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The Non-University and the Manager

We have been seeing over the last few decades the birth of the non-university, an institution hollowed out of its seminal functions: teaching and scholarship. Such an institution emphasises the functions of commerce and branding not dissimilar to the Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie (Dutch East India Company), dedicated to goods and services and the establishment of trading hubs. In 2007, the Vice Chancellor of Griffith University would note how 11 Australian universities “including my own have 5 or more campuses.”

Pedagogical instruction has become a matter of popularity contests, fuelled by giddy grade inflations on the part of academics who are, let’s face it, often not doing the actual grading. That part of the process is reserved for toiling sessional or casual workers who scrape, labour and hope, often in vain, that they will find a spot of middle-class security. Their life is one of temporary contracts and elusive tenure, a true academic underclass seduced by the elusion of patronage.

The issue of research has also been hijacked by the circuitous nature of research grants. The non-university specialises in workshops run by robotic consultants and endless sessions peppered by power points, preparing the unwise academic for an uncertain future where time is spent in a ceaseless drive for irrelevance. When a grant is received, it is specifically tailor made for insipid trendiness, the latest pop sensation that creates pop-up industries and employment for minions. Universities will, naturally, take a cut. Importantly, getting one grant will mean getting another. A family of sort crops up, and you are guaranteed a line of funding that does not necessarily need proof of use or evidence of worth. Grants, in other words, displace scholarship.

Heading, controlling and asphyxiating the non-university is the layer of not infrequently venal officialdom known as managers. Their impending influence across society was already given a good reading by James Burnham, whose The Managerial Revolution (1941) remains all too relevant. Central to his thesis was the claim that capitalist society would ultimately transform into a managerial one, one where the masses would be told in no uncertain terms that the classless society was an illusion, with state institutions essentially becoming the “property” of management.

Central to the incidence of university management is the divorce between owning the means of production and the control of their distribution. Adolf A. Berle and Gardiner C. Means supplied the relevant observations in The Modern Corporation and Private Property (1932). With organisations becoming more complex, along with their varied methods of production, a new class of managers hired by capitalist owners came into existence. Direct control was thereby relinquished.

The modern non-university is the very incarnation of this principle, one that sees the academic class forfeiting control over the means of production: their scholarship and teaching. Academic labour, with its fruits of learning, is influenced, observed and ultimately controlled by management. Management, in turn, burgeons with the self-justified rationale that more managers are needed. Fictional projects drive this growth; more committees are deemed necessary, and, importantly, nothing is ever done.

The university manager is a born and dedicated philistine, and is one of the most important reasons why such institutions are not only failing students but failing staff. It is managers who, untutored but entirely self-interested, feather their nests while stomping on the innovative and shutting out the novel. The world of ideas is a world of offense, dangerous and to be avoided.

Within university management are the turncoats known as failed academics. Incapable of writing, researching and teaching, these people, unburdened by their banal resume move into a dreary world of paper clips, staplers and signatures, knowing that they can be promoted up a ladder filled with endless forms and bundles of paperwork. One Australian university is even proud of having a Vice Chancellor who is rather light on education, not daring to even have a doctoral thesis to his name. Such credentials would be an impediment in a non-university.

The fundamental goal of management is not merely to control, monitor and mediate performance on the part of the neutered academic, an insistence that thought is obscene. (Thought, by its very act, cannot be managed). The academic must be restrained before the all-seeing-eyes of the brand label police and authoritarians.

Work-plans – because cerebral activity and inspiration can miraculously become the subject of a spreadsheet or the subject of itemisation – are designed in order to be used against academic staff. Online Modules, fostered in the true Orwellian spirit, ensure a degree of disgruntled humility. They are generally of no consequence, seeing as they will be breached by university managers with impunity, but these must be undertaken by staff. Know the “values” of a university; appreciate “diversity”; know your place and worship the next dogma and, above all, do not criticise “hard working” management. A module on hypocrisy would also be well worth taking, but irony and humour are the stuff of poison to a university manager.

A return to the university, one thriving with students and engaged scholarship would be a jolly thing. But the chances of that happening are glacial, remote and unpopular. The non-university will only be killed off when the students stop coming, or when governments see fit to curb their funding. The problem in the latter case, as it has been for decades, is that students and unions will protest, thereby inadvertently protecting the managers who influence them. The fundamental truth is that most of these bodies run on the blood of those who pay them. Drying up the resources will see management cannibalise itself, a mortal competition to the finish. Now wouldn’t that be fun?


8 comments

  1. Mark Needham

    ” academic class forfeiting control”

    A good thing, is it really bad.?

    Mark Needham

  2. Nigel Drake

    Other factors in the decline of the functional value of Universities has been the rebranding of technical and teaching Colleges as Universities and the trend within the real Universities to teach towards the gaining of ‘meal tickets’ – i.e. to providing job qualifications, in preference to proper education of the individual and to research for the expansion of human knowledge.

  3. New England Cocky

    A sad but objective analysis of the decline of Academia in Australia under the dirty hands of the politicians, both ALP and Liarbrals.

    Thank you John Dawkins and John Howard, the latter gifting $1 BILLION to US corporations for “research” in about 1996.

    I am reminded that during my academic career, an academic receive a promotion to A/Prof because he was “a good bloke” rather than the fact that he had not completed any research in his area of speciality FOR OVER 10 YEARS.

  4. diannaart

    There are many (on the left) who believe the middle class is an impediment to equality – they fail to see if the middle class is neutered, then the working class will be exploited, marginalised and used to foster hatred of the middle class … so it goes …

    This frightening brutal and clear analysis, from Dr Kampmark, of where our tertiary education has foundered is a piece of writing which will fail to reach the consciousness of upper management (politicians/corporate executive, et al). How much will be heeded by those who claim to be of the left?

