Governance and academic life

Governance and Academic Life

In institutions where we might expect the most resistance the capitulation is most complete. Managerialism came to the universities as the German army came to Poland.

(Watson 2003: 166)


The contemporary governance of universities is characterised by top-down managerialism, a form of disciplinary power that deploys systems of expertise and technology for the purpose of political control (Foucault 1991; Olssen 2000). The new technologies of management, or what Foucault refers to as ‘governmentality’, take myriad forms and occupy multiple sites. He seeks to recover this broad meaning of government from the sixteenth century:

‘Government’ did not refer only to political structures or to the management of states; rather it designated the way in which the conduct of individuals or of groups might be directed: the government of children, of souls of communities, of families, of the sick. It did not only cover the legitimately constituted forms of political or economic subjection, but also modes of action, more or less considered and calculated, which were destined to act upon the possibilities of action of other people. To govern, in this sense, is to structure the possible field of action of others.

(Dreyfus and Rabinow 1982: 221)

Managerialism is the new form of governmentality within the university that enables new knowledge to be mediated and harnessed by the state. While this knowledge must be exploited and commodified, appropriate steps must be taken to guard against its inherent dangers. As a result of being assigned this crucial role, senior line managers have quickly become the élite, replacing professors as university leaders and repositories of power (Cabal 1993). The inversion of the traditional relationship between academic and administrative staff is central to the changed dynamic of neoliberal institutions because disciplinary knowledge has been reduced to secondary and incidental knowledge. Bureaucratic knowledge rather than legal scholarship now occupies the dominant position within the corporate university. As Polanyi recognised, the advancement of knowledge requires freedom, while the pursuit of applied knowledge involves subordination (Polanyi 1951: 43–45). The propensity in favour of the applied is clearly signalled by the constraints affecting law. Legal knowledge is circumscribed by: first, the admitting authority’s formal supervisory role over the law curriculum; second, government regulation, particularly through funding policies; third, university managerialism; and fourthly, the role of the market, in terms of both the commodification of legal knowledge and the fickleness of the supply and demand of legal labour. Beck, the progenitor of the idea of the ‘risk society’, identifies knowledge as a key source of danger that needs to be managed (1992: 183).

Contemporary approaches to the governance of universities have emerged from NPM, a constellation of ideas associated with reform of public administration in the UK. Despite recourse to the language of ‘public’, NPM was championed in the United States under Presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush, as well as by other leaders elsewhere. Given the wide currency of NPM, it is notable that ‘entrepreneurial governance is now celebrated as “non-ideological”, “non-partisan”, and simply “pragmatic”’ (Hall 2005: 158). It has become an unquestioned corollary of neoliberalism, which has engendered a new conceptualisation of ‘the public’: ‘[d]epicted as customers who relate to their government on the basis of an economic, rather than a social, contract – through the logic of consumption – getting value for their dollars’ (Hall 2005: 154–55).

Many of the governing ideas of NPM were borrowed from the private sector, following the economic decline in the UK and the US in the 1960s (Alexander et al. 1994). While its aim was to create greater efficiency and improved service, it is the top-down application and the notion that one size fits all, which is the problem for disparate disciplines when transposed into the university. The quest for standardisation through rational bureaucratic authority is a central feature of modernity, as postulated by Weber (1978; 1930) and, more recently, by Ritzer with his evocative concept of McDonaldisation (2000). The desire for predictability and certainty represents a powerful current of modernity in a postmodern world.

The limitations of this new conceptualisation of management are percipiently captured by Self who defines it as a technical skill that is ‘divorced from specialised experience and knowledge about particular subjects, equally applicable to the private and public sectors, and primarily concerned with the efficient use of resources’ (Self 1993: 169). However, higher education cannot easily be compressed into a standardised template without doing damage to the ‘product’, as I have sought to argue in the case of legal education. NPM reduces knowledge to the transmission and regurgitation of known knowledge, albeit a paradox in terms of research as I show in Chapter 5.

To transpose a top-down managerial apparatus more appropriate for the production of widgets to a university concerned with teaching, research and the preservation of culture requires institutional power. While one of Foucault’s important insights is that power is dispersed and is found in the capillaries as well as the head, he does not deny the significance of institutional power. Indeed, his deployment of Bentham’s panopticon as a metaphor for the constancy of centralised power makes this clear (Foucault 1991: 200ff.; Dreyfus and Rabinow 1982: 188–90).

