From Frustrated Observer

UWS School of Business academic, Dr Thomas Klikauer, has just had his book titled “Managerialism: A Critique of an Ideology” published by Palgrave Macmillan. In 353 pages the author presents an exhaustive and wide-ranging indictment of modern management techniques and culture. The book is dedicated to the “victims of Managerialism” and in the Acknowledgments the author is “grateful to those at UWS who shielded me from the worst excesses of Managerialism”. He notes that the main features of Managerialism “are unremitting organisational restructuring, sharpening of incentives, and expansion in number, power, and remuneration of senior managers, with a corresponding downgrading of the role of skilled workers. This is accompanied by the trilogy of ‘downsizing-rightsizing-suicising’”.  Dissent is quashed under the pretext of Management’s TINA – there is no alternative. Corporate psychopaths act through ‘management by fear’. Managerialism ‘standardises everything’ and perpetuates drudgery, bullying and repression on individuals leading to anxiety and depression and feelings of injustice.


One might speculate that the author’s 17 years at UWS has provided rich source material for his understanding of Managerialism. Indeed the book makes ample references to university life, workload agreements, the abolition of departments and courses, and endless bureaucratic compliance requirements. In institutions of higher education decision-making has been transferred from a consensual and collegial community of scholars to professional managers. We might note that the majority of the UWS Executive members are now non-academics. 


The last seventeen years of Managerialism at UWS would be interesting to document but let us restrict our focus to the last five or so years and the experiences of business academics. There used to be a very viable business program at Blacktown campus with thousands of students and ample space and free parking.  Then it was announced in mid-2007 that the university would be closing the campus. Staff and students were to be transferred to an already over-crowded Parramatta campus, which one report called “A Campus in Crisis”. Later senior management changed its mind and decided to retain the campus, refurbish buildings and expand programs but there was no reprieve for Business – they still had to leave. In mid-2010 senior management decided to introduce Business programs on the Bankstown campus. Staff were less than enthusiastic, citing concerns about the cannibalisation of our Campbelltown enrolment. Several years later the enrolment in Bankstown is still meagre, especially beyond first year, but Campbelltown enrolment has correspondingly declined and programs were cut and others at threat on that campus.  


What has followed since has been an orchestrated down-sizing of Business at UWS. Business used to be one of three Colleges at UWS and 5 of its 16 Schools. The College structure was abolished and 4 of the business schools were merged into one of the now 9 Schools. Thirty academics were made redundant (voluntary or involuntary) with degrees, courses, majors and units abolished. The new programs are far less attractive to staff and students.


Policy reversals abound. Business post-graduate programs used to be off-campus. Then it was decided to concentrate them all on Parramatta campus. From 2014 they are all off-campus again. All Professional staff were moved out of building ED in late 2011 only to return in mid-2013. Research funding was virtually zero in 2012 but the taps have been turned on again from mid-2013. The ‘feast and famine’ approach to financial forecasting is an eye-opener. One minute the VC sends out an email frightening staff that UWS is going bankrupt and that funding shortfalls call for extensive belt-tightening. Next we hear that UWS has run a record operating surplus in the same year.


It is not surprising that morale in Business is so low and that much of the good-will has dissipated. Staff are continually pestered by quality assurance and blended learning officers, and enmeshed in endless form-filling, while the coal-face professional staff so essential to quality learning outcomes have been drastically pruned. Moreover, Business was the only School singled out to move to trimesters, although there are plans to extend this to all Schools eventually, despite the vast majority of academic staff apposing this move. There are even rumours that UWS College might take over the first year Business core units which could only lead to further down-sizing and redundancies.


Needless to say, those at Wollongong, Macquarie and UNE are shedding crocodile tears at our predicament and poised to take full advantage.