## Monday, August 26, 2013

### Administration in higher education, part 1.

Administration in Higher Education, Part 1

By Professor Doom

Administrator: “There’s no such field as ‘mathematical game theory’, and frankly I’m a little bit angry that you would try to trick me.”

Me: “…”

--- Key to my longevity has been keeping my mouth shut when dealing directly with administrators. There really is such a field, by the way.

These essays started with what one would suppose was the bottom of the campus hierarchy: the students. At long last, it’s time to now look at the unarguable top, those with the power to hire and fire, the ultimate controllers of all things campus-related: the administration.

As a wide-eyed young student in public school, I was in awe of administrators. In public school, the dean was respected, even a little feared as a disciplinarian, and the principal was all-powerful, able to do anything he wanted, or so it seemed to a child.

In college there is still a dean, and in lieu of principal, there are people with awesome titles like vice-chancellor, or even chancellor. My respect of high school authority easily transferred to these titans of the campus.

Administrator: “We need to provide course outlines for Calculus I and Calculus II to another school. Are these ok?

 Calculus I Calculus II The Derivative The Derivative Introduction to Limits Introduction to Limits Continuity Continuity The Derivative The Derivative Power Rule and Basic Differentiation Properties Power Rule and Basic Differentiation Properties Derivatives of Products and Quotients Derivatives of Products and Quotients Chain Rule Chain Rule Marginal Analyses in Business and Economics Marginal Analyses in Business and Economics Graphing and Optimization (rest of outline removed for brevity) Graphing and Optimization (rest of outline removed for brevity)

--note similarities in course outlines between the two courses, prepared by an Educationist. Note that the administrator could not note similarities. I had to spend considerable time convincing the administrator that something was wrong here. As near as I can tell, sequential courses with identical/heavily overlapping curriculum are common in Education or Administration.

Institutions of higher learning were adapting to more of a business model early in my career, and this only increased my respect for the administrators that were becoming more and more visible on campus. Administrators were managers, after all, and the managers I knew from the real world were generally impressive. A McDonald’s manager, for example, can do the job of every employee under him— operate the cash register, cook, maintain the equipment, the manager could literally do everything, so he could take over any employee position. It followed in my naïve mind that administrators were likewise masters of the institution, able to take over the job of any faculty member if need be. This sort of scholarly ability had my respect and awe.

My first Business Calculus class at my current institution started poorly. Administration had ordered the book before I’d been hired, and had selected a graduate level mathematics textbook, suitable for an MBA program. I’d only been handed the book on my way to the classroom. I opened it, and knew there was no way freshmen community college students could handle that kind of material. The first class was brief, and I made a trip to the bookstore to correct the error as quickly as possible.

---In those days, the school was unaccredited, so no student loans…and yet the students had their books on the first day. Now, students don’t have their books weeks into the semester, depending on how long until the checks come in. Either way, administration doesn’t know enough about education in higher education to order books.

I was slow to abandon my innocence. Yes, I saw instance after instance of administrative ignorance, but I just figured they were honest mistakes, of no consequence. Besides, administrators often had Ph.D.s, they were academics, of course I could cut them some slack.

Administrator: “You need to be more clear in your writing on the board. The little numbers, the ones up top?”

Me: “The exponents?”

Administrator: “Yeah, those. You told students that there’s always a one up there, but you don’t always write it. You should always just put a one up there.”

Me: “Thank you.”

---When I do open my mouth to an administrator, it’s usually to say ‘thank you’.

Eventually, over the course of years, the truth finally penetrated my awe-addled skull: these guys can’t do my job, mathematics was out of their ken. Still, they were administrators, with advanced degrees, they must know something, and there are plenty of academic fields that have little math in them.

Administrator: “I’m on this committee now.”

Faculty: “You’re on this committee? Considering this committee is specifically faculty-only, how are you on this committee?”

Administrator: “I put myself here ex officio.”

Faculty: “Ex officio? What does that mean?”

Faculty: “We’d be more comfortable if you weren’t here.”

Administrator: “That’s not going to happen.”

--The surreality of this exchange will not be reduced if the reader, unlike the administrator, knows what ‘ex officio’ means. I had to look it up, too. Of course, I’m not an administrator, and thus wouldn’t immediately know terms about rules of order and committees and such. Administrators don’t need to know, either, apparently.

After, I don’t know, the thousandth time I was told to increase retention even when it was clear that doing so would not be in the best interests of an honest institution, one thing became clear: I did not understand the job of an administrator.

