Does anybody go to grad school planning to be an administrator? If the answer to that question is no (and I hope it is), when do people start saying to themselves, “I think I’d make a great Provost.” If there’s any lesson to be learned from Cary Nelson’s No University Is an Island it may be that faculty who don’t want to run universities still need to know something about how universities should work. Otherwise, we’ll have to re-fight battles that the people who came before us already won. As Nelson explains (p. 74):
“The faculty hired in the 1960s and 1970s are being replaced by younger faculty and contingent teachers who have no memory of a time when some administrators could be counted on to defend academic freedom and occasionally do so eloquently. The loss of institutional memory among faculty makes for a wonderful opportunity for higher education’s corporate managers: they can remake higher education without objection from a faculty that does not know the difference.”
This is what underlies Nelson’s case for joining the AAUP. Learn about the way things should be and you can raise alarm bells on your campus as faculty rights slowly slip away. But what if this is one of those frog in boiling water situations?
While tenured people like myself have real concerns (like how I’m going to put my daughter through college on my salary), we’re fat and happy compared to contingent faculty or even community college professors. Here’s Nelson again, from earlier in the book (p. 52):
“Early in 2008, I spent a day with faculty members at Tulsa Community College, which has a vibrant and growing AAUP chapter. My time there brought home to me with special clarity and force some relatively new things. I had of course known that people without PhDs could serve critical roles in local vocational degree programs. What was new for me was to realize what a huge contribution to faculty governance could be made by people coming to academia from nonacademic careers.”
He goes on to suggest that people from outside academia are less likely to stand for the kind of abuse to which most professors have become conditioned. Perhaps people at cc’s might be more rather than less likely to organize than regular faculty because they understand the way employment is supposed to work, especially if they have experience in outside trade unions.
This makes me think of the Socialist I worked with back in 1996 who voted Bob Dole for President “in order to make the revolution come faster. While I’m hoping it doesn’t come to this, perhaps more people in my position might need to understand what it means to be powerless before we can all begin to build a better tomorrow together.