Higher Expectations

Please join us in Guelph on Thursday, June 27, 2024 for the launch of Higher Expectations: How to Survive Academia, Make it Better for Others, and Transform the University by Roberta Hawkins and Leslie Kern

Time: 7:00-9:00pm

Location: 10C Shared Space, 4th floor, 42 Carden Street, Guelph, On.

Please register here.

Higher Expectations

How to Survive Academia, Make it Better for Others, and Transform the University

By Roberta Hawkins and Leslie Kern


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Higher Expectations is a practical guide to navigating academia for people who want to improve their own day-to-day work lives and create better conditions for everyone. Universities are broken: they’re built on systems that are discriminatory, hierarchical, and individualistic. This hurts the people that work and learn in them and limits the potential for universities to contribute to a better world. But we can raise our expectations. Hawkins and Kern envision a university transformed by collaboration, care, equity, justice, and multiple knowledges. Drawing on real-world, international examples where people and institutions are already doing things in new ways, Higher Expectations offers concrete advice on how to make these transformations real. It covers many areas of academic life including course design, conferencing, administration, research teams, managing workloads and more. Designed for faculty, graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and other scholars, Higher Expectations delivers hope and practical actions you can take to start making change now. It is a must-have for everyone working in academia today.

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“Can a book that pulls no punches on the reality of working conditions in higher education be hopeful, even optimistic? Yes. In Higher Expectations, Hawkins and Kern deliver both a realistic assessment and a plethora of practical suggestions for change, ones that students, faculty, and staff at every stage of their careers can enact, individually or in community with others. By sharing examples from a broad range of institutions and disciplines, they demonstrate that transformation is not only possible but already underway. This generous book is a rallying cry for a better academia for all.”

– Jennifer Polk, From PhD to Life

Higher Expectations offers both a manifesto of visionary change and a practical guide towards that change. Most universities are structured to valorize and embed individual pursuit, privilege, and competition for ever-scarce resources. This is not a natural or inevitable model—it is a distinctly constructed model, and thus, as Hawkins and Kern reveal, open to deconstruction and, importantly, reconstruction. Higher Expectations offers pathways to shift the often unexamined embedded hierarchical assumptions of individualized success and struggle. As Hawkins and Kern demonstrate, it is possible to not only imagine but to actually create ‘higher expectations’ based on support, teamwork, and community. It is a remarkable book.”

– Joni Seager, distinguished professor in Arts and Sciences, Bentley University and dean emerita, York University

“Academia, as wonderful an intellectual enterprise as it can be, is also at times extremely competitive, highly hierarchical, unwelcoming, and inhospitable. Hawkins and Kern’s Higher Expectations is a much-welcomed breath of fresh air, a respite from the hypercompetitive, gruelling academic environment. In this wonderful book, Hawkins and Kern offer a framework for how to rethink, rework, and rebuild academia using ethical core values and principles that guide our pragmatic choices in what are turbulent times for the higher education sector. Higher Expectations should be required reading for all academics.”

– Dr. Raul Pacheco-Vega, professor, Methods Lab, Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales, Mexico

“How can we visibilize and better structure our labour, create and sustain non-hierarchical solidarity in our writing, teaching, service, and adjacent activism? Hawkins and Kern offer much needed wisdom across these topics and more in Higher Expectations. I would have 100+ post-it notes in this book by now if I had had it in grad school.”

– Jack Gieseking, author of A Queer New York: Geographies of Lesbians, Dykes, and Queers, 1983-2008


Raising Our Expectations
Part 1: Collaborate
Do Solitary Tasks Together
Strengthen Research Collaborations and Labs
Foster Teaching Communities
Build Classroom Community
Encourage Teamwork
Take the Competition Out of Conferences
Building Solidarity in a Union
Part 2: Move Beyond Metrics
Know the Time You Work
Name Invisibilized Work
Challenge Student Evaluations of Teaching
Try Ungrading
Survive Evaluation Processes
Redefine Impact
Address Career Disruptions
Part 3: Dismantle Hierarchies
Support Precariously Employed Workers
Create Less-Hierarchical Labs and Research Teams
Undermine Disciplinary Hierarchies
Expand Roles for Non-Academic Knowledge Holders
Give Respect to Service Work
How to Use a Leadership Role for Good
Dismantle Hierarchies that Encourage and Hide Abuse
Part 4: Centre the Margins
Transform Graduate Training
Re-Envision Faculty Recruitment and Hiring
Disruptive Pedagogy
Rethink Course Design
Push for Radical Policies
Transform Citation Practices
Use Your Privilege to Disrupt the Centre
Part 5: Stay Whole
Reshape Your Relationship with Work
Take Back Control of Your Time Part 1: Saying No and Letting Go
Take Back Control of Your Time Part 2: Managing Your Time Well
Supporting Others to Stay Whole
Leaving Academia
Collective Rehumanizing
A Higher Expectations Manifesto
About the Authors