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  • "Perestroika in the Groves of Academe":Feminism and the Future of the Humanities as a Profession
  • Archana Rampure (bio)

I have a Marxist moment, contemplating us all—visiting professor and graduate teaching assistants alike—as workers duped into labouring for the good of the corporation. I wonder if we are all merely participants in hegemony, furthering our own exploitation by romanticizing teaching as a potentially transformative, meaningful expression of feminist activism that deserves our finest effort rather than as "factory work" that serves a corporation. Hegemony in the guise of feminist teaching.

Lucy Bailey, "When 'The Research' is Me"

Reviewing Heather Murray's Working in English, Len Findlay comments on "an academic division of labour marked by radical (but too rarely radicalizing) differences in work conditions and financial rewards." He concludes with a warning that the "unbroken legacy of progressive voices in the Canadian university" esteemed by Murray is "a legacy currently in danger of being de-valued or squandered in a number of jurisdictions across this country" (par. 3).

These academic divisions of labour go to the heart of a number of debates within English studies. Crucial to all of them are who works and who doesn't. Who gets paid $4,000 for teaching a half-course. Who is told in September that a class is cancelled, and who has to teach five sections of Business Communication. Who gets fellowship money and who has to [End Page 39] take on research assistantships. Who is nominated for SSHRC funding and who isn't. Who gets a tenure-track position as a newly-minted PHD and who gets told that she has too much teaching experience and not enough publications. These are questions of material importance to our discipline. Professionalization, hiring, tenure, academic freedom, research integrity, theory, radical pedagogy: all of these are terms that have taken on meanings far beyond themselves through their intimate linkages to this troubled (and troubling) question of the academic division of labour. When we talk about professionalizing graduate students, do we prepare them to work in the sessional pools or as "teaching postdocs" for a few years before they can expect to be hired into tenure-track jobs? When we talk of academic freedom or the freedom to teach theory or not, are we really talking about the fraction of teaching that is performed by tenured professors or the ever-increasing amounts of classroom teaching that have been off-loaded to vulnerable graduate students and poorly paid sessionals?

For it is a travesty of the term to talk about academic freedom for those without any job security. Without job security, there can be no meaningful academic freedom, no research integrity, no freedom to engage theory (or, indeed, no freedom from theory), and certainly no protections for those engaging in any radical pedagogy or advocacy in the classroom. My point here needs to be clarified: whether or not you feel that there is a place for English professors to be engaging in political advocacy in the classroom, the freedom to do so—or not to do so—without fear of reprisal is crucial to the integrity of the discipline. As Michael Bérubé has written movingly, "in the university setting, disciplinary disputes … are inevitably also disputes about relations of intellectual production. What we teach, and where we teach, affects how we hire, how we hire (intellectually as well as economically, from endowed chairs in cultural studies to adjuncts in introductory courses) profoundly affects what we teach" (35).

What's the connection to feminism, you ask? Well, Lucy Bailey's autobiographical and biographical research—epitomized in the epigraph above—provides us with one very persuasive connection between the theoretical work of feminism and the actual work of "feminist teaching." Bailey's own "stories," and the stories of other (and quite often, Othered) contingent women academics that she collects, are the affective reason why feminists must be concerned about the state of the discipline. Women are far more likely to find themselves occupying subordinate positions in the relations of power that mark the academic division of labour. Beyond this immediate concern for feminism with the putative subjects of feminism, though, there is a broader principle involved. By...


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