I used to think that line about “herding cats” was funny.

21 03 2011

This is a very nice post from Worst Professor Ever about the evil that is Blackboard. Yet where I want to start is this aside:

I’d noticed something about way admin talks about teachers. I heard a lot of ‘we make teachers do X’; ‘we have teachers do Y’ and, ‘the teachers experience online learning’ or ‘are exposed to web content’ (italics mine, obviously). I don’t think they know they’re doing it, but they treat teachers as dumb herd animals that need to be managed; meanwhile, as I already reported, they happily chirped the news about ‘how excited students were to be in charge of their education.’ No kidding.

I got into academia in part because I don’t want to be managed. It’s not like I’m my own boss, but I’m kind of like the boss of my classroom. I write “kind of” because I’ve been doing this long enough to know that even that is an illusion. If your administration says, “Blackboard it is,” then you have next to no choice in the matter. If they want to stop you from using WordPress because it’s outside of their direct control, then you have no choice in the matter. If they want you rub your stomach and pat your head three times before starting your lecture, you have no choice in the matter.

You can try to stay invisible (like the Cheshire Cat), but if the Queen says “Off with your head!!!,” then your head will go off. Tenure simply means they need to get a bigger axe to make your head roll, but with a little force of will they are still perfectly capable of making it happen. That’s why shaking your fist and screaming about your rights is mostly useless. Even tenured professors have virtually no rights that an administration is bound to respect.* Welcome to nonunion employment in America today. Just be happy they can’t ship your job to China.

This is why I’ve working on cultivating a reputation for principled reasonableness. If professors can explain to administrators what’s in it for them too, then maybe they might actually listen to us. Take Blackboard, for example. We have a contract with Blackboard. Everyone I’ve ever talked to about the system hates it. Therefore, a few of us are about to start training on Moodle, the open source alternative to Blackboard. When we’re comfortable enough with the program, we’ll work our way through the bureaucracy using the argument: “Switching to Moodle will save this university tens of thousands of dollars each year.” I have no idea whether this will work in the end, but with that argument in tow I think we have a fighting chance.

At the very least, I know I won’t get my head chopped off for making the suggestion.

* The exceptions would be if they want to fire you on the basis of your race, gender, age or (maybe) your religion. Even those cases are really, really hard to prove.



One response

21 03 2011
Middle Seaman

It is difficult to compare two universities, especially since yours seems to be public while mine is private. Furthermore, I teach at a school of engineering where the administration is as pigheaded as they come, politics is as cut throat as in Congress, stupidity is endless and nonsense abounds.

Still, as long as I do my job, and bring a lot of grant money, they do react to my frequently open criticism well. Of course, they ignore me, which more than fine with me.

When you try to use Moodle, you talk Martian to the administration; they see the whole universe using Blackoard and don’t understand what your problem is.

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