Sunday, September 1, 2013

Entering an Administration Ph.d. program and taking a course...

Let’s All Get Ph.D.s in Administration!


Coursework for administrative degree:


Progressions in Leadership Thought,

Governance and Structures in Higher Education,

Fiscal Management in Higher Education

Strategic Planning and Change,

Leading Across Cultures


     It’s easy to sit back and laugh at administrative incompetence, and sneer at strange degrees in what seem to be silly subjects that sound like titles of self-help books in the discount rack. It’s another to speak from direct observation. Having seen the curriculum, I resolved then to do what accrediting agencies would do if they were really interested in providing legitimacy: see in person that something legitimate is really going on. Curious to see what administration courses are, and not wishing to travel, I elected to restrict my endeavors only to online programs; there are woefully many online accredited graduate programs in Educational Administration, probably more than there are at traditional, “brick and mortar” institutions, so this was not much of a restriction.

     According to accreditation, they’re every bit as good.

     The mythology of graduate school might be less pervasive than for college, but it’s more prestigious. It was a big deal when I applied to mathematics graduate school, decades ago. My high GRE (Graduate Record Examinations, sort of the SAT for graduate school) score, published research, high GPA, and honors program degree from my alma mater wasn’t enough to guarantee admission to graduate school, and I was rejected as often as not.


      “Fill out this form. Next, we’ll need to talk about financial aid…”

      ---The basic requirements for being admitted to a graduate administration program.


     I worried my admittance to an Administration program could not be a sure thing, as my degrees were issued a long time ago, and I have no training or experience in the supposedly academic field of Administration. Were I refused, my research would be inadequate: I would have no way to see with my own eyes what these people learn.

     Thus, I was pleased at being admitted in the very first accredited program to which I applied…or would have been if they’d asked for more credentials than a credit card number. Thinking it was a fluke, I decided to shop around, only to be admitted repeatedly. Being admitted to an Administration graduate school, even a doctoral program, was a snap at the four institutions, all accredited, I applied to. I stopped at four, much like I did for my mathematics programs, years ago. Nobody asked for my GRE, or even cared about anything I did anywhere. I applied as a “freelance writer”, not as faculty, as empty a qualification as could be, and it still made no difference. The only question they wanted to know was if I could get the loan money for it. It was no different than when I applied to Education graduate programs, earlier.


Getting in Was Easy. The Courses Must Be Tough, Right?


“Ellen Elgen Clothes Wringer”


--a lollipop was handed to me by students in some sort of social sciences course, performing some sort of assignment. Taped to the candy were those words. A year later, I found the candy shoved in a corner of my desk, and decided to find out what they meant. Probably, the student wanted me to know about Ellen Elgin, inventor of the clothes wringer. I got hungry, and I tried to get the wrapper off the lollipop,  but couldn’t, so I still have a lollipop with an incorrectly spelled name of an inventor on it. According to accreditation, passing out lollipops is college level work.


     With so many graduate programs, I had my pick of courses to take; almost nothing has prerequisites. Again, this is so different than other graduate schools. I would simply be destroyed if I took “Advanced Calculus II” before taking “Advanced Calculus I.” But in Administration, there is no material that you need to know before taking any course. As long as I was willing to blow nearly $2000 (plus a “technology fee” that could run another $400), I could take any course I wished. Ultimately, I decided on an 8000 level Educational Research Methods course as the best course to illustrate what this degree entails. This course, over all others, was determined as the best choice for several reasons:

     Foremost, this is a very advanced course; doctoral candidates are intended to take this course immediately before writing a dissertation. A doctoral program is, in theory, four years. For undergraduate work, freshman courses are 1000 level, sophomore are 2000 level, and the trend continues to graduate school. Thus, first year graduate courses are 5000 level, second are 6000, and so on. If I chose a lower level course, I run the risk of not seeing the most challenging material in the program. I know that if I walked into a fourth year mathematics graduate course without the previous three years’ preparation, I would simply be blown away (and often was outclassed even with such preparation), so I fully expected to be overmatched here. My friends in medical school, accounting, engineering, and other disciplines assure me mathematics is not the only discipline like this. Thus, an 8000 level course would answer many questions for me.

     Second, this course covers research methods. Time and again I’ve seen Educationists and administrators demonstrate ignorance of even the most basic concepts of statistics and experimental design. Granted, not all researchers are equal in skill, and perhaps I’d just had a 20 year run of bad luck with Educationist and administrative researchers. This course, “Educational Research Methods,” very clearly covers research methods, particularly those needed for a doctorate. It would establish if this critical topic to a social studies researcher is even addressed at the doctoral level.

     Third, this particular course is from a graduate school where at least one person on my campus has received a doctorate, and promotions due to that doctorate. Thus, not only is it an accredited institution, it’s an institution that is considered fully legitimate by administrators. Educationists and administrators are forever clapping each other on the back for each other’s accomplishments, and one suspects they are motivated not to scrutinize each other, lest they draw scrutiny upon themselves. I always took it on faith that they knew what they were doing…it was time for me to cut the cards, so to speak.

     Additionally, I took a Research Methods in Psychology course as an undergraduate, covering in detail many research methods concepts. I remember it being a difficult course that required effort on my part to narrowly get a B (as opposed to a C). Taking an 8000 level course would show clearly if graduate level courses were more difficult than undergraduate courses. I fully expected to be outclassed, but was determined to try my best.

     Finally, I was provided the entirety of the course within the first few days of classes, such as they are. Online courses are extremely easy to document, and I was provided with every page to be read, every assignment to be done, every grading rubric. In short, if I make a claim about what transpires in this course, I know that there is no chance of misremembering or hearsay.

      Even now, with decades of experience in studying mathematics, I would have difficulty in some graduate level mathematics courses. My question for today is, how well does the reader think I will do in the most advanced possible administrative course, when I have absolutely no training or experience in the subject matter?


Think about it.



  1. Equally as ridiculous is someone like my last department head. He didn't have a bachelor's degree in anything but, somehow, managed to get himself an MBA. (I suspect he attended the Department of Photocopying at Boiler Room University.)

    But I was baffled. In a department whose discipline wasn't even remotely related to business, of what use would an MBA be?

    He probably got it because it was an easy degree to obtain. Also, considering how, for many years, the MBA was greatly revered by all and sundry, he might have figured it would give him some credibility with the institution's senior administration as he desperately wanted to become dean.

    It didn't help him as department head, though. He neglected his administrative duties as much after he got the degree as he did before he got it. Maybe that negligence was finally given a pedigree, thereby making it more acceptable.

  2. Yeah, that's another big change in higher education. 20 years ago, the department head came from, well, the department, and thus actually knew what was going on in the department.

    It's still that way in some schools, but many schools now have department heads that come from administration, instead of the department. It's have someone that doesn't have the slightest idea what you're talking about or what you do evaluate how well you do your job.

  3. The DH did come out of the department but he got the job because he was politically well-connected in the institution. However, a large part of his time on the job was spent on matters not connected with the department. He was either working on his pet projects or on leave working with his administrative masters.

    However, he did influence what was taught in the department. Curriculum was determined based on what the advisory committee--which I referred to in an earlier comment--told him. However, I wasn't allowed to teach what he didn't understand. The material had to be about as complicated as a child's colouring book.

    How did he evaluate my performance? In later years, he didn't attend any of my lectures (something about "policing", apparently), so he based it on *anonymous* student evaluations. He trusted those comments because, he claimed, they would be more accurate because the students would express themselves freely without repercussions.

    The place I taught in was a case of Monty Python meets Franz Kafka or George Orwell.