Happy New Year to all regular readers and visitors to this blog. if you read this blog post shortly after it’s posted I will still be on holiday.. This year I am on a road trip to Queensland to K’Gari traditional home of the Badtjala people. This was a early 2017 and popular blog on the travails of being an architectural academic. I have reposted it. I think it expresses a little about the incoherent simplicity of national university policy and the populist anti-design sentiments that seem to bedevil architects.
I know many international readers of this blog will imagine me lolling about on beaches, surfing the waves, driving across the dunes, wrestling Crocs, or drinking in the pubs. Of course when I look at the Instagram and Facebook feeds of the other architectural academics I know they are all having a great time over summer. Maybe the new social media landscape is what is giving people the impression that architectural academics are slack arses who do very little when the students are not around. On Instagram my fellow academics are on beaches, in forests and far flung places like Central Java, Coolangatta, and New York City. Mostly they all seem like they are eating a lot of gelato ice cream and chugging down the French champagne. But that’s only how it looks.
In anycase I have got sick of going to dinner parties over the holidays and people saying, “so I guess you have 3 months of holidays with no students around.” Generally the conversation goes something like this:
Fellow Guest: Great to meet you I hear you are an academic.
Peter R: Yes, that’s right.
Fellow Guest: I guess you have holidays now for a few months that the students are gone.
Peter R: Like most people we only get four weeks off a year.
Fellow Guest: Oh huh really !??!?
Or maybe ordinary people, whatever that category is, have a distrust of expertise and think that it’s all bullshit. Because, you know, teaching at a university is a bludge job anyway. A job that is entirely funded by the public purse and one where you get to travel a lot and all you are doing all day is thinking and writing and researching stuff that no one gives a toss about anyway. Not to mention the fact that you are hanging out down the pub all the time with the students.
The above summer conversation is not so different from the other one architects have all the time.
Fellow Guest: Great to meet you I hear you are an architect.
Peter R: Yes that’s correct.
Fellow Guest: That’s INTERESTING. My partner (brother, sister, boyfriend, fill in the relationship here) always wanted to be an architect. But they decided to be an economist, lawyer, orthodontist or management consultant instead.
Fellow Guest: I was going to employ and architect, when we did our renovation, but we decided it was too expensive to get an architect so we got the builder, draftsperson to do it.
I mean architects are so rich and all they are doing is really really really big white houses for rich people. Houses full of white Italian bathrooms and marble and Cinemas. Or they are doing whacky buildings with crazy roofs. It’s like a double whammy for me because: holy Mother of baby Jeezus I am an architectural academic. What a stigma.
Its amazing to think there are people who still think that working as an academic means that you have a bludge, as some might call it in Australia, job for life (I wont bore you with the onerous and narrow KPI regime we have to work under). My university facilty is essentially a not for profit business with revenues in excess of $50M or so. I wish people would understand this. Most of that revenue comes from teaching and international students. Most universities use teaching revenue to cross subsidse research programs. In Australia the education sector is the third largest export earner after coal and iron ore. That could be a good reason for our Federal government to have a decent policy on universities and university funding.
But there has been a lot of uncertainty in the higher education policy realm and so far not much has happened in regards to Commonwealth policy.
Many people I know in universities are employed on casual contracts and this is particularly difficult for female academics as set out in this report. It is also difficult for our young academics who are the best and the brightest. But, why would the punters care, when our politicians will always jump through hoops when it comes to the car industry or worse still the coal mining industry.
Maybe the above is because in Universities there is still mindless talk about universities needing to be like corporates. It’s similiar to the Trump phenomena. Lets try and run the university, or in Trump’s case the country, like a so called “business”. A university is a complex entity in terms of its operation. How it generates both research knowledge as well as revenues to support itself is quite different to a NASDAQ stock or a mining company or any kind of listed company for that matter.
During a change management program I was witness too it was horrific to see a executive manager say to a whole bunch of people about to be made redundant: “Thats how they do it in the corporate world.” So much for managerial intelligence and authentic leadership when you have these kinds of brutal mantras alive and well in your institution. After that some of my colleagues wondered why I had lost faith and trust in the organisation. I have more faith in it now.
I am heartened by the fact that my university supports an entrepreneurial start up program that I think is really great. As well as the fact that that my university is currently promoting and advertising its research itself with advertising on bus shelters around my city. Its a great way to get ordinary people to associate universities with their core task of conducting research.
If only the architects would do the same and advertise at a macro level and radically promote the value they add to our urban spaces, communities, policy and culture. That might go some way to me avoiding the double whammy and stigma of being an architectural academic.
No matter where you are located, or how you are placed, in the great global game of architecture, have a great 2018. I am looking forward to another incredible Surviving the Design Studio, year and really looking forward to interacting with those of you who faithfully read this blog.