Unveiling opportunities for hope: is it too much to ask for a compassionate university?

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Boyd, B & Grant, A 2019, 'Unveiling opportunities for hope: is it too much to ask for a compassionate university?', Australian Universities Review, vol. 6, no. 1, pp. 71-75.

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A few years ago, one of us responded, in this journal, to an article by Australian academic Eva Peterson, who had set out to celebrate the joy of an academic career (Boyd and Horstmanshof, 2013). Peterson explored the narratives of the aspirations of research academics as they moved forward in the academy, only to find a tale of woe (Peterson, 2011). There was, found Peterson, a malaise in the university. Early career scholars were making choices and expressing aspirations in an atmosphere of, as they understood and experienced it, overwork and undervalue. Instead of exciting career path strategies, Peterson encountered coping strategies and exit strategies. She concluded that policy makers and university managers would do well to listen to the stories of these academics, their narratives, instead of continuing, as she claimed, to dismiss and denigrate them. A grim picture indeed: one that, although the word was not used, lacked compassion. This opinion piece is a thinking experiment about how to make a shift against narratives that oppress, and how to respond positively to the 'compelling need for compassionate academic leadership in our universities' (Waddington, 2018, p.87). We unashamedly draw on writers from more demanding educational circumstances – from the socially charged environments of late twentieth century Brazil and the emergence of post-apartheid South Africa – to provide inspiration that demonstrates change is possible in the academy.

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