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Administrators Ate My Tuition
October 8, 2013 4:58 AM   Subscribe

Washington Monthly examines the rapid increase in the numbers of middle managers at universities and the correlation to the rampant increase in tuition costs at American universities.
posted by reenum (184 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
Ultimately, faculty and staff are on the same team. The student population is more diverse. Technology, and accessible technology at that, is now a requirement. The mandates from Dear Colleague Letters are extensive. Faculty and staff are chronically under-funded. Do the faculty want to take on the work of these administrators?
posted by childofTethys at 5:09 AM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


From 2011. This is old news. The new hotness is protesting that it's overblown and all necessary.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:16 AM on October 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


That this is only becoming a publicly-known thing now has me worried. Bright freshman understand that going from professors-with-some-managerial-tasks to an less-than-navigable crowd of managers is (was rather) a bad thing.

But they have jobs now, incomes, and dependents. There ought to be a word for the frustration felt when you see a source of great hardship for one group of people that is necessary for another group of (smaller) people to make a living.

A word aside from, "NCAA", though that acronym is certainly related to the skyrocketing tuition costs.
posted by Slackermagee at 5:21 AM on October 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


My favorite (though I have no idea how accurate) version of this was for the UC system, where they have more full-time equivalents in the categories Senior Management Group and Management & Senior Professionals (9400) than regular teaching faculty (8700), fulfilling the promise predicted years ago of one senior manager per faculty member.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 5:27 AM on October 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


I am an administrative staffer at a University. I do a relatively thankless job that, if it was not done, would cripple our educational mission. The idea that a faculty member would want to do my job is laughable, and even if they did, they are probably making 3 to 4 times my salary, so it would be a massive waste of money for my university. I understand that there is certainly a great deal of waste tied up in university administration, but it's not as simple as this article makes it out to be.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:28 AM on October 8, 2013 [37 favorites]


Is there NOTHING that middle management can't accomplish?
posted by nevercalm at 5:34 AM on October 8, 2013


*whistles as he looks over to his six assistant directors for a staff of 25*
posted by Think_Long at 5:42 AM on October 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


Having been in and around the management of a lot of universities and socialized with them, I am very confident in saying higher education is a staggering, massive scam.

The sheer amount of fraud and waste and graft that goes on is completely disgusting. I would have serious qualms about telling someone to go to colledge unless they seriously needed a specific degree, and then only if someone else was paying. Those books are so freaking cooked.
posted by The Whelk at 5:55 AM on October 8, 2013 [13 favorites]


Rock Steady: I'm wondering if you and I weren't thinking the same thing, that the stuff they're talking about actually isn't the clerical-type things, but instead is something else more like "coordinates the university's diversity initiative" or something.

I too thought "sorts and files all the applications" kinds of things was administrative, but I'm finding that some universities call that "clerical" instead.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:01 AM on October 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


and even if they did, they are probably making 3 to 4 times my salary,

You get paid minimum wage?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:04 AM on October 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


and even if they did, they are probably making 3 to 4 times my salary,

You get paid minimum wage?


This was my thought. A fourth of my salary is about half what the lady who makes sandwiches at the campus grill makes.
posted by monkeymadness at 6:08 AM on October 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Another ubiquitous make-work exercise is the formation of a “strategic plan.”

I was skeptical from the beginning but stopped trying to take this as a serious argument here. There is something to be said generally about institutional growth and the fundraising model which has impacted campuses. But the crafting of this raving beast of Administration stuffing its hungry maw in desperate zeal for self-protection at all costs is cartoonish. The evidence given is carefully cherry-picked and not fully analyzed. Cogent arguments for the need to expand university administration are raised, and then summarily dismissed without serious examination.

The ultimate argument is that faculty should be offering more administrative support. Not only do I think it's a good thing that university processes and projects aren't as beholden to the individual personality makeups of the faculty members as they once notoriously were, I also don't see why this sector should be bucking the trend toward increasing professional specialization. I went to college in the early 90s, and I'm going back for a master's now. And I'd have to say that my student experience is more seamless, better resourced, and of course far more digitally-enabled than it was before. Is there redundancy in the complex system that is a university? Sure. But behind these figures is the fact that these institutions are simply working better, and delivering more, than they used to.
posted by Miko at 6:09 AM on October 8, 2013 [10 favorites]


the stuff they're talking about actually isn't the clerical-type things, but instead is something else more like "coordinates the university's diversity initiative" or something.

Yes, in the article he makes a distinction between "administrators," who are tasked with supervising programs and projects and managing centers and staffs and the like, and "other professionals":
In 2005, colleges and universities employed more than 675,000 fulltime faculty members or full-time equivalents. In the same year, America’s colleges and universities employed more than 190,000 individuals classified by the federal government as “executive, administrative and managerial employees.” Another 566,405 college and university employees were classified as “other professional.” This category includes IT specialists, counselors, auditors, accountants, admissions officers, development officers, alumni relations officials, human resources staffers, editors and writers for school publications, attorneys, and a slew of others. These “other professionals” are not administrators, but they work for the administration and serve as its arms, legs, eyes, ears, and mouthpieces.
Part of what drives me nuts about this shallow analysis is the idea that you can have a functioning body of "IT specialists," which he does acknowledge we need more of because hey, technology happened, without also having adminstrator-level managers of digital services who do things like long-term forecasting, hiring managers and specialists, building a digital strategy for the institution, etc. Every new group you add to an institution needs a link to the top level and someone to make it happen - otherwise you end up with clusters of underfunded, noncommunicative skunkworks working at cross purposes.
posted by Miko at 6:14 AM on October 8, 2013 [7 favorites]


MisantropicPainforest: You get paid minimum wage?

Well, I work at a Vet School, so the professors are all board certified veterinarians. I make a decent salary, but yeah, the faculty is making at least 3 times what I do.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:16 AM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


My girlfriend recently went back to school with promises of a "post-baccalaureate program" and a staff of supporting administrators, and they have been useless for basically any task. Complete leeches.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 6:17 AM on October 8, 2013


If you devote zero words to the massive drop in public spending on higher education in the last two generations, then you have no business discussing education spending.
posted by Etrigan at 6:20 AM on October 8, 2013 [57 favorites]


There are administrators who just make more wasteful busy work for faculty, meaning the institution becomes more efficient if you simply dump them, but..

There are many administrators that appear important because they deal with government regulations, outside bureaucracy, etc., thus enabling the faculty to interact with the outside world correctly. We should eliminate them too, but that requires eliminating whatever ridiculous bureaucratic interaction necessitates them, frequently difficult.

Example : Intellectual property department earns money for the university, right? Yes, except ideally the government should just pay for the research and force all that intellectual property into the public domain. At some level, all this intellectual property bullshit happens because some influential Randian free-market worshiper believes the universities should become self-funding. Guess what? That's vastly less efficient!
posted by jeffburdges at 6:25 AM on October 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


The idea that a faculty member would want to do my job is laughable, and even if they did, they are probably making 3 to 4 times my salary, so it would be a massive waste of money for my university.

Check it yourself:
Salary Surveys conducted by The College and University Professional Association for Human Resources (CUPA-HR) for 2012-2013
Tenured/Tenure-track faculty salaries by discipline
184,924 surveys, 31 disciplines, 794 institutions

Senior-level administrators salaries by job title
55,017 surveys, 190 positions (director and above), 1,251 institutions

Mid-level administrators salaries by job title
182,482 surveys, 275 positions, 1,109 institutions

Non-tenure-track teaching and research faculty salaries
nine disiplines, 794 institutions
Bonus:
Bureau of Labor Statistics
Veterinarian salaries
posted by Herodios at 6:28 AM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile, in the actual world when this article was written:

"Public institutions faced historic declines in state and local appropriations per student in 2010. For the second consecutive year, public colleges and universities were operating with less state money when measured on a per-student basis. But the cuts in FY 2010 were much larger than in other years during the decade, averaging single-year declines of 9 percent to 13 percent at public four-year institutions and 15 percent at public community colleges."

"The full production cost of providing an education is typically a shared expense, funded partly through student tuitions and partly from institutional subsidies. At public institutions, these subsidies come from state and local appropriations; at private institutions, they come from other institutional resources, such as gifts, grants, and endowments ... At both public and private institutions, net tuition increases in 2010 were entirely the result of cost shifting to replace institutional subsidies."

"All types of institutions spent less on the academic mission in 2010, but cuts in public four-year institutions appeared more strategic than those in the private nonprofit sector ... [P]ublic four-year institutions typically preserved spending on those functions directly related to students’ education -- including instruction, student services, and academic support -- while cutting spending in other 'overhead' functions, such as operations and maintenance and institutional support ... Private institutions were less strategic than were their public sector counterparts and largely cut spending across the board ..."

"With widespread declines in E&R in 2010 -- particularly in terms of support functions -- institutions devoted a larger share of spending to both instruction and students services, rather than to overhead functions. Public institutions favored instruction over student services, while private nonprofit institutions continued to shift a large share of spending to student services."

-- From "College Spending in a Turbulent Decade: Findings from the Delta Cost Project"

But sure, let's blame those craaaaaazy colleges and their craaaaaaazy spending instead!
posted by kyrademon at 6:34 AM on October 8, 2013 [15 favorites]


Herodios: Check it yourself:

I work at a State University, and all of our salaries are public records, so I did check it for myself. A couple of the lowest paid assistant professors dip slightly below 3 times my salary (and there may be some benefit differences when comparing exempt and non-exempt or whatever), but all of the tenured faculty are at least 3 times my salary.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:35 AM on October 8, 2013 [11 favorites]


Maybe I'm baised because I am one of those blood sucking university administrators (albeit on the research, not educational side), but this article is completely obnoxious. There are multiple reasons for rising tuition costs in the U.S., but admin staff is a drop in the ocean compared to the steadily decreasing state funding. Particularly when the author lumps everyone from IT staff to University Presidents in the same category, it's hard to even know where to begin pulling apart his bogeyman.

For instance, this sentence, "These moonlighting academics typically occupied administrative slots on a part-time or temporary basis and planned in due course to return to full-time teaching and research," is not only ludicrous nostalgia, but completely misses the point of the changes in university administration. Admin costs have been rising because schools increasingly need to complete and part of that competition is having professional staff to handle services that students expect and require. Having a dedicated professional take care of this, rather than a junior faculty member worrying about meeting publishing requirements, is not a feature, not a bug.
posted by Panjandrum at 6:41 AM on October 8, 2013 [7 favorites]


I think, EmpressCallipygos, that the author is talking about people like me. I'm an academic adviser, which is a job that used to be done by faculty and that has been professionalized and grown exponentially in recent years. Here's what I have on tap this week:

I'll be meeting individually for half-hour appointments with about fifty students. Some of these will be pretty straightforward "how are your classes going? What are you going to take next semester?" meetings, but a lot of them are a lot more complicated than that. I'll probably have a couple of students cry in my office, usually because they just realized that medical school isn't in the cards for them. If they're ready, I'll help them start thinking about alternative fields of study or career paths. (I'm not a career adviser, but it's unavoidable in my line of work.) I'll make a ton of referrals to other staff members: most often to tutoring resources, financial aid and student counseling, but sometimes to other offices. Unlike the average faculty member, I know who to talk to if you think you should be exempt from the foreign language requirement because you speak Vietnamese at home.

I've got two hours of walk-in appointments, which are reserved for students who aren't in my individual caseload. I have no idea who will come to that, but it's usually students who are interested in pre-med and want to know what that entails.

I'll teach four sections of a study skills course for students who have been identified as (or have identified themselves as) academically at risk. I'll grade a whole bunch of their papers.

I'll give a presentation to international students about the idea of the liberal arts and why American universities make them take classes outside their major. This is going to be videotaped, so that ESL classes can use it in exercises on how to take notes on lectures.

I'm going to a training on the new MCATs and other developments in the med school application process. (The MCAT, the medical school admissions test, is being completely revamped in 2015, and my students need to start getting ready now. This is a big topic in the world or pre-med advising.) I'm giving a little presentation at that about diversity initiatives at my university's medical school.

I'm going to a meeting with some faculty in a department that is making changes in the major, so I can understand the new major requirements and the rationale behind them.

I've got a meeting of a committee on pre-med advising for students of color. We're planning a workshop about summer programs for underrepresented students.

I'll answer a ton of email from students.

I've been asked by a department to publicize an event they're hosting about careers in their field, so I'll circulate a poster and draft an email for my colleagues to send out to potentially-interested advisees.

My sense is that a lot of the faculty don't think that most of what I do has a lot of value, mostly because they think that students either should be able to figure things out themselves or don't belong in college. It's not that they want to do it themselves. It's that they want to go back ot the days when students didn't receive a lot of advising and they either sank or swam on their own. And I guess that's kind of a philosophical question.

For what it's worth, I have a master's degree and about five years experience at this job, and I make a little over $40,000 a year. I work more than full time: the study skills class is an adjunct gig, on top of my full-time advising job. I'm not complaining about my salary. Everyone in my office got a substantial raise last year, and I can live on what I make. But it seems a little disingenuous to cite college presidents' compensation when discussing "administration and staff," as if we're all basically the same thing.
posted by sockpuppy at 6:43 AM on October 8, 2013 [49 favorites]


Yeah, I'm sorry, but I worked at a state university for 10 years. In that time, the state funded portion of our budget was either reduced by 5-10 percent a year or remained flat. In those ten years, we went from having just over 12,000 full-time students to 24,000. Only in the last two or three years I was there did tuition rise significantly.

Budgets were cut. There were on and off again hiring freezes. Departments were forced to make do with less and less. The library had a flat budget for 8 full years. Buildings weren't built. Facilities weren't maintained, and every single year, the Republican governor talked about how wasteful higher ed was and how he would cut every dime he could from four year institutions if he could get away with it.

Yes, there were random administrators that seemed to have no real job. We even had a marketing admin in the library. Why? So we could have someone who's job it was all day was to ask weathly alum for donations. So someone in the building could show up to these brutal budget cut meetings and demonstrate that the library was worth keeping and paying for.

Seriously, tuition is going up because states keep funding less and less of the bill for higher ed. They cut education at all forms and then blame "wasteful administrators" and teachers who have the nerve to unionize as the reason there's no money for education. And then they want to know why no jobs come to their state, and why none of the new technologies are being developed in their "research" universities.

Yet somehow, magically, it's administration's fault.
posted by teleri025 at 6:49 AM on October 8, 2013 [16 favorites]


Another commentary on the Delta cost observes :

"Increases in spending were driven mostly by higher administration, maintenance, and student services costs. Public universities spent almost $4,000 per student per year on administration, support, and maintenance in 2006, up more than 13 percent, in real terms over 1995. And they spent another $1,200 a year on services such as counseling, which was up 23 percent. Meanwhile, they spent about $8,700 a year on classroom instruction for each student, up about 9 percent."

And obviously you require more administrators collecting money form students, their loans, etc. than merely receiving money from the state too. And maybe the excess spending on student services helps keep the students happy with their debt driven experience.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:51 AM on October 8, 2013


Anyone who thinks this is just a state funding thing is forgetting that private universities are experiencing the same administrative bloat. In many cases, they're leading the way, and public universities justify their administrative bloat by pointing at the private universities: "How can we compete if we don't also have fourteen Assistant Deans?"
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:55 AM on October 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


jeffburdges, the article you link to notes that:

"The main reason tuition has been rising faster than college costs is that colleges had to make up for reductions in the per-student subsidy state taxpayers sent colleges."

And also that:

"Public universities have been reining in overall spending per student in recent years ... [S]ince 2002, spending at public colleges has generally not exceeded inflation."

... So it is not exactly a solid body-blow against my point.
posted by kyrademon at 7:04 AM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wow, lots of outraged administrators in this thread. Must be a slow Tuesday morning...

As a professor, Ginsberg's analysis strikes me as spot-on. There has been a creeping bureaucratization in higher education that has only been accelerating in recent years. In my own experience, I have seen core institutional priorities undermined by senior administrative staff attempting to take on ambitious projects that would raise their own professional profiles at the expense of the school's limited resources. Think overseas campuses, MOOC initiatives, big buildings and high-profile non-academic faculty hires. I have seen the development of new "assessment standards" applied by middle management to the detriment of curricular coherence and effective teaching. At the moment, my college is embroiled in a debate over redefining faculty governance. Faculty are relatively uninterested in participating in governing councils and view service as an unwelcome burden. So there is a strong push to scale back these responsibilities, shifting in-person meetings to online discussion fora and the like. Harried, research-oriented professors view this as a relief, in many cases. But interestingly, when they are polled anonymously, most express a genuine interest in the administration of the institution to which they have given their lives, but are disaffected because they have had little actual influence over institutional priorities and decisions. They do not like contributing to the administration of the school because the administrators themselves have usurped this function and view faculty consultation as a formal, rubber-stamp process. Professors are not dumb. They know when they're being strung along and (most of them, at least) have far better, more productive things to do.

Is Ginsberg's tone a little dramatic? To be sure. Is he virtually alone in pointing out the influence of administrative bloat on institutional budgets? Without a doubt. It is an absolute fact that more college and university teaching is being done by poorly paid non-tenure track faculty while administrative staffs are growing and tuition rates are skyrocketing. You may think that the "professionalization" of higher education is a good thing. It does not, in my view, contribute much of substance to the actual work of teaching kids how to think.
posted by R. Schlock at 7:05 AM on October 8, 2013 [17 favorites]


Honestly most of the increase in University administration has been tied to the increased demands for services deemed necessary to attracting and retaining students (academic retention is a massive issue and professors dedicated to research and teaching aren't necessarily the best choices), institutional compliance (this is a constant drain on resources because honestly audits and institutional compliance for a variety of purposes is constantly happening), research administration (grant writing is a full time process for many faculty but you need a ton of little people contributing to making sure that professors can actually get grants and that grant monies are used effectively, not to mention maintaining existing IP), and everyone's favorite money hog IT.

I work in Central IT for a big university and the expansion that has been driven by increased IT needs in the last 15 years has been astronomical. I want to say my own department has increased in size roughly 2-3 times and we are incredibly lean in many ways and that's not counting the increase in distributed IT as most business units have added their own dedicated IT staff as well.

This is all at a time when state support of public institutions has been steadily dropping in percentage. Is there any wonder that costs have increased?

I'm not saying that there isn't waste in most universities but that most university administrators are making tough decisions about how to support the central needs of the university in a moderately efficient manner. Yeah a lot of the increased costs have been as a result of the massive building efforts most universities have gone through to remain competitive (new academic buildings, new dorms because private rooms are considered a requirement by many students, new activity centers, etc). However a lot of that spending is also driven by the need to provide new tools to faculty and staff and the extreme cost of supporting those tools.
posted by vuron at 7:08 AM on October 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


(maybe it would be more useful to think about the ballooning administrations alongside the thought of adjunct/part-time/contractual/non-tenured instructors—the so-called ""irregulars" who do more than 50% of teaching in American post-secondary institutions, often for near-poverty or indeed below-poverty-line wages, with little-or-no job security and benefits? I don't doubt that a full professor makes six figures, but full professors are rare birds and getting rarer).
posted by erlking at 7:13 AM on October 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


Here's a little perspective as we consider the necessity of bureaucratizing higher education.
posted by R. Schlock at 7:18 AM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Although I don't think it makes a huge difference economically to the overall costs of the university, our Dean's office has exploded in terms of higher/mid level staff brought in for planning purposes, while our internal, department support has been cut back.

While I don't doubt the need for many staff in IT and student support, what I've noticed is that the new staff in the dean's office have added considerably to my service load, as I'm now constantly filling in things for them/responding to their initiatives/trying to fend them off from cutting 4th year language classes that they're disappointed we haven't got 30 students in. But at the same time, a lot of those things are probably necessary because the government is always demanding new paperwork and also is disappointed that upper level language classes are not more 'efficient.'
posted by lesbiassparrow at 7:18 AM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Rise in the number of courses taught by adjunct faculty and GTAs is definitely concerning. Yeah in some cases adjunct faculty can be subject matter experts with real world knowledge that can be extremely valuable to students but in many cases they just seem to be utilized as a way to keep departmental budgets somewhat lean. The less that is said about the near serfdom of RAs, TAs, GRAs and GTAs, and Post-Docs the better. Yes they are getting valuable work experience in case a tenure track position ever opens up in their field but so much academic and research production seems to be driven by professors functioning as managers to a team of underpaid research assistants chasing after harder and harder to find grant money.

