October 08, 2003

Tenured Faculty: Governors or Governed?

In an earlier, more civilized era, the distance between the faculty and the administration was small. Administrators came from the ranks of faculty and returned to faculty ranks when their terms of service were over. These administrators understood both faculty and students because they were not far removed from the classroom. In fact several of the better ones continued to teach some even as they served in their administrative positions. However, in these days when institutions of higher education must be managed rather than led, many of our administrators have been trained as professional managers rather than as teachers and scholars. They are not all that comfortable talking with faculty members, and they are even less comfortable involving us in the decision making process. In the old days we were asked, now we are told. Academic Senate Retreats and Faculty Days are intended to cushion the blow. We are told, but we are told in a way intended to make us think that we are part of the process, rather than just cogs in the machinery.

-- Mark H. Shapiro (aka "The Irascible Professor"), "The Bachelor's Degree -- A New Entitlement?"

Where sit tenured faculty in the Great Chain of Being of that most perfect and complete universe that we call the modern university? Somewhere between the angels and the beasts, obviously, but where exactly do we locate that somewhere?

When I read the above-linked column, I was struck by the Irascible Professor's prefatory remarks, and especially by the observation that "we are told, but we are told in a way intended to make us think that we are part of the process, rather than just cogs in the machinery." This seems to confirm an observation I made some time ago, in the admittedly rhetorically excessive "Reconciling Corporate and Academic Cultures": Let's Bowl!. Here I suggested that the proponents of a reconciliation between academic and corporate cultures were not so much arguing for "a reconcilation between these two different sets of values" as they were proposing that "proponents of academic values reconcile themselves to the inevitable replacement of academic by corporate values."

In "Union In, Governance Out," Scott Smallwood reports on a recent development at the University of Akron, where the Board of Trustees quietly (without any prior warning and without any public debate) passed a series of amendments which "gutted" faculty governance:

There was little discussion. The motion was made and passed, and the meeting adjourned. Mr. Sheffer [professor of biomedical engineering and chairman of the Faculty Senate], says he went immediately to one of the staff members and asked what just happened. He was handed a packet of papers detailing the changes. This was not some minor change or technical detail. The amendments took away professors' say in the selection of deans and department chairs. One change eliminated the Faculty Senate's planning-and-budget committee; another altered the rules governing a financial crisis, substantially reducing the faculty's role.

Faculty governance at Akron, some say now, was gutted, and without a word of debate. 'Wouldn't it have been nice if we even knew this was coming up?' Mr. Sheffer says.

The changes were made in response to faculty unionization:

The reason for the change: The faculty members' selection of a union to represent them. So, depending on where you sit at the negotiating table, this was either an outrageous retaliation against professors for creating the union or it was essentially a legally required preparation for the first bargaining session. One national union official calls it 'retrograde behavior.' Akron's administration maintains that the changes had to be made because they dealt with issues that can be brought up in bargaining.

Given the fact that over 30 percent of full-time faculty at 4-year colleges and universities have been unionized for many years, and this while continuing to participate in faculty governance, it's hard to believe the administration's line that these changes were a necessary response to unionization. Still, I think it would be disingenuous to deny that unionized faculty stand in a different relationship to administrators than do non-unionized faculty. Does unionization replace a collegial with an adversarial relationship? Or does it rather represent a response to what is already an adversarial relationship? John Hebert says it's the latter:

'We have sort of moved over time from what would be considered a collegial form of governance to a corporate structure,' says John Hebert, a professor of management, who is president of the local union. 'We were treated as factory workers rather than professionals.'

Now, with the trustees stripping much of the faculty's governance role, a certain pretense has dissolved, according to several professors. 'They were actually just coming around from the facade,' Mr. Hebert says of the decision. To him, it is as though the trustees were saying: 'We don't really care about your opinion, so we'll put it on the record.'

Factory workers rather than professionals? Yes, quite. Once again, tenured faculty would do well to look at casualization/adjuntification not as something that is happening to those unfortunate others in some other realm of being but rather as something that is happening to their own profession.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at October 8, 2003 09:44 AM

I remember thinking this about high school teachers decades ago. Principles and superintendants had a different education and were on a different career track and kept most of their relationships with teachers pretty perfunctory. Coming from a warehouse job I scarcely noticed a difference in labor-management relations. The faculty lunchroom was just like every other employee lunchroom -- poorly lit, undecorated, etc.

