[Marxism] The professional turn in higher education

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Sep 2 06:24:31 MDT 2011

(Randy Martin, who is interviewed on his new book here, is a very 
interesting Marxist scholar and partisan of the Cuban revolution. Since 
I have been part of the "professional turn" at Columbia U. for the past 
20 years, I might try to find the time to read and review it.)

'Under New Management'
September 2, 2011

"While higher education is often spoken of in terms of crisis, this 
concept might be better treated as a critical juncture or turning point 
rather than a terminus," writes Randy Martin. This sentiment appears in 
the preface to Martin's new book, Under New Management: Universities, 
Administrative Labor, and the Professional Turn (Temple University 
Press), and it serves as an accurate summary of his stance on many of 
the issues the book explores.

Under New Management covers matters that prompt much debate in higher 
education: the decline of faculty autonomy and the rise of 
administration; the ever-growing emphasis on outcomes and assessment; 
the increasing focus on professional preparation (generally at the 
expense of the liberal arts); the promises and pitfalls of 
interdisciplinary work; and the inevitable rifts between faculty and 
administration. But the book is distinguished by its use of the work of 
administration as the lens through which to examine higher education; by 
the wealth of connections it draws among cultural and historical trends 
both inside and far outside academe; and by Martin's inclination to see 
opportunities where many others often see only misdirection or plain 

Inside Higher Ed conducted an e-mail interview with Martin, professor 
and chair of art and public policy at New York University, to gain a 
better understanding of the ideas detailed in his complex and ambitious 

Q: What does it mean to say that colleges and universities today are 
"under new management"? What is the new management, and how does it 
differ from the old?

A: Higher educational institutions are complex and diverse and managed 
in a variety of ways. The new management under consideration in this 
book reflects changes within these institutions as well as their social 
surround. From child-rearing and personal feelings to public opinion and 
professional performance, every aspect of our work and lives is now 
subject to managerial protocols that encourage adoption of techniques to 
enhance performance based upon external measures of productivity and 
efficacy. Colleges and universities of the past certainly had their 
strong leaders who often ruled through a kind of separation of powers, 
leaving faculty and disciplines some measure of self-governance over 
curriculums and research while presidents tended to administrative 
affairs. Over the past 30 years, especially, this separation has eroded 
as doubt has been cast on the value of what education yields, and 
campuses and faculty have been subject to a race to improve rankings and 
translate what they know into standardized measures of worth.

Q: What is the relationship between higher education and what you call 
the “professional-managerial class”? Why are their “fates… intertwined”?

A: Upward mobility, the means by which life improves for individuals and 
generations as time goes on, is the keystone of the American Dream. As 
higher education in the United States shifted after the Second World War 
from a largely elite province to become increasingly accessible to the 
masses, an implicit social compact was devised and supported by a range 
of explicit programs and policies that helped expand campuses and who 
could attend college. A new work force was being readied to enter what 
many were calling the knowledge society, where expertise was fueling an 
industrialization of the professional fields. A credential from an 
institution of higher learning was the ticket to the promise of an 
orderly and progressively more lucrative career. The expansion of higher 
education and the professional managerial class fed off one another. But 
with industrialization of knowledge the control over one’s calling, the 
sense that education or professional expertise had command over its own 
domain was increasingly given over to expectations of enhancing value 
and productivity. Managerialism overtook professional norms of 

Q: “…[T]he university under new management presents a series of dilemmas 
that further unsettle existing circumstances and open up a range of 
possible outcomes.” In your view, what are the crucial dilemmas, and 
what are their implications?

A: New management augurs a shift away from education as an ends in 
itself, the traditional ideal of the liberal arts. The conventional and 
historical alternative to liberal learning is technical or vocational 
training. Neither option holds the promise it once did. The values of 
well-rounded citizenship are being de-emphasized in favor of technical 
and professional careers whose availability and security are diminished. 
Universities do not necessarily enjoy pride of place in knowledge 
production but are one among many industries that pursue intellectual 
properties. While research universities have been encouraged over the 
past three decades to pursue patents whose revenue might compensate for 
lost government subsidy, this increase in entrepreneurial activity has 
left them with a small fraction of total patents and therefore trading 
their distinctive place for one among many others in a competitive 
knowledge industry. For students, higher education needs to reconsider 
what critical faculties students require in order to make a place for 
themselves in a world whose structures of opportunity have changed. 
Research and professional activity needs to be more alive to the 
circuits of knowledge in society but also needs to consider how to 
transform the social purposes of the industrialization of knowledge, 
across such fields as information, biomedicine, finance and culture.

