Monday, June 10, 2013

The Autocracy of University Administration

Even post-research universities cling to the trappings of democracy.  Post-research universities have a number of institutions that are supposed to give the faculty platforms to contribute to decision-making by higher administrators.  One platform is the faculty senate.  The senate itself is organized as a representative democracy. The members of the senate are elected.  The faculty union is another.  Faculty are free to join or not.  These administrators of the faculty are elected by the senate.  It may come as no surprise that the administrators pay lip service to so-called shared governance.  I have already posted on the contempt administrators have for faculty.  What may be more surprising that even the seemingly democratic faculty organization of a department is actually just as autocratic as the university is.  Department Chairs are autocrats.  To be sure, Chairs are elected by the department members and Deans usually go along with the wishes of the department.  And there are committees dealing with merit pay, graduate admissions, and tenure and promotion, among other concerns.  These committees are entirely powerless, however.  They are, to use the rhetoric of a person in my department, "entirely advisory to the Chair."  So the Chair will of course she herself or himself as always doing the right thing whether the department likes it or not while faculty will see, like any group will, the Chair's rewarding of some faculty members and not others as arbitrary, unethical, unjust.  The admin is just a garden variety species of croneyism.  The longer the same admin is power, the more illegitimate the Chair will become in the eyes of most department members.  The sad result of autocracy is that morale plummets lower and lower and even the most highly distinguished members of the department finds themselves subjected to the sado-masochism of everyday academic life.  The even sadder thing is that things could be otherwise.

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