February 28, 2010

NuBureaucracy Round-up

Just a series of links and responses, pending a proper post once I get through the current blizzard of commitments.

1. Things are clearly hotting up, as Nina's report from Take Back Education indicates. In respect of Jim Wolfreys' demand that senior management appy for their jobs, a recent UCU newsletter at King's reports the following:

    According to the College’s latest Financial Report, 202 staff currently earn over £100 000 a year at a total annual cost of over £29m. Of these, 17 earn over £200 000 - more than the prime minister, who is on £197 689. We do not believe that such salary levels are acceptable in the public sector today. A £100 000 salary cap would save the College over £9m a year.

But why should anyone working in public sector education get anything like as much as 100 000? 60 grand is enough for anyone to live in extreme comfort - and if they don't like it, by all means head for the private sector...

2. I'll be going right into the heart of the malestrom, giving a talk next week at King's, entitled "Kafka 2010: Capitalist Realism after the crisis". It's at 6.00pm, 11 March 2010, The Old Committee Room, King's Building, Strand Campus, King's College London. All are welcome, but if you want to attend, please drop me line so we have an idea of how many people are going to come.

3. The podcast of the Goldmsiths NuBureaucracy event has been uploaded - at amazing speed, it was up the date after the event - by the superb Rene Wolf and his Back Door Broadcasting. If you've read the book, skip to Alberto's talk (in which, amongst many other things, he introduces the priceless concept of precognitive capitalism) and the discussion, in which a number of important issues came up.

Here's the response of one attendee:

    Reading your book over the last couple of days I have felt more sane than in the last six months of teaching in further education. The situation at my college is exactly as you describe it: lecturers are conscripted into performing endless bureaucratic procedures which and have nothing to do with their ostensible function (to improve teaching and learning) and everything to do with the concealed function of improving the ‘representation’ of the college through the abstract mechanisms of paperwork and statistics. This has served to create a ‘virtual’ college, which is prioritised over the ‘real’ college in every conceivable way; or as you said in Capitalist Realism ‘all that is solid melts into PR’.

    Another hidden function of the bureaucratic processes in which lecturers are constantly embroiled is to control them. An example of this is the disciplinary system at my college. If a student is late the lecturer is supposed to issue them with a late slip, which is an official looking piece of paper with designated spaces for the date, time on entering the class, number of minuets late, course, course code, learner name, learner code, teacher name, group tutor name, a reason for the lateness, and, finally, a space for both the student and the teacher to sign and date it. Three late slips result a misdemeanour, another form that demands all of the previous information (times, dates, course, course code, reasons, etc) be repeated. After three more late slips you issue the student with a misconduct form. Here, again, the same information is repeated almost as though it were possible to change behaviour simply through repeatedly recording these facts. Three more late slips result in the student being issued with a gross misconduct form, which is meant to be the point at which their commitment to the course is seriously called into question. At any point in the process the lecturer can perform a what is know as a ‘board of study’, during which they sit down with the student and discuss the reasons for their lateness (of course any lecturer genuinely concerned about a students progress will have been doing this already).

    The problem with all of this is that it can go nowhere. The unofficial policy of the college, which is deliberately leaked to the teaching staff through various channels, is that the college cannot afford to lose a single student. Each student on a full time course is worth £5,000 to the college (more if they have specific learning disabilities) and the statistics for retention are closely tied to course funding for the next academic year. The students know this, they are aware that they will be kept on the course no matter what their level of punctuality or attendance drops to. They are aware that they can take off weeks at a time with impunity and some of them take full advantage of this knowledge. However, it is too simplistic to conclude from this that the college’s disciplinary procedure is dysfunctional; rather it is that the real function of the procedure, its true subject, is concealed.

    So who is the real subject of the college’s disciplinary procedure? The answer is of course the teaching staff. If they fail to strictly adhere to a disciplinary procedure that they know to be meaningless and which arguably places a barrier of contractual formality between them and the students, which inhibits rather than facilitates communication, it is they themselves who stand to be disciplined. When a student’s attendance and punctuality are audited, if the lecturer cannot produce all of the accompanying paperwork (which serves the virtual college) then they will stand to account for it, because, unlike students lecturers can be got rid of.

    The same logic runs throughout the system, with lecturers being made culpable for every aspect of the students’ performance as well as their physical and emotional wellbeing. It is not that lecturers shouldn’t be concerned about the wellbeing of their students, but the college makes it their responsibility to monitor these pastoral aspects without any recognition of the time it takes to do so effectively, let alone to complete the attendant paperwork that evidences their actions and serves the virtual college.

