This week has been a challenge for me as an Australian living in the UK, watching the cricket scandal unravel. First comes the shock and disbelief, followed quickly by utter soul crushing disappointment and shame at being Australian.
Too extreme? You can learn more about what cricket means to Australia in this article. I could joke that the level of reaction is because our national pass-time is to sledge others who cheat, so now what are we to do?
Seriously though, for me the parallels to academia are what sadden me even more deeply than the shame shared by a culture and I think there are some warnings and lessons that can be gained from this week's cricket scandal.
What exactly do I mean?
Like in cricket, where the leadership has led to a culture of less than honourable behaviours and extreme fatigue in the team, in academia the pressure put on individuals by various levels of management is taking its toll. Morale in academia is at an all-time low (see links at end of article). Is it any wonder that falsifying data to get high impact papers (akin to ball tampering to get better spin) is far from abating? On the one hand we need a work-life balance and on the other, each individual must achieve high ranking papers, pull in large grants in the face of ever decreasing funding sources, be leaders in our own right to our teams and receive high teaching scores from our undergraduate courses - and we must achieve this all of the time. Is it any wonder that stress leave is on the rise? How long before the academic work force crumbles like the Australian cricket team?
But what would actually improve the academic culture? As someone on the lowest level of the academic ladder what I suspect would be the most important change is a return to team outputs. Instead of individuals being forced to spend time on activities for which they are less suited (and usually enjoy less), they could be encouraged to maximise the aspects of the job for which they are stronger (and usually enjoy more). The team as a whole would be much stronger and morale would undoubtedly improve.
A second change is the inclusion of staff in decision making. Had the Australian cricket team been consulted as a team on the decisions being made about ball tampering, I'm certain it would not have happened (at least in my naivety that's what I'd like to believe). If management decisions include open and timely discussions with the people affected, more options will become available to decision makers, those affected will feel more in control of their surrounds, feel more valued by management and less upset by decisions that may still prove disruptive (see TED talk links below)
The optimist in me would like to think there is hope. The Australian Cricket team will bounce back. The question is, without a nation in public uproar is there enough momentum to improve academia?
University morale and depression rates
TED talks on Leadership