Sunday, 23 November 2014

If Managerialism is the Condition, is Open and Agile Practice the Cure?

In this post I pick up on Stephen Rowe's logic regarding the nature and negative impact of Managerialism on the university. Highlighting points of divergence with Rowe, while striving for similar outcomes, I propose open and agile practice as an alternative to the reductionist and hierarchical assumptions of traditional strategic planning.
...managerialism is a major factor in struggles 
over the shape and substance of education today,
and one that is not friendly to education as the 
cultivation of the kinds of human beings we so urgently need.


Distributed under Fair Usa
Liberal Education
Summer 2014,
Vol. 100, No. 3 
 Fair Use
I am going to take a few minutes (words) to review a recently published article by Stephen Rowe titled Standing up to Managerialism, which appeared in the most recent issue of Liberal Education (Summer 2014, Vol. 100, No. 3). Basically Rowe provides a framework to help interpret the reasons for the rise of Managerialism in the contemporary university, the negative impacts of Managerialism, and some approaches that might rectify or at least mitigate the negative impact of Managerialism on the university.

Rowe describes an environment that makes it very easy for universities to adopt market rationality as the guiding principle for organisation. He points to the fear and ambiguity generated though reduced public confidence in higher education, economic uncertainty, and reduced funding as fertile ground for managerialism to take root and grow. Furthermore, he couples these factors with the catalysing effect of computing technology, and the progress of neoliberal economic assumptions that have defined public policy for the better part of 4 decades. He touches quickly and succinctly on a number of cultural developments that are well-treated in related literature including the move from a cultural of collegiality to codification of norms and practices for decision-making, de-professionalization of teachers and teaching as an art, and the bundle of behaviours, assumptions,  and attitudes that we general refer to as the corporatization. Rowe chooses to draw his rationale from the notions of a) market rationalization, b) Nihilism, and c) an impulse to “start over” from a ”new beginning” ignoring history and what we can learn from it. I believe that his point is that through these three features we over simplify our approach to university purpose and life, which creates a vacuum in which reflective and critical practice is virtually impossible. It may be worth noting that many of features described by Rowe were observed in the mid-1980 by Giamatti and included in an earlier posting titled Ruminations on University Presidency: The University's Voice.


Before moving on, I would like to make a minor point referring to Rowe's description of corporatization in terms of behaviour without adequate reference to circumstance. Rowe addresses the “corporatization” of the university,... in terms of  ...indicating admiration and adoption of what are taken to be the standards of business in a free market economy. 

Which I think is true enough, but the commercial behaviour to which Rowe refers is better thought of as the result in many universities, particularly public universities, of being subjected to a regime of public policy that in fact formally and intentionally “corporatizes” public organisations through a the process of transforming public assets with social and civic cause into forms that are like corporations. In the case of universities we have seen this happen through reductions in public funding, incentives that are based on a market logic, and deregulation and enabling-legislation that promote “corporate” activities. These trends progress while funders still maintain expectations that the university operate in the public good. This puts the university in an odd position where it perhaps has adopted the worst of both public and private worlds.

It is my belief that well meaning managers as well as academics will strive toward public goals using corporate language and rationale to make an idea culturally acceptable. For example, it is not uncommon for a critical voice to attack “online learning” as a manifestation of a neoliberal impulse toward commercialisation of the curriculum and more broadly the learning experience. It is my experience that many managers have had to rationalise the development of capacity in online learning in terms of financial return on investment, rather than the more compelling arguments around improved access, bridging between formal and informal learning experiences, and opportunities for the thoughtful emersion into a culture of co-creation and cultural expression, which is frequently characterised as “digital.” I believe that by not referring to the actual process of corporatization and just mentioning some of the behavioural outcomes misses an important part of the story.


Distributed under CC BY-SA 2.5
Planning Representation CC BY-SA 2.5
The really powerful notions in Rowe’s article fall under the section titled Managerialism, which I think deserves a few readings and the opportunity to connect the main points to alternative managerial practice. The thrust of the article is that strategic planning as applied in the rational university is not only ineffective, but culturally septic. First, it is formed on the misplaced logic that planning can be effectively framed in terms of hierarchical relationships in which our professional actions are guided by linear relationships in which decisions about actions are the neat distillates of logical reduction. The real problem is that many strategic planning models disregard the relationships between what we learn through our actions and how they might inform our tactics, goals, objectives, missions, and visions. In effect the richness and any possibility of grounding in reality is stripped away at the same time that the complexity of non-linear systems is simplified out of existence. Strategic planning cannot be managed without the simplifying assumptions, yet we recognise that social systems are inherently complex and relationship driven. That is, the strategic planning myth plays itself out in a managerially driven fa├žade of rationale that is too simple to be effective, while turning in upon itself to achieve an indisputable logical that drives all the way to how and what we teach, how we think about the knowledge we create, the purpose of that knowledge, and the ways that we share the information that is part of our discovery and teaching. Furthermore Rowe associates a command and control orientation flowing from strategic planning that reduces human capacity, creativity, and denies the iterative nature of human development, learning, and the essential purpose of a liberal education. The typical practice of strategic planning assumes that theory in practice will align itself with espoused theory, while espoused theory has little to learn from practice in the short-term.

Once again, this is my take away from the article, which may be significantly different from what others read.

Going back to the point I made above about the nature of corporatisation and the university’s lack of control over its environment, Rowe makes the point that a lot of very good things have come from market rationale and Managerilism, the issue is really about the blind adoption and adherence to a dogma that does not apply universally. As an alternative to reductionist organisational logic, Rowe points to more eastern approaches to organisational life and curricular design and intent, citing the Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education (ACMHE) and the YESplus Program and its “Art of Living” course as viable alternatives to managerialism. I am guessing too that we could turn to some other alternative education colleges and universities for examples.


