Blog confidential: The managerial perspective (part one)

Each week, Dr Margot Feelbetter poses a dilemma and offers advice for readers to respond to online. This week: The managerial perspective (part one)

April 22, 2010

The previous two submissions seem like covert attempts to classify managers as sinister individuals working against academics. As a manager in a high-achieving university, I want to address this imbalance.

I think it is true to say that the next 12 months will be very challenging for all universities as they strive to remain financially viable. The accusation that managers are "plotting" against their own staff is reprehensible.

We exist in an imperfect system, are faced with a painful financial readjustment and need to draw up contingencies. What should managers do if they are likely to face cutbacks? We must plan a range of options in advance: some may not be particularly palatable, they may be perceived as plots against long-standing staff, but we have to face facts.

The anonymous academics in the previous blogs offered a rather paranoid view of senior management. The first was rightly called to account when questioning the wisdom of identifying staff on high grades who had performed poorly in terms of income generation.

I was also surprised by the way "viability tests" were misinterpreted. We face a bleak future: surely all courses should face a range of tests in the context of economic viability? How else do we work out which programmes should stay and which should go? And with less money to go round, some will have to go.

I am an economist, not a philosopher, and I have to say that it is about money, balance sheets and people having the courage to act. The universities that survive will be those that are willing to make logical and dynamic decisions: they may be painful, but managers are paid to make them. Here's a reality check: we live in a competitive world demanding new paradigms, creativity and different ways of thinking. The emerging reality is one of short-term austerity that requires a reconfiguration of the academy to support a robust economic recovery.

Your response concerns me. As a manager charged with "difficult decisions", you conveniently ignore the excruciating jargon and rhetoric described in the previous submissions, where, for example, "guidelines for dynamic realignment" formulated by local "entrepreneurs" seem a million miles away from the academy, which I always thought was about education.

I may sound old-fashioned, but I cannot see the logic of cutting university resources at a time when we need a more qualified workforce. Should everything we do be measured by the ambit of the marketplace? I fear there will be a reckless "rationalisation" undertaken in the most inhumane way, where those who are not slaves to the cult of new managerialism will be lost - good people.

Most of the academics I know work far in excess of their contracted hours and suffer the consequences. I think there is going to be a terrible fight ahead, marked by spin and deception: I fear we are not ready for it.

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