- The Gendered Labour of Loving What You Do
Rather than beginning with what’s unspeakable, let’s start with what is spoken.
In April of 2016, upei professor Ron Srigley published a short article in The Walrus magazine bemoaning the current state of the university classroom, a place, he claims, where “academic content” has given way to entertainment under the guise of “student-centred learning activities” (his scare quotes). On the rise of student experience offices he is quizzical, pondering to himself what kind of experience these offices are hoping to create before offering an answer: “Fundamentally, one in which students are made to feel happy, empowered, valued, and the centre of their own learning experience. The student services department itself will guide students to this beatific end and shield them from cantankerous faculty (like me) who insist on raining on the parade by actually attempting to teach them something” (Srigley).
Public responses to Srigley’s piece were predictably divisive. Many academics understandably identified with Srigley’s bemoaning of the corporatization of the university, the shifting of professor-student relationships to that of customer and employee, and the increasingly incomprehensible bureaucratic apparatus that structures and manages that relationship to [End Page 17] within an inch of its life. Other readers, from both within and outside academia, were seemingly drawn to Srigley’s disparaging tone, to a bias-confirming parody of academia as a self-indulgent refuge for entitled millenials and the pc leftist killjoys teaching them.
A good example of the latter response comes in the form of a comment on Melonie Fullick’s critique of Srigley:
Fullick seems more interested in condemning the “tone” of Professor Srigley’s piece than in refuting his (compelling) thesis. Perhaps he should have included a “trigger warning” at the outset? What’s more, as someone with twenty-seven years of university teaching experience myself and fully aware of what Professor Srigley is talking about, I find Fullick’s denigration of his evidence unfair, even insulting. Surely his twenty-plus years of front-line service in his profession warrants our most serious attention to his concerns.(Azoulay)
Note here the use of the phrase “trigger warnings” as shorthand for inadequately scholarly, overly affective response. Similarly, the discourse of experience as a support for wisdom about teaching—experience against research—of course supports some voices over others. Who is in the position to have twenty-plus years of teaching experience? Who, on the other hand, has more recently gained access to these rapidly deteriorating hallowed halls (and, by implication, is positioned as complicit in said deterioration)?
But many of us—Fullick included—experienced a profound disconnect between our own “front-line service” and Srigley’s account of what teaching looks like in the contemporary university. We know there are problems, but we’re pretty sure they aren’t the students’ fault for wanting to feel empowered. We strive instead to balance our precarity with our obligations to our students, to balance their needs for quantifiable outcomes with our belief in the other things you can learn in a classroom—to be resistant, belligerent, unsettling thinkers, but also generous, reliable, supportive teachers.
The most illuminating critique of Srigley’s article came in the form of media scholar and public intellectual Aimée Morrison’s post on the popular feminist academic website Hook & Eye. Here, Morrison addresses not so much the content of the Walrus article as the question of Srigley’s public status; how, despite his position as a career adjunct, he is able to speak confidently from within the privilege of his own white male authority; how people are so willing to listen to him. Morrison invites her readership of [End Page 18] primarily women, many of whom are graduate students or sessionals, to imagine how much cultural capital they themselves would gain through such ostentatious public displays of dissatisfaction. That move, she asserts, is “really only available to conservative white dudes.” What about the rest of us?
Me (and you, I imagine), I hold a tiny bit of my soul in my hands every class I walk in to. […] I engage my students every day as if they were human...