The imagery of the panopticon is well known, although perhaps not in the context of the academy, the traditional site of intellectual freedom. The panopticon is a structure designed by Bentham for a model prison, which comprises a central tower surrounded by a courtyard with various levels divided into cells at the perimeter. The positioning of a window in each cell allows for its surveillance from large observatory windows in the tower. What is most notable about the gaze from the tower is that prisoners cannot see whether it is being directed towards them or not. It soon becomes apparent that this is inconsequential because they begin to internalise the behaviour of the watched and become their own guardians (Foucault 1991: 207). The watchers too enter into regimes of self-regulation, as they become thoroughly imbued with the values associated with the institutional ordering and disciplinary control. In this way, it would seem that Foucault provides an answer to the ancient legal conundrum, quis custodiet custodies? (who guards the guardians?), for it is the guardians who guard themselves. They become the self-disciplining agents who uphold the regime (Miller and O’Leary 1987). Thus, there are two types of power captured here by Foucault that are apposite (Foucault 1991: 209). There is still a hierarchy of power that operates through managerialism, but it is supplemented by the insidiousness of disciplinary power, which renders it irrelevant whether the watchers are being watched by an actual person or not. The integration of power then operates systemically from ‘top to bottom, but also to a certain extent from bottom to top and laterally’ (Foucault 1991: 176).

One can fruitfully extrapolate from Foucault’s insights regarding the vagaries of power and the way that it connects with knowledge through the geography and social body of the university. Although senior managers may not be found in a central tower with observatory windows, they are likely to be located within a secure precinct in a central location but quarantined from academic staff. A depersonalised arms-length approach comports better with top-down managerialism, although one UK interviewee described his ‘hands-on’ VC as ‘reminiscent of a nineteenth-century miller, the way he was running around the institution ticking people off’.

In most cases, surveillance is less direct, being effected through systems of audit and accountability, thereby capturing the full subtlety of the panoptic metaphor. The political technologies of NPM are simultaneously both ‘individualising and totalising’ in the way everyone is reined in (Shore and Wright 1999: 560). The discourse of NPM permeates the entire institution and becomes a normal dimension of everyday life, which implies that there is no alternative way of doing things.

NPM, or ‘hard managerialism’, focuses single-mindedly on its goals of economic efficiency and effectiveness largely to the detriment of the academic community (Trowler 1998: 31). In his study of academic responses to change in a UK working-class regional university in the late 1990s, Trowler devotes a great deal of time to ‘soft managerialism’, which evinces concern for the interests of stakeholders in the process of increasing access in economical, efficient and effective ways (1998: 31). While ‘soft managerialism’ may still be found in élite institutions, it has either become or is fast on the way to becoming a distant memory everywhere else. There is a very clear perception that power has shifted.

It is no longer possible for academics to cruise along attending to their teaching and pursuing research interests in a desultory and uncoordinated fashion. The task of line managers is to appraise academics regularly and ensure that they are ‘productive’, which is evaluated in terms of ‘performativity’, a practice defined by Lyotard as the process of ‘optimization of the relationship between input and output’ (1984: 11). Quantifiable outputs that are easily measured – numbers of research grants, publications, PhD completions and classes taught – are rated more highly than intangible goods, such as thinking, which is deemed to be unproductive within a performative environment (Readings 1996: 175). Not only is thinking invisible and unquantifiable, it has no demonstrable use value of itself within the market. Where is the box to be ticked so that thinking can be ranked on a league table? It is only the outcome – the Nobel Prize itself, not the thought that goes into it – which is calculable and returnable. Similarly, pastoral care, which is feminised and invisible, is deemed to lack performative value, although it is crucial to the university that the concerns of student/customers be addressed in the interests of its brand name.

While the panoptic metaphor is highly evocative, I do not wish to postulate that the system of surveillance within universities carries the same sense of perfect control. Academics are too cynical, too busy and too disorganised for the metaphor to apply unproblematically, despite the best endeavours of those charged with managing them and ensuring compliance. What is more, some line managers, such as deans, may be on their side; they are not the mindless mouthpieces of the central administration. Resistance, of course, is an inevitable by-product of the operation of power, which is another valuable insight of Foucault (1981: 95–96).

For the most part, however, resistance has been ineffectual despite the fact that a revolution of the university is well under way (Marginson and Considine 2000). In the end, it is easier for academics to comply than to resist and face disciplinary proceedings or dismissal (Jackson 2005: esp. 107–9; Senate Employment, Workplace Relations, Small Business and Education References Committee 2001: 302–5; Lane 2005). They might grumble in the corridor about the pointlessness of yet another restructure, but there is scant public reporting of resistance (Bessant 2006). Indeed, academics have acquiesced to regimes of self-regulation with remarkable alacrity. In one sense, their response is surprising in view of the autonomy that has been lost, although disciplinary measures, including codes of conduct that are a corollary of corporatisation, are effectively invoked against dissidents (Jackson 2005). Disciplinary procedures are nevertheless rarely invoked as the new regime quickly became normalised through the discourses of quality, competition, flexibility and accountability. The success of these NPM discourses is clinched by regular appraisal and incentives such as promotion, or performance pay.

