Thomas Klikauer, Norman Simms – Nightmare on Uni Street

All is not well in the state of Academia

Thomas Klikauer is the author of 560 publications and writes on Managerialism.

Norman Simms is a retired academic who lives in New Zealand and continues to write articles and books, as well as editing an online journal.

Cross-posted from ZNet

File:Keble College Chapel Oxford.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

In 2003, Don Watson wrote,

Managerialism came to the universities as the German army came to Poland. Now they talk about achieved learning outcomes, quality assurance mechanisms, and international benchmarking. They throw triple bottom line, customer satisfaction and world class around with the best of them.

He concluded,

James and J. S. Mill wrote books that changed the course of history while working for the East India Company, a multinational corporation. Today they wouldn’t. Today they would be attending countless meetings, seminars, and conferences to update their knowledge of work-related subjects, all of them conducted in the mind-maiming language of Managerialism.

Almost two decades later nothing has change except that things have gotten worse for academics and students. They are forced to look up to those who live in the hallucination of needing to manage academics. Once these people were called university administrators. That was a time when universities were still dedicated to scholarship, science, research and teaching.

During the second half of the 20th century, university administrators became managers as neoliberalism started to make a showing at universities. Today, under full-scale neoliberal Managerialism, these managers have mutated into university apparatchiks and managerialists. They strictly enforce the tenets of neoliberalism (politics) and Managerialism (business). Simultaneously, university apparatchiks making sure that the likes of Cardinal John Henry Newman, James and J. S. Mill will never happen again, at least not inside a university setting.

Today, apparatchiks demand learning outcomes, citation rankings, a high h-index, an i10-index, performance management, international benchmarking, quality assurance, KPIs, etc. –the administrative nightmare is endless. Beyond that, university apparatchiks also demand an almost Trump-like adherence to loyalty.

The days when universities were defined by the faculty and the students, with administrators outsider brought in to keep records and collect money, are long since over. The whole idea of collegiality has been banished. The office of Heads of Departments and Deans used to be filled by academics on a temporary, rotating system, an onerous duty accepted to keep everything running smoothly. Now those offices are full-time managerial positions run by people whose expertise is in management, an end in itself.

Under Managerialism, loyalty has become the unspoken access code to managerial favouritism, promotions and academic advancement. Even perceptions of loyalty as well as actual disloyalty can invoke an informal schedule of rewards and punishments dished out by university apparatchiks. Perceptions of disloyalty are often transmitted through hearsay and rumours, the so-called organisational grapevine.

Under the banner of Managerialism, some academics still live in the faint hope that they have tenure and are protected, based on their track record. Yet even academics of internationally recognized abilities and achievements may be sacrificed by university apparatchiks simply to encourage others to fall into line with Managerialism’s goose step. The university is now defined by its management and the academics serve at their pleasure.

For Managerialism and for its apparatchiks, loyalty to the established regime is more important than productivity, scientific endeavour and great thinking. Mills’ System of Logic, On Liberty and Utilitarianism – not one of these books and essays were published in an A-star journal. No promotion for you, Mr. Mill.

For Managerialism, loyalty, like accountability, has become a Trump-like one-way system. University apparatchiks demand absolute loyalty from academics. University apparatchiks show no loyalty to academics. Whenever it suits the one-dimensional purpose of the neoliberal university, the professoriate and lower level academics are expendable. The neoliberal university disposes of academics without even a crocodile tear and often without giving any reasons.

This signifies the dominant power of university apparatchiks and the triumph of the ideology of Managerialism. Despite or perhaps “because of” the managerialist rhetoric about productivity, ranking, world-class-universities, etc., the neoliberal university rewards those who demonstrate unwavering loyalty to their new superiors. Simultaneously, their system effectively controls the rest.Once this rest was called faculty in a meaningful and collegial way – no longer.

Today the rest are seen as subalterns, human resources, material, chattel, tools to achieve goals set by university apparatchiks. Frederick Winslow Taylor’s Principles of Scientific Management stands behind today’s concept of Managerialism It views a business organisation and a university through the lens of a dichotomy of subordination vs. insubordination. All it takes is for Schmidt the imaginary pig-iron worker to be replaced by some hapless young academic caught in the cogs of modern times (like Charlie Chaplin in his 1936 film of that name) at the university.

