Friday, August 13, 2010

New Paradigms in

University Adminspeak?

[Our provost is in the fore-front of this new academic paradigm...]

The Times Higher Ed has a good time with this one:

So clichéd

12 August 2010

Mary Evans laments the growing use of 'university-speak' in the academy - otherwise known as a part of the 'knowledge economy'
Navigating the bog of "robust policies", "dynamic research" and "developing the enhancement agenda already under way" (all recent examples of current university-speak) adds a new demand to academic life: the ability to continue to wage what Martin Amis has described as the "war against cliché".

Of these clichés, the "knowledge economy", the value of "private" money in higher education and the centrality of "skills" to the university curriculum are among the most pervasive. The idea of the "knowledge economy" has now become a defining sentence in university creeds: it is an assumption that has acquired an almost religious authority. But if we consider it for a moment, we have to ask about the understanding of history and social change that informs this idea: do those who believe in the "knowledge economy" seriously think that pre-industrial societies had no knowledge, or that the incremental accumulation of knowledge (and particularly technological knowledge) is synonymous with human progress and emancipation?

Yet every time a vice-chancellor trots out the graduation ceremony litany of "going out equipped with the necessary skills for the knowledge society", a picture of the past as lacking in skills and knowledge is enforced, a picture that both obscures much between Plato and NATO and reinforces the view that only contemporary (and Western) knowledge is of any use.

The shotgun marriage between skills and knowledge often produces a tense relationship. Universities are repeatedly told (and to their lasting shame sometimes tell their staff) that their function is to produce graduates with the "skills" for the "knowledge economy", but premarital counseling often fails to explain to the partners their mutual relevance.

The justification for this view is that universities receive a great deal of public money and should therefore return that money with the added interest of the "socially useful graduate". Again, this view has become enshrined in that cliché of pseudo-democracy: accountability. Never mind that the state frequently takes actions for which it has no public or legal mandate, or that privilege still allows differential (and unaccountable) access to education; many universities have accepted without question that they are the accountable ones in a one-sided relationship.

As universities increasingly surround higher education with clichés about skills and the knowledge economy, so they distance themselves from an ideal of passionate involvement with ideas that should be at the heart of the academy.

Students and staff often long for precisely this kind of message about higher education, yet instead we are fed empty slogans that diminish and curtail the very possibilities of universities.

Amen, Mary.

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