Of course, scarce resources always have to be managed, risks minimised and quality assured, and good governance requires transparency and accountability. However, these principles have been hijacked by neoliberal governments and deployed by vested interests to their own ends. With the exception of élite institutions, such as Oxbridge and the US Ivy League universities, where administrators still ‘remain in principle answerable to the academic community’ (Evans 2002: 99), the norm has been reversed in institutions with a less exalted heritage and a weaker sense of academic freedom. In the favoured top-down corporatist model, consultation, formerly the key plank of collegial decision-making is frequently bypassed altogether or carried out in a perfunctory manner when a decision is already a fait accompli. All academics are affected by the diminution in status. Indeed, in popular discourse, ‘academic’ has become a ‘synonym for futile or irrelevant’ (Stewart 1999: 28).

The contraction of collegiality in conjunction with economic impoverishment has allowed administrators to become the managers and academics to become ‘the managed’. The governmentality thesis, however, rejects the idea of a sharp dichotomy as all university employees are now ‘self-managing workers’ (McWilliam 2004).

The personal managerial style of the vice-chancellor and line managers determines whether collegial practices, such as regular meeting and consultation, are retained or not. The new VCs have modelled themselves on company CEOs,1 and commonly add the title, ‘President’ to that of VC, in order to enhance their managerial status. The retention of academic interests by these élite managers is regarded as exceptional:

We are lucky our next VC is a full-time academic and he said that he is going to remain an academic. He is going to be head of department and a very active academic, so we are really pleased about that. He is not a managerial type.

(Dean, male, NZ)

Michael Power notes the gulf that has ‘opened up between poorly rewarded “doing” and highly rewarded “observing”’ (Power 1997: 147). Not only are senior managers, the watchers in the tower, rewarded handsomely in financial terms, the title of ‘professor’ may be conferred on those who manage in order to symbolise their enhanced status, regardless of the lack of scholarly merit. This reversal in status signifies the way managerialism has become imbricated with the vacuous notion of excellence now in the ascendancy (Readings 1996). Intellectual brilliance, unorthodox ideas or questioning are not appreciated on the part of the ‘managed’; docility, flattery and conformity are preferred. As Karl Jaspers percipiently observed, the gift of preferment lies in the hands of managers of corporatised institutions, for ‘they are tempted by the feel of power, by the craving for recognition and gratitude’ (Jaspers [1923] 1960: 137). The arbitrariness of the reward system thereby becomes another technology of disciplinary power. Hence, it is unsurprising that the majority of academics regard the nature of interactions with administrators as having changed for the worse (Anderson et al. 2002: 50–51).


The impact of managerialism upon the disciplines is clearly apparent in the case of mega-faculties where a cluster of disciplines, which are not necessarily cognate, are assigned to the one faculty as a single budgetary unit. Executive deans, colloquially known as ‘mega-deans’ or ‘super deans’, may have expertise in one of the disciplinary areas in the cluster but many are endowed with the power to make academic as well as managerial judgements about the full range of disciplines within the faculty. The mega-dean may initially take advice but, because consultation no longer comports with top-down managerialism, [he] (as is usually the case) is likely to be anxious to assert [his] authority and may resent being challenged by those with specialised knowledge. [He] is likely to favour an applied and vocational approach which better comports with [his] mandate to cut costs and generate income. Thus, in accordance with Polanyi’s insight, managerialism subtly plays a role in blanching legal scholarship of its critical and creative edge, while promoting that deemed to be economically rational and instrumental.

Gillian Evans refers to the ‘rise of mediocrity’ in the university, where leadership positions emerge from a culture committed to an unthinking conformity (Evans 2002: 35–36). I suggest that the role of the mega-dean within a mega-faculty is a graphic manifestation of this proposition. The head of a law school that has retained faculty status is generally better able to defend the interests of the discipline in a way no longer possible for a constituent of a mega-faculty. The mega-faculty model is typical of new universities, the former colleges of advanced education (CAEs) and polytechnics, but has become widespread in middle-ranked institutions, as well as élite institutions that have fallen on hard times.

Mega-faculties were a product of the corporatisation of universities following the end of the binary system in Australia and the UK. It was believed that schools needed to be professionally managed and amalgamations would lead to cost savings. Somewhat cynically, it was suggested that VCs were more comfortable with a small number of hand-picked executive deans sitting around a table than a disparate group of elected heads who saw themselves as advocates for their disciplines and accountable to their schools. Many law schools lost faculty status by virtue of size when bigger was regarded as better. Unsurprisingly, amalgamations and takeovers, referred to euphemistically as ‘organisational change’, have been strongly resisted:

Because of the emphasis on community, we were able to draw support from distinguished alumni who wrote influential letters to the VC about what a silly idea this was and there was a lot of lobbying of members of Council which, looking back, was a huge waste of everybody’s time. I remember thinking at the time what an effort you have to put into the deanship just to stand still and avoid going backwards so that a whole year was written off in terms of forward planning and strategic thinking and just trying to hold our position.

