Tuesday, April 18, 2017

How Faculty Undermine Shared Governance--A Set of Perverse Lessons

I have been writing about the way that changes in the institutional mission and cultures of universities has produced greater fissures between faculties and their managers (Deans, chancellors, etc.) and the way that manifests in a set of perverse "lessons" (How Not to be a Dean--A Set of Perverse Lessons).

Yet faculty are not innocent bystanders in these great transformations and the resulting reshaping of academic governance cultures. Indeed, in some sense, faculty may themselves be the most important drivers of changes that increasingly see them shut out of governance except in episodic and well controlled ways. They are their own worst enemies when it comes to the protection of shared governance--and their cultivation of cultural bad behaviors will contribute greatly to the passing of shared governance int he coming decades.

Faculty, like academic middle managers increasingly find themselves in a bind. But unlike the bind that traps academic middle managers--torn between the academic culture of the professorate and the corporate cultures of senior management--faculty are torn between two quite distinct trends that produce bad behavior. On the one hand, faculty see themselves increasingly threatened on a personal level where advancement is viewed as a zero sum gain within a faculty (that is a faculty member can rise only by an equal downward movement by one or more colleagues). That sets up hyper competitive cultures that erode both cooperation and civility. Second, faculty collectively see themselves threatened by productivity cultures grounded in assessment. To the extent that "stars" drive baselines for productivity, it becomes collectively rationale to enforce (informally) a set of norms that compel all faculty to produce toward the average. These contradictions in academic culture for personal and collective action, in turn, require the cultivation of sensibilities that draw faculty into increasingly adversarial relationships with each other, but also necessarily into more opportunistically servile relationships with middle managers.

Like their middle managers, most faculties navigate this contradiction in time honored fashion. They develop a rhetorics of solidarity among themselves seek personal advantage in a culture that one cannot win without another losing. These contradictions, of course, are heightened in a "mixed" faculty, with tenured and fixed tern faculty sharing governance responsibilities. As a consequence, the modern university is witnessing an interesting trend--fracture among the faculty where cultures of "you eat what you kill" are increasingly cultivated, and growing solidarity among managers who increasingly share a distinct but coherent culture and its quite distinct approach to the management of the production of students through a transnational web of knowledge dissemination and production.

What contradiction produces, of course, is another trend--as faculty solidarity dissipates, so too does effective participation on shared governance. The incentives grow for individual faculty members to sacrifice shared obligation in the protection of individual interest--not against administration but against their own colleagues. And to the extent that collective action is still feasible, the trend produces both inertia and conservatism--a drive toward the average that then shifts innovation (and effective governance) from faculty to the administrators.

In that context, it may be necessary to begin to think about the ways that these fissures show up in the techniques of faculty (self and shared) governance. This post considers some of the most interesting and telling examples of the perhaps inevitable bad behaviors that faculty might fall into as incentives induce behaviors that ultimately contribute to the transformation of faculty from an active participant in the operation of the university to a passive factor in the production of exploitable value to the university. It is put together as a set of lessons for the young faculty member on the emerging rules of navigating faculty interaction in governance, the effects of which are likely to be the opposite of what is intended.

Let folly reign again!

1. All change is suspect and must be resisted.  Change, especially changes that are driven by others must always be viewed as potentially threatening to your status and position relative to others on the faculty.  Unless such change is meant to enhance your authority, it ought to be resisted as something foreign and alien.  Even better, resistance van be grounded in the unquestioning fidelity to the "ideals" of the unit to the university.  Where it is politically dangerous to resist (perhaps because one is negotiating for "payment" from deans or colleagues in exchange for open support or at least silence) then indirect measures are always available.  Meetings and study provide an ideal way to embrace opportunities that you want to subvert. Reservations must be attended to, benchmarking provides endless hours of discussion. And when all else fails, passive resistance and obtuse application can subvert almost any change. In the end, a faculty that becomes very good at resisting all change, a faculty whose deliberative add substantial transaction costs to change, is likely a faculty that will be to produce two consequences: (1) change will increasingly be driven by administrators; and (2) faculty will be ct out of the process.

2.  Divide into factions, and govern by spite. In collective bodies factions are inevitable.  Where they divide along lines of vision for the unit then the product of their debate may well enhance shared governance and develop a stronger solidarity among faculty. Where the factions are grounded in personal advantage and personal differences, the results can be quite different. These are factions that will pursue policy and governance not to enhance the unit but to damage their factional opponents. These are factions that would destroy as unit to damage the personal or academic reputation of opposing factions. In its most extreme form this produces faculty governance by spite--and I well aware of many of its variations. This is governance that does not undermine shared governance--it strips it of all legitimacy. This destructive factionalism also produces the sort of anarchy that creates the opening necessary for administrative intervention. Administrators may be willing to defer to the outcome of factional debate about policy.  They are less likely to take seriously policy that is the product of personal battling but will use those battles as the excuse they need to marginalize faculty engagement and shift authority from faculty elsewhere. 

