Managerialism

I wonder whether you heard Rodney Cavalier’s commentary on Morris Iemma’s resignation from being Premier of NSW on Geraldine Doogue’s Breakfast Program last Saturday? He reckons the zeitgeist has moved from a period of “belief” to “managerialism”.

Iemma is a ‘belief’ leader.

“I took what I believed to be a package of renewal, reform and refreshment, for the party, the Cabinet. That was not accepted, so I tendered my resignation” – Iemma at his resignation press conference.

Iemma was not prepared to do the rounds of wooing and cajoling necessary in a managerialistic paradigm. Now it will be up to his successors to either change the vision to suit them (the way politics has become poll-driven) or to accept the realities of managerialsim and do the hard yards of jusification – time and energy spent not on developing the new ideas but on trying to get everyone on board.

This signifies a shift to a new conservatism – the bureaucrats no longer serving the agenda of leaders, but moderating them. It’s a shift in power toward the “bean counters”.

Cavalier observes that a climate of managerialism is no environment for nurturing new ideas.

The same dynamics pervade our universities.

I was talking with an academic this week about the time and energy he has to put in just to maintain his research centre. He reckons that at the bottom of it all there’s a breakdown of trust. No longer is he the ‘thought leader’ who is supported by a system that values his intellectual enquiry (belief) – rather he is on a self-justification treadmill (called “accountability). (What has happened to the idea of the professor – the professional?)

It’s a great way for political idealogues to domesticate universities!

At the turn of the twentieth century, leaders of some of the Protestant churches, no doubt inspired by the idea of Federation in Australia, started to declare that the coming together of churches in Australia was a worthy vision, to be pursued regardless of the opinion of the ‘mother churches’ in the UK and Europe. The actual signing off of the coming together of Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregational Churches as the Uniting Church in Australia, some seventy years later, was a signing off on a shared vision. The rules and regulations, the ‘how’, could follow.

If there is a crisis in government, universities and churches today, it might be that the cart has been put before the horse. We need institutions that nurture ideas and vision rather than “manage” them. We need resources to be risked rather than accounted for. We need relationships that begin with trust rather than doubt.

Otherwise, good people will bow out because it just doesn’t seem worth fighting the ‘blackhat’ people who find satisfaction in the ease with which new ideas and initiatives may be obsessively criticised, scrutinised and ultimately crushed.

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