Colleges have been rapidly corporatizing. That’s old news. But too rarely considered is the machinery that has inspired, enabled, and accelerated that corporatization. Enterprise systems, business-process re-engineering, balanced scorecard, computer business systems (or CBS, the acronym I’ve come to favor)—call them what you will. In this new millennium, chances are excellent that the college you work for has for years been spending some three-quarters of its IT budget on such networks.
The impact of these systems has most often been for the worse, catalyzing the most dehumanizing aspects of corporatization. CBSs—linking the workstations of every employee, whether university president or graduate teaching assistant—use data to evaluate performance in real time according to management-approved metrics. Largely invisible, described in 500-page trade manuals’ effusions of jargon from engineer to engineer, then M.B.A. to M.B.A., the systems long ago broke out beyond their corporate origins, flooding the scholarly world, reaching trade schools and ancient bastions of the humanities alike.
I’ve spent 15 years studying the genesis and effects of these networks on both sides of the Atlantic—in England, where they’ve corroded higher education via central-government monoliths, and in America, where disparate organizations, public and private, have been withered by the same forces, through the spread of worst “best practices” rather than by federal fiat. Whether the data networks were the chicken or the egg to the idolatry of free-market efficiencies, the resulting hardships have undoubtedly come home to roost. <Read more.>