Support the Striking Academics
For the last two years, I was a union rep for postgraduates as the Graduate Officer of University College Dublin Students’ Union. This involved board-work, campaigning, lobbying and casework. Casework was most of the job and this meant I often represented PhD candidates and Doctoral researchers with tiny incomes (called stipends) on a range of issues. The issues they faced were complex and often had a toxic effect on their lives and studies.
Sometimes a case had a “HR” element which boiled down to this: An early stage researcher is consistently pushed beyond their limit trying to balance teaching students, grading papers and research to keep their supervisors and departments happy. Inevitably they fail and occasionally that relationship goes rotten so they’d come to me for help. Here in the Netherlands they enjoy a slightly better lot, but I never thought this problem existed for ‘full-time’ contract academics.
So, when I read an article by this paper titled ‘No emails or grades due to ‘work-to-rule’’, I was shocked. It told me academics were striking and only working the hours they were paid for. Now, the only personal negative from the strike was that my grades weren’t delayed as they were MCQs (if you know a good stats tutor, contact me). But the strike reveals how hard the RUG pushes academics to provide their expertise without payment. As students, we rely on these academics for a stimulating educational experience. It’s important they are supported and treated right.
It’s not radical to think anyone deserves a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work and academics are no different. Yet we’re constantly given a choice between the two and left with neither. In this gig economy, we must be flexible. Of course, this means pushing ourselves to breakpoint for penny-pinching employers offering zero-hour contracts for little reward. Sure, a ‘good job’ pays better but there’s so much work ‘regular’ hours won’t get the job done and you stay late or take it home. So, it’s ‘work for free or lose it all’. Where’s the work/life balance?
Dishearteningly, strike-participant Professor Casper Albers said in this paper that the RUG board agreed with them and encouraged the striking academics to contact the minister, who sent them back to the board. My message to the striking academics is this: If the RUG really cared they’d be playing on the same team as you, instead they are smiling in your faces and using you as a political football to play a passing game with the government. But you have my support and the support of many of us demanding our lives back.
It’s truly shocking that the RUG and the government are even practicing passing drills with this. Universities rely on academics to research and educate us just to exist. Academics are of such benefit to society that many governments, including this one, pay universities to exist and rely on their expertise to create policy and educate the public. If they care, they need to start acting like it.