Q: One of the book’s underlying themes is the “shift in education from a 
public good to a private one” – a sea change lamented by many 
commentators on higher education. You seem more ambivalent about this 
shift. Are there ways in which education’s redefinition as a private 
good may be a change for the better?

A: Rather than an entitlement of citizenship that governments should 
provide, higher education is increasingly treated as an investment in a 
future earnings potential. Grants funded by tax collection are to be 
replaced by accrual of savings through tax-abated mutual funds and 
increasing debt load. Without discounting the benefits of free or 
affordable tuition for all, the shift in the locus of domestic policy 
from citizen to investor poses the question of what the future should be 
like if indeed our debt to one another has been amplified. For this to 
happen, the private good focus on adding value would need to be 
reconsidered for the kinds of value we would want to enhance or 
appreciate and the kinds of mutual indebtedness we would want to accrue. 
If we can imagine the kind of education we would need to get the future 
we want, where this “we” is as expansive as the market claims to be, the 
result would be a very different kind of bailout, with the government 
acting toward the needs of the general population as an investor of last 

Q: Of the public-to-private-good shift, you write, “Casting a college 
degree as yielding twice the annual income as a high school diploma 
provided good cover for the dismantling of the social compact that had 
supported tuition subsidies to students and institutions….” What do you 
see as the real reason for this “dismantling of the social compact,” and 
who (or what) is responsible?

A: The shift in public policy emphasis toward dismantling entitlements 
and supporting investment in private goods is part of a larger process 
termed "financialization." Its predicates are complex and its effects 
comprehensive. The changes to higher education and citizenship 
undertaken in the past 30 years involve modeling social institutions and 
personal behavior along the lines of finance. The premise is that 
well-managed risks reap maximum rewards. Risk is shifted from a 
government responsible for the population’s security to those who can 
best take advantage of financial opportunities. Those who cannot are 
termed “at-risk.” As was evident in the financial meltdown, when more 
and more are involved in taking and making risks, the world becomes more 
volatile, opaque, uncertain. Higher education has its own versions of 
risk-taking: strategic investments that can fizzle, stars that lose 
their luster, endowments that implode, capital campaigns with their own 
intricate financial gambits.

Q: How would you summarize your answer to the question you pose at the 
start of the second chapter: “As higher education loses its autonomy, is 
no longer a thing unto itself but itself in the service of a 
professional calling, how has the pre-college experience been 
transformed?” Would you categorize this transformation as largely 
positive, negative, or neither? Why?

A: The advent of high-stakes testing for students and schools alike is 
based on the model of professional credentialing like the bar and the 
medical boards. Tests are used as measures of individual student and 
school performance and, in the latter case, can determine funding. From 
this perspective, students must deliver the productivity in terms of 
measurable improvement on which revenue will be determined. Inside the 
classroom students are likely to notice the double authority between 
what teachers instruct and what tests demand. Hence while even young 
schoolchildren are instructed in the demands of managerialism, they also 
can learn that not everything they are curious about is reducible to the 
test. Testing regimes provide their own inoculation from the pressures 
and anxieties of the very professional parents who are part of the drive 
to enhance performance in the face of an uncertain future.

Q: “...[T]he liberal arts model,” you write, “…treats undergraduates as 
specialists in embryo, rather than helping these students develop modes 
of work that allow their competencies to emerge.” What might a more 
desirable model look like, and could it be a potential (or actual) 
upside to the “professional turn”?

