Monday, May 05, 2014
Seeing the Dog
Until faculty and staff see the dog, it’s all too easy to assume that administrators are just driving recklessly. (To be fair, some probably are.) Shared governance or crowdsourcing works best with a shared context. Without that, constituent politics and worse are probably inevitable.
Your "day of data" is great, but it needs to be done at least a week before any discussions if you want meaningful feedback. Understanding some of the greatest experimental discoveries in physics did not occur as fast as is depicted on TV or in textbooks, and the situation a college is in more complex than particle physics.
1) Share any methods for speeding that process up; or
2) Justify its glacial pace.
But as Matt points out, I was really unaware of that dog in the road. I came to realize that administrators are not really evil people, that they are heavily constrained by the rapidly increasing costs of a college education. The reason why it seems that administrators only think about money is because just about everything a college or university does costs money, and that this money has to come from somewhere.
The reasons for the increased costs are legion. Colleges and universities are now confronted with a long list of government-imposed rules and regulations, most of which are unfunded mandates. The rules imposed by FERPA, the details of student financial aid, the need to accommodate people with disabilities, etc, all require a whole host of administrators and staff to keep the regulators happy. The accrediting agencies seem to impose a whole bunch of additional requirements, all of which require extra staff and cost a lot of money. Schools now need to hire a whole staff just to handle the details of outcomes assessment, the latest academic fad. The costs of medical insurance and pensions seem to increase every year. A lot of money has to be invested in technology—computers, smart classrooms, online education, plus the software needed to run all of this hardware. And the increasingly litigious environment in higher ed requires that colleges and universities hire or retain a bevy of expensive lawyers, just in case an aggrieved student, an angry parent, or a faculty member who was denied tenure decides to sue the school.
I am now teaching part-time at Proprietary Art Institute. At one time, it seemed that our administration was always expanding—a new director of this, a new vice president of that, plus new front- and back-office staff to support them. But things are now different. Due to declining enrollments, the school has had to cut back drastically. There have been faculty layoffs, but most of the hits seem to have been in the administrative area. The main administrative office was once bustling with activity, but is now virtually a ghost town. If you have a problem with the registrar’s office, or if a computer breaks down, you may be out of luck. So things are tough all around, and administrators are feeling just about as much pain as the rest of us.
Of course, it's also important to recognize that faculty may see dogs that administrators don't see as easily (e.g. the effect of just-in-time scheduling in retail and service industries on students' ability to commit to a semester-long class schedule, of of other, similar, personal/logistical challenges on larger problems that concern administrators, like retention). Somehow, we need to find a way for every participant in the system (including people who spend limited time on campus, e.g. adjuncts) to describe the dog -- or, to use another common metaphor, the part of the elephant -- they're seeing.
Read the comment from CCPhysicist. Getting slides flashed at a fast rate, crammed with acronyms and never with citations for where the asserted 'facts' come from, and then wondering why I take as long to redo the research (with no time out of lecturing, labs, and grading) and make a decision as the admin did in the first place…
The problem at my institution isn't that administration is shoving information down faculty throats, or that faculty are doing a lot of unnecessary fact-checking on administration powerpoints. Our problem is a faculty culture that insists that nothing should be done until everyone is finished thinking and talking about the situation. That's great if you're (metaphorically) designing a house. That's terrible if you're trying to fix a leaky roof. Perhaps it's just a local problem; perhaps it's endemic to faculty. Either way, I'd like to know how to get faculty help in fixing the roof today.