Peter Lawler summarizes the multiple ways in which the academy squandered much of the goodwill it once enjoyed.
Generally, the evolution has been away from “faculty governance” in the direction of rule by administrators (facilitated by accrediting agencies). The latter function increasingly as, and are often compensated like, corporate CEOs. That this evolution has not lent itself to efficient or effective cost-control apparently has not come to Governor Walker’s attention.Give the administrative power-grabbers credit, though: first they appealed to the liberalitas of much of the faculty and sold their usurpations as promoting affirmative action or diversity; next they appealed to the pusillanimity of the careerists with "let us be proactive, rather than have it imposed by the legislature.
But let’s be fair. Faculty share lots of the responsibility for this irresponsible change. Too many tenured professors have become careerist specialists without spirit or heart, knowing more and more about less and less. That’s as true in the social sciences and humanities as it is in the more technical or techno-light fields. Such faculty have lost interest in the broader purposes of higher education, including the indispensable function of a content-rich “general education” or “core curriculum.” They have been willingly complicit in the surrender of such comprehensive concerns to temporary and adjunct faculty, and to the administrators who hire and supervise them.
Too often, it’s not been the case that “shared governance” has been wrested away from faculty; it’s been surrendered, and all too often without a fight.
For all the good it did. Yes, Professor Lawler notes, some people fought the good fight, but by the time a Scott Walker comes for the mission statement, who is left to fight back?
To be sure, tenured faculty have, here and there, roused themselves from their complacent and dogmatic slumber to defend their turf. But they’ve done so on the administrators’ terms, by trying to talk the talk of skills, competencies, and measurable outcomes. Such efforts are typically both inauthentic and too little, too late. It’s just starting to be noticed that an important factor in the recent rapid decline in majors such as history and English has been the pervasive trend toward truncated, competency-based general education—a trend driven by the administrative thought that educational reform should obey the priorities and methods generated by accreditors.Or, when the expected gain from pushing back no longer exceeds the gain from doing something else, better to stop faking it.
The result is the emptying out of the content or substance of liberal education and the proletarian-ization of the faculty. Professors are more and more subject to soft-despotic forms of assessment, induced to justify their salaries through the submission of reports based on “time on task.” When it comes to assessment measures allegedly required for accreditation, for example, faculty are involved in what amount to pointless time sucks that distract them from their real vocation. It’s the least lazy faculty who are most reluctant to comply.