12 July 2009

How do universities create value? A critique of managerialism

Unfortunately, I often get carried away by my ideas and express them in inappropriate places such as discussion and emails within the university. I never seem to learn that universities today ARE businesses, and take criticims very badly. At least that is true of my univeristy in many instances.
I currently am in a virtual group investigating the possibility of arranging classes in isiZulu, the Zulu language, for academic members of staff who don't already speak it. Zulu spoken as a first language by the largest segment of South Africans and as a second language by many more making it the most widely spoken language in South Africa. Most people at Wits university who are not Black do not speak it, though they often speak a range of other African languages such as Afrikaans, Shona, Swahili or others, or other South African languages such as Afrikaans (arguably also an African language).
Anyway, it soon became apparent that the University simply lacked the resources to offer such training to its staff. Curiously, the policy that staff should speak an African languages has been on the books for many years, but never implemented. The only option was for those who were interested to do the commercial course that one of the commercial units at the University offered. Commercial units such as the Wits Langauge School had been set up to take advantage of what was called "the University's brand", in business-speak, in order to commercialise knowledge; in this case, language teaching. The irony is that Wits staff could not affort the cost of the commercial courses offered for businesspeople. Thus, in discussion of the problem, I offered (again) a paragraph 'critique' of the way in which business models had infected the administration of the university. Other member of the university who were reading the discussion became upset that I was criticising the way the uniersity was run. Far from it: my critique was much larger than that, and simply used the university as an example of how the way the 'business model' and the idea of 'running it like a business' had overwhelmed critical thinking in many spheres such as politics, universities, churches, 'personal development ' (what I call "the Oprah Winfree effect") and even areas of kinship, sex, and other fields of human sociality. In the last year, we have even seen that running a business 'like a business' has run many of them onto the rocks of bankruptcy (AIG, Enron, GM, Chrysler, etc. ), not to mention whole governments such as that of Iceland .
Anyway, some years ago I had written a closely reasoned and rather long article on managerialism in the university and what I regard as some of its deleterious side effects. The article was done originally for a conference at Rhodes Univsity in 2004 on "re-inventing the university", and was subsequently presented, also, at a conference in Cambridge on 'Description and Creativity" (Kings College, Cambridge, convened by James Leach).
The whole article can be found at the following URL.

It argues the following:
Abstract: This paper explains the current vogue of managerialism in University governance in terms of what I call the 'Economist's As-if'. It asks whether universities can, in fact, be run 'like a business' as if they were market institutions. I argue that universities can be run in this way, but this entails certain costs. Comparing universities to other human endeavours that can be run 'as if' they were market institutions such as sex, war, and families, I conclude that while this is possible, it is not morally desirable, and has certain deleterious outcomes. The reason for this has to do with the 'meta-knowledge' (implicit knowledge about how to gain and order knowledge) that universities embody.The aim of tertiary education should be to produce autonomous intellectual subjects who see themselves as citizens of a global community of knowledge and as masters of disciplinary ‘meta-knowledge’ which uniquely enables them to produce and evaluate knowledge, and to engage in critical conversation in the university, in the public domain and ultimately in the global community of knowledge.

05 July 2009

Third report on the Emjindini Heritage, Healing and Environment Centre

The Third Report for the Emjindini Healing, Heritage and Environment Centre is viewable using the following link.

This report gives the plan for the museum 'boxes'. The idea for the mobile museum boxes is from Kristy Stone, who is doing the development work on this, and is reponsible for the overall plan of this part of the project.
The next report will discuss the process of planning and beginning to build the isgodlo or 'Royal Kraal' for the chiefship.

Second Report on Emjindini Healing, Heritage and Environment Centre

With this note today I want to post references to my reports on the progress of the Emjindini Healing, Hertiage and Environment Centre (EHHEC). The second report can be viewed as HTML at

The size of the graphics has been reduced in this version to make it small enough to post, but if you would like a PDF version, or even copies of the pictures to print at a better resolution, let me know.

The EHHEC is a project funded by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund (NLDTF) of South Africa. This money comes from the national lottery gambling board, and a certain amount of the proceeds are mandated to go to charitable organisation, NGOs and especially to development of the arts, culture, sport and heritage. This project was originally proposed way back in 2003, but it took a long time to get the funds, and to get the funds into accounts that were functional. With that more or less done now, the project is going ahead now in 2009, six years later! There is a lot of re-planning after such a long delay from the original conception, and this is reflected in the reports.

The basic idea is to develop a centre in a rural area where knowledge can be shared, displayed and interacted with by local residents, local 'tourists' and real tourists who might be interested in South African indiginous life ways and practices. It is situated in the precincts of the Emjindini chiefship, and is part of the functional institututions of the chiefship including the court, the Royal Kraal'. Chiefs in South Africa are recognised by the constitution, and are mandated to promote "development", and to promote and carry on the local traditional systems of government. This is fraught with conflict, but it seems to us who are involved in this project that a number of its institutions do work, and that they are worth supporting.

In addition, however, we are developing teaching and museum materials that will be able to 'travel' to other venues, particularly classrooms, corporate board rooms, government offices, or to lodges and other tourists venues for display and for teaching and learning about local Swazi culture. We are focusing first on traditional healing, local Swazi dance called Sibhaca, and traditional dress. These themes will be developed as 'boxes' with CDs, DVDs, paper documents, objects, pictures, and other materials that can circulate as needed. We hope to generate some income from this by, for instance, offering it to corporate events, or at tourist venues for a small charge. Students and interested youth are tasked with development of the materials, with appropriate assistance from the project staff, currently Kristy Stone from Wits University.