“The statement that all social science theory is critical and therefore critical theory, per se, does not exist, is not incorrect, but rather an idealist thought longing for the golden age of classic Greek philosophy, something which is increasingly rooted out of new academia.”
Economic times are tough; bottom lines have never been so important in any part of society as organisations define everything they do with the qualifier stated at the beginning of this sentence. As such, every part of life has become a slave to scrutiny as efficiency, a core principle of lowering transaction costs, becomes the means toward serving the devil of insecurity. Although banking and mercantilism in general have always asked the question what constitutes an efficient system, education, particularly higher education, has become the latest industry to subject its regulation to business-like efficiency, from hiring new, to managing existing, Faculty. As such, a “New Academia” has emerged which, along with higher costs of tuition (e.g. top-up fees in the UK), has structured itself based on an economic model of supply, demand and customer satisfaction. These three variables lead to nothing less than an administrative hegemony, and for the first time since the failed 1970′s liberal revolution, the system – “the man” – has won out over Faculty with the effect that students leave university equipped with tools for propagating an ideology of how to organise power, as opposed to how to organise a standard academic essay or structure a critical thought.
This essay will criticize the structuring of power in the Twenty-First Century university system. As this is a broad topic, the specific goal of this essay is to show how new academia contributes to the worsening of humankind (i.e. degradation of mass education) through its pursuit of short-term gains proposed and justified by administrators arguing that short-term crises necessitate temporary sacrifices in investment in innovation. The argument goes that when economic times are tough, that an organisation must do what is necessary to survive. Unfortunately, the temporary measures adopted to save education have destroyed the critical nature of academia by destroying its hard core: critical theory. This destruction is much like agent Smith in the Matrix Trilogy, seeking to clone itself over and over for no other purposes than to convert all other systems to its exact rules of the game. This propagation of values, this virus, does not support critical theory, but rather restructures each university system by measurable variables which can, with certainty, ascertain the quality of teaching and research of the whole organisation and even individual faculty. The administrative hegemony has adopted a regime of truth based questions which have an assumed answer. This tautology of measurement assures that truth is no longer questioned because so much of the process has been reduced to “inherent truth”, which stands isolated from critical theory due to it being so well-agreed upon that no one is even allowed to question it.
Every rise to power has its tools of social manipulation. Some of these tools are pre-existing, like democracy. As the political scientist Sheri Berman has famously argued, Hitler paradoxically used the very tools of democracy, e.g. free speech, to garner support for his ideas. What this means for the university system is that administrative hegemony will adopt those pre-existing qualities of university, e.g. its ability to adapt quickly and instantiate its policies with great efficiency, to its own selfish ends. This means that where any gaps of power might exist, the university can quickly do everything from quickly structurally-transforming a floor of a building, to making several staff redundant, in a matter of days, not weeks.  There is nothing wrong with this efficiency as such; change is something that universities are good at because they have Faculty in residence qualified to provide their hands-on services. This quality of efficient adaptation is not the target of this essay, but rather the use of such a tool to further a specific structuring of power as the means and ends of university. As I have previously argued, New Labour and indeed all sovereign regimes, have sought to structure power in the public services and society as structured within their own party, as it is the specific values of an organisation which drive decision-making. 
Of course, this is not to say that students are never subjected to academic content, but that this content has been packaged into a larger frame of curriculum delivery whose emphasis lies in the format of customer satisfaction, i.e. student surveys, so that a classroom becomes a managed resource for students to cultivate their own education. This seems forward thinking at first glance, as it allows for the “empowerment” of students to have a voice and best of all to be able to report directly to the superiors of their professors. It is a win/win situation because students get to have an impact on the university and the university gets more transparency into the classroom, thereby providing HR with more information for its decisions. And, of course, HR is not only concerned with sacking employees, but also in identifying training gaps and other opportunities to improve the capabilities of professors to deliver the curriculum.
But what about the Professors themselves? Professors  are not postmen; they do not deliver a curriculum, they teach. The way that education has been treated over the last ten years, with its emphasis on training and professionalism, can be criticized by virtue of its lack of teaching. Teaching and the resultant learning is painful, whether for the administrator in charge of making everything work, the Professor trying to uphold academic standards and personal integrity and finally for the student, with the one thing in mind that is most important: grades. It is up to the Professor to grade students, the university to certify these grades and students to leave with the most important quality of someone looking for a job: qualifications. It is not surprising, then, that an institution which supports putting thousands of students into a qualitative hierarchy would seek to do the same in terms of its Faculty. In this way, Faculty are placed within a free market of colleagues, with qualifications and experience the currency of promotion. Not only are qualifications and experience important, however, the capability to know one’s accomplishments is most important for the vocation of teaching. CV writing is a skill which does not always end in the best, or most flattering, description of the applicant, but it is the primary indicator used to evaluate candidates through the first filtration regime: weeding out the messy applications as if the person did not care enough to fill out the application properly, then how can they give the job proper due care? This is a naïve assumption because it does not account for talent that poorly represents itself, nor does it account for lack of talent with great writing skills. 
