Building engagement with decolonising inside the pandemic university

During De Montfort University’s Learning and Teaching Festival on the Challenge of Change  I’m taking part in an online panel about Building engagement with decolonising inside the pandemic university.

Date: 25/03/2021 (12:00-13:00)
To register please click here. For further information please email eventsoffice@dmu.ac.uk
Bookings will close 1 hour prior to the start of the event. Registrants will receive a link to join the online talk 24hrs before the event, via their provided email address. This event is open to all.

Abstract

The pandemic has disrupted the flows of learning and teaching across higher education, with impacts on the experience and well-being of both students and staff. At the same time, other layers of intersectional, intercommunal and intergenerational marginalisation are being reinforced. The nature of staff and student engagement both with each other and the University is being challenged. Yet, institutions are also working to transform their structures, cultures and practices in relation to critical issues like racial, social and environmental justice. One such transformation is in relation to decolonising. In this panel session, members of the team who are working on Decolonising DMU will discuss the idea and impact of the project, and how it has been affected by the pandemic. At its core the project is working to build the anti-racist University, and the panel will map out the opportunities and challenges of this for staff and students.

Critical Reflections on the Language of Neoliberalism in Education

In order to celebrate the publication of the Routledge collection, Critical Reflections on the Language of Neoliberalism in Education, the Education Division at De Montfort University is holding a panel discussion reflecting on neoliberal discourse and language in education. The book focuses upon how particular words endanger the possibilities for a humane education, whilst others enable educational possibility. The panellists will discuss some of these words, and open up a discussion about the power of words in all of our educational contexts.

It’s being held online (link below) from 13.30-15.00 (GMT) on Wednesday 3rd March, and features the editor, Spyros Themelis (University of East Anglia), Maria Chalari (European University Cyprus) and Eleftheria Atta (P.A. College, Larnaka), and me. Whilst Maria and Eleftheria will focus upon ‘educators’ as a word of possibility, I will focus upon ‘immiseration’ and ‘managerialism’ as endangering words, and will question whether ‘alternative education’ might enable something else.

Link: https://eu.bbcollab.com/guest/952733659fe046cf8f9b401d0989306a


Research and the COVID-19 crisis: International Day of Education

I’m speaking at DMU’s panel session on: Research and the COVID-19 crisis – International Day of Education.

My talk is on: Covid-19 and the idea of the University

The idea of the University is being challenged at the intersection of crises, including those of finance and epidemiology. As a result, the public value of the University is continually questioned. This talk will uncover how, at the intersection of crises, those who labour in universities might recover their historical agency, and reimagine higher learning. 

My slides are available on my Slideshare.


slides for Covid-19 and the idea of the University

My slides for tomorrow’s Education Research seminar at DMU are available below from my Slideshare.

Drawing upon my recently published article in Postdigital Science and Education, on The Hopeless University: Intellectual Work at the End of the End of History, I am presenting the first in a new series of Education Research Webinars.

Date/time: Wednesday 28 October, 2020, 1.30-2.30pm

Access: via Blackboard Collaborate Ultra, https://eu.bbcollab.com/guest/f5220dae6a104f46bae508215ef4a844

Abstract
The University is being explicitly restructured for the production, circulation and accumulation of value, materialised in the form of rents and surpluses on operating activities. The pace of restructuring is affected by the interplay between financial crisis and Covid-19, through which the public value of the University is continually questioned. In this conjuncture of crises that affect the body of the institution and the bodies of its labourers, the desires of Capital trump human needs. The structural adjustment of sectoral and institutional structures as forms, cultures as pathologies, and activities as methodologies enacts scarring. However, the visibility of scars has led to a reawakening of politics inside and beyond the University. The idea that History had ended because there is no alternative to capitalism or its political horizon, is in question. Instead, the political content of the University has reasserted itself at the end of The End of History. In this presentation, the idea that the University at The End of History has become a hopeless space, unable both to fulfil the desires of those who labour within it for a good life and to contribute solutions to socio-economic and socio-environmental ruptures, is developed dialectically. This enables us to consider the potential for reimagining intellectual work as a movement of sensuous human activity in the world, rather than being commodified for value.