This is the place where I would take a divergent path from Rowe's, which more directly embraces the challenges that large and complex organisations pose organisational actors. In addition to looking at our assumptions about curriculum in the ways that Rowe does, I would suggest that universities adopt a posture much more connected with open and agile culture and the associated processes that actively acknowledge the iterative nature of planning and doing and the relationships between teachers, students, and researchers and the culture of university life, governance, and management. 

The agility movement has developed in large measure due to the inherent shortcomings of the logic underlying both strategic planning and front-loaded project management, while the openness movement has been a response to the proprietarization of pubic knowledge for the purposes of commercial gain. Assumed or real, the sequestering and closing of rightfully public information reduces the intellectual, creative, and cultural capacity of our organisations and collective commonwealth. Which, by any reasonable interpretation, does significant violence to the purpose of universities in general, but certainly public universities. As it turns out, one could argue that openness is a necessary, but not sufficient precondition for agility. Adoption of open governance, commitment to open educational practice, and use of agile methods embedded in a principled organisation, can reduce the negative impact of managerialism and the cultish adherence to reductionist and hierarchical strategic planning. 

As it seems unlikely that we will be able to unwind the corportisation of public assets, institutions, and culture in most developed economies, we need to think about how we can adapt our approaches to "managing" the enterprise. We naturally adopted the tools associated with a market rationale perhaps best suited for the manufacture of tangible goods produced through mechanical and easily reduced processes. We in the university have a different set of circumstances and purpose. Of course we must remain economically viable, pay our staff, pay our bills, and operate with a net positive cash flow, we must also operate within the law, observe critical compliance, and be accountable to those who depend on us, but we cannot confuse these givens for our purpose. 

The iterative nature of agile methods when coupled with the assumptions of simplicity and emergence is catalysed by open access, because openness reduces costs of creating new knowledge, exchanging information, building ideas, and teaching. The university should serve as a place where the habit of drawing on practice and theory to promote reflective and critical community norms is in fact expected, practiced, taught, and lived. And open educational practice achieved through agile management is a viable alternative to managerialism and strategic planning. Ultimately it is these types of alternative power relationships that will allow university educators along with its students the freedom to cultivate the kinds of human beings we so urgently need. Open and agile practice can happen in small steps allowing for the evolutionary nature of authentic culture development. Although it will take courage, active participation, and humility, under the current conditions in which universities operate, open and agile practice might be the most practical and effective means of standing up to managerialism in ways that respect and reclaim some of the traditional values of the academy.


Standing up to Managerialism

Liberal Education              

Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education

YESplus Program

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Liberalizing the Corporate University

This posting is an edited text of the Residential Colleges Professorial Lecture I delivered at the University of Southern Queensland on August 6, 2014. For which, I was flattered to be asked. The lecture was intend to describe the nature of the corporatized university and the impact on traditional university values including the rights and responsibilities conferred through academic freedom. The central point of the lecture was that openness is perhaps the best means of recapturing the liberal nature of university values in part because the openness agenda has developed within the context of neoliberal economics as a counter-balance to the self-censorship adopted and imposed by many universities and scholars.

My apologies for the length of this posting, but it did not seem to make sense to break it into smaller separate postings.  I would like to thank and acknowledge all of those in the Residential Colleges who provided me the opportunity to deliver this lecture. This includes the significant number of students who patiently listened in full academic regalia, and who subsequently asked a number of excellent, insightful, and challenging questions.

The following is the edited text included in the lecture...

Chancellor, Vice Chancellor, Members of the University Council, members of the vice chancellor’s committee, distinguished guests, good colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, and perhaps most importantly USQ teachers and students. I am very pleased to be here this evening to deliver the 2014 Residential Colleges Professorial Lecture.

During the next 40 to 50 minutes I will take some time to talk about the nature and changing nature of the university, its purposes, what it is, has been, and is becoming.  Hopefully creating some interest in discussing these topics.

You may expect, based on the title of this lecture, I will talk a bit about higher education. Although some of the references used in this lecture are from the US and Canada, the trends discussed are common to higher education in liberal and distributive democracies with mature market economies. In addition, there is currently a lot of discussion and questioning about public education policy reform in Australia that may lead our higher education down a path taken in the US and Canada three decades ago.

This path has led us to the corporatization of university culture. 

Image of Dean Corrigan, Texas A&M Photo Archive, Fair Use
I am going to start by taking a few minutes to tell a short story to illustrate a point. While engaged in doctoral work at Texas A&M University, I had the very good fortune to work closely with Professor Dean Corrigan. Dean, which incidentally is Professor Corrigan’s first name, had served as dean of three colleges that included education including those at the University of Vermont, the University of Maryland, and Texas A&M University, where I met him. 

He was in many ways an exceptional personality, well liked and effective, in a challenging role that has historically bridged representing the interests of academics in the disciplines with those of university administration. 

I am telling this story because it might sound very quaint and naive now - in fact it almost sounds out of place and irrelevant given the current state and focus of many universities. In retrospect though, it represents a fundamental statement about the nature of the university – its purpose and what it was. 

What follows this story is about what the university has become, why this is so, and how I think that we can restore some balance. 

I had worked as a research associate in a small research centre at Texas A&M University named "Commitment to Education," which Dean founded and led after passing on his role as dean and returning to the faculty. 

One day, while Dean and I were working through a stack of papers he stopped and referred to the seal of the Texas A&M College of Education, and started describing the conversation that ensued as the college faculty designed the seal. 

The seal was fundamentally two hands positioned around a flame. Apparently, as Dean explained it, the seal was the subject of considerable debate while it was being designed, which continued long after the seal was adopted. 

