Another note on academic decline.

datePosted on 15:48, February 2nd, 2021 by Pablo

Recently my partner and I were discussing the absence of collegiality in many contemporary academic departments. She is an academic and knowing my experience with a certain NZ university, she mentioned that it was perhaps best that I had left that profession, however under duress. Her point was that academic Taylorism (of which I have written about before on these pages) has now well and truly been entrenched in the halls of higher education, and that an old school professor like me would simply not survive in an atmosphere were students are “clients” with many rights and few responsibilities, pass/fail standards are dictated by managers rather than merit (e.g. a certain percentage–as high as 80 percent–of students must pass a course if it is to continue on the books), in-class discipline is non-existent (for example, with regard to use of cell phones and attendance), and even bibliographies and test questions are monitored and often dumbed down by bureaucrats who do not have degrees, much less higher degrees in the subjects in question (this actually happened to me before I departed the hallowed halls).

The precipitant for our discussion was two-fold: the breaking up of the Political Studies Department in my former employer and its dilution into a larger school that included dispersing political scientists throughout the campus. This removed any collegial centre of gravity, even a common room, for people who study politics and left them atomised and isolated in their far-flung offices. Sure, they can still communicate by phone and email or arrange to meet at a campus cafe, but the days of casually and spontaneously congregating for morning and afternoon tea is gone, which in turn removes the direct interpersonal discussions that often serve as catalysts for an exchange of ideas, intellectual collaboration and which underpin the very notion of “collegial” behaviour.

My partner’s employer chose to solve that problem, or perhaps did not even think of the situation at all, when it renovated the physical space in which she works into an open plan arrangement where people conduct their business in assigned small cubicles in a large airtight room. Although intellectual labour can be done anywhere (for me the best time to mull over ideas and plan classes was while running), the employer expects the academic staff to be on campus as much as possible and requires people to take annual leave if working from elsewhere (beyond the mandatory holiday leave already on the books). That forces people onto campus even if they do not have classes, meetings or student office hours. The problem is that office time in academia is a mix of bureaucratic paper-shuffling and make-work for managers, some writing or reading, some grading and marking, lots of emailing, some supervision meetings with students, regular administrative meetings of various sorts (also known as gab fests), and way too much student counselling by people who have no training in mental health or any other sort of counselling (i.e., since when is a Ph.D. in Political Science a license to counsel students on personal matters? And yet that is an expected part of the job).

That makes the open-plan arrangement a bit fraught because there is little privacy afforded by the scheme and the ambient noise levels generated by 30 or more people conducting business at the same time makes it very difficult to actually get any constructive work done. But since the managers who order the renovations conduct their business from the privacy of individual offices and do little if any face to face counselling of younger people or intellectual work, that is not their problem. I have a feeling that it will be after the new look is put into practice.

As I said before, I have previously written on KP about the pernicious affects of academic Fordism and Taylorism, so there is no point in beating that dead horse. But the discussion with my partner brought up what is one of the most embarrassing professional memories of my days in academia, which upon reflection points to a long-term downward trend in the quality of political science education in this country.

Let me explain. When I arrived in NZ in 1997 I was sold a bill of goods that my new employer was akin to “the Harvard of the South Pacific” or some such nonsense. As a University of Chicago alumni that was familiar with Australian universities, that claim did not impress me but I knew what the recruiters were trying to convey. And indeed, in those days most of the political science staff had degrees from elite, first tier institutions in Europe, North America and Australia. This led to a proliferation of older white male academics trained at such places, although by the time I arrived women had been successfully incorporated into the department and much of the post-colonial mindset was removed from it. During the 1990s Asians and Maori were brought in as well, a trend that continued while I was there.

The university was ranked about 100 positions above what it is today and the Political Studies department was actually ranked in the top 50 Political Science departments world-wide. I was hired to teach and research on civil-military relations and interest groups (in my case, labour unions) as well as Latin American Studies as part of a proposed expansion of area studies and political science offerings. For a brief while, that seemed to be a viable plan.

