To tie into other events on neoliberal research cultures this year, last week Dr Barbara Read delivered a lecture on feelings of illegitimacy and fear of failure among casualised academic staff.
Where traditionally, lecturers have held high authority and status over their students, as well as a great degree of legitimacy in delivering education, the rise of neoliberalism in University institutions has changed how educators and students are constructed as well as how they relate to each other.
As students are re-constructed into ‘consumers’ and lecturers as ‘service deliverers’ these new embodiments come into conflict with existent ideas of idealised, legitimate lecturers resulting in a great deal of shame for casualised staff, particularly as they seek to validify their self-presentation as academics.
“I sometimes wonder how the students see me – do they think they’ve drawn the short straw by being given a teacher who does not have an office, isn’t around so much, is less confident and experienced and clearly isn’t part of the main faculty?”Olivia, part-time teaching fellow, aged 41-50, white British middle-class.
Based on email interviews with twenty academic staff members, all on temporary, part-time, and hourly contracts, Dr Read’s research investigates how these staff members navigate their students’ perceptions of them. Of the academics interviewed, most were white and middle class – seventeen were women and all but two were under 40 years old.
Her findings show that many respondents were concerned with how their impermanent status would affect their students’ perceptions of their authority and legitimacy as educators.
“Arriving in academe, I felt ‘displaced’, like an imposter, where everyone appears informed and confident and this feeling has not changed since graduation [with a doctorate]. I feel that my ‘race’, gender, age and accent do not fit with the assumed image of an academic…Some students refuse to accept my feedback comments and/or me as their supervisor.”Yvonne, part-time hourly paid lecturer, 61+, Black African Caribbean working-class.
Further, their contracts had direct impacts on the quality of their teaching. Several staff members reported feeling unable to deliver or unmotivated to design quality course materials in the knowledge that they might not be present to teach these courses again.
There was also a notable lack of personal and professional development in these roles, as the institution is less willing to invest in training casual academic staff.
Disclosing their casualised status to students felt ‘risky’ to many, although some were more open about it. Particularly, last years’ strike action was cited as an incident that helped some staff members be more open and candid with their students about the precarity of their work. Ultimately, many felt it was a refusal of a culture of shame.
To keep up to date with Dr Read’s research, access her work via https://www.gla.ac.uk/schools/education/staff/barbararead/ or follow @barbararead35 on Twitter.
A full recording of the event is available below: