Friday, April 13, 2007


The Chronicle Nails One

It was bound to happen sooner or later. The Chronicle actually nailed one. This piece, by a dean at a Midwestern university, is spot-on. I actually laughed out loud reading parts of it.

The essential truth of it is that educated people with advanced degrees often can’t tell the difference between ‘having input’ and ‘making the actual decision.’ As the author puts it,

I have heard that identical sentiment expressed about almost every conceivable type of academic search. But the sentiment is based on the mistaken belief that a committee -- or an entire department or college -- selects (in effect, "elects" by popular vote) a new hire.


I’ve had variations on that conversation when it comes to promotion, hiring, and even student grade appeals. Some students seem to believe that an appeal isn’t over until the grade is changed; when the appeal loses, they don’t quite get it. So I get to walk them through Procedures 101.

Similarly, any time a faculty committee’s recommendation isn’t enacted immediately and precisely, the accusations of corruption fly. Never mind that the accusations are internally inconsistent – “shared governance doesn’t mean shared with the likes of you” is too obviously self-defeating for anyone to actually say directly. But the assumption is still there.

If a process is actually a process, then any reasonable person has to be open to the possibility that he could have input, and still lose. That’s not impossible. In other contexts, it’s almost insultingly obvious. But somehow, in higher ed, some very sharp people just can’t, or won’t, connect the dots. Losing isn’t proof that your input was disregarded. It may well have been taken seriously. It just didn’t win.

Sorry to keep harping on this. It’s been a draining week. I’ll try for something cheerier next time out.

Is it input if it isn't heard? During a meeting "that is a really good point" contradicting the Dean's narrow focus; in the minutes seen by decision makers " ".
If governance were actually *shared* I don't think people would have a problem with administrators of whatever stripe *sharing* it. At least in my experience, though, "shared governance" can mean I'm on time-sucking committees for months, we make recommendations, and then the administrator(s) in question make decisions based on what they would have preferred whether the committee had a part in the process or not. So then faculty has two choices - either opt out of shared governance because it's a lie, or complain that governance isn't really shared and try to do something about it. So you either have dead weight (something you've bemoaned often) or you have paranoid and combative faculty (which you also seem not to like). But what other option is there, if this is how it's set up? That faculty should just be reasonable and agree with all administrative decisions?

I'm not saying you're wrong, but I am saying that of late you seem not to be able to see a faculty perspective at all.
How quickly we move from disagreement to questioning intentions. Which is really my point in the first place.

A smart administration -- and I'll admit without prodding that these are not universal, or even necessarily common -- will give faculty recommendations considerable deference, to prevent both the dead weight and the crankiness that Dr. Crazy rightly notices are both common and unproductive. 'Considerable' does not mean 'absolute.' Looking at any single decision doesn't tell you much -- you have to look at patterns over time. Assuming that any administrative veto indicates a slippery slope to tyranny is just sloppy (if dishearteningly widespread) thinking.
See also:

Shared Governance: Democracy Is Not an Educational Idea

Stanley Fish

From Change March/April 2007

A Faculty-Administrator in the Midwest
It has been my experience that if the Admin doesn't do what the faculty want, then the faculty's knees collectively jerk. What is often left out of the discussion is that the Admin quite often DOES consider the faculty viewpoint, but for whatever reason, can't go with it. Believe me, there is nothing worse than upset Humanities faculty beating down the door with righteous indignation! No issue is simple and people tend to leave out the facts that contradict their viewpoint.

From my experience, faculty want “shared governance” until the unpleasant tasks arise (budget cuts, removing incompetence, planning, student grievance procedures, fundraising, etc) then the cry from the classrooms and labs seems to be “Administrator, that’s what you get paid to do.”