The questions that it raised were whether, education, as represented by the outstretched hands was protecting the flames or whether the hands were being warmed by the flames, which represented truth. 

Dean confided that he always maintain that it was both and this symbolism and interpretation strikes at the civilising role of education and the purpose of the university. 

No place else, was truth more central to an organisation and in no other organisation was the preservation and pursuit of truth more central to purpose. 

And no place else in a society that values truth is there a more important role than that of the university and its commitment to liberal education.

The debate that Dean described had been echoed a thousand times in thousands of universities for hundreds of decades. And through these conversations, influenced by the ascendance of reason and enlightenment, the rise of the nation state, liberal and distributive democracy, industrialization, civil society, and the knowledge economy, the contemporary university has taken shape.

The University carved out its role in society as purveyor of truth, in part as archivist, and transmitter, but perhaps most importantly by preparing at first men and later women to discover the truth, to develop it as knowledge, and to promote it, which has not always been a welcome, popular, or safe role.  

These conversations in universities and the roles that universities have taken, has led to a tension between the need for the university to both remove itself from society for some measure of objectivity, and to embrace its role within society and ensure its relevance.

Mario Savio on Sproul Hall steps, 1966
Author Unknown, CC-BY-SA 3.0
And it is through the purpose of the university and the tensions it creates that its odd structures and its formal governance has developed, but perhaps most importantly, it is through its most serious work, that the notion of academic freedom has taken shape. 


As inferred above, the university is a special place. Although many think about universities as centres of radical politics, this reputation was earned by a handful of politically active scholars during the 30s and 40s and by student activists during a relatively short period of time in the 1960s and 1970s. It is probably more accurately thought of as a place that harbours radical or free thinkers.

Photo by Cindy Laine
Ken Udas in Regalia, Cindy Laine, Fair Use
Take a look at what I am wearing, and think about the procession that you were part of earlier this evening. It is part of a culture that speaks to just how profoundly conservative
universities are as institutions. They are meant to transmit the past and they are built to remember, they are meant to pursue truth and to do so responsibly no matter how unpopular or inconvenient that truth is. 

Part of that responsibility adds to the conservative and deliberative nature of discovery and teaching, which is highly ordered, but by some standards outside of the University, and now perhaps inside the university as well, profoundly inefficient and too patient.


Fundamentally, the university is a place, and perhaps the only place, where by design the questions we ask are more important than the answers we create. We might suggest that this is true for all types of education and perhaps for life more generally, and that I believe would be true.

But we can see that universities have a special love for the questions that is not evident in any other type of organisation. 

For example, we can see this play out in the differences between the structures and rationale for corporate organisations and educational organisations. Although asking questions is an important activity in some corporations, the delivery of answers is generally speaking much more important and, more specifically, the delivery of commercializable answers is paramount. 

After all, it is not questions that directly increase the wealth of equity holders, it is answers with market value that most corporate officers, owners, and governments are after. 

The corporate rationale leads to a rather focused set of questions that are allowed to be asked and a particular approach of getting to them, which tends to be guided by ensuring that the monetary value of new knowledge is maximised. This frequently results in closed discovery processes with limited participation and a relatively narrow field of inquiry filtered by ROI. 

And, I would argue that this is how it should be in corporations. For-profit corporations, operating within the letter and spirit of the law and exercising reasonable ethical discretion, should focus on value generation measured in return on investment to equity holders. 

Like most here, I have a variety of individual and pooled investments in which I expect a reasonable financial return. I also expect these companies to pay taxes on their profits to the government, that reinvests in many things, including public higher education. 

I will note that none of my financial investments are in universities - that is not the purpose of a university, which might be why we intuitively see a conflict in the very notion of a for-profit university, but not in a for-profit training centre delivering for example Microsoft certification, physical training, or auto driving lessons. We think of these types of education as fundamental commercial in nature.

You see, the university, on the other hand historically has a role in which the growth of knowledge and the pursuit of truth, as opposed to profit, are the principal objectives of the questions, the ways that we seek answers, the ways that we disseminate our questions and answers, and how we structure our organisations. 

I depend on universities to ask questions in pursuit of truth, add value through preparing students to engage in the vibrant and critical discussions necessary for a deliberative and liberal democracy, and engage the disciplines and society. For this, I do not turn to Rio Tinto, IBM, Westpac, Apple, Woolworths, Google, or Telstra. 

To further illustrate the differences, think for a moment about the differences between the purposes and ways that for-profit companies engage in executive training and preparation and the purposes and ways that universities prepare professors to teach and research. Think of the values that are promoted, the enculturation into organisational life, and the means through which one is prepared for practice.


If asking questions is an essential value, then we must assume that so is conversation, because asking provocative and important questions is an important part of stimulating engagement and thinking, and conversation is a principal form of engagement. 

I am currently reviewing a collection of writings by Bartlett Giamatti, produced while he served as president of Yale University. For Giamatti the university is conversation. 

It is important to note that he does not choose to define the university as an institution in which conversations happen, or as a place friendly to conversations, or that it is a place that incites conversation – although it clearly has these qualities. Instead, he defines the university as a conversation.

Political Discussion, Emile Friant, Public Domain
This conversation happens over time, between students and teachers, among academics, and between academics and the public. For the conversation to flourish, for scholars to engage, they must be free to behave as academics with rights, and with those rights observance of responsibilities.

Academic inquiry requires the right to pursue lines of inquiry in pursuit of truth and the right to express questions, and disseminate findings under prevailing standards of scholarship. 

Acting always with integrity and occasionally with courage, the academic scholar should never fear loss of employment or discrimination due to asking important and perhaps unpopular questions and disseminating their knowledge. 

