By Professor Doom
It’s so funny watching higher education in the UK slide into the pit, embracing the same failed structures that did so much harm to higher education in the US. Wasn’t anyone paying attention?
It seems every time I read an article about the failure of higher education in the UK, it’s familiar to me: it’s always something I saw with my own eyes in the US, a decade ago if not earlier.
A recent article talks about how workers in higher ed would love to be able to communicate to the administrators ruling the place:
Secretly? This is one of the problems with higher ed: you cannot talk to your boss, you cannot prevent your boss from making a huge mistake, you cannot prevent your school from doing terrible things to the students…the best you can do is make random, secret, comments. If you go public, you’ll be fired and your career destroyed. So, let’s see what faculty would like to tell the Poo Bah in the UK today (and by extension, what faculty in the US would have liked to have told their Poo Bah’s ten years ago). They will say these things anonymously, of course:
Lecturer: “Universities are the playthings of people who think they’re businessmen”
I remember when the first boatload of self-proclaimed “titans of industry” first waddled on campus in their fancy suits to force the student-as-customer foolishness down our throats. They uttered their pronouncements about how things were to be done “going forward,” how resources were to be “utilized,” about “metrics” and “dashboards” in their diabolical corporate-speak.
They honestly acted like the growth of the universities was their doing, that bringing a school from 1,000 students to 10,000 students required every bit as much talent as creating a successful business from scratch.
I sure would have loved to explain to these fatheads that all the growth in higher education’s student base was due to a student loan scam that gave money to anyone willing to ask for it…no talent required at all, and certainly no need for all the corporate pabulum.
But, in my experience, senior management are usually looking to their own careers, rather than to their institution. There’s a cycle of innovation and hype every couple of years as a new batch of managers come in and decide how to leave their mark.
This is the key change to higher education. In years past, the administrators actually were promoted from the school’s faculty (and often returned to that status after a few years). They were invested in the school and weren’t there to sell out as much of the school’s reputation as possible before moving on to bigger acts of plunder at other schools.
And, that’s what faculty in the UK are seeing now. I imagine soon someone there will figure out that the Vision for Excellence plans that each school slaps together anew every few years are rubbish…but yeah, I’ve been there, done that.
Universities are the playthings of people who think they’re businessmen, but who don’t actually have the skills.
Yeah, no kidding. How many times have I pointed out the breathtaking incompetence of our rulers in higher ed? I suspect in a few years there’ll start to be an outcry over how these buffoons’ careers skyrocket no matter badly they screw up. But, yeah, been there, done that.
They’ll increase student recruitment as far as possible, and then cut services and sack staff. In my university, when academics tried to call a halt to student recruitment, we were overridden by management. They do not listen to us. They have completely different priorities and don’t have to live with the consequences.
Poor guy, he just doesn’t get it: admin are there to increase student enrollment, nothing else. They move up by stepping on your face, so, yeah, they’re going to step on your face. Every time. “Don’t have to live with the consequences” is key, because this is why admin do such horrible things. They’ll just be moving on to another school soon, so cares if the place becomes a joke? Only the people left behind will feel the shame. Again, if we drew, and kept, administrators from, and on, campus, this wouldn’t be such a problem.
Trouble is, there’s an end game: soon most all campuses are jokes. Granted, at this point administrators will have golden parachutes, but for the people with integrity working at the schools, this isn’t a fun end game. It might well be a decade or two, but the ridiculous student behavior and bizarre riots that are everyday occurrences on American campuses will make their way to the UK at some point, I guarantee it.
“…by virtue of your position, you’re entitled to boss people around. But you have to govern by consent – you don’t get far by shouting at people.”
While I lean Libertarian, one of my issues with it is the lack of empirical success, and more importantly, the empirical success of non-Libertarian activities. “You don’t get far by shouting at people” is basically a Libertarian theory—sounds good, but the reality is everyone in the US’ higher education has been victimized by an entitled boss who, yes, rules through fear and intimidation.
So, empirically, you do go far in higher ed by shouting at people. That quote above doesn’t appear in a vacuum, after all. I again point out these complaints and observations are being made anonymously.
I think there can be some short-sightedness because they’re not here on the ground, talking to students and engaging.
So much confusion and misery by workers on campus could be avoided if we’d just be honest about what the administration is there to do: sucker people into coming on campus by any means possible. No, it’s not their job to talk to students and engage, so stop wasting time thinking things will be better if admin does it. Short-sightedness is a feature, not a bug, in an administrator. It’s always about looting the school as quickly as possible, as many tales in this blog have demonstrated.
There’s been an ongoing insane building spree on US campuses for decades now, building and building and building and building, palace after palace for those highly paid senior staff. I know I’ve pointed out a fiefdom or two with a dozen or so Vice Presidents of Something Or Other And Diversity, making quadruple or more what any actual academics make…absolutely, ten or twenty years ago every faculty on a US campus would have loved to be able to tell the Poo Bahs to stop building palaces and stop creating so many Vice President positions.
And in a few years when tuition in the UK skyrockets and total student debt soars to ridiculous levels…nobody who works on campus in the US will be the least bit surprised.
In the old days, people rose to the top of the pile. Being a vice-chancellor would be your last job at the end of your career. But now people are vice-chancellor for a bit and then they change institutions,
It’s the same complaint, but from a different person. We know there’s something wrong with this system of hiring pirates to come in and plunder and move on, we all saw it years ago in the US, and they’re all seeing it in the UK.
Is there truly no way to stop this cycle from happening again?
I’m sure the gentle reader is wondering how the serfs know about all the administrators coming in and going out…I mean, these guys have nothing to do with education, or students, and there being so many of them, faculty couldn’t possibly keep track of it all, right?
I wish. A commenter explains why faculty know about all these rulers whom they never see or talk to:
It really is weird how every week I receive another notice about another admin leaving, another notice about a new admin arriving. They actually think the serfs care! We don’t, but we’re smart enough to understand the constant stream of shuffling means nobody in the administrative caste cares even a little about the institution.
One of the many dirty secrets about higher ed in the US is how professors don’t really exist. Instead, most college courses are taught by minimally paid adjuncts. This, too, is now becoming part of higher education in the UK, even as there’s plenty of money for more palaces and vice presidents:
Student numbers going through the roof. But hourly-paid lecturing staff outnumber permanent lecturing staff by about 4:1. Stack 'em high and sell 'em cheap...
The pattern here is impossible to miss. Assuming there’s anyone who can change things, I wish the folks running higher ed in the UK who care about human beings could take a peek or two at my blog.