, the crucial questions at hand are: power for whom?; power exercised by whom?; and finally, to what end? How do we deal with the relationship between knowledge and the existing power hierarchies that structure society? Is it our duty to question that relationship? To decouple knowledge from hegemonic power? Does this imply that we take sides and try to see the world through the eyes of the oppressed and the dispossessed? Does this imply that we consciously act against the ideological and institutional practices and structures that reproduce these power hierarchies? And how do we accomplish this? Critical scholars and scholar-activists emphasize that a critical process of knowledge production is shaped by a critical engagement with society. This does not simply mean that critical theorists have preferences and opinions about society, but rather that they seek to achieve a unity of theory and practice.
1.30 pm – 4.30 pm: Action training ‘Another university is possible’
(Universiteit Gent, Campus Mercator, A 1.04)
In this closing session we connect all the main questions raised in the previous sessions and in the debate, and integrate them into a crucial discussion on ‘how another science/university is possible’. First, students will be asked to form groups and think of an action or campaign, which will be presented to the other participants. The participants can draw upon Vredesactie’s experience in teaching and mediating workshops on organization in order to develop and further concretize their idea.