You know those weather apps assuring you that it’s dry, while you’re outside running and getting soaking wet? Right now, the university’s long-awaited statement on Susanne Täuber’s ‘damaged relationship’ with her employer has a similar effect on all those involved in feminist work at the university.
Why? Because it states that the ‘university is unable and unwilling to discuss individual staff issues in public but is supportive of academic freedom and safety’.
I cannot comment on this individual case, as my understanding of legal matters is too limited. But I can comment on the issues of social safety and academic freedom. As someone who has engaged in feminist research in the sciences for twenty years, I now understand the vulnerability of those doing feminist research more than ever before.
It does not require leaps of imagination to see how those doing feminist work are often vulnerable to criticism, backlash, and even harassment
Let’s not talk about ‘individual staff issues in public’, as the university’s response urges us, even though this is such a missed opportunity to engage in dialogue about such pressing issues as a safe working environment. Instead, let’s talk about the abundance of research evidence pointing to power hierarchies, systemic barriers, intimidation, and harassment at the university. Let’s talk about the value of feminist work at the university: exploration of lived experiences, inequalities, discrimination, racism, and sexism in education and society are but a few examples of the kind of feminist research currently done at our university.
Questions such as why the early tracking of children in the education system is discriminatory, why the honours program is elitist, or why Black women and transgendered individuals are nowhere to be found in the sciences are only three examples of the sort of issues that feminist researchers attempt to tackle.
So what do feminist researchers aim to do? We want to challenge dominant power structures, expose injustices and inequalities as we strive for an equitable, democratic, and inclusive university and society. In this context, it does not require leaps of imagination to see how those doing feminist work are often vulnerable to criticism, backlash, and even harassment. And this is precisely why the university needs to prioritise the academic freedom and safety of those doing feminist work, through concrete actions and resources.
If you have read until the end and still wonder why feminist work is important, then here it is in a nutshell: It is only through feminist work that the neoliberal university can be transformed into a truly safe space with no ‘damaged relationships’.