All that has changed from Tayloristic management to today’s Managerialism is the rise of a full-blown ideology and its importance for companies and corporations, as well as neoliberal universities. Ideology has replaced the harsh treatment of pig-iron-carrier Schmidt with even more insidious methods. The corporate ideology of soft-HRM has replaced Taylor’s strict Victorian discipline and punishment regime with a system of ideological double-talk control.

For the purpose of ideological control over the university, apparatchiks enforce stringent subordination by means of unmeasurable research outputs –always camouflaged as “measurable” outcomes. It uses crypto-principles, such as “research values”. It confused quantity with quality, new ideas with neologisms, and demands immediate results instead of long-term influence. The definition, assessment and evaluation of what research value actually is determined by the judges who are none other than the managers themselves. The days when academics and scientists carried out research they wanted to do and believed was interesting, useful, challenging and beneficial to humanity are rapidly coming to an end. The long golden summer of “just a little” external pressure ended once the Managers gained control of the university.

Today’s ideology of Managerialism puts severe pressure on academics. One of the more noted pressures is the relentless drive to publish in top-journals, also called A-star journals. As a consequence, there is a marked decline in book publishing. The thought processes for a book of over 200 pages have been reduced to the 7500-word article. It produces stunted scholarship, jargon-ridden and formulaic.

Simultaneously, editors of A-star journals are overwhelmed with submissions, while B and C rated journals are starved of serious and sustained material to publish. This puts additional pressure on academics, particularly young academics. A PhD student told one of the authors, Thomas Klikauer, recently that she has to publish at least three articles in an A-Star journal every year.

Since her name isn’t known to editors, her university isn’t Ivy League and her research subjects are nurses in a hospital in a developing country, there is hardly a chance she can be published and so comply with the regulations. The stresses put on this young woman therefore become intolerable. Beyond that, such pressures also lead to other pathologies that university apparatchiks do not even care to recognise.

Under Managerialism, the idea that one publishes only if one thinks that an idea or an experimental result is actually worth submitting to peer review is rapidly diminishing. Publish or perish has become the mantra of university apparatchiks. As a consequence,the editorial offices of prestigious journals are flooded with papers often of rather dubious content. Those who have done peer-reviewing for such journals know that. In short, the rubbish reviewers have to read is mind-numbing.Another part of this nonsense is that, while promotion and research grants depend on editors accepting and evaluating the submission, and for reviewers to read and judge the quality of the publications, to be an editor, an examiner of manuscripts or a book reviewer means nothing on an academic CV. The only value, other than intellectual pride in keeping the real world of scholarship running, comes from the concepts of integrity and honesty – and they are meaningless to an apparatchik.

Today, careers are made and promotions are dished out to those with an established “track record” (read: publishing variations of the same stuff over a ten year period). At the same time, many promoted academics never had an original thought in their life. What counts is strict adherence to Managerialism, being rewarded huge external grants, and, of course, the h-index and i10-index.

Welcome to the world defined by impact fetishism and mindless bean counters. Ambitious young academics flatter their mentors by citing their works favourably and people they want to hire them are praised profusely; established professors favour their own and their friends’ graduate students; and everybody is looking to keep the bean-counters and apparatchiks happy. Norman Simms says, “I am constantly alerted to the ‘fact’ that I have been cited hundreds, even thousands of times, in dozens of fields I never published in. The indexing services use machines that can’t tell one Simms from another.”

University apparatchik-invented pressures allow the managerialists to maintain institutional order through fear, intimidation and induced uncertainty. It also enables apparatchiks to require from their untenured serfs more and more output with less and less resources. As a consequence, some academics do frantic research during holidays, write as much as possible during annual leave instead of taking time to think and visit with colleagues overseas, churn out more nonsense papers over the weekend and when the kids are in bed, as a female academic once said to Klikauer. If a lecturer is seen in front of his or her computer all day staring at the screen, probably playing games, there is credit in the rating of time spent in research. If the scholar walks up and down the beach for a few hours over the weekend, works out complex theoretical problems in his or her head, and then stores them away in memory for later use, this is considered a waste of time.

Under Managerialism,pretty much the only research that is funded by university apparatchiks or increasingly by external funding bodies is that which has been approved by the self-appointed research establishment. Rather than original ideas and projects, the rush is on to join on-going projects and repeat the mantra of the tedious truism. This largely consists of government agencies, external funding agencies, some philanthropic foundations but more and more industry-funded research. Industry-funding is the apparatchik’s code-word for commercial companies and corporations, in short corporate capitalism. The idea of scholarly objectivity and disinterested research has long since flown out the window.

