Recently, a renowned Bangladeshi daily published an article by Thomas Kilkauer and Meg Young entitled "Academentia and Managerialism" (15 May 2022), an article that fleshes out the academic decadence in the backdrop of the rise of neo-liberal ideologies across the academic institutions mainly in the global North.
The authors of this article pointed at the academic degeneration caused due to ever-increasing peer and institutional pressure that the academics are facing. Such academic stresses include the challenge of publication and an emphasis on quantity over quality.
The mirage of tenured position (to put it simply, permanent position in academia) and the competitive hurdles to get published in the Q1 journals or to perish are haunting the academics, a stress that affects mental health, personal life and sometimes leads to different physical challenges.
However, while Kilkauer and Young's article resonates the concerns of the critical pedagogues like Henry Giroux, bell hooks, Gayatri Spivak or more recently Raewyn Connell, situating these concerns in the global South does not necessarily expose the same scenario.
Yes, I am referring to Bangladeshi academia, i.e., Bangladeshi tertiary education. While the academics of the northern universities are struggling in the race for publication, ranking, tenure track etc (let's put aside the politics of ranking and polemic criteria for impact factor), to be permanent (tenured) and to be promoted (tenure-tracked) requires a minimal effort in most of the Bangladeshi public universities.
Despite controversies on the ranking system, there are rarely any Bangladeshi universities within the top 1000 universities of the world. To talk about the promotion criterion in most public universities, one publication without much concern to its quality and the format of the publication platform can promote you from a Lecturer to Assistant Professor and then three publications (again without much quality check) to Associate Professor and finally 5 publications to the highest position of the Professor.
Due to lack of accountability and rigorous ethical regulations, sometimes, the criteria for professorship or other ranks can also be compromised. A faculty without PhD and enough research expertise can also supervise doctoral students. The probationary period and confirmation of the rank are often ticked without much effort. So, neither quantity nor quality (determined by criteria like impact factor, Scopus indexed journal or citation database) are necessarily tangible obstacles to promotion.
However, this does not imply a general lack of quality and achievement among the academics working in Bangladeshi academia, but hints at the systemic lack of accountability and monitoring/mentoring/managing of the academic organograms.
The severe lack of accountability, flexible conditions applied to promotions, almost arbitrary leave-taking criteria, and an absence of academic ethics in the Bangladeshi public universities lead to 'session jam' that victimises the students (an alien term in the dictionary of the global North academia).
Exploitation of academic labour, loss of government funds, degradation of scholarly outcome entail the production of a generation of unemployable and unemployed learners.
When individual duty, responsibility and accountability are not monitored and ensured, it creates an arbitration in individual behaviour, be it among the academic faculties or academic staff or the students.
Managerialism is a mode of outsourcing professional managers for organisational management and ideological reinforcement which has been criticised as a neo-liberal tool for establishing tight management and professional hierarchy.
Kilkauer and Young's article validly expressed concern for the corporatisation of education through a mechanical engineering of command and control, a spirit that stands in dissonance with academia.
Looking from another perspective, managerialism can also be necessitated by the very absence of accountability and arbitration. In Bangladesh, some private universities already adopted this model in their recruitment of the members of Human Resources (HR) and academic administration.
Some public institutes including reputed medical colleges already appointed Military officers (both serving and retired) and former bureaucrats in different leadership positions. And the recent surge of PhD candidates from the Military, the Police and the bureaucratic services is also creating a ground for managerialist logic.
When questioned about the appointment of non-academic personnel in the top positions of academic administration, a very common yet valid logic of mismanagement, corruption and poor administration of the academic institutes comes to the fore.
Therefore, while the critics of neo-liberal economy laments for its managerial and corporatist influence on the education sector, in Bangladeshi public academia, the lack of proper management and implementation of the regulations charted out in its ordinance might establish the alternative logic of hiring managerial bodies.
While we can criticise the appointment of Research Assistantship and Teaching Assistantship as a mode of exploitation of 'cheap' academic labour (mainly the postgraduate researchers are appointed for teaching the undergrads as casual/underpaid academic) in the North American universities (read: the global North), exploitation of academic labour happens in many Bangladeshi public universities when an understaffed department runs its array of academic programmes with limited faculties.
When a large academic unit like Department of English at Jahangirnagar University runs its academic programmes (including the higher degree programmes like PhD, MPhil) with merely ten over-burdened teaching faculties, it is an example of exploitation of academic labour.
Such an academic labour crisis is caused mainly by the absence of some of its faculty members on unauthorised/without leaves and inconsistent recruitments — two issues that reflect regulatory mismanagement and the lack of a strong accountable administration. The students and therefore the nation is the worst victim of such managerial and administrative discrepancies.
Collective frustration among the students is a very common consequence of such academic unruliness. And this is a moment when the state and its bureaucracy may find ample justification for replacing/changing the management order.
While managerialism as a neo-liberal logic is contested by the critical pedagogues of the global metropole, unfortunately in the Southern countries (especially, in Bangladesh) it may appear as an existentialist logic to save the universities from the plague of corruption and mismanagement resulting in a poor research and teaching outcome and on the other, to extend the government's regulatory and ideological reach on the universities.
In her book "The Good University", Raewyn Connell is critical about the exploitation of university workers and the growing power of university managers reflected in many Western universities.
To put this in Bangladeshi context, while we raise questions about the insufficiency of the salary scale and other economic benefits (a government-directed criticism), an imbalanced distribution of workload on individual academics engenders intra-institutional form of exploitation at our universities.
For instance, when a colleague enjoys eight years' leave in their 11 years' job duration and still retains their appointment, their co-workers have to bear the burden of course load and other academic/semi-academic responsibilities, which often creates acute structural and managerial anomalies in the implementation of the curriculum.
Or to further exemplify, when, after enjoying 8 years' leave (of which five years are with pay), an academic immediately quits the job to jump on to another academic position with better package and exposure, this is a case of intra-institutional academic and financial manipulation (financial because in most cases the outstanding dues are not paid back to the institutions they left).
In 2007, the Daily Star published a report saying that a number of Dhaka University teachers who left for higher studies owe 18 million taka to the university (Nov 14). And needless to say, such discrepancy does injustice to the fellow university workers and establishes a negative reputation of the university and overall, public education system in Bangladesh.
Though there are airy provisions like "Accountability to the conscience" in some Bangladeshi public university acts, there are also enough clauses to ensure the economy of knowledge through teaching and research. Hence, while we criticise the growing corporatisation and privatisation of the education system, it is also vital to pay attention to the intra-institutional grievances regarding management and accountability.
There is a dimensional distinction between corporate industry and university as the production ground for knowledge. While we denounce the academic exploitation and state hegemony of educational institutions, we should also be vigilant about the issues of ethics, equity, and wellbeing in the education system. Intra-institutional breach of ethical and professional codes only weakens the moral ground and defence of a university as a democratic public sphere.
Kazi Ashraf Uddin is a PhD scholar at UNSW Sydney.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.