Academically Depressed

Lessons of academic life.


April 20, 2015

I don’t know anymore how long ago it was that I wrote my last post here.

Last December, I went to Kazakhstan to teach an intensive course at L. N. Gumilyov Eurasian National University, for which I also had to prepare intensively. After the New Year, my best friend at my University, who also happened to be my Department Chair, took a leave of absence to go teach in South Korea. In March, I was appointed as the new Chair of the International Relations Department, and thus fulfilled this administrative role while teaching 4 different courses.  Then, as the President of EuPRA, I also hold regular weekly meetings with a team of organizers and colleagues at University of Tromsø, where we will have our 2015 Conference. I even dared to accept an invitation to go give a lecture on International Environmental Security at Turkish War College, despite the fact that preparing the lecture required a lot of updating of my previous knowledge on the topic. So yes, I have been busy.

However, there have always been periods when I have been very busy, and yet my blog posts had not suffered. As a writer, I can concentrate easily on what I want to say and write a blog post in a short time. So what exactly is new about this period that made me neglect writing for the blog I contributed to from day one? Once I asked this question and turned inside to look for an answer, the answer revealed itself easily. I found out that I have been academically depressed.

In my daily life, I am not depressed. I have a happy marriage; I enjoy company of my friends, go out, socialize; I exercise regularly; I am on good terms with my extended family. Yet when it comes to talking and thinking about academia, I am in this very collective feeling of “something’s going wrong with academic life today” that I share with many of my colleagues. I now realize that the reason I did not want to write a post, I procrastinated, I told myself that I had more important and more urgent things to do than to write this post, was only because I wanted to escape from telling about an academic life where I found less and less meaning.

This loss of meaning is not specific to me, to people at my institution or to my colleagues in my country. This is a transnational phenomenon. None of the academic friends or colleagues I’ve been talking to seem to be professionally happy lately. All across the world, the theme is the same: “As universities are losing their value, so do the academics along with the universities”.

From the US comes the cry of how tenure has long been dying out as a practice, only to be replaced with the increasing number of adjunct faculty positions serving for cost-cutting measures. The situation may be slightly better in Europe; however, even there, things do not seem to be improving, even if they may not be worsening. Recently, a colleague from Europe told me that there were half the number of associate professorship positions open for those who already gained the title, and that despite the security of her job, the prospects of becoming a full professor in her cohort was close to zero in her country. The situation in the developing world is worse, especially in the light of the changing practices in the First World countries.  Those in the developing world are less and less able to say, “But that is not how good Universities do it,” since now the tables are turned, and the administrators in the developing world are able to do exactly what they want because they adopt the neoliberal First World practices. All across the world, academics are complaining about increasing working hours which are more and more teaching oriented, stealing time away from research, stagnation of salaries, a lack of funds for almost all activities deemed as secondary by administrators, such as books for the library, access to journals, conference travels, and a declining respect for the job and the education it offers to the students.

The neoliberal entrepreneurial character of universities focuses more on quantity: quantity of the courses one is able to teach, of the publications one is able to get out every year, of the student satisfaction figures one is able to obtain, and of the extra-academic burden an academic is able to shoulder while doing the job. This obsession with quantity shatters the ideals of quality higher education, and even makes the institutions of higher education less and less competitive on quality.

Now that I have diagnosed myself, I can start to get myself out of this lethargic place of not trusting what academia has become. My first act to this end has been daring to write this post after months of absence, to reach out to all others who suffer from academic depression.

No one is there to help us to cope with this other than each other.

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