But academic managerialism soon struck in the form of a new VC. From then on it was a slippery slope or rush to the bottom to put “bums in seats” in order to secure EFT (Equivalent Full Time) funding. Managers began to interfere with what used to be purely departmental and classroom decisions. Research funding contacted and was subject to generic competitive models that did not account for disciplinary specificity. The union-busting project against the house collective bargaining agent for staff began in earnest and accelerated thereafter. People with research and teaching talent began to leave and boot-licking academic driftwood began to pile up. Promotion and tenure decisions were revised so that quantity rather than quality of research output and publication became key criteria for advancement.

This led to a rush towards “crony collaborations” in which academic friends produce edited collections in local or profit-oriented publication outlets and publish articles in journals edited by each other, without the scrutiny normally undergone by the peer-review process required by internationally-recognised publishers (say, in my discipline, World Politics, International Security or the International Political Science Review or Cambridge or Princeton University Presses). What used to be the norm when it came to research output rapidly became the exception to the “quantity over quality” rule ( I got a taste of this when I was advised to list my editorials and media appearances on the contrived and biased PBRF reviews required to justify departmental funding).

Towards the end of my tenure and afterwards, newer hires were increasingly recruited from non-elite graduate programs and paid at comparatively lower levels than during my first years in residence. Their PR and self-marketing skills became as or more important as their contributions to original research in the discipline. The employer demanded that courses generate a profit and, once the STEM disease set in, that they prove relevant to the Science, Technology, Economics and Management priorities of the tertiary funding model. “Non-profitable” departments like Classics or Indonesian Studies were soon eliminated.

Fees-paying foreign student enrolments increased under diminished admission standards. Existing degree requirements were lowered and “certificate,” “diploma” and other types of shallow qualification study programs proliferated. Flash buildings were built and more acquired (including a former brewery and a mansion for the VC), non-academic middle managers (many in PR) were hired by the bucketful and academic staff were told to limit photocopying, ration A4 paper and assume more administrative duties previously done by secretaries. Besides turning Ph.D.’s into clerical workers, among other things this move to “corporatise” academia along profit-oriented lines prompted PR flak-inspired suggestions in my former department that the Introduction to International Relations course for first year students be re-named “War and Peace” and that my course on Revolutions be renamed to have “9/11” in the title.

The larger point is that academic managerialism has destroyed the very concept of the academy, which if anything should be one of the last refuges from the profit motive because it rewards discipline and merit as it imparts knowledge, both conformative and transgressive, for knowledge’s or humanity’s sake rather than for money.

As the Taylorist pathogen took hold, more of the good people in the department left or retired. I was asked why I stayed and in my naivety I simply answered that it was about lifestyle and personal relationships. My partner and I had met in the late 1990s and were getting more serious, and my lifestyle out on the west flank of the Waitakere Ranges was ideal for my purposes at the time. Under an pre-existing research leave policy that was covered by my original contract I did take a couple of semester-long research leaves during those first ten years, once to the University of California San Diego and the other to the Portuguese Institute of International and Strategic Studies. Then the old research leave policy was terminated, and shortly after that, I was as well.

Before that happened, this did: In 2006 I was contacted by Guillermo O’Donnell, arguably the most famous Latin American political scientist of his generation, if not of all time. Don Guillermo, as I called him our of formal respect, was a mentor of mine from my Ph.D. days at Chicago. Along with Adam Przeworski, Philippe Schmitter and Lloyd Rudolph, he sat as an ex officio member of my Ph.D. dissertation committee. He took an interest in me because I was raised in Argentina, had participated in some political action and done human rights work there and was writing a dissertation on the Argentine State. He found it intriguing that an American guy was “so Argentine” down to my Buenos Aires accent and attitude. Later on, when he was Director of the Kellogg Institute of International Studies at the University of Notre Dame, I was awarded a residential research fellowship there in order to help finish a book I was writing at the time. Although he remained as a mentor, we became friends.

Many years later my future spouse got her Ph.D. in Political Science from Notre Dame and herself was a student of Don Guillermo even though her speciality is in European Politics and Political Economy. But like so many people trained at elite institutions, she well knew back then that exposure to a wide array of ideas and views is what makes for a good scholar, so she gravitated to him while studying there.

