Stephen Karlson (shkarlson) wrote in 50bookchallenge,
Stephen Karlson

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Book Review No. 7 will be Benjamin Ginsberg's The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters.  Much of the substance of the book appears in briefer form here, with commentary here.  It doesn't surprise that University Diaries "finds Ginsberg more convincing," given that many of his illustrations of administrative overreach involve the commercialization of research in engineering, pharmaceuticals, medicine, and computer applications (it would take another book to deal with the rot in the income sports).

The source of higher education's troubles with administrators might be in the absence of intellectual foundations for a coherent defense of what higher education ought to be doing.  When any social arrangement is a construction, it can be deconstructed, and the sub-plot that ought to make readers angriest is the one in which serial administrators serially bring in their own retinues of assistant-tos, facilitators, and consultants to replace the strategic plans and mission statements of the previous administrators, after much work by the previous assistant-tos, facilitators, and consultants that distracted the faculty from doing what faculty ought be doing, namely having original thoughts and challenging students and each other with those thoughts.  (But, Professor Ginsberg argues, there are ample opportunities for administrators to play on faculty sympathies with underdogs by framing some of the usurpations as in the service of diversity or equity or inclusion or access.  Why more observers haven't caught on that academic prestige rests in part on bad writing not getting published, or bad dissertations not being defended, or weak students not graduating, or -- keeping March Madness in mind -- bad teams getting a play-in game at best escapes me.)

I've attempted to capture some of the flavor of Professor Ginsberg's writing.  The titles he turns up for assorted functionaries will make a beleaguered professor smile and should give pause to even the most committed defender of administrative prerogatives.  But those prerogatives ought to be limited.  Turn to page 204.
Most deanlets, left to themselves, are content to wile [c.q.] away their days meeting and retreating.  They represent a growing threat to the university but do not appear to be an immediate threat to its management or academic priorities.  But, appearances are deceiving.  New numbers create new possibilities.  The existence of large numbers of deanlets gives ambitious senior administrators the tools with which to manage the university with minimal faculty involvement and to impose their own programs and priorities on the campus.  Like other potentially destructive instruments, armies of staffers pose a threat by their very existence.  They may seem harmless enough at their tiresome meetings but if they fall into the wrong hands, deanlets can become instruments of administrative imperialism and academic destruction.

The remedy is part Ko-Ko and part John Galt: identify the twenty percent of the deanlets and deanlings who would not be missed, and fire them.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)
Tags: academic, business, scholarly

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