This essay will continue with a study of those teaching and learning tools which universities lack, as well as how and why administration have sought to limit their influence.  These teaching and learning tools are: (1) critical theory, or the premise that all structures of power must be questioned. What university administrators have sought to do is not eliminate critical theory entirely, as students are inherently critical (at least at the beginnings of their education), but rather that criticism is diverted downstream to the Professor who now takes full responsibility for public relations in the classroom as much as assessing student work and providing lecture content. The list continues with (2) student feedback, which is now handed back to Professors after grades have been completed in order to improve the class for the next term. Whilst student feedback has always been a part of the university system, whether formally or informally expressed, and Professors welcome hearing what students think of classes, new academia has used student feedback to justify conforming to curriculum policy which determines how and what information is presented to students. And finally, (3) curriculum delivery is diverted by administration toward hermetically-sealed “rubrics” whose contradiction is grounds for “Faculty review.” It is these three teaching and learning tools (i.e. critical theory, student feedback and curriculum delivery) and their abuse by administrators which leads to a university system which merely propagates the means of its power hierarchy, as opposed to exposing students to the content of social scientific methodology and theory.
“Critical theory is a myth,” a colleague tells me, “all academic thought is critical.” I am afraid this is no longer true. Just as the UK’s Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) seeks to recognise social science research that finds new ways to express itself, e.g. Facebook and Twitter, universities which rely on such research for legitimacy are placed in the lower tiers of “quality of academic output”. In short, rather than adopt such alternative means as legitimate research, the superiority of paper “tier one” journals ultimately ranks academics in relation to their chosen publication medium. Unfortunately, whatever discipline remains of “critical theory,” the wave of discourse which questions the structure of power as its foundation principle has become so ubiquitous, albeit like a closed-minded person merely stating they are open-minded, that it has lost all its potential to change anything. One need only consider the crises humans continue to face; despite all the honours degrees and Nobel prizes awarded over the last fifty years and despite improved training standards, better human resources managers and higher quality research at leading universities, the most basic problems which have always threatened civilization, i.e. energy, wars, poverty, famine, disease, are still knocking on the door of the mass destruction of a species which, in the last 1% of time of existence on Earth, has increased 10,000% in terms of its population (an unsustainable formula for the long-term survival of any species and a rate which certainly cannot continue without stripping all organic content from the Earth to feed the last hungry masses). Despite all of our academic thought and human enlightenment, as a species, humans are still quite dumb having not even conquered the ability to live in equilibrium with their surroundings.
Whilst the hard sciences might discover solutions to human problems, getting these solutions installed into civilization is a completely different exercise. It is a human exercise and hence the genre of “the humanities”. The social science discipline is concerned with human behaviour on the micro and macro level. As a science, a discipline like economics has no moral purview over policy, but rather a hypothesis, study and results. Science can make recommendations based on results, but ultimately scientists cannot wear the hat of objective questioner and policy imposer; there is simply not enough time to do research and run a constituency. So, politicians rely on the findings of specialists, whose qualifications give their advice more expediency than that of a random constituent. However, at no point is there a moral obligation for any party to decide on the basis of improving the human condition. So, if a scientist finds that people work harder when feeling like they are making a difference, then whether the person does or does not make a difference is irrelevant; it is only important that a person feel desired. Such is the biting reality of science and that which separates the soft and the hard sciences. On the one hand, soft sciences are concerned with false truths that can still impact civilization, whilst hard sciences are concerned with finding out the hard truths which can, for example, get a spacecraft safely to Mars to collect soil samples. Soft sciences might question the money required to do so and the drain on valuable resources during a crisis which requires technology aimed at saving the Earth.
