Notes on the Academy is born out of the conviction that academia is a diseased community.
Academia – which ought to be a place of inquiry and wonder – is instead one of unnecessary suffering. This illness has spread like a cancer, affecting everyone, and is everywhere in our community: in our classrooms, laboratories, hostels, and curricula; in the hearts of the students, “non-academic” staff, and teachers.
It manifests in the thousand indignities visited upon us all. We see it in the unequal relations of power between student and teacher, where unfailing obedience is expected from students as a matter of course. We see it in the exclusion of disadvantaged groups and differently-abled peoples and in the prevalence of caste- and gender-based discrimination. We see it in the depoliticization of academic work and in the sacrifice of students at the altar of a distrustful bureaucracy. We see it in the privatisation of education, the morphing of a public good into a private commodity reserved for those of means. We see it in the increasing contractualisation of non-academic labour on university campuses. We see it in the cowardice and indifference that tenure engenders, in the resulting proliferation of fiefdoms and spheres of influence. And, finally and tragically, we see it in the high rates of depression and the all-too-frequent suicides – a heart-breaking testament to the failure of our institutions to appreciate the seriousness of mental health.
The first steps towards a cure are diagnosis and analysis, and for this we must take Notes.
Academia is haunted by a depressing irony: a community founded on the principle that an unexamined life is not worth living can find an unexamined community worth living in. We believe that this irony stems from us treating each travesty as a departure from the norm, each excess as the result of poor judgement on the part of an individual, and never as the natural culmination of systemic degradation. The central dogma of these Notes is a rejection of these simplistic apologia and efforts to mythologize the academy. This is our attempt to seek more comprehensive and honest explanations rooted in a critical analysis.
We will inherit this academy one day, and it is our intention to excise, both for ourselves and for those that will follow us, these cancerous elements. We want the body of public education to thrive and proliferate, not just survive. Academia has hitherto used its privilege to look outwards at society, but this is insufficient. It must look inwards and critically evaluate its own systems if it is to remain true to those principles it pledges allegiance to. Our efforts are aimed, in effect, at the re-politicization of the academy — at the recognition that institutions of higher education do not exist in a vacuum, that they are affected by the movements of society and state and, conversely, that they may one day catalyse the shift towards a more just and equitable society.
Such a project requires first that we embark on an extensive study of the academy: by tracing its dark and torturous past, and by cataloguing its present state.
That is the purpose of these Notes on the Academy.