This is why the rights and responsibilities associated with academic freedom tend to be tied to tenure. I mention this simply because most members of the public do not understand the nature of tenure and the reasons it exists, while many in popular media are willing to comment negatively while cloaked in their own ignorance.


Academic freedom is an essential construct at the contemporary university that allows the university to pursue truth and remain an embedded part of society. Briefly, academic freedom as expressed through peak professional associations of the “professoriate” in Canada, the United States, Australia, United Kingdom, and New Zealand are aligned on a few important points.
  • Members of the professoriate have rights of free inquiry and expression. There are reciprocal responsibilities one of which is that inquiry and expression rise to the scholarly standards within their disciplines.
  • Professors have the right to free private expression, but if speaking outside of their field of expertise, they need to make that clear and to not misuse the authority of their discipline or the university.
  • The pursuit of truth, and the dissemination of their knowledge, ought to be made in ways that are open and maximise the public good.  And the exercise of these responsibilities should not be curtailed by personal, organizational, or commercial considerations.
Although specific points about academic freedom are further developed in formal statements, it is these points that help ensure that professors are acting within the norms of the discipline and university ensuring that they earn and deserve the trust of their peers and the public.


The notion of what the university is, is also worth talking about, because once again, it is not as clear cut as it is in corporations. 

Ernst Kantorowicz, Public Domain

Courtesy of Frankfort am Main City Library
While making this point, let me tell you a little story and in doing so quote Ernst Kantorowicz, who
in the early 1950's was at the centre of a loyalty oath controversy at the University of California where he served as a full professor. Through this story we can see how the University is perhaps something different from many other organisations. 

Dr. Kantorowicz refused to sign a loyalty oath for at least two general reasons. First, but not foremost, oaths have an insidious way of restraining inquiry and speech. 

Second, although Kantorowicz acknowledged that the State of California had the authority to demand oath signing of its employees, including those in the university, it did not have the authority to ask it of the professoriate. To this second point Kantorowicz asserts that...
There are three professions which are entitled to wear a gown: the judge, the priest, the scholar. This garment stands for its bearer's maturity of mind, his independence of judgment, and his direct responsibility to his conscience and to his God. It signifies the inner sovereignty of those three interrelated professions: they should be the very last to allow themselves to act under duress and yield to pressure.  
It is a shameful and undignified action, it is an affront and a violation of both human sovereignty and professional dignity that the Regents of this University have dared to bully the bearer of this gown into a situation in which--under the pressure of a bewildering economic coercion- he is compelled to give up either his tenure or, together with his freedom of judgment, his human dignity and his responsible sovereignty as a scholar. 
Why is it so absurd to visualize the Supreme Court justices picketing their court, bishops picketing their churches, and professors picketing their university? 
The answer is very simple: because the judges are the Court, the ministers together with the faithful are the Church, and the professors together with the students are the University. Unlike ushers, sextons, and beadles, the judges, ministers, and professors are not Court employees, Church employees, and University employees. They are those institutions themselves, and therefore they have certain prerogative rights to and within their institutions which ushers, sextons, and beadles or janitors do not have.
The point here is that in the university professors and students are fundamentally different from employees working for and contributing to the university, they are the thing itself. They stand outside of the employer-employee relationship, and ultimately it is the thing that must regulate itself. At least at some level, this is to help ensure the objectivity to pursue the truth.


So, now that we have taken a little time to identify some of the special characteristics of universities, we might ask what is the purpose of a university. 

Although Universities need some separation from government, industry, and popular culture to engage in their unique role, the university is part of greater society and must accommodate the changing nature of the society in which it exists. 

There are historic ideals and contemporary realities. It is worth noting that universities rarely lived up to the historic ideals that they aspired to, but the important thing is that they are ideals worth considering and pursuing. 

At the same time, it is equally important to note that most universities are not entirely comfortable with the realities that they are currently facing.  

University of Chicago Theological Seminary
CC-BY-SA 2.0

Growth of Knowledge
The purpose of the university is an elusive topic. It will depend on who you ask and frankly when it is
being considered. In my opinion, the motto of the University of Chicago is a convenient starting point.
Let knowledge grow from more to more, and thus be human life enriched.
Which I think provides a great starting place. First we note that there is a clearly stated objective with only one qualification. The purpose of a university is to grow knowledge and through its growth the university helps to enrich human life. 

I am also left the opportunity to define knowledge, and I would do so quite broadly.  

Knowledge is what we know. As such, it is dynamic, personal, and value laden. It informs our attitudes and includes the ways that we interpret knowledge, information, and data. 

It is through what we know that we develop values, identify with morality, and interpret and make
decisions about our world. In effect, it is through our knowledge that we experience self-knowledge, opening the potential for enlightenment. 

So, in some regard, knowledge cannot be directly transmitted, it can only be discovered, which ties together teaching and research in ways that are fundamental. Research, as we commonly think of it is a set of activities designed to discover new things that can then be known. It is through these discoveries that research results in the growth of knowledge. 

Teaching shares a common ambition to research, but it is not focused externally. Instead the teaching activities are intended to support personal discovery of knowledge that is already known by some, perhaps the teacher. During teaching-acts information may be transmitted and data may be represented, but it is not the knowledge that is transmitted. It is through study that knowledge is developed and the mind renewed. 

In any case, whether through research, teaching, practice, or integration, knowledge can be grown, and from its growth, human life enriched.

And it is here that the notion that a university must participate in both research and teaching becomes obvious. It is the "new discoveries" that keep the public stockpile of knowledge viable and allow for teaching to take place and it is through teaching that new ideas are challenged and evolved through the creativity of learners and teachers.

A new discovery may be made in a laboratory or it may be made in the mind of a solitary scholar reading a book. The fallacy is that research and teaching can be separate activities. That education is the transmission and cataloguing of information. And that the principal purpose of the university is anything other than the pursuit of true. 


