Engagement, resistance and restructuring: a legal challenge
The raft of neoliberal and new public management policies and discourses that have risen to prominence in universities in the last few decades, combined with steep decreases in public funding, have resulted in profound changes to all aspects of university functions across not just Australia and New Zealand, but many countries with comparable public university sectors. These changes have impacted on strategic priorities, faculty and administrative structures, terms and conditions of academic and administrative staff employment, academic freedom and the role that universities play in a democracy. Scholarship on the impact of neoliberal economic and new public management policies in universities has blossomed in recent years. This scholarship has included some discussion of the extent to which individual and collective resistance to these changes, by academics and others, is possible, and the potential challenges of such resistance. This article considers a legal challenge to a restructuring, or ‘organisational change’, proposal at a New Zealand university. It begins by analysing the legal challenge in the context of neoliberal economic and new public management policies in universities in Australia and New Zealand, with a focus on the implications of the changing governance policies and structures in universities, and academic engagement with, and resistance to, those policies. It then discusses the case, considering the issue raised in light of recent scholarship. It argues that the case is relevant today as an example of a form of collective resistance to problematic aspects of new public management policies in universities.