Friday, March 5, 2010

The Failure of Corporatized Higher Education

Different social organizations require different organizational structures. Corporations, militaries, and religions benefit from a hierarchical command-and-control organizational structure, where the leader is believed to have special skills and the greatest expertise of any other person in the organization to make difficult decisions and exhibit vision.

This sort of hierarchical command-and-control organizational structure is not appropriate for other social organizations, such as democratic bodies. In democratic bodies, there is no one person whose judgment is considered absolute and definitive.

Institutions of higher education are the latter type of social organization. Inappropriately and unfortunately, at UVU and across the nation, administrations have adopted the former model. This is a grave error, because leadership on campus based on corporate style command-and-control snubs the expertise of the faculty. Professors are professionals whose judgment ought to be trusted, and interference and meddling by the administration in faculty affairs destroys the spirit of the faculty and students who are engaged in the academic enterprise.

The serious failure I perceive in the hierarchical model of governance at institutions of higher education is, interestingly, echoed in a recent article in The New York Times by Tamar Lewin, titled “Study Finds Increasing Public Discontent With the College System” (February 17, 2010). The article starts out by stating that

Most Americans believe that colleges today operate like businesses, concerned more with their bottom line than with the educational experience of students, according to a new study.

The article continues:

And the proportion of people who hold that view has increased to 60 percent, from 52 percent in 2007.

At the same time, nearly two-thirds of those surveyed said that colleges should use federal stimulus money to hold down tuition, even if it means less money for operations and programs.

The study, a joint project of Public Agenda and the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, also found that most Americans believe that colleges could admit a lot more students without lowering quality or raising prices, and that colleges could spend less and maintain a high quality of education.

‘One of the really disturbing things about this, for those of us who work in higher education,’ said Patrick Callan, president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, ‘is the vote of no confidence we're getting from the public. They think college is important, but they're really losing trust in the management and leadership.’

According to the study, ‘Squeeze Play 2010: Continued Public Anxiety on Cost, Harsher Judgments on How Colleges are Run,’ a growing share of Americans believes that college is essential to success—55 percent, compared with 31 percent in 2000. But at the same time, a dwindling share—28 percent, compared with 45 percent a decade earlier—thinks college is available to the vast majority of qualified, motivated students. ‘People are increasingly seeing themselves caught between these two trends,’ said John Immerwahr, a senior research fellow at Public Agenda and an author of the report. ‘It’s a new kind of misery index. This is really important, and it’s really inaccessible.’

The report is based on a December telephone survey of more than 1,000 Americans. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.05 percentage points.

The report found some areas of optimism. Nine in 10 Americans say it is somewhat or very likely that their own high-school-age child will attend college, and the majority believe that almost anyone who needs financial help to go to college can get loans or financial aid.

But 83 percent said that students had to borrow too much money to pay for college.

In ‘Iron Triangle,’ a 2008 study of 25 college presidents, Public Agenda and the center found that most saw an unbreakable link between the cost of running their operations, the number of students they can educate and maintaining educational quality.

To serve more students or offer higher quality education, the college presidents said, would require more money—and conversely, cuts in their budgets would inevitably translate into either a smaller number of students or diminished educational quality.

According to the new report, the public disagrees.

‘It’s nice to think that we can have guns and butter, but it's not that easy,’ said Terry Hartle, the senior vice president of government and public affairs for the American Council on Education. ‘The public is not always right.’ While it is true that colleges and universities could provide higher education for less money, Mr. Hartle said, it would require cuts in areas that most people see as fundamental to quality.

‘We probably wouldn’t have libraries open as much, we wouldn’t update I.T. regularly, we wouldn't have small classes,’ he said. ‘Running a first-class college or university costs money. It’s a very labor-intensive enterprise, in which it’s common to spend 70 to 76 percent of the budget on faculty and staff.’

As the article states, the public is not always right. But by my experience at UVU over the last several years, it is clear that on the issue of corporatized higher education, the public is dead right.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Don’t ACHE/WCHE/ICHE Me! The Workload Policy as Procrustean Bed

When AAUP President Cary Nelson visited Utah last fall, my wife Anina and I had the pleasure of taking him out to Antelope Island (“I thought the salt lake was in the middle of the city”). On the drive there, I told Cary about the workload policy (ACHE, WCHE, ICHE) that had been implemented at our institution as the result of a task force chaired by deans Henrie and Rushforth. I remarked on the absurdity of foisting a mechanistic metric on the faculty workday and the antithetical nature of such a corporatized practice in the Academy. Cary agreed, noting that the type of person who gravitates towards academe and away from corporate America typically likes the flexibility and freedom of self-directed employment, rather than punching a time clock and sitting in a cubicle 9-5 under the eye of a watchful boss.