How does the above relate to (lack of) critical theory in universities? It relates because the variable which decides between merely feeling and actually being educated is the Professor. Discretion is something Professors need to teach, but discretion is something administrators shun because it introduces an unknown variable into the system. As the next section will argue, student experience as measured by university surveys may have only a weak correlation with positive learning outcomes, as learning is painful and if the Professor is seen as the one giving out the pain, then they will be punished by students who were told what to expect but did not receive. Critical theory would question any direct judgement of Faculty or student work and would further require surveys to be printed in such a way so as not to give the perception that students can express their frustration with the entire process of painful learning for which the university is ultimately held responsible and therefore must act to redress against the front-line provider. In some cases, this means turnover of Faculty, in others instances it means reigning in the andragogy (methodology) of valued, but unorganised, Professors. In both cases, student contentedness is strongly associated with Professorial talent, but this does not account for painful learning.
Administrators abuse critical theory by mistaking administration flaws, e.g. something apparently contrary to a grading rubric, as lack of Faculty competence. Critical theory is the umbrella under which academics take refuge because when the Professor conforms to the hegemonic rubric and the results appear favourable for everyone involved, s/he would not appear rational to go on to criticise the process leading to such a desired outcome. People like to feel that they are part of the cause of a positive outcome even if they are doing what they are told and no less and no more. Ultimately, student complaints require whole other teams of full-timers who specialise in ameliorating conflict between Faculty and students as the system has ironically become so receptive to criticism that resources diverted toward resolving student complaints have become equally as important to the delivery of the curriculum. Ultimately, universities want favourable student feedback in order to assure future high numbers of qualified student applicants. It is all about funding at the end of the day, but that is wrong for a critical education.
Of course no sensible administration would take student relations to the extreme of giving out “As” to everyone, but rather would specialize the requirements for an A to such a degree that to conform to these requirements is to earn an “A”. After years of testing this system, the result is variance in grades, so integrity is seen as being upheld due to students receiving grades relative to their conforming to specific policies on work submitted.  However, this cuts out the Professor insofar as student work must be judged by academic, not administrative, standards in order to be subjected to the rigorous tenants of social scientific research. Thus, whilst such things as grammar, spelling and word count might have immediate impacts on a grade, content itself is always subjective insofar as the Professor must evaluate the academic, not ideological, worth of submitted material. Administrative hegemony propagates an ideology of power hierarchy, but does not offer inherently critical academic content.
And yet, students are made to feel like the administrators have levelled the playing field but to do so means cutting down painful (i.e. real) learning for the benefit of trying to please students and appear to provide successfully the inherently subjective enterprise of ranking students according to grades, which are assigned by the Professors based on administrative rubrics. Everyone is on the same page from the beginning, which increases efficiency. Critical theory is installed in the system at the level of student feedback with the premise that results can be qualitatively analysed and provide a means of assuring the process can be improved by eliminating inefficiencies and bolstering policies which keep the system, however flawed, working. But the system does not allot Faculty the same service by providing feedback forms for their bosses and hence the flow of responsibility without culpability toward Faculty and away from administrators.
In this way, critical theory is the tool of its own destruction as students realise this hierarchy of power and refer to administrative rubrics over anything that the Professor might say in class. At once, the educational process reduces to Faculty hounded by shareholders, i.e. admin, and consumers, i.e. students, to conform to university rubrics governing the way the product of education is negotiated during term. This is a win/win situation if it were not for the marginalisation of Faculty who might do better to teach based on criticism of hegemonic power, thereby aiming student discontent up the professional ladder, rather than (self)criticism of the person whose job it is to provide the education and assessment without bias and based on only one rubric: social science research theory and methodology. In this way, the statement that all social science theory is critical and therefore critical theory, per se, does not exist, is not incorrect, but rather an idealist thought longing for the golden age of classic Greek philosophy, something which is increasingly rooted out of new academia. And so, new academia requires a re-examination of critical theory in order to put more power in the hands of Professors to provide a sometimes painful, but nevertheless real, education to students.
Student feedback is not a new idea, though it is fundamental to administrators in their hunt for the ideal formula that, if only followed by the Professor exactly, will result in an optimum university classroom experience. It is all very innocent and of course statistical methods such as throwing out the worst and best feedback, qualifying answers based on the class being required or elective (with the former being one that might bias judgement) provide additional legitimacy.  This adherence to statistical methodology makes the results more meaningful according to administrators who are trying to split hairs to construct a hierarchy of Professors based on performance, the measurement of which relies on student feedback as one core indicator. There are two main problems with student feedback: (1) students (and Faculty) are required to participate in the survey and (2) students know they will be presented what could be a career bomb to the Professor should they choose to write something that could be perceived as an indication of poor performance. There are several reasons for students to express their discontent, of which revenge for painful learning as well as a disclaimer to the anticipation of receiving a poor grade are only two of the most obvious, if empirically significant, motivations.
