The Performative University: ‘Targets and Terror’ in Academia (Stream18),
The performative university: ‘targets and terror’ in academia Stream proposal, 10th International Critical Management Studies Conference, Liverpool, 3-5 July 2017 The year 1917 saw the advent of the Russian Revolution, which gradually gave way to the Soviet economic system that has been characterized as governed by ‘targets and terror’ and which was notorious for its almost epidemic ‘gaming’ (Bevan & Hood, 2006; Nove, 1958). The same decades that saw the gradual demise of the Soviet system also witnessed the advent of the neo-liberal policy doctrines of ‘Reinventing government’ and ‘New Public Management,’ according to which public sector organizations (including universities) should become more ‘business-like,’ intent on managing performance and building accountability on the basis of quantitative, mostly financial targets (Clegg, 2015; Diefenbach, 2009). It was a historical coincidence in relation to which Bevin & Hood (2006, p. 519) observed: ‘ironically perhaps, just as the targets system was collapsing in the USSR, the same basic approach came to be much advocated for public services in the West by those who believed in ‘results-driven government’ from the 1980s.... It resonated with the ideas put forward by economists about the power of well-chosen numéraires linked with well-crafted incentive systems.’ Exactly a century after the Russsian Revolution, due to these developments it appears that within universities not only the ‘targets and terror’ have persisted from these old and troubled times, but other totalitarian characteristics as well (Geppert & Hollinshead, 2017; Lave et al., 2010). The ‘terror’ has become manifest in the demise of older, more collegial forms of university administration and their large-scale replacement by authoritarian, top-down management by ‘professional’ managers who have no connection or affinity with academic teaching and research (Chandler et al., 2002; Parker, 2014). It has led to a division among university staff between ‘regime sweethearts,’ ‘silent collaborators,’ ‘pragmatist survivors’ and a small ‘active resistance,’ and also to a concomitant closed, anxious and defensive working climate, typical of most totalitarian systems (Alvesson & Spicer, 2016, Butler & Spoelstra, 2014; Teelken, 2012). The ‘targets’ have become manifest in the demise of older, more qualitative forms of collegial feedback and intervision and their large-scale replacement by quantitative performance measurement and management systems that reduce academic teaching and research to ‘scores’ in student surveys and abstract publication ‘points’ in journal ranking systems, respectively (Burrows, 2012; Craig et al., 2014; Mingers & Willmott, 2013). It has led to forms of performance evaluation and accountability that have become more judgmental and punitive and less developmental and supportive, thus further increasing employee anxiety and defensiveness (Kallio et al., 2016; Ter Bogt & Scapens, 2012; Visser, 2016). And, even old forms of propaganda have returned, flooding university campuses and websites with posters, banners and proclamations extolling the virtues and accomplishments of the ‘corporate university’ (Geppert & Hollinshead, 2017; Parker, 2014). In addition, government cutbacks and a neo-liberal penchant for competition and semi-markets have increasingly forced universities to compete with each other for external funds (Wigger & Buch-Hansen, 2013). This has not only led to an increasing commercialization of university teaching and research, catering to business’ interest in ‘commodified’ students and research (Wilmott, 1995), but also a increasing precariousness of university work, in which low-paid, high-stress temporary staff appointments gradually replace existing tenured staff positions and in which academic identities become insecure and fragile (Knights & Clarke, 2014; Lynch & Ivancheva, 2015). Admittedly, not all universities in all parts of the world are equally affected by these developments. The situations appears most alarming in many UK business schools, followed by business schools and faculties in the rest of the Anglo-Saxon world, while many schools and faculties on the Continent appear less affected (Craig et al., 2014; Geppert & Hollinshead, 2017; Parker, 2014; Teelken, 2012).
Citation : Visser, M, Stokes, P, Ortenblad, A. and Tarba, S. (2017) The Performative University: ‘Targets and Terror’ in Academia (Stream18), 10th International Critical Management Studies Conference, 3rd-5th July, Liverpool/Edgehill University
Research Institute : Centre for Enterprise and Innovation (CEI)
Peer Reviewed : Yes