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November 26, 2008, 05:34 PM ET

Tennessee Takes First Annual 'Turkey at the Top' Award

cross-posted from howtheuniversityworks.com

Turkey at the top is always intensely competitive. This year’s contenders included first runner-up Robert Felner, the U of Louisville dean indicted for conspiracy to commit fraud, money laundering, and tax evasion in what the feds allege are repeated acts of embezzlement of grant monies amounting to over $2 million. Not content with these escapades, Felner racked up 31 grievances and complaints in his 5 years at the “U of L” but was consistently backed against the faculty by upper administration, especially Provost Shirley Willihnganz and President James Ramsey, who spent extravagantly on lawyers and consultants to prop up his administration despite what numerous accounts (including this one and others that I’ve privately confirmed) termed an “onslaught” of complaints from faculty, staff and students alleging “unsavory behavior, ranging from sexual harassment to workplace intimidation.” This pair continued the authoritarian regime of wall-to-wall administrative solidarity and secrecy established by their high-living predecessors, former provost Carol Garrison and former president John Shumaker—later found sharing lavish hotel rooms and limousines at public expense, while jetting to trysts in the University of Tennessee’s private plane.

But every year only one can win. This year’s award goes to the chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents, Charlie Manning, for his new business model for higher ed in his Appalachian state. Over the past couple of decades, the great state of Tennessee has burned millions of education dollars on executive compensation, sports facilities, and miles of orange carpet—while leading the country in squeezing its faculty.

Of course the “new” business model isn’t new at all—it’s just Chuck Manning refusing to let a good crisis go to waste. It’s the same tired Toyota-management theory from the 80s, with wide-eyed managers and credulous politicians swapping bromides (crisis=danger + opportunity) of doubtful validity, linguistic or otherwise.

In the big picture of capital, Chuck Manning is just a low-level squeezer—the higher-ed equivalent of a regional manager for PepsiCo. The first half of the “opportunity” for higher-level squeezers and shareholders has already been realized, in the stabilization of finance-industry holdings and incomes. Chuck’s job is to realize the other half of the opportunity—squeezing a few more nickels and dimes out of his already-on-food-stamps faculty, and further watering down the thin gruel he passes off as “higher education.”

In the business curriculum, squeezing nickels and dimes until your workers are living on food stamps, loans, or gifts from relatives is called “long term productivity enhancement.” Manning’s ideas for good squeezing include:

+ Requiring students to take a certain number of online courses en route to their bachelor’s and associate’s degrees.

+ Turning online learning into an entirely automated experience “with no direct support from a faculty member except oversight of testing and grading,” and providing financial incentives for students to voluntarily accept teacherless education-as-testing.

+ Use even more adjuncts and convert the remaining tenure-stream faculty into their direct supervisors, “formalizing” that arrangement. (Can you hear me screaming “I told you so”?)

+Use “advanced students” to teach “beginning students” and build that requirement into curriculum and financial aid packages. (Again, I’m screaming. You should be screaming too.)

+Increase faculty workload, initiating a “students-taught” metric to supersede courseload, and “revise” summer compensation.

+Austerity for the poor—cutting athletics at community colleges, eg—but rewards for privatization and revenue-producing programs, etc etc.

Reading all this life-in-wartime austerity of fake correspondence learning, students as teachers, faculty as supervisors, and a standing army of temps, you’d think there was actual fat to be trimmed (other than in the administration).

But the reality is that if you’re really experienced and qualified, teaching 10 courses a year for Chuck Manning nets you about 15 grand without benefits, or less than you’d make at Wal-mart. That’s quite a bit less than half the $33, 960 that the extremely useful Living Wage Calculator says is necessary to support one adult and one child in Knox County.

This has been going on for quite some time, as the hero of our Faculty on Food Stamps video series, Andy Smith can tell you. Since starring in the series, Andy has learned another hard lesson about Chuck Manning: asking politely for a raise gets you a) strung along with months and years of “we’re considering that” and b) turned down flat when they run out of string.

When higher ed administration has left you jaded—when blood from a stone doesn’t thrill you any more—call Charlie Manning, this year’s Turkey at the Top. He’ll squeeze you a faculty smoothie and slip you a side of diploma mill, and do it with a smile.

PS—Next, I’ll tell you what I think Tennessee faculty and students ought to do, just IMHO, of course.

PPS—Oh, and Obama watchers? This kind of quality-management nickel-and-diming employees literally to death is the hallmark of the Clinton economy and Clinton-Gore approach to the public good. The next few weeks will tell if Obama thinks labor will fall for the quality scam again (doubtful), while he sells out our dreams, cozying up to folks like Manning and Michelle Rhee. You want to know what higher education will look like if Clinton-Gore principles are put to work? Just look at Charlie Manning’s work in Gore’s home state.

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