(Prof and Dean, male, Redbrick, Aus)

For the most part, however, resistance has been unsuccessful and strategies such as bypassing consultation, appointing external consultants and marginalising dissidents, have been invoked to force change from above (e.g., Van Rhyn and Holloway 2004; Boehringer 1999).

The organisational model of mega-faculties (also known as schools, colleges or clusters) is reflective of the CAE, polytechnic and Technical and Further Education (TAFE) sector, where large numbers of students are processed and taught according to standardised templates, with scant regard for disciplinary distinctiveness, and where the focus is on applied knowledge. The absorption of many ‘superannuated senior people who were managers who didn’t teach or research’ facilitated NPM. The ‘light touch’ of regulation that typified law faculties up to the early 1990s gave way to increasing intervention and micro-management.

The creation of the mega-faculty reflected the trend to amalgamate universities and colleges following the end of the binary system. In the interests of economic rationality, disparate institutions were merged and ‘taken over’, although the outcome for the identity and traditions of the respective institutions was not necessarily favourable (e.g., Boehringer 1999; Marginson 1996; Mahony 1993). Cost savings also proved to be illusory with the creation of additional and ever-expanding layers of bureaucracy. NPM with its unremitting demands for accountability and transparency has resulted in new layers of bureaucracy at the school level:

It is clearly evident that a great deal of work that would have been done by dedicated administrative staff has now been dumped on academics. The restructuring was designed to free academic staff, so they claimed (and they didn’t exactly tell the truth), from unnecessary administrative work and allow them to devote more time to teaching and research … The new Pro-Vice-Chancellor has multiplied the number of administrative positions within the law school so that, last year, there was a dean, a head of school, a deputy head of school, a course convener and, now, an associate dean (teaching and learning) and an associate dean (research). We have several research centres within the school as well, but even for staff who don’t hold an official position, I would estimate that, over the last five years, the administrative load has come close to doubling.

(Prof and former HoS, fem, Generation3, Aus)

Unsurprisingly, law schools chafe under the decision of university administrations to devolve responsibility while retaining power at the top. The moves to standardise and erase the cultural differences of the law discipline are particularly resented:

We have lost autonomy and we certainly had that autonomy ten years ago. Restructuring introduced a number of pressures, one of which is the desire to have uniform entrance and experiences for all students, a quest that I regard as absurd – that a student in politics is treated the same as a student in law, or the same as a student in physiology or medicine or dentistry. That is a strong driver which comes not from the university but higher education funding and its priorities. Now that we have the new structure, we are being told that we must have faculty-wide policies instead of procedures that just govern law. They must govern all students in the faculty, whatever they’re doing, and this inevitably causes academic clashes of culture.

(HoS, male, Redbrick, UK)

As has been pointed out by schools that have successfully opposed amalgamation, the claims to greater efficiency are usually spurious. Apart from the false economy of mega-faculties, law schools feel particularly aggrieved about the imperative in favour of standardisation which constrains every aspect of academic life, including cross-disciplinary templates of curricular aims, length of essays and the way Honours results are computed. Even the specialised needs of the law discipline, such as a law library and a dedicated librarian, have been rejected on the grounds that acceding to the request would cause music, chemistry and English to want the same.

While no university law faculty could claim to be truly autonomous, my research has shown that law schools which held onto faculty status, rather than become a constituent school or department within a faculty, have generally been able to retain a greater sense of cultural distinctiveness, as well as to resist the more debilitating effects of corporatism:

Our Vice-Chancellor is committed to us not having a merger between law and anybody else, even if we wanted it, which means that we have got a much higher profile in the place. Commerce, of course, would want to swallow us and take us tomorrow, but we still have our nine faculties and that’s critical for collegiality because, as soon as you have got a super-faculty, you end up with another level; then, you’ve got the pro-vice-chancellors, super deans and then the deans. Whereas here, the deans report to the pro-vice-chancellor for research, academic promotions, budgets and all that sort of stuff. If I’ve got a problem, I just bring the Vice-Chancellor in and have a meeting and that’s important for the law school.

