Who needs professors at the all-administrative university?
The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative
University and Why It Matters
By Benjamin Ginsberg
(Oxford University Press, 264 pages, $29.95)
When I began my college search, a family friend jokingly referred to university as a four-year sleepover. He went to Yale. And he was right.
Universities pitch themselves to new students as beacons of social acceptance rather than academies of higher learning. Magazines and books rank schools according to factors far beyond the classroom, counseling parents to ensure the financial future of their children by selecting “the right school.” Schools send brochures touting climbing walls and focus-grouped slogans about the kinds of students that attend, rather than the kind of learning they can expect.
These books follow the horserace of SAT test-prep, “college culture,” and a variety of other non-essential concerns recently lampooned by the Weekly Standard’s Andrew Ferguson in Crazy U, which addresses the shocking build-up of a university-admissions-industrial complex seemingly engineered to make parents go bankrupt or crazy, whichever comes first.
Ferguson’s bewilderment is part of at least a half-century-long tradition of universities “selling out.” William F. Buckley’s God and Man at Yale railed against the “established non-belief” and “collectivist philosophy” of his alma mater—in 1951; Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind chronicled the flight from a core liberal arts curriculum to more “relevant” studies; Roger Kimball’s Tenured Radicals skewered the intellectual bankruptcy of modern academics.
Other less partisan books, such as Alan Charles Kors and Harvey Silverglate’s The Shadow University, launched a nationwide effort to protect the civil liberties of students under attack by politically correct bands of college administrators who sought to limit free speech to appointed “free speech zones,” or expel students for not getting with the program. All took issue with the sudden shift in focus from learning as it was classically understood to the concerted effort to indoctrinate students into unquestioning automatons, regardless of political philosophy.
Benjamin Ginsberg’s book, The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters, pins the blame for that shift on a new politburo-like administrative style of university governance. In six chapters spanning 248 pages, Ginsberg, a professor at Johns Hopkins, reveals the sea change in American higher education in which the modern university has been gobbled up by bureaucracy, marketing, and a wholesale disregard for learning. Academic concerns have been left behind.
Ginsberg’s salvo is rooted in his five decades in academia, during which schools have gone from being driven by faculty ideas and concerns to being “controlled by administrators and staffers who make the rules and set more and more of the priorities of academic life.” Administrators either refuse to consult faculty or wholly ignore their unsolicited input. Presidential searches are not conducted by committees of qualified academics, but are outsourced to special firms, which then write off any potentially controversial candidates, leading tragically to the “most boring and conventional candidates.”
Worse still, these administrators have little to do, leading them to create make-work projects, such as retreats, conferences, and “strategic planning” meetings. “Little would be lost,” Ginsberg writes, “if four out of five staff meetings (they could be selected at random), were canceled tomorrow.”
Any recent graduate of a university will recognize the products of these meetings: Mandatory sensitivity trainings, offices of “campus life,” special staff-led seminars, or dormitory-based programming seeking to “enhance cultural understanding.”
Fundraising appears to be the only thing these bureaucrats are well equipped to tackle. Even during the recession, colleges were able to raise money owing mainly to the dedication and nostalgia among alumni. But then, Ginsberg notes, administrators appropriate the money “to support more administration.”
During a recent President’s Staff Meeting at one Ohio community college, 11 of the 18 agenda items “involved plans for future meetings or discussions of other recently held meetings.” Other schools charted out similar Russian-doll meetings about meetings, squandering money that could have enhanced the faculty or benefited students in financial need.
Yet the public doesn’t see the inefficiency. According to a study by the Chronicle of Higher Education, 9 percent of Americans express “a great deal” of confidence in large corporations as a whole. Forty-eight percent, on the other hand, indicate a great deal of confidence in colleges and universities. This, Ginsberg argues, allows functionaries to fundraise even more successfully.
In 2007, American colleges and universities raised nearly $30 billion in gifts. Harvard raises an average of $600 million per year. This is all thanks to the professionalization of fundraising based on the techniques of Charles Sumner Ward, who found ways to prop up the YMCA in the early 20th century by going beyond door-to-door fundraising aimed at a select wealthy group. Ward appealed to a large base of small donors, and was able to secure larger rewards as those donors became older, more successful, and, most important, more nostalgic. An entire consulting industry sprang up, and soon universities were competing to recruit or retain top “development officers” who could boost school budgets and keep tuition competitive.
Effective fundraising also allows university presidents to hold on to their schools’ massive endowments. This gives them more autonomy and shields them from the kinds of market pressures that could force a greater focus on academic rigor. When testifying before Congress in 2008, college presidents argued that they should not be required to justify their favorable tax status by spending at least 5 percent of their net worth each year. They “failed to mention that endowment income helped to free them from having to consult their faculties regarding university programs and priorities.” A large endowment was “needed to sustain the all-administrative university.”
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online