A mismanaged performance? 2

April 20, 2007

Your report "Staff 'swotted' by managers" and Frank Furedi's column (April 13) express universal concerns about the growth in managerialism in universities, particularly how it undermines collegiality. Collegiality, however, is in itself partly to blame.

Academics tend to be respectful and supportive towards one another (academic spats and private rivalries aside) and this is widely extended to university servants. Indeed, many academics are extraordinary deferential to central administrators and take them very much at their own estimation as "managers". This allows managerialism to catch hold.

A moment's reflection should tell us to be more sceptical. Administration is a career, like any other, with practitioners on a spectrum from highly able to dismally incompetent. If I were an able young person considering a career as an administrator I would want to advise ministers at the Treasury or the Foreign Office, have an impact on millions and rise to be in charge of many thousands of administrators in my department. First-rate would-be administrators are drawn to Whitehall. So are second and third-rate ones.

Even the best university administrators are at best only fourth-raters, content to take a teensy salary and benefits, to make policies that affect only the minuscule and transitory population of one university, and - if they make it to being a registrar - to run an organisation with, say, 4,000 staff.

We need to apply detached academic judgment to the abilities of these people and stop being deferential to them. That is the only way to turn back this incoming tide.

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