    For students in further education the onus for every aspect of their education has been taken away from them and instead foisted onto the lecturing staff. That the sector is largely a provider of ‘post compulsory’ education hardly seems to matter, targets from central government and a lack of meaningful opportunities mean that the element of genuine choice has largely evaporated. Furthermore, every aspect of provision is warped and constricted by necessary compliance with reactionary and contingent initiatives, which are implemented through methods of funding allocation. This is how young people are conditioned either for higher education and ‘independent study’ or for the world of work, or what is left of it. It seems symptomatic of society, which seeks to strip individuals of their agency and incorporate them passively into a system of decentralised control.

    Which brings me to the aspect I found most striking about Capitalist Realism, how you use current initiatives in further education as an illustration indicative of the effects of the imposition of a business ontology throughout every aspect of the public (and private) sphere. My own experience in the sector, which your book has enabled me to conceptualise, has enabled me to perceive this shift acutely in a wider context. I have yet to read a more concise diagnosis of the poisonous atmosphere which capitalism has engendered for all but the wealthiest of citizens.

4. On NuBureaucracy and health care, Michelle writes:

    I've made it my business to read all of the inquiry findings into this story:

    Actually I'm now reading the enquiry report itself and last week I found myself reading every single board meeting minute from the Trust itself, some of which can be found here since 2006, many of which seem to have disappeared from the site in the interim.

    Anyway it's some pretty shocking reading, and plenty of blame to go around. The usual tales of absurd government targets combined with cost-reductions to be sure, but what struck me was the sheer amount of reference to "auditing" by everyone concerned. The nurses, having been forced to adhere to government-set targets which they knew would endanger patient safety, routinely lied about achieving these targets (and falsified records to do so) only so that they could get on with taking care of patients. They were also led to believe that not "achieving" them would lead to sacking. The hospital trust/management seemed to know nothing about any of these targets, nor whether they were being met. Somewhere along the line, the hospital board were all hyped up to achieve "Foundation Status" and instituted cost-reductions in order to do so. When they applied for it, there was another external audit conducted in order to grant it (likely by a different body with a totally different set of targets) and when the trust passed this audit, they were convinced that since they had been audited and deemed good enough to be a Foundation Trust, that everything was fine. It clearly wasn't. (Not only this, but upon becoming a Foundation Trust (i.e. a fully privatised one), the governors decided that all their meetings must henceforth be held in secret, "since matters of a commercial nature were to be discussed" there on in.)

    My point is that everyone on the board of governors believed that since they had been "audited" there was no way that there could be a problem. And they still can't believe that there was poor care at this hospital for over 2 years, even when faced with hundreds of families telling them that their parent died screaming in a pile of their own filth, their son died because their heart condition was undiagnosed, etc. More than one professed himself as "astonished" at hearing these horror stories, many still express the view that these stories cannot be true. (One interesting thing: the news agencies are widely reporting that patients were forced to drink from vases since no other drinking water was available. The enquiry stated that they heard no evidence to support this particular claim, but I can assure you that the other evidence on display in the enquiry report is far, far more shocking than drinking from vases.) Oddly, it appears that the hospital trust never even noticed that though there were several external audits conducted every year, there was never an internal audit conducted. Whether they would have accepted the results from such is debatable, I suppose, but it seems that they were genuinely surprised to discover this.

    Anyhoo i guess my point is several: a) people are apt to invest so much Big Otherness into external audit results that they can go to work every day on a nursing ward known to every nearby hospital as "Beirut" and believe that all is well. b) audits, targets, etc are ideal psychological setups for buck-passing and general dereliction of personal responsibility c) getting "good" results from audits is probably a lot worse on the whole than getting "poor" ratings d) nuBureaucracy is not only psychologically destructive, it can actually kill people. But you know all this already I am sure.

Yes... At the height of the scandal about the death of Baby P, some were bewildered about how it could be that Ofsted reported that Haringey's children's services were 'improving', even though it later emerged that there were serious systemic problems with the services. These problems, mysteriously, were not detected by Ofsted until after the Baby P scandal had blown up. There is no mystery here: it seems to me likely that it was not an accident or an oversight that led to the systemic failings which contributed to Baby P's death going undetected. No - it is likely that the very fact that Haringey was "complying" with Ofsted's requirements that meant that there were systemic failings in the first place.

5. Great to see Capitalist Realism mentioned in the THES by Sarah Amsler.

6. Owen on the Kickstart scheme. Owen also draws my attention to this campaign by Sussex students, which is based around not completing the National Student Survey - is this "not the first revolt using form-filling/auditing as the battleground?"

7. Finally, threre's an interview with me at Ready Steady Book.

Posted by mark at February 28, 2010 11:45 PM | TrackBack