Wednesday, December 23, 2015

"Now THIS is Shared Governance"; "NOW this is shared Governance"; "Now this IS Shared Governance": Embedding Faculty Within the Bureaucratic Machinery of Authoritarian Regimes

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2015)

The American university has changed.  A combination of (1) de-professionalization (in the form of dis aggregating  faculty responsibilities among a number of roles and limiting tenure to a remnant), (2) advancement of autonomous administrator cultures (senior administrators are socialized into an administrator caste system whose highest interest is to perpetuate itself and its own status interests), and (3) the change in the mission of universities from providing education (understood in what was its classical meaning of preparing individuals for citizenship and vocation) to efficiently producing suitable "product" for wage labor markets (targeted to different spots on that wage labor market depending on the position of the university within the industry) has transformed it into a point in global labor production chains. While hints of the classical American university might be preserved--something either as a "proof" that things are still the same, or for the production of elements slotted for elite responsibilities in society, markets, politics, defense, technology or religion, university administrators now serve as overseers of a distinctly different "human value added" production process. One might lament the change, but it is far too late for nostalgia--the ramifications of this foundational change must be recognized as embedded for some time to come.

With this change, of course, comes changes in the nature of the relationship between faculty and the administrator caste with respect to the operation of this "learning factory." No longer the most authoritative source of knowledge about either knowledge or programs of training for students to impart this knowledge, faculty are increasingly seen as little more than the operational element of market driven verities of knowledge and its transmission. Operating in the form of collegial "senates"--a Roman republican form grounded in deliberation, but one less useful in those more authoritarian regimes that mark the structures and cultures emerging as the new university governance architecture--traditional forms of faculty shared governance are becoming increasingly irrelevant, and indeed, burdensome, in an authoritarian learning factory model of education.  Senates are increasingly brushed aside or co-opted--not because they are incapable but because the ideology that made their operation so useful has been brushed aside in favor of another in which a vigorous Senate can play no vibrant and autonomous role.

This post considers a hypothetical drawn from a number of imagined strands of possible behaviors at public universities.  The hypothetical illustrates the contours of change in shared governance at the everyday and operational level.  It also suggests the ramifications for what might remain of effective faculty engagement in what is becoming the baseline cultures of American educational society.  It suggests both the context and character of the growing erosion of faculty authority--and its inevitability in the new educational order.

Consider a hypothetical:

The faculty of State University (SU) has, after a long process, finally adopted a new core curriculum education program for university undergraduates (the "CCUU"). The adopted program includes a number of changes from the prior versions of CCUU.  The implementation of CCUU is led, as is traditional at SU by its University Faculty Organization (the "UFO"). To that end, the UFO President has constituted a number of special faculty committees to review and propose the necessary changes to courses and course related programs for consideration and eventual adoption by the faculty, in close consultation with unit and senior administrators.  The implementaiton includes consideration of adoption of the necessary apparatus for monitoring and assessing programs and courses.

Several weeks after the initiation of this process a number of faculty receive a notice that a senior administrator will be putting together a small group of administrators and carefully chosen faculty for the purpose of considering assessment and monitoring of all aspects of the new CCUU.  It was determined that this group was to be constituted informally and would serve as the spearhead for administrative efforts at shaping CCUU by managing assessment.  The President of UFO is not informed--but find out when some of the faculty members asked to join this informal group become worried about the overlap and mixed signals it appears to send.  And, indeed, the suggestion "hangs in the air" that this informal group will be driving the process. The UFO President speaks with senior administrators about this she is told "not to worry" but that the committee will proceed. The UFO President suggests that this informal committee ha sno authority to act and that it is considering matters in the purview of the faculty.  She is told that "be that as it may" the UFO is too slow and clumsy and organization and that senior administrators prefer faster action more integrated with their own approaches to disciplining university activity. 

