Uni­ver­si­ties are be­ing hol­lowed out

The Irish Times - - Comment & Letters -

Sir, – The re­cent con­fer­ence held in Trin­ity Col­lege Dublin on aca­demic free­dom has shed in­valu­able light on the shift­ing iden­tity of uni­ver­si­ties from lib­eral cen­tres of learn­ing in the ser­vice of the com­mu­nity to fail­ing cen­tres of eco­nomic in­ter­est in the ser­vice of cap­i­tal­ism.

It will come as no sur­prise to have con­firmed by the con­fer­ence that Ir­ish uni­ver­si­ties (like many of their Euro­pean coun­ter­parts) have be­come mere tools for re­viv­ing fail­ing economies, not by en­hanc­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for ed­u­ca­tion, but by di­min­ish­ing them.

Kath­leen Lynch’s key­note lec­ture pre­sented a stark and lu­cid anal­y­sis of the im­pact of man­age­ri­al­ism on the sec­tor, no­tably the re­sul­tant shift away from a con­text pred­i­cated on of­fer­ing an ed­u­ca­tion in­formed by so­cial and moral rel­e­vance (not to men­tion rig­or­ous and orig­i­nal re­search) to one driven by amoral con­cerns with mar­ket ef­fi­ciency.

The par­lous im­pact of man­age­ri­al­ism on the sec­tor is only too ob­vi­ous: 52.4 per cent of all staff in Ir­ish uni­ver­si­ties are not aca­demics yet aca­demics have seen a huge rise in their ad­min­is­tra­tive du­ties to the detri­ment of time for re­search, teach­ing and con­tact with their stu­dents; the huge salaries com­manded by pres­i­dents of uni­ver­si­ties, who see them­selves as cap­tains of in­dus­try, con­trast ig­no­min­iously with the rel­a­tive pit­tance earned by the rank-and-file lec­ture staff; and the cyn­i­cal re­duc­tion of the num­ber of tenured staff has re­sulted in 45 per cent of aca­demics be­ing em­ployed part-time on salaries as low as per­haps ¤30 an hour, with no job se­cu­rity and no fa­cil­i­ties to de­velop their teach­ing and re­search (many do not even have bor­row­ing rights for the univer­sity li­brary, a place to hang their coat, or an al­lowance to cover mark­ing).

The ev­i­dence pro­vided that some aca­demics are com­plicit in this hol­low­ing out of the tra­di­tional aca­demic con­text will come as no sur­prise to any­one work­ing in the sec­tor.

The com­plic­ity is ev­i­dent in the con­tin­u­ing bias against pro­mot­ing women aca­demics, the dra­co­nian mea­sures taken to si­lence nui­sance aca­demics and stu­dents (the costs of dis­ci­plinary pro­ceed­ings have been ex­or­bi­tant), the cul­ti­va­tion of a di­vi­sive cul­ture of stars (no­tably the de­ci­sion to head­hunt sup­posed stel­lar re­searchers and rel­e­gate to a lower divi­sion those al­ready em­ployed), the re­fash­ion­ing of the aca­demic’s du­ties (“ad­min­is­trate or per­ish!”), the in­abil­ity or re­fusal of top lay­ers of ad­min­is­tra­tion to en­gage in a prac­ti­cal di­a­logue with a view to cre­at­ing a greater sense of com­mu­nity (as op­posed to sim­ply pay­ing lip-ser­vice to such a con­cept), the top-down de­ci­sion-mak­ing in re­la­tion to how bud­gets will be de­volved and work­ing con­di­tions shaped, the “yes cul­ture” among the less or non-re­search ac­tive and the po­si­tions of au­thor­ity they are put into over re­search ac­tive staff.

In short, this man­age­rial bias in­di­cates a com­plete dis­re­gard for the proper aca­demic mis­sion which has noth­ing to do with be­ing a mar­ketable com­mod­ity but ev­ery­thing to do with en­hanc­ing the com­mu­nity. This con­fer­ence should act as a turn­ing point in Ir­ish academia. What it has high­lighted is the deeply flawed and un­eth­i­cal cul­ture that has re­sulted from man­age­ri­al­ism and the ur­gent need for heads of uni­ver­si­ties to take note and for aca­demics to re­sist this un­der­min­ing of our proper role in so­ci­ety. – Yours, etc,

Dr SARAH ALYN STACEY, FTCD, Trin­ity Col­lege Dublin, Dublin 2.

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