Is it just managers who are heating up the floor to see who can keep hopping the longest?

I wrote yesterday about how obsessive auditing produces a profession which is incompatible with a normal life. Two interesting comments offered really important insights into this issue:

  1. “let experts come in and help you” – that’s the motivation, the creation of a massive industry of assessors, advisors and expensive literacy and numeracy schemes. Some people have got very rich from this.

  2. Performance monitoring is a technology. Its main thrust is to effect a ‘re-attribution of responsibility’ from those deploying the technology to those who become its objects. The main difference between schools and universities is that the technology is aimed at whole schools, so, e.g. so one can talk about ‘failing managers’. In universities it is the managers that deploy the technology. After all, it cannot possibly be the managers that fail when research rankings drop, NSS scores sink or student recruitment falters. I once worked briefly in an institution where academic staff ftes were linked to student fte recruitment. Academic staff ‘recruitment performances’ were monitored. If student recruitment fell then academic staff were laid off. Meanwhile the same institution had a growing ‘ Marketing and Recruitment’ department. This department was unaffected by any drop in recruitment – as a management department its ‘performance’ was not monitored. There was no monitoring technology to do this. Oddly, whenever the work involved in recruitment arose (producing copy for brochures, marketing in schools, dealing with ad hoc inquiries etc.) these were all directed to the academics on the grounds that they ‘best knew their own programmes’ etc. Staff in Marketing had standard non-academic appraisals so there was no performance criteria critical to the institution’s strategic aims in their personal record. The responsibility for all critical criteria are always transferred to staff who are positioned in such a way as to be least able to affect the context of those criteria.

    School teachers are simply in an absurd situation. Frankly one cannot have a good conversation while the interlocutors are focussed on a screen monitoring the metadata of that conversation.

What both point to is the importance of vested interests. My reluctance to understanding this process as governmentality is that it easily slides into a mystification of elites. The conceptual vocabulary utilised here tends to construct these outcomes as the operations of diffuse power rather than specific projects undertaken by those with vested interests in their outcomes: management departments, communications departments or consultancies etc. I’ve often wondered about what performance management regimes those working in university communications departments are subject to given how much of their output seems to be of questionable quality.

Incidentally, this is why I have such a problem with the emerging industry of ex-academics coaching graduate students. On the one hand, it could be seen as no different to private tuition, something which reproduces inequality through a market transaction. On the other hand, it could be seen as a direct interest in the processes of heating up the floor to see which graduate student can keep hopping the longest through contributing to the ratcheting up of the expectations inherent in the role of ‘graduate student’ and a tendency to talk up the problems confronting graduate students as a whole.

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