I mention this because in 2006 he and his wife–a sociologist who had been a colleague of mine at the Centre for the Study of State and Society in Buenos Aires in the early 1980s and later at Notre Dame in the late 1980s–were on a Ford Foundation-sponsored world tour that included lectures at several Australian universities. They contacted me to say that they would love to visit my partner and I in NZ and that all they needed was an invitation from an academic institution to do so. The Ford Foundation would pay all costs. They were particularly keen to come because Don Guillermo was an avid rugby fan and lifelong supporter of the Pumas and an admirer of the All Blacks.

In spite being given O’Donnell’s resume and biography, my department Head at the time (specifically appointed by the managerialist regime over better-qualified people)) refused to write the invitation letter. He claimed to not even recognise who O’Donnell was and did not care that the department would not have to put any money into inviting him (this Head was appointed by a very recently departed VC and his then political science minion/Dean of the Arts Faculty, who remains in a high managerial position to this day). By that time the managerial stamp had been imposed on the department, including shoulder-tapping recruitment attempts and mid-level bureaucrats from the Arts faculty sitting in on staff meetings as monitors of what was being said and done.

Chastened by the lack of collegiality and professional courtesy, I arranged to invite them as guests of the Latin American Studies Centre because even though the Latin Americanists at the Centre were not social scientists, they knew who he was (the O’Donnell family in Argentina are prominent in the arts and politics so it is a well-recognised name).

O’Donnell and his wife arrived and enjoyed their stay with us. As part of that stay, I organised an informal talk and meet-and-greet between him and my Political Studies colleagues in the then-departmental staff room. Nothing major, but a chance for the academic staff and students to interact with an actual luminary in political science (among other things, O’Donnell coined the phrase “bureaucratic authoritarianism” to describe a specific form of late 20th century capitalist dictatorship). I publicised the event across campus in student and university publications and email networks. I put up posters and spread the news by word of mouth.

When the day came, it was a debacle. I paid for the sandwiches, wine, cheese and crackers out of pocket and figured on 30 people attending. Instead, about six of my students, two of my Latin American Studies colleagues and just a single Political Studies academic staff member attended. Just one. With my partner, I and the O’Donnells, there were around a dozen people there at 4PM on a mid-week afternoon.

Maybe the time was not right and people needed to rush home or were in class. Perhaps the academics were working on Nobel Prize-level research projects. But I think not because when I asked several of them over the next days the majority stated that they did not know who he was, or he did not do what they are interested in (that from political theorists), or they were simply busy. Neither the Head or Deputy Head, both of whom ostensibly worked in the field of comparative politics, deigned to attend.

O’Donnell was gracious but perplexed by the slight. In Australia his lectures had hundreds of people in attendance. In Europe and Latin America large halls needed to be used to handle the SRO crowds. In North America his university appearances were sold-out celebrity events. In NZ, he was a nobody. He found that to be oddly ingratiating mostly because although provincial in the extreme it allowed him to relax when in the public space in measure that he was not used to. He got to visit the NZRU officess as a walk-in after getting out of a taxi.

I relate this anecdote because it shows that the decline in academic quality, at least in Political Studies at one university, began when academic managerialism took root in that university. Although there are always exceptions to this trend, the rot has now spread to other universities and runs deep into the academic fabric throughout the country. Entire “academic” programs are built around the Taylorist money-making model (I mean really, how many terrorism and/or conflict studies programs does one small country need and what the heck are non-disciplinary “autoethnographic”-based graduate degrees?). What was then, is now even more so.

It is time to call things for that they are in NZ today: the profit-driven managerial destruction of academic institutions as independent bastions of impartial truth and objective and subjective knowledge dissemination. Under the current tertiary sector leadership and mindset, I doubt that the impact of the pandemic will make things better.

In fact, it could make things worse because the push towards so-called “E-Learning” (video conference lectures and seminars) while continuing to charge the same fees will lead (as it already has) to further reductions in the physical infrastructures required for in-person teaching and promote bigger enrolments in Zoom-like settings (rather than actual classrooms or lecture theatres) where the spontaneous inter-personal dynamic between instructor and students is all but nullified. Although small group seminars can be accommodated by video (“webinars”), I know of no academic who enjoys video conferencing big class lectures, other than those who hate students anyway. Most students do not bother to attend these type of sessions and instead look for on-line power point and lecture notes with an eye towards exams rather than understanding of the subject. Of those who do attend, few engage with the lecturer. Because marking is increasingly done on-line using standardised forms, teachers reduce the amount of essay writing involved in course assignments and instead offer simplified examination options more akin to those in high school. Adding more and more foreign students with limited English language abilities into that mix compounds the problem (should they return once the pandemic is controlled). And so on.