Contemporary perspectives of the purposes of a higher education are shifting and have been doing so rather substantively since the 1980s in the US, and perhaps more notably more recently here in Australia.

There has been a clear trend expressed in public higher education policy, public opinion, and the opinion of students, that higher education is more of a private good than a public good and its value is measured by income upon graduation. 

If this is the purpose of the university then our outcomes are maximized personal wealth for our graduates, dollars generated through commercialisation of research discoveries, growth in revenue and profit generated from student enrolments, GDP for the nation, and revenues for the public taxation office. The university is defined and assessed like any other contributor to the national financial wealth value chain.

The discussion, even at a high level, is not about the growth of knowledge for the sake of enriching human life, but to ensure national competitiveness, by providing employability skills, and commercialising our research discoveries.

I am in no way being critical, these are normal responses to current political and environmental conditions, and they do lead us to adopting a posture less like a community of scholars and more like a for-profit company or a government agency. A condition that will be difficult to unwind.


Environment / Conditions
Corporatisation has been a trend with impact much broader than higher education and is part of much broader societal conditions. 

It may be argued that corporatisation of public functions is desirable and that the university's response has generally been acceptable - at least reasonable and expected.  

After all, the university does not stand outside of society, it must respond to its environment.  Some of the conditions that the university has had to respond to include...
  • Historic Reduction in Public Support, leading to increases costs for students, enhanced debt in many cases, and a real need to generate additional income to service debt. But beyond this simple economic logic, when the discussion is almost entirely about higher education's purpose is to lead to financial rewards, there is a natural inclination to exclude other considerations while maximising the one criteria that seems to be valued.
  • Demand for Increasing Access, which increased the impulse for university administrators to view education as a commodity and students as customers.
  • Outcomes Expectations of the Public, Funders and Graduates, are shifting to focus almost exclusively on financial returns, which creates a consumer logic in which there is a quantitative expectation of return, and where education is seen as something one either has or does-not-have based on a certification, rather than education being something that one does throughout their lives.
  • Increasing Emphasis on the "Knowledge Economy," which contributes to the demand for increased access, but also points to the failings of current university structures and curriculum, leading to reliance on a market logic to validate knowledge produced at the university.
  • Information, Communication, Technology (changing cost structures, access, and methods for creating knowledge and distributing information), has created an information and content culture, shifting the role of the university and placing it in the information and knowledge network, indirect competition with other types of knowledge producers and transmitters, most of which are more efficient than universities.


The contemporary framing of the university taken together with the environmental conditions in which universities operate has resulted in a "Corporatisation" of the university.

Corporatisation is the process of transforming public assets into private assets and transforming government agencies and organisations into corporations, or at least organisations with structures that are like those typically found in corporations. 

When the government retains financial and regulatory interest, there is a melding of public and private organisation that we see occurring in the university. In many ways, this is at least in part the march started during the Reagan/Thatcher administrations, and to a lesser extent a decade later the Howard administration in Australia toward privatisation. 

Although the corporatized entity may not perform as a for-profit company, it will also be forced to change its norms to survive, which is happening in many public and private universities.  For example, 
  • A university education is increasingly being seen principally as a private good rather than a public good, and in doing so devaluing those disciplines that do not maximise the private good.
  • There is reduced public funding and a shifting of cost burden from the public to private interest. (State to Student)
  • We see a move from a liberal education (humanist) to a professional education (commercial).
  • There is a move from producing public knowledge to focusing on and valuing proprietary knowledge.
  • There has been a move in some countries from full-time tenure/tenure track (permanent) to fixed-term and adjunct (contingent) academic staff, shifting locus of control from decentralised faculty governance to administrative decision-making.
  • There has been a shift from traditional forms of capitalisation such as tuition, fees, development, and public allocation, to those more typical of private enterprise such as commercialisation of inventions, commercial out-sourcing arrangements to other institutions, raising capital through large bond issues, and venture capital arrangements for "spin-off" companies.  

Intended Consequences
We have embraced a number of the consequences of corporatisation and some universities have prospered by doing so quickly and creatively. 
  • For some universities online and continuing education was developed in units isolated from the university proper to better perform as a revenue positive activity much as a corporation. 
  • The market logic tends to increase access potential and promote development of services that are "customer" oriented. We have seen this as universities...
    • Deliver academic products based in customer demand, at levels that optimise financial reward for the university and potentially for the student graduate.
    • Direct marketing to populations, developing a culture of consumerism and perhaps a commodification of education and knowledge.
    • Turning toward international students, that represent higher than normal net positive revenue flows.
    • Focus on activities that lead to commercialisation beyond tuition generated for teaching and research training, which frequently requires the production of proprietary knowledge, The logic is increasing applied to both research and course materials.

Unintended Consequences
Although there are consequences that have been embraced and applauded in a variety public circles, there are a number of consequences that have gone unnoticed or at least do not get very much attention. 

One might suggest that corporatisation tends to place limits on the conversation to those ideas that a) are consistent with a market logic and b) consistent with the directions and attitudes of university administrators, in effect impacting on the practice of the rights accorded through academic freedom. 

The two principal freedoms with rights and responsibilities are those of inquiry and expression. Both of which are impacted by corporatization.

The freedom of inquiry may be compromised directly by corporate and venture capital interest that direct attention to particular fields of study, whole employment markets more generally indirectly determine which disciplines are worth teaching. Freedom of expression is compromised through the proprietarization of academic knowledge, and self-censorship due to financial entanglement with commercial interests, impeding the growth of knowledge that is an obligation of the university professoriate.

