Thursday, February 13, 2014

Flush The Administration, Part 3

By Professor Doom

Admin:     “Congratulations to our new dean. It was a long process, but worth it to find such a leader!”

--Many administrative positions are chosen after months of faux interviews. Time and again I’ve seen those appointments ultimately go to close personal friends of administration already on campus, often over serious objections from faculty. Despite the long interview process, often these new administrators have totally bogus degrees (as opposed to the basically bogus administration degree).

     A few post back I proposed a serious change to higher education, again just a reversion to the system of education that made higher education in the US respectable: administrators are chosen from faculty, for short appointments, to return to faculty afterwards. I want to talk more of this.  
     After he’s served his time as dean or whatever, the faculty member will in turn be available to train his replacement while he returns to honest work educating or researching. Over a decade or two, campuses will be filled with faculty with the knowledge to do most basic administrative functions, functions which truly do not require Ph.D.-level understanding, since they have nothing to do with teaching or research. Faculty performing administrative work and then returning to faculty positions used to be common in the past, and it needs to be common again.

     There are some limits to how far this can go, but the organizational structure of any campus should have many, if not most, administrators coming from, and returning to, faculty positions. Only administrative positions with specialized skills that absolutely cannot be filled by faculty (eg, accounting or legal) would not have this turnover—but these are positions that have no real impact on the primary purposes of institutions, education and research. A faculty member that wants to devote his life to administration might be able to do so, but only at the tolerance of the other faculty repeatedly renewing the administrative part of the contract; the would-be administrator will be under constant pressure to do a good job to keep his position if he wants it. This is a vastly better deal than today, where administrators, no matter how bungling, can only either keep their positions or move further up the ladder.

    This pressure will also keep administrative salaries from skyrocketing, as there will always be many candidates suitable for the position, right on campus. Short contracts would help institutions avoid repeating the mistake of letting these mercenaries take over the system again. This would vastly reduce administrative abuses and bring integrity back into the system.

     Certainly, there will be some faculty that will take advantage of these administrative positions, doing a terrible job in their year of servitude in exchange for extra money. Bad administrators are already a problem as it is, and can do great harm in their years of unstoppable power (check my long series on administrative corruption for more on this). In a system of rotating administrators, all that would happen is the bad administrator would be gone in a year or two, and paid much less than before. This is vastly superior to the current situation, and the eventual return to a faculty position will provide a check on power and abuse that is nonexistent now.

     Make many administrative positions short-term positions filled by faculty at the institution and have them return to a faculty position afterwards. This will prevent administrative undermining of education, and allow the administration to do something they haven’t done in a long while: act with integrity.

     A question arises: what of administrators with those expensive doctoral degrees in “administrative leadership of institutional advancement integrity utilization”? You probably think I’m kidding about such degrees.

“Educational Leadership and Management, Curriculum and Instruction, Instructional Design for Online Learning, Leadership for Higher Education, Leadership in Educational Administration, Post Secondary and Adult Education, Professional Studies in Education, Training and Performance Improvement, General Public Administration…”

--Sampling of doctoral administrative degrees, just at one accredited institution (one I’ve seen with my own eyes doesn’t ask much for that doctorate). Wouldn’t you rather someone with a doctoral degree in Physics set up the curriculum and instruction for Physics, rather than someone with a doctoral degree in Curriculum and Instruction? In what field would you NOT trust an expert in the field to do something like that?

     I’m hard pressed to have much sympathy for these folk. They suckered in so many students for bogus degrees, burying them in debt, that it really seems like some sort of justice that their own resources spent on education were also a waste.

      With top administrators no longer owning complete control over educators’ very existence, the administrators won’t be able to threaten and browbeat faculty into supporting the numbers of students needed to cover administrative pay. There will be little choice but for administrators to cut back on administrative and support positions, hopefully bringing it back to levels before the administrative takeover of higher education, back to when a college degree was distinctly worth more than a high school diploma.

      Again, this is an “easier said than done” fix. Administrative strangleholds on hiring have made spinelessness and sycophancy common traits among faculty, making this change tough to implement via a country-wide strike. I’m not the first to call for such a mass protest, but due to the corruption of graduate education flooding the market with pseudo-graduate (i.e., joker-education) degrees, scabs would quickly come in to replace those few with the integrity to try to save higher education.

     It’s not hopeless, and allow me to present a parallel.

--Michael Phelps has won this many gold medals at the Olympics, a face-stomping record, above all others. He’s made millions in endorsement and promotional deals from it. As an added bonus, there’s good evidence that he’s very comfortable using marijuana. The government’s claim of “it’s bad for you, so it must be illegal” sounds a little shrill when an athlete of such titanic stature can use it with obviously minimal drawbacks. The idiocy of the drug war is for another essay, if not another blog.

    Recall that, for years, participants in the Olympics were forced to not be professionals in their field of expertise. The greatest athletes of humanity were forced to live in poverty, little more than slaves dependent upon handouts. Then the rules changed so that athletes were allowed to use their athleticism to support themselves (shocker!). 

     Why the change?

     At long last, Olympic rules were changed to that athletes were given some influence, just 20% on each governing board, over how the games were run. The very first thing athletes asked was permission (!) to be allowed to make money as an athlete, and people of integrity granted it. That was over a decade ago, enough time for any negative effects of the change to show up. Have the Olympics become utterly meaningless because of this change? Of course not, and now our best athletes no longer live as beggars.

      The greatest sign of faculty’s lack of control over education is that the majority now work as minimally paid adjuncts, qualifying for welfare even as vast sums flow into higher education. It’s little different than those starving Olympic athletes of many years ago.

      As faculty, I’m asking permission for higher education to have foundations based upon integrity again. If just a few people of integrity can change the Olympics, why not higher education? It’s not as hopeless as it seems.

     Think about it.


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