Decolonising DMU

I direct the evaluation for the Decolonising DMU Project.

With Kaushika Patel and Chris Hall (no relation), I am presenting on the project at the Advance HE Learning and Teaching Conference next week. If you have registered for the conference there will be a recording (.mp4) available. However, the slides are here.

You may also be interested in the project’s draft working position on building the anti-racist university, with which I was heavily involved. This connects to our research question: how does decolonising (its symbolism and reality) impact the idea of the university?

We are also presenting on Building the anti-racist University at a forthcoming event at the University of Bradford. The movement is (hopefully) growing.

Afterword

At Bradford I spoke about white privilege, and my own role in a process of decolonising. I argued following.

  1. Gurnam Singh spoke about white allyship Requiring an openness to building sustainable, democratic partnerships. I echoed this, in terms of horizontal forms of democracy, and building from below is a movement of dignity.
  2. I pointed back to a statement that Gurnam had made at the Radical DMU conference last year. He asked, how is it that in the most liberal institutions in the land in 2019, we are having to ask what it means to build the anti-racist University, or to decolonise? In fact, he forces us to ask whether these institutions can ever be described as liberal, and, if they can, whether that is a badge of dishonour that furthers particular forms of privilege.
  3. I argued the importance of challenging how structures/forms, cultures/pathologies, and activities/methodologies inside institutions, mirror governance, regulation and funding of the sector. The UK Conservative Government’s new Restructuring Regime for institutions in financial difficulty, reinforces the hegemony of the market and of human capital in dehumanising educational experiences.We have to find ways of refusing these pathological methodologies simply reinforce the power of people with no caring responsibilities, who over-perform, and who represent white, male, able power.
  4. In particular, we need to do this because University is implicated in a series of global crises, through the networks inside which it operates, its pathological search for surplus, its reinforcement of the performance ideals of the global North. It symbolises particular forms of life. It does not enable us to address climate forcing, a collapse in the nitrogen cycle, austerity governance, global poverty, whatever, unless those modes of addressing can be mediated through the commodity, the market, private property and money.
  5. Therefore, decolonising is a challenge to myself and my white, male privilege, just as it is a challenge to the very idea of the University grounded in the status and power are people who look like me. The voices that got us into this mess are not the voices I wish to centre as we build dialogue and look for potential routes towards another world or set of worlds.
  6. I see the process of decolonising not as the description of a utopia, rather as an attempt to situate this institution as a transitional moment, centring care, hope and dignity beyond the market, and focused upon equality rather than liberal tropes of equality of opportunity. It centres dialogue and reflection, and it grounds the University in its communities and its place.
  7. Peace be with you.

enough is enough

I am tired. In my heart and in my bones. I have been trying to sit with George Floyd, and to understand how to be in this world. It has felt beyond important to contact my black peers, colleagues and friends, and my peers, colleagues and friends of colour, to offer them what I can. I am constantly trying to acknowledge my privilege as a white, male professor, and that role’s reproduction of whiteness, and to find ways to redistribute that privilege. Being deliberate in reaching out felt like one strand of this.

Earlier in the week I had been ripped by Musa Okwonga’s testimony of his experiences of the police and the State as a teenager, and the subsequent, ongoing denial of his identity and expertise. He articulated how specific, racist forms of difference were imprinted and imposed upon him at an early age from without. He articulated how, even though he had written the critically acclaimed book on football in 2007, he was rarely asked to speak about football tactics, cultural history. Rather as a black man, he was forced constantly to re-articulate his and society’s position on race.

This constant, emotional labour made me feel exhausted, exasperated, frustrated, angry, tearful. A constant, emotional labour, which denies or detracts from the ability to grieve the murder of yet another black man or woman at the hands of the State and its institutions. The constant, emotional labour required to struggle against whiteness as it demands the generation of a double consciousness. And the part that had me in tears was when Musa made me internalise the reality that those struggles I have had with chronic anxiety and depression, two breakdowns, managing the death of my mother, chronic family illness, and on and on, were managed without the additional layers of navigation, compromise, fear, denial demanded of those with black skins. As he noted, he cannot leave his black skin at the door.

I am tired. But it feels as nothing compared to the exhaustion of this constant, emotional labour. Of a life that has to be justified against the power and privilege of others over and over.

