As a faculty member drawn into administrative service over the past decade, I have witnessed how economic and fiscal challenges have steadily eroded, if not entirely eliminated, the crucial tenets of shared faculty and institutional governance. I see this development as an academic form of the “shock doctrine” eloquently described by Naomi Klein: fiscal crises destabilize a college or university, instilling fear into loyal and dedicated campus constituents who have emotional ties to their institution that go beyond a typical employer-employee relationship. While these fears are understandable, they may escalate into concerns about the very viability of the institution, which is rarely at stake. This anxiety contributes to an environment where the reframing of decision making and governance, in ways that would ordinarily be rejected by the faculty, is presented as urgent and necessary. Under this pressure, decisions are often made quickly by a select few, behind closed doors and with little transparency. Sadly, for me, faculty members often accept and approve of these practices.
I keep hearing the phrase “Your university is not broke” at various AAUP functions, which is probably true. However, more important than that (because it would still apply even if your university is broke) would be “Open the books!”. This way faculty can at least have a chance to understand the root of the problem.
A day or two ago, I ran into this article about the closing of the University of Illinois’ online arm. The system pored $7 million into this stupid idea. Was anybody held accountable? I doubt it, but I’ll bet good money that eventually it will be the students and the faculty who’ll have to pay for that mistake.