Sunday, October 4, 2015

An Administrator Defends The Looting…Poorly

By Professsor Doom

     Yes, I’m a little one-sided here in my blog, but it’s so rare to find even a laughable attempt to justify that what’s going on in higher education that it’s hard for me to present any other point of view.   
     The Guardian recently posted a defense by one of the people responsible for  the decay of higher education.

     Our institutions of higher education are responsible, on paper, for teaching and research…despite what all the football stadiums on campus might indicate. Allow me to quickly discuss administration’s role in the destruction of teaching and research before addressing the defense.

     The reality is administration doesn’t care about teaching, since teaching can’t be precisely quantified. All admin really wants is happy students, and lots of them. Thus administration encourages faculty to remove course material, to allow cheating, to accept plagiarism. I’ve covered this before because teaching is what most people experience in college. Teaching has been quantified down to student evaluations, and faculty have altered their coursework and teaching to get the happy customers admin wants.

     On the other hand, I’ve seldom discussed research, because the average student doesn’t get anywhere near this aspect of higher education. 

      One might think that research might not be quantifiable. After all, how can one determine if a paper interpreting some Shakespeare sonnet is really more relevant than a paper identifying a new variant of a subatomic particle? One cannot, and certainly not an administrator.

      But, an administrator can count, and that’s how administration quantifies research: a published paper is research, no matter what the paper says, or how many names are on it. The same counts for books. Research is simply defined as the number of papers and books with the professor’s name on it. I was part of setting promotion policies, and I’m serious: “quality of research” and “numbers of papers with the researchers name on it” are the same thing in administrative eyes, even if the latter are never read, never cited, and contain nothing.

      I could write quite a bit on how faculty manipulate this measurement method, but a quick overview will suffice. Professors force their names on papers their students write. Professors publish irrelevant books that nobody would dream of reading, or even glancing at (warning: this link totally misses the point of why professors write these books). Professors also enter into “writing circles” with other professors—each writes a paper, but shares credit with other professors on the paper, multiplying “research output” (as measured by clueless admin) by several multiples as each professor shares with each other professor. Churn out enough output, and tenure and promotion are yours for the taking, at least at those few research-oriented institutions left that still have much in the way of tenure.

     Teachers and researchers didn’t set the destructive policies degenerating our institutions of higher education, administrators did.

     Anyway, despite the above well-documented situation at our schools of higher education, an administrator puts forward the notion that “just because you people, faculty, have determined empirically that admin doesn’t care about education, doesn’t mean you’re right. We really do care about education. Seriously!” I’m getting ahead of myself here, so allow me to further set the scene.

     Unlike most faculty, admin can post their real names when they talk online about higher education, without fear of retribution. The administrator in this case is Andrew Derrington, who holds the high falutin’ title of “Executive Pro Vice-Chancellor of Humanities and Social Sciences.” 

      The gentle reader might recall that earlier in this blog I proposed, as a quick means to cutting overhead costs at our perpetually cash-strapped institutions, to just get rid of every administrator whose title is 5 times as long as his name. Mr. Derrington’s title here is 64 characters long, whereas his name is a mere 17 characters long. So by my standard, which is every bit as legitimate as how administrators judge teaching and research, this guy would get to keep his job…but seriously, there are way too many administrators in higher education today.   
     So, here’s his defense regarding assertions that administrators in higher education are responsible for the degradation of higher education, summarized:

“This accusation is wrong. Managers are not malicious. We are not stupid. We are misunderstood.”

     I ask the gentle reader to consider the forced leave and psychiatric evaluation of a professor, for posting a picture of his child doing a yoga pose. I ask the gentle reader to consider long running sex scandals on campus, which administration overlooks (and even promotes the perpetrator). I ask the gentle reader to consider the outrageous activities of the kangaroo campus courts, set up by administration. The gentle reader should also consider the reduction of professor pay to the point that food banks specialize in helping professors get enough to eat, while administrators eat at personal high end restaurants built and paid for by the campus they rule. I could continue with such examples, but if I were to pick an explanation for such behavior amongst options of “malicious, stupid, or misunderstood,” I just can’t accept “misunderstood” as a possibility.

     This is, unfortunately, the entirety of the defense. Faculty are simply viewing what administration does in a bad light, they really do mean well. Apparently, this administrator knows not where the road of good intentions leads…even if anyone were stupid enough willing to accept good intentions by administrators.

      In addition to the links above illustrating administrative behavior, allow me to repeat a personal anecdote:

     A high-powered Educationist was paid to come on campus, and help us learn how to teach better. Most of the advice was the usual idiotic stuff from Ph.D.s in education: “give more extra credit,” “give more credit for attendance,” “give more credit for plagiarism,” and other insights that really don’t take years of graduate school to learn.

Then I got an e-mail from the Educationist: “For my research, can you identify the parts of your course that students have trouble with? We want to focus on those parts to provide better education in future courses.”

My reply: “Sure. Systems of linear equations in three vaiables (sic). Inverses of non-linear functions. The difference quotient. Oh, and applications of exponential and logarithmic functions.”

Educationist: “Thanks! This will really help.”

Next semester:

Administration: “To improve retention, you need to remove the following from your course:

1.    systems of linear equations in three vaiables (again, sic).
2.     Inverses of non-linear functions.
3.    The difference quotient.
4.    Applications of exponential and logarithmic functions.”

--note my typo was preserved.

     I ask the gentle reader to consider that e-mail from admin, asking for wholesale removal of content from a course, not to improve education (which I’ve never heard an administrator indicate as a goal in my decades of teaching in higher ed), but to improve retention, to increase the number of butts-in-seats.

      I ask the gentle reader to consider the evidence I present above regarding how the administrator came to that decision, and consider the possibilities of malice, stupidity, or, and I can hardly suggest it without laughing, misunderstood. The possibility that really should be considered, in light of this and extensive other evidence, is “willingness to sell out everything to enhance growth.”

     The administrator’s defense ends with:

If there really is a fundamental difference in outlook between you and the senior management of your university, then someone is not doing a very good job. Are you sure it isn't you?

     After having seen countless faculty with integrity stand up and try to do something about the mess of higher education today, only to be terminated by administration ready to take the “disloyal” faculty’s salary and add it to their own, I am, once again, hard pressed to accept that it’s the faculty that are the problem here. But this administrator, in addition to believing that his caste is just misunderstood, thinks the friction might well be the faculty’s fault, as well. 

     Administrators really do tend to be remarkable pieces of work.

    The comments section naturally lambasts the defense, one (anonymous) faculty summarizes nicely:

What an ill-advised piece of writing; indeed, if evidence is so important, and I agree, I would like to see some evidence that teaching is a valued skill in universities these days…

     I guess it’s possible that administrators mean well and that all our highly educated faculty (even the psychologists!) just don’t understand them, but I think it more likely that I should update my guidelines: 

     How about we get rid of administrators whose titles are merely three times as long as their names? At the least, I could hope for fewer Executive Pro Vice-Chancellors of Humanities and Social Sciences, and that would be a good thing.