And therein lies the difference in worldview between our academic affairs administration and the faculty: we look upon ourselves as members of a wider academic community who participate in a variety of different activities, such as teaching, mentoring, scholarship, conference organization and participation, committee work, etc., while the UVU administration views the faculty as primarily a proletarian workforce whose sole value is bringing in as many tuition dollars as possible. The problem with the corporatized command-and-control style of the academic leadership is that it ignores, if not repudiates, the importance of our other essential academic responsibilities. In other words, the ACHE/WCHE/ICHE workload policy is gauged at producing income (a corporate model) that is directly contradictory to the realities of being a contributing member of the academic community.

To this end it is worthwhile to reread the very prescient analysis of former faculty member Doug Downs (who fled UVU for Montana State University—see Doug was a Faculty Senator who drafted a resolution against the workload policy:

Administrative Values in the UVU Workload Debate

Doug Downs

As a scholar and teacher of rhetorical theory and persuasive communication, I have occasion in almost every class I teach to help students understand that in everyday human relations and argument, our most foundational assumptions—our worldview—shapes our positions far more powerfully than any logic or evidence. That is because these underlying values are the lens through which we interpret the claims and data we encounter, and evidence in conflict with our first principles will nearly always be discounted or explained away.

We could look to no better example than the past two years’ debate at UVU about Faculty Workload Policy. The policy was brought to Faculty Senate in Spring 2006 as an accounting measure, a way of fairly accounting for “all” the work UVU faculty accomplish, not just portions of their teaching. On this basis, the majority of faculty encouraged their Senators to vote for the policy. What we faculty did not account for was how administrators’ values would influence implementation of the policy.

Choices, Choices, Choices

During implementation, it became clear that the policy had been shaped less by the external exigence of Regents mandateCthough that continued to be the primary administrative justification for the new policyCthan by administrative worldviews about the nature of UVU, higher education, and the roles of UVU faculty. Choices that might have led to an accounting measure which could give faculty credit for all their work instead of part of it, in actuality led to an instrument of oversight, control, and limitation.

Administrative choices regarding workload accounting included these:

(1) An overall workload number would be invented, chosen to be (defined as being) equal to the maximum teaching load in the USHE system (30 hours, SLCC). Alone among USHE institutions and beyond requirements of any Regents policy, UVU chose to invent an overall workload number and then to equate it with a maximum teaching load.

(2) Then, in the opposite direction, UVU’s maximum teaching load would be understood as equal to the overall workload number. Per the proposed overload policy, faculty would not be paid for overload until they taught more than 15 hours per semester, because only at that point would their teaching be greater than the overall workload number. Yet an equally obvious choice would have been to accept any teaching over the Regents mandated institutional average of 12 hours as overload.

(3) The institutional teaching average (for UVU, 24 hours/year) established by Regents policy would be read literally and to the letter, and Workload reports would then be used to determine with equal literalness whether UVU was following the policy or not. In contrast, other USHE schools choose to read the spirit of the Regents policy, rather than its exact wording, as setting targets or even maximums, not required averages.

(4) The concept of reassigned time—where academic or governance obligations overwrite equivalent teaching obligations—would disappear for all but the heaviest governance (chairing depts. or programs, administrative posts). Time spent on research, mentoring, and low-level service (committees, Faculty Senate, special projects) would no longer overwrite teaching but instead shift the teaching obligation to other faculty.

(5) Reduced teaching loads would be understood as cheating the system rather than as a mark of professional accomplishment or balanced workload. Champions of the workload policy—both administrators and faculty—have long valorized a transparency that has essentially meant surveillance. Faculty were blatantly promised that workload reports would provide leverage for leveling labor across departmentsCif by labor we understood only teaching. Never was it an option to bring departments with unreasonably high teaching loads down to the level of departments with lower loads.

(6) Regents policy would not be questioned, challenged, or resisted. Despite the fact that by national norms and peer standards, USHE institutions carry high teaching loads (which are then contractually ignored by institutions such as the U of U), UVU administrators chose to accept rather than gently resist or even question these policies. Only after tremendous faculty outcry months into the implementation process did administrators choose to pursue informal discussions with individual sympathetic regents about Regents policy itself.

(7) Reports on workload from other USHE institutions would be taken at face valueCas uninterpretable, inerrant indicators of reality, to the exclusion of any contrasting or undermining evidence. For example, the U of U’s workload report showing the institution meeting its 18-hour average teaching load was taken at face value, while our administrators shut their eyes to the reality that U of U faculty habitually teach a maximum of six hours per semester, and TAs (who do most of the teaching) are limited to the same load. (Not to mention habitual sabbaticals, fellowships, and other releases that mean few faculty actually teach 6 hours/semester for more than two years in a row.) UVU would choose to ignore this other evidence of workload realities.

