Chronicle of Higher Education op-ed: Academe’s Coronavirus Shock Doctrine, by Anna Kornbluh (University of Illinois):
Faculty members are already stretched thin, and now they are being asked to do more. They should hesitate before doing so.
Never let a crisis go to waste. In her bestselling book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Naomi Klein observes that disasters, emergencies, and breakdowns often prove inspirational to entrepreneurs, and just as often provide ideological cover for the repurposing of public funds and the reconfiguration of labor conditions. Covid-19 looks like it will furnish exactly this sort of pretext. Faculty members — a variegated group that has not excelled at thinking of ourselves as a collective — should beware.
Online education has several benefits and has seen experimentation and progress, often thanks to big budgets. Yet the mandate for this sudden conversion of large swaths of higher education to an online format threatens to trigger a breakneck paradigm shift with unforeseen ramifications. Shock doctrines make emergencies the new normal — they turn temporary exertions into permanent expectations. American higher education has already endured several slow-moving disasters over the past 40 years: the radical defunding of public institutions, the casualization of academic labor, the militarization of campus security, and the erosion of faculty governance. As a result, the very instructors now tasked with the herculean transition are already working in extreme conditions: Somewhere between two-thirds and three-quarters of college and university teaching is performed by non-tenure-track faculty members or by graduate students, many of whom conduct heavy course loads without health insurance and with suppressed wages, housing insecurity, and stifling debt.
The directive for immediate transition conceals a tremendous labor intensification. Faculty are being asked to redesign their courses and reinvent their pedagogy on an emergency basis. Are there appropriately urgent ways to limit virus exposure while also allotting time for these laborious undertakings? Could all courses be suspended for a week to give faculty time to survey students about their internet access, computer ownership, and data limits — and to give institutions time to redress inequities in student access? What about time for faculty to reconcile the lack of alternatives to face-to-face learning for laboratories, ensembles, seminars, and studios? Time for disability services offices to train faculty members in online accommodations? Time for institutions to devise support systems for faculty teaching from "home" when home might be scrambled by young children whose own schools are closed? Time to develop collaboration workarounds with crucial staff, who should also be afforded "social distancing"? ...
Absent firm administrative commitments to resume ordinary instruction after the virus subsides, and in the presence of administrative memos specifying "indefinite" and "permanent" dimensions of the transition, faculty as a group should pause before making the extraordinary efforts now demanded.
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