Argos aims to circulate writing about topical matters of public and political import that is local, critical and accessible. We believe critical intellectual conversation should be heard here in Aotearoa-New Zealand, not simply published for credit in international fora for more limited and specialised audiences. Of particular interest to us is writing that grounds its concern with the public or political good of place-making in theory or philosophy.



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Strategic Plan

The Real University

ArgosAotearoa StrategicPlan by TheRealUniversity 1
ArgosAotearoa StrategicPlan by TheRealUniversity 2


What might be achieved by replacing a real strategic plan with an alternate? By producing another plan that calls itself the ‘real’ one? Perhaps such a document needs to fit in before it can interrupt anything, to mimic an exterior in order to reconstruct an interior. The official Strategic Plan 2013-2020 offers one version of the University of Auckland but there is an inverse image that is rarely visible within such documents because it cannot be counted in the confining language of objectives, outcomes and key performance indicators. This less visible university, which we would like to call the real one, makes itself felt in both our quotidian and extraordinary experience. It is the historical place upon which this campus sits. It is also the interstitial work that occupies much of our time here, the hours of impassioned talk, the idle moments and chance encounters between classes—events that every so often rupture the apparent normality of the situation, allowing us to understand it in unforeseen ways.

The official plan speaks of a university in a rush: it is going somewhere, fast. This governing order of urgency manifests in ever-tightening forms of constriction. We can see it in the university’s resistance to a living wage for its workers, the increasing lockdown of campus life, the secure swipe-card access delineating more and more restricted areas, the public spaces swept clean of messy debate and inelegant clutter. We can feel it most palpably in absences, since a university in a rush is clamped down and more inhospitable than ever to those who are already excluded. But the entrepreneurial university is not only in a rush; it is a rush, a rapid thrust of charge and conquest. It is strategy as the command of an army (stratos, that which is spread out) by a general (agos, leader). In order to execute its mission, the university must make itself lean, stripping away the bulges and excesses and stragglers: the research that isn’t sufficiently lucrative, the baggy employment contracts with too many ‘conditions’, the unwieldy administrative structures, the students who perhaps need a university education the most. It loses much in its desire to move so fast.

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A plan doesn’t have to move, though, nor be strategic in quite this way. It can stay in the same place but diagram, experiment, explore. Its roots lie in inscribing something on a flat surface (a plane), thus materialising the university in a moment in time. A plan might take you forward towards an end goal but it might also pause, allowing you to reflect on things that have already happened or are still happening, or yet to happen. Our inverse plan sketches the lived configurations and atmospheres of the real university. It is strategic in the sense that, by tracing the contours of that which is less-than-visible, it works to socialise, politicise and revitalise this place.

At the same time it aims to immobilise, however briefly, the technology of strategic planning as self-fulfilling prophecy or ‘economancy’ (Gk. oikos and manteia, economy and prophecy). It suspends a university of ‘efficiencies’ (cost-cutting measures and ever-increasing workloads), exacerbated by building programmes and administrative reforms that further distance professional staff, academics and students from one another and bind us ever more tightly to planning itself, to command-and-control structures and processes, and to budgeted debt. This technology may appear to run swiftly and smoothly, to be self-consistent, incontestable, reasonable, but it is built on friction and contradiction: its parts work at odds with one another and with the whole. A plan such as ours is also, then, a means of making the technology of strategic planning stick, stutter and catch on the nicks that underlie it, thus exposing their presence.