Beyond Musa’s careful and considered and emotional and humane response, a second moment of tearful clarity came when Mark replied to my contact, specifically in response to the idea that I was trying to sit with George. He wrote, ‘Please tell him I am breathing.’ Fucking hell. I am in tears every time I read that. And I am reminded that Akwugo Emejulu writes of the eruption and exhaustion of protest that:

This is a gathering of the ghosts of our past, present and future. They assemble to watch us and wonder when and how this will end. We scream, we shout and we march because we are haunted by those we could not save and by the terrifying knowledge that these violent deaths at the hands of the state – or those who know they have the full support of the state – could happen to any of us. They couldn’t breathe because existing while Black is a threat to the everyday order of things – to the mundane organisation of American society that demands Black people’s subjugation.

‘Please tell him I am breathing.’ A gathering of ghosts. Sitting with me as I question, what have we become? What do we allow? How are we complicit? How, as Musa writes elsewhere, do I help others ‘not to be those who point at injustice and then stand by.’

And Mark wanted me to ‘Tell [George] that he has moved me closer to so many people including you. Tell him he has made me realise I need to have more uncomfortable conversations.’ And I think, how do I help to build upon the hope that centres upon Mark’s lived experience that he is still breathing? Building hope. This is our truth.


Rik replied to my contact and sent me this reminder from Stephen Garner.

The power talked of here is of unchecked and untrammelled authority to exert its will; the power to invent and change the rules and transgress them with impunity; and the power to define the ‘Other’, and to kill him or her with impunity. The arbitrary imposition of life and death is one end of the spectrum of power relations that whiteness enacts, across the parts of the world where white people are preponderant in positions of power. From Ida Wells’s anti-lynching crusade, through Malcolm X’s comment that ‘We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock: that rock landed on us’, to Carmichael and Hamilton’s pioneering and striking claims about the way structural racism functions as a compound of class and ‘race’ (1967), the recurrent theme is of African-Americans developing an ethnographic gaze of which the subject is the way power is wielded by White America and how it impacts painfully on them.

Steve Garner. 2007. Whiteness: An Introduction. London: Routledge, p. 14.

I see that I have access to some of that power wielded through white privilege, and that this potentially impacts painfully on others made marginal. I have long contended that my work inside the University is to abolish that power and that privilege, and to abolish the idea of the University as it enables and is enabled by that power and that privilege. Increasingly I see that the structures or forms of the University, the cultures that act as pathologies grounded in white privilege, and the activities that reproduce whiteness methodologically, are unable to deal with the conjuncture of crises. That they simply re-enact separation, divorce, exhaustion, exploitation, expropriation.

The voices that have been enabled over and over and over at the political economic core of our world, and which have brought us to the brink environmentally and socially, are not the voices that I wish to listen to in the search for another world. Instead, I need to do all I can to centre the voices of those made marginal, and the identities of those exploited, expropriated, extracted and exchanged. This is the only way I can see for us to push beyond the reproduction of exploitation, expropriation, extraction and exchange as the basis for our alienating existence. This feels like the struggle of our lives. I wonder if this is the real movement that will abolish the present state of things.


I have to consider this in the context of my own work, in particular in my institution’s engagement with decolonising. Elsewhere, Akwugo has noted, ‘To decolonise is to imagine that another university is possible.’ I am trying to relate the idea of the University, to its realities in its structures, cultures and activities, through conversation with particular experiences of black staff and students, and students and staff of colour. How do we bring the symbolism of the institution into conversation with how we imagine it, and our lived experiences of it, in order to be better?

I have written a working position for this:

In response to this, Decolonising DMU is an insistent movement towards a pluralist experience of the University, so that each individual and her communities feel more at home there. It works against the reality that some staff and students feel that they are not able to fit in, because they are alienated by institutions that are structured by whiteness and white privilege. We wish to elevate and bring to the front alternative experiences, stories, narratives and relationships, such that those who engage with the University do not have to give up their own identities and subjectivities. Our work refuses the idea that some should have to develop a double consciousness (or the daily reality of having to reconcile one’s own identity and heritage with the judgement of a dominant, Eurocentric identity), in order to survive in the institution.

