'Under New Management'

Author of new book discusses administrative labor and the "professionalization" of higher ed.

September 2, 2011

"While higher education is often spoken of in terms of crisis, this concept might be better treated as a critical juncture or turning point rather than a terminus," writes Randy Martin. This sentiment appears in the preface to Martin's new book, Under New Management: Universities, Administrative Labor, and the Professional Turn (Temple University Press), and it serves as an accurate summary of his stance on many of the issues the book explores.

Under New Management covers matters that prompt much debate in higher education: the decline of faculty autonomy and the rise of administration; the ever-growing emphasis on outcomes and assessment; the increasing focus on professional preparation (generally at the expense of the liberal arts); the promises and pitfalls of interdisciplinary work; and the inevitable rifts between faculty and administration. But the book is distinguished by its use of the work of administration as the lens through which to examine higher education; by the wealth of connections it draws among cultural and historical trends both inside and far outside academe; and by Martin's inclination to see opportunities where many others often see only misdirection or plain disaster.

Inside Higher Ed conducted an e-mail interview with Martin, professor and chair of art and public policy at New York University, to gain a better understanding of the ideas detailed in his complex and ambitious book.

Q: What does it mean to say that colleges and universities today are "under new management"? What is the new management, and how does it differ from the old?

A: Higher educational institutions are complex and diverse and managed in a variety of ways. The new management under consideration in this book reflects changes within these institutions as well as their social surround. From child-rearing and personal feelings to public opinion and professional performance, every aspect of our work and lives is now subject to managerial protocols that encourage adoption of techniques to enhance performance based upon external measures of productivity and efficacy. Colleges and universities of the past certainly had their strong leaders who often ruled through a kind of separation of powers, leaving faculty and disciplines some measure of self-governance over curriculums and research while presidents tended to administrative affairs. Over the past 30 years, especially, this separation has eroded as doubt has been cast on the value of what education yields, and campuses and faculty have been subject to a race to improve rankings and translate what they know into standardized measures of worth.

Q: What is the relationship between higher education and what you call the “professional-managerial class”? Why are their “fates… intertwined”?

A: Upward mobility, the means by which life improves for individuals and generations as time goes on, is the keystone of the American Dream. As higher education in the United States shifted after the Second World War from a largely elite province to become increasingly accessible to the masses, an implicit social compact was devised and supported by a range of explicit programs and policies that helped expand campuses and who could attend college. A new work force was being readied to enter what many were calling the knowledge society, where expertise was fueling an industrialization of the professional fields. A credential from an institution of higher learning was the ticket to the promise of an orderly and progressively more lucrative career. The expansion of higher education and the professional managerial class fed off one another. But with industrialization of knowledge the control over one’s calling, the sense that education or professional expertise had command over its own domain was increasingly given over to expectations of enhancing value and productivity. Managerialism overtook professional norms of self-governance.

Q: “…[T]he university under new management presents a series of dilemmas that further unsettle existing circumstances and open up a range of possible outcomes.” In your view, what are the crucial dilemmas, and what are their implications?

A: New management augurs a shift away from education as an ends in itself, the traditional ideal of the liberal arts. The conventional and historical alternative to liberal learning is technical or vocational training. Neither option holds the promise it once did. The values of well-rounded citizenship are being de-emphasized in favor of technical and professional careers whose availability and security are diminished. Universities do not necessarily enjoy pride of place in knowledge production but are one among many industries that pursue intellectual properties. While research universities have been encouraged over the past three decades to pursue patents whose revenue might compensate for lost government subsidy, this increase in entrepreneurial activity has left them with a small fraction of total patents and therefore trading their distinctive place for one among many others in a competitive knowledge industry. For students, higher education needs to reconsider what critical faculties students require in order to make a place for themselves in a world whose structures of opportunity have changed. Research and professional activity needs to be more alive to the circuits of knowledge in society but also needs to consider how to transform the social purposes of the industrialization of knowledge, across such fields as information, biomedicine, finance and culture.

Q: One of the book’s underlying themes is the “shift in education from a public good to a private one” – a sea change lamented by many commentators on higher education. You seem more ambivalent about this shift. Are there ways in which education’s redefinition as a private good may be a change for the better?

A: Rather than an entitlement of citizenship that governments should provide, higher education is increasingly treated as an investment in a future earnings potential. Grants funded by tax collection are to be replaced by accrual of savings through tax-abated mutual funds and increasing debt load. Without discounting the benefits of free or affordable tuition for all, the shift in the locus of domestic policy from citizen to investor poses the question of what the future should be like if indeed our debt to one another has been amplified. For this to happen, the private good focus on adding value would need to be reconsidered for the kinds of value we would want to enhance or appreciate and the kinds of mutual indebtedness we would want to accrue. If we can imagine the kind of education we would need to get the future we want, where this “we” is as expansive as the market claims to be, the result would be a very different kind of bailout, with the government acting toward the needs of the general population as an investor of last resort.

Q: Of the public-to-private-good shift, you write, “Casting a college degree as yielding twice the annual income as a high school diploma provided good cover for the dismantling of the social compact that had supported tuition subsidies to students and institutions….” What do you see as the real reason for this “dismantling of the social compact,” and who (or what) is responsible?

A: The shift in public policy emphasis toward dismantling entitlements and supporting investment in private goods is part of a larger process termed "financialization." Its predicates are complex and its effects comprehensive. The changes to higher education and citizenship undertaken in the past 30 years involve modeling social institutions and personal behavior along the lines of finance. The premise is that well-managed risks reap maximum rewards. Risk is shifted from a government responsible for the population’s security to those who can best take advantage of financial opportunities. Those who cannot are termed “at-risk.” As was evident in the financial meltdown, when more and more are involved in taking and making risks, the world becomes more volatile, opaque, uncertain. Higher education has its own versions of risk-taking: strategic investments that can fizzle, stars that lose their luster, endowments that implode, capital campaigns with their own intricate financial gambits.