None of this augurs well for the quality of New Zealand university education in the years to come, especially in the social sciences and arts (which are the red-headed stepchildren in the STEM tertiary education model). It therefore behooves those who are responsible for the tertiary sector to understand that the moment provided by the pandemic is also a moment to pause and reconsider the merits and demerits of Taylorist and Fordist approaches to academic endeavour in light of a very mixed twenty year’s experience with those approaches. Only then can moves me made that allow NZ to regain its prior reputation for offering high quality academic degrees and quality research that are competitive on the world stage.

22 Responses to “Another note on academic decline.”

  1. Jim Rolfe on February 2nd, 2021 at 18:08

    This rings so true. Thank goodness I am out of the day to day off university life. I left more or less at the beginning of the creeping managerialism. From my continuing contacts I understand it has got worse. I must say though that I was never required to mark to an imposed pass level.

  2. Pablo on February 2nd, 2021 at 18:56

    Thanks Jim.

    As may partner says, the circumstances of my departure from academia stank, but it is best that I am no longer in. And watching the cluster**k that was her employer’s attempts to handle the Covid crisis via a mashed-up hodgepodge of video and in-class teaching last year, I am inclined to agree.

  3. Exkiwiforces on February 2nd, 2021 at 20:03

    I’m utterly speechless, that NZ Universities have fallen to such low levels of utter stupidity. No wonder things can’t get done or built in NZ these days.

    For the record I’m a ex Farm/ Horticulture Cadet, who never finish his 3rd year Cadetship because it became user pays in the early to mid 90’s. As the Industry couldn’t be bothered to train the next lot of Farmers or Horticulturalists as it was easily & cheaper to import foreign Labour. So went my idea of being a farmer/ horticulturist & a citizen soldier like my forebears did.

  4. Atrocitator on February 2nd, 2021 at 20:10

    When I hae children they will go to university in the United States where things are much better

  5. Atrocitator on February 2nd, 2021 at 20:11

    That sucks Exkiwiforces. The ideal of the farmer/soldier is critical to western democracy. I think the lack of such people and their replacement by immigrants with no grounding in western values and no tradition of service to the freedoms they enjoy is a large part of what has led to the degeneration of public morals in today’s society. The Greatest Generation would cry if they could see us now…

  6. Atrocitator on February 2nd, 2021 at 20:20

    Pablo sorry for spamming your comments but I just had to say – your unjust dismissal was a trategy for the New Zealand academy. I am glad it has had no major impact on your life but I think it is shocking that you were dismissed over speaking truth to power. We need more academics who are not bound by political correctness and who are willing to exercise their freedom of speech to speak out against the damage immigrants are doing to our New Zealand universities.

    I do not think there is one lecturer alive in New Zealand todaywho would have had the courage you did and that is very sad.

  7. Pablo on February 2nd, 2021 at 20:51

    Cheers Atrocitator,

    for the nice words. As it turns out there was a major negative impact on my life that lasts to this day but I simply had to move on. Truth be told there was a lot of backdrop to that event that never made the public eye but one of the bottom lines is this. When people from Europe or North America take academic social science jobs in NZ, it is very difficult to return to their places of origin or training to take similar jobs if things do not work out. Outside of select fields, academic NZ is a bit of a black hole in that regard, although I worked hard to remind colleagues that I was alive, well and productive in NZ. For me that ended when I departed academia but for many others their career prospects diminish as soon as they get here.

    People trained outside of the “traditional” recruitment regions who manage to get jobs in NZ are often just plain delighted to be here and suffer whatever indignities are imposed on them, especially if they come from places where the concepts of academic freedom and integrity are scarce. Plus, most foreign recruits invest much time and effort in order to integrate into the local community, often acquiring partners, children and mortgages in the process. That makes leaving all the more difficult under any circumstance, which in turn forces people to bite their tongues and go along with the managerial fiats no matter what happens.

