The premise is that a college is a self-contained institution -- what, in the sixties, they used to call a “total” institution -- and that all conflict is contained within it. Nobody comes out and says that, of course, because it’s facially absurd. But they assume it, and act as if it were true. That’s becoming increasingly untenable. Faculty owe allegiances to academic disciplines. Administrators and Boards are increasingly subject to levels of rulemaking from state and federal authorities -- as well as financial pressures -- that greatly restrict their freedom to decide...It’s easy (and proper) to call out, say, the legislature of South Carolina for scolding a college for teaching a book about lesbianism. But that’s an easy case. The more common case of legislative troublemaking isn’t even around rulemaking. It’s around uncertainty. Hiring decisions, for example, rely on the availability of money to pay the new hire. When we don’t know if that money will be available until very late in the fiscal year, we hold off on hiring. That has direct programmatic impact, especially when small programs lose full-time people and we don’t have the money to replace until it’s too late for the following year.
I don’t see much point in hand-wringing about a lost Golden Age, and not only because most Golden Age narratives rely on selective memory. The idea that higher education should be eulogized implies that it’s dead, and frankly, I take offense at that. Higher education is taking place every single day. It’s the old theory of how it works that’s dead. We need a new theory, in which the “sharing” of governance is broader, messier, and higher-stakes. Because it is.