Written with Mary Churchill
Mike: I agree with your criticism of the corporate model, but it is worth talking a bit about alternatives to it, as far as faculty is concerned. From the point of view of faculty, there two key provisions of a viable alternative. The first involves maintaining the principle of collegiality. This entails accepting limits on administration that allow for a re-establishment of faculty authority over teaching personnel, curriculum, methodologies, and especially standards. The second involves translating faculty authority in relation to administration into more than mere consultation and input. This might involve, at the very least, representation and actual participation in all administrative decisions that have to do with the educational process itself.
Mary: I think one of the main difficulties lies in getting concrete about what we mean by “the educational process.” Until we have a general operating definition, we are going to have miscommunication. If you define the central mission of the university as one focused on teaching and learning, you can begin to outline the role each unit plays in supporting that goal.
One challenge in arriving at a common definition lies in the fact that most professors have little awareness of either the overall structure of the institution or the day-to-day operations of the various offices on campus. When faculty’s lack of awareness is combined with an overall hostility of administrators toward faculty, you begin to see units becoming very territorial about the work they do. One of our readers even stated that he did not trust putting faculty in charge of student learning, which is clearly central to the “educational process.” When we stop trusting those doing the teaching to be responsible for student learning, it is obvious that there is a clear lack of buy-in and consensus about the goals and missions of our institutions.
Mike: Agreed, and, as you point out, the university is more than its faculty and academic administration. We have far more in common than we have differences. However, within that commonality, it is necessary to recognize what is distinct about the situation and function of faculty. This has to do with how we think about postsecondary education. If it is training, the acquisition of skills, and the assignment of credentials, then faculty are merely purveyors of what is already known in those areas, especially to the job market, and also purveyors of institutional prestige.
If education involves something quite different—say, a way of life in which criticism and self-criticism are conjoined—then the corporate model, however modified, is counterproductive. It is hostile to the democratic values on which a defensible concept of education has depended for about a century.
Mary: Part of the reason I used the analogy of magic earlier in the week was to highlight the positive aspects of education and to ask us to think about our attraction to analogies, such as the corporation, that highlight negative aspects.
Media coverage of teaching and teachers, whether in higher education or K-12, is mind-numbingly negative. I know that I am not alone when I say that I am tired of hearing people dump on teachers and blame them for everything that is wrong with education. I agree that our systems are broken and outdated and they need to be changed, but I cannot lay the blame for this on the front-line teachers in our college and K-12 classrooms. Creating this type of change requires more than replacing bad teachers with good teachers; it requires leadership, vision, and a societywide commitment to education.
This type of commitment to education would require a similar level of commitment to democracy and democratic values. I’m afraid that only a minority of society supports those values.