(AsDean, male, Generation3, Aus)

The fact that Canadian law schools have been able to retain disciplinary autonomy by safeguarding their faculty status may be one of the reasons that they are comparatively better off. While subject to the familiar budgetary constraints entailing pressure to take more students, raise fees, increase donations and so on, Canadian law schools manage their own admissions, hiring, curricula and course offerings. Although a law faculty is usually a very small budgetary unit compared with other faculties, its distinctiveness is prized: ‘We are a sort of add-on, but we don’t mind; independence and autonomy are best’ (Snr Lecturer, fem, NZ). Once universities set about restructuring the academic units of the university into a small number of faculties or colleges, law tended to be the odd one out. Sometimes, characterised as a humanity, sometimes as a social science, law is also a professional school, so it does not fit easily into a mega-faculty:

If we were going to go anywhere, I said, ‘Let’s go to Education, because they have a shared sense of values and approach to pedagogy … whereas if the VC had his way, he would put us into Management’. I asked him directly why he wanted to do that and he said, ‘Well, you are going to ultimately end up as part of multi-disciplinary firms’. I said, ‘Well, all the more reason why lawyers need to understand themselves to be autonomous ethical professionals, not just cogs in the corporate machine. Law schools need to create a culture in which the lawyer self-identifies with this ethical and autonomous being that is able to make decisions based on ethical judgement, not another part of the command structure of line management’.

(Prof, male, Generation3, Aus)

Law’s amalgamation with business, economics, commerce or management has been deemed to be the best fit by university administrators, albeit typically opposed by academics, and sometimes students as well (Boehringer 1999). Administrators perceive the primary role of law to be one of attracting high-fee students to be trained for the facilitation of business. Hence, a particular kind of interdisciplinarity is fostered. Inevitably, the effect of subsuming a liberal law school within a cluster of ‘enterprise professions’ not known for their liberal approach to education weakens the law discipline and hastens the end of critical legal education (Boehringer 1999: 32).

Occasionally, a law school has successfully opposed a law/business amalgamation on the basis that the business culture is antipathetic to its distinctive identity in terms of social justice or public responsibility:

Originally, some of the staff were working in the School of Business … and they wanted to get out of there as they didn’t like the culture and climate so they decided to create the law school … When our Vice-Chancellor came on board … I said to him, ‘When you restructure, as you undoubtedly will, don’t try and put us in with Business or Tourism, because, if you do, you will meet with 100 per cent opposition,’ and [a colleague] said, ‘Yes, we are into social justice … ’ So we got in with Humanities.

(AsPro, fem, New, Aus)

Waikato Law School successfully opposed an amalgamation with Management, but had to institute litigation with the assistance of the Staff Association, a professor of Maori Studies and the Dean of Law.2 The distinctive founding goals of the university included critique, interdisciplinarity and biculturalism, and it was felt that these goals would be jeopardised by amalgamation. The Vice-Chancellor initially sought to argue that the restructuring was an administrative not an academic matter, but conceded that moving Law into a School of Law and Management did possess an academic rationale: ‘It rests, he said, on a view that “law” is moving in the direction of the kinds of matters which are taught in management schools [my italics]’. The legal basis for the action was procedural in that the VC had failed to consult with staff in accordance with the legislation and the university regulations. The judge in the case, himself a former law school dean, accepted that the merger could not occur without regard to the specified process, that is, the VC could not reduce the number of schools from seven to four without input from the academic board.

The sub-text of the Waikato case is noteworthy, for it was suggested by one of my New Zealand interviewees that the restructuring was animated by a neo-conservative attack on progressive and critical developments in law, particularly in terms of race and gender. Thus, while the restructuring purported to be concerned with efficiency and economic rationality, the indirect effect was to eviscerate progressive developments in the teaching of law. The VC’s statement, which emphasised the homology between the disciplines of management and law, is especially significant in pointing to the change of direction.

The rationale for amalgamation may also suggest a much cruder Realpolitik within the university, such as ‘a battle of male egos and who is boss and who isn’t’ (Prof, male, New, Aus). Hence, a unit may be swallowed up by another unit overnight because a VC does not care for its head. Top-down managerialism may then be involved in authorising acts that are motivated for no other reason than the ‘feel of power’.

Autonomy for any discipline is highly contested within the corporatised university, but budgetary control is crucial for even a modicum of independence:

The role of the dean here has changed quite significantly over the last ten years. In 1994, they appointed the first executive dean; prior to that it had been a rotating position around the professors and most decisions were made by central university committee. The executive dean was supposed to have significant devolved responsibility and control, but they created the position and the title without devolving responsibility and control. When I was appointed as executive dean, I also had direct budgetary and human resources responsibility so that devolved in a way that wasn’t conceivable ten years ago. That’s quite a marked shift.

(Dean, male, NZ)

The lack of control over even a modest budget diminishes the independence of a law school. Deans were particularly resentful of having to make a reasoned case for each item of expenditure:

It got to the stage where if I wanted to put on a casual administrative staff member for just a couple of days to clear up a backlog, I had to go to my Executive Dean who said, ‘Can you put that in writing?’ It was for a very small amount of money. I felt like taking it out of my wallet … I can’t see what role he has got other than to frustrate me.

