…continued. (Previous installment here.)
‘What exactly are “inclusive practises”?’ Ren had asked at one point.
‘Creating neutral spaces where students can interact with diversity’, says Lenora Helminth, or, to give her her Ren-name, ‘Vyshinsky’.
‘What does “interact with diversity” mean?’ says Miles.
‘We acknowledge difference,’ says Millicent. ‘We accept difference.’
Ren hadn’t been sure who to name Millicent after, but he had eventually decided on Krylenko.
‘We avoid otherness to create agencies of interactions that transcend normative culture,’ says Lenora.
‘What does that mean in practise?’ asks Lily.
‘I think it means they put playpens in the classroom,’ Ren says.
At this Balderstone, as course director, interjects. ‘This is the sort of thing that is being critiqued,’ he says. ‘You need to change your attitude if you want to pass this course.’ Balderstone looks daggers at Ren. ‘And if you don’t pass this course then you don’t get through your probation.’
Ren knows what that means. Probation is the initial three-year period that all new lecturers have to navigate before their positions are made permanent. If you don’t get through that then you’re out. And the University of Grayvington had recently made it a condition of probation that all new lecturers complete the new Teaching in Tertiary Education (TITE) course that has been developed at Grayvington, and which according to rumour the University is hoping will be exported to other Universities, although clearly that isn’t going to happen, because why would any other University bother to buy in a load of old cobblers when it’s so easy to make your own?
Ren decides to shut up for a while, but Miles persists. ‘Are you telling me, as an empirical scientist who is familiar with the latest research in teaching practise, and who will be telling his students how to do and apply empirical research, some of it in this very area, that I’m supposed to learn how best to teach my subject by ignoring, by actively rejecting, that empirical research?’
‘We can’t tell you what content you can teach in your lectures,’ says Balderstone. ‘They’re your lectures, so that’s your business. But these are our lectures, and this is our business. You have to do what’s required here just as your students will have to do what you require of them.’
‘So I’ve been hired by this University as a psychologist, and they’re requiring me to undertake training which goes completely against what they’ve hired me to teach and research?’
Ren can see that Balderstone, under his tone of attempted reasonableness, is pretty pissed off. The Lorenzos are directly challenging his whole course, and undermining his credibility, but if he backs down too much his authority will be shot.
‘If you can approach this course in the right spirit you will learn something, and improve your teaching,’ he says through gritted teeth, like a PE teacher talking to a rebellious student who doesn’t want to do the cross-country running, but who can’t be punched in the stomach. ‘If you can’t approach it in the right spirit you will be deemed to have failed the Critical Reflection component of the course, and if you fail that section you cannot pass overall.’
‘How are we supposed to pass this course then?’ asks Lily. ‘I mean, what do you expect us to do? We took the topic, and gave it some critical reflection. Quality critical reflection,’ she said, eyeing the Panopticons defiantly.
‘That’s not the sort of critical reflection we’re looking for,’ says Balderstone.
‘So what are you looking for?’ says Douglas. ‘Because I have no idea.’
‘He wants the sort of thing that that lot produced,’ says Ren sourly, nodding towards the Panopticons. ‘Correct?’
‘More or less, yes.’
‘So you need to be a Continentalist, or a postmodernist, to pass this course,’ says Ren, making a statement rather than a question.
Balderstone glares at him, trying to think of a reply that neither confirms nor denies this. But Douglas, who isn’t spoiling for a fight like Ren is, just wants to get this course over and done with, so he asks, ‘Could you perhaps recommend some readings we could do to help us get an idea of what you’re looking for? I notice you haven’t set any readings for this course, and that makes it a bit difficult for those us from a non-Humanities background.’
‘Well, I was expecting you, as academics, to be able to cope with this section of the course without needing readings, but perhaps in view of the difficulties you’re having I’ll get some recommended readings set for you.’
Ren reads this as, ‘Seeing as you’re making so much trouble for me I’d better throw you a bone.
‘That would be most useful, thanks,’ beams Douglas.
Ren groans. He knows the sort of thing Balderstone will set. Foucault. Derrida. Judith Butler. And worse.
Before they can get out of the class they are forced to listen to another group, who have christened themselves ‘Wetlands’, a name which pretty much sums them up. Ren had noticed how quiet they had stayed during the previous discussions. They are led by a nervous, milky geographer called Desmond Sproule, who is already growing a beard, a botanist who is growing an even worse beard, and two others whose department Ren doesn’t know. Their topic is ‘Diversity Issues in Higher Education’ – all the topics are the same, really – and they say (or rather the geographer says; the others are virtually mute) much the same as the Panopticons, only with less assurance, and with more obvious crawling to Balderstone.
Ren concentrates on comparing the two bewhiskered Wetlanders. The geographer’s beard disconcerts him, as it is clearly growing into the standard issue geography teacher beard. He had assumed that regulation false beards were issued to all geographers upon graduation, to be firmly attached as soon as a Geography-related position was obtained, but here is Sproule, clearly halfway through the growing of such a beard, and it’s one hundred per cent non-artificial. Ren’s thesis has been shot down like an intelligent design advocate who holds that there can be no halfway house with the eye, but who’s just been presented with a primitive eye, lacking the refinements of the modern eye, but which clearly functions as a rudimentary but effective light-detecting organ. Ren starts to compose in his head a suitable letter to Nature announcing his discoveries within the beard-Geography nexus.
The botanist’s mycoid undertaking, on the other hand, looks like a fungal growth of a type which could probably be found on the cover of one of his own textbooks. Are academics starting to look like their books, like dog owners are reputed to look like their dogs? Perhaps this fungus is one that the botanist himself has discovered and written about in his PhD thesis, and his beard is a celebration of his discovery. That made sense, in so far as it isn’t much of a celebration of the art of beard-growing.
Finally one of the other members of the Wetlands, a woman who looks like she’s angry about not being able to grow a beard, and not just in the abstract sense, says something, although it seems to be the same as what Sproule has just said, only with the words re-arranged. But then that could also be said of the Wetlands’ whole talk vis-a-vis the Panopticon’s talk.
Ren looks at his watch, and sighs. It isn’t just this class, as bad as it is. He just doesn’t like sitting in lectures any more in general. He’s had years and years of sitting in lectures, listening away until his ears bled, and he’s had enough. Maybe in ten years time he’ll enjoy it again, but dammit, he’s got his PhD, and one of the rewards of that is supposed to be that he doesn’t have to go to lectures or sit exams any more, especially ones that involve so many lanuginous lefties. It should be inscribed on PhD testamurs in gold: ‘Excused from having to go lectures for all eternity.’ Well, except for departmental seminars, conferences, and talks he wants to go, obviously. But no more classes. He feels cheated. He can’t even pass the time looking at the hot women and fantasising about them, because there are none, apart from the beautiful economist Lily who is unfortunately out of sight behind him. The only useful thing about this class is that it’s giving him an insight, albeit a depressing one, into the tactics the Continentalist left are currently using.
The length of the previous discussions means that there’s no time for discussion after the Wetlands’ presentation, to everyone’s relief, except for Lenora the sociologist and Malcom from Politics, who give the impression that they’re still itching to play Thor and slam down their hammers.
‘The start of my career and I’m already just ticking boxes and trying not to make waves,’ mutters Ren as everyone troupes out.
‘The sea around you looks pretty choppy to me,’ says Lily.