Monday: people are starting to recognise each other on my picket line. They exchange news of how the strike is affecting their daily lives, including what their children say to them about it during the school run or while they make their packed lunches during breakfast.
A Fathers For Justice veteran stops to speak to us. We explain to him why we are striking. ‘You should just get legal about it,’ he says. ‘If they say there’s no money left in the pot, ask them where it’s gone. When they don’t tell you, do them for fraud.’
‘Stress and anxiety are now sutured into the academy’ -Liz Morrish, University of the Future workshop (Part One: Work)
‘We feel privileged, and we love what we do -but how far do we go before that love prevents us from having a critical discussion about what’s happening to us?’ -from the discussion at the University of the Future workshop (Part One: Work)
Tuesday: A medical researcher I have got to know stands chatting with a group of four students, all young women, about post-structuralist theory and Foucault. Their discussion lasts half an hour, a serendipitous, unprogrammed teach-out, for free, in the sunshine.
One of the #ExeterOccupy students, a Guild (Student Union) sabbatical officer, stops to chat to us: ‘The security guard didn’t even say good morning. He just began screaming at me to begin waking them all up.’
I have now spoken to two colleagues from completely different disciplines about writing papers in non-conventional (i.e. poetic) formats. Could the universe be trying to tell me something? Whatever this strike is, it is serendipitous moments like this which are slowly making me re-evaluate not only my practice, but who I am and perceive myself to be. It is the best CPD I have had in years.
‘The difference between the good lecturers and the bad ones is that the bad ones only want us to do well so it reflects well on them. The success isn’t ours, it’s theirs. They coerce us into making them look good.’
Eight days into the strike, I realise that I am now addicted to spending large amounts of time each day out of doors, talking to people I don’t know, and getting to know better the ones I already do know. What have I come to, that it takes a strike to make me realise the importance of these practices of self-care?
A film lecturer I have just started following on Twitter puts it brilliantly:
‘Strike as Enabler of Learning:
1) Increased communication between Staff & Students
2) Opportunity to connect with staff/students in other departments/universities & share knowledge
3) Opportunity to read/share new material
4) Produce creative material’
Thursday: After picketing, a bunch of us go for lunch at a nearby cafe. After shedding our coats and sitting down we simultaneously reach for our mobiles. ‘Twitter!’ one of us says. ‘I’ve gone from nothing to complete addiction. The thing is, it’s keeping me alive.’
We begin to swap stories of the big things in life, the losing and finding of religious faith, our experiences, good and bad, of education. Finally it is my turn. I confess to the people opposite me that I went to boarding school. ‘You can’t tell!’ they say. It’s one of the nicest things anyone’s ever said to me.
A colleague I have just met unravels a poster of a poem she has brought, then attaches it to the sign at the entrance of the university:
Good Mirrors Are Not Cheap
It is a waste of time hating a mirror
or its reflection
instead of stopping the hand
that makes glass with distortions
slight enough to pass
until one day you peer
into your face
under a merciless white light
and the fault in a mirror slaps back
what you think
is the shape of your error
and if I am beside that self
you destroy me
or if you can see
the mirror is lying
you shatter the glass
choosing another blindness
and slashed helpless hands.
Because at the same time
down the street
a glassmaker is grinning
turning out new mirrors that lie
at cut rate.
The university that I work for is currently in conflict with the union that I belong to, the UCU, over Universities UK’s (UUK) proposed changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS).
This has resulted in lecturers like me taking strike action.
The views posted in this blog are mine alone and do not represent those of my employer.