5 Things Faculty Can Actually Do About the Academy, Part 2: But I Don’t WANT To, Or How I Learned to Stop Complaining and Love the Committee

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This is the second post in a five part series about how full-time and tenure-track faculty can ameliorate the conditions of the academy. 

Last year our Faculty Senate president encouraged all of us to read The Fall of the Faculty and the Rise of the All Administrative UniversityBeing me, I immediately downloaded the book on my Nook and read it.  Though the book sometimes had issues with what I might call a “tone of snobbery”, the overall point of the book was nonetheless troubling.  Like many other books and articles on the subject, much of the text focused on the rising salaries of administrators compared to the stagnating, and even declining, salaries of faculty members, as well as the seemingly endless multiplication of administrative titles and duties. One sometimes gets the sense that when you look away from the administration for a second, you turn your head to look at it again and it has somehow duplicated itself and hired a whole new crop of underlings at more than twice your faculty pay.

The_Thing_from_Another_World_trailerAt my current institution, fifty top administrators took more than 5 million dollars in salary in 2012, a number that doesn’t account for their benefits (not just benefits like insurance, but in some cases, cars) or the salaries of staff who answer directly to them.  Those fifty administrative salaries account for 10% of the total yearly operating budget of the college.  Fifty full-time faculty with PhDs at the starting salary rate would cost a little less than half as much.  Instead, 60% of our classes are taught by adjuncts who receive no benefits—not health insurance, and certainly not cars. This is a problem.  And it’s a problem not just at my smallish college, but proportionally at many colleges and universities across the country.

As faculty, the unchecked growth of administration produces a lot of hand-wringing and fury.  It should.  While faculty lines go away, never to be seen again, there always seems to be money to hire another administrator, a “Director of Institutional Marketing Effectiveness” or an “Athletic Training Services Facilitator.”  I’m being a little cheeky here, and of course some administrators are necessary and a good thing—colleges need to run, and faculty are not qualified to do all of those jobs.  What I’m interested in, however, are those administrative decisions that are in fact doing harm to higher education.  As faculty, we are and should be very concerned that administrations, in lieu of hiring full-time/tenure-track faculty or paying non-tenure track faculty a decent living, facilitate and participate in a system of unethical labor, exploitation, and bad educational practices.

But this blog series is not about what those administrations are doing wrong. It is about what we as full-time, tenure-track, and/or tenured faculty can do about it.   We should be concerned, but we should not be placing the blame for this problem entirely on “evil administrators”.  We are extremely complicit in this system.  As Jan Clausen and Eva-Maria Swidler have recently made clear in JAF, bloated administrations and adjunct labor to a large degree make our way of life as FT/TT faculty possible, and we need to do what we can to change that. One way we can do that is to volunteer for and insist upon taking administrative positions at our own colleges and universities.  Like the Thing From Another World, when we’re not actively monitoring and involved in what goes on in the administration, bad practices multiply.

We have to volunteer for administrative and service positions, y’all.  If we’re volunteering to be department chairs, deans, and supervisors, and volunteering to sit on the committees that manage the business of our departments and colleges, “shared governance” can become more than just a buzzword, and we can be in the position of actually setting institutional policy, and therefore helping to address the problems we all claim to want to solve.

One of the reasons faculty do not volunteer for service or administrative work is that it is often thankless work that doesn’t “count” for tenure and promotion.  At my institution, service work for the college can only count for 10-20% of our total evaluation, and it takes up a lot of time.  At other institutions, it often counts even less, if at all.  Service and administrative work are very literally not rewarding.  But my charge to us as full-time and tenure track faculty is that we do it anyway.  Our departments should not be making outside hires for a full-time administrator to serve as Associate Head because no one in the department would volunteer for the three year term.  We shouldn’t be turning over departmental and institutional policy making to people who are not as qualified or as invested in higher education or our colleges as we are.  (We also should not be leaving all of the administrative and service work to non-tenure track or junior faculty—yes, I’m giving you the side eye.)  Sometimes it is not possible to make institutional change or to set institutional policy, but we should at least try, and we certainly should not act like such work is beneath us. Unless we as full time faculty do everything in our power to become the policy makers, we continue to facilitate and participate in the problems we rail against.


Stay tuned for the next installment on refusing the Pyramid Scheme.

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