Moreover, compulsory surveys are like compulsory voting; the end result is something which is constructed by the direct participation of the agents, but 100% turnout of this population, along with a decided vote, does not account for factors which might render such results meaningless. The best example of this phenomenon is autocratic regimes which intimidate their populations and flush out their political opposition, arresting, beating and murdering dissenters, so people who vote feel that not even the secrecy of their vote can be guaranteed, so they vote with the bully party in fear of being the next victim. This is only one example of problems with interpretation of results of compulsory voting in autocratic countries. In more popular democratic countries, problems which arise are citizens wanting to punish those in power for something terrible that has happened to the whole of society. This becomes statistically significant when something like the global economic crisis places all governors on the chopping block of public opinion. People will vote a political party out of office for simply being in power during negative global events.  A more subtle explanation of negative public opinion is painful learning. In politics, painful learning might materialise through the cutting off of benefits, i.e. “austerity measures”, which force a population to deal with the country’s problems. Greece is a case in point, as governors are being forced by the international community to crack down on internal spending and therefore is currently highly-unpopular with its citizens so much that an army of 20,000 civilian protesters tried to storm the Greek Parliament on the 4-5 May 2010. And so, the timing of a student survey and the place of Professors in times of crisis and change can greatly determine results of student feedback surveys.
But what if student feedback is positive? How might administration exercise power over the Professor who can engage in painful learning, but also keep students happy enough during term to receive positive feedback? This combination, rather than be embraced by administration, is accounted for in the survey itself, which might reflect very positive written feedback when questions are open-ended, but reflect poor ranking when closed-ended questions are posed, such as ranking the “relevance” or “usefulness” of a class. Again, the classroom becomes a tool of learning for students in which they can demand information, but also be free to tune out the Professor whose job it is, like a postman, to deliver the information taking hold of upper-hierarchy literature which explains what is expected of student work. Classes that are rated highly on relevance or usefulness will tend to adhere to administrative rubrics as it is these very rubrics which were sold to the students in the first place on what to expect in the classroom. These expectations are sold as an even playing-field for all students to have the possibility of earning an A through getting the work done and ticking boxes. These classes are the ones which propagate the ideology of the administration which goes on to draw a hermetically-sealed box around a specific curriculum, whether it be a required text or grading rubric, and have little to do with the content of the social sciences. Indeed, the content itself becomes irrelevant as students learn that criticism of classes leads to the reward of grades changed upward when the Professors is found to be deficient in some way.
“Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative”
No area of academia is more contentious than curriculum delivery. With the enforced professionalism of academia came this idea that the curriculum is a product to be packaged and delivered to consumer students. This is a flawed idea stemming from administrative hegemony which is charged with standards and professional development. In a world of competing universities, the individual institution is much like the Professor, being judged vis-à-vis others and being subjected to student preference based on word-of-mouth among other rankings. However, the advent of professional standards at university in the late 1990s led to the economic principle of universities as like-units seeking to imitate the most successful models in order to reap similar benefits. This system leads to all universities offering the same set of courses, degrees and, most importantly, grading rubrics and curriculum delivery. A university will want to conform to a mainstream so that its students get the same education as students at other universities. This might be called the “lowest common denominator” theory.
Unfortunately, there is a problem because, as the Professor knows, education is an incubation process which precedes placement in a career path. The transition from academia to the professional world is difficult as it is, but the confusion created when students are “interns” whilst studying has the potential to undermine what should be the peak of the academic experience, not getting a job, as such, but living the student, i.e. university, life to its fullest. This could mean anything from attending sporting events to printing t-shirts for classes which have proved popular among students. It is a good thing to support one’s university in all of these ways, but the administrative hegemony requires that adequate models of student success be copied and manufactured in standard syllabi which future Professors deliver; therefore the spontaneity of university patriotism and democracy are lost in the efficiency of power structure propagation. There is an incredible need for administration to give students a holistic university experience, so much so that they order not only what the university provides outside the classroom, but also inside the classroom. Students, being concerned with their grades, knowing that getting a job is the difference between an A and a B, will support whichever system gives them more capability to give themselves an A, thereby cutting out the need for assessment from the Professor, who is biased anyway. It is all very rational, but is it good for the betterment of human society?