It's just a rule that primary production workers are outranked by middlemen and management. When I went to the central admin building, even the low-ranking admin people condescended to mere teachers.

So now its migrating down.

Posted by: Zizka at October 8, 2003 10:59 AM

I mean migrating up.

Posted by: Zizka at October 8, 2003 11:00 AM

John Herbert thinks faculty members are being treated as "factory workers" rather than "professionals" because the university has adopted a "corporate structure."

I'm not here addressing the question of whether these structural changes are good, bad, inevitable, or whatever--but I find Herbert's comment rather remarkable, especially coming from one who is a professor of management.

Surely Herbert knows that not everyone in a corporation is a "factory worker" or a service-industry equivalent thereof. Many are professionals, some are themselves managers and executives on various levels..and I suspect that the role of a professor under a "corporatized" management structure is far more like that of a corporate lawyer or financial analyst (for example) than that of a factory worker.

If Herbert thinks the corporate world is so degrading, why is he spending his career training people to enter it?

Posted by: David Foster at October 8, 2003 11:04 AM

"Does unionization replace a collegial with an adversarial relationship? Or does it rather represent a response to what is already an adversarial relationship?"

I tend to see the collegial process as inherently adversarial. That being said, in terms of contingent faculty, there can be no collegiality because collegiality, first and foremost, implies equality -- which no contingent faculty have.

Unions whose members are all contingent people end up vying not just with administration (often made up of tenured faculty) but with tenured faculty's unions.

Unions whose members are mixed tenured and contingent are frankensteins: the contingent membership hopes that the tenured membership understands and cares enough about their problems to vote in clauses to help them. The result? Indentured servitude.

IMHO, it is difficulty for a faculty union to avoid corruption when its own membership also fills positions in administration. Some unions and colleges have regulations to combat this kind of corruption, but show me a policy that ever really changed cronyism.

Posted by: Academy Girl at October 8, 2003 11:11 AM

at my institution, there has been a decade long shift from a model where faculty dominanted governance to one where the administration dominates faculty.

the administration decided it will handle the entire tenure evaluation process (with only department heads involved) several years before I arrived. at this point, even symbolic gestures of faculty governance are being undercut.

ironically, a major tool that administrators are using to fight unionization is that such a move would not be "collegial". What a word!

Posted by: better left nameless at October 8, 2003 11:23 AM

I fear it would take the brain cells of Hercule Poirot to figure out "Who Killed Faculty Governance?" and the answer may well be "they all did." Around my institution there are still a few souls who remember when "Dean X and a single secretary" was all the administration needed, a golden era when the faculty self-governed in a perfection not seen since Plato imagined the good republic.
But, times changed. Paperwork has increased exponentially. Do faculty want to take over the reporting duties to how many layers of national, state, and other oversight institutions? do faculty want to juggle the accounting of multiple funding and expense streams? No? well, then what part of governance do they want that they don't have? In most cases, once a decision to permit a hiring is made (and around here there is faculty input [through an elected committee] on which departments may hire) the department is in charge... and in most cases, while there's a hierarchy of approvals for tenure decisions, the department is still a powerful voice] Meanwhile, faculty time and energy for most other faculty governance functions has waned--people would rather (or are forced to) spend more time on research/publication activities, or find family life more demanding (especially in two-worker couples, and are there any other kind?)--even as the committee work (technology committee, student appeals, whatevery) has increased.

Or, perhaps it's just that many college faculties are now larger than the house of representatives, and to think that such a body could "self govern" without an enormous staff is highly unrealistic.

But maybe this would be a great time for faculty to stand up and offer to take on more governance responsibilities. In most state-funded institutions, funding has decreased and won't be returning to former levels. How will the decisions get made about how to deal with the new budgetary realities? Are faculty senates ready to have discussions about what departments are downsized or how else the college/university can deal with budget reductions?

I guess I'm not so sure that (most) faculty really have the will to govern. They don't seem to be able to govern their disciplines: they haven't been able to come to any agreement about any of the issues most pressing and pertinent to the disciplines--the goals of graduate education and the number of graduate programs/students; the role of adjuncts; or even how to deal with plagiarism within the ranks of the tenured...

Posted by: sappho at October 8, 2003 02:36 PM

"Surely Herbert knows that not everyone in a corporation is a "factory worker" or a service-industry equivalent thereof. Many are professionals, some are themselves managers and executives on various levels..and I suspect that the role of a professor under a "corporatized" management structure is far more like that of a corporate lawyer or financial analyst (for example) than that of a factory worker."

