Notes on: Bailey, F.  (1977) Morality and Expediency: the folklore of academic politics.  Oxford: Basil Blackwell

Dave Harris

[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 section on Paper World on this site. Critical but also tempered with apology -- easy to twist that back though]

Chapter one

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 competing myths:
  1. 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'. 
  2. 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). 
  3. 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).

Chapter two

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.

Chapter three

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 dark sides.

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 details. 

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 myths.

Chapter four

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'.

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