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Series: Irish Society
Author: Pat O’Connor

This book provides a definitive examination of higher education: exploring its nature and purpose, and locating it in the context of the state and the market. It presents new research on an elite group: senior managers in universities. They are relatively powerful in relation to their students and staff but relatively powerless in relation to wider neo-liberal forces. Written in a clear, student friendly, accessible style, and drawing on policy analysis and interviews with those at the top three levels of university management, it provides an in-depth analysis of the structures, cultures and practices at that level and locates these in a cross national context. Through the eyes of these senior managers, we are able to understand this gendered world, where four fifths of those in these positions are men, and to consider the implications of this in a world where diversity is crucial for innovation. Despite the managerialist rhetoric of accountability, we see structures where access to power is effectively through the Presidents’ ‘blessing,’ very much as in a medieval court. We see a culture that is less than comfortable with the presence of women, and which in its narratives, stereotypes and interactions exemplifies a rather 19th century view of women. Sites and agents of change are identified: both in the universities and in the wider international policy context. Essential for undergraduate and postgraduate students and their lecturers in education, management, sociology policy and gender studies, it will challenge them to critically reflect on management and on higher education.

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My own journey
Pat O’Connor

My own background was one where what you know (i.e. knowledge: favoured by my mother) and who you know (i.e. power: favoured by my father) were competing narratives. As a young woman, graduating at 19 years with a first class honours degree, I favoured my mother’s view and (unconsciously) avoided researching issues related to public power. It was not until I was in my 40s that I began to appreciate my father’s perspective and developed a research interest in public power. My own experience as the first woman to be appointed at professorial level in the University of Limerick in 1997, and the first woman to be appointed Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences there in 2000 (being re-appointed by three Presidents to that position over a ten year period) provided an interesting context for an outsider/insider, who is a ‘tempered radical’ (Myerson and Scully, 2011). This research on senior management is thus informed by my own experiential knowledge of university management as well as by the academic research itself.

in Management and gender in higher education
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Universities in a changing society
Pat O’Connor

In a neo-liberal world, are universities just another corporation, but one that that marketises and commodifies knowledge? Those who are in senior management have a important role in shaping the future of universities at this crucial juncture when ‘universities have to decide how they are to be in the world’ (Barnett, 2011:16). Yet the positioning of these senior managers themselves is complex: they are relatively powerful in relation to their staff and students; and relatively powerless in relation to a globalised market and a state in thrall to it. In financial terms at least they can be seen as an elite. Four fifths of those in these positions in Irish public universities are men: their gender profile contrasting markedly with that of their students. This raises fundamental questions about the gendering of power and merit and the gendered definition of and gendered colonization of knowledge.

in Management and gender in higher education
Pat O’Connor

Gender and collegiality/managerialism are used as alternative interpretative frameworks in explaining the under representation of women in senior management. Gender is seen as a multi-level phenomenon: existing at the individual; the interactional; the organisational and the institutional level. This research project was undertaken in relation to an international project involving UK, Turkey, Sweden, Portugal, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa (Bagilhole and White, 2011). In each country the samples were purposive and a common interview guide was used. The Irish sample consisted of those at the top three layers of management in all Irish public universities: namely President, Vice President and Dean. It included both men and women; manager-academics and other professionals: with a response rate of 85 per cent. The method of data collection was a face-to-face interview and the data was analysed thematically. The wider international context for the study provides a salutary challenge to ‘Irish exceptionalism’ (O’Dowd, 1996).

in Management and gender in higher education
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Instrumentality, scientization, degendering
Pat O’Connor

Recent higher educational policies cross nationally have been dominated by concerns with instrumentality (as reflected in accountability and governance) and scientizisation (as reflected in the prioritisation of research in limited areas of science and technology that are seen as potentially marketable). Seminal policy documents related to higher education which exemplify this focus are examined, particularly OECD (2004) and Hunt Report (2011). Degendering (i.e. a lack of concern with gender) has characterised Irish higher educational policy over the past 15 years. This is increasingly at odds with policies in the European Union and international policies. Closing the Gender Gap: Act Know (OECD, 2012) starkly indicates just how far out of step Irish higher educational policy is in this area.