Freedom of Inquiry
  • Corporations (including venture capital) direct fields of discovery
  • Employment Markets determine disciplines worth teaching
Freedom of Expression
  • Proprietary Information
  • Financial Entanglement
So, is this something to be concerned about?

One can argue that corporatisation is a natural transition for contemporary universities.
That being said, we really must ask ourselves if we are giving-up things that need to be preserved. 

Are there things that the university does, are there societal roles, and are there contributions that promote values we hold closely in a democracy, perhaps that are necessary to a democracy? 

Do we contribute in important ways to national conversations with civility? Do we provide a
necessary counter balance to government political agendas or corporate commercial agendas? Do we provide the patience that others seem to lack?

Is there a need for an institution to be dedicated, not only to scholarship leading to commercialize-able invention, but to the growth of knowledge and pursuit of truth, no matter how inconvenient, embarrassing, challenging, or unpopular?  

Does the ascendance of the corporate university threaten the integrity of the university by undermining some of its core principles, structures, and behavioural norms?

Perhaps in anticipation of these types of questions, we see safeguards, or perhaps warnings, in the revised statement on academic freedom of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada. Which includes, responsibilities for…

University leadership
  • It is a major responsibility of university governing bodies and senior officers to protect and promote academic freedom. This includes ensuring that funding and other partnerships do not interfere with autonomy in deciding what is studied and how.
  • Faculty members and university leaders have an obligation to ensure that students’ human rights are respected and that they are encouraged to pursue their education according to the principles of academic freedom.
  • Faculty also share with university leadership the responsibility of ensuring that pressures from funding and other types of partnerships do not unduly influence the intellectual work of the university.

Is corporatisation of the university a threat to academic freedom, and if so, is that a concern? 

So, yes, I think that we should be concerned. 

I think that we should be concerned that the core values of academic freedom with the rights and responsibilities that it entails. They are essential for a university to balance education for employment, citizenship, and change. 

And yes, I do think that the corporate university is a hostile environment for the exercise of academic freedom - both the rights and the responsibilities. 

And, by extension, I believe that the corporate university is a hostile place for liberal education and the academic pursuit of truth as a guiding principle for knowledge development, discovery, and teaching. 

And yes, I do think that we need to get creative and do so quickly if we want to preserve our ability to integrate liberal and professional education in ways that are not superficial or that trivialise our educational objectives.


Now finally, to my central point. We cannot address problems created in the context of corporatisation in contemporary universities with solutions from the past. 

Simply adopting a "great books" curriculum will not work. 

Neither will quoting inspirational thinkers from the past; or wishing for a return to progressivism. 

We cannot ask scholars to exercise academic freedom, when the university expects them to sign confidentiality, nondisclosure, and non-compete agreements. 

We need to think in terms of our current environment to identify trends that had developed in the same environment and under the same conditions at the corporate university. 


Given our needs, perhaps the most relevant intellectual, social, political, and economic development in the past 30 years has been the evolution of the openness agenda. 

I would argue that its application in practice, may balance corporatization to allow for academic freedom in the contemporary university. 

At the very least the discussion will offer options for university communities to decide on what type of university they want to have, and provide a language for development and pathways for practice. 

Although notions of open practice have existed almost forever, the term "Open Source Software" was
first coined in 1998 to describe the production of intellectual assets in the form of software applying an "open licence." Many believe that it is through open licensing and the commitment to "free cultural works," that communities function best to create valuable knowledge and information.

Open Educational Practice is perhaps the most important development in higher education during the past decade. OEP includes Open Education Resources (OER), Open Access publishing (OA), Free and Open Source Software (FOSS), open policy, open textbooks, open data, open technology standards, open metadata, open file formats, open research, and more broadly open education. 
The movement has resulted in dozens of education collaboratives, millions of resources, new business models, Massive Open Online Course (MOOCs), micro Open Online Courses (mOOCs), and an explosion of alternative higher education organisations. 

Ok, so we have established that innovation can be generated through open resources and open culture, which is pretty good, but the next bit is probably more interesting.

In addition, dozens of state and national governments have pledged commitments to open public resources, as have dozens of international agencies including UNESCO in its 2012 Paris OER Declaration, while a number of public funding agencies and philanthropic foundations have mandated that whenever their funding is used, all resulting intellectual property will be made available under an open distribution licence. 

To ignore these trends, along with the reported savings to students that come along with the adoption of OER, is to ignore the three principal sources of educational funding globally for teaching and research: public support, philanthropic support, and student financial contribution through payment of tuition and fees.

Like academic freedom, for openness to flourish in practice, the university must hold and practice a variety of values and principles.  Borrowing from the Openness Index project, among them are
  • Courage: Participating even when doing so results in fear and uncertainty.
  • Participation:  The action of taking part in something (being there). The nature of one’s participation is dictated by its quality.
  • Honesty: The quality of behaving in a manner that is free of deceit, is truthful, and is sincere.
  • Reflection (assessment): Engaging in serious thought or consideration about oneself and one’s motivations, behaviors and impacts.
  • Humility: Practicing honest reflection with the discipline necessary to achieve a clear perspective, and therefore respect, for one's place in context.
  • Communication: Sharing information through a variety of means. Transparency is a pre-condition for open communication.
  • Transparency: Providing access to information in a manner making it easy to perceive, detect, and understand.
  • Self-organization: When coordination arises out of the local interactions between individuals and groups of individuals of an initially disordered grouping.
  • Collaboration: Voluntarily working with each other to accomplish a task and to achieve shared goals.
  • Evidence-based decision-making: The explicit (and transparent), conscientious, and judicious consideration of the best available evidence and decision-making methodology.
  • Meritocracy: An organisational system or philosophy in which ideas are judged based on their merit, as opposed to a proxy, such as the title of the individual offering the idea.
Although there are a range of benefits that open education practice brings to the university, including promotion of social justice, the potential to reduce costs of study for students, reduced risk of copyright violation, and for this lecture the most important point is that open educational practice supports a culture of respect for the traditions of the academy.

