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Why would senior managers feel contemptuous of their expert staff?

At various points in the last few months, I’ve seen the claim made that the senior management of universities hold their staff in contempt. A claim like this can’t help but be polemic and I’m not sure how helpful it would be to examine the particular cases if we’re interested in addressing the broader question: why might managers come to feel contemptuous of their expert staff?

From the perspective of higher education, it would be interesting to consider prima facie examples of such contempt in other sectors. This is one I stumbled across in Trouble Makers, by Leslie Berlin, describing the tensions in Atari after a new CEO took over the company and open hostilities broke out between developers and management. From pg 277:

The programmers had asked Ray Kassar for a pay raise or a bonus, as well as recognition as the games’ authors on the cartridges. (Already some designers had taken to hiding their initials as “Easter eggs” in secret rooms that players could discover in the games themselves.) Kassar allegedly responded that the game programmer was no more essential to the company’s success than was the line worker who put the cartridge in a box.

From pg 278:

Even with the higher pay, many on the engineering side felt that Kassar and the managers he hired did not appreciate their ideas or their work. Kassar gave an interview in which he called the technical minds behind the games “superstars” but also “high-strung prima donnas.” Many programmers felt the jab was a closer approximation of Kassar’s real feelings.

The case suggests a clear message to me: management can view the self-proclaimed expertise of staff as a ludicrous conceit on the part of a group who are just one feature of an organisational chart, with their capacity to exert themselves and demand respect provoking resentment on the part of a management who have their sense of autonomy challenged by this. How far away from higher education is this?

Categories: Digital Universities The Technological History of Digital Capitalism Thinking

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