A: Conventional liberal arts can assume that knowledge is fixed on a 
stable landscape, sometimes described as tradition. General education 
places students as specialists on a pre-existing map with expectations 
that they will occupy the old landmarks. Instead we could think of the 
common educational experience, the core curriculum, as providing the 
means through which students generalize from their particular experience 
to the world, so that they are able to locate themselves in a geography 
that is shifting or that they will need to make for themselves. At some 
100 million, far more students are involved in adult and continuing 
education than as matriculated students. Higher education is no longer 
simply the portal for a stable career but a medium of lateral labor 
mobility as people retool themselves continually as lifelong learners. 
Most academic departments and disciplines have done little to reflect 
upon this massive population returning to the university in terms of 
their own intellectual itinerary and aims. Finally, the figure of the 
public intellectual who shuttles from inside the ivory tower to an 
awaiting audience is seeing its ground shake as that public becomes more 
active in developing and voicing its myriad critical perspectives. Such 
circumstances call for a more active consideration of how knowledge is 
used, how specialists affiliate with various societal currents, and how 
other forms of knowledge flow into and are taken up by formal academic 

Q: How do you view the relationship (discussed in Chapter 4) between 
academic freedom and the service work required of faculty?

A: Faculty work is typically divided between research, teaching and 
service. Academic freedom applies to the first two criteria, which are 
also most valued for compensation and emerged as a perquisite in the 
early 20th century, enshrined by tenure that ceded large-scale 
institutional decision-making to campus leadership. Indeed, service has 
a connotation of voluntary or unpaid work, which associates it with the 
raced and gendered divisions of labor on many campuses — those who serve 
the academic mission, from clerical staff to food and maintenance 
workers. Service as a category of labor is also connected to unpaid 
domestic work and slavery. Devaluing service not only makes it easier to 
take for granted all these jobs that allow campuses to operate, but also 
takes attention away from the increasing administrative work that 
faculty are asked to do and the growing purview of decision-making 
claimed by senior administrators — whose own work is becoming more 
generously compensated. Academic freedom, doubtless a value that cannot 
be taken for granted, pertains to faculty governance, a domain that is 
being eclipsed by university governance over which administration holds 
sway, especially when it comes to priorities in collecting and 
disbursing funds or investments. Faculty will be well-served to recast 
service as administrative labor, both to give value to an increasingly 
consequential aspect of their academic lives, but also to come to 
recognize the knowledge they possess as to how to run the institutions 
of which they are a part.

Q: “Pushing for fuller self-recognition of administrative labor suggests 
a rethinking of the basic contract that had established faculty autonomy 
a century ago….” What would this rethinking look like, and what might be 

A: Self-recognition of administrative labor encourages faculty to think 
about how they operate within multiple organizational circuits or 
registers. While much has changed over the past century, state, industry 
and class endure as domains of constitutive power for faculty. Each of 
these arenas is still accessed and shaped by corresponding 
organizational forms – political parties, unions and professional 
associations that administrative labor engages and directs. The 
professional association can reference a reinvigorated peerage of 
university management that does not substitute presumptive consensus of 
disciplinary, procedural, or inter-institutional hierarchy for a robust 
dialogue on what aims will be served and by which means. While there is 
still an expectation of expert knowledge in order to pass judgments, the 
tactical applications needed to abet the work of committees, 
departments, schools and fields require a strategic intelligence, an 
applied listening, and an organizational diligence all of which 
redistributes value by recognizing the moil that runs the institution – 
working on and through the authority of others.

Labor organizing on campus certainly indexes the register of industrial 
organization (as opposed to single-craft occupations) and occasions 
solidarity among students, staff, and faculty. The United Automobile 
Workers, for example, which now represents faculty and graduate 
students, also negotiates on behalf of curators, writers, lawyers and 
others in the knowledge sector. Such organizing recognizes 
knowledge-making that flows across a range of sites and links 
epistemological formations with work. Media studies, cultural studies, 
policy studies, science studies as well as ethnic, race, gender, global 
queer studies -- the very fibers of interdisciplinarity that have 
transformed the social sciences and humanities -- are the cognates 
within the university to circuits of knowledge in informatics, 
biotechnology, mass media, and social services sectors. These existing 
connections between faculty intellectual work and industrial formation 
bear practically on how we make alliances and with whom, what can be 
claimed as proprietary, and what as part of the commons. Thinking these 
connections along industrial lines sets together the often-long march 
toward collective bargaining agreements that formalize governance with 
the ministered associations by which professionals now govern themselves.

— Serena Golden

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