This is a process of transformation or venturing beyond, which links strategy and action. It has a focus upon generating new knowledge about the University, its governance, internal regulation, management and organisation, technologies and information flows, and its relationships. In broad terms, the idea of Decolonising DMU challenges exploitation and dispossession, silencing, othering and marginalisation.

In this moment, my ghosts tell me that this is my real movement. And in that, I have to consider, as Oli Mould clearly and publicly articulates, what I can do as a white, male academic, to be better.

As the Particles for Justice collective note in their call for a #strike4blacklives, this involves a willingness to:

acknowledge the ways in which the effects of anti-Black racism are compounded for people who are also, for example, women, trans, non-binary, queer, Indigenous to the lands occupied by the United States and Canada, Latinx, Muslim, Jewish, disabled, and/or undocumented. We demand justice, reform, and accountability now.

And so I have to reflect and refuse the ways in which my practice reinforces pathological white privilege, whitewash and whiteness.

  • How does my research, teaching, administration, mentoring, widen the spaces and times in which black students and staff, and staff and students of colour can tell out their souls?
  • How do I contribute to the struggle for authenticity and legitimacy beyond whiteness, in institutional committees, trade union committees, governing bodies, institutional strategy, trade union campaigns, academic workloads?
  • How do I struggle for the rights of others, and their equality? What does this mean for me, in terms of student and staff attainment, advancement, personal development, workload?
  • How do I struggle against the monitoring and profiling of certain communities, and the measuring of everyone by a colonial and patriarchal yardstick?
  • How do I struggle against privileged forms of knowledge, and for multiple and interconnected ways of knowing, being and doing?
  • How do I struggle against experiences of microaggressions, harassment, hostility and hate crime that differentially impact mental and physical health? How do I fight for services for those who need them, inside and outside the University?

My work has to commit to deconstructing my practice and the alienating structures/forms, cultures/pathologies, and activities/methodologies that it enables. I have to centre the lived experience of those occupying subaltern positions, or those traditionally occupying second- order or subordinated status. I have to demand empathy from myself with the experiences of those made marginal or silenced. I have to do this work. Me, not those we have othered.

I have to be accountable for these statements. We who have benefited must be held to account for these statements.

I am tired. But it feels as nothing compared to the exhaustion of this constant, emotional labour.

This is my personal reckoning. A reckoning is coming.

And I will bear this tiredness because I refuse to be complicit in the reproduction of another’s toxic exhaustion.

Enough is enough.


DMU Critical University Studies Reading Group

With Rosi Smith in Education and James Evans in Strategic Planning at DMU, I am planning to kick-start a Critical University Studies Reading Group at DMU.

The first meeting will be 12.30-13.30 on Wednesday 25th March, in Hugh Aston 1.47.

The draft parameters for the group are appended below, and these are up-for-grabs.

  • The higher education sector and its institutions, is being restructured and repurposed, both in terms of policy and practice. Restructuring has affected the idea of the University, in terms of corporate forms, cultures and practices.
  • The imposition or evolution of changes to the forms, cultures and practices of the University has implications for those who work and study in it, including on their professional identity, workload, and mental and physical health.
  • The purpose of this reading group is to generate discussion of the scholarship relating to higher education, the University and the work of students, academics and professional services staff. This will critique scholarship and analysis across intersections, geographies and histories, in order to understand life inside the contemporary university.
  • The reading group provides a forum for understanding the consequences of university reforms, and in this it emphasises the perspectives, communities and individuals who have been othered or silenced in the debate.
  • The reading group will meet twice a term, and will negotiate its curriculum. This curriculum might include: the idea of the University; well-being and ill-being inside the University; work in the contemporary university; the impact on student learning; leadership, management and metrics; the governance, regulation and funding of higher education; intersectional, critical feminist and critical race readings of the University.
  • Meetings will be predicated upon a short reading, video, podcast that will be shared in advance. The key will be discussion rather than lecture, although sessions may be briefly introduced by individuals, in order to facilitate dialogue.
  • The reading group will proceed in a spirit of openness and dialogue within and between various conceptions of higher education.
  • The essential feature of the series is that critique can provide inspirational resources for renewing educational practices and producing new knowledge that can support action.

