March 30, 2014

Hans Ruin Quote


Collegial rule has always belonged to a culture where people within an institution function as each other’s evaluators. In the academy, researchers are constantly engaged in assessing each other’s work. It is a culture of both training and evaluating, first of students, but also of one’s peers. The culture of peer-review, in this respect, is at the centre of the academic ethos. However, in their search for clear standards of measurement, the administrators of the new management culture, with their stress on accountability and rational and transparent allocation of resources, have adopted standardized matrixes for the evaluation of research performance. This is the effect of what is nowadays also often referred to by social scientists as the new so-called “audit society”. Since the quality of research cannot be evaluated outside the space of the qualified judgement of one’s peers, the model of peer-reviewing and publication in peer-reviewed journals has now been adopted as a world standard for research performance.

In adopting this standard, the administrators of higher education have in a certain sense followed the ideal of collegial rule, yet at the same time they have also produced a grotesque perversion of this standard. Since resources have to be allocated according to some objective and transparent standard, one has adopted the only standard that the system can generate, namely peer-review. But precisely in picking up this standard, not ultimately with the purpose of securing quality and truth, but for resource allocation, one is also undermining the very ethos that lies at its heart. When researchers learn that their funding is dependent on peer recognition, they will behave rationally not in a long-term sense, but for short-term gains, which means that the system will also generate more of the same, like-mindedness, and cynical cartels of knowledge production, where researchers are quoting one another for short-term gains. This is a both sad and – depending on from what perspective one looks at it – ironic development.

In his commentary on the future of the humanities, [Simon] Critchley is led to the conclusion that in the end the universities, and in particular the humanities, must reconsider their role in this new situation, and reflect again on their core purpose: namely to and develop good intellectual skills, which means teaching people how to think, how to search for the true, how to experience the joy of realizing how it is. In its obsessive desire to produce and deliver good management, the new management culture is currently risking the corruption of precisely that very public institution that it claims to foster.

- Hans Ruin, On the Role of the University in the Age of Management Politics


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