Managerialism and its Foes
Published in Campus Review 3 May 2011

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By Giles Pickford*

The gradual decline of collegiality and its replacement by managerialism is starting to worry, not just our own academics, but also many people in the world’s universities.

This story gives a view from the ground floor written by a man who started life as an administrative assistant in 1964, rose to the dizzying heights of equivalence to an assistant registrar in the 1990s and is now a volunteer faculty secretary in a faculty where no one is paid. So what I am saying is that I have seen it all and noted the changes as they occurred.

I belong to that class of people who want to be known as the Professional Staff. We started life as the ‘menial staff’, progressed to the ‘downstairs staff’, rose to a stage when we were defined by what we were not - the ‘non-academic staff’, and ended up being called the ‘general staff’.

An academic friend once asked me what was wrong with the ‘general staff’. I told him that I had once acted in my undergraduate days in T S Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral. I was the third bishop from the left. The Producer told me that my job was to “stand over there and look worried”. That was precisely the role of the general staff a decade or two ago. The role was completely nonaspirational, you were supposed to be seen and not heard, like stackable chairs backstage in the University Hall.

The term ‘professional staff’ is different. It is aspirational. It infers that a person has a degree and possibly a postgraduate qualification as well. It implies that a person is widely read, a member of a professional organisation who regularly undertakes professional development courses, and who understands the sector as well as the Dean: and possibly better. I am one of those people.

So getting back to managerialism, there was a moment which captured the whole struggle which is going on right now. The Professor of Anthropology was standing on the landing in the Hope Building at ANU and a worry of assistant registrars (yes “worry” is the collective noun in this case) was on the lower level near the replica of the ancient city of Rome. The Professor stood at the head of the stairs and thundered down at us, saying “we hired you to sweep the paths and now you are running the place.”

We forgave him instantly because that is the only thing that a worry of assistant registrars can do without consulting the administrative procedures manual. We also forgave him because we knew he was right. It is indeed true that the managers are now in charge, but the best of them manage very gently and imperceptibly. The academics are the core of the university and they must be cherished. Furthermore, they must be protected from the powerful, especially the powerful outside the university.

It seems to me that the government has divided and conquered. It has succeeded in splitting the greedier universities from the others by offering more money subject to conditions. The ones that won’t comply with the conditions will miss out.

The colonisation of the Academy by the Power people has begun.

In my view it won’t last because colonisers are never there to stay. Governments come and go slowly. But in the end they change. Fashions change. But there is one thing that never changes. Sheldrake’s Theory of Morphic Resonance describes the phenomenon. Following this ancient force of morphic resonance, the universities will revert eventually to their original state.

Governments exist to wield power and if they do it well they bring justice to the people. Business is there to make a profit and bring prosperity to the people. Universities are there to discover and preserve the truth and if they do it well they help to create a civilisation.

When any of those three powers interferes with the smooth working of another there can only be trouble.

* Secretary, ANU Emeritus Faculty (www.anu.edu.au/emeritus)

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