A Dangerous Accountability: Neoliberalism’s Veer Toward Accountancy in Higher Education
Dr. Yvonna Lincoln
When Edward Snowden described the NSA’s bulk collection of telephone and email information from private citizens as “the most dangerous weapon ever invented,” he might as well have been talking about the neoliberal-cum-managerialistic rituals imposed upon public higher education faculties in the name of accountability. The slowly-encroaching “audit culture” overtaking intellectual labor that is creative, self-directed, collegial, spiritual, insight-driven, imaginative, and moral has driven the higher social purposes of higher education into retreat, creating a counting and surveillance culture that drives out both time and energy for “think work” and the intellectual “dreamtime” that accounts for major social and physical science breakthrough discoveries. Several scholars describe this encroachment as a “war on higher education.” The primary impact of this war on higher education is experienced by faculty in their everyday worklives, principally in the form of accountability measures and the constant press to self-surveil. Examples of the accountability-into-madness overtaking universities are drawn from my own institution—including three separate faculty evaluation systems now in place, with virtually limitless reporting requirements—and increased and increasing requirements for self-surveillance which drive out the leisure for reading and simply thinking which drives discovery and insight. The press to have faculty self-surveil, especially, has driven faculty off-campus, in an effort to find relief from incessant supervision and to find time for reading, thinking, and teaching preparation. Examples of both burdensome accountability reporting requirements are provided, and the slide into simplistic accountancy criticized, especially with respect to promotion and tenure and merit pay decisions.
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