    Instead the left is eating itself and failing to take advantage of a fractured right – not all conservationists are like minded and in agreement with the extremes of their preferred ideology. We just don’t get to hear much from any of them due to corrupted MSM and whack-a-pollie if any dares to raise even a finger above the parapet.

    Meanwhile, the left is preoccupied with “outing” those who do not agree 100% with the only political party that has any chance of ousting the lamentable LNP. Do we have to reinstall a Labor party that remains beholden to the right? Can’t we change policies to adapt to a changing world?

    What this means for tertiary education is not hopeful – there are those among the left who believe any form of intellect is to be derided at best and eliminated at worst – not unlike the far right.

    Wish the far right of both major parties would get together … and… they have soooo much in common.

  5. margcal

    Nigel Drake:
    “Other factors in the decline of the functional value of Universities has been the rebranding of technical and teaching Colleges as Universities and the trend within the real Universities to teach towards the gaining of ‘meal tickets’ …”

    It is equally fair to say that the “rebranding of technical and teaching Colleges” has been detrimental to those institutions too. The gifts of students in both streams are complementary, not in competition with each other. We need both the thinkers and the technicians to put viable thoughts into action.

    The further crime is that those TAFEs which did not become universities have been thoroughly gutted, with funding handed over to the rorting private providers.

    We’re going to hell in a handcart.

  6. Ill fares the land

    The re-branding of universities as “businesses” has, as the article relates, lead to a range of undesirable outcomes that reverberate throughout our society.

    The problem, in my view is a multi-faceted one, but starts now in high schools (it really starts in primary school, but it is in high school where students, or robots, have to make decisions about their future. The dramatic “feminisation” of the high school curriculum and the more business-like stance adopted by secondary students means that the days,like mine, where students choice subjects based on their career direction, increasingly, kids choose “soft” subjects where they will be able to get the highest marks (not necessarily for the least effort as it is still bright kids that work hard who get the best scores) to get into trendy courses – the maniacal obsession with Law has now pushed the required entry score to the point where a TER of less than 99 will likely not get a kid into a course. Kids now choose to do the paramedic training as an alternative pathway into medicine, so the required TER for those courses has “gone through the roof” – thereby excluding many who would have wanted to choose a career as a paramedic.Universities are now a business and getting into them has become a business.

    But the stratospheric salaries now paid to Vice-Chancellors is especially revealing, as is the buzz of the nonsense language of management consultants who hover around universities looking for spurious, but highly paid consulting assignments and that reinforces the layer of idiotic managers who themselves embrace the meaningless drivel-language of business. Departments are now “business units” and students now “customers”, so gouging the maximum income from them is imperative and that means a flood of fee-paying students, most of whom come from China (Adelaide’s Eastern CBD is now a swarm of international students) and the associated industry (e.g., accommodation; CBD arcades lined wall-to-wall with cheap Asian food shops) that follows. Local kids get squeezed out of uni places in the myopic pursuit of profits over academic excellence. Once they might have found places in a robust TAFE, but privatisation has now ruined that sector as well.

  7. Ill fares the land

    The re-branding of universities as “businesses” has, as the article relates, lead to a range of undesirable outcomes that reverberate throughout our society.

    The problem, in my view is a multi-faceted one, but starts now in high schools (it really starts in primary school, but it is in high school where students, or robots, have to make decisions about their future. The dramatic “feminisation” of the high school curriculum and the more business-like stance adopted by secondary students (now all they initially want to know is if their teachers moderate up or down!) means that the days,like mine, where students chose subjects based on their career direction, increasingly, kids choose “soft” subjects where they will be able to get the highest marks (not necessarily for the least effort as it is still bright kids that work hard who get the best scores) to get into trendy courses – the maniacal obsession with Law has now pushed the required entry score to the point where a TER of less than 99 will likely not get a kid into a course. Kids now choose to do the paramedic training as an alternative pathway into medicine, so the required TER for those courses has “gone through the roof” – thereby excluding many who would have wanted to choose a career as a paramedic, but who could not achieve the high 90 TER scores. Universities are now a business and getting into them has become a business.

    The stratospheric salaries now paid to Vice-Chancellors is especially revealing, as is the buzz of the nonsense language of management consultants who hover around universities looking for spurious, but highly paid consulting assignments and that reinforces the layer of idiotic managers who themselves embrace the meaningless drivel-language of business. Departments are now “business units” and students now “customers”, so gouging the maximum income from them is imperative and that means a flood of fee-paying students, most of whom come from China (Adelaide’s Eastern CBD is now a swarm of international students) and the associated industry (e.g., accommodation; CBD arcades lined wall-to-wall with cheap Asian food shops) that follows. Local kids get squeezed out of uni places in the myopic pursuit of profits over academic excellence. Once they might have found places in a robust TAFE, but privatisation has now ruined that sector as well.

  8. Josephus

    Students called customers. Overseas students demand their right to pass because they have paid. Recycled publications inflate total number. Illiterate third world postgrad ( lauded by a top UK university to get rid of him) given a scholarship by a leading uni here; when told that eg Hitler was not Chancellor during WW1 proceeds to send an abusive email – no support from peers, am removed from supervision. Colleagues who refuse to pass poor performers get a reputation for being ‘difficult’. Texts sent by Uni managers full of grammar errors, newspeak rubbish and no evidence whatsoever. Power point lectures with predigested text below them. In-house thefts from funds meant for a specific academic purpose lead to no action. This is only part of it. It is heartbreaking. A few staff hold out. Thinker Saint Simon 2 centuries ago suggested that managers run states and organisations and so it has come to pass.

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