The airwaves continue to buzz about the horrific sexual abuse scandal at Penn State University. The Penn State Board of Trustees have already fired legendary football coach Joe Paterno, as well as University President Graham Spanier. It is certain that many more lurid details of this sordid story will be exposed. If you look beyond the salacious headlines it is clear that the scandal is a symptom of the scourge of big money and corporate culture that have infected the social life of our universities. At Penn State It seems that university officials believed that the institutional integrity of Penn State football, which has generated millions upon millions of dollars in revenues, was more important to protect than the physical and emotional integrity of the alleged rape victims, all of whom were juveniles. What has become of university life?
Th severity of this scandal sets a horrific stain on the institutional reputation of Penn State. It also marks a sad day for American higher education, for it suggests in no uncertain terms that our universities, which suffer today from administrative bloat, have lost their way in the world. It demonstrates quite tragically one of the consequences of the bureaucratization of contemporary university life. In the corporate bureaucracy the individual is often expendable -- less important than the well being of the institution. When there is a tragedy or a scandal, the powers that be circle the wagons and cloak themselves in secrecy to protect corporate integrity -- and assets. This practice seems to fit the scenario that is unfolding at Penn State.
The events at Penn State reflect, in part, the growing impact of corporate culture and practice in contemporary university life, which is reflected in the exponential expansion of university managers. In the 30 years that I've taught at a public university in Pennsylvania, I've witnessed the gradual erosion of university intellectual life. During those 30 years, the number of full time permanent faculty has decreased and the number of administrators has increased. On most college campuses today highly paid administrators and staffers outnumber underpaid full-time faculty. In this climate of administrative corporate culture college class sizes have expanded significantly. Meanwhile, state legislators, who these days often seem to be suspicious, if not resentful of the freewheeling dynamics of university intellectual life, have slashed budgets for higher education. In the current political climate university administrators and public officials are asking professors to do more with less. Helplessly caught in the vortex of rising costs and decreased standards, our students are the real losers in this game.
In a recent Washington Monthly essay, Johns Hopkins University political scientist Benjamin Ginsberg laments: "Parents who wonder why college tuition is so high and increases each year may be less than pleased to learn that their sons and daughters will have an opportunity to interact with more administrators and staffers -- but not more professors." Ginsberg writes that in the past when there were fewer administrators, they realized that the university's main function was the facilitation of education and research.
As Ginsberg suggests there is an ever-increasing administrative bloat in higher education.
"Every year, hosts of administrators and staffers are added to college and university payrolls, even as schools claim to be battling budget crises that are forcing them to reduce the size of the full-time faculties. As a result, universities are filled with armies of functionaries -- vice-presidents, associate vice presidents, assistant vice presidents, provosts, associate provosts, vice provosts, deans, deanlets, and deanlings, all of whom command staffers and assistants -- who, more and more, direct the operations of every school..."
The critical mass of university administrators and staffers has changed the cultural climate on our campuses. Ginsberg says that professional administrators have on ongoing love affair with management, considering it "as an end in and of itself." He also asserts that the number of administrators and staffers, who often have little or no experience in the college classroom, has grown so much that there is not enough work to keep them busy. In the absence of work, administrators create make-work projects that divert faculty attention away from teaching and research. There is, for example, the ever-present strategic plan, which, according to Ginsberg is usually a 100 or so page document that describes an institution's mission, its vision for the future and a set of steps to achieve its goals. These documents take up to a year to complete. Are these efforts worth such an expenditure of time and effort? Sometimes they are. But as Ginsberg reports, many of these time-consuming plans, based on corporate models, become "expanded vision statements that are often forgotten after they are promulgated."
My university is no exception to these trends in higher education. In addition to teaching larger and larger sections of students and having fewer funding opportunities for research that informs classroom instruction, we are bombarded with time-consuming demands for mission statements, values statements, academic planning data, program assessments, department self-studies and peer evaluations -- all bureaucratic tools designed to ensure academic quality. If this were not enough, we are also invited to attend a bevy of workshops on program and course assessment, curriculum integration, and instructional technologies that will enable us to better conform to the corporate contours of the university. Failure to comply with these administrative requests, we are led to believe, could result in budget cuts or the elimination of programs.
Can any of these measures that evaluate "quality" produce academic excellence? No amount of assessment, strategic planning, or planning procedures, all of which have been grafted onto university life from the body corporate practice, can improve the quality of education on our university campuses. In truth, these activities divert precious time and energy away from teaching and research -- the heart and soul of university life. They also empower anew the corporate contours of university life, which, as in the case of Penn State, foregrounds models of institutional integrity at the expense of real university teachers and their students.
Employing longstanding corporate practices that bring in big money and foster arrogance, the managers of Penn State managed their institution into a crisis that has brought irrevocable harm to that university. Let's hope that the Penn State example compels managers on other university campuses to concentrate their administrative efforts not on increasingly sophisticated management processes or football programs, but on what the university is all about: the production and dissemination of knowledge.
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