Organizing in crisis - a study on what went on within higher education during the covid pandemic.
When the corona pandemic began in early 2020, universities as well as other sectors in society, were profoundly affected. Higher education was expected to continue to work as usual, except that everything should be conducted digitally. In this crisis, teachers received a “carte blanche” from management to handle the situation in any way they found appropriate (Hjelm-Lidholm, Mauléon, Müllern & Solli, 2021). However, the support functions at the universities (student support, administrators, university management) did not show the same ability to adapt to the crisis. Our study (Hjelm-Lidholm, Mauléon, Müllern & Solli, 2021) shows that although teachers acknowledged how they were the ones who had the know-how of handling the dramatic shift from on-site teaching to off-site teaching they felt they weren’t provided with appropriate support in order to being able to conduct this transformation in an efficient way (Hjelm-Lidholm, Mauléon, Müllern & Solli, 2021). The lack of appropriate support from management and other support functions made the dramatic shift in many cases challenging for the teachers. One teacher described it as laying out the rails whilst the train was moving (Hjelm-Lidholm, Mauléon, Müllern & Solli, 2021). In these occasions teachers turned to their closest colleagues to find support in the often chaotic situation. What is interesting here is how we found that the strong bureaucratic governance of universities (as well as other public institutions) were either not prepared or appropriate for handling the crisis. The bureaucratic governance system, we found, rather obstructed than supported the crisis driven digital transformation of teaching from on-site to off-site.
This paper allows for broader reflections on how professionals interact with managers in times of crisis, but also on the role of digitalization in the continued change and development of universities. It is our hope that this paper will spark a debate on the role of university teachers (professionals) in the strategic management of universities, considering the clear trend towards increased centralization and bureaucratization.