(8) The most restrictive possible definitions and interpretations would be chosen regarding what counts as teaching and what elements of work count as academic and governance credit-hour equivalents. Regents policy leaves considerable room for interpretation; other schools choose to use that room to generate favorable workload reports. UVU administrators chose not to.

The Values Behind the Choices

While the Workload policy was consistently presented to faculty as the only available path given the overarching and unbending Regents policies involved, the analysis above suggests that a variety of other paths were in fact available. Choices are usually an excellent indicator of worldview and foundational assumptions; these visible choices on workload reveal some values and worldviews of higher education that seem to shape administration’s reasoning. So what values are suggested by the paths that UVU has taken? Further, to what extent are those values in the best interest of UVU faculty as professional scholars in academic fieldsCas members of the higher-education enterprise more broadly?

Affordability. When existing faculty do less teaching, but the total teaching needing to be done does not decline, more faculty must be hired. Faculty are expensive. The more teaching they do, the more cost effective they are. Thus, administration has a tremendous disincentive to account for all the work faculty do; as long as faculty appear to do less work, higher teaching loads must be embraced. Thus, workload definitions have been developed and carefully calibrated to account only for as much work as administration feels it can afford, rather than all the work faculty might deserve to have counted as work.

Vocational Teaching. What can we conclude about the values of an administration that actively avoids opportunities to balance classroom teaching with other professional pursuits (particularly mentoring and research)? Whether intended or not, the effect is quite simply to atrophy faculty’s connections to their profession, stunting their careers and reducing their mobility. The administration clearly values the notion that faculty’s primary role is to get in the classroom and teach, regardless of the fact that this is the narrowest, most limited, least professional understanding of teaching possible.

I serve, for example, on the editorial board of a national journal of undergraduate research on writing (Young Scholars in Writing). Along with steering the journal, in the last year I reviewed seven submissions, of which three were accepted for publication, leading to an editorial and mentoring relationship with their writers during several months of additional drafting and revision. (And I write detailed reviews of rejected manuscripts, recommending potential revisions.) I also mentored three of my own students in turning course papers into submissions, all of which were accepted. My hours devoted to this journal last year topped 100—over two solid weeks worth of work, stretched across 6 months. It is among the most professional teaching I have ever done. Yet my administration has chosen a workload accounting system in which this teaching effort goes unremarked and uncounted. How can I not believe it is most interested in a more restricted and narrower, vocational sense of teaching based only in the lecture-classroom?

Trust and Obey. In my church we sing this hymn “Trust and Obey.” Religious venues are the place for faith and trust in one’s divine leaders, for a spirit of meek submission to divine authority and will. Such values, though, should not characterize the relationship between an institution and its governing body. The evidence of what we care about is in our willingness to defend it, to enter conflict over it (no matter how distasteful or even hopeless conflict might be), to struggle on behalf of what we say we care about. When our administration will not even attempt to reason with our Regents over workloadCmuch less resist policies that are detrimental to a professional faculty—it says something about what our administrators believe is worth fighting for. Based on faculty’s own struggles with administration on workload, what our administration seems to believe is worth fighting for is an affordable, vocational, and obedient faculty whose classroom time is counted and valued and whose other work is, largely, not.

Where Things Stand

As co-author of a Faculty Senate resolution against workload implementation last spring—based on many of the concerns the analysis above must raise—I was unsure what effect we would have. (Senate votes are not binding on the administration.) But the resolution voiced concerns that were being discounted as the mutterings of a few extreme malcontents. It demonstrated the breadth of faculty concern, leading the President to establish a faculty/administration committee to review workload implementation.

The committee hosted an open meeting in the Fall to hear faculty concerns, which were eloquently expressed by several leading faculty on campus. While workload reporting continues unabated, administration has agreed to work with the Regents on interpreting policy on teaching load. And the Workload Implementation Taskforce seems interested in broadening definitions and adding to the lists of “what counts” in teaching, academic, and governance labor.

We have not, though, seen any indication of changed values, and values shape both policies and the questions asked of those policies. Until we see changes in those underlying values, faculty would do well to save a trust-and-obey approach for more divine venues than the UVU campus.

It is my strong opinion that the workload policy has had the opposite result than that intended by our administrative leaders: rather than getting “more work” out of the faculty, the faculty, demoralized at not being appreciated and their work valued, have pulled back and devote less time to campus activities. The workload policy has had a demeaning effect on morale; it sends the message from the administration to the faculty that, like miscreants, we cannot be trusted to put in a full days work, and need an ACHE/WCHE/ICHE mechanistic to make sure we are living up to our responsibilities. What the human resource managers in the Office of the Vice President of Academic Affairs and Deans Council have not realized is that the Faculty will perform at much higher levels if we are respected, appreciated, and trusted.