Ideological rift divides managers and managed

Frontline academics must find common ground with generals, says paper. Hannah Fearn reports

August 6, 2009

The academic workplace is suffering from an "identity schism" caused by a clash of cultures between university managers and academics, it has been claimed.

Research by Richard Winter, senior lecturer in management at the Australian National University, has found that the process of modernising universities worldwide has caused an ideological rift.

His paper, "Academic Identity Schisms in Higher Education" in the Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, identifies two dominant personality types in universities: the "academic manager" and the "managed academic".

"Academic managers identify strongly with corporate managerialism and see their interests inextricably represented by it," it says.

They may also use the language of social division, such as "active" and "non-active" research staff, as "a viable means of dividing and ruling staff in an environment of resource constraints".

Meanwhile, the managed academic is committed to teaching and learning for its own sake, ignoring corporate identities and economic constraints.

"These normative values may invoke a righteous discourse of 'making a difference' in terms of student learning, or reflect a collegiate identity in 'working with others towards a common cause'," Dr Winter writes.

He urges managers and lecturers to work harder to "understand" each other better in an attempt to heal the rift.

The paper tells managed academics that thinking more carefully about the kind of relationship they want with managers and how it could be achieved would help to resolve conflict.

A spokesman for the University and College Union dismissed Dr Winter's recommendation that academics should try to understand their managers.

"Education is about learning and scholarship, not marketing fads," he said.

"Our members would love to just be allowed to get on with the job and leave the blue-sky thinking and brand innovation to the consultants hired at vast expense by many of our universities and colleges."

hannah.fearn@tsleducation.com.

Two tribes

THE MANAGED ACADEMIC

- Has limited ability to influence university decisions

- Typically a full-time lecturer or casual "teaching servant"

- Emphasises the importance of teaching and learning

- Is committed to knowledge for its own sake

- Is committed to their discipline, not the university

- Develops and promotes a particular view of their institution

- Eschews economic performance in favour of student learning

THE ACADEMIC MANAGER

- Holds a professorship yielding power, authority and patronage

- Typically a head of department or dean of school

- Identifies with corporate managerialism

- Emphasises managerial identities

- Uses "management speak".

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