    With some exceptions, local Ph.D. recipients are not prioritised in the recruitment for academic positions, in part because those in positions of authority know that the quality of their degrees are often (and increasingly) suspect. This is not always the case but true enough to be a syndrome. So a vicious circle has developed where decent people are stuck under more onerous employment conditions and newer arrivals, especially from non-elite institutions, do not rock the boat and are content to exchange their labour for a good salary (because tertiary salaries are, at least for so-called “tenured” staff, above the national average). Add increased teaching and administrative loads, managerial interference in departmental decision-making and workplace autonomy and regular violations of academic freedom by management (including censorship of public commentary), and what remains is a shell of what universities should be. Again, there are exceptions but the overall picture is clear. Many if not most NZ academics are intellectual wage labourers and ticket-punchers who do their jobs in order to maintain their lifestyles, not because they love what they are doing.

  8. Tiger Mountain on February 2nd, 2021 at 21:01

    There will likely be many hundreds, if not thousands of ex educators in NZ that feel pain similar to yours Pablo, one way or another, and certainly know our country’s pain resulting from what our institutions have become since the dawn of neo liberal hegemony.

    Vice Chancellors like John Hood and others have been some of the most vicious and spiteful pricks imaginable to be let near a tertiary faculty.

    While obviously no academic, I have been aware of some of this by being a political activist and parent and colleague of people in the sector. The cowardice and lack of solidarity shown by modern staff standing on each others heads to compete is disturbing. And courses dumbed down to achieve high pass rates, to attract more paying customers, and positive peer reviews.

    Will the next gen replacements for boomers change things? One hopes so, before all the books are dumped into the sea! and anyone left of a centrist is frogmarched out…oops, already have been a couple of older marxists tell me…

  9. Sam on February 3rd, 2021 at 06:18

    So despite being 100% kiwi students they’re not really afforded access to institutional knowledge as would other students in foreign countries doing the usual things like prescribing new laws and protecting things like society and principles and values of a liberal progressive democracy.

    Over the 100 odd years The New Zealand government has been in operation there has been changes in values to keep pace with the changes. But one steady part of this constitutional make up is the rights of citizens. This is a direct rejection of racism. The founders of New Zealand’s government realised that each race needed to at least appear equal on paper and yada yada yada. But more importantly the right to outlaw slavery. There is much concern that kiwis could befall this evil practice but worst yet some foreigner might just rock up and claim Wellington as there capital and steal all the land from the indigenous inhabitants, lock us in welfare traps which of course is completely unexpectedly.

    So let’s talk about slavery by its definition which is the owners of one individual by another. Now in this modern day economy with all its craziness we have new forms of modern day slavery all the time like cheap migrant and student workers that get exploited as 2nd class bellow minimum wage and no workers rights at all, saying anything and they get deported and replaced in the biggest scam going around in New Zealand.

    While these 2nd class citizens aren’t owned they definitely are threatened with deportation and in extreme small cases could end up dead. We also have modern forms of indentured servitude which is being indebted to the government or recruitment agency or visa scams. Not only do these people have to pay there own passage to university they’re indebted with student debt that most career salaries can’t even service in time to save and buy a house and so the debt just keeps growing and growing keeping all students in this twisted new form of modern slavery.

    Of course there are many forms of slavey and I do not have the energy to compare one form to another but the point is there will always be evil people trying to exploit others and they may use flashy words to describe there slavery as not slavery but ultimately slavery corns in many different forms.

    Another tricky part of this equation is although these students are purchasing a degree the money does fund tertiary education but these are private contracts which are hard to track but this is all secretly backed by banks in an effort to foist debt on people that may not even get into debt in the first place. And so bank profits are conveniently generated at no cost.

    Public opinion is probably weighted towards students suffering through academia so are kiwi students slaves and by the classical definition there’s no mention of students being shaves although the academic faculty or institutions maintain some ownership rights over proprietary technology and stuff. There is a claim that students own there creations but it’s also the case that it’s more than likely to be a commercial arrangement and some may get arrested or sue for IP laws.

    The point is that there are many loopholes on the global debt narrative but the argument for debt slaves can still be made I think.