We might ask how the values just listed align with those embedded in academic freedom.
  • Openness is a fundamental tenant of academic freedom and is a responsibility for the academy and the professoriate, striking at the very purpose of the university and its singular role in free societies. 
  • As such it gives voice to a logic that challenges neoliberal approaches to university education that has led to corporatisation. 
  • Giving reasoned voice to alternatives creates the opportunity for discussion and the possibility of weighing values and commitments within a framework that refers to fundamental purposes of the university. 
  • It opens us to seek solutions allowing the university to thrive within the realities a contemporary setting, while also supporting a logic that preserves the unique role of the university.
Seriously discussing and adopting a posture conducive to openness will take some fortitude. The culture of the corporatized university is strong and well embedded in most universities.  

Neoliberal economic logic is consistent with everything we are being told is valued by our governments, learners, university corporate leaders, and others participating in our environment.  

That being said, openness has been an agenda well received in many powerful circles including the public sector, the philanthropic sector, the agile and creative business sectors.

Contemporary universities need to engage and consider the impact that corporatisation and openness have on our cultures and our ability to do what no other organisations are uniquely meant to do.


A Primer on Neoliberalism

The Loyalty Oath Controversy, University of California

Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada revised statement on academic freedom

Understanding Free Cultural Works

What is the Paris OER Declaration?

The 2-3-98 Project, Openness Index

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

What’s so Elusive about Open Educational Practice?

Although openness in education, or OEP is perhaps one of the most important developments in higher education during the past decade, there are factors that inhibit conversation and practice. Some of these factors and strategies are outlined.


For what seems quite a long time I have been advocating for the adoption of what we are now calling Open Education Practice (OEP). It started out with open source software, and then open educational resources, and more open governance, supporting agile methods, and now it has expanded quite broadly. The rationale for openness itself has evolved and elaborated as well to include (reduced) cost, (improved) control, adaptability, agility, authenticity, efficiency, sustainability, and just general goodness. I think now for the most part it is generally recognised that openness represents an alternative way of being rather than just a thing that we do or things that we make and use.

I know a lot of other folks (close colleagues and those who I have admired from a distance) who have been early adopters and advocates of open practice going back a good deal more than a decade and I know that a lot of them have left the university to pursue their openness interests in a range of other types of organisations. This should give all of us a little pause to think about why this is the case. I have been giving some thought to my experiences with openness and started outlining some of the factors that make it challenging to have meaningful discussions about openness and to move the agenda forward at universities. It so happened that the Online Learning Consortium issued their call for proposals for their 2014 meeting while I was mulling this over and I thought that it would make a nifty topic. So I took a few minutes and submitted a brief proposal - as much to see who will show up and to see if my experiences have been unique. I am guessing that they are not unique, but know that they are informed and that they are incomplete. So, I'll be talking a bit on the topic in a few days and I thought that I would share the main points here as well.


SOO logo hereEarth CC BY by Erin StandleyNoun Project.
On one level we tend to talk about open educational practice in terms of the artefacts created, appropriateness of licensing agreements applied, and such. This framing of the dialogue constitutes OEP as a host of things including open education resources (OER), open access publishing, free and open source software, open policy, open textbooks, open data, open technology standards, open metadata, open file formats, open research, and more broadly open education. Although the range of artefacts associated with OEP collectively gives us something tangible to talk about, and some good examples of what our practice way include that are reasonably easy to measure and do, at its heart OEP is more fundamentally about the nature of educational experiences. It is about an approach to our educational practice, the assumptions that we make about the importance of co-creation, the ability to participate in an increasingly digital culture, how we view the relationships among learners and teachers and content and activities. It is about reducing barriers to collaboration, flexible and personal learning, and promoting digital and information fluency. It is about liberating intellectual capacity, promoting expression, and active participation in culture creation - and it invites openly participation in the world beyond the university. It says something about what we think a university education should offer.

At the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) we are currently engaging in a consultation and development process while building something we are calling our “Educational Experience Plan.” On one hand it is a document that captures some of our educational commitments, capacity gaps, strategies, and tactics; but probably more importantly it is a process that supports a conversation about education, the expectations we will create at USQ, and how we approach a more desirable state. Two of the topics that have generated some thoughtful dialogue during early consultation were:
  1. The “mythic” assumptions of software and information, which provide a self-imposed posture of playing the role of the victim who is captured by artefacts and rules representing a digital culture that is fundamentally immovable.
  2. Digital Renovation, which liberates one to change those things that are digital to meet our needs and express our meanings.
One of the unifying threads connecting these topics was that they are both tied to the barriers and costs organisations either create or relieve. These are also core concepts associated with OEP in terms of internal capacity and educational objectives.

We recognise too that OEP impacts some of the cultural normal of many colleges and universities, and may also challenge the ways that some of our commercial partners work. This is particularly true of those vendors whose business models are based on wealth generation through limiting access to information - that is by promoting mythic assumptions and increasing barriers to digital renovation.


Openness in education, or OEP is perhaps the most important development in higher education during the past decade. The movement has resulted in dozens of education collaboratives, millions of open resources, new business models, Massive Open Online Course (MOOCs), micro Open Online Courses (mOOCs), and an explosion of alternative higher education organisations. Although there has been no census, we know that it has improved access to data, research, and educational opportunities for individuals and by extension has help the growth of knowledge and perhaps broader social capacity and quality of life - at least for some. State and national governments have pledged commitments to open public resources, as have international agencies, while a number of public funding agencies and philanthropic foundations have mandated that whenever their funding is used, all resulting intellectual property will be made available under an open distribution license. 