(Snr Lecturer and HoS, male, New, Aus)

Another dean described the humiliation in begging for trivial sums: ‘It’s a bit like waiting to get your pocket money from Mum’.

(Dean, fem, Generation3, Aus)

A mega-faculty heightens competition between schools, which hardly contributes to cooperation at a time of contracting resources. One law dean inherited a huge deficit when the other disciplines in his faculty voted to reduce the law school budget by a third in one fell swoop and the executive dean declined to resolve the problem. The law dean felt that he had been completely disenfranchised.

Legal academics in mega-faculties with a non-law dean feel that their interests are inadequately protected, particularly when agreements are effected with the central administration. Some schools have been subjected to the depredations of successive executive deans who, according to one assessment, were ‘either ineffectual or created havoc’, partly because they had no understanding of how to manage the law discipline’s dual obligations to the profession and the academy. The executive deanship is also perceived to be removed from the coalface:

I can see why universities want to have that kind of management structure and I can see why they see certain benefits but, in my view, the old method of senior members of staff each taking their turn as dean or head of department for a period of three years had much to commend it. It meant that everybody knew what it was like to run a department. They knew the constraints under which they were operating and how difficult it was sometimes to deal with staffing, budgetary issues, making sure that you had an adequate syllabus and it also acted as a constraint on what heads of department might have done, because they knew that they would have to go back to the trenches once their time was over.

(Dean, male, NZ)

Mega-faculties also give rise to complaints about more committees, mission statements and action plans, as well as the way money is drawn away from core activities to sustain a layer of bureaucracy that is perceived to be more obstructive than facilitative. Some schools have been subjected to the dislocation of restructuring on several occasions, coupling and uncoupling with a range of partners, with nothing to show for the experience but a sizeable deficit. After a decade or so, some universities have done away with executive deans altogether, as well as the entire layer of bureaucracy accompanying them because of their propensity to draw money away from the discipline for little return:

If the faculty wanted anything you weren’t allowed to go directly to the people at the top, you had to go to the executive dean and then they had to go to the top, so there was this sort of middle layer that slowed everything down. Now, the current regime is sort of beneficial to the law school in a sense because that middle regime has been wiped out and so we are back to the position we were 15 years ago where there’s the faculty and the dean, and there’s direct connection with the people at the top.

(AsPro, male, Sandstone, Aus)

Maybe the point is obvious, but the greater the degree of autonomy of a law school, the greater the degree of satisfaction of staff, despite the ravages induced by budget cuts. Most resented is a remote and depersonalised administration that makes decisions in the absence of consultation and without regard to the norms of the discipline:

The reality is that key decisions are made centrally which badly damage standards and badly damage quality. Everyone in the school feels strongly about that. Some years ago, prerequisites were abolished unilaterally and one has to fight very hard to establish even minimal prerequisites for a subject … First Year Arts students with a TER (Tertiary Entrance Rank) of 60 were getting into final year law subjects when students had to have a TER of about 90 to get into law.

(AsPro, male, New, Aus)

The remote model of governance in this particular university underscores how far corporatisation has shifted from the model that prevailed 10 or 20 years ago when the law dean sat around a table with other deans and the VC to discuss policy. The law dean today typically finds that he or she no longer has a place at the table.

Occasionally, amalgamations have been perceived to be advantageous to co-disciplines because of the relative prestige of law: ‘Morale is generally high because we are part of a Faculty of Economics, Business and Law and we are seen as the golden child. We get more money and we get more praise’ (Lecturer, fem, Redbrick, Aus). The humanities and social sciences are generally more tolerant of difference as they are accustomed to heterogeneous disciplinary clusters. These disciplines remain closest to the Newmanite model of the idea of the university, often evincing a healthy scepticism towards corporatisation and audit, albeit not averse to an entrepreneurial law school as a faculty constituent: ‘Ours is a combination of Law, Social Science and Languages. Law is quite commercially successful and so we were put together with the others because, to some extent, they are not commercially successful and we end up cross-subsidizing them’ (Prof, male, New, UK). A number of the new law schools grew out of earlier incarnations of legal studies programmes, located in Arts, social sciences or business, which shaped their faculty location and philosophical orientation.

In contrast, a commercial specialism, coupled with a predilection in favour of applied market-oriented knowledge, has clinched the direction of new schools that have grown out of business studies:

Because you get a more concentrated expertise, all the students are enroled in three or four electives, as opposed to eight or nine or ten potential choices a year, and you get: ‘I can go and work in a law firm and I haven’t got the slightest idea what social justice is’.

(Prof, male, Generation3, Aus)

Business schools in colleges and polytechnics, with their large student intakes and preference for standardisation, established a template for the teaching of law as business, with little space for the prudential:

I think there has been a dangerous trend of law schools and law faculties being subsumed within business faculties that speaks of a shallow and narrow view of what law is about. Business schools like to have law schools with them because they think it looks good, but with it comes the assumption that law is just an adjunct to business … It certainly loses any concept of justice, any critical study of the common law, jurisprudence, philosophy, social context and all the engagement that law has with society.

