Bailey, F. (1977) Morality and
Expediency: the folklore of academic politics.
Oxford: Basil Blackwell
[An anthropological examination of universities
the culture and politics in the 1970s, before the
managerial revolution. Still horribly
accurate to describe the cultural aspects, though
-- see the collection on modern management in the
Paper World on this site. Critical but also
tempered with apology -- easy to twist that back
Myths can be seen as 'sets of values, ideas,
meanings, plans, stratagems and alternative forms
of social organization' (7). Lots of spoken
face to face communication is required to sustain
them rather than codification. To use the
term also implies falsehood, so that myths are a
'basic lie' which enables social life to carry
on. They involve an interpretation of
reality and they can be shared or imposed.
Various devices are used to reconcile any
- A 'retreat from reason',
as in a search for common principles, often
developed through ritual and ceremonial which
can help assert 'the myth of commonality
between the contestants' (10), so they appear
as 'children of one god'.
- It is possible to entice
people from any principled ground, and do
trade offs. These often take place in
private, they involve bluff, hidden agendas
and white lies as necessary devices to
preserve public principles (11).
- Myths can be simplified
especially if there is a large audience, in
order to win the day. It is better to do
this than to carefully expound a view.
In private, myths are made closer to reality
in various specific ways [rather than general
ways as when they are operationalized], and it
is important to calculate the costs and
benefits of acting as if myths were true.
So 'abstraction and simplification, the
tools of analysis, are also the tools of
politics' (13), used in politics, for example
to 'match the selection [of features] to the
audience'. [Modern managers are totally
useless at this though]
Sometimes, unpredictable acts can also bring about
unity. There are real and symbolic solutions
to problems, so that actual colleagues can be
dealt with, but the pull of colleagueship is also
powerful, even where it is in conflict with the
notion of scholarly standards. Such
conflicts are insoluble [in a rational sense], so
it is 'true believers [who] do most damage' (15).
We can discuss community and organization by
considering first the scholars' myth, and then the
legislators' myth. From the scholars'
perspective the community has a dark side: it is
not open, rational or accountable, and the tenure
system, for example, depends on personal
networks. This system contrasts with more
bureaucratic advancement procedures that you find
in American universities. The legislators'
myth leads to a stance of dealing with outsiders
instrumentally, for example 'laundering the
figures to extract money from outsiders'
(29). People have also noticed the link
between popular teaching and being able to claim
more resources [high scores on student
satisfaction questionnaires and other 'key
indicators' these days] .
There are splits between the faculty and the
administration leading to struggles over standards
and costs. Sometimes this produces
rhetorical plans designed to win funds rather than
give an account of the real difficulties. It
is not that administrators have a rational
approach, simply an opposing myth.Here private
negotiations are often required to solve problems.
There are myths concerning relations with the
outside world. The outside world can be seen
as a source of resources that can be grabbed, and
universities can follow a practice of pragmatic
adaptation. Some academics are openly
committed to good relations with the outside
world. All need adjustment and a series of
tradeoffs. The stance of attempting a
withdrawal from the outside world can be
principled, or cynical or 'political' as an
initial tactic. The predatory stance
requires some denial of victimhood—the victims are
too stupid—or of the crime [compare with Matza's 'techniques of
neutralization']. The commitment to
relations with the outside world can mean a
retreat into administration rather than
scholarship. It is hard to decide because
it's difficult to separate out the light from the
The adaptive stance also requires a myth about
reality, such that it is a perfect market.
Adaptations run into community myths, as when
agreeing with wider access is seen as agreeing to
lower standards. These problems are dealt
with by developing a covert hierarchy, where low
status or peripheral staff or departments deal
with 'reality', by running remedial courses, for
example (54). So there are communities of
scholars but there is also an internal divide and
rule policy. Academics are particularly easy
to exploit because they are supposed to be
persuaded only by facts and arguments (56) which
makes them helpless before an authoritative code,
especially if that code contains difficult
Administrators try to reify policies, presenting
bargains as facts, seeing chaos emerging from a
lack of grasp of detail. This can be seen as
entirely cynical and devious, but it also holds
institutions together (57). [Openly
apologetic here] Such moves can always be
rationalized by post hoc reinterpretations of the
Committees are best seen as places for private
negotiation, and this is their real role.
The larger ones also have a public face, inviting
'showmanship' and ritual. The most effective
ones work in privately, in small, egalitarian, and
informal groups. This secrecy is justified
as necessary in changing circumstances, but the
intimacy involved leads to a focus on persons
rather than principles. It is often possible
to assume some 'tacit agreement on values'.
Such committees can take on elite characteristics,
which include a claim to 'share responsibility for
the welfare of the whole institution'.