Kentucky Fried University?

Academics are easily flattered by talk about "knowledge management" and the "knowledge society." They often think this phrase highlights the central role of universities in society. In fact, it signals the opposite--that the wider society itself is a hotbed of knowledge production, over which universities do not enjoy any special privilege or advantage.

This has caught academics off-guard, because they have traditionally treated knowledge as something pursued for its own sake, regardless of cost or consequence. Now they face increasing global pressure to open universities to the wider public, typically for reasons unrelated to the pursuit of pure knowledge. Today's universities are expected to function as dispensers of credentials and engines of economic growth.

Consequently, academics are losing control of their performance standards to "knowledge managers." Universities, according to former Fortune editor Tom Stewart, are "dumb organizations" with too much "human capital" but not enough "structural capital."

A fast food chain, on the other hand, is supposedly a "smart organization" because it makes the most of its relatively low-skilled staff through the alchemy of good management. Academia proceeds almost exactly in reverse, as department heads and deans struggle to keep track of what the staff are doing. McDonald's, unlike a university, is much more than the sum of its parts.