Posted by: David Foster at October 8, 2003 11:04 AM

In my experience many are managers, but there are very few 'professionals', if the word 'professional' is used to mean anything other than 'white collar worker with a bachelor's degree.

Most of the people in a corporation are employees, nothing more. The term 'professional' has been hijacked, like 'collegial'. Instead of somebody saying, 'I won't do that, it's not professional', management says 'you're not being professional'.

And most managers are in a similar situation. Their job is to pass on orders and coordinate obediance to those orders, with a little flexibility (but not much). The role of a tenured professor under corporatized governance is that of a unionized white collar employee, with a title. The role of an adjunct is that of a non-unionized temp worker (albeit under better physical conditions than a factory).

Posted by: Barry at October 9, 2003 09:35 AM

I never understood the concept of "governance" as it pertains to university employment. This term is not applicable in any other sector of the economy as far as I am aware. Teachers do not participate in "governance." Corporate workers do not participate in "governance." Even government workers do not participate in "governance"!

So, what does this term actually mean? By what grace are university faculty given policy-making power over the direction of the institution that employs them? And how are they held accountable for that power? "Governance" appears frequently to coincide with "ungovernable"--the faculty does what it wants with no accountability to anyone. Even high-level managers and executives in a corporation are accountable to someone--to a board of directors, to shareholders, etc. Perhaps the movement to eliminate faculty "governance" is simply a movement to introduce accountability into a group of employees that has never experienced it before.

Posted by: Kevin Walzer at October 9, 2003 11:54 AM

I think Sappho is absolutely right. Most faculty don't like administrative duties. They are happy to be rid of them. But this may be shortsided happiness because without the duties there is little power.

Posted by: Roger Sweeny at October 9, 2003 01:56 PM

Kevin, 'governance' is another word for 'management'.

Posted by: Barry at October 9, 2003 03:01 PM

Barry...you say: "And most managers are in a similar situation. Their job is to pass on orders and coordinate obediance to those orders, with a little flexibility (but not much)."

I don't think this is a very accurate representation of the way that management jobs in most corporations actually work. Consider two fairly common jobs:

1) Regional sales manager. Decides who to hire and fire; what customers to focus on; what approach to take with each; what discounts to extend (usually within specified limits); negotiates with engineering/manufacturing on special feature requests. What "orders" is he "passing on" (other than the highly generic one of "get us revenue"?)

2) Brand/product manager. Decides what product improvements are necessary; negotiates these with
engineering/manufacturing; decides on marketing programs for the product line; recommends pricing (often in collaboration with a specialized pricing-analysis group). Again, what are the "orders" being passed on (other than the generic "profit is better than loss" and possibly some overall corporate marketing themes?)

In most cases, things are more horizontal and less vertical than your comment would suggest.

Posted by: David Foster at October 9, 2003 05:12 PM

Regarding the hijacking of the word "professional", in 1967 working for a McDonald's I was told that I would have to dress and behave "professionally". This basically meant "businesslike", "according to the job description", etc. It included smiling at customers who were total strangers regardless of whether you felt like smiling. I think that it ultimately meant "identifying yourself with the job while at work". It excluded getting very friendly to the customers you had to smile at.

Posted by: Zizka at October 9, 2003 07:29 PM

David, I was basing this on experience in two industries - pharmaceuticals and automotive. And in talking with people, I was never in the really tightly controlled end of either. Things are much more constrained than the business magazines would suggest. The two examples that you give seem to be at the high end of middle management.

Posted by: Barry at October 9, 2003 08:56 PM

"high end of middle management"--maybe, but if you make it a branch manager (first-level sales manager) instead of a region manager I don't think the nature of the responsibilities is that radically different...and that would be the low end of management in that function.

My comments are based on experience and the experience of friends, not on business magazines. I'm sure there are huge differences between companies and industries, and there are certainly still plenty of control freaks out there, but I don't think things are generally as bad as your original comment seemed to suggest. Those who are obsessed with control (both at the corporate and individual levels) are putting themselves at a competitive disadvantage, and Darwinian effects will operate...

Posted by: David Foster at October 9, 2003 09:37 PM

David, my comments are based on experience, also. As for the competitive disadvantage to high levels of control, many times they are outweighed by the competitive advantages of high levels of control.

Posted by: Barry at October 10, 2003 01:26 PM