There’s a simple explanation for the drive to quantify everything: the replacement of the horizontal self-government of university departments with the vertical hierarchy of departmental heads and senior management. Academics used to document their output on their CVs; now, managers have to find ways to justify their existence. “Everyone knows the results are absurd,” Graeber tells me via email. “We all spend more and more hours of our day discussing, analysing and assessing what we do, and fewer and fewer hours actually doing it, and all of it, just to give these high-level administrators who aren’t really needed something to do for their gold-plated salaries.”
But this is more than just a power shift, Graeber notes. “It represents a transformation in our basic assumption about what a university is…Thirty years ago, if you said ‘the university’, people assumed you were referring to the faculty. Now if you say it, people assume you’re referring to the administration.” The corporate bureaucrats who now run universities are “often more interested in real estate speculation, fund-raising, sports, and ‘the student experience’ than anything that has to do with learning, teaching, or scholarship at all”.