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The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why it Matters Hardcover – August 12, 2011
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"This book takes a hard, clear-eyed look, with few holds barred, at the growing number and influence of full-time administrators in colleges and universities. It recognizes the large increase in government and other demands on the bureaucracy. But it dwells on the manifest fact--too often slighted--that administrators have their own fish to fry. Let us hope that his cautionary tale has a wide impact."--Morton Keller, Professor Emeritus of History, Brandeis University
"During my nearly 60 years as a professor, I believe this is the only comprehensive analysis of the academic civil war between the professors and the deans. Ginsberg demonstrates why and how we're losing--or have already lost."--Theodore J. Lowi, Professor of American Institutions, Cornell University
"Ben Ginsberg knows a thing or two about academic bureaucracy. He has had extensive experience with administrative impediments that come between his ideas and their realization. Instead of ranting, he has written The Fall of the Faculty, where he has employed his political insight to examine administrative bloat in higher education and to explain the many ways in which administrative authority has elbowed aside faculty governance in the running of today's colleges and universities. As a recovering deanlet and one-time acting dean, I know whereof he speaks."--Matthew A. Crenson, Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Johns Hopkins University
"In his lacerating "The Fall of the Faculty," Mr. Ginsberg argues that universities have degenerated into poorly managed pseudo-corporations controlled by bureaucrats so far removed from research and teaching that they have barely any idea what these activities involve. He attacks virtually everyone from overpaid presidents and provosts down through development officers, communications specialists and human-resource staffers but he reserves his most bitter scorn for the midlevel "associate deans" and "assistant deans" who often have the most direct control over the faculty. Mr. Ginsberg refers to them as "deanlets," but at my institution they are often called "ass. deans." The Fall of the Faculty" reads like a cross between a grand-jury indictment and a call to arms. Yet as bracing and darkly pleasurable as this call is, it is hard to imagine professors joining the resistance with so few weapons at their disposal."--The Wall Street Journal
About the Author
Benjamin Ginsberg is the David Bernstein Professor of Political Science, Director of the Center for the Study of American Government, and Chair of the Center for Advanced Governmental Studies at Johns Hopkins University. His previous books include Downsizing Democracy, American Government: Power and Purpose, and We the People: An Introduction to American Politics.
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When I taught at the University of Wisconsin, Madison (1969-1981) every significant academic administrative post was held by a faculty member and all of the supporting positions (associate deanships, e.g.) were held by a part-time faculty member. Some associate deans served longish terms, some only three years. The requirement was that you would continue to teach and do research in your department while you held the administrative position and return to your department when your term was completed.
While not entirely gone and not entirely forgotten, that world has been replaced by a bureaucratized university filled with administrators and administrative staff. Dr. Ginsberg tells this story and describes its implications in this bittersweet book. The story is sad; fortunately, Dr. Ginsberg has not lost his sense of humor. Moreover, he has not lost his courage, for he names names and names institutions as he details the most prominent offenders.
The general public often consider `the growth of administration' to essentially mean the proliferation of vice presidents and other `higher' officials. The actual growth, as Dr. Ginsberg explains, has been in nonteaching, nonresearching `academic' staff--what he calls `deanlets' and `deanlings'. In the modern university the number of students has expanded dramatically, the number of faculty has increased, but not dramatically; the number of higher administrators has increased; the number of nonteaching academic staff has exploded.
Some of these appointments are easily explained. Many are information technology professionals. Some are the `enrollment management' and `diversity' professionals. Faculty advisors have been replaced by `professional' advisors (often in response to a curriculum which is too complex for anyone to understand). Development staff have proliferated, and so on.
This is not always a problem. If development staff bring in far more dollars than they cost (16 cents on the dollar is a frequent guide number; 8 cents on the dollar is often seen) that is all to the good, assuming that development dollars match university priorities. And after all, what are public universities to do when their state contributions have been shrinking since the 1970's? Interestingly, though, the largest growth in the number of deanlets and deanlings has been in the private universities.
