The Faculty: “Speed Bumps to Progress”?

In the comments to one of the posts on this blog, someone wrote:

in my opinion, faculty absolutely should not be governing a university. We need broadly trained academic professionals who understand the business of higher education making decisions, not narrowly-focused/educated faculty members who are likely privileged, entitled, and completely out of touch with the average students of the modern public university. Faculty barely understand modern universities and education beyond their little classrooms anymore.

This person followed with another comment:

I work at a school that is run essentially as a business and where faculty have no tenure or say in governance and it’s wonderful. Faculty know nothing about how the modern university should and must be run. Thy are speed bumps to progress, really and it’s time they are finally being help accountable.

So far, this person has not identified the school, which makes me wonder how it could be so wonderful if its employees cannot name it. And one might point out that speed bumps are actually placed for a reason: they save lives.

Unfortunately, as we know, the attitude of these comments is the attitude of much of the American public these days. It results from a long-term attempt to vilify teachers of all sorts and to present the idea that education can be based on corporate-style structures and standardized assessment instead of on human interaction and teacher judgment. It stems from an attempt to move education out of public control and into the private domain of “free enterprise,” where there’s much money to be made.

And there has been fortunes made, though the schools themselves have rarely benefitted. People have stripped charter schools of millions, and for-profit colleges and universities gave great returns—at least, until recently. One of the means to profit has been reduction of the power and influence of teachers—to the point where, today, there are many, like the poster of those comments above seems to, who believe in schools without teachers.

This is something akin to Hazel Motes’ Holy Church of Christ Without Christ” in Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood. It also brings to mind Nobel Laureate I.I. Rabi’s comment to Dwight Eisenhower (recounted on this blog earlier today), “the faculty are not employees of the University-they are the University.” Automation may work in some venues, but it kills real learning. Without teachers, nothing is left but administrators and “process” dedicated to “outcomes” (whatever they are).

Which is ridiculous.

Education is not simply mastery of an extant body of quantifiable knowledge. It cannot be reduced to test results—not if we want a society of growth and not gradual implosion. Creativity and innovation, therefore, can never come from education run entirely by administrators.

But that’s what we are getting.

More and more, that’s what we are getting.

This week, the Iowa Board of Regents hired a businessman to run the University of Iowa, one of the nation’s great universities (I’m biased: I earned my MA and my PhD there). Steve Kuusisto and Hank Reichman posted about that today. This is just the latest example of a movement away from traditional educational structures and toward that business model of education that sees students as raw material shapeable through automatic processes.

That has not worked at the K-12 level, though the United States has been trying to make it do so for fifteen years, now. Even by the standards of the education “reformers,” there has been no improvement. In fact, SAT scores have fallen slightly since the start of the century. One would think that the politicians with responsibility for so much of American education policy would be pulling back a bit, re-examining the impact of blind adherence to neoliberal visions of top-down structural change.

Yet the push for a corporate paradigm for education continues.

It is time that we on the faculty start on a path of effective resistance rather than simply complaining (like I am doing now). I don’t know what that may be, but a start could be a faculty vote of no confidence in the new Chancellor at Iowa.

The rest of us need to be talking and working out plans for rescuing our universities.

11 thoughts on “The Faculty: “Speed Bumps to Progress”?

  1. So, according to this person, faculty members are “privileged, entitled, and completely out of touch with the average students.” But apparently administrators who never teach a class, are paid at least four times as much as the average instructor (usually more), and carry none of the crippling debt with which more and more students are burdened are just the salt of the earth and totally in sync with today’s student body. And if the school is so “wonderful,” why does it even tolerate these ignorant and incompetent “speed bumps?”

  2. I agree Hank! I don’t know how we could be out of touch with students, when some of us (I can’t be the only one) have spent half of our lives as students. Not to mention the fact that we are in constant contact with them.

