Corporate speak invading higher education


Language, by Thomas Hawk, flickr

I love the book Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, about a group of musicians and Shakespearean actors travelling round a post-apocalyptic USA. One of my favourite parts is where two former business men (who were trapped, and now live in, an airport) discuss the corporate speak in an old document one of them has preserved in the airport’s ‘Museum of Civilisation’:

“Okay, so under ‘Communication’ here’s the first comment. ‘He’s not good at cascading information down to staff.’ Was he a whitewater rafter, Clark? I’m just curious.”

“Yes,” Clark said, “I’m certain that’s what the interviewee was talking about. Actual literal cascades.”

“This one’s my other favourite. ‘He’s successful in interfacing with clients we already have, but as for new clients, it’s low-hanging fruit. He takes a high-altitude view, but he doesn’t drill down to that level of granularity where we might actionize new opportunities.'”

“There are high altitudes, apparently, also low-hanging fruit, also grains of something, also drilling.”

“Presumbaly he was a miner who climbed mountains and actionized an orchard in his off-hours.”

This type of corporate speak is invading higher education. I’ve been in a meeting where someone said ‘yes, we can onboard that resource’, which took me a while to realise meant ‘hire a new person’ (I think!).

There’s been a huge rise in the number of professional staff working in universities (see Hannah Forsyth’s excellent book for the Australian context), many of whom have come from the corporate world. I realise that universities are increasingly run as large corporations – with salaries to match for those at the top. But the corporate-speak feels jarring to me, at odds with the intellectual endeavours of higher education.

I found this example of a Professor who quit over this issue way back in 2000. In the article, Professor Sergio Perosa is quoted:

“The new language is the offspring of a hypertrophic bureaucracy,” he said. “We know that the old academic language was muddy, pompous and rhetorical. For decades we fought against it and looked with longing towards the clarity and conciseness of the English language. But this is worse, often I have no idea what they are talking about. It is both glacial and mystifying. 

“I believed our job was to form minds, awaken interests, stimulate intellectually and transmit knowledge. I now discover that I am providing a ‘service’, like gas, to ‘customers’ who, if all goes well, become ‘products’, like tinned food.” 

Keir Thorpe suggests that the rise of corporate speak might be the fault of academics, some of whom look down on administrators.

Whatever the reason for the invasion, the language we use is important. What are your thoughts on this topic? Should we resist corporate speak, or is it here to stay?

Students as partners – a way to re-shape higher education pedagogy or neoliberal seduction?

Amani Bell & Tai Peseta

This is our abstract from the HERDSA 2016 conference, which for some reason wasn’t made available online, so I’m popping it up here:

There is growing interest in Australia and worldwide in working with students as partners (SAP). Based on our own experiences of working with SAP (Peseta et al. 2016) and our reading of the literature, we offer a set of provocations designed to tease out some of the theoretical and methodological tensions involved in SAP initiatives. Working with SAP is seen by many as a way to reshape higher education, because such initiatives can be transformative for students, academics and universities. Examples of such transformations include changes to policy and practice, curriculum renewal, students gaining graduate attributes, and academics changing their views about teaching.

Some SAP researchers draw on threshold concepts theory to inform their work, arguing that academics and students partnering to explore pedagogical practice is a threshold concept. Once academics cross the threshold of working with SAP, they are ‘much more likely to think about their work with students less as “transmission” and as “more of a transaction”’ (Cook-Sather & Luz 2015, 1099). Linking students as co-inquirers with threshold concepts theory might help us better understand some of the difficulties that academics and students encounter in the ambiguous space of partnership. Other bodies of theoretical work may also usefully inform SAP work, including student approaches to learning and teachers approaches to teaching (Prosser & Trigwell, 1999), and Indigenous ways of research and knowing (Chilisa, 2012; Martin, 2008).

Yet claims that the field of SAP is under theorised persist. As Taylor and Robinson contend, ‘the student voice has been seen principally as a mode of practical intervention … allied to agendas around…improvement’ (2009, 161, 163). Peseta (2013) notes that the student voice can also be seen as an effect of the political desire that seeks it, suggesting that an innocent view of SAP intentions takes too little account of the diversity of methodological traditions informing its research agenda. Because SAP is inspired by everything from liberalism, critical theory, post-colonialism and post-structuralism, different views of the ‘self’, ‘experience’ and ‘voice’ circulate within its literature. Perhaps surprisingly, the effect of these differences is rarely remarked upon. This inattention is what makes the SAP agenda especially appealing to those in universities focused on the liberating tendencies of partnership as democracy and those who see neoliberal markets as key to higher education futures.

In this session, our ambition is to think with others to draw out the implications for the practice of SAP agenda.

Chilisa, B. (2012). Indigenous research methodologies. Los Angeles: Sage.
Cook-Sather, A., & Luz, A. (2015). Greater engagement in and responsibility for learning: what happens when students cross the threshold of student–faculty partnership. Higher Education Research & Development, 34(6), 1097-1109.
Martin, K. L. (2008). Please knock before you enter: Aboriginal regulation of outsiders and the implications for researchers. Brisbane: Post Pressed.
Peseta, T. (2013). The inevitable contradictions of student learning [Invited Essay]. The International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 7(2).
Peseta, T., Bell, A., Clifford, A., English, A., Janarthana, J., Jones, C., Teal, M. & Zhang, J. (2016): Students as ambassadors and researchers of assessment renewal: puzzling over the practices of university and academic life, International Journal for Academic Development, 21 (1), 54-66.
Prosser, M. & Trigwell, K. (1999). Understanding learning and teaching. UK: Open University Press
Taylor, C. & Robinson, C. (2009). Student voice: theorising power and participation. Pedagogy, Culture and Society, 17(2), 167-175