Q: How would you summarize your answer to the question you pose at the start of the second chapter: “As higher education loses its autonomy, is no longer a thing unto itself but itself in the service of a professional calling, how has the pre-college experience been transformed?” Would you categorize this transformation as largely positive, negative, or neither? Why?

A: The advent of high-stakes testing for students and schools alike is based on the model of professional credentialing like the bar and the medical boards. Tests are used as measures of individual student and school performance and, in the latter case, can determine funding. From this perspective, students must deliver the productivity in terms of measurable improvement on which revenue will be determined. Inside the classroom students are likely to notice the double authority between what teachers instruct and what tests demand. Hence while even young schoolchildren are instructed in the demands of managerialism, they also can learn that not everything they are curious about is reducible to the test. Testing regimes provide their own inoculation from the pressures and anxieties of the very professional parents who are part of the drive to enhance performance in the face of an uncertain future.

Q: “...[T]he liberal arts model,” you write, “…treats undergraduates as specialists in embryo, rather than helping these students develop modes of work that allow their competencies to emerge.” What might a more desirable model look like, and could it be a potential (or actual) upside to the “professional turn”?

A: Conventional liberal arts can assume that knowledge is fixed on a stable landscape, sometimes described as tradition. General education places students as specialists on a pre-existing map with expectations that they will occupy the old landmarks. Instead we could think of the common educational experience, the core curriculum, as providing the means through which students generalize from their particular experience to the world, so that they are able to locate themselves in a geography that is shifting or that they will need to make for themselves. At some 100 million, far more students are involved in adult and continuing education than as matriculated students. Higher education is no longer simply the portal for a stable career but a medium of lateral labor mobility as people retool themselves continually as lifelong learners. Most academic departments and disciplines have done little to reflect upon this massive population returning to the university in terms of their own intellectual itinerary and aims. Finally, the figure of the public intellectual who shuttles from inside the ivory tower to an awaiting audience is seeing its ground shake as that public becomes more active in developing and voicing its myriad critical perspectives. Such circumstances call for a more active consideration of how knowledge is used, how specialists affiliate with various societal currents, and how other forms of knowledge flow into and are taken up by formal academic disciplines.

Q: How do you view the relationship (discussed in Chapter 4) between academic freedom and the service work required of faculty?

A: Faculty work is typically divided between research, teaching and service. Academic freedom applies to the first two criteria, which are also most valued for compensation and emerged as a perquisite in the early 20th century, enshrined by tenure that ceded large-scale institutional decision-making to campus leadership. Indeed, service has a connotation of voluntary or unpaid work, which associates it with the raced and gendered divisions of labor on many campuses — those who serve the academic mission, from clerical staff to food and maintenance workers. Service as a category of labor is also connected to unpaid domestic work and slavery. Devaluing service not only makes it easier to take for granted all these jobs that allow campuses to operate, but also takes attention away from the increasing administrative work that faculty are asked to do and the growing purview of decision-making claimed by senior administrators — whose own work is becoming more generously compensated. Academic freedom, doubtless a value that cannot be taken for granted, pertains to faculty governance, a domain that is being eclipsed by university governance over which administration holds sway, especially when it comes to priorities in collecting and disbursing funds or investments. Faculty will be well-served to recast service as administrative labor, both to give value to an increasingly consequential aspect of their academic lives, but also to come to recognize the knowledge they possess as to how to run the institutions of which they are a part.

Q: “Pushing for fuller self-recognition of administrative labor suggests a rethinking of the basic contract that had established faculty autonomy a century ago….” What would this rethinking look like, and what might be accomplished?

A: Self-recognition of administrative labor encourages faculty to think about how they operate within multiple organizational circuits or registers. While much has changed over the past century, state, industry and class endure as domains of constitutive power for faculty. Each of these arenas is still accessed and shaped by corresponding organizational forms – political parties, unions and professional associations that administrative labor engages and directs. The professional association can reference a reinvigorated peerage of university management that does not substitute presumptive consensus of disciplinary, procedural, or inter-institutional hierarchy for a robust dialogue on what aims will be served and by which means. While there is still an expectation of expert knowledge in order to pass judgments, the tactical applications needed to abet the work of committees, departments, schools and fields require a strategic intelligence, an applied listening, and an organizational diligence all of which redistributes value by recognizing the moil that runs the institution – working on and through the authority of others.

Labor organizing on campus certainly indexes the register of industrial organization (as opposed to single-craft occupations) and occasions solidarity among students, staff, and faculty. The United Automobile Workers, for example, which now represents faculty and graduate students, also negotiates on behalf of curators, writers, lawyers and others in the knowledge sector. Such organizing recognizes knowledge-making that flows across a range of sites and links epistemological formations with work. Media studies, cultural studies, policy studies, science studies as well as ethnic, race, gender, global queer studies -- the very fibers of interdisciplinarity that have transformed the social sciences and humanities -- are the cognates within the university to circuits of knowledge in informatics, biotechnology, mass media, and social services sectors. These existing connections between faculty intellectual work and industrial formation bear practically on how we make alliances and with whom, what can be claimed as proprietary, and what as part of the commons. Thinking these connections along industrial lines sets together the often-long march toward collective bargaining agreements that formalize governance with the ministered associations by which professionals now govern themselves.


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