I think a lot of the middle managers also can lose sight over what is the core missions of the university and engage in empire building but I think a lot of that is getting clamped down on especially in IT as more of the senior admins are beginning to not be completely mystified by IT and are demanding better alignment of department goals with institutional goals.
posted by vuron at 7:23 AM on October 8, 2013


I'm not an administrator and I'm not outraged. But the article's claim that staff has increased dramatically at universities does not reflect my experience. In Arizona, the state has been cutting the budget of the public universities since before 2000. We went from 22 staff in our department to just 7 over those years. I've absorbed what used to be 3-4 full-time jobs, with no pay raise associated.

And yet, the undergraduate population of the university is higher than it ever has been historically. The common workload for an academic advisor in my college is 400+ students. We have one advisor who has 800+ undergrads to advise.

I'm the institutional memory for all things academic in my department, I'm on every academic committee (which is something no faculty member would stand for) and right now we're doing our 7 year review, and I've been assigned to wrangle virtually all the data we need, except the sets coming from the business manager.

Staff was cut dramatically over the past 13 years because the faculty have tenure and were protected, and there's only so much you can save by buying cheaper copy paper.

On the other hand, the university has well over 40 vice-presidents, and the number has not gone down over the past 13 years.
posted by Squeak Attack at 7:24 AM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Golgafrinchans comes to mind....
posted by oonh at 7:28 AM on October 8, 2013


I worked in IT for several universities for five years and even in that short period I witnessed some major changes. In the past there had been an effort to integrate support staff such as IT personnel, janitors, and cafeteria cooks into the University academic community with programs like free tuition. One janitor at my school completed a physics PhD program.

Towards the end of my career in academic IT, these programs were being gutted. They made it clear we were no longer part of the academic community. The administrative people they started putting above us often came from corporations and had no clue about IT. I was employed as a software developer, but I spent a lot of my time troubleshooting their computers. It became clear my time would be more valued in industry and the benefits of working at a University were over.
posted by melissam at 7:29 AM on October 8, 2013 [10 favorites]


sockpuppy, I think maybe if I think about your comment in light of the article, I'd take away the thought that maybe someone teaching four sections ought to be a faculty member, not an adjunct. You're exactly what he wants -- doing both teaching and administration.
posted by tyllwin at 7:34 AM on October 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


Diversity education is necessary - new students cycle through every four years, student veterans are an increasing member of the student population, as are student coming from vocational rehabilitation.

Areas of diversity on our campus that have legal protection: race, sex, color, ethnicity, religion, genetics, gender identity and expression, DISABILITY, veteran status, national origin, sexual orientation, ancestry, and creed.

Faculty fall down hardest with being unaware of their biases or under-education as well as being able to have a nuanced discussion with someone who raises an issue.

Attacking these administrators is like the attack on race-based scholarships: once you look at actual data, you realize that the mischaracterization is political, not based in reality. Effective Preventive maintenance does a world of good.

Compare them with faculty whose annual reports for teaching, service and research are thin...well, it's tougher to take that on, but that is a better place to examine equity.
posted by childofTethys at 7:34 AM on October 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Faculty are relatively uninterested in participating in governing councils and view service as an unwelcome burden.... But interestingly, when they are polled anonymously, most express a genuine interest in the administration of the institution to which they have given their lives, but are disaffected because they have had little actual influence over institutional priorities and decisions.... They know when they're being strung along and (most of them, at least) have far better, more productive things to do.... It does not, in my view, contribute much of substance to the actual work of teaching kids how to think.

So which is it? Teaching and research time or time spent administering? Professionalized administration has its faults, but if faculty members don't want to devote the time and effort to it at the expense of something else, then who will do it?
posted by Etrigan at 7:36 AM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


So which is it? Teaching and research time or time spent administering? Professionalized administration has its faults, but if faculty members don't want to devote the time and effort to it at the expense of something else, then who will do it?

You missed my point. Faculty are often quite willing to take on the work of institutional governance. They resent being forced to do so when their role is merely consultative or, worse, purely formal. If you have to sit through a string of meetings where you're told what new institutional ventures are on the horizon and your attempts to engage in dialogue are met with indifference, soon you'll see the end of those meetings as a relief. This despite the fact that those meetings used to be actually places where real decisions are made.

Most professors see service as an essential part of their job. They just want it to mean something.
posted by R. Schlock at 7:41 AM on October 8, 2013 [10 favorites]



My sense is that a lot of the faculty don't think that most of what I do has a lot of value, mostly because they think that students either should be able to figure things out themselves or don't belong in college. It's not that they want to do it themselves. It's that they want to go back ot the days when students didn't receive a lot of advising and they either sank or swam on their own. And I guess that's kind of a philosophical question.


Oh hey, I hear that!

When I went to a fancy small liberal arts college in the nineties, I was completely at sea. My faculty adviser didn't like me and didn't really hide this - partly because I was kind of annoying, partly because she was very religious and upper middle class and I was neither, and she disapproved of visibly queer people although she was not formally homophobic. I saw her maybe three times other than in the one class I had with her (whence came much of her dislike, because it was a foundational literature class). She provided no help or guidance. There was no one to tell me that I could change advisers, or how to do this, or even what an adviser was was supposed to do for me. My family was - for a variety of reasons - utterly unable to help me negotiate college. It is no understatement to say that my life would be entirely, entirely different right now if I had seen a professional adviser a couple of times a year, if that person had a set of things they were required to discuss with me, and if I had had information about what their role was and what I was supposed to get out of it. I graduated magna cum laude and have a phi beta kappa key, and I practically committed suicide in my late twenties for reasons entirely related to the aftermath of college.

It's really difficult to sort out all of this stuff. Colleges are really complex systems. How exactly am I supposed to say whether they need an Assistant Dean for Forward Planning over in Microbiology? I could maybe make that assessment with some care about my own college, maybe.

And there really aren't a lot of heroes and villains. Faculty are upset because they don't have much of a governance role - but I'm not really nostalgic for the good old days of unchecked faculty racism, misogyny and homophobia that happened pretty much off the record because hey, the faculty govern themselves! Administrative processes sure can contain plenty of racism, misogyny and homophobia, but it's harder to hide that stuff and because there are rules it is possible to change and improve them. But then again, administrative oversight does, IMO, take away from the scholarly mission of the university...I suppose if I could actually control everything, I would try to create a hybrid form.

It would also be useful to have a list of common terms. "Administrative staff" is an opaque, bad formulation and it's not clearly distinguished from "administrator". I know someone who is an "administrator" whose job is basically to help faculty access technology - some of it the Moodle kind, but some of it the "this room doesn't have a computer or a projector, where can I get those" kind and some of it the "I am totally baffled by this program" kind. If she had an assistant, would that assistant be "administrative staff"? (She doesn't have one.)
posted by Frowner at 7:52 AM on October 8, 2013 [9 favorites]


Administrator-to-student ration "dropped" from 1/84 to 1/68.

The author has his math wrong in two ways. First, he clearly doesn't understand fractions. Srsly, when the denominator shrinks, the ratio increases.

Second, this all means we have a new administrator for every 357 students. If that administrator is paid $150k, that's an extra $420 per student per year.

THIS DOES NOT EXPLAIN THE RISE IN TUITION.

Forgive me if I couldn't make it past the second paragraph.
posted by cman at 8:25 AM on October 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't doubt for a second that there's an unacceptable level of waste in higher education, but there's just nothing approaching the amounts of money that it would take to make a meaningful dent in the cost of college tuition.

Let's say that Ohio State cuts 100 VPs making an average of $300,000 per year and gives all of that money directly back to its students in the form of tuition relief (leaving aside that I'm guessing they don't have 100 purely makework VPs and the average salary is likely less than that). How much does each student get back for this $30,000,000 of administrative cuts? $475. That's not nothing, but tuition plus room and board is $21,000/year for in-state students. Cutting college middle/upper management, even to the very bone, would not provide a significant savings in tuition costs.
posted by Copronymus at 8:28 AM on October 8, 2013


Ain't disagreeing that subsidy reductions are "the main reason tuition has been rising faster than college costs", kyrademon, but the Delta Costs Project did identify that "increases in spending were driven mostly by higher administration, maintenance, and student services costs." Interestingly, they observed that costs increases happened mostly before 2002, which makes sense.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:39 AM on October 8, 2013


Most professors see service as an essential part of their job. They just want it to mean something.

Everyone wants to make the big decisions, but no one wants to do the scut work of implementing them or the boring work of the many smaller but no less important decisions. Wanting to serve as long as it means something is the rallying cry of the dilettante.
posted by Etrigan at 8:46 AM on October 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


the rallying cry of the dilettante.

It's ironic and perhaps a telling statement about our cultural moment that you can describe people who have spent years in school pursuing advanced degrees and then devoted their lives to intensive research and careful pedagogy as "dilettantes" while lionizing the work of a (sometimes) MBA-trained managerial class.

Get your head on straight.
posted by R. Schlock at 8:50 AM on October 8, 2013 [15 favorites]


Bureaucracy is necessary. It is vital, actually, and will continue to get more so as our society and the institutions that make it up increase in complexity. Which they will. I think complex societies are a wonderful thing. I am pro-civilization, pro-specialization, pro-progress, whatever you want to call it. I guess my point is maybe we should stop worrying about what important parts of our civilizational infrastructure cost and start worrying about why we're not willing to pay for them. I know everybody hates bureaucrats but that's like hating gravity or the wind. You want a complex society? You need "administrators".
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 9:00 AM on October 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


R. Schlock: It's ironic and perhaps a telling statement about our cultural moment that you can describe people who have spent years in school pursuing advanced degrees and then devoted their lives to intensive research and careful pedagogy as "dilettantes" while lionizing the work of a (sometimes) MBA-trained managerial class.

They might be amazing physicists and poets and pedagogues, but they are dilettantes at running a university.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:02 AM on October 8, 2013 [7 favorites]


they are dilettantes at running a university.

ahem.
posted by R. Schlock at 9:05 AM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Get your head on straight.

Having a PhD in one area doesn't confer automatic mastery of all other fields. There are some otherwise very smart professors I support who I am amazed manage to show up wearing their pants on their legs instead of their heads some days. [longer comment deleted in favor of Rock Steady's more concise phrasing...]
posted by hades at 9:07 AM on October 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


R. Schlock: ahem.

I don't understand your point. Because an administrator didn't listen to the recommendations of other administrators and it ended up being a mistake, we should let the faculty run Harvard's endowment?
posted by Rock Steady at 9:10 AM on October 8, 2013


It's ironic and perhaps a telling statement about our cultural moment that you can describe people who have spent years in school pursuing advanced degrees and then devoted their lives to intensive research and careful pedagogy as "dilettantes" while lionizing the work of a (sometimes) MBA-trained managerial class.

I haven't lionized shit, bubba. I've pointed out that those people who have spent years getting very smart in things that are not administration are not automatically made better at administration by virtue of that getting very smart.

Einstein would have made a shitty university president, just like he would have made a shitty ship captain or news anchor. I would think an academic would see the value of specialization.
posted by Etrigan at 9:14 AM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


subsidy reductions are "the main reason tuition has been rising faster than college costs"...but the Delta Costs Project did identify that "increases in spending were driven mostly by higher administration, maintenance, and student services costs."

I would frame that as an "and," not a "but" -- it's hard to totally dissociate reductions in subsidies from increased costs in administration, maintenance, and student services, because increasing the reliance on tuition income and donor income requires spending more on appealing to students and to donors. Or at least, that's the perceived logic: that it put schools in competition to attract and retain students and donors, so they have to offer more to 'win'...which requires money, which sets off a feedback loop of debatable healthiness. From the US News article linked upthread, a good example of how the non-academic concerns of students affect spending:

"Everybody expects us to do a lot more security. Students are coming with more physical disabilities and emotional needs. There are greater expectations for career services," he says. And that kind of administrative and support spending "is a really good investment. It helps the students."
posted by cjelli at 9:15 AM on October 8, 2013


More than that: the guy who wasn't listening to the administrators was a faculty member, and not only that, an acclaimed academic economist.
posted by escabeche at 9:15 AM on October 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think I've actually taken a class with this writer. The thing is, it's easy to look at a list of titles and say, why do we need an associate vice provost of undergraduate hand-holding when that person is the one organizing the student counseling services and trains RAs to recognize the difference between the kids that are depressed and those who are actively suicidal. It's like when Bobby Jindal goes on TV and makes fun of the government having people who do volcano monitoring when it turns out that's a thing we actually need. It's a cheap shot. Universities are not run perfectly. No organization is.

Moreover, I have one close family member on the faculty at a professional school in a state university system and another who is a professor at a small liberal arts college. Both have had to do administrative work. Both would prefer to do the actual jobs we expect professors to do - teach students and conduct research.

Also, am I the only person who noticed that melissam apparently works with Good Will Hunting? How do you like them apples? (sorry, bad joke)
posted by kat518 at 9:15 AM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


There is definitely room for advice and consent on the part of core stakeholders (faculty generally being a core stakeholder at most institutions) that many administrators forget at times. It's not that administration should ignore faculty or treat faculty input as a rubber stamp but there is also the need for subject matter experts in the field of University IT administration.

That's why you need any number of specialists (HR, procurement, IT, facilties management, etc) that help keep the average university running. Because not every professor really wants to handle the burdens of keeping every little bit of the infrastructure required in actually providing critical business services functional.

On the other hand I have definitely seen how the silo approach especially in regards to IT service development has led to a major disconnect between central IT and the needs of faculty especially in regards to research computing. There is definitely a need for faculty to be involved in governance but in many cases it should be helping with the broad brush strokes and leaving implementation up to specialists. After all you generally don't take you car to a professor when it's acting up but rather use something like a mechanic. Even if the professor has the ability to function like a mechanic (some do) it's rarely an effective use of resources to have the academic specialist do the work of the mechanic.
posted by vuron at 9:15 AM on October 8, 2013


Bureaucracy is necessary. It is vital, actually, and will continue to get more so as our society and the institutions that make it up increase in complexity. Which they will. I think complex societies are a wonderful thing. I am pro-civilization, pro-specialization, pro-progress, whatever you want to call it.

I think people would feel differently if this were the case. The end of my story is I ended up being an administrator of sorts because I'm a project manager now. But when I deal with other project managers I know I have to be careful, because some companies just install any administrator as a "project manager." My job as a project manager is that I know a lot about my field and I make it easier for the specialists in my field to complete quality work on time by removing obstacles. What I hate is when someone tacks that title on someone who has very little experience in the field and is just a paper pusher.

People don't like a lot of administrators because they feel they are not good specialists. They do not make the organization more efficient or make anyone else's job easier. This is especially a huge problem in academic IT where it's often pretty hard to get rid of someone once you've hired them and there is often not much emphasis on productivity at all. Administrators do things in these environments not because they are specialists, but often because they are only ones allowed to do things because of bureaucracy.

Good administrators hate administrative bloat too.
posted by melissam at 9:23 AM on October 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


This thread is a hoot, man. If the cadre of professionalized bureaucrats are doing such a bangup job, then whence the perpetual "crisis in higher education?" Is it really the fault of the professoriate, with their pipes and mismatched socks? A great many of my peers are eking out a marginal existence as adjuncts. Most of who are on the tenure track are caught between loan payments and a salary that a plumber would laugh at. To become an academic these days is an act of self-sacrifice. If those who are devoting their lives to institutions of higher learning would like to continue to have a say in how those institutions are run, why is that a bad thing? And if the administrators are so essential, why aren't they doing their jobs better? The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

It's fascinating to see people rally to the defense of the managerial class. Everything else is on the table when we talk about saving higher education. But suggest that there might be too many deans and middle managers and people start going nuts.
posted by R. Schlock at 9:29 AM on October 8, 2013 [7 favorites]


Let's say that Ohio State cuts 100 VPs making an average of $300,000 per year and gives all of that money directly back to its students in the form of tuition relief
...
Cutting college middle/upper management, even to the very bone, would not provide a significant savings in tuition costs.


The argument is not so much 'eliminate those positions' as it is 'eliminate those positions and the programs that go with them'.

Each of your hypothetical VPs has people working for them, in programs that certainly cost money. These programs are often not programs that existed 20 years ago, for better or worse.
posted by madajb at 9:38 AM on October 8, 2013


Bureaucracy is necessary. It is vital, actually, and will continue to get more so as our society and the institutions that make it up increase in complexity. Which they will. I think complex societies are a wonderful thing. I am pro-civilization, pro-specialization, pro-progress, whatever you want to call it.

When this topic comes up in my day to day life (in relation to local government but same complaints), I often make the point to people that 'If we all 100% efficient, most people would be out of a job'

The fact of the matter is, people need to work and one of the places we (as a society) have decided to employ them is shuffling paper in government, academia and private industry.
posted by madajb at 9:46 AM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Diversity education is necessary - new students cycle through every four years, student veterans are an increasing member of the student population, as are student coming from vocational rehabilitation.

I hope it didn't sound like I was implying it's not - that only came to mind as an example because I'm currently at a temp job working AS the assistant to the director of diversity initiatives at a university. I was only clarifying that while technically the university calls her role something in "administration," she certainly ain't doing what I'm doing as a secretary.

Frankly, I always found the term "administrative assistant" too fancy for what I do anyway, but that's just me. I'm happy with just plain "secretary" or "office manager" (although there are days I prefer "She Who Must Be Obeyed").
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:51 AM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I feel like there's a bit of a disconnect in this thread, as people seem to be using 'administrators' and 'middle managers/ vice presidents' interchangeably, when in my opinion they are quite different.

It's laughable to think that faculty could reasonably manage their own research along with all of the tedious bullshit that a modern institution has to manage - my university has 50K students alone, something tells me that the faculty would not be up to the task (time and motivation wise, not intelligence wise of course).

Middle management and vice presidents on the other hand? They need to work harder to convince me that all of the meetings they attend are an economic necessity.
posted by Think_Long at 9:53 AM on October 8, 2013


whence the perpetual "crisis in higher education?"

As several people have noted (me included), the crisis is much more a function of decreasing public subsidies for higher education than the rise of the managerial class, much of which exists because of those decreasing public subsidies. I would also add the constant drumbeat of the last two generations in America that everyone attend college instead of the most privileged few percent.
posted by Etrigan at 9:55 AM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's laughable to think that faculty could reasonably manage their own research along with all of the tedious bullshit that a modern institution has to manage

True. But they might have a lot to say about whether or not an institution should be opening satellite campuses in Dubai or Singapore, whether institutional resources ought to be going into renovating dorms or classrooms and purchasing real estate, if an institution should be committing itself to online learning, and whether putting substantial portions of the institutional endowment into high risk investments is prudent. These kinds of decisions will have a significant effect on the financial viability of a university and would best be made by people with significant skin in the game instead of a mobile professional class with one eye on the next rung of the ladder.

the crisis is much more a function of decreasing public subsidies for higher education than the rise of the managerial class, much of which exists because of those decreasing public subsidies

Wha?
posted by R. Schlock at 9:59 AM on October 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


agreed. I just think that the knee-jerk defensiveness is coming from people who are actually in functional positions that are technically administration, but not one of the university's sixteen vice presidents or assistant directors.
posted by Think_Long at 10:03 AM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


The argument is not so much 'eliminate those positions' as it is 'eliminate those positions and the programs that go with them'.

Each of your hypothetical VPs has people working for them, in programs that certainly cost money. These programs are often not programs that existed 20 years ago, for better or worse.


You're right that there are programs beyond just the positions, and that's part of why I significantly overestimated the number of positions that people would want to cut and the salaries involved. The fact of the matter is that right now, Ohio State's yearly budget is 5 billion dollars, of which a billion is coming from student fees. At that level, you have to start cutting hundreds of millions of dollars worth of projects to see a significant savings transferred back to the students (even in a perfect world where 100% of the money is recouped and everything else is exactly as good as it was before you eliminate the programs). I think many people could find millions of dollars of waste, even tens of millions of dollars, but beyond that you're starting to talk about cutting programs that are providing concrete benefits and probably shouldn't be cut.
posted by Copronymus at 10:08 AM on October 8, 2013


But they might have a lot to say about whether or not an institution should be opening satellite campuses in Dubai or Singapore, whether institutional resources ought to be going into renovating dorms or classrooms and purchasing real estate, if an institution should be committing itself to online learning, and whether putting substantial portions of the institutional endowment into high risk investments is prudent.

