Monday, March 26, 2007

24/7 Availability of Academics

An interesting article appeared in this weekend's Times Higher Education Supplement, describing changes in UK Higher Education Institutions towards a more corporate way of doing things.

I have noticed that already a long time ago, that especially at Leeds Met there is a very "corporate air". But while many seem to object to this, I actually like it - this overall attitude is what made me join Leeds Met and move to the UK. The attitude during the job interview was very professional, very business-oriented. And since I had worked in a corporate research environment for more than 9 years, this did not seem strange to me at all. I also agree with the 24/7 culture (24 h a day, 7 days a week) - as an academic I need to be always available for students and staff.

But I see a danger in how this culture is about to be implemented: requiring presence in the office is not the way to achieve this culture. Nowadays there are other ways, for example mobile phones and broadband home internet to achieve this availability. It is important that academics have the freedom to move about when they decide they need to. It is their role and responsibility, and the limitation of this responsibility into a more supervised approach is dangerous to academic freedom. In such a climate, no academic excellence can be achieved, because being constantly disturbed by phone calls, visits in the office, and emails does not allow a concentrated work on research activities.

There were more articles in that edition of the Times Higher Supplement from last weekend about this issue, in which also specifically Leeds Met is mentioned. Again the same thing here: there is of course no problem with striving for excellence, and people who receive their pay from the university have the obligation to do their very best. This is no different in any other employment. But I am reluctant to accept a "shared identity": a university with its academic freedom can have a much more powerful voice if its members and employees speak as free individuals, with their own mind. A strength of the academic community is that within it there can be different viewpoints - and the free uninhibited discussion of issues is what leads to excellence.