As I write this, I can look out my window and watch the neighbour’s kids running around their backyard. During the pandemic, this type of careless joy seems like a revelation. Meanwhile, I sit in my “office” (a crowded spare bedroom) staring at a screen day-after-day.

During this year of pandemic, it has been a constant challenge to maintain separation between my professional and personal life. A side-effect of a smaller world is that everything seems to collapse in upon itself. Caring for myself and thoseI love seems harder now than ever.

Still, I feel lucky to have a job that allows me to work from the safety of home, to have an “office” with a door I can close at the end of the day, and to be free from the cacophony of renovations that thundered in the apartment above for so many months.

The challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic are numerous, as this issue’s contributors illustrate. However, a common critique is apparent. The most menacing threats facing our university system predate COVID-19 and are, instead, the manifested symptoms of an affliction that has been with us much longer: neoliberalism.

The neoliberal approach to postsecondary education that Honor Brabazon so completely dissects in this issue seems omnipresent—eroding the very foundations upon up which our universities have been built and making us all more vulnerable to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In turn, neoliberalism seems to feed off the pandemic, accelerating the privatization and deregulation of postsecondary education (which is now being predominantly delivered through private, for-profit learning systems). And, as we isolate ourselves for safety, we become more vulnerable to neoliberalism and less effective at resisting its advances.

Indeed, many universities seem to treat care work and other systemic concerns as personal grievances. Soma Chatterjee considers these developments and the role of universities in re-shaping society. She wonders if universities have been adopting and reinforcing many of the neoliberal social and economic norms they should be challenging.

Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is difficult, whether navigating the pandemic while living alone or caring for others. Jeff Bale calls out the approach of university administrations as they pit faculty against each other and advocates for an empathetic collective response to improve everyone’s working and living conditions.

Asmita Bhutani and Norin Taj provide an intimate look at the anxieties felt by university students pursuing their studies while caring for children whose educations are in similar states of flux. They also speak to individualistic university approaches that fail to address systemic issues.

Nursing students have found themselves concerned, not just about completing their studies, but about putting their own health at risk in order to graduate. Chantelle Cruzat-Whervin interviews nursing students and frontline nurses to find out how the pandemic has affected them.

The pandemic has also had a clear gendered impact. Enrica Maria Ferrara reflects on the patriarchic history of universities and wonders how we can build more equitable institutions. For women to advance in the existing model, do they need to give up the idea of having children and adopt behaviours that reinforce existing patriarchic structures?

Finally, Marc Spooner examines the performance-based funding schemes now being implemented in several provinces. As he points out, research clearly shows that these funding experiments have been largely ineffective and do more damage than good. It should be no surprise that neoliberal ideology is one of the main drivers.

As we struggle with the current reality and the anxiety of what might come next, the need to build collective responses seems vital. It is more important now than ever that we work together to push back against the encroachment of neoliberal ideology and build a university system that serves the public interest.

Thanks to all of this issue’s contributors who took the time to engage with these ideas. During the pandemic, it has often felt like we are being asked to do more and push harder to maintain the status quo, but, as Soma highlights in her article, maybe the status quo is not the standard to which we should aspire.

Thanks for reading.

Ben Lewis is the Editor-in-Chief of Academic Matters and Communications Lead for OCUFA.