Can Young Rebel Scholars Change Academia?

The contemporary university is changing nowadays and the main thing what we can discuss is the directions of the changes. The source of changes should be characterized by a bottom-up approach, especially by those who have already achieved extraordinary scientific success and understand the requirement for “creative destruction” of traditional forms of the university. Changes of university should not be a result of administrators’ and university managers’ decisions (as a top-down approach), but of initiatives caused by academic community. These engaged initiatives may take a different forms – associations, foundations, membership in academic committees, as well as different kinds of new social movements.

An example of such a social movement is Obywatele Nauki (the Citizens of Academia). Its members are young (usually post-docs), as well as more experienced scholars, who – despite the fact of achieving scientific and academic success – are working for the common good and the good of the university seen as an important social institution. Taking into account research and educational experience of these scholars (like fellowships at the world’s top universities, participation in numerous international research projects focused on problems of higher education, and their social/ symbolic capital), they introduce wider perspective on the role of contemporary university (regarding core-periphery position of universities in a global world). Their experiences let them build strategies of resistance focused on effective and sustainable switch to the university. University ought to be an institution responsible for the process of creating elites, but also introducing quality-oriented academic culture (however, taking into consideration social factors).

Hence, the goal of the movement is to defy the process of the ‘de-universitification’ of universities. Members of this group are against the idea and practice of the neo-liberal university, led by the idea of profit, measured by the effectiveness of commercialization of achievements. The Citizens of Academia indicate a problem of technocratic perspective of Ministry of Science and Higher Education,  as well as domination of bureaucracy (including academic one). They propose and encourage other scholars to seek constructive and parallel solutions, that, on the one hand, will respect the cultural, social, economic roots building the identity of the university.

Research on the role and activity of the movement is important to understand direction of changes of (post)modern university and society. The goal of such a ethnographic research among the representatives of the movement is diagnosis of specific engaged academic community. The study contains theories describing the development of modern social movements. The background of analysis is the concept of deliberative democracy. The research will be conducted by using an ethnographic and anthropological methodologies transferred to the field of higher education studies (also as an action research). Therefore, methods used in this study are: interviews (IDI) with leaders and members of the movement, participant observation, as well as discourse analysis (DA). Important aspect of the research in the context of conclusions and possible applications, but also for the conceptualization and operationalization of the research, is engagement of both authors in the activities of the movement. Hence, it will be necessary to use an auto-ethnography as specific research perspective.

What is more, important objectives of the research are practical recommendations for policymakers, academic communities, research institutions and university administration, as well as answers the question about possibilities of using the intellectual potential of young, talented, rebel and open scholars, to become a catalyst for desired change of the university, as well as development of personal careers of those academicians.

About the Author

Anna Maria KolaAnna Maria Kola, Ph.D., assistant professor, Faculty of Education Sciences, Nicolaus Copernicus University, Toruń, Poland. Research in critical social work and sociology of education conducted at some of the world’s best universities (University of Oxford, Peking University, Harvard University and others); member of The Polish Accreditation Committee (Section for Social Science); engaged in NGOs and social movements (as a researcher and activist); team leader in the Obywatele Nauki movement (Citizens of Academia); author of scientific and popular texts about cultural and educational changes in Asia and the USA (gender, university, social problems).

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