Many subtle features of Eastern European authoritarianism have been adopted in the process of creeping Stalinisation by the managers of UK universities (“My rallies of endeavour will ensure the impact our dear leaders desire”, Opinion, 29 May).
The 1965 play The Memorandum by the Czech playwright (and later president) Václav Havel can in fact be interpreted today as a brilliant analysis of the situation in UK universities, although the author originally intended it as a satire directed against the communist system.
In The Memorandum, the communicative role of language has been abolished. Language has been turned into a jargon and its only role is to indicate who is in power. The better you are at using the jargon, the more powerful you become.
Craig Brandist offers an admirable analysis of the organisation of many higher education institutions in the UK.
There is little sympathy between “managers” (a term unknown 10 years ago in universities) and the academics they purport to lead. Heads of departments are rewarded for delivering the vice-chancellor’s “vision” rather than responding to the aspirations of their staff and students. Particularly in post-92 universities, we have seen the reproduction of a cadre of managers who perceive themselves as a new kind of officer class.
Perhaps the best way to preserve the collegial ethos is to rotate the position of head of department among senior academics. Let us see then, if impossible or contradictory edicts are maintained, if managers understand that these will constitute their working conditions in two or three years’ time.
I am not sure that academics do all have the freedom now to resist the Stalinist management that is strangling the proper function of universities. At my institution, the jargon-addled management would take a very dim view of any such challenge. It believes it is right because it is right.
One cannot argue with that, not without preparing for the sack.