The administrators are the mandate. There may be internecine conflicts over turf and authority within the ruling elite, and there may be different levels of decorum required in executing the mandate depending on the pedigree of the institution and the sophistication of its market. But as for fundamentals, everyone understands and agrees about the path to be taken: administrators are free to govern the university in whatever way they see fit so long as the mandate is furthered.
If this requires some rough play to get the job done, so be it. If it requires, say, serially violating collective agreements to assert dominance and set precedent; or creating new review bodies to undermine existing faculty review bodies and then populating them with administrative plants to get the desired results; or tampering, directly and indirectly, with administrative and faculty hiring committees; or cultivating and compromising Faculty Association leadership; or badgering and abusing recalcitrant professors until they quit or can be fired, or buying off critics of the administration through generous funding of their programs and starvation of others — so be it.
But as Albert Camus once remarked, the quality of an omelet has nothing to do with how many eggs were broken to make it. They are the very foundation of our universities — the hard-won principles of collegial and democratic governance, of a dedication to truth, fair play, and reasonable debate, of freedom of thought, and of the long tradition of our collective wisdom that is now being cavalierly dismantled by people who do not have the wit to understand its meaning or significance for our civilization.
If you think I overstate the consequences of this erosion of the university curriculum, consider the US presidential debates as barometers of the culture.
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Many people were horrified by the debates, regardless of partisan interests. If you think this decline has nothing to do with the decline of genuine liberal arts education, through which students are taught to think deeply and meaningfully about the real human problems of government, justice and reason, and the rise of the all-administrative university in which they are not, think again. So much for political wisdom. And so much for magnanimity and breadth of understanding.
We now have intellectual philistines settling the matter of what our children need to know. Where in this miasma of deculturation will they ever find an image of a genuine statesperson or citizen or of a truly just human being? Nowhere, if the modern administrative university has its way. How did this happen?
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What qualifies administrators to occupy a position of such power? What test have they passed that warrants entrusting them with this level of freedom to act? Why would we deny that freedom to one caste on grounds of potential abuse only to give it to another that lacks the disciplinary context and institutional commitment to ensure it exercises it responsibly? And why would we do so knowing this new caste is hierarchical and managerial by nature and thus lacks the checks and balances of collegial governance that were created precisely to safeguard the university from just this type of administrative encroachment?
Collegial governance is a rule of equals that works by persuasion rather than power and has been the foundation of Canadian university governance for decades. Why throw it out and open up our institutions of higher learning to the very forms of coercion we so actively fought to resist when we founded them? The short answer to this question is that we wanted to. We wanted to because the things we acquired through this new arrangement matter more to us than the things we gave away or lost.
The long answer is more difficult to explain, but perhaps it will become clearer as we tally up how administrators have actually done over the past few decades.
Four areas of the all-administrative university stand out for comment: students, the university curriculum, university governance, and administrative salaries. There is no clearer indication of the nature of the all-administrative university than the condition of its primary constituents — students. By all available metrics, student intellectual performance has declined precipitously as the university administration has ballooned.
Good anecdotal evidence of the trend can be had simply by talking to those who know and love students best — their teachers. It paints a deeply troubling picture of dwindling student capacities for analytic thought, complex reasoning, critical reflection, and writing. The scandal of the diminished condition of our students is only exacerbated by the fact that ever more money is being extorted from them to pay for it.
From to Canadian post-secondary tuition fees increased a whopping percent. In in the United States, , administrators and staffers supported the work of , full-time professors. Today, the proportions have almost flipped. In the all-administrative university we cheat students of a real, substantial education, the most deleterious consequence of which is the erosion of their ability to speak, think, and write seriously about themselves and their world.
So why do they and their parents keep paying when the substantial return on investment is so negligible? What the all-administrative university offers them is not an education but a credential with a market value and ample statistical evidence to demonstrate the necessity of having one if they wish to prosper economically.
