The Crisis of Legitimation in Higher Education

I wrote this blog less than half way through the UCU/USS strike, as an attempt to say out loud to myself how I was likely to feel when I went back to work in light of what had already emerged about the background to the dispute. Rather than write another one for today, the first day back for me and my colleagues here at Exeter (though still on Action Short of a Strike), I thought I’d just re-post it, with an invitation to imagine that it’s all now written in capital letters – because none of this seems LESS true now.

Pop Theory

You can tell that University administration has become dysfunctional when it becomes normal for everyone to refer to senior managers from the VC downwards by their first names. After all, properly functional, responsible bureaucracies are supposed to be anonymous and depersonalised – yet Universities in the UK increasingly organise themselves internally as if the effective operations and achievements of the whole institution can be accounted for by the forms of authority projected through the charisma of their ‘leaders’ (This is a just warped expression of a more basic and much cherished principle of University governance, whereby Vice-Chancellors are selected from ‘the ranks’ as it were, moving from practicing academics to senior management positions). Of course, the relationships that really matter in Universities are those structured by conventions of pastoral care between students and teachers, and by respect between professionals, not those structured by weirdly personified hierarchies of cascading “strategy”. In…

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