Academic Partnership: A Balance between Risk and Reward.

Octavia Butler’s “Bloodchild” was the center of our course, INTD-105, which focused on the risks and rewards of an academic partnership. While the novel may not have an obvious, direct link to the risks and rewards of an academic partnership, after deeper analysis it becomes clear that the sci-fi is much more than the struggle for survival between two alien races. Despite the novel’s obvious themes, beneath an imaginative alien world we see Butler musing on the ideas of partnership, control, and outcome. In order to understand this link, one should look directly at the course’s epigraph: If we’re not your animals, if these are adult things, accept the risk. There is risk, Gatoi, in dealing with a partner.” (Bloodchild, Butler)
In Bloodchild, two races, The Tlics and The Terrans, are forced into partnership on the basis of survival. The Terrans, or humans, are forced to partner with the Tlics, centipede-like creatures who are unable to produce their own offspring, with the promise of protection through the preserve. The preserve, created by a political faction of Tlic who wish to treat the Terrans better, allows for humans to live in harmony so long as they agree to partnership with the Tlics and, thus, reproduction. There is, of course, many themes that can be applied to reality in this short summary—reproductive rights, race inequality, monogamous marriage, so forth—but, for the sake of this course, we can utilize Butler’s fictional story as a framework for understanding the reality of academic partnerships.
At SUNY Geneseo and all colleges alike, there is a consistent expectation that, upon enrollment in the university, each student will agree to engage in academic partnership for the following years. Academic partnership, in this sense, is an agreement made upon hopes of getting a degree and, thus, entering the ‘adult’ world. This partnership spans a multitude of relationships—from that of the administration to the student, from the student to the professor, from the student to their peers. At the entrance of higher education, these rules of academic partnership are no longer encouraged (as seen in many lower, mainly high school institutes) but rather expected. Students are expected to follow the guidelines of partnership with professors, administration, and peers both within and outside of the classroom. Similar to the partnership expected in Butler’s “Bloodchild”, students are expected to engage in a lifestyle which respects the risk and rewards of this academic partnership and, thus, reflects power dynamics which maximize these rewards and minimize these risks.
The most obvious academic partnership occurs right at acceptance to a university; that of the student and the administration. The student agrees to enrollment and, thus, agrees to a set of rules and expectations: that the student will pay the school for its housing, enrichment, food, and protection, that the student will respect the guidelines put in place in order for the administration to provide these standards (student code of conduct) and that the administration, in return, will provide the student will the security and education they expect. As the student transitions from the structure of lower education (high school and so forth) to the expectation of higher education (undergraduate and beyond) the importance and presence of the academic partnership becomes undeniable. One can notice that, where a student in lower education may feel as if the academic partnership is one-sided, or that the individual is ‘forced to attend’, once the student reaches higher education, this partnership is professional and with expected equal power. This form of academic partnership is perhaps most clearly associated with the dynamic between the Tlic and the Terran in Butler’s “Bloodchild” as, in return for money and attendance, the students expect prosperity and security from the administration.
However, academic partnerships go much further than simply between the administration and student. In a conversation that is perhaps even more direct, we see an academic partnership built between the student and the professor. It would be fair to assume that the partnership between the professor and student aligns rather well with the expectations of the student and administration—however, the relationship between the professor and student comes with even more risk and reward. The professor, assumed working under the administration, is expected to provide education and guidance to the student and, thus, complete the students expectations of earning a degree and growing intellectually. This responsibility held by the professor reflects the main goal of the student in entering a higher institution—while the administration still is in place to ensure this happens, they ‘watch over’ the professors who are expected to provide this, rather than directly give it to the student. In a sense, this makes the academic partnership between the student and the professor the most important and, thus, the partnership with both the most risk and reward. Not only does the professor hold risk and reward (the risk of losing one’s job, the reward of stability and financial compensation) the student possesses equal risk and reward (the risk of failing a course, the reward of working towards a degree). When working with the professor, the student is expected to respect said professor and follow their guidelines—however, even more so directly than seen with administration, the professor is expected to do the same.
Finally, it is important to look at an even more direct yet overlooked academic partnership; that of the relationship between the student and their peers. Though both hold equal power in the structure of higher education, both are met with equal risk and rewards when working with one another. Within the classroom, both students are expected to respect and aid one another in discussion, revision, and collaboration. Within the student code of conduct, we can find rules directly relating to this partnership and, thus, the guidelines put in place in order to ensure maximum reward and minimum risk. Yet, the expectations do not end here; in addition to classroom etiquette, the student and student partnership requires additional regulation for outside of the classroom. This relationship, thus, is unique in its importance: not only must students follow a student code of conduct within the classroom, but, mostly, students are expected to respect one another outside of the classroom. Of course, there are guidelines for professors and administration alike outside of the classroom, but the importance of partnership outside of the classroom is most heavily acknowledged as the relationship between the student and peer. The rules and regulations set outside of the classroom help ensure that, in addition to receiving a degree and education, the student is safe and secure on their campus.
These academic partnerships, differing in their power dynamics and presence, both share risks and rewards which must be balanced through higher institutional learning. In “Bloodchild”, Butler describes countless expectations and guidelines which are put in place in order to ensure a healthy dynamic between the Tlic and the Terran. In exchange for security and safety, the Terran are expected to partner with the Tlic in reproduction—by creating this partnership, the Tlic are rewarded with security in reproduction and, thus, security in their species. This relationship, though very different in expectation, reflects that of the academic partnership almost directly. At SUNY Geneseo, the students are granted security, safety, and a degree in return for money, respect, and partnership which protects the existence of higher institutions and the job security of those working within higher education.
Looking specifically at the course INTD-105, the risks and rewards of academic partnership, one can see this academic partnership working almost effortlessly. Beth McCoy, our professor, is expected to provide academic support and enrichment throughout the semester to her students. In return, her students are expected to engage with the course, respect her as a professor, and, thus, ensure the life of her job and lifestyle as a professor. This partnership, thus, reflects that of the risks and rewards seen in Butler’s “Bloodchild” and, thus, all partnerships seen in the “adult” world. Professor Beth McCoy is expected to provide for the students and the students are, thus, expected to provide for Beth McCoy. Students hold the reward of passing the class and, thus, working towards a degree; Professor Beth McCoy holds the reward of financial stability and academic pursuit and the risks of losing her lifestyle or job as a professor. In addition to this, the students within this course hold a responsibility to respect and aid one another in academic pursuit—both within, and outside the classroom. Though microscopic in terms of all higher institutes, this course serves as a strong example of the risks and rewards within academic partnerships and, thus, the risk and rewards seen in all partnerships.
Octavia Butler’s “Bloodchild” reminds us of the importance and severity of these partnerships seen throughout society. Whether an academic partnership, romantic partnership, familial partnership, professional partnership, and so forth, the risks and rewards in such relationships must be balanced in order to ensure equality and maximum reward. Turning outward, into the larger systems within our own government, we see these partnerships attempt to maximize reward and minimize risk every single day. Balancing these risks and rewards within partnerships remains the largest struggle throughout the world to date and, despite the importance and presence of partnerships throughout, remains a system in which balance has yet to be achieved.

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