We once had a faculty member at my cc who continuously fussed about workload. He would look at one school that paid extra for evening classes, and another that would not schedule early morning classes after a night class unless extra pay was included, and a third that only required two office hours per week. He basically shopped the other schools to argue that he should have to work about 50% of his present contract. When I talked to him about the constraints of a small school budget, and asked for his help in determining the best possible solution for everyone considering the finite resources available, he would have none of it. “That’s your job.” The shared governance blade cuts both ways!
I'm a union guy from 'way back, but I agree with you on this one, Dean Dad. "Shared governance" can't happen without shared responsibility. If I were an administrator and my job was on the line, I wouldn't share a damn thing with anybody.

Dead on Dean Dad! (How is that for alliteration?) Shared governance is not shared ADMINISTRATION. Much like the difference between the concepts of leadership and management which many also cannot divine. Apologies for the personal family story, but when vacation time comes, the parental units really want input & full discussion of agreeable family options with the child units. Shared governance. That does not necessarily mean the process did not function when we did not ultimately go to the choice of teenage daughter unit – Disneyland Paris. She did shout, “You always do what YOU want. Why did you even ask me?” Insert pout here.

a perplexed Mighty Favog
Two points:

First, this isn't limited to academia. I've encountered it in publishing, church administration, and high-tech companies.

Second, sometimes the crankiness is earned by the administration. I had one principal (now a superintendent) who would form staff committees, and keep them meeting until they had agreed that she was right. Eventually attendance would drop off (as people had other tasks to do) and the rump left would agree with her, then she presented it to the whole staff as a "shared decision", and told anyone who objected "you should have mentioned that earlier when you had input" (even if they had, repeatedly).
This reminds me of a favorite quote from _The Princess Bride_, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means" ---- maybe it would help to have people sit down and actually define what "governance" means and what assumptions they make about it (of course, if you actually tried to implement this, I'm sure people who'd been there awhile would just get pissed off that you were condescending to them or assuming they were stupid).
*Hugs for a cheerier Dean Dad*

That was an interesting read. I know that it's easy for both sides to feel frustration and alienation from the other and not really put ourselves in their shoes. I admit that I'm as guilty as anyone of railing away at the "damned administrators" who seem to drag their heels or to twist things around. Sometimes they ARE working at cross-purposes, but sometimes they aren't. The difficulty is telling which is which!
'Swar immer so, and not limited to academic procedures: consider the Supreme Court ruling in Bush v. Gore, the extended time to reconsider (but only in the affirmative) the Equal Rights Amendment, and, with longer memories, the Illinois and Texas vote in 1960, and the surrender at Appomattox. Sometimes the only intellectual argument is "It just didn't win. Move on."
I will note that the Anonymous Philip makes Dr. Crazy's point. If you are going to make a decision entirely on your own, based on your own perceived self interest, then you should not waste the time of the faculty to create the illusion of sharing governance. Just do it, take responsibility for it, and move on.

I have no problem with the way shared governance works when it is shared. The President chooses from a list of acceptable candidates whomever s/he prefers. The President does not hire outside of that list, but can reject the entire list. A policy is developed between faculty and admin, approved by faculty, and voted up or down by the Board. All very reasonable.

What is unreasonable is when a Dean (not mine, I might add) uses a committee as cover, to create the illusion that his decision, made when the President says "you can do this, there", was approved by his advisory committee ... when the reality is that few of the procedures and little of the data collection outlined when the committee was formed had taken place before the decision was made.
Okay, so I buy this. I think the problem is that those on the committee get no insight into how the decisionmaker made the decision. If there is a problem in the candidate's background that is discovered, no one on the committee hears that. If it is a personality thing, no one knows that either. Perhaps this reveals my lack of understanding, but why can't the committee hear back from the decisionmaker about his/her reasoning?
LP - I've tried that. The catch is that you never get to tell everybody, and those who hear the original explanation will typically filter it and/or embellish it to fit whatever agenda they're pursuing at any given moment. (The other catch is that some matters are not really disclose-able.) I keep trying, when necessary, but your faculty has to be willing to meet you halfway. Some are, some aren't.
It would be pretty essential for the students to bring around all those values if they really wanted to get success. writing a psychology paper
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