After some thought, the UFO President acts.  She immediately charges  one of her standing committees with the task of producing "legislation" on those issues to be considered by the informal administration committee, and includes in this UFO committee all of the faculty members invited to serve on the informal administration group. But the work proves daunting, and the chair of that UFO committee was unwilling to engage in this work.  The reasons remain obscure to the UFO President, who received only a note referencing a vote of the committee to reject the charge. In any case, faced with the enormity of the task (along with others to which they had been charged) it is possible that committee members might have felt overwhelmed.  

Back to square one, the UFO President then, with some reluctance, approaches the senior administrators with the following proposal: the UFO President and the Senior Administrator would jointly announce the creation of a new administration led task force, the purpose of which was to undertake the work rejected by the standing committee and its chair. The task force is to be headed by an administrator but report to the UFO.  A majority of the committee is to be composed of faculty though mush of the work will be undertaken by and through administrative personnel. Both will oversee the process.  As this agreement is sealed, the Senior Administrator is heard to say, "Now this is shared governance."    

This hypothetical suggests the state of shared governance in the modern American university

I have been writing  much lately about the changing face of shared governance in the modern American University.  I have been suggesting that as the underlying premises that supported the traditional structures of shared governance wither or are transformed, so too has shared governance changed its character--though not necessarily its form.  The professionalization of administrative departments, the increasing divide between administrative interests and those of faculty, the de professionalization of faculty as knowledge producers and the like all have contributed to profound structural changes in the university and, necessarily, in the nature of the relations between faculty, administration, trustees and outside stakeholders.    

The hypothetical suggests some of the reasons for the change and what may lie ahead for shared governance in the next decades. Much like the title to this post, the change in the role of shared governance can be best understood by a change in emphasis that changes meaning.

1.  Even in their core competencies--course and programs of study--faculty are no longer understood as authoritative experts who should be driving innovation.  Increasingly, the business of education is seen as a technical matter, one the complexities of which are beyond the competence of faculty.  Faculty, likewise, are increasingly seen as constrained by the domains of their disciplines.  They are viewed as locked within their fields--which they might be expert in teaching or research.  But beyond the ability to deliver knowledge or to expand it within their field, faculty are no longer understood as having any particular expertise in the business of education. To deliver education requires a distinct type of expertise, one that focuses on the business of determining what sorts of knowledge ought to be offered for sale to students and how that knowledge ought to be packaged to serve the interests of consumers at the back end--employers. Moreover, universities also now serve a new master--the state--whose unending appetite for regulatory management of the university meets the political appetite of the polity but draws resources and demands expertise beyond those which might be drawn form faculty.

2.  Faculty are no longer seen as being able to act autonomously even within the core of their competence.  Within this emerging reality of the business of education as distinct and even remote from the knowledge domains of faculty (in which they might still be understood as expert),  there is little reason to extend autonomy for the production and dissemination of knowledge to those who labor in its fields.  Indeed, from thew administrative perspective the opposite is true.  Faculty are so specialized tat they lack the ability and experience to understand the institution within which education is provided or its political economy.  As a smaller part of a larger institution, it is less necessary, and less valuable, to vest faculty with any sort of special expertise.  And in the absence of expertise it is unlikely that these smaller factor in the production of revenue for the institution ought to be permitted to exercise autonomous power.  There is no space within which that autonomy might be exercised except perhaps within the disciplines themselves.

3.  Faculty governance structures and cultures no longer match up with those of administration. Faculty goverrnance structures were designed for a culture in which the premises  of university education were quite distinct from those of the present.  The notion of education as both civic and practical instruction has given way to a more efficiency and labor market oriented approach.  Ironically the only remnant of the old structures--CCUU in the hypothetical--are them,selves now understood either in more political terms or as a means of deepening the labor market preparation strategies of modern university education. In this environment faculty disciplines do not necessarily align with the labor market objectives of education product design.  Whereas once the disciplines drove education, now labor specialization has been given pride of place. What that produces is a very distinct and distinctly different approach to education one that separates administrators from faculty.  This difference is reflected not merely in governance cultures but in the understanding of the role and function of the institution. These differences are reflected in the organization of authority--the administration moving toward efficiency and authoritarian structures, the faculty clinging to discipline based consensus collegial structures.

