The collective Precacademics 85.42.1 was founded amidst (and because of) some critical reconfigurations of precarity in Greek universities that took place during the SYRIZA government. It might seem odd to hear that the higher education politics of the 'radical left-wing' party would legitimise precarious relations. Yet under the pressure of austerity and the restrictions in the recruitment of civil servants imposed by the Memoranda, the SYRIZA government opted for a politics that made it possible to cover teaching and research gaps through the introduction of temporary programs for the recruitment of precarious teaching staff with short-term, and (obviously) low paid contracts. Moreover, since 2016, it made available public funds for researchers (introducing for the first time the right of non-tenured members of staff to claim authorship and lead research programs) in the framework 'Hellenic Foundation for Research and Innovation' (ELIDEK) – under the condition that they had finished their PhD less than 10 years before the applications. All research and teaching programs were subsidized by EU funds; their stated aim was to enable young academics to acquire 'professional experience'. Indeed, these initiatives were celebrated in almost all left-wing circles as great social measures to deal with the problem of academic unemployment and brain drain; and they were (quite ironically) promoted as a generous 'gift' towards young and inexperienced academics.
'Young academics' were hired as self-employed freelancers deprived of the option to find employment outside the state apparatus since private universities in Greece – usually referred to as colleges – have no higher education legitimacy. Indeed, the trick is that as self-employed these 'young academics' ought to defray insurance costs, employer’s share, 24% business tax, while at the same time being burdened with 100% tax payment in advance. In other words, SYRIZA government created a radical neoliberal regime of precarity within the public university for 'young academics' only. 'Young academics' – some over their forties – find themselves to be 'beneficiaries', under the hard taxation rules for the self-employed, with lower payment, and none of the rights of their full-time colleagues. Although payment is low, competition for these positions is fierce, intensifying further the relations of dependency on tenured academics.
As teaching positions are renewed on a yearly basis, precarious academics who manage to enter disciplinary networks tend to move from university to university teaching different courses depending on the needs of different departments. This imposes a constant burden on them to carry out lengthy bureaucratic application procedures and to redesign new courses on different subjects each year; while there is also the constant need to sustain good relationships with tenured members of staff in order to increase their chances to sign a teaching contract based on their academic interests. Moreover, the time limitation (less than 10 years before the acquisition of PhD) is intended to make sure that these posts are only offered as a temporary opportunity excluding any type of even contingent security amongst (young) academics. The wave of appointments in 2018 that followed these reforms – the first after a decade of austerity – is a testimony of the regime of precariousness that was created in order to support the public character of the Greek University; many of the appointed academics had little or no teaching experience. So much for the gift of experience to 'young academics'; such is the particular normalisation of precarity in Greek academia.
Precademics 85.42.1 was constituted out of the need to understand this shift that was handed as a gift, challenging the silence of precarity. On occasions when the precarious meet and discuss, painful stories of vulnerability and anger unfold. On such occasions, the seemingly seamless pact with tenured colleagues for the preservation of the public character of the Greek University becomes frail and fragile since it becomes apparent that some carry a much heavier burden than others. The vulnerability of precarity is painful not only because of the stigma of the failed, but also because this radical neoliberal regime is carved in unreasonable hierarchical rules of seniority and privilege. Moreover, one cannot help being angry not only at others, but also at oneself for passively accepting one’s situation of precarity. Precademics 85.42.1 was founded to politicize those emotions that otherwise go unnoticed, merge with similar others, and feed all kinds of reactionarism and conservatism in our present day of neoliberal dominance and alt-right growth.
The task for us, Precademics 85.42.1, is to rethink precarity in Greek academia in the face of the rise of the neoliberal educational paradigm globally, which also seems to be informing the political proclamations of the newly elected right-wing government of New Democracy. While the present condition of precarity should be addressed, it ought to be contextualized with other equally problematic prospects beyond the sheer interests of 'young academics', such as fees, student debt, logistical evaluation procedures and the spread of precarious conditions. Politicizing precarity is the heavy task to understand the historical condition of a present-day academia that is unable to absorb the multitude of academics; it is, thus, an occasion to reimagine modes of living and working in the academia based on cross cutting alliances between tenured and precarious academics, academic and administrative staff, and – perhaps most importantly – staff and students. Without doubt, those who enjoy more security should have reasons to share this urgency. Introducing anew collective modes of working in academia may go beyond existing modes of teaching and research based on hierarchies, prestige, dependencies and antagonisms, which undermine the quality of both. The existential task of Precademics 85.42.1 is precisely an example of the need for new ways of producing the public University within and beyond the present-day neoliberal paradigm, that will be beneficial for all those who do not feel comfortable or who are tired of having to claim or deal with privileges emanating from discipline, seniority, age, formal education and gender.