For our first meeting, the initial reading is this review of The Toxic University: Zombie Leadership, Academic Rock Stars and Neoliberal Ideology by John Smyth: https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/lsereviewofbooks/2018/01/19/book-review-the-toxic-university-zombie-leadership-academic-rock-stars-and-neoliberal-ideology-by-john-smyth/


Funded PhD scholarships

Funded PhD scholarships currently available at De Montfort University: https://tinyurl.com/ul2ymmc

Based within the Institute for Criminology, Community, Education and Social Justice (https://tinyurl.com/vzxf7rc), the Education Research Group (ERG) focuses upon research into culture, policy, curriculum and pedagogy, and practice, in the full range of educational contexts. It offers interdisciplinary expertise dedicated to the production of scholarship on the social, cultural, economic and political aspects of education in communities, prisons, schools, social centres and so on.

We welcome expressions of interest from potential PhD candidates interested in undertaking research in the field of education. Key areas of focus include:

  • alternative and co-operative forms of education;
  • classroom pedagogy and practice;
  • critical race theory and critical feminism in educational experiences;
  • curriculum development, including creativity and co-creation;
  • education governance, policy, and regulation;
  • educational psychology and the concept of resilience in the student experience;
  • educational transitions;
  • Forest schools and environmental education;
  • intersectional experiences of schooling;
  • music education and professional development
    prison education;
  • schooling and spatial theory;
  • technology and innovation in the classroom;
  • working conditions, labour and the political economy of education

If you have other areas of interest that you wish to discuss, please feel free to contact us.

22 fully-funded PhD scholarships are currently available at De Montfort University (see: https://tinyurl.com/ul2ymmc). The deadline for applications for scholarships is 9th March 2020. If you are interested in finding out more about applying for a PhD with the ERG, please contact Professor Richard Hall (rhall1@dmu.ac.uk) for an informal discussion.

Entry requirements include a UK Honours Degree with at least an upper second class honours or equivalent, and English language competence. For more detail, please see the De Montfort University, Doctoral College webpages (https://tinyurl.com/rmp5w6p).

Feel free to circulate our PhD scholarship flyer.


radical pedagogies livestream

Tomorrow, Thursday 19 September, De Montfort University is hosting “Radical Pedagogies: Macpherson 20 Years On”. The main focus of the event will be on how radical pedagogies can be used to highlight and address issues relating to race and institutional discrimination.

I have previously blogged about the event, including the call for papers.

The full programme is also online now. We are intending to live stream several sessions as follows:

09.45-10.15: welcome

10.15-11.15: Silhouette Bushay’s keynote on hip-hop pedagogy

14.45-15.50: panel discussion on radical pedagogy and challenging racial discrimination

16.00-17.00: local educators’ panel discussion

The live stream will be available from our conference homepage (you will need to scroll down the page).

We are also planning to record each of the presentations in the breakout discussion/workshop sessions. There are abstracts for these available. The presentations will be available on the website too. We will be using #radicaldmu19 to curate the dialogue from the day.

There are thematic streams on:

  • challenging institutional racism in education;
  • radical Pedagogies in practice;
  • against the attainment gap;
  • decolonisation in practice;
  • narrating raced and gendered experiences in education;
  • disappearing narratives.

It promises to be a great event.


Presentation: Strategic Visions & Values: Inclusive Curricula and Leadership in Learning and Teaching

On Wednesday I spoke at a Leadership in Learning and Teaching programme event at the Durham Centre for Academic Development. I was asked to share my experience of working to embed inclusivity in the curriculum, and framed what I said/our discussions around:

  • policy and institutional change;
  • participants’ perspectives on embedding inclusivity in the curriculum;
  • two DMU examples of institutional change projects relating to disability (Universal Design for Learning (UDL)) and work to close the attainment gap (Freedom to Achieve); and
  • participant engagement with DMU’s UDL framework.

I utilised our UDL2 project interim evaluation report and UDL2 literature review, alongside our Freedom to Achieve interim evaluation report.

I also made contextual reference to DMU’s access and participation plan, submitted to the Office for Students for 2018/19, and pointed participants to Durham’s plan. These highlight the differences across the sector between intake, upon which approaches to inclusivity/diversity (whatever they mean) rest.

