Officially, under legislation, the term “the university” means all staff (professional staff, academics and management), students, alumni and the UNE Council.
However, in our neoliberal managerial times, we have seen the term “the university” appropriated and used to equate to management only.
Associate Professor Andrew Bonnell talks about the capture of the university by managerialism, arguing that: “Greater managerial capture and greater susceptibility to steering by corporate interests promote greater diversion from the public good missions of public universities and increasingly dysfunctional internal governance with grave consequences for workplace culture.”
This capture of “the university” by managerialism has led, Bonnell argues, to a climate where limited transparency in governance, and a culture of fear that makes it difficult, if not impossible, for most to say no to senior managers. This increases the risk of corruption.
We need to break the divide between management and staff...
This leads to a situation where in the years 2011-2015, Australian universities had two vice chancellors who had to resign as their actions had come under investigation by anti-corruption agencies. Bonnell points out: “At another university, two successive chancellors with business backgrounds have come under investigation by the relevant state anticorruption watchdog, and one former chancellor has since been found to have acted corruptly (Independent Commission Against Corruption, NSW, 2014).”
At the same time, we see a growing split between managers and staff, between the organisation ideally operating as a community of scholars (both staff and students) headed by an educational leader, and a corporate entity headed by a CEO.
This capture of “the university” by managerialism is evident in the increasing number of professional staff appointments at higher levels at the expense of those at lower levels. For example, an analysis of staffing statistics for UNE demonstrates, over the decade 2007-2017, a significant decrease in professional staff at HEO level 4 matched by a greater increase in professional staff at HEO levels 8-10.
The total salary cost for all HEO 10 staff in that decade increased by 143.5 per cent while the total salary cost for all HEO 4 level staff decreased by 45.3 per cent. For academic staff there has been, in that same decade, a 23.9 per cent increase in staff at the lowest academic level, and a 5.4 per cent increase of staff at the highest level.
Overall, the cost of all professional staff increased by 15.8 per cent while the cost of all academic staff increased by 4 per cent. We have more managers and less people to do the actual work that is the foundation of our existence as an organisation.
Neoliberal managerialism positions management as a special set of skills and knowledge that workers in the sector are not expected to possess or even understand.
Bonnell points out that in the past, universities were run by educational leaders; people who had excelled in academe and were respected by their colleagues for their academic work. Not all of these leaders made a successful transition into a management role, but their close links to academia, and their own experiences of working in the sector gave them an understanding of those they were leading which helped them to make decisions that were relevant and understandable to their constituency of peers.
Neoliberal managerialism positions management as a special set of skills and knowledge that workers in the sector are not expected to possess or even understand. Workers are now supposed to trust that those who lead them know best, even when these people may have had little, or no, experience in the sector before their appointment.
A lack of understanding of the realities of every day work in academia, coupled with a hierarchy that isolates senior management from staff lower in the hierarchy, increases the risk that decisions made, for the benefit of “the university” more often than not only benefit some of the stakeholders in the university.
We need to break the divide between management and staff, we need to challenge the idea that those with less experience in the sector than the workers themselves possess some form of esoteric knowledge that somehow makes them better able to lead, and we need to fight for our democratic right to be part of the decision-making that impacts on the future of “the university”.
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