A Little Play: “Advanced Degree of Management-Speak”

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Trinity College, Dublin (@AndrewHavis)

How It’s New York: Turning academics and art into business is so very Madison Avenue, even if it didn’t start here.
How It’s Irish:This piece was inspired by the state of things in Irish univeristies, and written by Irish writer, New York-based Kevin Holohan.

New York is full of writers whose genius can be tapped by a tap on the shoulder. Here’s a hilarious and pointed little piece from Kevin Holohan, who insists:

 …it is vitally important to remember that real education is more than preparation for the drab utilitarian demands of the market.

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Prof Gerard Casey of UCD’s school of philosophy put it marvellously in 2006: “At present there are those who ask: ‘Why cant the university be more like business?’ (Oddly enough not many ask the equally pertinent question why businesses can’t be more like universities!)”– Tom Garvin

Well, after reading this tremendous essay: The Bleak Future of the Irish University by Tom Garvin, my head was reeling with Yeats quotes about greasy tills and the great art beaten down but instead I opted for a more contemporary little drama to illustrate this absurd disease. 

Ernest Nackyball has come to ask the college authorities for a hundred Euro to buy refreshments and make posters for a seminar.

College: So could you outline the USP of Beckett’s later prose?
Mr. Nackyball: Ehm, is that an express delivery service?
College: USP – Unique Selling Point!
Mr. Nackyball: Aha!  I see.  Very nice.  Lovely ring to it.  [Pause] Next question?
College: Seeing as you have failed to come with even a powerpoint presentation, I wonder if you could detail the core competencies that will result from any further discussion of Imagination Dead Imagine?
Mr. Nackyball: Ah.  Right.  Core competencies, is it?  Like typing or being able to spell “convulsive” and the like?  Right.  Let me come back to that one.
College: [Silence] Well I imagine you have some idea of the projected ROI here.  After all, you are discussing a large body of work and expecting… [leafs distastefully through paper proposal] …40 people?
Mr. Nackyball:  Ehm, 2 Euro for an Irish coffee, 80 cents for a Kit Kat…let’s see then…Jameson at wholesale…giant bag of Kit Kats…ROI?…about 80 Euro?
College: And your benchmarking schema?  I don’t seem to see it anywhere.  I really can’t see the slightest attempt to put any TQM in place and as for MBO, there seems to be….
[Mr. Nackyball retrieves his proposal and shuffles out defeated.  Management babble continues to issue from College until soft choking ensues.  Slow fade to utter, utter darkness.]
The Perplexed Reader: What was that all about?

(don’t worry! Kevin explains!)

In a time when education is being mauled into a conformity machine and the nail that stands up will be driven down or medicated into compliance to fit into the larger work culture of “team players” and group think, it is vitally important to remember that real education is more than preparation for the drab utilitarian demands of the market.

This marvelous essay, The Bleak Future of the Irish University by Tom Garvin, excerpted in The Irish Times from the book Degrees of Nonsense: The Demise of the University in Ireland, edited by Dr Brendan Walsh of DCU (Glasnevin Publishing).  is a thought-provoking and incisive wake-up call to the dangers of the creeping Business-ification of education not just in the universities of Ireland but everywhere:

“An indescribable grey philistinism increasingly characterized the public culture of the college, and a hideous management-speak drowned out coherent communication.” 

 There are few of us who have not been subjected to the incoherent horrors of someone trying to actionate something ballparkwise in a holistic 360 kind of way.


Why can’t a university behave like a business?  Because it is not really a business – it is a university!  Not everything of worth has a calculable ROI or a set of easily codified core competencies at the end.  Do we really wish to live in a world where only those things that have a box to check are valued?  I can’t wait to read the rest of these essays.  The analysis of education, which is how a culture shapes its future, can provide a prism that refracts the sometimes blinding light of an elite’s alleged intentions into its true constituent colors.  Not always a pretty sight and not always in keeping with the avowed intentions.

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Copyright 2012 New York Irish Arts