Assembling the heterogeneous elements for digital learning

When senior management lose the plot

I’m currently working on the “Leaders and managers” part of the People component of the Ps Framework for my thesis. As part of the reading for that section I came across the following quote. It turns out I won’t use it directly in the thesis and I need to save it for future work/reference. I’m also taking the opportunity to track down and record a bit more information about it.

To me, it summarises the key problem and point about university leadership. Over the years I’ve been an observer of too much “eating of the seed-corn”.

The quote

I came across the quote in Radloff (2008), it is

New-style university managements are, actually, counter-productive. If you piss off your teachers and researchers you are eating the seed-corn, selling the family silver, sapping the life blood…Managerial cynicism is rampant in higher education as never before. They (THEY) don’t care about the poor bloody infantry…People are fed up, they are glad to give up and retire; they are going into internal exile, clock-watching, minimalising their effort.

I’ve just found a more complete version of the quote here(McCaffery 2004, p2)

Bleakly observed, the local institution seems to have thrown in the towel. Degree-factory rhetoric is all we hear. New-style university managements, are, actually, counter-productive. If you piss off your teachers and researchers you are eating the seed-corn, selling the family silver, sapping the life-blood. You would think our institutions were suicidal, the way they treat us – with the bad pay they collude in, the abolition of tenure they have agreed to, the rash economisings by engineering early retirements of good people, with the weekly questionnaires and the constant abuse of our time and energy and their acceptance of piss-poor TQA-inspired formalisms and abomination of abominations, their utter short-termism (their kow-towing to the silly time-scales of the RAE bods, their iniquitous short-term contracts – you can have your job back at the end of the long vacation if you ask nicely). Managerial cynicism is rampant in higher education as never before. They (THEY) don’t care about the poor bloody infantry….People are fed up, they are glad to give up and retire; they are going into internal exile, clock-watching, minimalising their effort. The government-inspired way, the neo-managerial way, is a mess none of us can survive on.

Rambling thoughts

Even if this is seen as a diatribe by a POPO (Geoff Scott’s acronym for a “pissed-off and passed over” member of staff), I feel this is not the example of lone ranger. The feeling is quite widespread, depending on the institution. Even if it is only a perception, it’s an important perception that is going to limit what a university can do.

Any chance of improving learning and teaching in such a context does not have a high probability.

I feel that this perception arises because the new managerial approach focuses too much on level 2 of reflective alignment. It focuses too much on “what management does”. They pass policies, minimum standards etc and expect it to be adopted. Instead they are eating the seed-corn.

These folk need to stop doing things and start understanding and directly aiding “what academics do”. For me, that means institutional attention to institution wide projects like ERPs, LMSes, graduate attributes, minimum standards, eportfolios etc. are all destined to make things worse. As they all ignore the details of the context, of what the academics do in favour of an abstract, institutional level understanding that tends to focus on what management does.

Background

Based on the context for the longer version of the quote it’s from an Oxford Professor of English and was published in the Times Higher Education supplement.

Apparently the Times Higher Education supplement’s archives are not in the Google archive. I had to go to the THE’s site to get the article link.

References

McCaffery, P. (2004). The higher education manager’s handbook, Routledge.

Radloff, A. (2008). Engaging staff in quality learning and teaching: What’s a Pro Vice Chancellor to do? HERDSA’2008.

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