The Dean Debacle


The Dean Debacle and the Centralization of Power

Even as teaching faculty in the United States are under assault from every direction, there are those who come from the tenured faculty yet curry favor with the executive administration and sell out their colleagues’ best interests in favor of their own: the lighter teaching loads, significantly higher salaries, increased political power, perceived enhanced campus prestige, or some combination thereof, that comes with a deanship. Regrettably, too few of those who enter the “dark side” (a common euphemism for college and university administration) do so with the best interests of the faculty, and therefore the students, in mind.

In a previous post, I outlined the problem of administrative bloat in U.S. higher education and highlighted the salary differences between faculty members and administrators. In this respect, most colleges and universities now resemble businesses with bottom lines and clear hierarchies more than traditionally decentralized hubs of inquiry governed (from the bottom up) by the faculty. Moreover, like the managerial class everywhere, college and university administrators seek to lower the costs of labor (by using contingent faculty) and to gain ever-increasing levels of productivity from their workers (i.e. the “maximum deployment of resources” in university business speak).

Gaya Tuchman observes that deans, who are faculty members, “like to be seen as go-betweens, standing up for departmental colleagues, not as obedient bureaucratic functionaries,” when in fact they most often “do what they are told” by the provost (who enjoys the power to dismiss them). One byproduct of the erosion of the authority of deans to run their colleges as they see fit, combined with the proliferation of administration more generally, has been the creation of a commodious pool of increasingly itinerate assistant, associate, and full deanlings who, in acquiescing to the agendas of a business-minded upper administration, are betraying the faculty members they are supposed to be representing.

In higher education in the United States today, Toby Miller points out in “Blow up the Humanities“, there exists a “new type of conformity to national and international governmentalization and commodification in which faculty devote vast amounts of time to filling out forms describing what they have done, are doing, and intend to do” while a new class of unaccountable evaluators has emerged to police them. In other words, the forces propelling the well documented decline of American higher education are structural and come from inside, as well as from outside, the academy.

Tragically, Gaya Tuchman concludes, American colleges and universities no longer aim “to lead the minds of students to grasp truth; to grapple with intellectual possibilities; to appreciate the best in art, music, and other forms of culture; and to work toward both enlightened politics and public service. Rather, they are now to prepare students for jobs. They are not to educate, but to train.”

One way to counter this well entrenched movement towards the corporatization of university administration is to empower the faculty by increasing two-fold or more the number of tenured and tenure-track positions across the nation. Only tenured faculty members possess the protections needed to resist the impositions of centralized power.

Of course, simply on moral grounds we should object to the use of contingent faculty (adjuncts, lecturers, instructors, visiting assistant professors). However, as parents, we also want faculty who are fully invested members of their institutions teaching our children. As students, we want all of our professors to enjoy the same opportunities for professional development and to be paid a fair living wage for their work.

Demand more tenure-track appointments at your college or university! Make the choice to attend an institution that invests in you by investing in the faculty!



Copyright © 2014 Mark S. Ferrara, All rights reserved.

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