“[T]he only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

15 11 2010

So I came back from the AAUP’s conference on shared governance yesterday. I gave a presentation there on our efforts to improve the budgetary process at my university, but what I really wanted to do is hear what everyone else had to say. I learned a ton, but my favorite part was the keynote speech at the very beginning.

The Inside Higher Ed coverage of the event doesn’t really do justice to AAUP President Cary Nelson’s excellent speech. It wasn’t about hating administrators. It was about fearing them. He didn’t quote FDR, but I couldn’t help think about the parallels as rough economic times have everyone cowering in fear about when the next shoe is going to drop. Our first inclination is to thank our administrators for not furloughing us (and if we are furloughed, to thank them for not firing us) when we should be asking, “What can we do together to make sure that the education we’re providing doesn’t suffer?”

That’s shared governance. If the question is put that way, you won’t get fired for asking it. You’ll likely get a lot more committees to sit on, but that certainly beats sitting alone in your office praying that you can make ends meet. Nelson suggested that fear leads to an exclusive focus on self interest, which isn’t good for education. If individuals and departments fall back on protecting turf your administration will run roughshod over you. Fear lets administrations seize power, and that’s seldom good for the bottom line (think football stadiums and online colleges) or education (see same two examples).

If your attitude is constructive rather than confrontational, you can make your university a better place even in these difficult times. Nobody is going to fire you or defund your department if you fight for the interests of instruction over unnecessary administrative bloat and other pet projects. That practically in your job description. More importantly, if you sit alone in your office thinking “I could do this better” the worst case scenario is practically guaranteed.

Sure, there’s a recession going on out there, but you have one of the better jobs in America if you’re a tenure-track faculty member. Yes, I know you’re underpaid, but nobody else but academics have academic freedom and the privilege of tenure to fall back on if they are ever punished for speaking their minds. Besides, what good is academic freedom if you refuse to use it to make your university a better place?



One response

6 12 2010
What do faculty and Walmart workers have in common? « More or Less Bunk

[…] speak at the state AAUP’s annual meeting in Boulder. It was actually the same speech he gave at the shared governance meeting in Washington, D.C., but not exactly the same. Besides, like when you listen to your favorite […]

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