My slides are available below. I have also appended some of the key points that emerge from our discussions. Finally, I append a limited number of resources, which I find particularly useful or challenging.

Key points from participant discussions

Q. What are your experiences of working to embed inclusivity in the curriculum?

  • Issues around the pace of change, and who has responsibility when so much activity is devolved.
  • What is the meaning of these terms, and in particular in different disciplinary contexts and at different levels of study?
  • What is the relationship between strategy, policy and practice? Here, issues of curriculum development and curriculum delivery, pivoting around curriculum Design, pointing towards assessment and feedback are surfaced. There needs to be discussion about institutional, departmental and subject-specific agendas, in order to avoid the impact of hidden or unconscious curriculum intentions.
  • There are issues of workload that need to be considered.
  • How do we encourage sharing across disciplinary boundaries and separations created by different workloads/roles/job types?
  • We recognise a range of cultural expectations, including the expectations of students attending different institutions with different histories, cultures, practices, forms of capital. We also recognise a range of expectations in relation to employability and the generation of new skills, competencies and knowledge.
  • We recognise the need to create a lingua franca, through which we can generate a shared approach to communication. However, this needs to be sensitive to different expertise and experience, and the ways in which language can affect interpretation and activity. Our aim is to avoid unnecessary friction, whilst supporting and scaffolding our students’ struggles to master the curriculum.
  • Is it possible to avoid simply retrofitting a physical or curricula infrastructure, and to build something that celebrates diversity and inclusivity (whatever they are)?
  • There are competing pressures upon staff in relation to career, Department and institution, and in terms of student experience/support. There are competing pressures upon staff in relation to research, teaching and administration. How do search innovation projects relate to academic progression?
  • How do we decide what is valued and who is valued in our approaches to innovation? How do we engage with new workload models in this process?
  • We have more agency than we think, and are able to shift the emphasis of the curriculum, in order to focus content and activity upon previously marginalised areas of study. In this way, we can begin to ask questions about privilege and power, and centre new individuals/groups. In this way we can also approach problems differentially, and enabling students to take ownership.
  • In terms of having a framework for inclusive practice, at the level of curriculum design, delivery and assessment/feedback, there is interest in the concrete practices of particular subjects (as opposed to more abstract or open-ended frameworks). How might this work in different disciplinary contexts? As a result, is it possible to move beyond the threshold engagement with inclusivity/diversity, in order to do more?

References

Ahmed, S. 2012. On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Ahmed, S. 2017. Living a Feminist Life. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.Barnett, R. 2016. Understanding the University: Institution, Idea, Possibilities. London: Routledge.

Bhambra, G., Gebrial, D., & Nisancioglu, K. (Eds., 2018). Decolonising the University. London: Pluto Press.

Connell, R. 2013. “The neoliberal cascade and education: an essay on the market agenda and its consequences.” Critical Studies in Education 54 (2): 99-112.

De Sousa Santos, B. (Ed., 2007). Cognitive Justice in a Global World: Prudent Knowledges for a Decent Life. New York: Lexington Books.

O’Dwyer, S., S. Pinto, and S. McDonagh. 2017. “Self-care for academics: a poetic invitation to reflect and resist.” Reflective Practice 19 (2): 243-49.

Steinþórsdóttir, F. S., Heijstra, T. M., & Einarsdóttir, Þ. J. (2017). The making of the ‘excellent’ university: A drawback for gender equality. ephemera: theory and politics in organization, 17(3), 557-82.

Styres, S. (2018). Literacies of Land: Decolonising Narratives, Storytelling, and Literature. In L. Tuhiwai Smith, E. Tuck, & K.W. Yang (Eds.), Indigenous and Decolonizing Studies in Education: Mapping the Long View (pp. 24-33). London: Routledge.

Tuck, E., & Yang, K. W. (2012). Decolonization is not a metaphor. Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education and Society, 1(1), 1-40.

Tuhiwai Smith, L., Tuck, E., & Yang, K. W. (Eds., 2018). Indigenous and Decolonizing Studies in Education: Mapping the Long View. London: Routledge.