By Professor Doom
The higher education system of the United States was, for many years, the epitome of learning. Across the world, people sent their children here for higher education. Yes, there are some fine universities elsewhere, but for much of the 20th century the United States led the world when it came to science, and many other fields of knowledge.
The rest of the world followed suit with the American model of education (in turn, adopted from Europe), not that there’s anything wrong with that. Unfortunately, our higher education is thoroughly corrupted now, turning into a system marked not by education, but by arrogant Poo Bahs, ridiculous construction sprees, and a general disrespect for the “intellectuals” that, in administrative eyes, are only taking up space on campus. Doubly unfortunately, our corrupted system is being exported to the rest of the world. I’ve written before how Australian higher education is going down the same foolish path we’re following here.
I’m not as tuned into the UK as here, but when British institutions are firing faculty so they can have more money to erect buildings…I have to admit that’s the same caliber of madness we’re seeing in the US. The purpose of higher education is teaching and research, there’s no sane way you can construct buildings (to increase teaching and research) and simultaneously fire faculty (as this will decrease teaching and research). And yet this policy is also common in the U.S.
A recent open letter by a faculty member in the UK highlights what’s happening there, but I can’t help but be saddened. The idealism of the faculty member writing the letter is grossly misplaced, as the academic thinks he can actually reason with the Poo Bahs.
Let us consider this bold, pointless, attempt:
I address you as "leaders" because, for some reason (perhaps manager comes too close to rhyming with janitor for your liking), you've increasingly taken to styling yourselves in this way. How grand. How imposing. How spurious.
It really is amazing the titles these people grant themselves. I just stick with “Poo Bah” because it’s ridiculous trying to keep track of all the chancellors, presidents, and provosts, not to mention the endless variations of Vice President of Nobodycares. If anyone wants to start cleaning up higher education, consider just firing everyone whose title is 5 times as long as his name (I know, that’s a little unfair to Asian administrators, but every institution I look at has dozens of administrators with such titles).
Anyway, the Poo Bahs honestly think they’re brilliant at what they do. To this, I respond, “bullocks.” I can’t speak to what’s happening in the UK, but in the US, administrators in higher education rule over an organization where the customers get money for showing up…and the administrators actually think the reason they have so many customers is because they’re doing a good job.
Take away the student loan scam, and I believe there will be considerable reckoning over the crap job typical administrators do. They call themselves “leaders,” and besmirch education by claiming it’s all about “leadership.” They’re clueless, and this faculty member is trying to explain it to them:
“I know you think I ought to feel insignificant, as a mere teaching and research drone. My saying any of this is, of course, in forlorn hope. You listen to us all, and ignore us all…”
The faculty saying this obviously is not naïve: he knows the reality, but his idealism still forces him to try. I can’t criticize him overmuch: my blog is likewise a hopeless attempt to try to get someone to listen.
But, as he says, administration won’t listen to faculty: we’re but miserable little worms who should tremble in awe at the self-styled titans of industry who’ve managed to get so many students to come to the institution
pick up their checks.
I tried to explain to administration that 12/5 is 2.4, and accomplished nothing to administrators that insist 2.35 is good enough. Less quantitatively, I’ve tried to point out glaring issues in grandiose administrative plans (like building stadiums for 5,000 people in a town of 1,200 residents, for a school that has no teams)…and accomplished nothing.
The only reason admin asks us to give input for their plans is because they know it’ll be easier to cram those plans down our throats if we open our mouths first.
“You simply want secure fiefdoms for the members of your cliques at the expense of making others into vassals with even fewer rights…”
It’s so sad to hear this. The reason higher education is “so expensive” in the US is because our institutions are overwhelmed with fiefdoms. Each fiefdom is stacked with highly overpaid administrators, and is responsible for…well, it’s all but impossible to tell what a fiefdom’s true responsibility is, beyond feathering the nests of administrators.
“You break your own rules and make it up as you go along to suit yourselves. There is no genuine collegiality, no trust,…”
Again, I am saddened at the familiar complaint. The caste of administration here is likewise untouchable, and if my blog only focused on administrative violations of due process, on administrators openly breaking their own rules whenever they wanted, I would still never run short of events to highlight.
The problem, of course, is faculty are now completely helpless. I’ve seen faculty members treated in grotesquely inappropriate ways (at a community college). We all agreed the treatment was unconscionable…there was not a thing we could do, despite all the “fraud hotlines” and “grievance policies” and everything else.
• Seemingly, there's never enough money… except when there's more for new administrative staff: courtiers for the ruling clique.
Alas, alas, and alas. This fatal flaw of American higher education, the one that will probably kill it in the end, is that administrators control the purse strings. Time and again I’ve been told “there’s just no money” for anything in education, by administrators that then rush off to participate in hiring committees to fill yet another 6 (or sometimes even 7) figure salaried administrative position. Just one less administrator at one school would be enough to fund everything I (and 50 other faculty) would ever need in a classroom for decades, my entire career, even…but too bad, no money, you see.
The academic offers solutions, but I have to chuckle, and wonder if it is truly idealism, and not undiluted foolishness, that guides this open letter. A few merit particular commentary:
“…Accept that the university is a community made up of all those who serve it, not your plaything; nobody can be sacrificed in your name…”
In my decades of higher education, I’ve seen many educators try, so hard, to stop the plunder, to get our Poo Bahs to act with integrity…only to be mercilessly slaughtered. Honest, the kind of people that would take advantage and hurt our children with such impunity are not going to be affected in the least by this open letter, and no amount of idealism can change that.
I’ve written before of the incomprehensible edubabble that Poo Bahs use. It’s possible the author doesn’t know about the educationists that are responsible for it, although it’s also possible that “pseudo-intellectuals” is what educationists are called in the UK. It’s an accurate description.
The letter ends with a comment indicating that our professor here isn’t naïve at all:
“…PPS. Are you remotely troubled that so many academics are resorting to anonymous writing/blogging to say these things?”
His letter, of course, is anonymous. It’s clear that faculty in the UK have noticed the same thing faculty in the US have noticed: if you dare speak truth to admin about their rapaciousness harming children and education in general, you will be destroyed for it.
I can answer this last question from the British faculty member: if your administrators are anything like the ones in the US, then, no, admin isn’t remotely troubled by faculty now being terrified to speak in public. In fact, they’re likely proud of destroying free speech in every form on campus.