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Academic voice and the governance of Universities

Published in Bourdieu, Latest Posts by Julie Rowlands on March 15, 2017

Photo (CC) by Flickr ID Bronson ABbott

Photo (CC) by Flickr ID Bronson ABbott

Academic governance involves overseeing teaching and research within universities and protecting their quality and standards. It is important because academic governance is what enables teaching and research to take place.

Collegial and managerial governance are forms of academic governance that within much of the scholarly literature are understood to sit at opposite ends of a spectrum. In summary, managerial governance is associated with executive-driven leadership, performance measurement and output controls. In contrast, collegial governance assumes that decisions about and that affect academic matters should be made by those who teach and research. However, both managerial and collegial governance have been heavily critiqued.

Bourdieu’s concepts of academic and intellectual capital represent two competing forms of power specific to the university and are very useful tools for understanding tensions within and between managerial and collegial governance. In contrast to the impression given by its name, academic capital represents the capacity to exercise control by university senior leadership, and intellectual capital represents intellectual status and authority, primarily earned through research. Both forms of power are accrued and exercised differentially. That is, there is a hierarchy of power within university senior management and also within, for example, researchers within a disciplinary field. There is also a hierarchy within an individual university between senior executives and research leaders.

This blog post is a summary of aspects of a paper that has recently been published in Studies in Higher Education. The paper considers empirical data from the US, UK and Australia on academic boards (also known as faculty senates or academic senates), the principal academic governance body within almost all universities in these nation states. The data show that amongst the changes experienced by academic boards since the beginning of the 1990s is a significant reduction in academic voice within decision-making about and that affects teaching and research.

The paper argues that although it might be tempting to explain this reduction in academic voice as the dominance of academic (or managerial power) over intellectual capital, power relations within contemporary academic governance are more complex than this. For example, many academics take up executive level positions and many others undertake substantial administrative roles (sometimes reluctantly) alongside their teaching and research. The paper proposes that revisiting Bourdieu’s concepts of academic and intellectual capital can allow for a more nuanced reading of the reduction in academic voice than the traditional managerial versus collegial governance (or senior executives versus practising academics) debate can offer. To do this, it highlights that Bourdieu did not always intend academic and intellectual capital to be represented as polar opposites – there is also capacity for in-between spaces. However my data also show that these in-between spaces, where academics juggle both academic and intellectual capital, can be uncomfortable places to be. Bourdieu’s concept of divided or cleft habitus is very useful for considering what this might mean, not only for academic decision-making, but also in terms of the resultant effects on academic work.

Rowlands, J 2017 ‘Deepening understandings of Bourdieu’s academic and intellectual capital through a study of academic voice within academic governance’, Studies in Higher Education, pp. 1-14, DOI 10.1080/03075079.2017.1284192.

 

Working within a critical sociology of education, Dr Julie Rowlands researches higher education systems, university governance, academic quality assurance, leadership and organisational change. Her monograph on academic governance in contemporary universities was published by Springer in early 2017.

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Working within a critical sociology of education, Dr Julie Rowlands researches higher education systems, university governance, academic quality assurance, leadership and organisational change. Her monograph on academic governance in contemporary universities was published by Springer in early 2017.

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