Wait, why would they have much to say about any of that? I don't turn to a classics professor to help manage my investments, why would a college? Putting your endowment in high risk investments is a bad idea (a point you question begged by calling them high risk), but there's no reason to expect random faculty members to be better at managing the endowment than professionals hired to do that.

I also think it's telling that you've talked about things like "teaching kids how to think" as the purpose of the university and while that's obviously true to an extent, it's far from the only purpose. Providing housing and food for students, assisting students with planning for after they graduate, providing entertainment and enrichment opportunities, providing opportunities to study overseas are all roles a modern university plays, and they're all roles that the faculty is pretty far removed from.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:09 AM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


> "Wha?"

Several people have made this point and shown the connection quite eloquently. What is the source of your confusion?
posted by kyrademon at 10:21 AM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think many people could find millions of dollars of waste, even tens of millions of dollars, but beyond that you're starting to talk about cutting programs that are providing concrete benefits and probably shouldn't be cut.

Just this week, Emory announced that it was cutting several programs, including Visual Arts, Journalism and Education, in order to balance its books. Interestingly, the impetus behind this was Emory's overcommitment to need-blind admissions and generous student aid. They had announced a big initiative just before the economy tanked and then were caught running deficits year over year. From the back and forth on Facebook, it seems like there's a suspicion that a motivating factor in choosing these particular programs rather than others is the long term earning potential of graduates. By cutting art, journalism and education, Emory doesn't risk losing out on significant alumni donations over the long term. Most importantly, though, it looks like the decision was made in secret by a closed committee, which is troubling for all the reasons we've been discussing here. I'm not sure what I would have done if I were an Emory administrator. They seem caught in a bind. But shuttering whole departments is a serious step and ought, minimally, to have been done in open and active conversation with the faculty.
posted by R. Schlock at 10:21 AM on October 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Several people have made this point and shown the connection quite persuasively. What is the source of your confusion?

You said that because there was less public support, they had to hire more administrators. That is not what is supposed to happen when you have less money: when you get less money, you cut middle managers.

Of course, if the administrators are deciding who to cut, it might go differently: they might cut faculty, replaced them with adjuncts and hopefully soon with MOOCs, and then hire more non-faculty to administer the few tenure-line faculty remaining.

I, for one, am glad to be governed by people who don't know anything about teaching or research. As I've learned from this thread, the last thing anyone should want at a university is a subject-matter PhD. Faculty governance will only destroy the institution if it's not stamped out.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:30 AM on October 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


This thread, in the poisonous ignorance and bad argumentation which seem to be the modal first reaction to TFA, is as perfect a reflection of the predominant class character of MetaFilter's user base as I've ever seen. MeFi can lament the "inevitability" of economic harm if academic labor is in crisis, and mildly pity the poor PhDs — but threaten the IT department or the student-services vice-dean's assistant and all of a sudden it's OFF WITH YOUR HEAD.
posted by RogerB at 10:35 AM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


> "That is not what is supposed to happen when you have less money: when you get less money, you cut middle managers."

The argument being made is that a change in revenue streams has led to a greater reliance on money from tuition; universities are therefore trying to obtain and retain more students by offering them more services. Note that the biggest jump in relative spending by far has come in "services such as counseling" (a 23 percent increase) -- although many people seem to be lumping this in with "middle managers", and for that matter a number of other noneducational functions such as maintenance.

> "You can lament the 'inevitability' of economic harm if academic labor is in crisis, and mildly pity the poor PhDs — but threaten the IT department or the student-services vice-dean's assistant and all of a sudden it's OFF WITH YOUR HEAD."

Are we even reading the same thread?
posted by kyrademon at 10:43 AM on October 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


But they might have a lot to say about whether or not an institution should be opening satellite campuses in Dubai or Singapore, whether institutional resources ought to be going into renovating dorms or classrooms and purchasing real estate, if an institution should be committing itself to online learning, and whether putting substantial portions of the institutional endowment into high risk investments is prudent.

I am a big proponent of faculty governance and having a faculty voice in decisions, but some of the things on this list are not topics I expect faculty to have a lot of solid background in. I have been on committees with faculty members discussing foreign campuses, and their views were often heavily shaped by their own research needs, not that of the campus. Why would faculty know what life in the dorms are like, or the effects of overcrowding on students? Should all the faculty comment on online learning, or only those who have participated in an online class or taught in an online environment? Who will provide background knowledge and vendor introductions or vetting? We usually end up with the same handful of people serving on the same committees, because committees take time and people have publications and research and teaching to work on (as they should!)

To be honest, I work in a support staff position. This is a job that really two people should be doing, in a department that is down many full time positions while our student population has only increased. The faculty and students expect 24/7 coverage of their answers and questions, even though most of us are hourly and not salaried. The admin team works to try to figure out where the department is going next, and what support we will need to provide in the future. They often are the mediators on budget priorities, since the costs of many things are not well understood by either the faculty or the students. We may have a couple of extraneous people on campus (many of whom have advanced degrees of their own,) but generally at least part of their job title includes a federally-mandated role.
posted by jetlagaddict at 10:45 AM on October 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


This thread, in the poisonous ignorance and bad argumentation which seem to be the modal first reaction to TFA, is as perfect a reflection of the predominant class character of MetaFilter's user base as I've ever seen. MeFi can lament the "inevitability" of economic harm if academic labor is in crisis, and mildly pity the poor PhDs — but threaten the IT department or the student-services vice-dean's assistant and all of a sudden it's OFF WITH YOUR HEAD.

I'm not entirely sure where you're seeing all of the violent rhetoric, but that aside, I don't think people are arguing that one should never consider cutting administration so much as that cutting administration won't actually solve the problem at hand because there's just not enough money at stake in positions such as student-services vice-dean's assistant.
posted by Copronymus at 10:52 AM on October 8, 2013


I am in private .edu IT, but at the same time that IT has exploded, there are also a lot more regulatory regimes that every school has to pay attention to.

FERPA is old news, but HIPPA and PCI and SOX and GLB and a thicket of state laws on privacy and security combine in a really heavy, confusing load. I can't imagine that my school is the only one with a busy and growing Compliance office!
posted by wenestvedt at 10:59 AM on October 8, 2013


Note that the biggest jump in relative spending by far has come in "services such as counseling" (a 23 percent increase) -- although many people seem to be lumping this in with "middle managers", and for that matter a number of other noneducational functions such as maintenance.

I think the real problem is equivocation, yes. We're talking past each other because a. we are all at different institutions, hiding our very specific concerns behind vague language, and b. in some cases we're not clear on whether the aggregated data is reflected in our particular reality or not.

So for instance, when I complain about the proliferation of assistant Deans, I have a particular set of experiences in mind. At other schools, these experiences might be pretty foreign. And I'm not sure how much of my experience can be found in the aggregated data: after all, the aggregated data could easily show that my particular concerns are, in aggregate, trumped by other things like IT or counseling. My school has inadequate IT and counseling, so even though I think there are too many administrators, I also think there are too few IT workers and counselors. But then I'm left wondering how my experience can be so at odds with what the aggregates show.

But one thing I know is that 2/3 of faculty aren't tenure-track anymore: there are 1.5 million people teaching in higher education, and more than a million of them are cheap adjuncts. And that change happened while tuitions led inflation and a lot of new upper- and middle-managers were hired.

So it can be seen from the above arguments that there are many different points of view on the administrative bloat problem.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:08 AM on October 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


R. Schlock: But suggest that there might be too many deans and middle managers and people start going nuts.

I don't think anyone is disagreeing with you here. At any given institution, in any given department, there may well be too many deans and managers. We are saying (or at least, I am saying, I hate to speak for others) that there might also be many other factors at play that this article seems to be making a point of ignoring. Drastically cut public funding, and a drastically increased number of students who are expecting more and better services, for just two very obvious examples.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:27 AM on October 8, 2013


But they might have a lot to say about whether or not an institution should be opening satellite campuses in Dubai or Singapore, whether institutional resources ought to be going into renovating dorms or classrooms and purchasing real estate, if an institution should be committing itself to online learning, and whether putting substantial portions of the institutional endowment into high risk investments is prudent.

You express all of these concerns as simple "Yes" or "No" questions. But when the professors have deigned to express their verdicts on these weighty matters, who do you think makes them happen? Are the professors building those dorms? Supervising the building of those dorms? Repairing the physical plant? Managing the schedules of the people who repair the physical plant?

These kinds of decisions will have a significant effect on the financial viability of a university and would best be made by people with significant skin in the game instead of a mobile professional class with one eye on the next rung of the ladder.

Yes, we get it. Academics are pure beings of thought and goodwill, unconcerned with careerism and personal reputation, valiantly defending the precious academy from the depredations of the bloodsucking administrators, concerned solely with filling their pockets.

But even if you're right, here's the thing: having skin in the game doesn't make you better at the game. Desire and commitment don't necessarily translate to results.

Wha?

As I noted above, if you're talking about higher education spending without commenting on the slashing of public funding for higher education (both in direct funding of public universities and indirect funding by means such as research for all universities), then you have no business talking about higher education spending. You're discussing the symptoms of the Black Plague without talking about rats.
posted by Etrigan at 11:39 AM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


there might also be many other factors at play that this article seems to be making a point of ignoring

Those other factors are well treated in the popular media. Ginsberg's contribution is to force us to confront the possibility that spending priorities may be guided by the proliferation of administrative staff and not by a dispassionate consideration of what best serves a college or university's core mission.

I honestly appreciate your conciliatory tone, but that (to my mind uncontroversial) point is getting a tremendous amount of pushback here. Nobody is saying that any one factor is a panacea. Higher education is a tremendously complex business. But from the faculty side of things, it's pretty clear that elements of self-governance that have traditionally been handled by faculty are being usurped by a managerial class. My own feeling is that a flatter administrative structure that draws upon the expertise and intelligence of faculty to guide and prioritize growth would make for a healthier and happier campus. Alas, given the prevailing winds, this is likely to remain hypothetical in the near term.

If you'd like, please look again at the example of Emory that I gave upthread to try to ground the conversation. It's a difficult, maybe insoluble problem. Money isn't there and priorities need to be readjusted. But the lack of administrative transparency creates anger and anxiety across a range of constituencies. Universities are not like department stores, tech firms or textile mills. To run them effectively requires flexibility and creativity as well as a high tolerance for the messiness of a democratic process. We used to know that. I hope we don't lose too much before we relearn it.
posted by R. Schlock at 11:40 AM on October 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


Etrigan, you're making a straw man of me and I don't like it. I think I've made my points adequately above. Beyond that, I wish you all the best.
posted by R. Schlock at 11:42 AM on October 8, 2013


Etrigan, you're making a straw man of me and I don't like it.

Oh, I'm sorry. Was it when I said, "Wow, lots of outraged professors in this thread. Must be a slow Tuesday morning..." or when I told you to "Get your head on straight" or when I said you were "going nuts"?

Ginsberg's contribution is to force us to confront the possibility that spending priorities may be guided by the proliferation of administrative staff and not by a dispassionate consideration of what best serves a college or university's core mission.

He's not raising a "possibility," he's cherry-picking the worst possible examples to prove a point that he decided on for us. And you're not helping, with your apparent belief that your side is the only one capable of "dispassionate consideration".
posted by Etrigan at 11:49 AM on October 8, 2013


Just this week, Emory announced that it was cutting several programs, including Visual Arts, Journalism and Education, in order to balance its books... it looks like the decision was made in secret by a closed committee

First off, this happened last year, not last week. Second, while Dean Forman may have been the one to officially announce the cuts, the secret, closed committee was comprised of faculty. Similarly, the committee that recently rejected the grievance claims of the affected professors was also made up of faculty. If we're still talking about the virtues of faculty vs. non-faculty administration, this is not a particular good case for the former.
posted by Panjandrum at 12:13 PM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


There are studies showing that institutions that rotate faculty through top administrative roles outperform institutions who hire permanent upper level administrators, Etrigan. All institutions still employ administrators for important roles, like implementing faculty decisions, understanding regulations, building relationships with outside bureaucracy, etc. All important decisions should ultimately be made by faculty with short term administrative appointments though, even if the faculty hate these dean-like positions. Faculty posses a much deeper commitment to and clearer understanding of the educational and/or research missions of the university. Also demarchy just beats autocracy if only because temporary bosses listen.
posted by jeffburdges at 12:19 PM on October 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


All important decisions should ultimately be made by faculty with short term administrative appointments though, even if the faculty hate these dean-like positions.

Right, exactly. It's a matter of workplace politics in the general case, as well as cost control and justice in the specific current mess in the academic economy. Cooperative decision-making works better than autocracy in all workplaces, not just universities. And if management and staff work are truly such terribly unpleasant tasks, that's all the more reason they should be handled by a rotating slate of the institutions' core workers, on temporary cooperative reassignment — so that no one has to suffer through the terrible punishment of being a permanent administrator. (As an aside, the "no faculty would deign to do this staff job" arguments being marshalled here are ludicrous and clearly responding to cultural slights from the already tenured rather than to the economic reality of the academic world. There is a vast army of adjuncts, under- and unemployed PhDs out there right now, many of whom would jump at the opportunity to work at a university in any stable salaried capacity.)
posted by RogerB at 12:30 PM on October 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


You said that because there was less public support, they had to hire more administrators. That is not what is supposed to happen when you have less money: when you get less money, you cut middle managers.

The university near me has an entire office dedicated to convincing rich Californians to come to the school and pay full freight tuition.

This office did not exist when the university was mostly publicly funded and focused on in-state students. It exists solely to make up the downturn in public funding.
posted by madajb at 12:42 PM on October 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


All institutions still employ administrators for important roles, like implementing faculty decisions, understanding regulations, building relationships with outside bureaucracy, etc.

And yet, the idea that administrators and bureaucracy even exist seems to enrage some people in this thread to the point that they imagine people are "going nuts" and crying "OFF WITH YOUR HEAD" merely for pointing out that administrators might not be the biggest problem facing higher education today.

Faculty posses a much deeper commitment to and clearer understanding of the educational and/or research missions of the university.

And professional administrators will tend to possess a much clearer understanding of the financial mission of the university, which is to continue to exist. If a university loses enough money, it has to start cutting back on those educational and/or research missions. In the past, this was ameliorated by the fact that much more of a school's money came from the government. I'm not in any way advocating the ridiculous idea that universities should be run like businesses, but the fact remains that money has to come in before it can go out, and the educational and research functions cost money.
posted by Etrigan at 12:44 PM on October 8, 2013


Ginsberg's contribution is to force us to confront the possibility that spending priorities may be guided by the proliferation of administrative staff and not by a dispassionate consideration of what best serves a college or university's core mission.

I think his opening framing is, unfortunately, obscuring that point, because I kept expecting him to link tuition costs to administrative costs, which isn't really his argument. He opens with a mention of tuition costs -- "No statistic about higher education commands more attention—and anxiety—among members of the public than the rising price of admission" -- and comes back to it a few times, but he never quite ties rising tuition costs to spending priorities as a cause of those costs, as I thought he would. He's ultimately more concerned with the quality of education, suggesting that "[a] 20 percent or larger cut [to administrative spending] would begin to be noticed and would have the beneficial effect of substantially reducing administrative power and the ongoing diversion of scarce funds into unproductive channels." Note that he's not suggesting that reducing administrative costs would reduce tuition; he's saying that reducing administrative costs would increase the quality of education by letting schools put the money elsewhere.

When he notes the Delta Cost Project as a source and says, in the same paragraph, "Parents who wonder why college tuition is so high and why it increases so much each year may be less than pleased to learn that their sons and daughters will have an opportunity to interact with more administrators and staffers— but not more professors," it's hard to take that seriously because the very report he cites notes that increased tuition cost is primarily a result of decreased governmental subsidies, not of increased spending by schools.

The whole thing struck me as a bit weird, because it's not really clear that he has a problem with rising tuition costs -- he has a problem with spending priorities, and he's using anxiety over the cost of college as means to helping people identify with his concerns. And I think that's throwing some people off (including myself, at first) because my concern about the cost of college is the cost. And, as the sources he's citing show, administrative costs aren't what's causing the cost of college to go up.

Whether or not faculty or administrative staff are better placed to gauge the proper ratio of spending priorities is a really interesting question, but to raise the specter of tuition hikes without without also addressing why tuition costs are up is bound to raise some eyebrows.
posted by cjelli at 12:48 PM on October 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


RogerB: As an aside, the "no faculty would deign to do this staff job" arguments being marshalled here are ludicrous and clearly responding to cultural slights from the already tenured rather than to the economic reality of the academic world. There is a vast army of adjuncts, under- and unemployed PhDs out there right now, many of whom would jump at the opportunity to work at a university in any stable salaried capacity.

What I was suggesting is that no one currently employed as a faculty member at my institution (where they are making 6 figures) would or even should spend their time doing my relatively menial job. It would be a horrible waste of their time and expertise. As for all the unemployed PhDs out there, they were welcome to apply for my job when it was open in 2009, but they didn't, nor did they apply for the entry level cashier position we had available in 2011. I'll MeMail you if we have another position open in the near future so you can put it on your mailing lists.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:59 PM on October 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


So... the author of this has never worked? In a regular job? Because that's what I'm picking up when he rages against team-building or meetings where people talk about other meetings. Yes, those sound silly, until you realize that time taken to coordinate communications (ie retreats) should make things run more smoothly in the long term, and that of course someone who represents the department at a strategic planning meeting should give a brief summary of what happened to those who couldn't make it.

I just don't get the point he's trying to make, aside from to take pretty standard parts of modern American working life and say they're wasteful and silly when administrative staff do them. Is meeting something that should be reserved only for people with PhDs? Because I don't have one yet, but I can tell you that many of the PhDs I know are cantankerous introverts who won't leap at the chance to do the work that's necessary to make a university run.
posted by c'mon sea legs at 1:21 PM on October 8, 2013


We have plenty of meetings, and we *do* the work that makes the university run: it's called teaching.

I also fix the copier, take out the trash, and do dishes in the department sink. Meanwhile, the registrar can't get room assignments done before the second week of the semester and makes twice what I make.

Like I said, I think we're talking past each other.
posted by anotherpanacea at 1:31 PM on October 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


As for all the unemployed PhDs out there, they were welcome to apply for my job when it was open in 2009, but they didn't, nor did they apply for the entry level cashier position we had available in 2011. I'll MeMail you if we have another position open

I get that you're being hyperbolic or whatever when you refer to the entry-level cashier position (and thanks, sincerely, for the networking offer, which I might well take you up on), but: there is actually a genuine, big, and recent problem here, quite closely connected to the subject of this article: that a PhD and/or faculty experience are not seen as real qualifications for the large majority of administrative jobs at universities, and that people with PhDs are, to say the least, not encouraged to apply for them. Sometimes, very damagingly, the PhD and/or faculty experience is just seen as irrelevant, as if advising students as a faculty member somehow doesn't count toward an Advising vice-dean job's "3-5 years experience in an advising capacity" or the like; and sometimes it is even treated as a de facto disqualification. The admin career track has become alarmingly separated from the academic career track; on one side, the average campus now has a large number of people working on it who aren't really personally involved in the instruction-and-research mission (and who sometimes seem not even to comprehend it) but instead are interchangeable with corporate-workplace workers in similar roles, while on the other hand, a large group of people who have sacrificed tons of their time and effort to the teaching-and-research mission are going begging for any kind of work in the very same workplace. This is, in fact, a lot of what people mean when they talk about the corporatization of the university.
posted by RogerB at 1:40 PM on October 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


And professional administrators will tend to possess a much clearer understanding of the financial mission of the university, which is to continue to exist.

Wrong, all power corrupts. Professional administrators possess a much clearer understanding of what benefits their own career advancement, even when that harms the institution. And the most influential modern microeconomics theories address exactly point. In particular, all the "financially dangerous" decisions I've seen universities make were made by self-advancing administrators, not faculty.

Academic temp administrators overseeing non-academic administrative activities quickly learn the underlying problems there, financial or otherwise, while high level administrators rarely understand the wider educational and research missions. Research is damn hard. Education was always tricky, while research has made it better but harder. Anyone can manage a checkbook, especially when you're surrounded by twenty subordinates telling you exactly how they've always done it before and why your new idea does or does not work.
posted by jeffburdges at 1:41 PM on October 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


The problem with rotating faculty through core administrative positions are that in many cases faculty simply aren't subject matter experts in the relevant area of the business.