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The University of Auckland was founded in 1883 as a constituent college of the University of New Zealand, placing the advantages of a university education, so it was claimed, ‘within the reach of every man and woman of Auckland’. But it was also built on Ngāti Whātua land, a debt that is originary and obliges more than acknowledgement realised as an afterthought through ‘partnerships’ and ‘shared aspirations’. That the university has failed to understand itself in terms of the long and ongoing history of this place might explain its rush and its interminable drive to make itself over. In such a location, a strategic plan might more wisely look around and behind itself for guidance and aspiration, drawing on the potential of the present-past—its lessons and patterns of value. Official Māori presence within the institution, the result of decades of struggle, remains circumscribed, partitioned, and endangered, such that an invaluable research centre can be threatened with dis-establishment, as if another building were being demolished to ‘secure’ our future prospects. But whose future? In this oceanic setting, Māori and Pacific sit beside other special interest areas, centres and committees that make up the university’s ‘diverse’ face. While this presence is called upon—from time to time—for authenticating and authorising purposes, the values of the larger institution are grounded otherwise, in the life of the brand itself.

The university is adept at partitioning spaces and inscribing divisions in this way, ordering what can be thought and said and done. The Strategic Plan 2005-2012 was gridded like a spreadsheet where ‘objectives’, ‘measures’ and ‘key actions’ lined up in consequential order and where the university’s functions (marketing, biotechnology, the arts) sat, literally, in separate boxes. Back then, institutional aesthetics could still transparently reflect institutional intent. The 2005 plan was openly slick and bossy, a blue-toned business folio, and its only illustrations were signature architectural monoliths (the Sky Tower, the Clocktower).

That the university has failed to understand itself in terms of the long and ongoing history of this place might explain its rush and its interminable drive to make itself over.

By contrast, the Strategic Plan 2013-2020 is softer, kinder, more human. This time we peer from the footpath at the Clocktower, partly obscured by branches. No longer are there borders, boxes or hard lines, and a friendly, lower-case typeface is favoured. This plan isn’t overtly ‘designed’, but is instead personalised by large colour photographs: students milling outside classes, hanging out near the marae, meeting in courtyards. There is a new, warmer palette which, like NICAI’s orange branding and the red and yellow colour scheme of the refurbished Arts 1 building, seems to signal a newfound regard for things like creativity and culture. The plan speaks of ‘scholarship’, ‘inclusiveness’ and ‘community’. As such, it exhibits strategies required in a world that is chastened, a little more reflexive and soft-footed, in the wake of recurrent financial crises, and its real implications are concealed by its affective surface. The community that is called into being by this plan, it turns out, is being consumerised and atomised all the while, with rankings and targets in view. Such tensions are smoothed over, however, and readers are encouraged to embrace the plan’s patterned contraries: efficiency and democracy, outputs and spontaneity, strategy and joy. Above all else, the plan offers up the perfectly empty experience of ‘excellence’.

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The real University of Auckland sits on Ngāti Whātua land and understands its own existence in light of this long and ongoing history of place. This pluriversity, or poly-versity, is an economy of ideas which operates athwart flows of capital and systems of accounting for knowledge. It realises that ideas of and for the good can never be owned as property, although they need to be situated, respected and properly reciprocated, and it perceives that real participation can only occur through trust, dialogue and dissent. The real university neither lives in fear of disrepute nor refuses disruption. It takes its engagement with the world beyond its walls to be self-evident, as well as its mission to be procreative, cooperative and self-critical. To be critical and creative means to problematise as much as to problem-solve (to ask after the purposes and interests of knowledge) and to ‘possibilise’ rather than ‘probabilise’ (to experiment with knowledge, instead of simply managing it). To be cooperative means to work together in constructive ways, in pursuit of common and ‘uncommon’ goals, in order to cultivate and uphold dignity and mana—to be just and to do justice. Self-consciousness requires that every detail of the university’s operation is not simply a means to an end but embodies and enacts these principles to their fullest. In essence, the real university exists to provide the imaginative wherewithal for personal and collective transformation. It names a social project that is always difficult and in doubt (marked as it is by stops and starts, dead-ends and false hopes), yet one that is vital and unending.

