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Whackademia: An insider's account of the troubled university

Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: UNSW Press
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Australian universities are not happy places. Despite the shiny rhetoric of excellence, quality, innovation and creativity, universities face a barrage of criticism over claims of declining standards, decreased funding, compromised assessment, increased vocationalism, overburdened academics and never-ending reviews and restructures. In a scathing insider exposé, Dr. Richard Hil lifts the lid on a higher education system that’s corporatised beyond recognition, steeped in bureaucracy and dominated by marketing and PR imperatives rather than intellectual pursuit. Fearless, ferocious and often funny, Whackademia exposes a world that stands in stark contrast to the slogans and mottos joyously promoted by our universities. Raising bold questions that go to the heart of Australian higher education,Whackademia is an unsentimental call for a re-enlightened higher education sector that’s not only about revenue, efficiencies and corporate profile.

    eISBN: 978-1-74224-586-7
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-6)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 7-8)
  4. Introduction: Grounds for complaint
    (pp. 9-25)

    Like most organisations in other industrial and commercial sectors – schools, hospitals, biscuit factories, banks and breweries – universities have over recent years experienced major changes to their workplace cultures. Australian academics are now subject to work regimes that few of their predecessors would have recognised barely thirty years ago. Economic rationalism, commercialisation, managerialism, corporate governance and other outgrowths of neo-liberal ideology have ushered in an entirely new way of thinking about what constitutes academic life, what universities are for, and what values these institutions represent.

    The notion of universities as institutions for the collective good has been largely usurped...

  5. 1 A tertiary odyssey
    (pp. 26-46)

    My personal odyssey through several universities in England and Australia was made on board a rather leaky vessel. The following account is, however, part of a much broader story about how today’s universities have devolved into their current state – and what this means for academics who work in such places. At the very least, my own story reveals that significant changes have swept over the higher education sector both here and overseas, and that many of these changes have made life for many academics generally harder and less rewarding. My story begins in the post-hippy, pre-punk, glam rock days...

  6. 2 Sexing up Whackademia
    (pp. 47-70)

    Despite all the marketing and public relations exercises, and talk of the ‛academic citizen’ and the ‛republic of learning’, Australian universities remain rather insular places. While not exactly sealed institutions like prisons, asylums or monasteries – although some academics might even argue this point – universities often appear cut off from the outside world: hence the repeated existential shocks that occur when academics venture beyond their campuses only to find that few if any of their thoughts matter a jot to the local butcher, baker or hairdresser. Universities like to claim they are an integral part of their local communities....

  7. 3 Taking care of busyness
    (pp. 71-100)

    There are only so many hours in the day. This trite observation has not deterred universities from seeking to cram more and more hours in the working week of their already stretched academics. They have done so, as we shall see, by raising workload expectations and adding new elements to the daily grind. The fact that academics are paid for a fixed amount of hours seems irrelevant to universities, which often demand that academics fulfil many of their duties – research, reading, writing – outside the allotted time slots. Arguably, this has always been the case, but something has changed...

  8. 4 Production-line teaching
    (pp. 101-130)

    Enthusiastic promoters of the contemporary university would have us believe that the practice of teaching in these institutions is a finely tuned and highly professional activity that produces life-altering ‛learning outcomes’ which can be recorded and conveniently slotted into a student’s embossed portfolio. The reality, of course, is a little different. Like most activities in universities, teaching is carried out in the context of extraordinary busyness brought about by overarching demands – especially the burden of having to deal with increasingly large numbers of students. This growth in numbers has been occasioned over the years by various factors: the amalgamation...

  9. 5 Research, metrics and money
    (pp. 131-161)

    Since the mid-1990s I have come to understand that academic life in today’s university system is largely about toeing the corporate line so that the process of producing higher education and other related outputs can continue unhindered. The more I have looked at the internal workings of the system, the more I have realised that almost everything that takes place in our tertiary institutions can be sheeted home to the bottom line of income-generation.

    Although it is possible to resist this sort of pressure (see chapter 7), academics only do so at great personal and professional risk: denial of promotion,...

  10. 6 Governing Whackademia
    (pp. 162-192)

    Given the organisational complexities of the contemporary corporate university, the task of keeping the enterprise running is, to say the least, challenging. It involves a variegated army of professional personnel, endless policy statements, procedural rules, and the application of numerous administrative functions, all aimed at cementing the place of universities in the globalised higher education market. In this chapter, I focus on three major aspects of university governance: the application of academic workload formulae (a topic certainly worth revisiting), the role of administration and administrators, and the function of university and particularly school-based committees. Workload formulae are, as I have...

  11. 7 Enough complaint, now what?
    (pp. 193-220)

    It doesn’t matter which university or what level of academic you care to consult, complaint is rife throughout Whackademia. But complaint comes from others too: from students, professional associations, members of the general public and, as we shall see, representatives of Australia’s business community. They’re not complaints simply about under-resourcing of tertiary institutions or the narrow approach to teaching, or even about value for money (a common complaint among overseas students). Rather, the most pressing complaints are to do with the fact that universities tend to churn out graduates who are entirely unprepared either for the world of work –...

  12. Conclusion: Seeing through Whackademia
    (pp. 221-229)

    While this book presents a number of critical insights into the strange world of Australian higher education, especially through the experiences of academics, it is important to restate that, despite all their current oddities, universities manage to produce some good, interesting and civically useful teaching, research and community service. But much of this is achieved in spite of, not because of, the current policies and practices of these institutions.

    If the tertiary system was transformed to meet the needs of civil society rather than just the economy, if it was concerned more with what it means to be a ‛rounded’,...

  13. References and further reading
    (pp. 230-240)