Looking at the top level administrators at my University you have the President (usually a former academic), Provost (almost exclusively academics), Academic Deans (pretty much exclusively academics), VP Research (again academic), VP HR (rarely academic), VP Finance (rarely academic), VP operations (rarely academic), VP IT (sometimes academic sometimes not), VP Student Affairs (sometimes Academic).

Of the major senior VP (or equivalent) positions at most universities I'd venture that Academics or former Academics make up a good percentage of the top level positions it's just that in many cases the Vp of HR, VP of Finance, VP of Operations and VP IT are generally staffed by professional specialists. And the staffs of those divisions tend to be non-academics for the most part are most Student Affairs positions.

Could you rotate Faculty into those positions possibly but more and more universities are reliant on specialists to handle Finance and Administration and HR and IT because those fields are typically run by practitioners instead of academics and academic knowledge of Computer Science for instance rarely translates well into running University level IT organizations effectively.

The days of a Department Chair getting by with a single Administrative Assistant and maybe a receptionist are rapidly going away. Way too much decision-making about whether the university is succeeding or failing in it's job revolves around gathering metrics about a whole host of operationalized variables that a single Faculty administrator simply doesn't have time for especially if they haven't already achieved tenure. Instead stuff like advising is increasing shifted to professional staff (many of which have master degrees in the field in question) or a dedicated IT person who keeps the department's IT resources in some semblance of compliance. That way the Chair can set some direction for the department (which is admittedly like herding cats at most schools) without having to worry about the minutae of bureaucracy and institutional compliance.

Yes Faculty should be more involved in governance but they also have to have a lot of skin in the game as well especially about big ticket items.
posted by vuron at 1:44 PM on October 8, 2013


Wrong, all power corrupts.

Power tends to corrupt, and claiming that anyone who actually wants any job is therefore incapable of handling its responsibilities is ridiculous.

Professional administrators possess a much clearer understanding of what benefits their own career advancement, even when that harms the institution.

You could replace "Professional administrators" with "Academics" in that sentence and it would be exactly as true.

Anyone can manage a checkbook

Anyone can stand up in front of a class and talk. What's that? There's more to being a professor than that? Of course there is. There's an old Army joke: "What's the hardest job in the Army? Mine. What's the easiest job in the Army? Yours. Amazingly, that works no matter who I'm talking to."

No one is saying that academic faculty should have no role in governance. What some people are saying is that academic faculty are not necessarily exactly what every position in a university needs. Many of the people on the other side of this issue in this thread appear to be more concerned with their own power bases or keeping things the way they were back in the 1920s than what it actually takes to run a university in the 21st Century; complaining about "administrative bloat" is possible without slamming all administrators as "leeches" and insisting that anyone without a PhD is irredeemably selfish while anyone with one is impeccably altruistic.
posted by Etrigan at 1:52 PM on October 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


All those executive positions are usually occupied by ex-academics professional administrators, vuron, ideally you'd limit their shenanigans via a university senate or rotate them or whatever. Academics are corrupted by power too, that why no one should hold power for long or else they need serious oversight.

A temporary academic IT dean has comparatively less authority over their underlings than any professional administrator occupying the same role, largely because they're an outsider, lack the domain knowledge, lack an understand of the politics, etc. In practice, you're creating a division of power where the academic boss has authority, except the non-academic underlings tell her what must happen, and underlings can always bring a serious issue to higher ranking faculty members, faculty senate, etc.

Aa I said, all the really horrendous decisions I've witnessed were made by professional administrators, including ex-academic university presidents. Also we've studies that found positive coronations between university success and rotating faculty through administrative roles. Autocracy is just a shitty way to run anything.
posted by jeffburdges at 2:05 PM on October 8, 2013


While there are no doubt University Administrators who no doubt are concerned primarily with self-advancement I don't know if that's the norm by any stretch of the imagination. Working at a public institution has convinced me that a decent percentage of administrators have prosocial motivations on top of the needs to have a rewarding career with decent remuneration, etc. In many cases people working in administration even the ones working at a high level in the university (where some of the more outlandish salaries sometimes appear) often get paid dramatically less than someone of similar experience within the private sector. This seems to reflect that at least some percentage of administrators have internalized the mission of the university as being a worthwhile goal just like many faculty members have made career decisions that cause them to make substantially less than compatriots in private industry.
posted by vuron at 2:06 PM on October 8, 2013


As an aside, the "no faculty would deign to do this staff job" arguments being marshalled here are ludicrous

The faculty of my department just outright *refused* to take on any undergraduate advising roles. They said they're busy enough, and I tend to agree with them. It does mean someone on the staff (gasp! without a PhD) has to advise their undergrads for them though.
posted by Squeak Attack at 2:19 PM on October 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Autocracy is just a shitty way to run anything.

This. I'd add that a lot of people will hasten to tell you that this sort of oversight is what Boards of Trustees are for. But given that trustees are usually drawn from nonprofits and the private sector, they're rarely equipped to exercise adequate, real oversight of the day to day operations of a college or university. And when they do intervene, they push reforms that are designed to bring higher education into line with the business practices they're familiar with, which hardly helps.

Faculty governance and a healthy institutional democracy are so very important. It's irritating to see academics continually characterized as these semi-autistic introverts incapable of dealing with the slightest practical managerial issue. It's directly at odds with what I've experienced. My colleagues and friends are passionate about college education and innovative research. They're intelligent enough to coordinate large research projects and have a tremendous tolerance for ambiguity and the delay of gratification. Most of them are deeply committed to the health of their institutions and welcome opportunities to contribute productively to their flourishing.

But one thing this thread has really shown me is the depth of condescension and ressentiment some higher education support staff apparently nourish toward their faculty colleagues. What a bummer.
posted by R. Schlock at 2:21 PM on October 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


> "But one thing this thread has really shown me is the depth of condescension and ressentiment some higher education support staff apparently nourish toward their faculty colleagues."

Maybe that depth of condescension could team up with the concept that all university administrators are useless, self-interested idiots. They could have a party or something.
posted by kyrademon at 2:40 PM on October 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


useless, self-interested idiots

Yeah. Nobody is saying that.
posted by R. Schlock at 2:41 PM on October 8, 2013


On the other hand there seems to be a high degree of distrust that professional administrators even those risen from the ranks of the faculty could be anything other than self-serving pencil-pushers that are getting in the way of faculty teaching and research.

I don't doubt that in some cases that's correct but I also see administrators constantly struggling at incorporating stakeholder feedback while trying to meet core organizational goals and complying with a host of compliance issues.

I think we all agree that the core services of a university is educating students and performing research but there are a ton of additional services that an increasingly diverse student population demand and there are a ton of enabling services that are required to allow educators to teach and research effectively.

Higher education in a complex landscape and more than any time before the prospective student has a ton of options in what institution to attend and there has been a lot of money invested in attracting students to universities and retaining them and matriculating them in some degree of a quick turn around. Everyone in the university is helping create that end product that we hope the student will decide to buy because in many cases it's the biggest or second biggest "purchase" that an individual will ever make. In order to make that end product as attractive as possible a lot of people have been brought to the table. Faculty members feel like their input is less and less relevant and an increasing percentage are checking out from administrative tasks or leaving them to their more politically adept and/or ambitious brethren.

Personally I don't feel resentment towards academics at all, I think a lot of academics are struggling to under a tenure system that rewards a very specific model of academic progression and few departments have seen the level of hiring necessary to support their academic and research functions effectively and consequently we've seen the development of a permanent under-class of Adjuncts and Researchers that are utilized to reduce costs and avoid hiring more tenure track faculty but I don't necessarily think that a return to the old model where universities lacked professional resources is necessarily the right way to advance the mission of academia.

Rather it seems like we are still talking about how to divide resources as if it's automatically got to be a zero-sum game where the academics are automatically losing out if there is any expansion in administration.
posted by vuron at 2:46 PM on October 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


> "Yeah. Nobody is saying that."

From your posts, R. Schlock:

"... raise their own professional profiles at the expense of the school's limited resources."

"And if the administrators are so essential, why aren't they doing their jobs better?"

"... a mobile professional class with one eye on the next rung of the ladder."

If nobody is saying that, then please stop saying it.
posted by kyrademon at 2:50 PM on October 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


But one thing this thread has really shown me is the depth of condescension and ressentiment some higher education support staff apparently nourish toward their faculty colleagues. What a bummer.

Your comments have been unceasingly hostile in this topic. I get that the topic pushes buttons for you but I don't actually get who in this topic you're railing against or why you keep feeling the need to sum a conversation people are trying to keep nuanced into nasty little bon mots.

If you're including any of my comments in "higher education support staff" being resentful, I protest.
posted by Squeak Attack at 2:54 PM on October 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


kyrademon, all those comments referred to decisions made by executive staff. Deans, provosts, presidents, etc. Sorry if that was unclear.
posted by R. Schlock at 3:02 PM on October 8, 2013


Schlock - I think this may have set off some defensiveness:

But one thing this thread has really shown me is the depth of condescension and ressentiment some higher education support staff

if we are making a distinction between support staff and executive/ titled positions, it needs to be more clear.
posted by Think_Long at 3:21 PM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I understand that there is certainly a great deal of waste tied up in university administration...

There is a great deal of waste tied up in all educational administration ... in all administration everywhere. The word is "sinecure".

In the view of all administrators the only purpose of our existence is to support their existence. Just like it was back when monks were the administration. They know nine and sixty ways to make the obscurity of what they do indispensible. They are the heavy steaming load humanity carries upon its back every day. And they've had thousands of years to hone their craft.
posted by Twang at 3:42 PM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


The faculty of my department just outright *refused* to take on any undergraduate advising roles. They said they're busy enough, and I tend to agree with them.

One issue for my department in taking on more and more service, is that we have less and less tenured/tenure track faculty and we can't and won't ask sessionals to do service unless we can pay them extra for taking on more responsibility. I spent 80 hours last month on service for one curriculum cleanup process (admittedly, some of that was due to some really unhelpful colleagues). That was on top of teaching, other service responsibilities, student meetings, and research. That's not sustainable on any long term basis, especially as my pay and promotion is heavily tied to publishing, research, and grant getting, not service. Or teaching. It's really discouraging and depressing.

Our undergraduate adviser gets one course release in return for her service. One course. Given how complex dealing with our institutional structure is, she probably spends about the time she would spend on three courses dealing with her advising duties.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 4:10 PM on October 8, 2013


I went to a pretty atypical undergrad that was less affected by this problem (IT and top-level administration were still a problem) and the related matter of providing a plethora of non-educational services, but then I went to a much more standard grad school. Far be it from me to begrudge anyone their sinecure, especially as I wasn't paying, but there was a bit of the "give a small person a small amount of power" problem and a decent amount of their make-work making pointless work & hassle for me.

An affiliation to the university-as-bureaucracy rather than to the educational mission of the colleges and departments was pretty apparent, as well. On arriving I thought I would introduce myself to departmental staff upon first dealing with them, try to remember names, etc. but it turns out they were interchangeable university-wide Administrative Assistants Level 3 and so on, so it almost seemed like every semester the staff was randomized.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 4:36 PM on October 8, 2013


There is a great deal of waste tied up in all educational administration ... in all administration everywhere. The word is "sinecure".

In the view of all administrators the only purpose of our existence is to support their existence.


It's amazing how in this thread, the overwhelming majority of sweeping generalization has been from one side, and the overwhelming majority of "OH MY GOD WHY ARE YOU BEING SO HYSTERICAL" flapping has been from one side, and they're the same side.
posted by Etrigan at 6:12 PM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


At our university (in Australia), the administrator/academic ratio is slightly more than 50% admin to slightly less than 50% academic. Most new posted admin jobs are full time continuing contracts. Most new posted academic jobs (ha ha ha!) are part time and/or fixed term of 1-3 years. One consequence is that un- or under-employed academics go into admin positions instead, where they generally totally suck at their new job. They don't really want to be there - they'd rather be doing research or teaching. So they meddle with other people's research and teaching, and also zone out on the more boring but core parts of their jobs. And they don't stay very long because they are off as soon as they find the next postdoc or whatever, so a high turnover means low institutional memory and a large number of people who don't know how any of the forms or processes work.

I don't really have a point here. I just wanted to whine.
posted by lollusc at 6:33 PM on October 8, 2013


I used to work for a public university in an independent unit that managed some imaging equipment that was made available to several departments.

We had a staff of less than 10 people. I strongly believe that our administrative manager was the most important one.

The range of things that she ended up tackling was immense. She was our interface with university purchasing. She dealt with all the university facilities stuff. She was keeping tabs on how many Ethernet jacks in the building were turned on and how much we were paying for them. She maintained detailed IRB records for every experiment run by every researcher who used our facility. She managed all billing and seed grant processing. She dealt with the university's legal department, kept track of contracts, and kept lines open with our equipment's manufacturers for ongoing site support. She was a career university administrator in a senior position, and she was absolutely indispensable.

After a bit, our faculty board saw fit to appoint a director who was a newly hired, tenured faculty member. He treated our unit as an extension of his lab, monopolized the time of personnel who were paid out of our accounts, ran billing on the honor system, handed out equipment time as favors to his collaborators, and started quarrels with other researchers who came to use our equipment.

He had plans for eliminating my position, but I left for mostly unrelated reasons. Our manager also left. The unit is now gradually imploding under the director's leadership. This probably doesn't bother him much, since he enjoys privileged access to some very expensive equipment. And, obviously, the university can't sell it back to the manufacturer to recoup the costs.

It's blindingly obvious to me that sometimes it takes an experienced administrator to run a tight ship in academia. It's also obvious that an administrator who is not an academic is less prone to favor-trading and other mercenary tendencies that academics can be susceptible to.
posted by Nomyte at 7:30 PM on October 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Meanwhile, the registrar can't get room assignments done before the second week of the semester and makes twice what I make.

Hah, I used to substitute in scheduling, so now I know why that happens: everyone starts complaining about their room assignments and wants to switch.

The fact of the matter is, people need to work and one of the places we (as a society) have decided to employ them is shuffling paper in government, academia and private industry.


Certainly true. I know I'm not employable anywhere else at this point, since my previous profession has mostly bit the dust and I don't really have any skills anyone will pay me for that aren't typing.

I don't know on middle management....I suppose my boss is one, but she actually does a ton of work and knows how to do everything we do and does some things for us that we don't have to--plus she has to deal with the bureaucrazy and shield us as best she can from the upper management drama explosions. For that, she makes what she calls "the big pennies." Make of that what you will.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:47 PM on October 8, 2013


Hah, I used to substitute in scheduling, so now I know why that happens: everyone starts complaining about their room assignments and wants to switch.

Well, maybe people wouldn't be demanding to switch if the registrar didn't put multiple classes in the same room. That happened to me twice this semester.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:59 PM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


That sounds really frustrating, anotherpanacea, but are you seriously arguing that the situation would be better if room scheduling were done by a rotating pool of faculty members? I'll admit that I find that hard to believe. What point are you making here?

As an aside, the "no faculty would deign to do this staff job" arguments being marshalled here are ludicrous and clearly responding to cultural slights from the already tenured rather than to the economic reality of the academic world. There is a vast army of adjuncts, under- and unemployed PhDs out there right now, many of whom would jump at the opportunity to work at a university in any stable salaried capacity.

Some people in these roles actually are former adjuncts and under- and unemployed PhDs. About a third of the advisers in my office fit that description. Most of the rest of us are people who started PhD programs and didn't finish. I'm actually curious about who you envision university staff members, as opposed to vice presidents of whatever, to be. I don't think most of us are ambitious MBAs looking for prestige and big bucks.
posted by sockpuppy at 8:20 PM on October 8, 2013


You're not listening, sockpuppy. Scheduling should be done by a computer. That computers should be run by an administrator in charge of scheduling. That administrator should report directly or indirectly to a rotating faculty dean-like position. The point is that a faculty member has the authority to say : Go fix this. I'm asking someone to write us better software. etc.

You described an administrator who brought impartiality to intra-lab competition for the equipment, Nomyte. I'd consider that a fine use for an administrator for exactly the same reason that faculty should oversee most university functions, namely it distributes power. In that case, I'd imagine the faculty members running the participating labs collectively posses authority over that administrator, but whenever they lack consensus the administrator sorts out the issue. Ain't too surprising installing a faculty member's broke the system by removing the impartiality. It replaced a consensus based approach with an authoritarian scheme.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:49 PM on October 8, 2013


You're not listening, sockpuppy. Scheduling should be done by a computer.

Great! We'll have to hire a couple of IT professionals to bash it together. That's two more admin staffers in the pot.

If you want the services and convenience of a 21st century institution, you have to accept the staff that goes with it. This is all assuming your registrar isn't already on an automated scheduling system. They probably are, but classroom scheduling still needs manpower because lots of courses have special requirements and there are always problems that need to be redressed by a human being. Can't speak to anotherpanacea's registrar though - that sounds like general incompetence.
posted by Think_Long at 5:37 AM on October 9, 2013


And systems like that never ever crash, or have bugs, or need updates, or have compatibility issues. They always work perfectly right out of the box! And faculty deans totally get these issues, so they'll manage them really well!
posted by Miko at 6:14 AM on October 9, 2013


TBH most of the commercial room scheduling programs seem to be utter garbage based upon my personal experience and yes you still need good data in the program from your classroom technology people (does the room have lecture capture, etc), plus there are always the issues about how some adviser stuck a kid in a classroom at the last moment and now there isn't enough seats or too many kids dropped and suddenly a classroom that can seat 30 now has 5 people in it and those types of numbers look really bad on reports, etc.

Plus you know IT people to provide care and feeding of said application (application support tech, server admin, etc). Yeah that can totally be a collateral duty of a tenure track professor who needs to use most of his time teaching and publishing because let's be honest working as an assistant registrar is never going to be looked at by the tenure committee as a particular bonus.
posted by vuron at 6:20 AM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Much of this conversation depends upon a fight about what the word "administrative" means. It's no refutation to point to increased IT support staff: the problem isn't the support staff, it's the existence of a parallel set of managers who have ultimate authority in a university setting.

There's a difference between the registrar and the people who do the scheduling. The registrar is a highly-paid administrator who tells the folks who actually do the nitty-gritty what to do. The problem is when these highly paid administrators are both incompetent and cannot be removed by faculty, while their fellow-administrators rally around them and defend them from criticism.

Now, certainly in the gone-away world there were circumstances when the faculty were incompetent and their fellow faculty rallied around them and defended them from criticism. And in those cases, of course I'd like to see more accountability for faculty. But that is not where the balance of power lies today, and so I feel I have some justification for saying that, yes, faculty governance is better than bureaucratic governance.

I don't think faculty need to take over janitorial work or act as cashiers. It's fine to hire other folks to do that work. But I don't think it's appropriate to hire "bosses" and managers for the faculty. In the modern university, there is a class of people who have authority over the faculty, tenured or not. These people, who we call "administrators" are not the same folks as the janitors and cashiers. They're not even the counselors and IT support staff. They're deans, assistant deans, VPs, etc. There are a lot of them. Even when they have PhDs, they have those degrees in things like "Higher Education Administration," and are de facto MBAs, members of the managerial class with very different values than traditional professors. And they have continued to create new departments outside of the core missions of the university that suck up resources and create budget shortfalls that those engaged in the university's core missions are expected to sacrifice to fill.

The model is precisely the same as in a democracy: yes, there will be bureaucrats who do a lot of the technical work, lawyers and regulators and project managers, etc. But the democratic institutions should be in charge of what work those technocrats do, not vice versa. I think that the faculty, especially the faculty senate, should be the governing body of the university, and that it is a shame that they are usually impotent in the modern university. And many people outside the university should recognize the problem: that kind of defanged faculty governance subjected to the whims and fads of a managerial class is a problem that transcends universities and undermines our democracy.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:59 AM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's fine to hire other folks to do that work. But I don't think it's appropriate to hire "bosses" and managers for the faculty. In the modern university, there is a class of people who have authority over the faculty, tenured or not. These people, who we call "administrators" are not the same folks as the janitors and cashiers. They're not even the counselors and IT support staff. They're deans, assistant deans, VPs, etc. There are a lot of them.

