Ferdinand von Prondzynski has sparked a lively debate on his blog here and here which I have enjoyed following. The crux of the matter is whether academic life and its intellectual pursuits are being eroded by the managers who wish to ensure that academics can justify how they spend their time. Is it really the case, as some seem to suggest, that the 'bean counters' have taken over the establishment and have imposed an unprecedented system of accountability and control which has destroyed the capability of academics to pursue knowledge autonomously?
While Ferdinand points to the important work of Mary Henkel on autonomy and accountability, there is a more recent article by Louise Archer in the Journal of Education Policy which sheds light on the different perspectives between generations of academics. Titled 'The new neoliberal subject?', she interviewed younger academics who started their careers in UK universities where, as we know, the neoliberal agenda has become fully entrenched (unlike in Ireland, where it seems to be creeping in quite tentatively in comparison). Archer suggests that younger academics understand the 'game' they are meant to play, and even enjoy certain aspects of it. They are also able to remain critical of those aspects of managerialism which can damage morale and which they find pernicious. Archer remains cautiously positive that enough spaces for critical resistance are possible so that academics can negotiate the contradictions of 'doing neoliberalism' without 'becoming neoliberal' in the process.
An older generation of academics managed to escape these contraditions and it is understandable why many of them lament the changes. But it seems important to point out that for new academics, the rules have changed and therefore the challenges are different.
Louise Archer (2008) The new neoliberal subjects? Journal of Education Policy 23(3).