4.  Faculty no longer have the time to engage in the sort of work that administrators devote substantially all of their working time.   The changes in administrative obligations, habits and objectives require an approach to administration that is incompatible with the service oriented mission of classical shared governance.  Administrators serve the state in increasingly time conuming ministerial roles.  The rules enveloping the modern university have become more complex and burdensome, especially int he sense of requiring the acquisition of expertise that is irrelevant to the hard work of remaining current within knowledge disciplines. Indeed, in some sense administration, now closer to public administration in its sensibilities, can be understood as the expression of its own disciplinary cultures.  Within this autonomous disciplinary structure, faculty have little to offer. And the demands on their time--in terms of efforts toward knowledge dissemination and knowledge production within increasingly complex disciplinary fields makes it increasingly unlikely that they will have the time to master., must less exercise, the disciplinary skills necessary to appropriately engage with full time administrators adequately socialized within their own arcane field of knowledge-purpose. Administrators, then, are in a position to displace faculty--and that displacement is enhanced by their assessment matrices increasingly used by administrators to assess faculty.  These measures of faculty performance do not emphasize nor reward the time time and skills required to engage successfully in shared governance of the classical sort.  In this sense, administrators are complicit in the alienation of faculty from the business of administrating the university.  They exacerbate the tendency toward administration specialization that makes the running fo the university more and more  expertise driven in ways that faculty can no longer easily participate and which are no longer substantially rewarded. 

5.  Administrators are increasingly seen, or at a minimum they increasingly see themselves, as expert in the areas once at the core of faculty competence, and in the process have develop their own sources of expertise.  Within this evolving framework, faculty are increasingly displaced.  Their expertise no longer corresponds to the kind of expertise necessary to administer the university as it has been repurposed.  As a consequence, though faculty remain experts in their disciplines, they no longer are exclusive experts in the business of education.  The two, once intertwined, are now separated.  Each requires the acquisition of special knowledge and each serves its own ends.  It follows that faculty add little by way of administrative expertise.  More importantly, they are viewed as less able to legitimately assess administrative decision making or to judge the value of administrative decisions.  The shift in expertise, then, liberates administrators not merely from the burdens of shared governance, but also from its role as a means of holding administrations accountable for their education related decisions.  Narrowing and specializing faculty expertise, then, shifts the roles of each in academic governance even of the educational mission of the university.  And it makes it almost inevitable that faculty might be useful only as technical experts to help an administration driven process--even one that retains in form the appearance of faculty leadership.

It is in these senses that one can understand the elation--the feeling of success--expressed by the administrator in the hypothetical in the three senses suggested in the title of this posting.  "Now THIS is shared governance" expresses the notion that the forms of shared governance increasingly must rely on administrator direction and "leadership" as experts in the technical and ministerial policy that such work involves.  "NOW this is shared governance" reminds us of the evolving character of this role and the profundity of the change it implies--from faculty-expert driven, to administrative.technical policy orientation focused on a production model new to the institution of the university.  "Now this IS shared governance" suggests the nature of the new realities of shared governance.   It reminds us that irrespective of the forms that shared governance retains--and universities seem to enjoy keeping up the appearance of continuity in changing times--the role of faculty in governance, even within the core of their traditional competence is shrinking substantially in scope and character.

Where does that lñeave faculty governance?  With a choice--either to accept an increasingly diminished role, satisfied with the retention of the forms of shared governance even as its substance is eroded beyond recognition.  Or it might undertake the harder work of reshaping itself to these new realities--taking on a more aggressive and assertive role, not in formulation of policies but in the monitoring and accountability of those to whom power over the university has shifted.  That is likely the only effective way to retain a strong role in shared governance. And it is also likely to be the only way that administrators will ever feel the responsibility of accounting toward some of its substantial stakeholders.

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