Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Opaque Academic Unit--Little Practices that Undermine Faculty Participation in Managing their Own Academic Programs--the Strategic Use of Room Assignments

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2017)

I have been writing about the larger issues that are shaping the relationships between faculty and administration at the university.  I have noted that these changes reflect larger fundamental changes about the nature of the university and its role in society, as well as respecting the nature and character of the role in education of individuals that produce knowledge (research) and that disseminate it (teaching). In that context I have suggested the way that administration and faculty have become culturally and socially distinct classes within the university; that each of these classes no longer relates to each other as connected by any shared values or mission; and the way that both have increasingly turned inward for the construction of their values, their approach to relations with "others" and with respect to their socialization within their respective communities. 

The consequences of these transformative changes affect all aspects of university operations. Among the most important of these consequences for faculty are those that contribute to the relentless and systematic de-profesisonalization of faculty's role in the university.  It is already accepted that de-professionalization has effectively expelled faculty from meaningful engagement in the operation of the institution of the university, responsibilities that were long ago ceded in whole or in part  to (mostly non-academic) administrators, who tend "the the institutional machine."

Though I spend a lot of time considering the broad stroke activities of administrations as they seek to change the university, the great changes to the university are not usually brought about through grand gestures. It is in the little actions, the ministerial details, the small rules that, in the aggregate, the largest and most profound changes are insinuated within the institution. Starting with this post form time to time I will highlight briefly emerging practices that effectively erode faculty engagement in their own work and turn them from active partners to passive receptacles.

One emerging practice is worthy of note: Strategic Room assignments. Administrative officials usually are delegated the task of room assignments. At one level this task appears entirely ministerial. Yet consider again what happens when faculty are excluded form any  involvement, or when the process of room assignments can be used to usurp faculty involvement in academic programs.  When used strategically or carelessly, room assignment practices can effectively function like enrollment limits--without the need to ask faculty whether they desire an enrollment limit, and if so what might be their target number.  Indeed, no conversation need to had. Its strategic use is revealed when faculty seek to change rooms to accommodate larger enrollments and are effectively stonewalled by officials. Efficiency and administrative convenience in this instance can override any need to align room allocations with needs. More interesting is that it hijacks the possibility of any academic discussion about programs and what enrollment figures suggest by converting the issue into a mere administrative puzzle.  This transformation of issues that have significant academic components into ministerial tasks effectively strips faculty of any involvement in program assessment and limits the ability of faculty to affirmatively control their class sizes. What makes this practice effective is when it is combined with other little practices that involve exercises of administrative discretion. An example: the faculty member that complains about the use of room assignments to shrink her class may get a room change (or not), but might also find herself assigned to very early morning or very late afternoon (Friday) classes for a few semester thereafter.  Causation will be impossible to prove and justification pre-manufactured strong enough to survive internal grievance mechanisms (because of the increasingly broad scope of discretion allocated even to lower level officials).

If you have knowledge or experience with additional practices please pass them on and I will post anonymously.

No comments:

Post a Comment