The withdrawal of the neoliberal state from support of universities and the parallel increase of industry and corporate funding tilts research into the direction so much wanted by neoliberalism and university apparatchiks. Increasingly, research is conducted and directed towards narrow practical problem-solving. It is carried out for specific funding establishments. In short, the neoliberal funding model for universities produces research outcomes that serve capital’s problems, not humanity’s problems and not environmental problems.

Of course, much of this is paralleled by a rather spectacular change in research ownership. Under Managerialism, there is an escalating partition between those who do the work (young, overworked and underpaid academics) and those who lay claim to its outcomes or products. Most common is that a professorial supervisor publishes the results of PhD students’ work who then feature as co-authors or not at all.

How this happens is sometimes very hard to discern by an outsider. Having a graduate student working on a joint project is another way of extracting results and ideas from subordinates. So-called super-star professors often have good contacts with journals editors or are journal editor themselves. This is how careers are made –or not made. The situation can be even more absurd. In application forms for research grants, one is asked what the outcomes will be before the work is done, and then negative results—proving a hypothesis weak or wrong, instead of being praised as a valuable testing of theory and method, is treated as rubbish. Therefore the researcher stays on the safe path and reports success, when what is being reported in repetition and rehashing. But who cares? As long as you get published and have recognizable publications to put on your CV.

The system works to the advantage of many willing plodders and uncomplaining ambitious hearts, to the disadvantage of real scholarship and real science. The setup benefits all kinds of people people with vested interests, while creating a network of dependencies. Star academics can easily rely on friendly journal editors, publishers and other gatekeepers. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. Getting published in this way further enhances their academic reputation. Meanwhile, journals and publishers rely on their glitterati to generate profits. It works with the Matthew Effect – giving an accumulated advantage to those who already have. “To them that have, it shall be given.” Authors with market appeal are wined and dined –literally –by publishers. The others are left to whine and die alone in the corner.

Within the managerialist university system, academic researchers experience extreme and ever growing limitations. Whichever way academics and in particular young academics turn, Trumpian-style border walls have been erected. Questions about what to read, how to think, what to write, how many words to write, whom to cite, what to publish, where to publish and on it goes are ever more defined by the systems of Managerialism and by those who overseer the system: university apparatchiks. Young academics are trapped long before they publish their first article.

The student asks, “What do we say about this topic?” instead of “How can I find something new to say, even if it is ultimately wrong?” You cannot tell the nervous young man or woman, “It is better to be imaginatively wrong and realize why, than to be plodding correct and not know what you have done.” That would be suicide.

Interestingly, once retired, some academics –even high profile professors –tend to open up. Freed from the university’s managerialist system, they can –eventually–speak the truth. Years ago while Thomas Klikauer was writing a book on Managerialism, very well known professors still employed in highly ranked business schools forwarded unpublished manuscripts to him saying, use this but don’t use my name. He also received plenty of material from retired business school professors freed from the control of university apparatchiks.

The other author, Norman Simms long-since retired from the university, but still editing a journal, has to explain to those sending in submissions not to fill up their work with blather and nonsense, but to write clearly and honestly, and not to be afraid to conclude with something like: “At this stage, with the still limited information available to me, all I can say is such and such, which nevertheless seems to work better than articles written in the past.”

Perhaps one of the most famous cases is that of a professor [“allegedly”, of course!] driven into suicide by university apparatchiks remains Professor Stefan Grimm. Stefan Grimm took his life on 25th September 2014 after being threatened with performance-management procedures. In HRM circles, this is commonly know as the first step to dismissal or as an HR-manger once said to Klikauer, “We will performance-manage her out of here.” In Grimm’s case, it all happened because he was seen by the apparatchiks as having failed to bring in sufficient grant money. Shortly before he was driven into despair and suicide, he wrote


From: Stefan Grimm <>

Date: 21 October 2014 23:41:03 BST

To: <big-email-list>Subject: How Professors are treated at Imperial College

Dear all,

If anyone is interested [in] how Professors are treated at Imperial College: Here is my story…My boss smugly told me that I was actually the one professor on the whole campus who had submitted the highest number of unsuccessful grant applications. Well, they were probably simply not good enough. I am by far not the only one who is targeted by those formidable guys. These colleagues only keep quiet out of shame about their situation. Which is wrong. As we all know hitting the sweet spot in bioscience is simply a matter of luck, both for grant applications and publications. Why does a Professor have to be treated like that? One of my colleagues here at the College [to] whom I told my story looked at me, there was a silence, and then said: “Yes, they treat us like sh*t”.

