The Irascible ProfessorSM

Irreverent Commentary on the State of Education in America Today

by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro
In a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.....  ...Laurence Peter.
Commentary of the Day - March 9, 2000: The Growing Gulf Between Administration and Faculty in the CSU.  Guest Commentary by Michael Gregory:
[The following commentary is adapted from an email exchange between Professor Gregory and another California State University colleague. ed.]

The relationship between faculty and administration in the California State University system has changed.  Both faculty members and administrators have changed radically in their attitudes, manner and behavior.  I first entered what was to  become CSU in 1956, and I have been at San Francisco State University since 1959.  This world has turned upside down.  Administration used to take care of the campus.  Faculty used to take care of the curriculum.  There was no question that the university WAS the faculty and its students.

The best administrators I have known took pride in aiding faculty to perform their function more effectively, and pretty much stayed in the background.  (N.B. These administrators were mainly drawn from the ranks of teaching faculty, and the relations were, for the most part, truly collegial in the best sense.  These, in my own personal experience, included provosts, vice-presidents and deans - all of whom would go out of their way to encourage and help faculty efforts toward innovation.  (The NEXA1 program at SFSU, begun 25 years ago, was a product of that marvelous synergy and enthusiasm.)

The faculty I knew, especially at SFSU in my early days here, were spunky and full of ideas.  Professors professed in the Spinozan sense, and students came from around the country to take our courses in many fields - drama, creative writing, literature (and yes, General Semantics) - because the courses and their instructors were exciting,  creative, and unpredictable.  Any course that could be specified in advance for Learning Outcomes would have been considered ossified, and worth no one's time to take or to teach.  Today we use the word "emergent" and defend the quality only hesitantly in The Age of Assessment.

The faculty I see around me today are very different, having changed gradually but with a grim culminating effect.  These are the qualities I see right now, right here.  First, they are terrified and defensively turned inward.  I leave it to others to describe how they came to be this way - performance evaluations, achievement reports, competition for usually trifling pay increases, rivalry and suspicion, etc.  Then the towering command structure that governs every aspect of their professional lives is in itself daunting in the extreme.  Any innovation, any change in course or curriculum or program to which one is devoted, must go through at least a half a dozen challenges, and often is rejected without reason or even notification.  So now the wise advice is simply, in the words of Damon Runyon's Nathan Detroit, "Make no bull moves."

And now the saddest change of all, signaled  by a colleague's new use of the term "collegiality."  For the most part, this no longer retains its literal meaning: sympathetic relations among fellows in a guild or profession.  Today "collegiality" refers to smooth relations between empowered administrators and compliant faculty.  This by no means is all the faculty, most of whom are trying to make their lives meaningful to themselves as teachers and scholars in the quaint traditional ways.  But it does mean those faculty, and they are not a few, who are diligently carrying out the will of the hierarchy, even trying to guess out its next move, for their own proximate or ultimate. betterment, and advantage over their peers.

Consider this: I have watched faculty Senate Chairs come and go for over 25 years.  As we know, the Senate stands at the interface between the machinery of power on any campus and the realm where human beings are attempting teaching and learning.  The Senate should mediate between the means of the one and the needs of the other, at least since the time these began to diverge so markedly.

In all these years I cannot remember one Senate Chair who did not immediately become a member of the administration.

Almost all of them have become Vice Presidents.

That's the view from here.  I very much hope that "collegiality" retains its original meaning on your campus.  If it does, I hope you will tell us how you managed to preserve it.    For others with experiences paralleling mine, let's hear some suggestions for resuming parity, if not control.  And yes,  it is some comfort to remember the Maquis of the French Resistance.
1The NEXA program was originally known as "Science and Humanities: A Program for Convergence".

Professor Gregory is the Director of the NEXA Program for Convergence, which was established in 1975 under a $1M development grant from National Endowment for the Humanities and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, planned by both senior and junior faculty, and enabled by the entire administrative staff of San Francisco State University, under the presidency of Paul Romberg.

Professor Gregory's comments represent his own opinions; however, the Irascible Professor agrees with his concerns over the changing roles of both administrators and faculty members in the California State University system.  In particular, the IP feels that we suffer from an excess of administrators who have few roots in the system that they administer.

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