Monday, July 25, 2011

"It's all the same."

In the past year, I've heard all of the following statements:

"There are no best business practices. There are no best academic practices. There are only best practices. What works well in one environment will work in any environment."

"There should be no difference in the faculty perspective and the administrative perspective. Both should just want to do what's best for the school."

"There is no contradiction between being a faculty member and being an administrator. There's no reason someone can't be both at the same time."

Some days I feel as if I've stepped through the looking glass. When I first decided I wanted to go into higher education, most of the administration came from within the faculty. Although they put on the administrative hat and had to change perspective, they at least understood what it meant to be faculty. They also acknowledged that sometimes it was difficult to have made that switch because they could empathize with the faculty perspective yet still had a job to do in an administrative capacity. And above all, most of them took the jobs because they wanted to use their talents to be of service to the college. It wasn't uncommon to see people go into administration for a defined period of time and then return to the faculty.

Today I see more and more people who came into higher education with the sole goal of becoming administrators. They may put on the sheep's clothing of faculty just long enough to say they were "one of us," but they certainly have no intention of staying in what they perceive as the ghetto for any longer than they have to. They are destined for "greater things." And they are the ones who made the statements I listed above.

Maybe I am old school, but I think that only is there a difference between the administrative and faculty perspectives, but there SHOULD be that difference. I don't see it as necessarily divisive unless certain individuals go out of their way to be disagreeable. We serve different roles, we have different types of commitments to the institution, and we have different experiences we need to bring to the table. I recognize there are times we have to straddle that line. Faculty get released or reassigned time to carry out administrative duties on behalf of the college, or administrators teach as an overload or even as part of their contract. But in the end, the faculty member is still faculty doing some administrative work and the administrator is someone who happens to be teaching a class. They may develop more empathy with the other side and they do what's required for the "other team," but ultimately they still identify mostly with their primary roles.

I also think there should be a difference between business and education. Certainly business provides some ideas we can use to better serve our students, but to say we are just a different type of business completely distorts the work we do. I'm so tired of hearing about how we can adapt the latest business fad to improve everything. I have no customers in my classroom, and I refuse to use that word to describe the people who attend my courses as such. I also wish that we would at least use some fun corporate environments to emulate. We never get the Google or Southwest Airlines models; it's always some stodgy paradigm from Boeing or AT&T.

Are you hearing the same kinds of statements at your schools? Where, if anyplace, do you see the line between faculty and administration? Is such a line healthy or detrimental in making things better for our students? Is it possible to truly be both faculty and administration at the same time? And how well does business mix with education? Is it really all the same?


  1. Actually, having done departmental administrative work, I'd say they're really different. Because guess what? Faculty and administrators have different priorities. It's good to step into an administrative role for a while, but it's important to step out again.

    And I despise business gobbledygook applied to teaching, research, and service. At least in the humanities, none are remotely like the profit motive that drives business. Maybe research is, in that it can be driven by the wish for prestige, but it's a solo act, demands lots of unstructured and unsupervised time, is unpaid except via the salary increases it sometimes but not always brings, and produces no saleable thing for most of us. Teaching is most certainly not. And neither is service, nor should it be.

    The problem with business as a "discipline" is that it appears to be content-free.

  2. Frog and Toad got it right as usual. A university is not a business.

  3. The trouble is the whole idea that "both [faculty and administrators] should just want to do what's best for the school" is flawed. As faculty, my duty towards my students overrides university interest. The school may be interested in taking the student's money, even if she is illiterate and will never graduate. It is my duty to advise her otherwise.


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