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.
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