Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Wheels In Motion

Today has been very eventful.  I've made some great contacts from the U.S. who've been active for some time, they are New Faculty Majority () and the adjunct project () as well as some Australians who are already active as well.  This presents a great opportunity for an ongoing collaboration on how to approach the increasing casualisation of teaching staff in Australian higher education.  I also attended my university's sessional academics meeting at which the lack of access to basic facilities was brought up.  At our university we are not provided with a safe place to store out belongings, a computer, printing facilities or a private space to meet students outside of class time.  I've heard that this is also the case at other universities?  Frustratingly, the building in which we met has recently been re-furbished with new carpet, paint and furniture, yet seemingly the university cannot afford to provide sessional staff with a secure work point (not even a shared one).

The Castor (Caster) Wheel Revolution
This brings me to the topic on the commercial properties and aesthetics of new university spaces.  I like to call this the 'Castor Wheel Revolution,' where innovation in teaching spaces comes in the form of two forked wheels fixed to the base of every piece of furniture and equipment.  It is the ubiquitous space for teaching that is so nondescript that if all the furniture were wheeled away it could easily become a shopping centre or an office building.  This extends to the offices for academics who work on castor wheeled desks and chairs in open plan white laminate planar deserts in the same insular manner as accountants or marketing staff.  Your position reflected in the mobility of your furniture as only the Vice Chancellor has furniture of solid timber, heavy enough to represent some sense of permanence.  The casual staff are so temporary that they are not provided with a desk at all.  The marketization of the university is manifest in its architecture and spatial arrangements, its furniture and equipment.

I was first made aware of the commercialisation of university spaces at a conference in Auckland in 2010 by Sean Sturm and Stephen Turner in their paper 'Crystal Capital: the Business of University Building':    

"There, everything communicates psychically with everything else in the code of capital:  the language – the logo-rhythm – of the academosphere is encoded according to the design drive of econometrics, namely, in terms of economic calculability and accountability. And the mission of the University is growth, a mission that transcends its onetime imperative to educate and demands a glasshouse of industry: in Sloterdijk’s terms, an “immaterialized” and “temperature-controlled” enclosure.......The danger of this disclosure of the one space of the transcendental university, a space that grows in us and in which we grow as teachers and learners, is that it closes out the many human foibles by which education flourishes: just talking, being idle, sharing, charity, invention."        
Sean Sturm and Stephen, University of Auckland, at Interstices 2010 (http://interstices.ac.nz/unsettled-containers-aspects-of-interiority/)

If you have photos or stories of teaching spaces at your university - I would be really interested in hearing from you.

1 comment:

  1. Nope, not even a shared space. Right now I am sitting in the visual resources library for the department I did my PhD in, but not the one I am actually employed by at the moment. I am currently working as a sessional research assistant and usually work at home but it isn't always practical (plus I get cabin fever). I didn't teach last year but between 2005 and 2010 I taught every year and was only given a desk space 3 times and one of those was because I was a coordinator. I always asked for space and the times when I wasn't given it no one actually said no, they just 'never organised' it. that felt to me like they didn't want to admit they had no space or actually email me saying no, but to intents and purposes they refused to give me space. I was typically required to be on campus 4 out of 5 days and had to leave bags, books etc in friend's offices or carry everything around.