3.  Find and exploit a scapegoat.  While Rule 1 and 2 follow from the embrace of a "zero sum" mentality toward work environments, the scapegoat rule produces synergies among faculty and administrators, but one that ultimately shifts power to administrators. Here it is easy for faculty to play into a cunning dean's hands--and to indulge the worst parts of their nature.  The scapegoat is the reason that things go wrong in a unit; they are an example of work ethic or engagement that are worthy of derision.  Where the derision is shared among colleagues--and between colleagues and administrators, one has the complete set up for the creation of a toxic environment that ultimately poisons all who are involved. In this Lord of the Flies environment, the sacrifice of the weakest colleague also sacrifices faculty solidarity and paves the way fro terror as faculty eventually turn on each other.  For the sacrificed colleague, the effect is tantamount to expulsion.  I

4.  Deride the work of colleagues; when that is impossible ignore it.  Academics are always deriding the work of colleagues, sometimes for good reason, usually perhaps for other less worthy objectives.  But that sort of routine pettiness that is endemic in the academy is not what  is meant here.  Instead, this affects governance where it is used to enforce a culture of punishing deviation from the mean. In this sense it is a relative of the rule of the scapegoat, but with a different objective,.  Here the objective is to reduce aggregate work quality and quantity--"出る釘は打たれる" (the nail that sticks out gets hammered down)--to ensure that the aggregate expectations on faculty are not increased.  Another way of thinking about this is that faculty discipline their own to avoid substantial productivity gains (there is sometimes good reason, e.g., the university appropriates all gain, but there are less good reasons as well, the faculty do not want to change their habits even int he face of changing competitive conditions). This is probably one of the most perverse of our rulers--for it holds the key to both attacks on tenure generally and the rise of fixed term faculty especially at the undergraduate level.  There is a related corollary--and one that also touches on a consequence of Rule No. 6 below. For faculties, assessment is viewed as a ministerial task and delegated to "technicians" in administration. Yet assessment increasingly tends define the substantive parameters of academic work.  We are how we are assessed. (Faculty Assessment--From "Man is the Measure of All things" to "The MEASURE is Man" ("The objectification of value measures creates value hierarchies in faculty work reflecting the tastes of the institutional master over that of the servant.")).

5. Develop a distaste for faculty governance; insist that the administrator be the driving force for all policy. I have been hearing stories all of my career about faculties that have indicated that they have little taste for faculty governance--they are too busy; they do not have the expertise; they would prefer administrators to do things; they cannot be bothered with details; and they would prefer only a periodic discussion of high policy--or of the smallest matters that produce the greatest annoyance in their day to day lives.  This is really how shared governance dies--through indifference and the concession of professional expertise from faculty to a class of employee hired to serve and develop expertise in quite specific ministerial activities of the university. hired help who  (especially admissions

6. Cultivate the passive virtues.  Whatever their political values, faculty as a general rule are conservative in the classical sense, that is they adhere to the notion that custom and tradition--the way things are done--are the core source of their legitimacy. This is a natural corollary to our Rule No. 1.  But a profound embrace of this rule ensures that the faculty will become first irrelevant and then a barrier, to change.  Worse, they tend to be ignored as the institution considers change, even if it is merely as a response to changes in the environment in which the university operates.  This rule embraces the insight that faculty must positively embrace passivity as an active virtue, as the grounding for a philosophy of inertia.  It is around this inertia that the 21st century university is being built. And that is the great governance tragedy for faculty.

7.  Use power over curriculum and appointments instrumentally to enhance your power, or that of your faction. Where faculty do embrace governance, it can be turned to advantage, not just to enhance the position of those who wield authority, but to use it as an effective weapon against faculty enemies. I have heard the usual horror stories--the faculty curriculum committee that deliberately stalls course approvals of blacklisted faculty, the use of arcane rules and narrow interpretations to ensure that faculty projects are stalled or rejected.  It has traditionally been  used as an instrument to thwart decanal initiatives, especially those that seem threatening.  But it is as useful as an instrument that can be used to enhance factional faculty power.

8.  Transparency is your enemy. Transparency is a burden. It requires the willingness to explain and justify.  It is the structural core of accountability.  It conflates form and function to produce honest governance--and honest and inclusive engagement.  It comes as no surprise that just as administrators come to dislike transparency as an impediment to "efficiency" and control--faculty also tend to see in transparency an impediment to collaborative action, especially action aimed at colleagues. Secrecy is at the heart of marginalizing disapproved faculty from engagement; it is the most efficient means of giving form to governance while robbing it of its effect.  It is the way in which faculty may collude with administrators in the context of zero sum advantage calculations.   Faculty tend to structure our work as if the security of the nation itself depends on our ability to keep people out of those spaces where we deliberate. What might be justified form time to time as a necessary means of preserving confidentiality with respect to contract negotiation of matters of individual privacy has metastasized into a sense that nothing can be accomplished unless shielded from the scrutiny of others. That is a shame.

9. Pursue cronyism in faculty governance. "The corruption inherent in the tendency to constantly turn to the same set of people meeting usually in private to develop policy and approaches--and to suggest that this small group then represents us all, produces the sort of erosion of democratic governance that contributes to the irrelevance of the institution of the Senate.  Indeed, cultures of cronyism might well have contributed to the sort of insularity that might have produced the stress events of the last several years. " (Remarks of the Senate Chair Made at the April 23, 2013 Meeting of the Penn State Faculty Senate ("The corruption inherent in the tendency to constantly turn to the same set of people meeting usually in private to develop policy and approaches--and to suggest that this small group then represents us all, produces the sort of erosion of democratic governance that contributes to the irrelevance of the institution of the Senate. ").

10. Engage in class warfare; Question the right of fixed term faculty to participate in governance and use position as tenured faculty to punish fixed term faculty that don't vote your way.  We continue to indulge a fantasy grounded in the ideal of the tenured faculty member producing a constant stream of scholarship (and in some departments the grants to purchase research time) and protected in her service activities to the university.  Many of our colleagues are much less privileged. Tenured faculties that take advantage of their relative privilege play into the hands of administrators that would undo all privilege and reduce us all to "knowledge workers" in a "learning factory." But again in the land of "zero sum" politics, it is inevitable to the equivalent of "class struggle" will destabilize relations among the emerging segments of the labor markets for academics.  The greater the turmoil in those ranks, the easier it is to avoid or ignore any input from faculty n furtherance of the governance of the university.

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