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'Upon the Gears and Upon the Wheels': Terror Convergence and Total Administration in the Neoliberal University

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JournalManagement Learning
DateAccepted/In press - 28 Mar 2020
DateE-pub ahead of print - 30 Jun 2020
DatePublished (current) - Jun 2020
Early online date30/06/20
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

University governance is becoming increasingly autocratic as marketization intensifies. Far from the classical ideal of a professional collegium run according to academic norms, today’s university feature corporate cultures and senior leadership teams disconnected from both staff and students and intolerant of dissenting views. This is not a completely new phenomenon. In 1960s USA, senior leaders developed a technocratic and managerialist model of the university, in keeping with theories around the ‘convergence’ of all socio-economic systems towards a pluralist ‘industrial society’. This administrative-managerial vision was opposed by radical students, triggering punitive responses that reflected how universities’ control measures were at that time mostly aimed at students. Today, their primary target is academics. Informed by Critical Theory and based on discussions of a contentious university restructuring programme, we argue that the direction of ‘convergence’ in universities has not been towards liberal, pluralist democracy, but towards neo-Stalinist organizing principles. Performance measurements – ‘targets and terror’ – are powerful mechanisms for the expansion of managerial power or, in Marcuse’s words, ‘total administration’. Total administration in the contemporary university damages teaching, learning, workplace democracy and freedom of speech on campus, suggesting that the critique of university autocracy by 1960s students and scholars remains highly relevant.

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    Research areas

  • Berkeley Free Speech Movement, Clark Kerr, Convergence theory, Herbert Marcuse, Managerialism, neoliberal university, Performance targets, redundancy

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