Yeah, I kind of think everyone in this thread probably agrees with each other about this, but there's just a lot of conflation happening between the two classes of non-faculty staff that is raising some hackles.
posted by Think_Long at 7:02 AM on October 9, 2013


I just object to the underlying belief that the faculty actually know how to manage an institution. There is this sense that because they are experts and leaders in their own fields, they will make expert directors and managers and administrators, and will ably handle the tasks associated with institutional governance, with a minimum of friction and waste. Based on my personal observations, this is false. They are often terrible at these sorts of functions, partially because of their lack of training in those fields, and partially because of a frank dismissal of the legitimacy of organizational theory and practice, based on what I think are classist assumptions about these more recently emerging disciplines compared to the inherent superiority of their own disciplines.

I'm usually the last person to defend managerial leadership for its own sake, but I have enough experience in institutions to understand that there is no halo around subject matter experts that makes them automatically well equipped to manage the entire trajectory of these organizations. Frankly, you need only look to disciplinary scholarly associations to see how this kind of leadership approach can be startlingly ineffective. I am in a museum, not a university, but there are many similarities. There are risks to managerial-class leadership, but the idea that a learning institution can be well run without the kinds of management skills and perspectives that come from organizational theory and practice is hubristic. For my own sanity, my own advancement, I have had to seek training in these kinds of skills so that I can be much more effective at doing my own (discipline-based) work. Nothing in my academic training prepared me well for those tasks.

I'm not doing any conflating here. It is evident to me that if you need more IT staff, what you don't need is for them to work in a vacuum, reporting to an engineering or comp-sci professor doing a department service as a sideline to their job. Their work needs to be linked to professional management, with opportunities for growth, challenge, and professional development, with foresight and strategic planning for the changing needs of the institution, and an advocate for them to construct arguments to get the best resources available in order to do their work to the satisfaction of the stakeholders; and that needs to be linked to budget management and priorities and the future trajectory of the entire organization. That linkage, that supervision, that management has to come from somewhere, and asking an already-overtaxed and unskilled-in-these-areas faculty to do it seems to be the most inefficient possible model.
posted by Miko at 7:16 AM on October 9, 2013


Much of this conversation depends upon a fight about what the word "administrative" means. It's no refutation to point to increased IT support staff: the problem isn't the support staff, it's the existence of a parallel set of managers who have ultimate authority in a university setting.

When you're talking about cutting college costs across the board and throwing around numbers like $325 billion (as the author of the article in the FPP did), you are talking about support staff as well as the people who manage them. A few tbidbits from the article (all emphasis added):
Every year, hosts of administrators and staffers are added to college and university payrolls, even as schools claim to be battling budget crises that are forcing them to reduce the size of their full-time faculties.
...
Before they employed an army of professional staffers, administrators were forced to rely on the cooperation of the faculty to carry out tasks ranging from admissions to planning.
...
The number of administrators and staffers on university campuses has increased so rapidly in recent years that often there is not enough work to keep all of them busy. To fill their time, administrators engage in a number of make-work activities.
...
A tiny number of schools took the opportunity to confront years of administrative and staff bloat and moved to cut costs by shedding unneeded administrators and their brigades of staffers.
That's not "Hey, there's too many vice-deans, but I understand the need for IT professionals to run the LAN." Those are the words of a person who, in his heart of hearts, believes that everyone at a university who is not a faculty member, student or groundskeeper is undermining the grand mission of the academy. And he's not entirely convinced that the students shouldn't be mowing the lawns.
posted by Etrigan at 7:19 AM on October 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


anotherpanacea: In the modern university, there is a class of people who have authority over the faculty, tenured or not. These people, who we call "administrators" are not the same folks as the janitors and cashiers.

The article that this thread is ostensibly about not only explicitly conflates them, but it goes so far as to reduce support staff to mindless drone status:

These “other professionals” are not administrators, but they work for the administration and serve as its arms, legs, eyes, ears, and mouthpieces.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:21 AM on October 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


For the record, I don't argue that faculty should not be empowered at the highest levels, or that a scholar should or could not also be a high-level administrator. It would be better if they were, and much of the excesses of MBA thinking result from a lack of intimacy with scholarly work and the priorities of educators. But integrating that into leadership would not and should not cause the managerial functions of the university to just disappear.

It's not OK to let a low-wage cashier or janitor work like a mushroom because we don't want to pay someone like a merchandising director or a facilities director or a chief of operations to manage the retail and faciities functions. To me, that is at heart a labor issue. If you don't value relatively unskilled or low-level work, then you don't put in the supervisory layers to support it and make it effective and satisfying, because you don't value that either.
posted by Miko at 7:22 AM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Etrigan: And he's not entirely convinced that the students shouldn't be mowing the lawns.

My beloved college adviser and long-tenured faculty member used to say "A university without students is like an ointment without flies." I think she was mostly joking.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:22 AM on October 9, 2013


I think she was mostly joking.

Which leads to the point that many university faculty are not even good teachers, let alone good managers. It's a field that attracts people for the opportunity to conduct research and become an authority; despite the general perspective of college students that universities are about teaching, for many faculty, teaching is a bit of an burden, a means to an end, the price one pays to be a scholar and to build a network of research peers. And faculty are often hired and reviewed not for their teaching skills, but for their profile as researchers, speakers, writers, participants in projects. As a result, teaching is not a strong suit of universities. As a trained educator now in graduate school, I am still routinely horrified at what passes for good instructional design in my courses. Many faculty have no idea how to become better educators, or have no interest in doing so. So the argument that their familiarity with and skill at student instruction should justify their leadership at the institutional level falls short for me on the grounds that they aren't even that good, taken generally and on the whole, at the work that is ostensibly at the center of their job descriptions.

There are many exceptions, of course, but truly excellent teachers/mentors are not a majority of faculty in universities.
posted by Miko at 7:29 AM on October 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


Miko: Which leads to the point that many university faculty are not even good teachers, let alone good managers.

We are maybe getting off on an unpleasant tangent, but boy howdy do I agree with that. The adviser I was quoting above was actually an amazing teacher, but I took a couple of graduate level Library Science courses at a nationally-prominent school a few years back, and one professor was worse than the other. I didn't continue the program due to reasons, but it was not a promising introduction to the field.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:48 AM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Upthread, someone was talking about how an administrator of equipment should be under the "shared authority" of research faculty. I would be interested to know how this could work, since a few scenarios come to mind:

1. The best one, where faculty authority is clearly defined, does not extend to day-to-day decision-making and is renewed via annual meetings (or biannual, whatever). So faculty would have authority to decide about equipment purchases and broad changes in policy. Policy changes could be proposed by faculty or staff (since staff often observe ongoing needs or problems that infrequent faculty users miss) and voted on at the annual meeting, with review and revision as needed. Staff would have defined authority over on-the-ground stuff and would not need to vet expenses of certain kinds and below certain thresholds with faculty.

2. The sorta-bad one, where faculty decide that they want a great deal of authority over this facility. Here, there are frequent meetings (monthly, say) which are attended by an irregular group (everyone one month, two people the next - and those two people have been tasked by the previous month's group with making a decision). Faculty responsibilities are broad. Faculty must vet all repairs, training, etc. Policies are constantly being tweaked and changed. Faculty are responsible for many things but find it difficult to take care of these responsibilities because it's just more meetings and more emails; because faculty do not have time to meet and responses to email are irregular, decisions are made slowly and undemocratically.

3. The really bad one, where authority is shared in an unclear way, faculty feel very comfortable micro-managing daily activities, there is a constant barrage of emails, faculty quarrel over every expenditure because some people think that the shared scintillation counter should be repaired and some people think it should be replaced, etc. Staff need to spend a lot of time triaging between angry faculty members instead of following clear policies. Decisions are made in a way that is both undemocratic and ineffective.

I think it's very reasonable that faculty should have substantial governance powers - certainly more than most do now. I think that the degree of faculty authority needs to vary by institution and probably by unit based on faculty capacity, but it should always be clear-cut and staff should have a lot of discretion within certain limits.

I actually work in an office which has tried very hard to give power (and money!) back to faculty. It's been a big challenge for several reasons - partly because faculty have very, very different needs (some people need big infrastructure changes; some people need funding for staff; etc - and these are all competing demands, so maybe one small group needs X Large Infrastructure Change and another needs Y Large Infrastructure Change and another small group needs a shared statistician and there's only so much money...); partly because faculty have very different work styles - some people like to make decisions in committee, some people like to have big decisions made by others so they can stay in the lab, some people like to have big decisions made on the basis of who has the most research dollars, etc). Another problem is that in order for this to work, we need a lot of faculty to spend a lot of time planning how it's going to work and describing their needs.

I have actually been part of a totally separate organization-building process which created a great, resilient local project. That organization-building process took a year of weekly meetings and a couple of retreats. The end result was AWESOME. But it took far, far more time than you would think. Similarly, creating good faculty governance processes where they have never existed will take a LOT of time. There's no magic way to discern what faculty needs and wishes actually are, to settle things among diverse groups of faculty and to get buy-in. I wish there were. What I've noticed in our process is that because neither faculty nor administration have been able to devote sufficient time to working out what actual needs and wishes are, we're not doing what faculty need. This is not just some kind of administrative mistake - it is very much because faculty do not want to commit the time to do small group work, respond to emails and discuss things with each other. I feel strongly that we could have a great, great system in place if we took the time (probably not a year of weekly meetings, though!) to build it, and I feel that the desire to build it exists. But I also know that good systems require commitment and time, and because no one really likes meetings or email, it's really hard to do.

My point is that faculty governance requires a lot of work and commitment if it's not going to be a total mess. And IMO, it should require some protected time so that all faculty can participate actively and consistently. It should also be counterbalanced by administrative power so that untenured faculty, faculty of color and women faculty don't get silenced.
posted by Frowner at 7:52 AM on October 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


Miko, every one of your arguments is also used as an argument against democracy. The usual response is that when you disempower people, they do not develop the skills to be good at the jobs you haven't let them do: Every Cook Can Govern.

The task is to crowd-in leadership and self-governance, rather than relegating faculty to positions where the stakes are too low for their decisions to warrant the effort to do them well.

Which leads to the point that many university faculty are not even good teachers, let alone good managers.

Of course, many professional administrators are also terrible at their jobs, and many citizens vote for bad reasons, yet somehow no one thinks that these are reasons to disenfranchise them as a class.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:54 AM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


anotherpanacea: The usual response is that when you disempower people, they do not develop the skills to be good at the jobs you haven't let them do

Miko is explicitly arguing for empowering faculty:

Miko: For the record, I don't argue that faculty should not be empowered at the highest levels, or that a scholar should or could not also be a high-level administrator. It would be better if they were, and much of the excesses of MBA thinking result from a lack of intimacy with scholarly work and the priorities of educators.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:08 AM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Of course, many professional administrators are also terrible at their jobs, and many citizens vote for bad reasons, yet somehow no one thinks that these are reasons to disenfranchise them as a class.

No one in this thread -- literally no one -- is even remotely advocating that faculty should be totally uninvolved in university governance. What a lot of us are saying is that they're not automatically better at it just because they're very good at their academic responsibilities, and that administrators are not all mustache-twirling cartoon villains out to plunder the sacred academy of its gold. A lot of the push from you and people who appear to agree with you is shading pretty deeply as defending those latter descriptions.
posted by Etrigan at 8:47 AM on October 9, 2013


Look, Etrigan, I don't think you'll find such descriptions in my comments. It's okay to disagree, but if you can't do so civilly, then what is the point of the discussion? I understand that R. Schlock got under your skin. But you can't score rhetorical points against him by misreading me. And you're not actually on good ground when it comes to claiming to interpret with charity, here. You have used plenty of strawmen and caricatures of faculty in defending administrative dominance, and even the "totally uninvolved" account you've given here is not at all an accurate summation of my comment or the others:

"I'm not saying citizens should be totally uninvolved in state governance..." misses all the important issues with complaints about anti-democratic institutions and the loss of faculty governance. It ignores the specific ways in which the administrative class of deans and MBAs has taken over control of the university, turned it into a hotel and a sports franchise, and defunded and devalued research and teaching.

I would kill for the resources that private universities are pouring into support for students and faculty, and I would certainly respect the men and women who did those jobs competently and well. But I don't think that means I can't rail against bureaucratic intransigence or major power shifts from the last twenty years.

Again, I think we are talking past each other because of the lack of specificity. So here's an example of where I'm coming from: when my faculty senate discovered millions of dollars of embezzlement, the president responsible was fired... but the new president promptly eliminated the faculty senate. This kind of disempowerment is so generic that even when the administrators are shown to be the culprits, it's still the faculty who are blamed.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:07 AM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Rock Steady, I read that line, but it seems at odds with Miko's comment, here. It seems, at the very least, that Miko is ambivalent on the matter.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:18 AM on October 9, 2013


Miko, every one of your arguments is also used as an argument against democracy.

That doesn't concern me here, because universities are not democracies and are designed to do something entirely different than what a democracy is designed to do.

many professional administrators are also terrible at their jobs

Which is not an argument to put someone else terrible at that job into that same job, it is an argument to improve their skills, monitor their progress, and make hiring and firing decisions based on concrete performance metrics.
posted by Miko at 1:21 PM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm ambivalent only in that I think there are so few generalizations that apply to all faculty or all administrators. I think that great leaders should run complex institutions, and when they are scholarly institutions, at least their scholarly functional areas should be managed by people familiar with scholarly thinking who are also great leaders with management philsophies, expertise and training. These people may or may not have direct faculty experience on their own CVs. Experience as faculty is neither a qualification nor a disqualification for excellent leadership in the management of an institution.

I also think that there is no inherent reason why faculty should be empowered to make institutional decisions or oversee functional areas that have nothing to do with the delivery of instruction or the progress of their research areas. Can it happen? Sure, I am sure there are many such examples where that is a productive and helpful relationship. Is it essential to run a healthy, thriving, effective university? No, I don't think so.

As for the need for a faculty senate or that sort of body, universities are not-for-profit corporations and already do have governance structures and preventions in place, as required by nonprofit law, to catch and remedy things like embezzlement. A faculty senate seems like an idiosyncratic kind of a body (not one demanded by law nor necessarily even recommended by the evidence of best practice), and not one that the structure of a nonprofit itself empowers, or really needs, to deliver a consequence like ending the supervision of an embezzler.

I do think there is a certain amount of intellectual and institutional entitlement that faculty feel they are losing. And they are, in fact, losing it - I understand that. Faculty once were universities, and as such, could make all their own decisions and dictate their own terms. But I am not certain that it was ever a good thing, in the first place. It was not a good thing when universities for centuries (and more recently than we like to admit)did not admit women, Jews and black people, then for another long time refused to give them encouraging attention or the meatiest projects or peer-level positions, has refused generally to incorporate established knowledge of learning theory even to this day, has closed ranks against a disfavored person or faction countless times, has taken advantage of its relative power to commit sexual assault under cover of student mentorship, has fought and used some downright underhanded tactics to gain disproportionate shares of limited resources, and so on and so on. Holding faculty up as a wise counsel which should be empowered to run institutions only by virtue of their status as professors seems entirely wrong to me, and overlooks the history of a thousand mistakes, missteps, self-interested actions, and outright moral wrongs that they have executed in the misuse of the power they did enjoy. They've had a few centuries' worth of a track record, and honestly, it's really not that fabulous. A contemporary nonprofit management culture of specialization and structured accountability really does not seem to be to be worse than the very insular leadership world that preceeded it.

There are many things I think faculty should be empowered to lead. I think they all have to do with programs, research, and instruction - their jobs. Those things are core to the mission of these institutions, but they aren't the entire institution, and they all require supporting and coordinating services to make them possible. The orchestration of all of these pieces, in their complexity, demands leaders whose gift and skill is the analysis and management of complex systems and the people within them. That's something very different from being a great teacher or a discoverer of profound new truths. I am arguing for letting people who are best skilled for certain kinds of jobs to do those jobs.
posted by Miko at 1:50 PM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, as I said, you don't really seem to be arguing for empowering the governed here, despite your explicit claim to the contrary. Strong leaders are needed to make the trains run on time, and we should allow them to lead us to glory.

It is also somewhat absurd to look to the managerial class for protection of women and minorities, given their history and contemporary record for exclusion. Especially given the overall growth of women among the faculty, senior administrators have begun looking especially white and male compared to those they command.
posted by anotherpanacea at 3:29 PM on October 9, 2013


Strong leaders are needed to make the trains run on time, and we should allow them to lead us to glory.

Hey, remember that complaint about how people were being contemptuous and setting up straw men?
posted by Etrigan at 3:36 PM on October 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yes. And the focus on leadership over democracy deserved caricature. Miko and I go back a long way and like and respect each other: the relationship can sustain a bit of sarcasm.

I also remember when you failed to respond substantively to my long comment, only to snark at a perceived slight.
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:06 PM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


You're hung up on this democracy thing, but it's a weird and slightly telling analogy. In your view, a university that is run by faculty is like a democracy, and anyone who doesn't want faculty to have sole authority over universities is anti-democratic. But that only makes sense if faculty are the only significant stakeholders in universities. What are students in this democracy? Non-citizens? Tourists? Guest workers? Would you want to live in a democracy where the vast majority of residents were disenfranchised?

And yeah, I think it's a little funny that you call other people out for incivility and then literally compare someone to Musollini for disagreeing about your views on university governance.
posted by sockpuppy at 4:33 PM on October 9, 2013


Well, first, I don't see why other workplaces shouldn't be run more like universities once were, in the sense that they could be democratic. Workplace democracy is one of the major reasons why people unionize, but also why they're frustrated by union rules and bureaucracy. Worker governance is even better than collective bargaining: it's the difference between collective bargaining and collective ownership.

But let's say you're anti-union: universities might still be a special case. Universities have historically been run by the faculty because that was the only way to prevent non-scholarly concerns from impinging on academic freedom. And academic freedom is a special value both because of what it has produced and what we've seen are its alternatives. Whenever faculty governance is undermined, it has historically had the effect of putting an interest other than teaching and research first. Sometimes that value has been patriotism, sometimes it's been profit, sometimes it's been football. In that sense, the comparison to democratic governance is not because the university is a state, but because the university requires isonomy, home-rule, to protect its mission from those other kinds of goals.

The problem with the current system is that it doesn't enfranchise students, but rather turns them into customers. I can't think of a better reason to detest managerial capitalism's effects on the university than the transformation of education into consumption and learners into consumers, all in the name of recognizing that students are stakeholders too.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:41 PM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, as I said, you don't really seem to be arguing for empowering the governed here, despite your explicit claim to the contrary.

I'm not really and didn't really make an explicit claim. There are people who have served as faculty who are also fantastic administrators and leaders.

Strong leaders are needed to make the trains run on time

Come on, now.

It is also somewhat absurd to look to the managerial class for protection of women and minorities

I didn't say I'd look to them for protection. I said it was "not worse."As I noted, nobody has a great record - but there really have been no halcyon days of democratic leadership by faculty, ever, in history.

I do have more hope that the system of nonprofit management is more transparent and accountable than that of most faculty communities I've had the opportunity to observe closely, and that the public accountability it represents makes them at least beholden to respond to public pressure, should it arise, instead of saying "you don't understand the academy, plebes," and closing ranks.

the focus on leadership over democracy deserved caricature

I just don't understand how you can build a workable analogy between a university and a democracy. They aren't the same thing at all, and I don't really recognize the need for the principles of one to govern the other. Even if they were more similar, the faculty would just be another part of the bureaucratic elite, they wouldn't be the vox populi.

Universities have historically been run by the faculty because that was the only way to prevent non-scholarly concerns from impinging on academic freedom

Well....I don't think you can really argue that. I mean, at the earliest, they were run by the clergy for ends designed by the clergy, and those often really did not have anything to do with ideas of freedom. Academic freedom as an ideal didn't come along until much later - I mean, that has to be not just post-Englightenment but a late nineteenth-century conception-of-the-self thing - and it wasn't complete even then. When were internal politics absent? When were professors really free? What is the evidence that this ideal ever manifested on earth?

Also, even when we arrived at the idea that academic freedom was a goal of universities, I don't agree that we know that having faculty run the university was the only way to acquire or maintain this freedom. I believe that having a mission-centered organization with serious, skilled leadership and an oversight board accountable to the people via the state attorney general can manage this pretty well. There are some excellent universities that seem to be managing this well.

