Thursday, January 23, 2014

To the barricades!

Last year  the article, The neoliberal assault on academia by Tarak Barkawi, was brought to my attention. It was originally published as an Opinion piece in Aljazeera  and has generated some interest and discussion.

First, what is "neoliberalism"? According to Wikipedia
The term "neoliberal" is now used mainly by those who are critical of legislative initiatives that push for free tradederegulation, enhanced privatization, and an overall reduction in government control of the economy.
The article is written with a quasi-Marxist tone, emphasising class struggle. This may put off some.
Yet I am reluctant to admit that there are a couple of ideas in the article that are painfully true.

A. The changes that are happening in universities reflect changes in broader society.

B. New administrative procedures such the Research Assessment Exercise in the UK, uniform course profiles, widespread use of metrics for staff assessment, are not just annoying bureaucratic exercises. They reflect a deep underlying and unquestioned ideology and a desire to control. One who warned about this trend in society was the French scholar Jacques Ellul:
"the totality of methods rationally arrived at and having absolute efficiency (for a given stage of development) in every field of human activity."[18]  
The following acid observation by Barkawi is particularly hitting:
Here is the intersection with neoliberal management culture. Neoliberal managers thrive not by bringing in new resources - since austerity is always the order of the day - but by constantly rearranging the deck chairs. Each manager seeks to reorganise and restructure in order to leave his or her mark. They depart for the next lucrative job before the ship goes under. 

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