Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Academia as business

One of the forces behind the "crapification" of academic life (see here) is the fact that it is increasingly being managed by "bidnessmen."  Part of this is because governments have decided to drop support for universities (the cold war is over and we beat the Russians) and the shortfall needs to made up from somewhere so universities have effectively turned themselves into fund raising machines and heading up a supercharged money grubber making machine requires the unctuous talents that only big bucks can attract. So, as Chomsky might put it, universities are no longer educational institutions and endowments but endowments with educational institutions.  As all good minimalists know, being after a with means being of lesser significance!

At any rate, (here) is a piece that discusses some of the current dynamics.  The ever increasing bureaucratization of the university is not a bug that can be eliminated, but a feature of how things are done now.  Given the current state of play, universities do need alternative sources of funding and rich people and corporations (other "kinds" of people, at least in the USA) are the obvious source.  Catering to these sources of income requires work and the people that are good at it, not surprisingly, are only tangentially interested in what universities do. The figures on the relative growth rates of faculty to administrators and the relevant salary comparisons are significant, IMO. It's not actually clear that much can be done, but it's worth knowing that this is no accident. It's just how things work now.

1 comment:

  1. The money is surely part of it, but I suggest that another, more insidious causal factor is the increasing demand on the part of students and their parents for a 'controlled experience' (my term, haven't manage to find or invent a good one yet) in which there is an bureaucratically satisfying explanation for everything that goes wrong, such as a bad grade (thinking about the 'Course Assessment Returns' at University of Newcastle, where you have to do such things as explain ' why there is a difference between this year's grade distribution and that of previous years (if there is one)' and much more).

    Insidious because if it was just a matter of getting bang for the buck, a new cold war might fix things (Oh shit, the Chinese now have hypersonic cruise missiles that can blow up our aircraft carriers that our railguns and laser cannons can't shoot down, we need to spend up big on education to close the widening technology gap!!), but the demand for 'accountability' (with no serious prospect of effective remedies) bubbling up from the bottom of the culture will probably be much more difficult to deal with. History is full of instances of cultures that have lost out to others due to inability to fix fundamental problems with their approach to things.

    And of course this factor and the expense are mutually exacerbating in a nasty positive feedback loop.