The problem with the current system is that it doesn't enfranchise students, but rather turns them into customers

I'm more sympathetic to this point, but I don't think that simply having an administration necessarily means that the institution has to take this view of the student body. I am too tired to get into whether questions of organizational theory can be teased out from "managerial capitalism," and I tend to think they can, because throughout human history complex management systems have evolved that had nothing to do with capitalist economies. There are just certain emergent phenomena you get when your project grows to a certain size, complexity, and participation, and directing that set of phenomena to the chosen ends demands its own discipline, which we have to loosely term management for this discussion.
posted by Miko at 8:03 PM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


You keep suggesting that your underlying claim is tied to a particular view of organizational and institutional theory, so I'll just say that my own views on these questions are shaped in part by Elinor Ostrom, who recently won the Nobel Prize in economics for her work showing that distributed governance can be an effective form of resource management and that trust and empowerment are workable principles of institutional design.

Of course, Ostrom might be wrong, and she's since died, but I don't think that a 2009 Nobel Prize is exactly outdated organizational theory
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:48 PM on October 9, 2013


I don't know about her work, though I just did a perfunctory Google, and it might be fabulous (though I'm not sure how immediately applicable her work on managing marshes and grazing lands and other extractable resources is to managing a university). The thing is, I'm certainly not against alternative models of governance and management - my point is that there has to be governance and management, and it takes skill and intention. It might well be distributed, and might well involve trust and empowerment, but that doesn't prove that faculty should run universities all on their own.If anything, it seems to indicate that many kinds of specialties are needed. Nothing I see here is inconsistent with a recognition for the need of understandings, functions, and skills peculiar to the project of facilitating the work of a complex organization - including understandings, functions, and skills that are not always to be found on a teaching staff. Neither is anything I see here hostile to or incompatible with the existence of good nonprofit management in a traditional governance structure.

I mean, this is exactly why I suggested that not all organizational thinking has to equate to "managerial corporatism." She's given you an example - but it's not an example that suggests there can or should never be any administrative bodies.
posted by Miko at 8:57 PM on October 9, 2013


anotherpanacea, there's a lot I might say about this thread and the ways it's laid bare for me in a very personal way some of the changes in MetaFilter's spirit and its membership. I won't though, because there's nothing to be gained by it. In the face of that, though, I want to say publicly that your comments here have been superlative. Generous and thoughtful in the best senses. You've made me think and rethink some of my attitudes toward my profession and my vocation in a way that reminds me of the old give and take. What you've been doing here represents, I think, the best of the old style of MetaFilter: committed to dialogue and a sort of full investment in the positions you're advocating...traditions of engagement that are, here as elsewhere, being lost in favor of a more aggressive and tactical style of high moralizing. It has been a delight to read your contributions over the past couple of days.
posted by R. Schlock at 10:13 PM on October 9, 2013


I'll ask again, because you didn't answer me last time: where do students fit in your application of Ostram' theory of university governance? You still seem to be arguing that faculty are the only stakeholders in universities. Do you really believe that? Students aren't customers, I agree. So what are they? Who looks out for their interests?
posted by sockpuppy at 5:59 AM on October 10, 2013


I found this piece a very interesting look into the history of the concept of academic freedom - it's as recent as I guessed - and it raises discussion very pertinent to the one we're having about the nature and purpose of a university institution and how that interacts with principles of "self-regulation" and "academic freedom."
The very first statement of academic freedom in the United States was made in 1915. AAUP’s General Report of the Committee on Academic Freedom and Academic Tenure placed the notion of academic freedom squarely on the ground that the professoriate ought to regulate itself:“The relationship between University trustees and members of the University faculties is not in any sense that of employer and an employee. For once appointed, the scholar has professional functions to perform in which the appointing authorities have neither competency nor moral right to intervene. The responsibility of the University teacher is primarily to the public itself and to the judgment of his own profession. And while with respect to certain external conditions of his vocation, he accepts the responsibility to the authorities of the institution in which he serves and the essentials of his professional activity, his duty is to the wider public to which the institution itself is morally amenable.” That passage contains the root idea of academic freedom. It is the notion that the professoriate is a profession that in the conduct of its professional obligations is answerable primarily to itself. Neither the owners of proprietary universities nor the public, who owned state universities, could presume to judge the professional work of professors. It follows popularity or unpopularity is an irrelevant and pernicious criterion for the judgment of professional work.

Academic freedom is thus a claim to professional self-regulation. In almost every other profession this claim has been in recent years severely undermined. Certainly the claims of lawyers and for doctors to regulate themselves is now highly attenuated,and in light of recent scandals the same may be happening to the clergy. The one place where the idea of professional self-regulation continues to carry conviction is the context of academic freedom. This might be because the public understands that we need this academic freedom in order to do what they want us to do. Or it might be because the public doesn’t really care what we do.

Notice that the idea of professional self-regulation is at its base incompatible with any simple idea of freedom of expression. The university is an institution that in fact exists to regulate speech. We evaluate and sanction our colleagues all the time based upon what we think about the quality of their speech. We award tenure to those who speak well,and we deny tenure to those whose work we deem inadequate. We evaluate the writings of potential hires and the research articulated in grant proposals.We couldn’t run a university if we didn’t do these things. Notice distinct this idea of a university is from the concept of the free public that underwrites the First Amendment. I cannot penalize the New York Times for misunderstanding the distinction between Astronomy and Astrology,but I can sanction an Astronomy professor that fails to make distinction. That is because the personal right to freedom of speech is not applicable to the context of the university.

Academic freedom sits at the intersection of two forms of social control. One is institutional. The University treats professors as employees in many ways. It requires that professors teach classes,that they conduct themselves according to rules and regulations, and so forth. In return the university pays our salaries and fulfills its obligations to us as an employer. The second is professional. As professors we are answerable to our peers. The complexity of academic freedom lies in the fact that it must live at the intersection of these two forms of control. That is one reason why it is so very tempting to conceptualize academic freedom as entirely resting on the institutional mission of the university, because that mission also lies the precise point of intersection between the institutional and professional control.The professor has academic freedom to serve the purposes of the university, which is to say that the managerial prerogatives of the university are conceived as limited by these purposes, and that the professional norms of the scholar, by which the professor is also judged, are conceived as formulated by reference to these purposes. Our own statements in the APM [not sure whose] are quite clear about how academic freedom is to be justified and explained in terms of the institutional purpose of the university. Section 5 states:“The University exists for the sake of carrying out certain functions ... It follows that the individual members of the faculty and the individual departments of the university are the servants of those ideal ends for the sake of which the university exists, such as the advancement of learning, the spread of knowledge, and the cultivation of capacities for intelligent and significant living.”
I read a little bit more about Post's background and ideas and his efforts to dislodge the First Amendment as a foundation for academic freedom, and to recast it in terms of the mission and purpose of the university. I think I'm with him on this:
In short, academic freedom, rather than being a philosophical or moral imperative, is a piece of policy that makes practical sense in the context of the specific task academics are charged to perform. It follows that the scope of academic freedom is determined first by specifying what that task is and then by figuring out what degree of latitude those who are engaged in it require in order to do their jobs.
He doesn't deal that much more with self-regulation as far as I can see, in terms of questions of university management and administration, but his note of the decline of self-regulation for other professional bodies is interesting, and his argument seems to be that the entire university project is derived from the existence of the university as an institution organized around a mission meeting goals larger than, and requiring services not included in, the particular expertise of faculty, which, for me, is sufficient justification for a complexity and variety of professional specialties within it.
posted by Miko at 8:34 AM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


You still seem to be arguing that faculty are the only stakeholders in universities. Do you really believe that? Students aren't customers, I agree. So what are they? Who looks out for their interests?

I don't think I'm arguing that faculty are the only stakeholders in a university. The purpose of the university is teaching and research, so students at the heart of our core mission, and arguably research is oriented towards teaching, too. (And where it is not, perhaps large research programs and the competition for grant funding is also a problematic competitor with the university's core mission.) But of course, individual students don't stand in the same relationship to the university as faculty do: their time there will be short, and they may have instrumental attitudes toward their education that are in need of re-orientation (like that they deserve better grades than they've earned, that spending on football is more important than spending on the library, etc.)

I tend to think that the primary ways that students' interests are best incorporated are through student government and student journalism, along with at the very least the right to bring concerns to faculty senate and have their own rights respected and protected. This should mean a protected right to protest on campus, the right have student groups that bring speakers to campus, the right to due process in grade disputes and other misconduct investigations, and a corresponding institutional protection of student academic freedom that protects minority viewpoints.

So respecting students as stakeholders means not offering them "representation" or appointing them protectors in the administration, but saying that they have to have both institutional protections and their own capacity to organize and voice concerns. I do believe that the faculty (organized as a governing body like a faculty senate) are best situated to hear those concerns, and that administrators have shown a tendency to pay lip service to students while destroying the foundations of education: increasing class sizes and teaching loads in ways that force students to do more and more on their own and without the collaboration of their teachers. That they then hire professional academic advisors and tutors and counselors to replace those faculty makes it look like we are not doing our jobs, but of course that is because they have demanded ever increasing workloads in other areas.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:48 AM on October 10, 2013


his argument seems to be that the entire university project is derived from the existence of the university as an institution organized around a mission meeting goals larger than, and requiring services not included in, the particular expertise of faculty, which, for me, is sufficient justification for a complexity and variety of professional specialties within it.

This gloss is literally the opposite of what he says, Miko. You seem to be confusing Robert Post and Stanley Fish. Here's what Robert Post says, I'm just requoting your quote:

[Academic Freedom] is the notion that the professoriate is a profession that in the conduct of its professional obligations is answerable primarily to itself. Neither the owners of proprietary universities nor the public, who owned state universities, could presume to judge the professional work of professors. It follows popularity or unpopularity is an irrelevant and pernicious criterion for the judgment of professional work. Academic freedom is thus a claim to professional self-regulation.

That seems pretty consistent with what I've said so far, that faculty governance is the best of all the possible options just because it's the only way to assure that norms other than the pursuit and transmission of knowledge won't get in the way.

She's given you an example - but it's not an example that suggests there can or should never be any administrative bodies.

Well, a faculty senate *is* an administrative body, so I guess I'm with you. But the question is whether the non-profit structure of a Board of Directors/Regents/Trustees is sufficient to fill that need. In my experience, it is not, both because such Boards are very severely divorced from the institution's daily life and mission, and because, like in the for-profit Board world, they tend to be sinecures held by the president's allies and so not to act as a proper counterweight. Even if they are enemies of the president (that happens too) these alliances and enmities tend to be irrelevant the needs of both the people doing the actual work of teaching and research and the staff that support them at it.

PS- Elinor Ostrom's work isn't just on fisheries and water rights. Check out these: "Crowding Out Citizenship" and the "Framing Statement" she co-authored on civic politics. (I'm happy to email articles if you can't access them where you are.)
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:08 AM on October 10, 2013


This gloss is literally the opposite of what he says, Miko

I really don't see this reading and might suggest you give it a closer read - the part you quote is noted in passing to his larger point about service to the mission as the ultimate aim of all a university's structures. That's why he mentions the fact that doctors and lawyers have not successfully managed to maintain the claim to self-regulation. I've also read a lot of the reviews of his book, and I think I have it right.

That seems pretty consistent with what I've said so far, that faculty governance is the best of all the possible options

That's not actually what he's saying. He calls into question faculty governance, because it only "intersects" with institutional management, and sees "academic freedom" as limited to the project of supporting the institutional mission.

In my experience, it is not, both because such Boards are very severely divorced from the institution's daily life and mission,

Being divorced from its daily life is a feature, not a bug. It helps to ensure better analysis and fewer conflicts of interest. But boards are not divorced from an institution's mission, no. They in fact are pledged to uphold and further it, and that is their charter from the state.

like in the for-profit Board world, they tend to be sinecures held by the president's allies and so not to act as a proper counterweight

And faculty-run bodies also tend to feature sinecures. At the same time, though not all boards are well made and there are indeed problems with board structures, there are checks and balances on board quality in the oversight of the public via the state Attorney General and the requirements of documentation, minutes, finances, etc. to be on public record.

PS- Elinor Ostrom's work isn't just on fisheries and water rights.

Since I just don't accept the analogy of university as democracy, I don't see the point of exploring varying models of democracy as examples of potential institutional leadership.
posted by Miko at 10:14 AM on October 10, 2013


ndividual students don't stand in the same relationship to the university as faculty do: their time there will be short

Oddly, it seems like you really accept the "consumer" model here - or perhaps, you consider the students products. In fact, though a student's time in residence might be short, their time as an alum will extend to their death. That relationship is significant and powerful. Also, there are many faculty members whose time at a university is even shorter than four years.

instrumental attitudes toward their education that are in need of re-orientation

That really seems to beg for the superior determinations of the elite as to what the university is for - which seems antithetical to your democratic principles.

t saying that they have to have both institutional protections and their own capacity to organize and voice concerns. I do believe that the faculty (organized as a governing body like a faculty senate) are best situated to hear those concerns

So, in the case of chronic actions of sexual abuse from a faculty member, the faculty are best situated to hear these concerns? The faculty are best prepared to oversee psychological and medical services for students? The faculty are best prepared to give career advice, even though their unusual career paths leave them, for the most part, out of the loop when it comes to the practical navigation of a career outside the academic sector? It seems to me that a contemporary university is a bundle of services, many of which faculty are neither skilled enough, nor independent enough from the issue at hand, to do well.

I mean, faculty governance seems to make sense only if you strip the university down to its teaching activities - no research, no centers, no programs, no non-academic student services, maybe not even a library unless by fiat you call library administrators faculty. I don't think this is a useful modern definition of "university."

faculty makes it look like we are not doing our jobs, but of course that is because they have demanded ever increasing workloads in other areas.

But in asking for the faculty to run the entire university, aren't you also asking for an ever-increasing workload in areas you don't deem core? That is the reason there are administrators at all. Which way do you want it? Do you want faculty to run the dining services program, the exchange student housing office, the investment strategy, the gyms, the community service office, the job placement office, etc?
posted by Miko at 10:24 AM on October 10, 2013


Miko, I'd like to have a discussion of the Robert Post book, because it seems like a concrete textual question that can be readily answered. And I do think you have it reversed, despite what you say, and that we can work this out on the basis of quotes from the text. So, for instance, he says that doctors and laywers have given up self-regulation, and then he says: "The one place where the idea of professional self-regulation continues to carry conviction is the context of academic freedom."

So his argument is against the narrow individual right of academic freedom, and in favor of a shared right of academic freedom through self-regulation. It's a pretty standard line: that rather than reducing academic freedom to the right of some individual professor to say stupid stuff on matters he knows little about, the right of academic freedom inheres in the whole faculty and is exercised in the professional standards Post celebrates elsewhere.

Do you want faculty to run the dining services program, the exchange student housing office, the investment strategy, the gyms, the community service office, the job placement office, etc?

No, I've already said that I don't expect faculty to perform all the services a university supplies. I merely want them to not be dominated by the administration of these services. The analogy is to citizenship: I don't expect ordinary voters to run EPA cleanup of polluted sites, but I do want the EPA to be governed by laws we make ourselves, rather than the whims of an unelected EPA administrator.

So, in the case of chronic actions of sexual abuse from a faculty member, the faculty are best situated to hear these concerns? The faculty are best prepared to oversee psychological and medical services for students? The faculty are best prepared to give career advice, even though their unusual career paths leave them, for the most part, out of the loop when it comes to the practical navigation of a career outside the academic sector?

This is a confusing parade of horribles, but the first concern, sexual abuse, seems different than the others. Sexual abuse looks like a clear cut matter for police and courts, which should be studiously independent of the functioning of the university: I was at Penn State when Jerry Sandusky's sexual abuse was being covered up by the administration, and I don't think that this is an argument for less faculty oversight.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:49 AM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


"The one place where the idea of professional self-regulation continues to carry conviction is the context of academic freedom."

And then he goes on to place that within the bounds of furthering the institution's mission. I really think you are reading his points which are in favor of academic freedom, but not attending to the larger context in which he's placing them. In the keynote and book reviews I linked, he's trying to refocus the discussion of academic freedom from being one about freedom of speech to being one about fulfilling the educational mission of a university. Academic freedom, he says, is bounded by that mission.

I don't disagree that he is saying it should be free from popular vote or suppression, but he's placing the institutional mission as paramount in decisions regarding faculty, not abstract ideas about freedom of expression. So do I, and so does any hypothetical responsible, skilled, administration. In short, I don't think there is anything about the nature of faculty that should give them governance over anything other than issues internal to their teaching and academic projects. They serve the mission, as does everything and everyone else in the school. I'm arguing against privileging them in governance, not against allowing them freedom of research and expression within professional limits. There are certain things it's logical for faculty to direct and supervise in fulfillment of an institutional mission. But there are other things needed to fulfull that mission which faculty are not going to be the right people to do.

I do want the EPA to be governed by laws we make ourselves, rather than the whims of an unelected EPA administrator.

Universities are governed by the public - through "laws we make ourselves" in setting up their nonprofit governance and accountability structure - in this exact way.

I was at Penn State when Jerry Sandusky's sexual abuse was being covered up by the administration

And for decades before they knew of it, it was covered up by his fellow faculty.
posted by Miko at 12:24 PM on October 10, 2013


I'll respond to the rest later, but for now: Jerry Sandusky was not faculty. He was an administrator, and precisely the kind that I am worried about: someone totally divorced from the mission of a university who nonetheless wields great power. And no faculty abetted his crimes, while other administrators did.
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:45 PM on October 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm looking at Post's book on Amazon, and the chapter on Freedom of Intramural Expression has this: "an entitlement [to participate in institutional decisionmaking] would be the logical outgrowth of the idea of institutional citizenship on which academic freedom rests." (125)

Governance is very far from the main theme of the book, however, so I don't think Post is going to help us adjudicate our dispute. It's a sideline to his legal argument that academic freedom should not be interpreted as an individual right. What's more, he is both a lawyer and a Dean, so his views, themselves, don't actually answer the question of what's right (even though he agrees with me!)

Here's where I'm coming from: the AAUP's Report on the Relationship of Faculty Governance to Academic Freedom:

So basically, "decisions about long-range objectives, physical and fiscal resources, distribution of funds among university divisions, and selection of the president... can have a powerful impact on research and teaching, so the decision-making must include faculty and their voice... must be authoritative." Here's why:

1. "Faculty have a first-hand understanding of what constitutes good teaching and research generally and the climate in which those endeavors are best conducted."
2. "The core mission of the university is teaching and research, that's why the public values and esteems universities." Thus, the persons who carry out the core mission "should be recognized to have a special status," as "partners with the trustees rather than simply employees."
3. "Protection of academic freedom requires this allocation of authority," and where faculty are not authoritatively consulted "there are ample examples of administrative imposition of penalties for academic speech without proper grounds."

I take it that those reasons and principles are pretty much the right ones, though I think the first one is the most important: a university may well choose to provision medical services to its students through a university-run hospital attached to the medical school, but the purpose of the university is first to teach would-be nurses and doctors and only second to heal the sick. If control of that hospital threatens to undermine the core teaching function of the university, then the hospital ought to be spun off into a separate institution with its own governance.
posted by anotherpanacea at 2:21 PM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


"an entitlement [to participate in institutional decisionmaking] would be the logical outgrowth of the idea of institutional citizenship on which academic freedom rests." (125)

So, if you think that I am against faculty participating in institutional decisionmaking, you have been making a wrong assumption. I'm not against them participating. I'm against the idea that only faculty are needed to run a university, and non-faculty should not be involved in running a university. I'm for the idea that many kinds of skills and positions are needed to run a university.

Governance is very far from the main theme of the book, however, so I don't think Post is going to help us adjudicate our dispute.


I get that; I originally brought him up because you seemed to be saying that because "academic freedom," faculty should exclusively run universities. He has a lot to say about what academic freedom is and how the concept was even developed, but what he does not say is that it means that faculty should run universities. He says that faculty, and all other administrators, should serve the mission of a university as their highest purpose. Not themselves, not an abstract principle related to speech, but the mission of the institution. That is how this is related.

Again, I don't disagree that decisions of the kind outlined in the AAUP statement should include faculty. I have never argued for excluding faculty. I have been speaking up against the idea that only faculty have the skills to run a university, and only faculty should be involved. I have been speaking up in favor of administrative specialization and the contribution it makes to the operations and effects of a university.

