Defending the university? : Academics’ reactions to managerialism in Norwegian higher education

Abstract: The thesis contributes to the knowledge on academic work in the 21st century, with a special emphasis on how members of faculty react to contemporary developments in the management of universities. The approach is qualitative and consists of 25 in-depth interviews with academics at two higher education institutions in Norway.The thesis is divided into two parts. In part one, the introduction of managerialism in higher education (HE) is analysed in light of the history and norms of academic work. Managerialism in HE is thus empirically described and theoretically analysed, and compared to a set of academic norms drawing on the Mertonian norms of CUDOS. In part two, the interview-based qualitative study of how academics react to managerialism is presented. Drawing on theoretical concepts like resistance, organizational misbehavior, gaming and functional stupidity, the author develops categories of academic reactions to managerialism.A central argument in the thesis states that academic resistance differs from traditional workplace resistance in the sense that it is not performed to restrict output. On the contrary, academic resistance is meant to protect academic work from what academics see as the corrosive effects of managerial systems. Through academic resistance, academics maintain control over the academic labour process and are able to define and uphold quality standards and levels of output. Another central argument states that when academics do not resist the demands of management, they might do so cynically, through gaming the managerial systems. When academics engage in gaming, they also abandon the academic norms. A third argument is that academics that attempt to adhere to the demands of management and at the same time uphold the academic norms, must engage in a form of mediation between the two. Acts of mediation are complicated and costly, as the academic norms and managerialism are divergent, and there is little support from the academic community.