Thursday, September 18, 2014

"Our Business Model." From the Tuba Playing Prof.

Several years ago we started hearing from newer members of the Board of Trustees that we had “to run things like a business.” And now it's business as usual here.

After it ran off the former president, the board of trustees simply crowned the then provost the president in two steps: interim president then president. It did so after it spent thousands of dollars on a flawed, awkward, slanted, and quick search. The campus had no choice but to turn to the interim president and persuade him to take the job. Looking for his replacement, the president selected as his interim provost the associate vice provost—who quickly went from interim provost to provost—without having to be interviewed by anyone at any time—because the now provost was “just the type of leader the campus needs to take us to the next level.”

Here's the next level: The new provost has started creating more and more administrative positions—for every imaginable task on campus. Yet to fill these positions, the provost only “promotes” current faculty members away from teaching departments. Not one has been staffed by someone coming from some other institution.

These new administrators have this in common: most never really cared for the day-to-day duties of teaching, the grunt work of trying to arouse the interest of a freshman,the stack of essays, the lab reports, etc. Most are “done” with publishing, and all never achieved the type of status in their fields that might attract a “better”school from hiring them away. So I guess being the Associate Vice President of Assessment Rubrics and Parking is something to report to one's major professor back at Big Time U.

Leaving their departments, they all say the same things: “as much as I hate leaving the classroom, I feel that...” and “my research projects will absolutely continue as planned.....”

Yet, because the new admins do not technically leave their departments--although they NEVER return to their departments--because they might, the departments “hold the line” and cannot replace them with new, actual members of the department. The departments can and must hire adjuncts to “cover” their classes, of course. We overwork our adjuncts and we pay them less than minimum wage, so rightly we never ask them to do anything but “cover classes.” Everyone agrees to that. But covering classes is only one part of the duties. Hiring adjuncts to cover the classes that “members” of the department cannot teach because of administrative duties does not account for the department work of serving on committees, advising students, mentoring the few junior faculty members that we do have, etc. And with each new office, we have more to do: more committees, more reports, more duties, etc.

The new admins have little incentive to return. The provost sweetens these new positions with twelve-month pay and flex time, especially vacation time not tied to teaching assignments; he finds office space with regulated climate in the newest buildings, good lighting, cherry wood desks, new computers, laptops, and tablets, and for the special select the most prized perk of all, a parking spot.
I'll not say that the new admins don't work; they are always busy. Yet too often the new admins mostly seem to argue for the existence and necessity of the offices they hold. And I am amazed how quickly these former colleagues have turned, ever ready to point out that the provost is a good guy, such a smart guy, who deeply cares about the students and their education, a natural born leader, etc. To a person they all seem to repeat the emerging idea that “teaching is a small part of what we do here, our responsibilities to the community, and the state....”

How we do business here: staff every administrative positions with weary, bored, disenchanted, and/or embarrassed tenured faculty members. By doing so, one cuts the largest “drain” on any campus—fair salaries. Hire tenured professors beholden to you but have them to do administrative duties without paying them administrative salaries; then hire adjuncts and pay them an offensive “salary” to “cover” classes. Then leave the department work to those “who just teach.”


  1. Gee, that sounds a lot like the place I used to teach at.

    The department head who was in charge for most of my time there was an absentee landlord, obsessed with promoting himself to dean or, he hoped, further. He was a former colleague and got the job after a search rigged in such a way that he could only be the one to get it.

    Six months after he took the job, he promptly went on administrative (i. e., brown-nosing) leave for 2 years. (It wasn't the first time he did that, either. He was away when I started and was away during my first 2 years there.) When he came back, he always referred to the senior administrators he worked with by their first names, to which we were all expected to go "ooh!" and "aah!" out of admiration. Clearly, he was rehearsing for a future in which he'd be officially rubbing shoulders with all of them.

    He clearly wasn't interested in his job as department head, let alone teaching. He was frequently away on something that had nothing to do with his official duties and he rarely told us in advance, so we'd find out after we arrived the first morning he was gone. (Rarely was anyone unhappy that he wasn't around.) He only took the job because of potential payoffs in the future, spending so much of his time on his pet projects that the department secretary was expected to devote up to 40% of her time on them.

    As a result, he pushed as much of his administrative duties onto the assistant head, and that man was equally as bad.

    The ADH was the laziest administrator and, like the DH, got the job after a slanted process. Anything he didn't want to do (i. e., nearly everything) was dumped on us and much of it landed on my desk. The only thing he couldn't shift onto someone else was anything that needed his signature and doing that often turned him into a mewling and puking drama queen. He would rather have spent his day chewing the rag with colleagues, looking at his stock portfolio, or playing solitaire on the computer. If laziness was an Olympic sport, he'd sure have won the gold medal.

    Unfortunately, the senior administration wasn't better. Many of the positions were filled by outside people, alumni of the Seagull School of Management. Our institution had the lowest salaries, or close to it, of all the ones in our part of the country, so there was never enough money to pay the staff properly. However, there was always plenty to spend on new carpet or new furniture over in executive country, or some needless alumni monument.

    I'd seen this sort of thing while I worked in industry. What I found disturbing was how shamelessly that institution did the same.

    1. I've never heard "the Seagull School of Management." Am I correct in assuming that they just shit all over everything?

  2. That is very sad, yet all too common. In fact, administrative bloat is one of the main reasons why tuition is so inflated. They have to pay all those administrators. What you described happens at my employers, as well. Faculty who become administrators remain in their academic departments, under the pretense they that will be able to teach 1 course when they aren't doing administrative tasks. They never have time. Poorly paid adjuncts pick up the slack.

    It's probably part of the overall trend to expect one person do several jobs and pretend that it is possible that both jobs will be done just as well as if there were two people. If the so-called multitasker hasn't had every ounce of morale beaten out of them, they try to do both jobs, for a year or two, until they lose morale, then they just do one job. The other job does not get done at all. But everyone has to pretend it's a great system. Lots of pretending going on.

    Not adding much to the discussion, just sympathizing.

  3. Beautifully said. Man, that's my college as well. It's not anything like I thought it was going to be. I might as well sell widgets.

  4. TPP, give or take a few local details (the encouragement to existing tenured faculty to move into admin is a bit unusual, I think; ours are growing their own underlings via some sort of grad-degree-in-higher-ed-admin thingie, which I distrust mightily), you've laid out everything that's threatening to sink higher ed: the devaluing of teaching (and of any research that isn't associated with grants, though those actually cost the institution money), the growing sense that classes simply need to be "covered," the crushing service load for the few TT faculty left who actually want to do the job in the traditional way (teaching, research,service, with maybe 2 of the 3 taking precedence at any one time, the occasional research-only sabbatical, and a decent balance among the three over a career). And the business-speak. Oh, the business-speak. And the messages about the relative importance of various university departments and activities sent by buildings, furniture, and interior decoration (or complete lack thereof).

    What I want to know: what *do* these people think *is* the university's responsibility to the community, the state, the taxpayers? They seem to want to build the university's "brand" (and, of course, their own personal reputation/brand), but, beyond that, what?

    1. And beyond that .... nothing. They can't help it. They're scorpions. It's their nature.

  5. If this were really a business, your overlords would be rapidly devaluing their own stock, since they are relying on increasingly stressed workers to produce an ever-shoddier product. It's just like how many genuine businesses are run today, and look at the wonders it does for the economy.

  6. I can't help but think that this would be a searing op-ed with the addition of but a few names. You got tenure?

  7. Update. Of course: Yesterday, an email message announced a new admin position--and its director is a faculty member, who promises.........