Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, acceptance of the “free market” neoliberal corporatist model of top-down management has become so pervasive that its vacuous language is being extended backwards to cover events of almost a thousand years ago. Someone posted this comment on a post of mine yesterday:
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?
“Service provider” is one of those phrases so vague that anyone can be defined as one. Its meaning rests only in its utilization as a means of stripping a role of meaning. It removes definition, allowing one to create generalizations so vague that they can be applied (or so it seems) to any situation.
What members of the faculty do is exactly the opposite of what is attempted by corporatist jargon such as this. They peg meaning to particulars, spending their careers in careful attempts to refine definition—and they do this both in the classroom and in their research (which is why linkage between the two is so important).
One of the things making the corporatist model so pernicious is the fact that it was designed to be one-size-fits-all as theory—and has become so as practice. Its logic (if I may use the word loosely) leads one to conclude that all organizations can work similarly, and do so when working best. It has an implicit top-down bias, making it quite comfortable to those at the top. What’s remarkable is how widely accepted it has become at the bottom, as well.
In the comment above, the writer asks when have faculty “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?” The answer, of course, is that faculty have been doing so for most of that millennium since the founding of the University of Bologna—but let’s assume otherwise, just for the sake of argument. We then ask, “Does the providing of these supports justify control over those supported?” Should the quartermaster corps run the army? The answer to that, via neoliberal views, is “Yes.”
Those of us who have yet to fall under the corporatist spell know this is nonsense. Yet comments like this one continue to appear. People have come to worship “management plans,” “logistics” and “matrixes.” The secondary has become exalted, the pinnacle rather than a prop.
When my partner and I were first designing the business we established and that I ran for almost a decade and a half, we created a business plan. But that plan was merely a guide and an outline. It had very little to do with the unfolding reality of starting a business. As we were the ones implementing the plan as well as creating it, we could adjust as we went on. The problem with dividing off “service providers” is that they are the one doing the central task of the enterprise. Without their input toward revision, the plan becomes fantasy, nothing more than a plaything for those in corporate boardrooms divorced from the reality of the enterprise, no matter what it is. Ours was a café and a gift store. I had experience in restaurants and in retail and my partner took a job in a coffee-and-tea shop so that she could learn aspects of the business that I did not know. We understood that we could best create a business through the realities of customer interactions and that we had to be fully immersed in those if we were to succeed.
The same holds true of colleges and universities. For plans to work, they need to start from the center of institutional activity, the interaction between student and teacher. For plans to work, they need to be developed through faculty and student leadership, for these are the people who best understand problems and pratfalls as well as possibilities. For assessment to be useful, its tools need to be created by those who will use them and those who will use the information they provide—the faculty, in both cases.
The neoliberal assumption is that those at the top know what is best for those at the bottom. Those at the bottom are nothing more than interchangeable “service providers” whose value is only as pieces in a puzzle. It leads to a slavish dependence on things like “student learning outcomes” that now decorate syllabi but that are meaningless to the learning that, fortunately, still goes on in American classrooms. These, and quantifiable “results,” can be manipulated by top executives whose only knowledge of the actualities of education is their own long-past experience as students. These may make executives look impressive. But they have nothing to do with education.
As any educational “service provider” knows.