Critical Approaches to Libraries Conference is Sick Systems: is “cruelty the point” of higher education? presented by Hannah Hickman. She started by defining cruelty and sick systems. She cited Lauren Berlant's Cruel Optimism (see screengrab) and talked about the peverse rewards and values in Higher Education - like keeping students working, focused on grades and employability, encouraging 24/7 study (e.g. in library) and using quantifiable measures of success. This also extends to the quantification of research, skipping over meaning and value to focus on metrics.
We then split into groups to discuss our experience. In the feedback session afterwards a number of themes emerged, such as librarians having to enforce policies they didn't believe in, or the promise of social mobility for students not matching the reality, and a cruel educational system where so much depends on having money to pay for study & costs of living. There was a discussion about the issues/cruelty that have emerged from the way universities have handled the Coronvirus outbreak e.g. disadvantaged groups being overlooked, false assumptions about students having the means to study from home - the most vulnerable staff and students were also being adversely affected the most.
This is a short post about a very interesting question, which is well worth discussing further.