Curriculum delivery further marginalises the Professor by eliminating the discretion which comes from deciding what constitutes acceptable student work. However, in actuality, the Professor acts like a border patrol officer, checking over documents, rubber stamping what looks genuine and pulling aside students whose submitted materials do not conform to standards set out by superiors. In short, most students are rubber-stamped if they can reproduce the hierarchy of power in their student work by demonstrating their ability to read a roadmap more than recall the surroundings of their journey. From the tools one uses to budgetary expenses, all instruments of the Professor are scrutinized as potential conflicts of interest, and when ambiguity comes into the picture (such as when an innovative approach is tried), the default script of “contractual obligations”, i.e. the terms the Professor signed when hired on, becomes the battle cry of administrators whose primary concern is to uphold the values of new academia. From the contract to the curriculum, everything is tightened to assure human intervention cannot destroy the administrative mechanism which has taken hold so clandestinely that most Professors have chosen to tow the line and thank the stars they work in their dream profession, i.e. teaching, but only in exchange for the caveat that they do not teach.
On the smallest scale, curriculum development is a very good thing and short descriptions of courses are useful for students deciding their specialisation and which classes to choose when they must choose an elective. However, when these short descriptions become expanded to the scope of learning outcomes as specified in exact phrases and ergo become guides for the Professor in the curriculum delivery, this is the formula of tautology and non-critical education.
As in all professions there are styles and disciplines within; in academia, one ideal type, “the mouthpiece”, would seek to deliver all that an administrator wants without any deviation. The other extreme would be “the punk” seeking to rebel for the sake of rebelling, but nevertheless providing an exciting, if haphazard, approach to teaching and learning. Neither the mouthpiece nor the punk is what is best for students and hence why each Professor will represent varying degrees of each approach. This essay argues that the sway has gone too far toward the mouthpiece, so far that the norm is now the mouthpiece, and punks are systematically rooted out like academic cavities.
Curriculum delivery is the primary concern of mouthpieces because these Professors, misguided as they are, would seek to satisfy all HR requirements and deliver all curriculum advisor recommendations in order to preserve job security and assure optimum outcomes according to measuring regimes in place which reward conformism to the self-fulfilling prophecy of the reduction of student assessment to the upholding of the bureaucracy which supports (and now commands) the educational process.
Critical theory, student feedback and curriculum delivery have become central to the propagation of administrative hegemony in academia. The result is Professors who choose either to tow the line and, like students, do their best to fulfil the requirements set out prior to the class, or rebel, in which case they are risking bad student feedback and a review of their aberrant curriculum. Discretion, painful learning and the vocation of teaching, i.e. individuality and charisma, become marginalised in favour of performance monitoring regimes whose purpose is to instantiate an efficient model of education. This model, rather than teach the content of the social sciences, teaches the tenants of one social science paradigm, utilitarianism, in which everyone is measured by the same standards, whether the Professor or student, which are defined by administrators whose job is to support a university with a bottom line. The result is the elimination of painful learning, the loss of excellent vocational teachers in the lecturing profession and a lack of providing the knowledge and passion for making productive change resulting in sustainable improvements to human existence.
1. Unions might object to politically-charged redundancies, but there are thousands of ends of contracts and other such routine faculty overturns based on fair business practice, which do not receive any organised support.
2. ‘The Fall of Tony Blair: The Double-Edged Sword of Performancism’, Stateofnature.org, Nov./Dec. 2006.
3. ‘Professors’ here refers to all instructors of institutions of higher education.
4. Surely a Professor should be evaluated on their capability to teach, as opposed to how well they write a CV? This is a case in point for the rest of this essay, that representation of quality should not be taken as proxy of quality itself. Put simply, a well-packaged education assures neither teaching nor learning.
5. Evidence for the above claim will consist of the author’s own experiences as a university Professor along with accounts from colleagues and observations made in the workplace.
6. Being able to create grade variance commensurate with prior grades does not indicate an accurate reflection of student potential in a new class.
7. The bias can be either positive or negative. On the one hand, in a required class, painful learning is likely to be seen as more negative due to the content being forced on students. On the other hand, required classes might register as more important to students than electives based on their fulfilling their degree requirements.
8. This might be the argument of the UK’s Labour regime, that it is being punished for a global phenomenon, not its direct performance.
With scholarly interests in international private security, policing, education and the politics of science, Dr. Chapman is currently using a research grant toward field work in England. This field work seeks to further demonstrate the political similarities of volunteer organisations qualified by high stakes up to and including death, e.g. skydiving, martial arts, mushroom hunting (Fine et al. 1996), etc., and public citizenship. Dr. Chapman can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.