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  1. The formation of ideas is an unpredictable economy, subject in the first instance to its own laws and not simply to the quantification of knowledge work for profit. It requires respect for the autonomy of human interaction, the human capacity to make worlds—to ‘world’—and the whole environment of that activity.
  2. Unreflexive accounting systems may well measure but not know what matters to us: pre-determining or pre-scripting outcomes in advance destroys critical and creative thought. Self-reflexive and holistic accounting, based on a range of variables, is deliberative, and takes into account the value, and the values, of those whose work it measures.
  3. Real governance occurs through constantly materialising people, processes, events and experiences, both within and at odds with representative hierarchies, which otherwise amounts to consensus by management. Such openness makes the university a hospitable pluriversity, a place of voices—and voicing—at once noisy and contested.
  4. Recognising that the competitive individualism of ‘originality’, ‘authorship’ and ‘intellectual property rights’ circumscribes learning and research, the real university is based on critical and creative endeavour that is also cooperative. The effects of its enterprise are not reducible to economic or social ‘impact’, or to credit or career-advancement.
  5. The real university manifests, always imperfectly, ‘the public’, and takes its engagement with its own place to be self-evident. Its public mission is to reflect upon knowledge, as well as to generate knowledge, to concern itself with social values and thereby uphold dignity and mana.
  6. The real university, or pluriversity, exists to provide the imaginative wherewithal for personal and collective transformation and social renewal. Beyond the traditional critic-and-conscience role, its creative endeavour is ‘repurposeful’: it generates purposefulness by restoring old and imagining new ways of thinking and acting.
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Realising Our Principles

1. Automony

If a knowledge economy is to signify something other than making the university in all respects for-profit by quantifying and commodifying knowledge work, perhaps we need to speak of economy in its root sense of the management of the household. After all, students presumably seek an education and not to have the labour of their learning (their presence, fees, contribution) converted into the surplus time and profit of university researchers. We can say, then, that the real university endeavours to preserve and enhance the household, not simplyto profit investors—and the trade in student futures—and that it is tasked with nurturing the production and distribution of ideas. Indeed, it also recognises that these processes merge in productively unpredictable ways. The autonomy of this household is characterised by respect and reciprocity whereby it is assumed that good relations are produced through the give and take of ideas, and through hard or unhappy conversation. The university, then, is a house of knowledge, existent and potential, and profitable in the best sense of the word.

Activities remain aligned for the most part to teaching, learning or research but these activities are fluid, neither strictly separable nor outsourceable. Students act as teachers, teachers find themselves learning and being taught, research and pedagogy turn out to be inextricably linked, and collective demonstrations of anger or joy cause ideas to spark or collapse with an intensity that is often foreign to the lecture theatre. Autonomy involves respect for the
animation and conflict of ideas, not simply managing individuals according to input-output ratios, and it involves care for all aspects of productively human environments in which ideas can emerge. What we call work cannot easily be detached from what we call life, including leisure and laughter, disappointment and discomposure—the energies and tensions that ripple and bloom to fill the affective spaces between us.

The formation of ideas is an unpredictable economy, subject in the first instance to its own laws and not simply to the quantification of knowledge work for profit. It requires respect for the autonomy of human interaction, the human capacity to make worlds—to ‘world’—and the whole environment of that activity.

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2. Trust

Econometric systems of audit imported from the business sector shape those who work and study at the university into people of measure. Serving as apparently neutral measures devised to extract maximum outputs, they form modes of governance which become technologies of the self. Continuous assessment re-orients research and teaching towards quantifiable impacts and makes us forever calculating—and calculable—subjects. As a result, we learn to discount that which cannot be counted, becoming ever more self-watching and risk-averse. Systems of accounting do the thinking and valuing for us, while we unfold the script to measure.

Inversely, the real university acknowledges that thinking must be open to that which hasn’t yet been thought, and that much of the time, learning means unlearning what seems most natural to us. Here, rather than focusing on outcomes and efficiencies, accounting includes its own rationale—giving an account too of the value and use of measure—and makes trust a value in the distribution of resources. Trusting people is risky, but socially productive. When people become angry, disenchanted and demoralised, as they can and do, the real university examines where its inputs are lacking (whether these are time, resources, or a hospitable and critical space) rather than placing increased emphasis on harvestable outputs. Without due deliberation, aims and goals can only be met, rather than being reconstructed in adaptive ways and according to emergent needs.