  3. As an undergraduate student (within the past 10 years), I couldn’t figure out why faculty governance and unions were such big deals (I saw a near-strike as a student). After getting my PhD – I worked at a private institution where faculty were un(der)valued and treated like cogs in a machine with 4-5+ classes a semester, a heavy advising load, and next to no time for research – leading to burnout for most faculty and inspiring little desire to perform our best. I also have friends who have taught for a school with rigid course designs and rubrics for grading that allowed sub-par students to pass (I’d never hire or seek out services from a student who graduated from that university). Now being at a public institution with a relatively strong faculty union and faculty governance, I understand why these are critical to the success of a university. As faculty, we must become better at communicating this importance to the general public. Tenured faculty must become more involved with protecting junior faculty and taking leadership roles in governance at the community and state levels. The current game of identity and demographic politics, being played in both parties, is designed to create divisions that cut across all segments of society. Finding ways to build bridges and find common causes even where some differences exist is necessary to protect higher education from becoming businesses.

    • Your comments start to get at the heart of the problem. One of the indicators here is that even though faculty evaluate each other for performance and tenure, the final decisions are, for the most part, controlled by the administration that can accept of reject, or “delay”. As faculty gained more benefits such as not having to review all applicants for freshman entrance, designing, negotiating and managing retirement and benefit programs (and managing the details) they removed themselves from “administration and gave that responsibility to non-academic personnel. The faculty does not participate in negotiations with institutional funders such as government or even private sources that give to the “institution”. In some countries, there are administrative processes that determine pay and promotion beyond the immediate department and count the number of publications in ranked journals with high impact factors by numbers alone since they depend on the journals to validate their faculty.

      It would be interesting if the faculty read carefully the contracts negotiated for them by their union to see how much involvement the faculty have been given to sit at the table with the “A” level administrators (a corporate term) as they negotiate institutional funding and then decide to give several million to the athletic department and reduce faculty positions in the humanities.

      Someone once said that once you give up your power it is hard, if impossible, to get it back. The question that has been assiduously avoided is how much power have faculty actually, ever, had since Bologna and how much power do they have today to guide the institution’s direction and programs as well as the pay distribution and personal benefits. One might be surprised.

      The current argument regarding “corporatizing” the university is full of eloquence suitable for an academic publication but a rather toothless roar where action is concerned.

      • Good points, up to the last. In response to that, let me simply quote Longfellow:

        A traveller, by the faithful hound,
        Half-buried in the snow was found,
        Still grasping in his hand of ice
        That banner with the strange device,
        Excelsior!

        There in the twilight cold and gray,
        Lifeless, but beautiful, he lay,
        And from the sky, serene and far,
        A voice fell like a falling star,
        Excelsior!

        • I agree. The last line was more to provoke. As we all know, the winds of change are blowing for education in general and the HEI’s in particular. We are at a tipping point and a moment of opportunity where academics have a chance to make a significant change, not just in the US, but globally. One would hope that Wordsworth would not provide the epitaph:

          “Though nothing can bring back the hour
          Of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower;
          We will grieve not, rather find
          Strength in what remains behind;

  4. When have the faculty ever been other than service providers? Since the University of Bologna supported by the State and the Church when have they raised the capital, decided on salaries and other support, made the budgets and managed the recruitment of students, maintenance of facilities and provided for capital for the facilities from dorms, classrooms, grounds and non-classroom expenses from gyms and sports to laboratories? When have the faculty ever put forward management plans, been willing to take on the overhead logistics or demonstrated for the rights to take on these burdens- all of which provided the matrix that supported the educational programs?

    • What you are talking about, tabeles, is the wrong model, the business model. You are asking when faculty were corporate officers, something they should never be. Colleges and universities don’t need the corporate model you assume as appropriate. What you are suggesting makes the actual education ancillary to administration, when the situation should be the other way around. So, in an educational situation, your questions are meaningless.

  5. Another part of the comment that Aaron didn’t quote is this: “I think it’s important to also remind faculty that students are only in classrooms about 15-20% of their time in college. There are a lot of other often-overlooked staff members that work with students and make sure that other 75-85% runs smoothly and maybe those people are better-equipped to handle governance.” Some people might argue that many college students spend as much time partying and playing video games as attending class. So why shouldn’t we hire experts at partying and professional video game players (yes, a very real thing) to run the university? The answer is what happens in the classroom is more important than the other aspects of students’ lives, and that the classroom is the core part of a college education. And faculty are the most informed experts on campus about student learning. No one is saying that the faculty are always right and the faculty must control everything. But universities would be far better off if they relied more on academic experts for an academic institution.

  6. Pingback: Faculty as “Service Providers”? | The Academe Blog

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