The Irascible ProfessorSM

Irreverent Commentary on the State of Education in America Today

by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro
TO MOLLYBARRY, v.t. To advance one's career by adopting a pro-business, anti-academic agenda.... ...Scott Rice, "Ring Around the Mollybarry Bush" (see the following guest commentary)...

Commentary of the Day - January 4, 2001:  Ring Around the Mollybarry Bush - Guest Commentary by Scott Rice:

In my thirty-one years in academia something ugly has happened to higher-education administrators.  Granted, we are all flawed vessels, faculty and administrators alike, but the latter have taken a decided turn for the worse.  They have developed their own distinct culture, one that radically separates their interests from those of faculty.  For me, the change is dramatized by the contrast between my first campus president at San Jose State (SJSU) and two prominent California State University (CSU) careerists, Molly Corbett Broad and Barry Munitz.

When I arrived at SJSU, Robert C. Clark was nearing the end of his tenure and was about to move to the presidency of the University of Oregon.  In the quaint parlance of the times, he was by almost universal agreement a scholar and a gentleman.  First and foremost he was an academic, someone who understood and appreciated our institution's academic mission.  And he was a staunch believer in faculty governance.  To the public, I believe, he embodied values that in the late 60’s were still recognized as being radically incompatible with those of the marketplace.  For some with their fingers in a greasy till, he must have been a chastening presence.

And most important of all, he understood the first responsibility of an upper-level campus administrator: to create and maintain a context in which faculty can do their best work, the only context in which students can receive the best education.  In sum, President Clark identified his interests with those of his faculty and students.  And to honor him we put his name on the campus library.

Cut to the present and the new breed of higher education administrator.  I became aware of the transformation during a recent presidential search, one that we successfully overturned because the finalists were so Lilliputian, even by today's standards.  Most of the finalists had degrees like Administration of Higher Education (like that of Cornerstones-pusher, executive vice-chancellor David S. Spence).  If they had legitimate academic degrees, they nevertheless had gone almost directly from graduate school into administration, having little taste for life in classrooms and academic departments.  All had stunning résumés, the kind people can have only when they have dedicated their professional lives to looking good on paper.  One was a chemist who, by the end of her first year of employment, had insinuated herself into the administration.  Despite her early abandonment of classroom and laboratory, this phenom listed current memberships in over 120 scientific and professional organizations, a classic example of résumé stuffing.

But more destructive than their naked careerism is the anti-academic mindset of our latter-day administrators, exemplified most starkly by Molly Corbett Broad and Barry Munitz.  Both pursued their ambitions at the expense of faculty, both mounted the university-as-business bandwagon, both contributed to the thermal of hot air that keeps the cyber learning rage afloat, and both “leveraged” their CSU positions into attractive career moves.

In her Foreword to Oblinger and Verville’s What Business Wants from Higher Education, Broad spouts the now familiar line that, to adjust to “the global knowledge economy,” universities must restructure themselves after the model of corporate America (including governance by autocratic CEO's).   Furthermore, universities must “accelerate the pace of curricula restructuring to expand the flexible interactive modes of teaching and learning that are sought by the workforce and made possible by the technology revolution” (that is, produce corporate serfs by turning wholesale to faculty-displacing instructional technology and electronic correspondence courses).  And she calls for “direct conversations” between corporate leaders and their counterparts in higher education (but not faculty) to re-think the nature and purpose of our colleges and universities.

Such talk, and especially her infatuation with all things cyber, landed Broad the presidency of the University of North Carolina system.  And being doctorateless was no obstacle, the CSU being recognized nationally as a Petrie dish for the new administrative virus.

Munitz, now head of the Getty Foundation, crawled out of the corporate world and into the chancellorship of the CSU, where he destroyed the faculty salary schedule and set Cornerstones into action, a scheme to increase “productivity” (i.e., extrude degrees more cheaply and easily).  We are to accomplish this feat by maximizing the relationship between “inputs and outputs” (less food but somehow more manure, my dairy childhood translates for me).   For a fuller articulation of his plans for higher education, I refer the strong-stomached to his Educause Review piece, “Changing Landscape: From Cottage Monopoly to Competitive Industry” (January/February 2000).  It can be downloaded from

In mastering the art of prospering at the expense of faculty and students, Broad and Munitz have, I would like to suggest, introduced a new verb into academic discourse, “to mollybarry” (to advance one’s career by adopting a pro-business, anti-academic agenda).

Meanwhile, on my home campus, a symbolic change is taking place.  The Clark Library, named after Robert C. Clark, is being converted to an administration building.  And our library holdings?  They will be housed in the new joint San Jose State University-San Jose Public Library, the pet project of our latest president who, according to word on the street, is poised to make his next career move.
Scott Rice is a Professor of English at San Jose State University.

The IP comments: In general, I agree with Scott about the decline in quality of administrators in higher education in the past decade or two.  While there are many administrators who are genuine teachers and scholars, far too many - particularly in the comprehensive universities - have gone into administration to avoid teaching and scholarship.

As the IP sees it, administrators who attempt to impose  "business" models on universities fail to understand the fundamentally different roles of business and academia.  This does not mean that academia cannot learn from business and vice versa; but, it does mean that the objectives of each are different.  It also does not preclude academia from attempting to prepare students for life after graduation insofar as it can.  However, preparation for a career is only a part of what higher education is about.  Too often the administration types focus only on the career preparation aspects while ignoring the part of higher education that focuses on the life of the mind.  It is this latter aspect that makes the difference between a person who is educated and one who is merely trained.

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