in Management and gender in higher education
Pat O’Connor

The collegial structure of universities, with their stress on election to management positions (the metaphor of the Gentleman’s Club) is being replaced by managerialism. Below the level of President, the apparent objectivity of managerialism conceals a personal and arbitrary power (reflected in the metaphor of the Medieval Court). Senior managers, particularly manager-academics, are appointed through the ‘blessing of the President’ but without the discipline of profit as the ultimate ‘bottom line’. Women make up one fifth of those at this level, illustrating the gendered nature of that ‘blessing’. A collegial discourse remains an important source of legitimacy for managerialist power: power that is also reflected in the role of the President as Chief Executive Officer

in Management and gender in higher education
Pat O’Connor

The gendered organisational culture includes gendered narratives explaining the under-representation of women in senior management positions. Among the male senior managers insofar as there is a problem, it stems from women’s lack of confidence; poor ability to market themselves; lack of political ‘nous’; their priorities, including care: factors that had little or nothing to do with the organisation and were very much ‘women’s problem’. This lack of awareness of gender was reflected in an almost 19th century view of women, which legitimated the existing situation. A minority of the men (particularly those who had worked outside Ireland or in mixed gender teams in the private sector) saw gender as a visible and systematic reality. This was the view of the majority of the women. Both men and women thought that the President could change the gender composition of senior management and they thought that this was important for a variety of reasons, but pro-activity in this area was seen as very much a residual issue.

in Management and gender in higher education
Pat O’Connor

Gender stereotypes are particularly relevant to ideas about senior management because of the well-recognised tension between leadership and gender roles. The senior managers thought that gendered management styles existed. In contrast to Sweden, where roughly half of those at the equivalent to the Presidential level are women, there has never been a woman at this level in an Irish university. Hence stereotypes in the Irish context reflected and reinforced reality. Male gendered management styles were seen as aggressive; while women’s were seen as more people centred; more holistic; more concerned with detail. Furthermore whereas men were seen as having a sense of entitlement (to the ‘patriarchal dividend’: Connell, 1987), women were seen as more concerned with the work itself than with their own status. So taken for granted was ‘think manager, think male’ that the majority made no explicit reference to gender in describing a typical President of their own university. The characteristics that they saw as valued in their senior management teams implicitly evoked a collegial/managerialist framework: one which had strong unrecognised gender resonances.

in Management and gender in higher education
Pat O’Connor

There was general consensus that the advantages of being in senior management were extensive, partly stemming from the perceived purpose of the university and partly from the intellectual calibre of the people working there. Limited resources and the nature of internal and external decision making structures were widely seen as disadvantages. The impact of senior management on work-life balance, on personal well-being (and on the manager-academics teaching and research activities) were generally perceived as acceptable costs. But many of the men were seen as uneasy about their female colleagues’ presence in senior management: seeing them as ‘disruptive’ challenging and even ‘frightening’- their very existence in senior management undermining stereotypical ideas about ‘a woman’s place’. A minority of men valued their female colleagues’ perceptions of them more than their male colleagues ones: reflecting their dis-identification with the male dominated contexts. They are thus also potential allies in transforming its structure and culture.

in Management and gender in higher education
Pat O’Connor

There has been surprisingly little research attention paid to higher education in the Irish context. University senior management as an elite has attracted even less attention. Their power is overwhelmingly gendered, with four out of five of them being men: such gendered power being reproduced through the construction of gendered selves; perceptions; management styles; organisational narratives and stereotypes. Policy related to higher education is particularly concerned with the development of bureaucratic processes, (without any cost/benefit analysis), in the name of accountability, while senior management is accessed very much on a grace and favour basis, through the President’s ‘blessing’. Sites and agents of change can be identified: the most obvious, but by no means the only one, being the majority of women in these positions. International pressure, through the EU and the OECD is increasingly highlighting gender equality as an important contributor to economic growth. Raising questions about the nature, purpose, structure and culture of senior management in higher education is an essential part of transforming them: such questions being all too easily avoided given the increasingly close relationships between the state and the market.

in Management and gender in higher education