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.
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.
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.
Shared Governance: Democracy Is Not an Educational Idea
From Change March/April 2007
A Faculty-Administrator in the Midwest
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!
a perplexed Mighty Favog
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).
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!
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.