Berkeley universities

Social climate bureaucracy is not the way to improve behavior on campus

Australia is a country rich in online academic modules that require staff and students to behave in certain ways.

Students are required to undertake them before starting their undergraduate courses. Staff are called upon to support them if they want to engage in teaching or research. Even for senior executives, resistance is futile.

Australia is not unique either. Writing about student and staff activism at the University of California, Berkeley, Neil Gilbert, Milton and Gertrude Chernin, professor of welfare and social services at the institution, observe that the past decades have seen the creation of a “social climate bureaucracy” rooted in the idea that the academy is a “dangerous environment” requiring many mitigation measures and safe spaces.

Australia’s contribution to this bureaucracy began with Universities Australia’s Respect. Now. Always in the countryside. When it was announced in 2016, it was seen as a bold and pioneering initiative, a ‘world-first sectoral program’ that aimed to ‘prevent sexual violence in academic communities and improve the way universities respond and support those who have been affected “.

Meanwhile, the Guidelines for University Responses to Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment, published in 2018 by Universities Australia, are filled with foamy aspirations, proclaiming that universities should “be guided by the principles of compassion, provide support and assistance, protect confidentiality and privacy, cultural competence and natural justice “. Staff whose roles are related to students must “have the skills to respond to disclosures and reports of sexual assault and sexual harassment with compassion and care.”

Indeed, they must. Responding to something as serious as sexual assault in a college environment, as in any other, should be a serious matter. Reports, complaints and investigations should be conducted with terrier-type vigilance, as should the standards of natural justice and procedural fairness. And the calls to remedy current and past failures are not without merit; as Gilbert notes, measures to improve the social climate of a university can be a “estimable goal in the abstract”. But his research also found disturbing amalgamations: an unwanted kiss or unwanted closeness while dancing, for example, was all too easily linked to rape, inflating the number of assaults while diluting “the meaning of sexual violence.”

It is very good to instill in students and faculty some measure of good behavior, but not at the cost of entangling people in even more institutional bureaucracy which, in reality, creates more problems than it does. solves. The process, as it stands, has been leased and bureaucratized, delivered in sessions that almost seem to ignore the specific nature of the process of study, research, or learning. Therefore, they are more likely to alienate participants than to enlighten them.

The Respect initiative is now part of a larger campaign that has flooded Australian universities with artificial self-reflection sessions, reprimands and bogus training. Monash University, for example, has developed “a spectator action seminar”, which allows participants “to learn to intervene and support others who experience sexist behavior”. And a “peer-led program for freshmen” called Sexpectations has several learning objectives related to “fostering a culture of inclusion and respect,” knowing about sexual rights, and “engaging in sexual practices. safer ”. For students residing on campus, the session is compulsory.

The University of the Sunshine Coast (USC) is also warning students that completion of its Respect module is mandatory. “Completing your modules before the start of classes will prepare you for success in your studies so that you can apply the learning throughout the semester,” he says. But “you will notice a hold on your account in USC Central and you will not be able to access your final grades or unofficial transcript until you have successfully completed the course.”

A similar heaviness was recently used by another Australian university fraught with administrative parasitism. For reasons that should be clear to the reader, naming names could lead to a sort of unpleasant retribution that has become second nature to such free-thinking institutions. Suffice to say that emails of lamentation circulated at the end of September telling academics supervising students that they had to take a two-part course on ‘Respectful Relationships’, including a ‘self-directed online module’ and a two-hour webinar.

The webinar would take place at the busiest time of the semester: the last week of class. But anyone who saw themselves as having better things to do than attend will not be allowed to supervise students next year. Forget their experience of seeing any number of students complete graduate research degrees with every conceivable measure of respect. Completing the module is what matters.

Australian institutions also see the march of social climate bureaucracy encroaching on the learning process itself. Classes have been targeted against the University of Melbourne for containing material containing ‘transphobic rhetoric’, while the university itself has an ongoing ‘gender affirmation policy’ project that limits discourse and events that are supposed to attack gender diversity. Melbourne Philosophy Scholar Holly Lawford-Smith argues, with some persuasion, that there has been a lot of “exaggeration or concept drift around what it means to be hurt or to be …” safe “on campus”, which means “not to have your ideas challenged”.

The bureaucratization of respect training has even shifted the maturity of the learning itself. The substance is ditched in favor of the multiple choice quiz, as if complex human relationships could be managed via mods and clicks. This is ridiculous – and it shows no respect for those who are forced to take such courses.

Binoy campmark is a lecturer at the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies at RMIT University, Melbourne.


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