Monday, September 28, 2015

"The university should be run like a business." Who says it's not?

So I'm one of those ladies you read about who fled tech. Since I actually did work for an entity that people generally agree is a "business," I can offer some perspective on whether universities are being run like businesses. 

They are. 

Allow me to present two scenes from my working life. 

Scene One: 

My former workplace, pretty much

Management: Our Gizmolator 3000 isn't selling well. Hey, junior person (that's me), go make some phone calls and find out how to fix that.

Yours Truly: (makes many phone calls, reports back). It's because our dealers and customers think we should provide the Extra Support Thingy, as our competitors do. 

Management: What about that one dealer who's selling all those Gizmolator 3000s? 

YT: He told me he felt obliged to code a custom Extra Support Thingy for his own customers, but he says he shouldn't have to do that, that we should be the ones who provide the EST. So are we going to provide the Extra Support Thingy? 

(wind whistles forlornly, lone tumbleweed bounces across the foreground)

Management: Our latest product isn't selling well. Go make some phone calls and find out how to fix it.

YT: But--

Management: Go ask again. [1]

Scene Two: 

My current workplace, artist's rendition

Administration: Our retention and graduation rates are terrible. Hey committee chair (that's me), figure out how to fix that. 

Yours Truly: (does much research, reports back). It's because retention and graduation rates are a function of students' cognitive and financial resources. [2] If you want those numbers to go up, you need richer, smarter students. Every institution with a significantly higher graduation rate than ours also has higher average SAT scores and fewer Pell students. Or, we could just own it, and stand up for the fact that we serve at-risk students.

Administration: We have to raise our graduation rates and we're not going to change entrance standards. 

YT: Well, the only thing that's ever significantly raised graduation rates without changing admission standards is the ASAP program at CUNY. We'd need to provide free textbooks, transportation, and tuition, smaller classes that are block-scheduled, and mandatory tutoring. So are we going to do that?

[wind whistles forlornly, lone tumbleweed bounces across the foreground]

Administration: Our retention and graduation rates are terrible. Anyone besides Bow have any ideas about how to fix this?

So there you go. We're doing great. 

[1] That was a few years ago. Providing the EST with every new product rollout is routine now, for my former company as well as everyone else. I'd love to take credit, but I can't; it was inevitable.
[2]“The more a four-year college serves Pell recipients, the lower its six-year graduate rate and the more difficult it is to improve that rate,” found the committee, which advises Congress on federal financial aid.


  1. Yeah, we definitely work at the same place.

    Scene 3:

    Administration: OK, we took your advice to "own it". We must indeed stand up for the fact that we serve at-risk students. We have hired a new support person in the form of a counsellor.

    Yours Truly: Great! This new counsellor will help ensure that our faculty are not burdened by the increasing number of office visits that deal primarily with helping students to budget time and adopt effective study strategies.

    Administration: Ahh, well, probably not. She's more of an emotional health advisor.

    YT: In that case, she'll at least take some of the burden off the two new junior faculty we're searching for. For some reason, probably because they're closest in age to the students, the junior faculty are inundated by students who need to "vent". But that will stop now, and our soon-to-be new hires will have a better chance of getting their research programs off the ground. Yes?

    Administration: Well, ahh, we've called off that search. Those salary lines have been given over to the Office of Student Retention and Appeasement for their new counsellor position.

    YT: But the new counsellor will be able to serve on committees to help in the significant time suck that is governance. True?

    Administration: She may be ex officio on a committee that deals with stuff in her domain, but she's not faculty. The current load of four committees per faculty member will continue until their effectiveness improves.

    [wind whistles forlornly, lone tumbleweed bounces across the foreground]

    YT: I do so enjoy our sessions together. Just leave a twenty on the nightstand as usual on your way out. Oh shit, was that out loud?

    1. OPH, please sit next to me at our next Classroom Technology Innovation Committee meeting. We can play faculty-meeting bingo. The middle square will be "ex officio OSRA representative whose only discernible job responsibility is to attend meetings."

  2. And, just as in a business, the money suits get the big bucks and the workers get the dregs and the blame.

  3. Wow, what a dumb boss.

    It's almost like there's a cloning facility somewhere.

    1. All the evidence points in that direction.

  4. First, brilliant. Can I sit with you guys?

    Second, if OPH hadn't chimed in, I would have noted that Professor Bow's crucial error was Proposing Something While Female. That's the biggest source of tumbleweeds at certain administrative meetings around here, and the reason I no longer serve on college-wide committees at the highest levels.

    But considering OPH's contribution, the situation now sounds like my late father-in-law's selective deafness to anything he didn't want to hear. He seemed to think that if he just refused to hear stuff, eventually someone would say the thing he wanted to hear.

    I like this part best: "Or, we could just own it, and stand up for the fact that we serve at-risk students."

    1. I think that my chiming in should in no way diminish the observation that the administrative selective deafness was brought about by Frankie's having committed the sin of Proposing Something While Female. Also evident was the act of Reporting Well-Supported Data While Female.

      PG, by your having experienced (and retired from) upper-level committee work, I am guessing you had at least one stint of Being Effective as Committee Chair or Co-chair While Female. Instances of BECCCWF have been shown to lead to promotion and merit-based raises for committee members (including but not limited to co-chairs) who happen to be male.

    2. OPH: interesting! Do you have a link, perhaps?

      In fact, in graduate school I had had two stints of Being Effective as Committee Chair or Co-chair While Female. In the first instance, all our carefully considered proposals were discarded by the President's Advisory Cronies. In the second, all the work was placed on the co-chairs (both female grad students) by the members (all male faculty).

      Therefore I have avoided being a committee chair ever since. I have served on what I call "High Muckety-Muck Committees" and been listened to by female chairs. When the chair was male, more than once my questions and suggestions have been ignored (ignored as if I hadn't said them) until a male (a junior male, no less) echoed them, when suddenly they were worth responding to. Classic. And exhausting.

  5. Brilliant, indeed. And I, too, like the idea of owning one's existing population/mission (we're told to meet them where they are, right?).

    Oddly, my institution actually does slightly better at graduating students on Pell Grants than it does at graduating the general population. On the one hand, that strikes me as something to be be proud of; on the other, I suspect that it may the result of one or more anomalous/overlapping demographic patterns (probably something about who is and isn't eligible for Pell grants; and/or just how vulnerable students who fall in the income slice just above Pell Grant level are in a very high cost-of-living area; and/or the fact that some of our most marginal students in an academic sense may be among the most privileged economically, and vice versa.)

    And once again, I'm reminded that not having service/meeting-going as part of my job description does have its advantages (though if I did have to go to the meetings, I'd be totally up for bingo, or any other available survival/diversion mechanism).