I think you've really been misreading my comments, based on the way you're responding. If all you're saying is "faculty should have a voice," then, sure. Yes, they should have a voice, especially on the academic and research matters the institution hires them to work on. But being "included" as "a voice," even an "authoritative" voice, is a long way from having complete control over the governance of a university - which is what you seem to have been arguing for.
posted by Miko at 2:42 PM on October 10, 2013


Do you believe that faculty have an authoritative voice in the modern university's governance?
posted by anotherpanacea at 2:55 PM on October 10, 2013


I have one understanding of what "authoritative" means. When you ask that question, what do you think "authoritative" means?
posted by Miko at 3:18 PM on October 10, 2013


That seems fine:"having or proceeding from authority." I'm not looking for a gotcha here, just trying to determine whether I've been misreading you as you suggest. Feel free just to specify what sort of voice, authoritative or otherwise, that you take the faculty to have in the governance of a modern university regarding the issues the AAUP specifies or whichever issues you think are relevant.
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:27 PM on October 10, 2013


Well, if authoritative means "proceeding from authority," then we have to ask "what authority do you think they have?"

I think that faculty can speak from and with the authority they have on academic matters within their area of training, on the academic priorities of a university. I don't think that they can speak authoritatively on all matters related to the functions of a complex contemporary university. They can be authoritative within their domain in the university, but not in all domains of the activity of the univerisity. They are one kind of specialist among many kinds of specialists.
posted by Miko at 8:10 PM on October 10, 2013


So then I'm not misreading you. You disagree with the AAUP statement that "decisions about long-range objectives, physical and fiscal resources, distribution of funds among university divisions, and selection of the president... can have a powerful impact on research and teaching, so the decision-making must include faculty and their voice... must be authoritative."
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:06 PM on October 10, 2013


I do not disagree that it should include them. I disagree that they should lead it.
posted by Miko at 7:13 AM on October 11, 2013


I've read the AAUP Report and I think that you are giving it a more generous read than it warrants, and thus trying to extend the authority of faculty beyond where even this statement reaches. I agree with these statements from the report (emphasis mine):
since the faculty has primary responsibility for the teaching and research done in the institution, the faculty's voice on matters having to do with teaching and research... Since such decisions as those involving choice of method of instruction, subject matter to be taught, policies for admitting students, standards of student competence in a discipline, the maintenance of a suitable environment for learning, and standards of faculty competence bear directly on the teaching and research conducted in the institution, the faculty should have primary authority over decisions about such matters - that is, the administration should "concur with the faculty judgment except in rare instances and for compelling reasons which should be stated in detail."

Other decisions bear less directly on the teaching and research conducted in the institution; these include, for instance, decisions about the institution's long-range objectives, its physical and fiscal resources, the distribution of its funds among its various divisions, and the selection of its president. But these decisions plainly can have a powerful impact on the institution's teaching and research, and the Statement on Government declares that the decision-making process must include the faculty, and that its voice on these matters must be accorded great respect.
I see a difference between "including" views and according them "great respect" and allowing them to set direction and deal with areas of decisionmaking for the entire institution.
the 1966 Statement derivest he weight of the faculty's voice on an issue- that is, the degree to which the faculty's voice should be authoritative on the issue- from the relative directness with which the issue bears on the faculty's exercise of its various
institutional responsibilities
So - the faculty's contribution and voice is suburdinate to the institutional mission, and their voice has more weight on issues which more directly affect them.
the allocation to the faculty, through appropriate governance processes and structures, of authority over faculty status and other basic academic matters can be seen to be necessary for the protection of academic freedom. It is the faculty- not trustees or administrators - who have the experience needed for assessing whether an instance of faculty speech constitutes a breach of a central principle of academic morality, and who have the expertise to form judgments of faculty competence or incompetence
It seems to me that this entire document draws clear limits to faculty authority, within which lie influence on academic matters, though not necessarily other institutional matters - this is exactly what I'm arguing is the right state of affairs.

One of the final paragraphs also points out fallabilities in faculty self-governance, which I do not think should be minimized:
Even with a sound governance system in place and with a faculty active in self-government and operating under rules and regulations protective of academic freedom, dysfunctions that undermine academic freedom may still occur: subtle (or not so subtle) bullying on the part of the faculty itself, a covertly enforced isolation, a disinclination to respect the views of the off-beat and cranky among its members. That is to say, given appropriate formal protections, such incivilities may not issue in clear-cut violations of academic freedom, but a faculty member's academic freedom may nevertheless be chilled
And to that I would add breaches of a kind that are distinctly not academic. I know I seem to be harping on sexual harassment and abuse, but that's because it has a history of being extremely common on college campuses, and I'm not talking about the likes of Jerry Sandusky-level scandals but about routine, everyday abuse of faculty power with students - something that has been so garden-variety there is hardly a campus on which this has not occurred. You say it should be a matter for police and courts, yet over time, there have been many incidents in which academic freedom and independence was used to mystify critics and whitewash the kinds of interactions that would be actionable in other contexts, and to create a social and intellectual environment that disempowered students who were the target of such abuse. To me, that kind of thing is a matter for the administrative climate to address, and to be empowered to change - making this not first a matter for courts, but a matter of employment policy and institutional climate.
posted by Miko at 7:42 AM on October 11, 2013


Miko, you seem to be reading with a particular eye, rearranging the order of paragraphs in such a way to make it support your case. The article I linked and that you are quoting, for instance, wishes to go beyond the 1966 statement where you rest your case. So the point is: in 1966 we said this limited thing, but in 1994 we now see that more expansive role of faculty is necessary.

I have reconstructed the report several times, but let me try again:

1. If universities have a special status in our society, it is because of their core functions of teaching and research.

2. If the university's core functions are impacted by long range decisions, then those who are responsible for those core functions must have authority over them.

3. The faculty are responsible for the core functions of the university.

4. Fiscal and budgetary matters and other major administrative decisions impact the core functions of teaching and research.

5. Therefore, the faculty must have an authoritative voice in fiscal and budgetary matters and other major administrative decisions.

It seems we disagree on either #2 or #4. I don't think you've given much reason for doing so, however: you seem to believe that either many matters that directly or indirectly affect teaching or research must nonetheless be controlled by non-faculty, or that these matters we're discussing don't really affect teaching and research.

As for sexual harassment, I don't disagree that this is an institutional problem, in all institutions, not just universities. In my view, unaccountable power leads to these abuses, so transferring unaccountable power from teachers to bureaucrats merely transfers the abuse from one space to another. My goal is to remove unaccountable power entirely from the institution.

And I think you've repeatedly ignored the fact that the faculty are now half women while the administration is still largely male. So the transfer of power is a transfer from women to men, which merely expands the potential for the kinds of sexual harassment that we both agree should be prevented.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:05 AM on October 11, 2013


It's hard to argue that I'm cherrypicking when I'm quoting practically the entire piece. You're also implying that I can't read. I can, and I understand this piece. This piece affirms the 1966 guidelines and then explores and elaborates on justifications for those principles. If it "goes beyond" them in the reading you are taking as favorable to your argument, it is simply in dissecting and emphasizing the reasons that the faculty should have a role in governance on matters the faculty are most expert in in order to protect academic freedom, not on all institutional matters. I have reread this thing about five times, and cannot find evidence for any more expanded reading than that. The focus of this piece is on establishing a link between governance and academic freedom, not arguing for management of universities by faculty.

You don't have #2 right. #2 is qualified.

You don't have #5 right. Number 5 is limited to the "inclusion" of this authoritative voice on academic matters. That authority, like all authorities in the organization, is subordinate to the core purpose of the institution, which by necessity involves authority on other, non-academic matters as well. The faculty is only "authoritative" over academic matters - even their commentary on larger fiscal issues can draw authority only from the ways in which it impacts their work. They do not have an "authoritative voice" over all functions of the institution. And because of that, they can use their authoritative voice to make arguments about the direction of the academic program, over which they have authority, or the relative size of appropriations to various projects - but they do not have authority over the complete and total set of institutional actions and decisions.

This statement is not arguing that they should. This statement is not arguing for faculty to govern the university. It is almost exclusively concerned with the ability of the faculty to govern its own oversight area and improve institutional outcomes related to the core purpose. I think you really have to be reading with bias to understand this piece as an argument for faculty management of universities.

These are from the "updating/interrogating" section, later in the paper, the "going beyond" part you speak of:
The third reason is the most important in the present context allocation of authority to the faculty in the areas of its responsibility is a necessary condition for the protection of academic freedom within the institution. The protection of free expression takes many forms, but the issue emerges most clearly in the case of authority over faculty status....

It is in light of these requirements that the allocation to the faculty, through appropriate governance processes and structures, of authority over faculty status and other basica academic matters can be seen to be necessary for the protection of academic freedom. It is the faculty- not trustees or administrators - who have the experience needed for assessing whether an instance of faculty speech constitutes a breach of a central principle of academic morality,and who have the expertise to form judgments of faculty competence r incompetence. As AAUP case reports have shown, to the extent that decisions on such matters are not in the hands of the faculty, there is a potential for, and at times the actuality of, administrative imposition of penalties on improper grounds.
What I see is a statement arguing for faculty to have authority over academic matters, and to have a voice in governance about the priority those academic matters should take. What I do not see, because it is not in this paper, is an argument that faculty should have authority over the entire institution and be responsible for all its departments and decisions. This person is a clear enough writer to have stated that explicitly if it was what he meant to say. He does not mean to extend faculty authority to all decisions related to the entire institution, nor to operational management of those decisions. He argues for a role in governance - not total governance.

transferring unaccountable power from teachers to bureaucrats merely transfers the abuse from one space to another

"Bureaucrats," as you term them, in a nonprofit are accountable. They have no special claims to exemption from the law, no special status such as "management freedom" to take shelter in, and they are publicly accountable to the state and its citizens by the nonprofit charter. I find this to be an important check on the kinds of things that could happen in an institution with no accountability to the public, the state, its constituents.

Also, for the most part, "bureaucrats" are in a different position relative to students, positions which rarely wield the kind of psychological power or concrete career influence that faculty positions do. There are exceptions (athletics among them), and of course harassment is everywhere to a greater or lesser degree - but staff without the special protections and particular working methods of faculty have a different and more recognizably bounded relationship with students and, I think, are likely better stewards of the responsibility of the institution not to support or hide the harassment of students.

I think you've repeatedly ignored the fact that the faculty are now half women while the administration is still largely male

This is a problem, but is a separate issue to me than how much power the faculty vs. administration should yield in governance and one I don't think is pertinent to the current discussion. The same arguments, of course, were once made about faculty. We could as easily tackle that through initiatives to bring more women into higher education administration as by eliminating administration entirely - it's not an argument against administration.
posted by Miko at 9:51 AM on October 11, 2013


And I think you've repeatedly ignored the fact that the faculty are now half women while the administration is still largely male.
Can I get a citation for that? I think the last time this was studied systematically was in 2006 (Chronicle article from 2011), when the AAUP found that 38% of faculty members were women. They were heavily concentrated in community colleges (50% of faculty were women, as opposed to 33% at universities that granted PhDs) and in non-tenure-track positions (women were 58% of instructors and 54% of lecturers). 23% of full professors were women.

I'd like to think that things have improved since then, but they'd have to have improved a lot in seven years for there to be parity.

One reason that I don't agree that faculty can speak for students is that there's a pretty big disconnect between the demographics of faculty members and the demographics of students. It's true with regard to gender, but it's especially glaring to me with regard to class. I work in the dreaded world of "student services," which is often cited as a source of bloat. Student services covers a lot of ground, and I agree that some of it seems to me to be pretty removed from what I believe to be a university's core educational mission. (If you really want to see me rant, ask me to compare the quality of our fitness center to the quality of our library.) Some of it, however, is pretty vital, in ways that may not always be clear to faculty members who come from privileged backgrounds. I hear a fair amount of "I don't understand why students need such intensive advising. I figured everything out on my own when I was an undergrad." And many of my students probably could figure things out on their own, but I also talked to a first-year student this week who, it emerged in the course of our conversation, had no idea what a major was. He'd been hearing the word for eight weeks, and he didn't understand what it meant. This is not terribly uncommon among kids like him, a first-generation college student from a high school that doesn't send very many kids to four-year colleges. I explained what a major was, we talked a bit about strategies for figuring out what he wanted to major in, we made a follow-up appointment to discuss it more in a few weeks, and I think he left the appointment feeling a little bit less confused and overwhelmed. Intensive advising doesn't make a huge difference to the children of highly educated professionals, but it does make a huge difference to the children of parents who never finished high school. And faculty members, like members of other elite professions, are disproportionately drawn from the former category and disproportionately not drawn from the latter.

In my ideal world, faculty members would do a little bit more of the work that I do, if only because I think then they'd be a little more in touch with the issues and concerns of undergrads and a little less likely to caricature them as spoiled partiers who don't really value education. (There are definitely some spoiled partiers who don't value education, but they're not nearly as dominant as a lot of faculty members seem to think.) I don't think, though, that faculty have the time to do what I do, because you have a lot of other responsibilities. And I believe that what I do is important, because I believe that one of the core educational missions of a public university should be to increase educational opportunity and equality, not just to educate people who are already elite. That may seem secondary to faculty, who think that universities should be about supporting their research and educating their graduate students to produce further research. But public universities serve the public, not just the faculty, and I don't have unlimited faith in the faculty's ability to represent the interests of the public.
posted by sockpuppy at 7:34 AM on October 12, 2013


There are two questions we keep on getting confused: (1) does a particular author or article justify faculty governance? (2) Is faculty governance actually justified? To these I would add a third question: what is the actual state of faculty empowerment or disempowerment today?

I'm not sure why you keep wanting to fight on the first question, when I've only been sharing articles in order to articulate my reasons for the second question. This is evidenced in a few places in your most recent comment:

"This person is a clear enough writer to have stated that explicitly if it was what he meant to say."

This report is not the work of a single author. It is a statement approved by two different committees of the AAUP to provide guidance to chapters of the AAUP. The AAUP is a professional organization, specifically of university professors. So even if they're wrong, you can see why they might have cause to wish for better control over a myriad of issues that have been taken out of the hands of faculty and placed in the hands of bureaucrats.

And the 1994 statement was an explicit policy change for the AAUP: they are specifically changing two elements of the 1966 Statement on Governance (available here.) First, the 1966 statement called for "active participation" of the faculty: the 1994 statement amends this to "authoritative voice." Second, the 1966 statement distinguished core areas of faculty concern from other areas, and gave faculty reduced weight in long-term and strategic decision-making, as you would do. The 1994 statement amends this by noting that those long-term and strategic decisions have been shown to directly impact teaching and research, so they should be treated as core areas of faculty concern deserving faculty consultation and participation in the new "authoritative" mode.

In particular, it expands the the faculty's proper role from being based on "the relative directness with which the issue bears on the faculty's exercise of its various institutional responsibilities" to "the entire range of decisionmaking." That's the whole point: an expansion.

Now let's turn to the second question: what should the role of faculty be? You say I don't have #2 and #5 right. But #5 is a conclusion; if I don't have it right, it's because one of my premises is in error. Perhaps that is #2, but you say relatively little about #2, focusing on my conclusion. And yet a lot depends on #2, so it seems worth exploring why it wouldn't be the case that matters that affects teaching and research are not best understood by those who engage in teaching and research.

staff without the special protections and particular working methods of faculty have a different and more recognizably bounded relationship with students and, I think, are likely better stewards of the responsibility of the institution not to support or hide the harassment of students.

You've given literally zero evidence of this claim. I think there is no evidence for it: at my school we've seen staff involved in serious misconduct with students literally in the last year. Power is power: wherever it lies, it offers opportunities for abuse.

by eliminating administration entirely

This is a particularly telling line: it seems you may be misreading me. I don't call for the elimination of administrative positions, merely for a reorganization of final authority such that it is the faculty as a body, assembled in a senate or other "legislative" body that makes ultimate decisions about long-range plans, budgets, and other decisions that are then carried out by administrators and faculty alike.

Now, I've asked and you've failed to answer, so let me ask again: what sort of voice do you take faculty to actually have right now? Do you think we are in charge of "faculty status" as the AAUP requires? Do you think we have an authoritative voice in long-range decisions that will directly affect teaching and research? Do we even control matters that directly affect teaching and research, such as class size, course-allocation, or the hiring of qualified faculty to do that teaching and research? I'm not asking if you think we should have such control; I'm asking if you think we do.

Take a concrete example: a school has a budget shortfall. Do faculty decide what to close and what to keep open?

Another example: online education. Do faculty decide whether to transform courses into online MOOCs?

Or adjuncts. Do faculty decide whether to hire adjuncts rather than tenure-line staff? Do they set the basic requirements for adjunct labor, such as a PhD or teaching quality, which will directly affect the quality of the instruction such adjuncts supply?

Or "faculty status." Who decides on tenure and promotion?

And when you answer, consider this: there's a difference between a few faculty hand-picked by administrators to give the "correct" answers and the faculty assembled in a body to decide deliberately and through majoritarian procedures.

So the involvement of "some" faculty is different from the involvement of "the" faculty. I think if you're honest you'd have to say that the faculty as a whole doesn't have an authoritative voice in most institutions because it doesn't have a collective voice at all. The principles of institutional citizenship Robert Post called for, along with the policy suggestions of the AAUP are all being pretty well ignored. (And indeed, sometimes this happens for precisely the reason Post described: because "academic freedom" is treated as an individual right rather than a collective right and institutional imperative.)

I was chatting with the Chair of a big department recently, and he was complaining about hiring adjuncts. So I asked: could you choose not to hire adjuncts, increase faculty teaching loads and hire fewer TT professors instead of more adjuncts? And he said: neither I nor my Dean nor the Provost (!) think this is the right way to teach, but we aren't given a choice.

If you believe that "faculty [should] have authority over academic matters" as you say in your last comment, then you should be vociferously denouncing the modern university, not defending it.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:04 AM on October 12, 2013


sockpuppy, if I recall correctly, that 2006 study and the 38% number was only for TT professors, not of adjuncts. Currently the large majority of faculty are contractual laborers ("Adjuncts"): there are roughly 1.5 million college teachers in the US, and a million of those are adjunct instructors of some sort. That includes quite a large number of recent PhDs, which is where all the gender equity is. The numbers I've seen were that overall, 44%-48% of university faculty (including adjuncts) are female. I will hunt down the citation, but your own numbers from 2006 already bear this out:

If 54%-58% of adjunct faculty are female, then there are roughly 540,000 to 580,000 female adjunct faculty.

If 38% of TT faculty are female, then there are roughly 175,000 female TT faculty.

That means that there are roughly 715,000 to 755,000 adjunct and TT faculty, out of approximately 1,500,000.

Since the current governance of the university is the cause of proliferation of ajuncts (as I argued in my previous comment) it is administrators who are keeping all those women working in precarious jobs where they can have no share of faculty governance. Meanwhile, real power has stayed where the (white) men are concentrated, in the upper administration.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:19 AM on October 12, 2013


sockpuppy, if I recall correctly, that 2006 study and the 38% number was only for TT professors, not of adjuncts.
I believe it was for full-time positions, whether tenure-track or not.
Since the current governance of the university is the cause of proliferation of ajuncts (as I argued in my previous comment) it is administrators who are keeping all those women working in precarious jobs where they can have no share of faculty governance.
Don't faculty have authority over hiring and promoting decisions? You can blame administration for creating adjunct jobs, but faculty members are deciding to hire and promote men for tenure track positions and women for non-TT and adjunct ones. I'm not sure that's exactly a point in the faculty's favor!
posted by sockpuppy at 8:29 AM on October 12, 2013


Here's the report, page 20: Women made up 39.1% of full-time staff and 49.2% of part-time staff.

Don't faculty have authority over hiring and promoting decisions? You can blame administration for creating adjunct jobs, but faculty members are deciding to hire and promote men for tenure track positions and women for non-TT and adjunct ones.

Well, we can and should do more. But even if we hired only women for three decades, we wouldn't be able to tip the scales so long as we're forced to hire two adjuncts for every one TT faculty member, and the new hire numbers in my area are more like five adjuncts per TT faculty. That's the whole point to the Chronicle article you posted. What we need to do is convert qualified adjuncts and fire unqualified adjuncts: if they're not good enough to teach college courses at the TT level, fire them. Otherwise, convert them. That'd give us gender equity overnight.