Best regards,

Stefan Grimm

University apparatchiks have invented many ways to cover-up their insalubrious and beefy bullying practices, shrouding them in modern HR spin. They have become increasingly sophisticated in the way they hide their tracks. And, of course, they get paid accordingly. Weasel words, corporate PR, and spin are often used to masquerade performance-management practices that, in all their brutality and cruelty, are qualitatively not that much different from what is done by a standard nightclub bouncer keeping out the untidy and the innocent who don’t look like they will spend enough money inside. All of this is a very serious indictment and a reflection of the state of higher education today. Professor Grimm was a recognised scientist of toxicology, but it seems that he was of limited commercial value to the university. The managers made him feel useless.

Perhaps the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan William was not too far off the mark when he said: “There is a new barbarity in our universities.” Quite conceivably, neoliberal universities have indeed become cathedrals of ignorance, where innocent victims like Stefan Grimm suffer while university apparatchiks prosper. University apparatchiks dish out Managerialism’s banalities of quality assurance, excellence, customer focus, university ranking, industrial funding and external grants.

As one rare honest academic put it,

If you can find me a single academic who hasn’t had to bullshit or bluff or lie or embellish in order to get grants, hen I will find you an academic who is in trouble with his [sic] Head of Department. If you don’t play the game, you don’t do well by your university.

If nothing is done about Managerialism and the university apparatchiks, they will continue to foster a corrupt crypto-academic organisational culture in which academics become inured to the normalization of corruption. Relentlessly, university apparatchiks require future academic to concoct a managerialist skill set. Academics are constantly bombarded with thought-destroying and mind-numbing Power Point presentations. Some are even trained in making a spectacle of themselves. Guided by university apparatchiks, these academics become not only transparent but hollow, unrecognisable even to themselves. The French philosopher Jean Baudrillard called the phenomenon simulation, i.e. a Simulacrum.

The relentless pressure put on academics directs them to so-called improvement. Inside the hideous system of never-ending performance-management meetings, last year’s KPI is turned into the benchmark for this year’s improvement. Year by year, the system creates more worthless publications, more research grants for fatuous projects, more students to put coins in the coffer, more vacuous productivity and more dubious output used by university apparatchiks to bathe in self-created glory. They have turbo-charged the academic rat race.

The rat engaged in the rat race is kept busy in on an endless treadmill producing more and more rodent turds until a few of the more resilient rats win the grand prize—a pair of well-polished blinkers. They do this without, of course, ever realising that the rat who wins the race is still a rat. Inside universities blasphemously described as overpriced degree factories, students are conditioned into mastering the meaningless tasks so as to enter the rat race and be ratified in turn.

A Tale of Two Universities

Some academics exist in a parallel universe of two universities. To them, there is an official institution but there also is a concealed university. The concealed university is the one in which they can still pretend to engage in true scholarship and where students hold on to the anti-managerialist idea of what a university could actually be: a seat of learning and a critical position to evaluate the traditions and the laws of society. Next to the concealed university is the official neoliberal university run by university apparatchiks. They sit and stare at themselves in the mirror and marvel at how beautiful they are.

Schizophrenically, in the neoliberal university academics fake what Baudrillard calls simulation. In this realm, academics simulate acting in conformity to the wishes, in accord with the policies and in submission to the directives of their master. In other words, the official university polishes its windows but it no longer attends to the life within. All of this is, of course, of no concern to university apparatchiks. Optics is everything!

Some academics manage to live, at least partly, in the concealed university. This is where most of their daily work takes place, not because of but “despite” the university and its apparatchiks. These academics do not compete against their colleagues for research funding. Unknown to their university apparatchiks, they work collaboratively and cooperatively. Simultaneously, they pretend to play the neoliberal game of Managerialism. The concealed university is the place where sensible research is still carried out in nearly all aspects of academic activities. But it is not seen by anyone outside.

So there still is a clandestine, subversive and unofficial manner of teaching, doing research and publishing, in spite of the official criteria of Managerialism. In the end, however and just like poor Winston Smith in Orwell’s 1984,one is never sure whether the official university is just a fantasy dressed up in managerialist form or a well-arranged gig lamp that serves no other purpose than lighting up a managerialist fiction, while advancing the authoritarian governance of Managerialism.

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