(Lecturer, male, Generation3, Aus)

Universities believed that it would be economical to graft a new law programme onto what already existed in the hope that it would obviate the need to employ new staff or expend money on library resources. The shortage of qualified staff and absence of sound infrastructure meant that a number of new universities found that they were floundering once the cuts began, for there was no fat that could be trimmed. They could not afford to appoint other than a skeletal staff, often casuals from the ranks of local practitioners. In these new institutions, staff had to develop programmes on a shoestring, which meant sacrificing their own careers and research interests as their school perpetually reinvented itself in an endeavour to maintain an edge in the market:

The Dean was always saying to us, ‘It’s hard now; we are getting it up and running, but soon it’s going to settle down and then you will have time for research … ’ Originally, we developed a paralegal programme; then the LLB and then, within the next year or so, we started going external, writing up the courses for external delivery, but just in print form. Then we turned our 2-year associate degree in paralegal studies into a 3-year Bachelor of Legal and Justice Studies. Then, we started going online with that programme … and producing our own videos for a time. We didn’t have money for actors or for studios, so it was all done by staff … So every year, there has been something new; it seems that we never stopped … Then X came and discovered postgraduate things so the School has got a lot more postgraduates in now. Last year, we started going external, online with our LLB so you can be anywhere in cyberspace … and then we have got our summer school initiative where we brought in 87 students … and we took on all the administration ourselves.

(AsPro, fem, New, Aus)

Law Deans as Subalterns

Academics have had to assume substantial managerial roles in the new environment where the scarcity of resources is endemic. Some have enjoyed the status and power that accompanies a leadership position, particularly if they have adequate support staff. They felt that the position afforded them an opportunity to be change agents and make their mark on the direction of the school, and possibly also because they felt it was important to take a stance to avoid ‘an MBA type being imposed on us’. Others felt dragooned into the position; they had been told that it was their ‘turn’ and they had to pull their weight for the good of the school.

Despite the transformation of the role that corporatisation has brought with it, most deans continue to think of themselves primarily as academics rather than as managers: ‘I think I’m an academic who’s taken on management responsibilities’ (AsDean and HoS, female, Redbrick, Aus). It is a constant source of frustration to have been appointed to a chair by virtue of one’s academic credentials and then not have time to be an academic.

The effect of trying to keep up with research, maintain teaching commitments and deal with full-time administration results in overwork and stress. As managers replace academics in the esteem stakes, this tension is increasingly being resolved by academic deans reinventing themselves as managers. They slough off the teaching first, but usually to try to hold onto the last vestiges of research as long as they can. However, they would seem to be fighting a losing battle as managerialism is in the ascendancy. Academic credentials are desirable for the purposes of credibility, but they no longer have very much to do with what a dean actually does:

In many ways, one’s success or failure as a dean is measured by one’s ability to advance the position of the school and that means, first of all, seeking to find additional resources, but that is only part of it. One’s role is also how to enhance the reputation of the school relative to other schools and that involves recruiting, trying to recruit the best faculty; it involves seeking out the best students; it involves strategic plans for the school.

(Dean, male, Can)

Some deans still try to be all things to all people. One dean whose faculty had more than 3,000 students made his home telephone available to them. This dean also had a glass panel at the front of his office so that anyone could see whether he was in or not – and whether he might have been napping! He took the view that he had to lead by example by making himself available day and night. Others were of the view that the head was a role model in respect of specific areas, such as research, especially where an endeavour was being made to change behaviour. Whatever successes a dean achieves as a manager, the loss of academic fulfilment may still rankle:

I saw myself very much as an academic researcher who dabbled in management, but didn’t mind doing it. I came here and administrative things kind of took over and one thing led to another. Apart from a short stint away, I haven’t done any serious work at all and I actually feel that one whole side of me has been completely wasted here. I personally feel sometimes that I’ve sold out and done the wrong thing.

(Prof and Dean, male, Generation3, Aus)

Deans are likely to be supported by an associate dean or head of school in order to allow them greater focus on strategic work, such as enhancing the school’s standing in the community. The second-in-command is then responsible for internal matters, such as staffing, teaching allocations, student welfare and so on. However, in small law schools, deans may be expected to undertake the decanal role in addition to a full complement of teaching. If the school has the power to determine the job description, deans themselves are likely to reduce their teaching, although some, motivated by a strong sense of altruism, may want to maintain a connection with students, as well as ‘save’ endangered subjects.

