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Three Midsummer Links on University Governance

AAUP Summer Institute workshop

For the next several days, I’ll be in Boston for the AAUP‘s Summer Institute, which is a training workshop about faculty governance, defending academic freedom, organizing, and collective bargaining issues. (For new readers, I am the president of my campus’s union, and the vice-chair of the AAUP’s Collective Bargaining Congress.)

The summer institute is immensely helpful along all sorts of axes, including, crucially, the ability to learn about the challenges and opportunities at other campuses–including simply learning about alternative ways of approaching common problems. The recognition that a particular policy or committee structure isn’t given by God, but can perhaps be modified in various ways, is empowering.

I’ll report more fully from the SI next week, but–mindful of a shrewdly observed comment left on my last post about the institute–I wanted to highlight three recent posts about higher education governance that are worth some time:

  • I missed it in January, so fortunately Lee Skallerup Bessette has reposted her excellent post on “The Mysteries of the Administrative Structure,” which gets massive bonus points for leading with a Star Wars epigraph: We, as faculty, have remained purposefully ignorant of the inner-workings of our institutions. We stare in the face of the bureaucracy and shrug our shoulders in a collective act of defeat. What can we do, we ask? It’s too big, it’s too powerful, and we’re just a lowly professor. And professors show little to no interest in becoming a part of the administrative structure in order to change it. Administrators are increasingly professional bureaucrats, not academics.
  • Dean Dad’s post on bloat is, I think, oddly complacent, but it’s also a useful corrective to the ignorance Lee diagnoses above: the reason the “administrative bloat” argument feels right to so many people is that colleges and universities have taken on many more functions than they have in the past. Most community colleges are spared the administrative nightmare of dorms, but even here, we have to deal with ever-more-onerous regulations, increased student needs, increased reporting requirements, ever-tighter record-keeping and compliance requirements, and basic technological advances. For example, we have someone whose full-time job it is to manage and coordinate the human patient simulators for Nursing. When I was in college, those simulators (and that job) didn’t exist. Every grant-funded program needs a dedicated Director as a condition of the grant.
  • Finally, at Matt Yglesias’s blog, Matthew Cameron links to new report from the National Governors Association conference on “improving efficiency” in public higher education, and points out the flaw that is obvious to everyone except, apparently, the nation’s governors: Crucial to the success of this approach will be university boards of regents, which will have to shoulder much of the responsibility for designing appropriate metrics and implementing effective policies that improve institutional performance. Unfortunately, regents usually aren’t appointed on the basis of their academic experience or policy-making prowess. Rather . . . . governors tend to hand out these positions to those who contributed generously to their election campaigns.

Governance can seem frustrating or unrewarding–but it can also become genuinely important work on campus, work that makes a difference to all the different constituencies of a college.

Do you have favorite resources on academic governance? Books? Websites? Let us know in comments!

Photo by Flickr user AAUP / Creative Commons licensed

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