The secularisation of divine right: ethics, research, and management

Year: 2000


Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Among other developments affecting the restructuring of universities, recent industrial relations law has tended to centralise power in the hands of management. This shift is apparently welcomed by some university managers. The corporatisation of universities, in stating financial return as the god which may not be questioned, has cleared the way for a thoroughly technicist approach to management. The end of financial return being beyond question, the only permissible questions remaining are those of how to serve, with maximum efficiency, the given end. Defended in terms of 'maintaining global competitiveness', and the like, this approach is assumed to promote the good of freeing managers to engage in efficient executive decision-making. The implied ethical justification is utilitarian, narrowly defined. The resulting practice, operationalised as 'managerial prerogative', appears increasingly as a form of secularised divine right of managers to rule however they wish. This casts doubt on the practice in regard not only to its assumed ethical justification, but also to its damaging effects on crucially valuable contributions academic work could make to society. The paper makes use of a case study in research and research-management to illustrate the problem.