Their activities are often lumped under the catchall term, `student services'. These are the holders of hands and the providers of luxury. They do the work that the faculty refuses to do (in their narrative); their numbers are growing; their ultimate aspiration is to enjoy the status, compensation and prominence of the faculty.
Why is this a problem? Because it raises educational costs exponentially. Because these individuals tend to see the university as a business and students as customers. Because they distort the university and divert it from the pursuit of its core activities. Because they intrude in curricular areas, setting up parallel programs that are generally banal and less challenging than the traditional curriculum. Because they are paid for by the growth of contingent faculty. Tuitions rise and students are taught by part-timers while their hands are held by full-timers.
Dr. Ginsberg believes that much of this is calculated. He acknowledges that there are some good administrators, but he believes that many are involved in ongoing power plays to shift the university's efforts and authority from its libraries and laboratories and classrooms to its administrative conference rooms. Many of these individuals are thoroughgoing careerists whose personal aspirations trump the needs of their institutions, people who stay long enough to position themselves for their next jobs, often leaving chaos in their wake.
He ridicules their constant meetings, their tendency to stage corporate `retreats', their mouthing of platitudes and chasing of the latest management fads. In many cases he is absolutely, dead solid perfect, correct. These individuals are a blight on the academic world. His depiction of their pomps and works is deadly accurate, e.g. their preparation of `strategic plans', utterly worthless documents which provide the rationale for holding up current decisions until the plan is complete (by which time the planner will have gone to his next job, trumpeting his ability to craft a strategic plan and promising to do so at his next institution).
Dr. Ginsberg recognizes, of course, that there are also dedicated individuals who exhibit institutional loyalty and do their best to advance their college or university. There are even some administrators who continue to teach and do research and recognize those activities as central to the university. Would that there were more of them.
What he does not provide is an account of how the careerists have risen to power, though he does acknowledge the complicit role here of trustees and professional search firms. In part, I believe, we have technocratic, careerist administrators because the positions they fill have become unattractive to people for whom salary is less important than the development and dissemination of knowledge. The contemporary university is a litigious place; it is a bureaucratized place; it is a heavily-regulated place; it is racialized, politicized and corporatized. In some ways it receives `leadership' appropriate to its condition, though not always.
Dr. Ginsberg's proximate frame of reference is Johns Hopkins, an institution with a very large number of hand holders (Vanderbilt actually wins those sweepstakes) and a strong interest in civility- and diversity training. He asks the question (to which, of course, there is no rational answer, but many political ones), why should search committees be subjected to diversity training and racial-sensitivity training by ignorant neophytes when the membership of the search committee includes world-class experts on questions of race? And how will this `training' serve any useful purpose in the face of the fact that in one recent year there were only 10 African-American Ph.D.'s produced in Mathematics and 13 in Physics? It will take up faculty time and it will create careers for the trainers, but it will not increase the number of available African-American Ph.D.'s. The `diversity' is in the diversity training office, not in the Math or Physics department.
This is an interesting book. It is passionately argued, straightforward in its facts and justified in its concerns. I hope that it reaches a wide audience.
The only thing I did not like about the book was the last chapter on solutions, because I think they are not going to work. Prof. Ginsberg's solutions all focused on people working against basically their best immediate interests for the good of us all. Admin are not going to take pay cuts or limit the number of people working underneath them unless they are particularly good people (and we know that really good people is a tiny minority group). Similarly, board members are not going to turn away business and favors from the administrators. Faculty members are not going to torch their own careers by ceasing to graduate unneeded (and often unqualified) PhDs for the purpose of limiting the supply so faculty can regain controls of the University.
I still give the book 5 stars – because I don't really have any better solutions. Yes it would be nice if the federal government stopped allowing absurd overhead rates that do nothing to help research and only fatten the giant fat cats that own the universities. It would also be nice if state Governors put pay caps on administrators. However, the good guy team is going to get out-lobbied there every time. Eventually as all the colleges become online degree mills run almost exclusively by administrators, students will stop going to them because as they continue to cheapen the degrees they will eventually become worthless. It looks as if Americans at least will need to go overseas to get a decent education. If you have children make sure their passports are up to date.