    The quickest way to arrest any concerns of student debt slaves is to give them back student representation now if we go back to the law it also says the rights of students and citizens are protected by the human rights act, access to voting and representation and the right not to suffer unduly. Generally foreign students don’t get the same rights as kiwis but if you work in NZ you should get representation.

    Of course there needs to be incentives and structures because once students graduate they need to give back to society. The key thing here is if Academia wants less than academics filling the ranks of corporate New Zealand. It’s relatively known that academics don’t like working with non academics and for good reason academics is just better at academics for the most part. Of course the issue is who’s running the place and are they getting people into to debt that shouldn’t be in debt. We really can’t trust managers in this respect who are only interested in results. They’re not really interested in New Zealand academics and they have the same degree of apathy as my microwave has for frozen TV dinners.

    So I say purge academia. No one will shed a tear if we give them all UBIz (Universal Basic Income).

  10. Atrocitator on February 3rd, 2021 at 07:13

    If there ever is a purger we should fire all New Zealand academic managers and import them from countries with a decent academic culture like the USA or Australia.

  11. Di Trower on February 3rd, 2021 at 15:19

    Your post has left me feeling rather sad and despondent for the future of academic study in NZ. I have heard from people close to me who are academics and who have worked in universities here in NZ and also in the UK. It feels to me as if what is happening is like a house of cards, first one institution begins the process of dismantling various departments and available subjects, then on to the next and so on. It seems from your post that the Arts are not the only areas to suffer. It’s depressing to think that the quality of our universities is going downhill so rapidly and I cannot see that ending any time soon, unless the powers that be recognise the value in studying subjects that may not just be related to a particular type of employment at the end of a 3 or 4 year degree. We do not need to dumb down our population, but invest in broadening and expanding minds if we wish to succeed in the 21st century and beyond.

  12. Paul M on February 4th, 2021 at 17:35

    As a former student of yours Pablo, in 2001 iirc (so before the renaming of what was the best course I ever took there), I was really disappointed with the way you were treated by the University.

    I am really sad to hear about the decline of a department I really enjoyed learning from and it sounds like what others say has happened elsewhere.

    On open-plan offices, the evidence is piling up disprooving all the bullshit assertions about collaboration etc that are made by managerialists. Mercifully, when my employer tried to do it they listened to pushback and made adjustments.

    It’s about reducing build costs and increasing managerial control. Those spaces make most people more anxious and less productive – funnily enough, like large open-plan classrooms do for a lot of children.

  13. Atrocitator on February 5th, 2021 at 01:24

    Hi Pablo just rereading your response and this stood out for me. You said:

    “hen people from Europe or North America take academic social science jobs in NZ, it is very difficult to return to their places of origin or training to take similar jobs if things do not work out.”

    I am aware of at least one exception, Tim Bale taught at Vic Uni in the early 2000s and his academic career in his native UK seems very solid. But maybe that is the exception that proves the rule.

    I wonder is this phenomenon you are describing, is it a result of the decaying academic standards of NZ managerialism leading to the rest of the world isolating the infection and preventing it from spreading? Or was this roach-motel effect on NZ academia in effect back before managerialism set in, in the 90s when, as you said, it appeared credible that a NZ institution could compete intellectually on a global stage?

  14. Pablo on February 5th, 2021 at 08:19

    Interesting. I wondered what happened to Tim. He seems like one of the good ones who decamped once he figured things out. My impression is that if one does not do NZ politics, Maori politics or NZ/South Pacific foreign policy/IR (and some types of political theory), then the country is a bit of a black hole. Most people come for lifestyle rather than intellectual advancement, assuming that they can continue to be productive and contributing to the disciple. But in the era when one had to go to conferences in person and submit physical manuscripts to would be publishers, distance and cost hindered the ability to do so except for the famous or favoured. It should have gotten better as technology made networking and submissions easier, but the additional burden of administrative make-work and more classroom hours with less research leave and funding under the Taylorist schemes dashed those hopes.

    So the situation seems to be that for most foreign-born, foreign trained scholars, with the exception of areas in which NZ is the subject or has a positional advantage (say, studying giant squid or the post-colonial politics of a settler state in which indigenous people were not completely subjugated), the move to NZ is largely born of personal rather than professional factors and results in their reduced professional visibility outside of NZ, something that has been accelerated and compounded by the managerial onslaught.

