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Academic activism in the wake of a pandemic: A collective self-reflection from Aotearoa/New Zealand

The COVID-19 pandemic intensified anxieties among temporary workers in New Zealand tertiary education, particularly those affiliated with universities reliant on the lucrative market for international fee-paying students. As national borders closed and states started looking inward, these same learning institutions began to more visibly express the language of market logics for which they had been remodeled in recent decades, adapting to declining revenue through austerity-like budget cuts. The communication of these cuts to the academic precariat has been mixed, with some institutions resorting to cold, forceful determinations delivered as matter-of-fact restructurings, while others have preferred an oblique recasting of the pandemic's disruption as an opportunity for social responsibility. This paper is a collective self-reflection on the activism undertaken by the newly formed Tertiary Education Action Group Aotearoa during the COVID-19 pandemic. It begins by contextualizing the reforms rolled out in response to the pandemic in relation to the “neoliberal turn” of higher education and examines how career pathways for early career academics have transformed into a continuous cycle of precarious employment. We argue that the idealized “early career” identity has been lost and that through a process of mourning we can regather ourselves and embrace our lived realities as members of the academic precariat. We detail how the pandemic acted as a catalyst for this “productive mourning” and enabled us to begin mobilizing discontent among the academic precariat. Finally, we reflect on the extent to which we were able to challenge existing structures that are responsible for the exploitative nature of precarious academic work.
Journal Article
Type of thesis
American Psychological Association
This is an Submitted Manuscript of an article published in International Perspectives in Psychology: Research, Practice, Consultation. © 2021 APA