Audit cultures instil the logic that making a process visible is an end in itself, and that the trajectory of research should simply meet its intended goal. On the contrary, the real university recognises that it is often difficult to change—and grow—under the pressing gaze of surveillance and self-assessment, and that those observed find themselves bent into unproductive shapes by such unnatural light.

Unreflexive accounting systems may well measure but not know what matters to us: predetermining or pre-scripting outcomes in advance destroys critical and creative thought. Self-reflexive and holistic accounting, based on a range of variables, is deliberative, and takes into account the value, and the values, of those whose work it measures.

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3. Dissonance

Real governance occurs through constantly materialising people, processes, events and experiences, both within and at odds with representative hierarchies, which otherwise amounts to consensus by management. Such openness makes the university a hospitable pluriversity, a place of voices—of voicing—at once noisy and contested.

We can all ‘be part of [the university’s] future’, but not just by giving feedback on the next strategic plan (feedback is output fed back as input, fattening the centre of review, thereby revising the script and upgrading the template). And we can participate in this future not just by choosing, as good customers, either to be here or not. The real university takes issue with the prospect that a strategic plan, which determines how the institution will govern itself and how it will partition its time, space and resources for a specified future period, should simply manufacture consensus in its name. Within the real university, governance does not refer to a corporate hierarchy that places the VC/CEO at the head of a chain of command-and-control characterised by social distance, technocratic processes and mandates (a technocracy). Rather, governance takes other forms: the assertion of students that they have a part to play in public meetings of the University Council, or that they have a right to maintain control of their own organisations; the feeling that attendance at faculty and other meetings is not for show—a pre-scripted process of consultation-to-confirmation—but an experience of being attended to in earnest.

The real university’s governance involves problematising consensus: it permits voicing of the fact that, contrary to the reason of ‘rationales’, there are always other things to see and hear and say. It is to make count what pro-forma consultation discounts: to say that the terms of employment contracts are matters for discussion in the Senate, that the chanting of students and demands of workers can be heard. Governance-as-listening—as attunement to dissent, and as responsiveness to atmospheres—makes the university a hospitable pluriversity, a place of voices and voicing, a capacious, lively and unsettling house.

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4. Cooperativity

The real university has no place for automated people-processes—systems that turn people into ‘nodes’ and make them functions of scripts, subject to machinic speed, its protocols and imperatives. Work of real value is pauseful, patient, expressive and embodied. Nor does the real university privilege the self-centred individualism associated with ‘originality’, ‘authorship ‘ and intellectual property rights. It refuses to allow ideas to be governed by the misplaced metaphor of property to be valued solely by logics of commodity exchange. Property-thinking does not cultivate the properties and attributes of people and place, but rather makes the life of the brand its pre-eminent concern.

The real university, then, prefers imaginative repurposing to policing plagiarism, which makes little sense anyway within a convergent economy where every aspiring university’s strategic plan mimics every other aspiring university’s strategic plan. The machinery of academic ‘integrity’— which taxes creativity—conceives of a place of learning as a strict economy of products and services. As the real university understands full well, we never were original and we are productive only insofar as we work with others. Creativity can thus be decoupled from inspiration, innovation, impact and marketability, and instead be recognised as feeding into and out of collaborative undertakings of all kinds.

Because people and their ability to engage constructively with each other come first, the real university nurtures human resourcefulness rather than human resources, and it acknowledges and embraces failure. Within the forms of community that it recognises and calls into being, dignity and fortitude (trying out and trying again) are of paramount value. This requires courage and care before subjection to measure, pooling resources rather than extracting their surplus value. While it perceives that the digital age offers new means of connectivity, the real university privileges electronic traces no more than it does the ‘unlogged’ connections made on footpaths, in corridors, lifts and stairwells, the gym, cafe and pub, over food or coffee, wine or whiskey.

