Category Archives: higher ed

Professional autonomy *as* managerial control?

There is a lot of writing out there about de-professionalization in many fields (teaching, nursing, medicine, higher ed, presumably accounting and law), as a phenomenon of corporate managerial control over once-autonomous professionals. This is a real and terrible phenomenon and I share in the handwringing. I’m wondering, though, about a parallel process in which de-professionalization happens because once-autonomous professionals increasingly perform managerial roles–and this is what makes it kind of feel like you still have autonomy. So in higher ed, the hiring, evaluation, and firing of teaching faculty (tenured bosses, etc), for nurses and doctors the increased (I assume?) responsibility to oversee growing ranks of less-credentialed caregiving staff, etc. Obviously this is de-professionalizing in the conventional sense for those being managed. But also for those doing the managing, you have what *feels* like professional autonomy, or at least power and control, in the form of evaluating and directing other people who are involved in the activities of your professional jurisdiction. And that can look and feel surprisingly a lot like “peer review,” the classic function of professional evaluation by other professionals. Like, evaluating a colleague for promotion to tenure can be procedurally rather similar to evaluating a non-tenure-track colleague for contract renewal, and both can feel like part of a professional obligation to steward and protect the autonomous work of the profession. It’s just that one of those really is about a group of professionals deciding who will be a member of their own ranks (a “peer”) and the other is decidedly not. There is maybe a surprisingly fine line between peer evaluation and management, and the latter can be made to at least feel like the former, and I at least have heard people describe activities that are clearly managerial as being sites of professional responsibility (and, for example, a justification for the tenure system). It seems, though, like turning professionals into managers is itself a form of literal de-professionalization too, which is not to say that those once-professionals-now-managers should be the focus of our concern but that the structure of feeling that makes managerial tasks feel like professional autonomy is an important part of the problem.