Thoughts on No University Is an Island, Part 3.

8 02 2010

The administrators who run my university are all very nice people who I’m quite certain do not read this blog. If they did, I don’t think they’d object this characterization of them: they’re nonetheless pretty typical. By that, I mean they prefer to make decisions by themselves rather than gather, let alone seriously consider, faculty input.

I’m not sure I really understood how typical my university administration is until I went to my first AAUP Summer Institute last summer. Most notably, I went to a session on budgetary shared governance and instantly realized, “My university doesn’t operate that way at all!” It was an epiphany and a radicalizing moment all rolled into one.

In No University Is an Island, Cary Nelson explains why no budgetary shared governance is a bad thing (p.77):

“The only longstanding faculty consensus is underfunded. That complaint plays poorly in the public sphere, in part because the public is at least vaguely aware that some higher education enterprises are very well funded, just as they are aware that some faculty and administrators are handsomely rewarded. Tenured faculty members need to focus on how universities spend the money they have. The moral implications of budgeting–including the ruthless exploitation of some employees–needs to be addressed if we are to have any credibility.”

[Emphasis added]

It’s not just a credibility issue. The exploitation of contingent faculty degrades the entire profession of college teaching. As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, hang together or we’ll all hang separately.

As Nelson explains, the failure of shared governance is one thing that the contingent and the tenure-track have very much in common (p. 93):

“At present, the two worlds–with and without tenure–seem sharply divided. Yet in some critical respects they are becoming steadily more similar. The most critical cultural overlap is in administrative impatience with the element of faculty authority in shared governance. In too many elite institutions faculty have carelessly let thorough faculty oversight over programmatic development, budget allocation, and educational mission wither. Administrators have filled the vacuum and are increasingly frank in their contempt for the delays inherent in the democratic process. We have learned too often that when the bedrock of shared governance crumbles, erosion of academic freedom follows.”

Nelson makes a similar point elsewhere that I’ve heard the AAUP’s Gary Rhoades make well. Faculty might actually have some expertise in areas that university administrators need to understand in order to make these decisions. In other words, shared governance isn’t just about protecting faculty rights, it’s about making the university run better.

I wonder what the counterargument to that would be because I can’t think of one.

PS Part One of this series is here. Part Two is here.




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