Thursday 23 August 2012

Is this what we're doing to Universities?

This is the amateur restoration of a fresco reported  by the BBC today: see

To quote the BBC article,
The once-dignified portrait now resembles a crayon sketch of a very hairy monkey in an ill-fitting tunic
A friend suggested to me a while ago that managerialism can be thought of as "the governance of professional organisations by non-professionals". My view on this at the time was that the 'profession' of the University was contested, and that managers believe the University should be something different from that which academics might believe it should be (in the manager's view, it should be something easier for them to manage!).  But the contested nature means that it is hard to know who is 'right'. Is there a 'right' way?

This fresco makes me rethink this view, because essentially it is a view that says there is no objective value in the University, it is a social construct which can 'change with the times' (postmodernism has done so much damage to universities.. but that's another post!). And Universities have changed with the times. But at the same time, there has been some maintenance of their 'essential quality', which has been stewarded by people who cared for their institutions and honoured their history. From a postmodern angle, one could argue that what is contested in the case of the fresco is an interpretation of what the fresco should look like. But deep down, I think that is patently insane: it is hard to defend what has been done (except for its comedic value!). 

That means that there was something of essential value which has been destroyed through amateur interference. If managerialism is governance by non-professionals, then might a similar result can be expected on the institutions they govern?

What is distressing about this is the fact that the damage is irreparable: there can be no going back; As with the library at Alexandria, it is now only a moment in history when something important was lost.

All that we can do is mourn and learn from what's happened.

1 comment:

arumugam said...
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