That is, it has captured the imaginations of our funders, policy makers, and the media. There is no escaping it – OEP has become important.


To ignore these trends, along with the reported savings and other benefits to students that come along with the adoption of OEP, is to ignore the three principal sources of educational funding globally for teaching and research; a) public support, b) philanthropic support, and c) student financial contribution through payment of tuition and fees. In short, openness is important and will continue to have impact because:
  • Openness Strikes at the Nature of Knowledge Creation and Distribution (it is relevant)
  • Openness has the Potential to Change Business and Economic Models for Higher Education (it supports the potential for disruption)
  • Openness has the Potential to Change the Expectations of teachers, learners, and funders (it changes the locus of control and assumed sources of information)
  • Openness Strike at the Underpinning Value and Recognition Systems in Traditional Universities (it strikes at our identities and how we recognize scholarship)
I have argued (and will in my next post), that openness and OEP in particular promotes traditional values of the academy and is perhaps one of our more productive counter-cultural expressions addressing the excesses of neoliberal economics as applied to higher education. 

We all recognise that change in the higher education sector has been more rapid and perhaps substantive than many are used to and prepared for. And as members of the college or university community there is an expectation that we are preparing for an uncertain environment. In the contemporary university this places a certain pressure on boards and executives and other managers to anticipate what “sector” trends mean to the health of the university as a home for scholarship.

Along these lines, there is a reasonable argument that consigning OEP as irrelevant today is not unlike having dismissed online learning as a fad 15 years ago. The questions need to be about how we shape the agenda to promote the values of education, scholarship, and discovery. So, 
  • Why does it seem difficult to develop a meaningful, robust, and sustained discussion about openness on many campuses? 
  • Why is the topic of openness so elusive to so many university leaders? 
  • How does executive leadership effectively advocate for the dialogue? 
  • And how can members of the broader university community lead, participate in, and support the conversation?
  • Is the university the best place for open education practice and in which other organisations can we find good OEP examples and models?
I would suggest that the conversation and practice is made more difficult by at least 6 factors. This is not an exhaustive list and in many ways simply points to much more fundamental attitudes and broader economic, social, and technological factors. But, it is how I have experienced some of the challenges. And perhaps is a good place to start.


1) Intentional Confusion
Open-washing: Like “organic” and “green” the term "open" has been used in ways that destroy the meaning of and educational benefits of openness. Open-washing makes it difficult to discuss openness in a rigorous way because we are exposed to the use of the term in ways that are intentionally deceptive.
2) Look What I did! Isn’t Great?
Culture of Production not Participation: The power behind Openness is its potential to catalyze creativity and growth through collaboration, participation, and contribution. The launching of a new OER repository, an OER based course, or a MOOC has become the crowning achievement of OER participation, rather than contribution to an established community. Contributing to an Open Project is much more difficult (culturally) and harder to rationalize economically (funding), than starting-up a similar project with institutional branding. Many universities and university staff are happy to share what they have created, but are less culturally disposed to participate in an established community, use what others have created, or join an existing open project.
3) Openness –what do you mean?
General Understanding and Discrimination: The terminology surrounding openness has become quite messy. It is not difficult to understand why many well-intended colleagues have difficulty understanding and discriminating between openness, transparency, and fee free resources. It is not uncommon to have repeated discussions with colleagues during which the differences between OER and open enrolment are untangled. This is different than open washing as it is not intentional, but open washing contributes to the confusion.
4) The Nature of Academic Data, Information, and Knowledge
Intellectual Property, Copyright, and Licensing: The relationships between intellectual property and access can be a pretty esoteric topic. The issue is made more messy by the corporatisation of the university environment during the past 35 years, the pressure to develop external sources of revenue through commercialisation of intellectual assets through re-licensing and transfer and the understandable erosion of trust between university management and teaching faculty. In our current context openness seems counter intuitive.
5) You can Only Share it if You Can Find it.
Data and Information Management: The effective use, capture, and sharing of OER and other open resources requires some capacity to manage data and information openly. Anybody can create open resources, but it takes some intent to make them discoverable. Currently its storage tends to be distributed, which is just great, frequently permissions need to be verified, and principles of access and versioning need to be understood and supported.
6) Do I Get any Credit for Doing This?
Recognition: Faculty often indicate that although they would like to engage in OEP, the time spent and outputs attained are not currently valued by their university in terms of workload, promotion, and tenure. How can we recognize, value, and incentivize the creation and use of OER within the academy? If we take seriously our role in information dissemination and knowledge growth, and we really do think that openness (sharing effectively) is an important catalyst, then should participation in an open intellectual economy be rewarded formally and meaningfully?


These factors will not change on their own. It has been my experience that at universities it is critical to develop a meaningful conversation and one of the best ways is to generate channels and working models for the discussion. Some of the strategies I have seen (successfully?) pursued have included:
  • Openness Awareness Programming
  • Participation in Openness Consortia
  • Building Openness into Policies and Procedures (including IP Policies and Workflows)
  • Establishment of workflows, support, and structures liberating value through discoverability.
  • Promoting publishing in open access journals, use and creation of open textbooks, and recognition for reuse rather than creation.

If you have any additional factors to contribute or strategies you have tried or seen others try, please feel free to contribute at the OLC session or if it is more convenient feel free to post a comment here. If you are at the OLC meeting this year, it would be great to see you there, hear your thoughts, insights, observations, and experiences. 


Hewlett Foundation extends CC BY policy to all grantees

CC BY 4.0 required on U.S. Department of Labor $150M grant

An open door to UNESCO's knowledge

Australian Research Council (ARC) Open Access Policy (version 2013.1)

The Oberlin Group – Path to Openly Accessible Scholarship