When words don’t work – an activist in academia

By Just Agatha, who loves chococinos, a drink made of coffee and chocolate.


August 12, 2021

Giving a damn about my work is both a privilege and three heavy army deploiment duffle bags through the desert. Zeal drags night owls from beds when early morning duties call. It holds up early birds when the midnight oil burns with ambition and obligation.

But it can also cause over-investment in an institution that could not care less about the individual or the ideal that brought the institution to fame to begin with.

I naively appealed to my superior’s sense of logic that a certain newly dreamed-up system will be detrimental to staff morale and student performance. I drafted e-mails using cautiously selected phrases, titbits of gentle persuasion and tickertapes of emotive touches. My e-mails sang.


I decorated my face in the best that cheap make-up has to offer. If my electronic petitions cannot be successful, then I shall face the enemy in the flesh. Like Joan of Arc I shall confront my adversary eyeball to eyeball.

Arranged around a massive boardroom table with sprinkles of bosses in expensive suits, I felt less like Joan of Arc and more like Jo of Canoe. And my words – my pride and sharpest tool – staggered out of me like too many children squeezed from a G-Wiz.

My nemeses stared at me from unimpressed, bored facades. My words had moved no-one. I felt opportunity slip from my hands. I had to act. So I did what any professional law professor would do. I stuck my tongue out at them and left.

So…I’m having some wine tonight. Nothing sooths the savage beast like the aromas of fermented grape. And nothing smoothes the sharp edges of potential disciplinary consequences like the sting of alcohol…

August 22, 2021

The biggest problem with academia – and there are a loo-full of problems in academia – is that the best and brightest in research are appointed to leadership positions.

While the best and brightest in research are often great and inspiring leaders, my experience has been that the best and brightest in research will just as often devastate a faculty with the same ease with which they publish research results in accredited scholarly journals.

About two years ago our dean of faculty called me into her office. Our departmental head was retiring and I was expected to take up the position of Department Chair.

A clear ‘fuck no, I’d rather sing in front of an audience‘ formed in my mind, but at my age the layer of social polish has thickened, and a gentle but definitive “I decline, but thank you” escaped my mouth.

She insisted.

I cried.

Let’s move on.

I’ve never lingered under a misconception of who I am. I’m no leader. I’m a soldier and will give you my life, but I don’t want to put up with those things leaders step up for. Besides, I’m one meeting away from needing bail money.

The chair position was filled by the most senior member of staff: a quiet, unassuming man with an incomparable publication record and who just happens to eat souls in his spare time.

Last week this Chair of ours called us to a meeting in which he spent two hours informing us of our collective uselessness. We don’t work hard enough; real academics don’t take weekends. We don’t prioritize appropriately, our excuses are outdated, our time management skills couldn’t find a flame in hell.

This from a man who teaches one class for every nine we teach.

When I was a little girl I was seduced by the idea of serving a great leader. I watched movies of military greats, political heroes and of a blue-painted William Wallace atop a horse, screaming for freedom. I read books on the Great Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Ghandi and other leaders who managed to rally a great mass of people behind a common cause. I imagined what it must feel like to one day work for a leader that could entice from me my very best.

I’ve spent this weekend feeling utterly worthless. I know I work hard and I know what kind of character my line manager has, but it didn’t stop me from feeling that I’ve let down my faculty and my students. It doesn’t matter that my manager is a tool. He is my manager and his words stung.

Maybe I’m childish in my wish to serve under good leadership. I’m old enough to dictate my own career and emotions, damnit!

But I can still remember what I was capable of under Great Leadership, the few times I’ve experienced it. It rises me early and focuses my eyes on common goals. It dares me to believe I’m greater than my history would suggest. Great Leadership has made me feel part of something outside of myself. It pulls me out of my own, imprisoning thoughts and thrusts me into opportunity and possibility.

Instead of finding the best and brightest in research and bestowing upon them the wreaths of leadership, perhaps it’s time academia find proven leaders. People who tend to people. People who fling our ambitions into the heavens and make us bigger than we really are.

Until then, I’ll just be here…my useless self…on top of a horse…William-Wallace-less.

Time for chococino…the tequila bottle is empty…

Just Agatha, lonelinessandchococinos.com

Author: Workers' Archive

Covering sensitivity at work and beyond on my website: https://samuelaliblog.wordpress.com/

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