Friday, January 31, 2014

Flush the Administration

By Professor Doom

Me: “There are many errors here. In these official documents that are giving invalid results, you assert that 1.8 + 1.4 = 3.4. It is, in fact, 3.2. Can you please at least change that much?”
Administration: “No.”
--Often I see documents that I probably should not see, but I try to help fix errors when I can. My attempts at preventing my institution from making embarrassing mistakes are hit and miss. Mostly miss.

(two years later)

Admin: “We’re forming a special committee to determine how errors were made on a document reviewed by 12 different [graduate degree holding] administrators…

--yes, this concerned the same document.

    Before, I discussed the insane importance administration puts on student evaluations, in spite of common sense and studies showing that evaluations don’t measure teaching, only grades. Administrators that never serve as faculty will never understand what evaluations mean, have already ignored explanations and studies to this effect. If administrators served as faculty, they might be more willing to understand the obvious and well-documented. With administrative degrees completely unrelated to what happens on campus, administrators with such degrees will never be qualified to serve as faculty. We must go the other direction.

Administrator: “Math? That’s just a bunch of formulas. A student can just look it up if he needs it.”
Me: “…”
--if sometimes I seem a little disrespectful to administrators, I apologize. Respect is a two-way street, however.

     Simply having a non-administrative or non-Education degree is not enough. I’ve seen departments where the department head is an administrative hatchetman, brought in from outside to enforce “higher retention” and destroy any academic standards that get in the way of this all-encompassing administrative goal.  Despite having the appropriate degree and, presumably, respect for the subject, these well-paid assassins of legitimacy know which side of the bread their butter is on, and act accordingly. Faculty are helpless in the face of this scenario, and all they can hope to do is band together and revolt en masse against the head—a dangerous proposition as the department head, with the backing of administration, will “ease out” those faculty with the leadership ability to organize such a revolt.

     I’ve also seen departments where the head is chosen from the faculty, and changes every year or three. This is the key to happiness, and legitimacy. Administration can no longer rig the system by bringing in an outsider to enforce their decrees. The “administrative department head” can no longer be abusive to the faculty in the department, because he’ll be returning to the ranks of faculty soon enough, and will have to live with the decisions he’s made and any ill treatment of his associates. 

       That latter idea is actually key: administrators right now are immune to the consequences of their abuses. They strut around as self-styled “titans of industry” with no real understanding of what institutions of higher education are about. Faculty that serve only temporarily as administrators can’t be nearly as abusive, because they’ll actually suffer the consequences.

     The whole reason administration managed to take over the system is because faculty, foolishly, turned it over to them, trusting to administrative integrity to keep it honorable. This happened back when administrators didn’t make the extraordinary sums of today—faculty saw no reason to pay much, since administration was such a minimal position (soon I’ll address more of what administrators do on campus today…). Faculty don’t want to administrate, but I suspect many would be willing to take on the bureaucratic burden, if only for a year or two, for an extra $20,000 a year (i.e., for a tiny fraction of the cost of having a professional administrator).

Michigan public universities increased their spending on administrative positions by nearly 30% on average in the last five years, even as university leaders say they've slashed expenses to keep college affordable for families…The increases took place [during] a period in which both student enrollment and state funding of universities remained about the same.
---the collapse of Detroit hasn’t done Michigan any good…and yet administration is blooming in this environment. Could there be any stronger evidence of the corruption?

     The same can apply to many of the lower level administrative positions. Instead of recruiting someone from outside with a Ph.D. in some strange Education field unrelated to anything that goes on in the institution, have a faculty member already at the institution serve as dean, for example, for a year or two at a time, revolving through faculty at the institution, perhaps making the transition over less intense summer semesters. Again, this is just a “like it used to be” fix, and I apologize that most of my suggestions are so simple. I acknowledge it’s harder than it sounds. The way to end rapes is to get rid of the rapists…the way to get rid of the corruption of higher education is the get rid of the administrators. Easy to say, not so easy to do.

More on this next time.