And anyway, faculty don't have authority over hiring and promotion decisions. That's the point!
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:39 AM on October 12, 2013


What we need to do is convert qualified or fire every adjunct: if they're not good enough to teach college courses at the TT level, fire them. Otherwise, convert them.
Ok, great. I'm fired. I'm not qualified to be on faculty. Are you going to teach my study skills class? Do you really think that's a good use of your time? Do you think you're even qualified to teach study skills? Or do you just tell the students in my study skills class, many of whom are first-generation college students from not-great urban or rural schools, that they're on their own?
posted by sockpuppy at 8:44 AM on October 12, 2013


And anyway, faculty don't have authority over hiring and promotion decisions. That's the point!
Do they not? When I was in grad school, they certainly seemed to run the search and tenure committees, and administrators' approval was basically a rubber stamp.
posted by sockpuppy at 8:46 AM on October 12, 2013


Umm, are you an adjunct? If not, why would you be fired?

Do they not?

No they do not.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:57 AM on October 12, 2013


Umm, are you an adjunct? If not, why would you be fired?
Yes, as I said above, I am an adjunct. I'm a full-time academic adviser, and on top of that I teach a study skills class to students who have been identified as being academically at risk. The study skills class is an adjunct job.
posted by sockpuppy at 9:01 AM on October 12, 2013


Well, you said it wasn't a course that should be taught by faculty. Our librarians teach some small courses that meet three or four times in semester, and I'm not calling for them to be fired. But that's not what we usually mean by adjuncts: adjuncts (at my school and at most schools) teach all the same courses as regular faculty, including upper-level majors-only courses and even graduate classes. If they're qualified to do that, they're qualified to be TT faculty.

I don't know anything about your position, but it seems like you're not really an adjunct in that sense. You teach a course which is a part of your regular job, but get paid on top of your salary for the extra work. I don't begrudge you that, but I think you know that that's not what I meant when I called for firing or converting the million adjunct instructors in the US. You're not even included in that number.

There are some (actual) adjuncts who are not qualified to teach college level courses: they're kept on because of inertia and because they are cheap. Those are the people I'd like to see fired, because they don't teach well and the rest of us have to deal with their students. But they often get quite good teaching evaluations (which is why they don't get scrutiny that would show their inadequacies) because while they don't teach well, they make up for that in students' eyes by grading leniently and requiring little work.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:08 AM on October 12, 2013


Although the chair of our department does teach a first-year orientation course that includes a study-skills component: we see that as a source of majors, and I'm generally in favor of such classes being taught by faculty, because they also include a substantial piece of actual college content.

In fact, I've proposed just this kind of thing be expanded recently. You can read the proposal here. (I'm outing myself and my institution, but you could already blog-stalk me and figure that out if you're a member. Please don't be a jerk with the information by, for instance, mentioning it explicitly in a google-able way here.)
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:19 AM on October 12, 2013


But that's not what we usually mean by adjuncts
Ok, but that's kind of my point. You said "fire all the adjuncts," not "fire all the adjuncts who teach classes that should be taught by tenure-track faculty." And that's because, as a faculty member, you're really focused on the stuff that directly affects you, like the erosion of faculty labor rights. (And for what it's worth, I'm concerned about that, too, for any number of reasons.) You're not focused on efforts to support categories of students who have sky-high drop-out rates. And that's why you, as a member of the faculty, might look at something called the Office of Retention and see bloat. It's why you might look at my salary and see waste. It's why you're comfortable with a model of democracy in which students are akin to white men of no property in pre-1830s America: they're entitled to free speech and to petition for a redress of grievances, but representation is reserved for people who have more skin in the game. You have a really important perspective on the university, but it's not the only important perspective. And it's crucial, in my view, that other perspectives are represented as well.

That's not to say that I'm delighted with current university governance, because I'm not. But I don't really see empowering the faculty at the expense of everyone else as a panacea.
posted by sockpuppy at 9:20 AM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


No, I said it that way because this is a website, not a policy proposal. What you do isn't called "adjuncting" at my school, so there's no reason for me to worry about it; I'm not asking to govern your school, I'm asking to participate meaningfully and effectively in the governance of my own.

If you think treating students as customers enfrancises them, then you are wrong. It's a hard problem, but the administrative model you're defending certainly hasn't fixed it. At my campus, our retention numbers are abysmal, and so we pile money into remediation, which just frustrates students and mostly prevents them from actually graduating, while the real solution is actually more regular faculty teaching regular classes with class sizes that make it possible for them to actually attend to our students' needs.

Again, I would never attack the Office of Retention merely because it is large. But I think as faculty we ought to have the right to point out that (at many schools, and especially at my school) it is ineffective and takes resources away from what works.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:36 AM on October 12, 2013


I don't call for the elimination of administrative positions, merely for a reorganization of final authority such that it is the faculty as a body, assembled in a senate or other "legislative" body that makes ultimate decisions about long-range plans, budgets, and other decisions that are then carried out by administrators and faculty alike.

I don't agree that this is a good idea, so I think it comes down to that. I don't think the breadth of that charter is something a university faculty, with its particular concerns, is going to be very good at.

I'm not interested in fighting about an article, I'm interested in critiquing your read of the article, which is in every way most favorable to the point of view you entered with. Regardless of whether it's a statement endorsed by a committee, it is clearly written enough for me to understand.

a lot depends on #2, so it seems worth exploring why it wouldn't be the case that matters that affects teaching and research are not best understood by those who engage in teaching and research

I think the problem might be in how wide a net you cast when you say "matters that affect teaching and research." I agree that matters affecting teaching and research might be best understood by those who engage in them (though I will go back to my earlier point that, from a learning-theory perspective, most of university teaching is only average level), according to what I think are "matters that affect" them, but I am not sure how you define "matters that affect." Your definition seems to be "everything within the university." In a complex organization, which I believe most universities are, there is an argument that every matter affects teaching and research. But I don't agree that every matter directly and significantly affects teaching and research, and I don't think faculty should have authority over matters that indirectly and insignificantly affect teaching and research, or in fact matters that create the entire context for the scope and depth and diversity of those matters directly affecting teaching and research. I think faculty are often not in the best position to take the widest view of the university in both the short and long term, and in the society and the marketplace for student participation and funding.

a school has a budget shortfall. Do faculty decide what to close and what to keep open?

No. I think they should advise on and inform this decision, but not be charged with making the final decision. I don't think they can weigh all the factors in this decision judiciously.

Or adjuncts. Do faculty decide whether to hire adjuncts rather than tenure-line staff? Do they set the basic requirements for adjunct labor, such as a PhD or teaching quality, which will directly affect the quality of the instruction such adjuncts supply?

I could see giving faculty budget line authority over how to disburse the total instructional budget, sure. That makes sense to me.

Or "faculty status." Who decides on tenure and promotion?

That seems to be a pretty clear-cut faculty matter, the kind of authority the AAUP statement argues for. That is something it makes sense to me to endorse.

I think if you're honest you'd have to say that the faculty as a whole doesn't have an authoritative voice in most institutions because it doesn't have a collective voice at all.

I can't even really engage the question of whether a voice needs to be collective to be authoritative. I don't know that I'd "have to say" lack of a collective voice is the reason there's not more faculty leadership of universities. That goes with your conviction that faculty leadership needs to be democratic, and I'm not really sure I agree with that. Also, I don't know what goes on in most institutions. The structure of any proposed faculty governance seems to me to be a sub-question only coming after the resolution of the central question of who should lead universities, faculty or administration - it's not "whether," it's "how" - and collective faculty leadership is not even something characteristic of universities for most of their history.

You've given literally zero evidence of this claim.

My evidence is simply that non-faculty are accountable to the system of law and to citizen regulation in ways which faculty are not, by virtue of the protections of academic freedom. Non-faculty establish the link of responsibility to the state and its laws. It is the non-faculty who render the institution accountable. Bad things happen under either system of management, sure; but one is more transparent than the other. Also, it's not fair to say I've offered "zero evidence," as I've talked about a number of issues which have not been handled openly by faculty - I even gave links.

"faculty [should] have authority over academic matters" as you say in your last comment, then you should be vociferously denouncing the modern university, not defending it.

I don't know that I need to either denounce it or defend it as a generic entity - that, to me, is a simplistic and binary question that is far too broad to be useful for what I'm saying. What I'm defending is the necessity of administrative leadership expertise for a complex institution organized around a mission. That doesn't mean I approve of every flavor of governance structure that comes under that umbrella, or every set of institutional decisions, or every leader. Nor do I know that there even exists some ideal institution reflecting my values. Nor am I hostile to an expansion of faculty responsibility for academic matters. I'm just rejecting the idea of faculty having total direction over the entire university, as I think universities are too complex to be well managed by one functional group in that way. Sockpuppy's last comment highlights a couple of the issues of bias I think necessarily come with that concept, and that is what an institutional leadership with a broader picture of integrating the thousands of small functions within this kind of institution has the relative objectivity to do.
posted by Miko at 10:52 AM on October 12, 2013


My evidence is simply that non-faculty are accountable to the system of law and to citizen regulation in ways which faculty are not, by virtue of the protections of academic freedom.

So, this isn't true, for all of the reasons that Post discusses. Faculty have never had a right under academic freedom or anything else to except themselves from the law.

Also, it's not fair to say I've offered "zero evidence," as I've talked about a number of issues which have not been handled openly by faculty - I even gave links.

But those were links to specific cases where an individual faculty member misbehaved. I'm not saying individual faculty members should be allowed to harrass their students! That's pretty uncharitable. I'm saying that faculty should govern the institution. If the claim is that faculty can't do that because they can't judge their peers, then there's no reason to think administrators will be any different.

What's more, of the three examples, I didn't see any faculty who were somehow absolved of their actions because of academic freedom: faculty as a group have come out against McGinn pretty whole-heartedly; he's received no meaningful "academic freedom" defense and is now leaving his post. I'm pretty familiar with that case, and I feel like I can say with certitude that he'd be just as guilty under a faculty-governance scenario as under an administrative governance scenario.

The last case you linked, I didn't dig into it much, but the complaint was that a historian was comparing anti-drug propaganda to anti-masturbation propaganda in class, right? I guess I'd just ask: isn't that precisely the kind of teaching independence we'd like to support? I mean, there's a right way and a wrong way to do it, but I don't think that's intrinsically indefensible on academic freedom grounds. You'd have to show that the specific actions (sexualized comments, for instance) are inappropriate.

Sockpuppy's last comment highlights a couple of the issues of bias I think necessarily come with that concept, and that is what an institutional leadership with a broader picture of integrating the thousands of small functions within this kind of institution has the relative objectivity to do.

Please read my response to sockpuppy, then. Because the evidence shows that remedial education is one of those areas where administrative governance has gone badly wrong, and yet that message is not getting uptake in the administration.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:28 AM on October 12, 2013


Faculty have never had a right under academic freedom or anything else to except themselves from the law.

They're not accountable to Trustees in the same way administrators are, under nonprofit law. As the AAUP asserts. Trustees can hire and fire administrators - but not faculty. Trustees are tasked with ensuring the institution meets the standards for the organizational status under state nonprofit law and federal tax law.

If the claim is that faculty can't do that because they can't judge their peers, then there's no reason to think administrators will be any different

Sure there is. They aren't the faculty's peers, and many of them are explicitly tasked with the responsibility to ensure a harassment-free environment and to police that (HR staff, medical and psychological services, etc).
posted by Miko at 11:53 AM on October 12, 2013


Faculty can and are fired for violating the law. Once tenured, we only gain a relatively narrow set of protections for our research and teaching: we can still be fired for all sorts of misconduct, even plagiarism! Meanwhile some staff are unfireable under labor contracts, and merely bounce around doing nothing useful because the cost of the lawsuit would be too high. (I don't think this is a big problem, by the way, but it's a part of why my registrar can't get rooms assignments done well.)

They aren't the faculty's peers

Err, sorry: I meant, if faculty can't police their peers, then what makes you think that administrators can police *their* peers? I mean, I get why I can't police myself, but my colleagues would never let me get away with McGinn-style misbehavior, and I couldn't hide behind tenure. Nor would I allow my colleagues to act in this way, while I can think of a time when our efforts at self-policing a sexual harassment case were hamstrung by the intervention of the Dean. There was a lawsuit, but it took years to resolve, and the woman harassed decided to leave.

And I'd just point out that many faculty are explicitly engaged in anti-harassment scholarship or study and oppose racism. So that seems pretty analogous to the claim that some administrators are tasked with this work: we task ourselves with this work!
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:16 PM on October 12, 2013


Faculty can and are fired for violating the law.

Yeah, I get that. But they can't be, and aren't, fired for being ineffectual leaders, or not the right leaders for the moment in the institution's history. And that's the kind of accountability I think is important in institutional leadership.

some staff are unfireable under labor contracts

Mostly lower-level. As you say, not a big part of the problem.

we task ourselves with this work!

Lovely, but since it's all voluntary, there's not a thing systemic about that. It doesn't count as self-policing if you could just as easily get interested in researching something else, and blow off this question, with no consequences.

what makes you think that administrators can police *their* peers?

Their accountability to do so, under nonprofit law.
posted by Miko at 9:08 PM on October 12, 2013


But they can't be, and aren't, fired for being ineffectual leaders, or not the right leaders for the moment in the institution's history. And that's the kind of accountability I think is important in institutional leadership.

It's true we can't be fired for failing to lead, but that's not much of a problem if we skip the whole "leadership" model and focus on governance. If a department chair fails to lead, she can be replaced without firing her.

But why would you need to fire the faculty senate? If the faculty senate refuses to vote to implement online education, arguing that it's not good for pedagogy, why should an administrator have the right to fire them for that decision? Or if the faculty refuses to implement large intro lectures, preferring more intimate seminar style intros: they're the ones best placed to make that decision.

Lovely, but since it's all voluntary, there's not a thing systemic about that.

Well, the real key here is not to have actual case-by-case self-policing (which are often flubbed and end up in the courts anyway), but to have faculty set sexual harassment policies and then hire enforcers. Even though individual faculty are harassers (like individual administrators) the faculty as a body has persuaded itself that this is a serious problem requiring protection for the victim, investigation, and a punishment of firing even with tenure. Once the rules and procedures are set, then you hire staff that enforce the faculty's rule. So it's just as systematic, but ultimate authority for the rule lies with faculty rather than administrators.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:02 AM on October 13, 2013


Ok, I skipped to the end of this thread, but one of the major things that kids/young adults at my (well-regarded) alma mater would periodically gripe about is how useless the professionalized, academic advisers are. Because none of them can... answer questions. About curricula. Or things we want to do, or how. All they can do is handwave in the direction of "resources," without giving us much meaningful guidance in terms of how to take advantage of these things or implement them usefully in our academic development. At my previous college (much less prestigious), we had academic advisers in our departments-- much, much more useful. Exponentially moreso, even though the university had fewer resources altogether. They could usefully pinpoint the interests, strengths and weaknesses of a student based on their expertise in the field, and could shepherd students accordingly. Advisers were good at giving us handouts and bulleted lists of scholarships without much reliable corroborating information.

Did my departmental adviser tell me that I could switch advisers if he wasn't being useful? No, but I found out from other students. Did my (mostly useless, harried, busy-with-administrative-meetings and with-no-experience-in-my-field) adviser tell me that I could switch advisers? No, but I found out from other students. I've never had a truly horrible adviser experience nor a truly great one, but as far as mediocre advisers go, I'd rather have a departmental adviser. *shrug* The "professionalized" advisers at my better school were almost universally regarded as useless by students (though they were nice), because they couldn't answer basic questions like "will this class be accepted for this requirement so I can graduate?" Especially during times of flux, where advisers were supposedly attending meetings about changing graduation requirements, when student handbooks were being switched from paper to digital, and when it was not easy or straightforward for students to answer these questions themselves. (Even when you did have the tenacity amidst all the other growing pains of adjusting to college to dig up the answers for yourself, it left you almost no assurance when after doing the footwork an adviser couldn't even confirm whether you were right or wrong.)

In terms of falling through the cracks, I'm glad this didn't happen to me on the level of logistical minutia-- but my real concern was falling through the cracks academically/professionally, because I didn't have enough professors I had "personal relationships" with. Having a departmental advisor at my first university really attenuated this anxiety.

Just a perspective from a recent ex-student.


---

Additionally, listening to people describe the day-to-day workload of being an administrator (adviser or whatnot) at a university doesn't sound significantly more busy or cognitively challenging than my first real out-of-college job, where I was making around $30,000/yr and felt pretty reasonably compensated. My experience as a student with most college administrators was that they weren't there to help me, they didn't feel motivated to figure out what they were talking about, and they kind of hated me. Financial aid advisers scoffed at me for needing short-term assistance from the short-term assistance fund, ignored complaints and confusion from students who were facing tens of thousands of dollars of debt upon literally just turning 18, &c. Most administrators, in my bitter, student opinion, seemed vastly overpayed to literally just hate and scoff at me for the most part. Including hanging signs in their cubicles saying things like "your lack of planning is NOT my emergency." Shouldn't it actually kind of be their emergency, if their job is in any way, shape or form to steward very young adults through a period of major adult transition, involving life-shaping consequences, new and unintuitive time-management responsibilities, and massive amounts of debt? I've always been a bit bitter toward the middle-class (now that I belong to it, I still can't wrap my head around the fact that I make so much money for doing so little, compared to my customer service, restaurant industry, manual labor and retail days), but university administrators of the middle-management sort have always to me seemed completely entitled based both on their salaries and they way they behave toward the people they supposedly serve (faculty and students).

/rant

(I feel bad about ranting when there are people here who I'm sure are good people with these kinds of jobs, but this was such a major source of dissatisfaction for me as a student-- by and large my professors were always far more compassionate, useful, and constructive than any administrator I ever had to deal with. It seemed like the faculty cared about students in ways the administration never would, even though there were of course notorious faculty who got off on destroying undergrads. Also, I knew more than one girl who was physically or sexually abused as an undergrad who was waved off by administrators who just did not care, so I didn't feel they were there to take on the role of defending us against misbehavior, either. Ehh, bad memories.)
posted by stoneandstar at 12:14 AM on October 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, the real key here is not to have actual case-by-case self-policing (which are often flubbed and end up in the courts anyway), but to have faculty set sexual harassment policies and then hire enforcers.

Who is going to make sure the faculty do that? Is it optional?

I am done with the point-by-point discussion. Here's the root of my objection.

Universities are complex institutions in need of a great deal of internal and external coordination. Currently, they are generally designated as educational not-for-profit organizations. As such, they come under public governance via the State Attorney General's office. They enjoy a tax code designation that exempts much of their activity from taxation, on the theory that they are contributing a societal good in lieu of government service. That tax code designation enables them to be eligible to receive donations, apply for many kinds of grants, and compete for certain resources and honors.

In arguing for faculty leadership, you are seeking to remove this arrangement from the public realm. If faculty cannot be hired and fired by Trustees, who as the bearers of the state charter to oversee the institution are tasked with keeping it focused on the mission for which they have received their nonprofit designation, then the link between the public/state and the university has been broken. There is no accountability on the part of the institution, because the faculty are protected from any actions by Trustees acting on behalf of the state and the public.

Let's take your example - should they implement online learning? Let's say there is an administrator heading the university in the current model. If 10 years go by, and this institution has not implemented online learning, and online learning turns out to be the be-all and end-all of pedagogy and students at this university are now disadvantaged because of that faculty decision, is currently the administration who can be held responsible, and fired, by the Trustees acting on behalf of the state. The administrator could be fired here for failing to structure an environment in which the faculty had maximum information on the topic, support for experimentation in online learning, access to the best thinking, support to attend conferences and do research on online learning, and so on. It is the administrator's responsibility to take the long view of institutional sustainability and responsibility to the charter, and work with the faculty to achieve those goals.

Really, I have no problem with your proposed model, as long as you remove it from the public realm. If a university wants to step out of that structure and become a private association, essentially a learning club, it has every right to self-govern in the way it sees fit - and would no longer have special claim to tax relief, public grants and other philanthropy aimed at nonprofits, etc. But public and nonprofit universities are responsible to the rest of us. If we want to protect faculty from the political process and from accountability for the success and chartered purpose of the institution, then we need to have some structure that retains the link of responsibility to the public and ensures that the institution is compliant with the law, performing its public service, and accountable.
posted by Miko at 7:49 AM on October 16, 2013


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