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You like that too, right? You like the perks — the world travel, the cell phones, the cheap sweatshop clothes, Netflix and the other opiates, the general comfort?
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All right then, we have an understanding. What we will do for you is ensure our credential affords you an adequate seat at the economic table that will get you your fair share of the plunder. After all, that is in both our interests. One exception to this grim story is how elites educate their own children. There it is all about real human contact, free conversation, and tactile, intellectual, and emotional engagement. It has circles that run from the comparatively delightful home of the philosophers and writers to the darkness of the ninth circle, Cocytus, where the betrayers suffer for their crimes.
Students come to us today ravaged by the irresponsible exploitation of their deepest desires and needs by the economic and technological elites of our world. All the terrifying, heartbreaking, and wonderful human rumblings they feel within themselves starve to death in our classrooms. It is in those darker interstices of experience that people become human beings worthy of the name and begin their long conversation with the world, from which no one knows what beautiful new insight might emerge.
Perhaps it is still so. But the all-administrative university hates silence and reflection and wants students fast and pliable and efficient. Evidence has been mounting that the administrative concern with productivity and commercial application has done as much to ruin science as it has the humanities. Today scientists are forced by administrators and government funding bodies to produce new, exciting research with immediate economic benefits.
In place of genuine scientific knowledge, useful technical applications, and vibrant classrooms, the all-administrative university encourages meaningless scientific hair-splitting, irrelevant findings, technological gimmicks, and research that is frequently unrepeatable and often simply false. Daniel Sarewitz cites Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of The Lancet , to indicate shape and extent of the crisis:. Afflicted by studies with small sample sizes, tiny effects, invalid exploratory analyses, and flagrant conflicts of interest, together with an obsession for pursuing fashionable trends of dubious importance, science has taken a turn towards darkness.
To survive in this milieu scientists have to juke the stats.
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And to do that, something has to give, and that something is the truth. This may not require peddling out-and-out falsehoods, though that too is happening. Rather, it aims at genuine insight into the natural world. Its objects range from a unified field theory to epigenetics to the biophysical life-world of plants. Compared to this type of inquiry, a driverless car or a face-recognition cell phone is merely a technological gimmick — expensive to develop, profitable to sell, requiring lots of very smart people to create, and having far-reaching social implications, but in the end offering little real new insight into life apart from how it might be further exploited.
My guess is most university scientists would prefer to do fundamental research if only they were given the choice. What happens instead? Both are forced to work in a compromised system that kills fundamental science and trivializes technical applications in the name of the administrative not scientific principle of productivity. Instead, scientists are incentivised to be productive and innovative.
Insight in science, as in any other discipline, requires leisure and a free mind. The destruction of the humanities is both similar to and different from that of the sciences. And why is that? One reason for the negligence is simple corruption. Rigor is difficult and unpopular; pandering is easy and pleasant.
And since the whole world panders to students in order to extract from them a portion of their considerable resources, why resist the flow? Better simply to repackage pandering as rigor — e-learning, digital literacies, competency-based programming, personal learning agendas — and simply deny there is a problem. Another reason for the decline is more ideologically driven and more calculating.
Whose universities are they, anyway? – DON AITKIN
Post-bureaucrats are anti-administrative administrators. The new administrative elites want to mine and control the economic, educational, and social resources of society in order create a state that operates not according to the critical, agonistic spirit of traditional democratic politics but the smooth, frictionless movement of a search engine in which all are affirmed in their private dreams without the slightest question being raised as to the personal and collective meaning of these things.
There is perhaps no clearer explanation of the current emptying of post-secondary education. In the traditional world education was necessary to form character and deepen insight so people would be able to act thoughtfully in relation to one another and the world. In that traditional world, who you were and what you knew mattered.
The fact that the all-administrative university no longer cares about these things is not an accident. In the post-bureaucratic world of big data no one is concerned to educate students in the traditional sense because that type of knowledge is no longer what guides decisions, and university administrators know it.