Despite the managerial/academic tension, it is the dean’s position as subaltern that represents the greatest source of tension. This means that deans find themselves wedged between senior management, on the one hand, and their colleagues, on the other, where it is impossible to satisfy the contradictory prescripts:

It’s a very difficult role and you’re caught in between. You’ve got two masters: you’ve got the faculty and staff and you’ve got the university. You can’t win really, so some of the staff would say, ‘Oh, he’s just a stooge of the university – an instrument that does the Vice-Chancellor’s Advisory Committee’s bidding’. I suppose there’s an element of truth in that.

(Prof and Dean, male, Generation3, Aus)

Corporatisation is the response to the dictates of government, which the university is compelled to uphold lest funding be withheld, whereas collegiality necessitates defending the traditional academic norms associated with the discipline:

I have tried to resist it but you can see the pressure has come on because, if universities want funding, they feel that if they ignore government direction, they won’t get funding. The whole thing about universities is that education is to do with critical conscience but it’s hard to deal with critical conscience if they won’t take their claws out of the agenda. The government funds you to be independent and may even fund you to say things which are totally against what the government is doing, but there is pressure in this country. [Interviewee recounts an example of government interference.] Senior management admitted it didn’t agree with it but they felt that if they didn’t do it they would lose out on government funding … It’s meant that academics have to be on their toes all the time to try and resist because if you keep going down that track, the whole purpose of the university will be redundant. If it will be just a government agency that does what government wants and gives it the conclusion it wants to hear, why bother doing your research?

(Dean, male, NZ)

The trend towards appointment rather than election of law deans supports the corporatist notion that they are the creatures of management and a separate class. High salaries, performance pay, a car and other perquisites, secured by a certified agreement, set them forever apart from their one time colleagues and lock them into the middle echelons of the university hierarchy. The ability to resist is more difficult when one’s position is contingent on the good graces of management:

There are two ways you can look at it as a dean. You can be involved with the senior management of the university or you can be involved as a senior academic in the department and I see that as the most important part of my job. Once you get caught up in management, you actually lose your faculty … because deans get more and more demands at the senior university level … My main function must be around here, otherwise what is the point of having a dean? Of all the [deans] I deal with, none of them are actively teaching and doing research, so they have a different mindset and see it in management terms … I am primarily an academic. I am not the dean because I wanted to be. They asked me to do it and I enjoy doing it; it is a privilege, but I see so many who have been pulled out of their academic roles into full-time managers and that is just crazy. That is not what they are good at anyway … What universities need is people with courage to work with people and protect their time. They don’t need to be treated as factory units where they have to be looked over all the time.

(Dean, male, NZ)

Compliance by deans with the value system of management may be ensured by contract, the continuance of which is contingent on enhanced faculty productivity and cost-savings. It is then the dean’s responsibility to make sure that everyone performs. Moral suasion and gentle prodding are familiar, but the constraints of neoliberalism can give way to a harsher managerial style. The phenomenon of the professor who ran [his or her] department like a personal fiefdom might be thought to be a thing of the past, but corporatisation has legitimised bullying behaviour. Top-down managerialism, coupled with the pressure to ensure that academics are ever more productive, has made it difficult to distinguish between legitimate managerial behaviour and corrosive leadership (Thornton 2004a). The effect on staff can be catastrophic:

I think it’s very important, and this really comes out of great personal suffering in the last institution I was at, for universities to pay attention to what staff say about the management … That whole experience really made me a very much more cynical person than I’ve ever been before – a person who begged for help and never got it.

(Snr Lecturer, male, New, Aus)

Private sector management, the original source of NPM, resulted in trenchant critiques of forms of top-down managerialism which, unsurprisingly, are deemed to be less conducive to productivity (Wilkinson and Willmott 1996). While new paradigms of employee participation have been developed, they too have been criticised for amounting to little more ‘than the recreation of functionalist goals’ (Collins 1996). The Strategic Employee Communication Model, which appears to bear a remarkable resemblance to the collegial model that was formerly the norm in universities, is extolled as the most effective means of achieving change according to the best practice of Fortune 500 companies (Barrett 2002).

Despite these findings, the corporatised top-down approach has replaced, or diluted, collegial practices within law schools everywhere. Because of the pressure to do more with less, underpinned by a culture of audit and surveillance, the transformation has been accepted in the name of productivity and efficiency. Once in a position of authority, a dean may assume the persona of the stereotypical line manager who is ‘tempted by the feel of power’ (Jaspers 1960: 137):

There’s a pure patronage system here where every appointment is made by the dean. I think collegiality has been destroyed; I can’t see any element of it. I don’t know who works in the building. They leave or resign and you come in one day and the name on the door has changed and you don’t know what’s happened to the person. It’s a system of patronage plus bullying; patronage at the top and bullying at the bottom. It’s probably best to be somewhere in the middle because people almost become non-persons.

(AsPro, male, Sandstone, Aus)