Recognising that the competitive individualism of ‘originality’, ‘authorship’ and ‘intellectual property rights’ circumscribes learning and research, the real university is based on critical and creative endeavour that is also cooperative. The effects of its enterprise are not reducible to economic or social ‘impact’, or to credit or career-advancement.

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5. Engagement

The real university strives to be open to those who do not pay to come here. Thus ‘outreach’ is not just one function of the real university, but suffuses its operations: it is seen in efforts to make academic ideas accessible beyond academic communities, in research projects that are pursued off campus or outside of class time, in assignments that are not simply accountable to but more properly and immediately to a public sensitive to its own right to inclusion. Understanding its inherently public role, and attentive to its own place, the real university articulates the many worlds and concerns of the peoples of Aotearoa. Its public mission is for-all rather than for-profit, so that education is cannot be accepted as the prerogative of elites. This mission also involves a commitment to ‘uncommon’ knowledge, which embraces the unusual or unorthodox—the apparently unacceptable—however disorienting, maddening or difficult to grasp. This includes our uncommonly inhabited and unequally shared place, where the prospects of flourishing are differentially distributed.

In order for the university to function as ‘critic and conscience’ of society, as the New Zealand Education Amendment Act (1989) ordains, it must also be self-critical. In other words, it must ensure that its public mission informs every aspect of its operation, no matter how small: how it treats its workers, how it sources funding, how it designs and delivers its curriculum and assesses learning and teaching, how it listens to itself and others, how it facilitates access to its resources. To be self-conscious is to have an uncommon awareness of your own presence, appearance and actions. Thinking so hard about the little things, and acting always with hesitancy rather than haste, is bound to slow things down. But then perhaps going slow, taking time to think, feel and respond is better than rushing away from all that is already here.

The real university manifests, always imperfectly, ‘the public’, and takes its engagement with its own place to be self-evident. Its public mission is to reflect upon knowledge, as well as to generate knowledge, to concern itself with social values and thereby uphold dignity and mana.

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6. Re-purposing

The real university perceives that asking after knowledge—for what purpose and for whom it exists—rather than just blindly producing more of ‘it’, is the university’s raison d’être. It also perceives that the role of critic-and-conscience is difficult to enact in highly managed environments where what is ‘secured’, above all else, is the risk of expenditure—where ‘sustainability’ means a self-sustaining return on investment. It understands that instrumentalising knowledge in this way narrows and shallows thinking, and short-changes its diverse social effects. Within the real university, applied research does not take precedence over all other forms, and science, technology, engineering and medicine are not opposed to philosophy and the arts but are also engaged in acts of social imagination and transformation. Across all fields, alternate worlds are raised and debated. If innovation or enterprise, or critical thinking and creativity, are to matter, we must also ask what these ‘mantra’ words mean, who or what they serve, and why they have become socially and academically normative values.

Within the real university, knowledge is embraced in all of its dimensions: pure and applied, abstract and concrete, intrinsic and instrumental. The university itself reflects upon, renews and repurposes social value in order to problematise the grounds of knowledge, and it extends to us the opportunity to imagine, on other grounds (both local and global), other ways of thinking and acting together. All activities are carried out in ways that raise and debate current social configurations and alternate worlds. Because the real university encourages us to break rules in order to understand how and why these have been made, its transformative potential always appears transgressive. In this way, it recovers the capacity for world-making—creative, destructive, confident, uncertain—that is the human animal’s striking characteristic. The university is not given, but is constituted as such in and through our collective activities. Seriously alive, raw and reflexive, alert to productive deviance and responsive to social deficits, it constantly de-faces and re-faces its own appearance.

The real university, or pluriversity, exists to provide the imaginative wherewithal for personal and collective transformation and social renewal. Beyond the traditional critic-and-conscience role, its creative endeavour is ‘repurposeful’: it generates purposefulness by restoring old and imagining new ways of thinking and acting.

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