  15. Pablo on February 5th, 2021 at 08:42

    Thanks Paul.

    My intention in writing the post was not to complain about my circumstances but to point out that the underpinning factors behind those events have worsened since then. The move to open plan configurations for academic work is just plain nuts and betrays a basic lack of understanding of the nature of the enterprise. But then again, the decision to do so was made by a senior management that has been exposed as having a culture of bullying and sexual misbehaviour (including senior male staff with breast and rope fetishes that they displayed in professional settings!) that not only went unpunished but which was covered up for years in spite of dozens of complaints. That may not be a Taylorist problem per se, but it points to a disregard for employee welfare at the highest levels of the academic hierarchy, something that facilitates the promulgation and implementation of managerial logics throughout the university.

    One line of thought that I have heard and which I did not elaborate on in the post was that the move to physically disperse academic staff and remove their daily common meeting areas (like departmental staff rooms) was done in order to atomise and alienate them from each other with the purpose of breaking their collective solidarity ties and ability to rapidly exchange information in numbers on matters of common concern. This isolated them as individual employees, which in turn made them more vulnerable to divide-and-conquer tactics such as employer threats of redundancy and selective manipulation of promotion. This is aggravated by the introduction of new hires with significantly different (or no) experiences with professional representation, particularly with regard to collective agents. As a result of these trends, since they do not cover more than half of the academic workforce in most places, academic unions cannot offer the robust defence of collective rights as they once used to. You only need to look at the recent history of collective action at Auckland University to see the effect.

    Your point about the infantilisation effect of open-plan spaces on workers is very well taken.

  16. Atrocitator on February 5th, 2021 at 21:57

    I don’t know what brought Time to NZ. He stayed for a fair chunk of time (4 years IIRC, although he had already been here a while when we met so I could have that wrong) but his research interests were not particularly NZ-oriented. His main focus was on ideology in electoral politics. He was not disinterested in NZ case studies but clearly it wasn’t at the core of his academic daemon. Perhaps he was indeed just lucky, but I am personally very glad I got the chance to learn from a definitively world class lecturer without leaving New Zealand. Anyway sorry for the personal anecdote.

  17. Brett Davidson on February 6th, 2021 at 22:16

    The specific events differ of course, but the theme is the same with my experience in two New Zealand universities, including the cube farms and with added levels of bullying (which maybe you didn’t mention, but it’s so widespread that it’s a feature, not a bug). Friends are baffled when I tell that that I’m never going back.

  18. Rosalene Bradbury on February 7th, 2021 at 07:37

    The other point is that – from the point of view of students – the approach noted here DESTROYS the reputation of degrees gained. This is so NZ education becomes a betrayal of the country itself. What price a degree if all you need to do is PAY for it?

  19. Pablo on February 7th, 2021 at 07:46

    Indeed Brett. Bullying is endemic in NZ academia. It is a constant topic in discussions with my partner about her workplace. I was lucky not to be exposed to it until I began to question and challenge some managerialist decisions about 8 years into my stay, and then I got the full treatment.

  20. Pablo on February 7th, 2021 at 07:54

    I completely agree with you Rosalene. This was a factor in my departure–I complained that meritorious students were being short-shifted by the bulk granting of conceded passes to foreign fees paying students who could not handle or did not care to handle basic academic requirements, leading to the awarding of degrees to underserving individuals. As someone in Engineering once said to me, “do you really want to cross a bridge built by one of those students?” The McCutcheon mafia did not appreciate my concerns and instead looked at them as jeopardising revenue streams. Cue the hook.

    Once the MoE decided to inform universities that they should consider tertiary students as customers or clients rather than as students, degree quality became the horse that bolted.

  21. Atrocitator on February 7th, 2021 at 10:07

    I think some of these foreign students are in New Zealand to ffurther the agenda of the governments that send them. It is a security issue.

  22. Kumara Republic on February 7th, 2021 at 15:38

    Long story short: tertiary education has gone from being a public good to a perishable good. Case in point: bachelors’ degrees have been effectively reduced to a recruitment screening process.

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