I set out to learn what such a job is all about. The job descriptions of college administrators, for example, deans, are loaded with the corporate-speak. Consider this snippet from a position advertised on The Chronicle of Higher Education, for a “Campus Dean of Student Services” position some time ago:

The ideal candidate must demonstrate progressively responsible higher education work experience in student services, preferably within a community college. Proven leadership in a large, complex organizational setting, preferably within a community college. Demonstrated knowledge of contemporary theories and practices affecting student services and academic programming. Demonstrated understanding of and commitment to the community college philosophy and student development. Ability to coordinate the division's service programs with other college divisions and offices so as to be responsive to the needs of a diverse student population. Proven ability to work as a team player, appropriately exhibiting a positive attitude, a sense of humor, and the ability to tolerate and flourish in an environment characterized by multiple complex factors, competing priorities, ambiguous situations, and resource challenges. Ability to supervise and evaluate assigned staff while building a highly effective working team, Excellent written and verbal communication skills. Ability to interpret and apply college policies and procedures; ability to resolve issues, resulting in mutual respect and tolerance for varying points of view. Knowledge of and ability to utilize administrative applications of information technology. Demonstrated skill in managing budgets, equipment, and other institutional resources. Master's degree in higher education, student affairs or closely related field from a regionally accredited college or university. A Doctorate is preferred.

This isn’t the whole description, by the way. Note how the advertisement begins: “progressively responsible…work experience.” A candidate for this position will, as a matter of course, have viewed all previous positions as stepping stones for this new position. While not explicit in the advertisement, this position, too, will be considered a stepping stone. This is common to the business world—every job is another step up the corporate ladder, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

This point of view, of course, is alien to an educator, who seeks to help people gain knowledge; the concept of sucking students dry and moving on just doesn’t register to a person with integrity.

Sally Clausen, Louisiana's higher-education commissioner, announced on Tuesday that she was resigning, less than a month after revelations that she had quietly retired from her post and then been rehired in order to collect a lump-sum payment… it was revealed that Clausen retired in August from the \$425,000-a-year job, then was rehired within a day — getting a \$90,000 lump-sum payment in the process, for unused vacation time and sick leave. She also will begin receiving a \$146,400-a-year pension in less than two months.

---Former president of a large institution in Louisiana. This is where all the tuition money goes, folks. The student base vastly expanded under her watch there, and all educational standards were annihilated; faculty that complained went elsewhere. Her “success” at that institution was parleyed into becoming higher education commissioner, leading to more opportunity for plunder. For comparison, the Governor of Louisiana has a 2013 salary of \$130,000, not even matching the “bonus” pension of this education administrator. Should the guy running a whole state receive a tiny fraction of the pay of someone running some small aspect of education in that state? This is where the tuition goes…

Of course, in business, one usually goes up the corporate ladder because of successful financial decisions. I’ve seen many administrators come through, establish destructive programs, sacrifice institutional prestige in the name of retention, self-declare the programs a success no matter how abominable they are, plunder the institution in any way possible…and move on and up the ladder, going to some position of even more power, influence, and especially pay. Meanwhile, those with loyalty to the institution, or standards, are left to deal with the consequences of these vagabond pirates.

Citizen: “I know your CFO. I hear she’s doing very well for herself.”

Me: “Yes, she sure is.”

--the Chief Financial Officer was allowed to redefine her job description, greatly increasing her pay for doing the same job she had always been doing. Since her job was now so important, she moved on up the ladder to elsewhere in the system, for more, more, more. Other administrators did the same. I wish I could re-define my position for higher pay.

The rest of the advertisement for the position is a tsunami of corporate-speak: leadership-this, organizational-that, team-player hood, positive attitude possession, and the obligatory excellent verbal and written communications skills. It’s a painful read, but for such an important and extremely high paying position, all those words are necessary to describe the job, I suppose. Advertisements for positions like mine barely take a paragraph.

Then comes the education requirements: a graduate degree is required, in fields I’ve never heard of. A doctorate is preferred.

Wait, what?

Scroll back up and read it again: a doctorate. These guys are managers, and years of dealing with them showed me that their knowledge and respect for knowledge was minimal. And yet they need the highest possible educational degree for their positions. Next will be my investigation of what these doctorates entail, but until then, should an advanced higher education research degree really be necessary or “preferred” for positions that require less knowledge and skill than what is necessary to manage a McDonald’s? Should tuition be paying ten to forty times as much as for a McDonald’s manager for such positions?