Monday, July 18, 2011

The Mysteries of the Administrative Structure

In light of the recent firestorm over the new book: The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters, I'm posting this today. See the discussion going on at Inside Higher Ed.

This post originally appeared on So Educated

"How will the Emperor maintain control without the beaurocracy?"

"The regional governors now have direct control over their territories. Fear will keep the local systems in line"
"What of the Rebellion?"

In higher education, we are currently in the midst of an elaborate game of whose-to-blame. When the economy was booming, faculty didn't seem to care what the administration was doing, even as the number of contingent faculty rose while the amount of tenure-track lines decreased. Grad students were funded, technology was being put in place, and shiny new buildings were attracting the best and brightest students and faculty. But now that the economy has tanked and cuts are being handed out left, right, and center, the faculty are rising up with fingers pointing at the administrators for all that ills higher education. Administrators (and some members of the public) are quick to lay blame on "lazy" and over-indulged faculty for their high salaries and low productive output.

Let's be honest; we're all to blame. Administrators and faculty. We, as faculty, have remained purposefully ignorant of the inner-workings of our institutions. We stare in the face of the bureaucracy and shrug our shoulders in a collective act of defeat. What can we do, we ask? It's too big, it's too powerful, and we're just a lowly professor. And professors show little to no interest in becoming a part of the administrative structure in order to change it. Administrators are increasingly professional bureaucrats, not academics. The two worlds are existing simultaneously within the same institution with seemingly very different missions and priorities.

But when we say we blame administrators, do we really know who we are blaming? Our chairs? Our deans? Our president? What about the mountains of layers of administrative structure in between? Do we know how budget decisions are made within the institution? Do we understand the process, or just the results? We grumble at the shrinking budget numbers and lines, but do know how to change them?

Professors are increasingly losing their voice in how their institutions are run. Faculty members who have unionized are finding that their institution punishes them by removing them further from the administrative table. And while the few professors who are left rightly complain about the amount of administrative tasks/committee meetings they are expected to participate in, I wonder if it isn't just busy work that has little to no impact on the big picture and just gives the illusion of participatory governance, hence my example above from Star Wars. What if some overly-ambitious university president or board decides that it is cheaper and more expedient to eliminate much of the bureaucracy, meaning meetings and committees? Fear would, in fact, keep the professors in line, much like it already does, fear and ignorance.

But what of the Rebellion, that tiny band of idealists who manage to take down the all-powerful Empire? So far, there doesn't seem to be any real effort or ability for faculty (all faculty, on and off the tenure-track) to come together and form some sort of concerted effort to rebel against what we perceive as the dismantling of higher education. We cannot organize ourselves to counter from without, and we steadfastly refuse to change it from within. So we remain fragmented, hopeless, and ignorant.

Ironic, isn't it.

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