Rachel Toor of the Chronicle of Higher Education interviews former Miami of Ohio president Jim Garland, who may be among the last of the university presidents to have come up from faculty ranks.

Herewith his unsparing summary of what is wrong.
Parents and alumni would love to learn about the pressures driving up tuition, or how the campus deals with alcohol abuse and sexual assaults, or the pluses and minuses of speech codes, or the struggles professors have with helicopter parents. There is no shortage of issues.

Faculty members have unprecedented concerns these days: threats to academic freedom, political interference from trustees and elected officials, administrative bloat, declining department budgets, growing red tape, the decline of the tenure track, the pressure to publish and get grants, the intrusion of corporate business practices, declining academic rigor, and on and on.

Professors know (or at least hope) that their administrative leadership has thought deeply about these issues, but if all they hear are homilies and syrupy happy talk, they’re going to assume that their campus leaders are either scoundrels or mindless oafs. Or both.

I am alarmed at the polarization between faculty and administrators on so many campuses. The distrust and rancor and breakdown of collegiality is like nothing I’ve seen in 40 years. True, there are faculty members who will always believe their — fill in the blank: chair, dean, provost, president — is a jackbooted Nazi thug, but most faculty can be persuaded otherwise if administrators are willing to communicate honestly and intelligently with them.
And the serial administrator brought in from outside is likely to get it wrong.
[Faculty members] know the problems are tough and often intractable. What they want is leaders who are insightful, reflective, and trustworthy — who understand life in the trenches and share their values.

What they don’t want is simplistic, glad-handing opportunists who spout jargon, platitudes, and evasions. Unfortunately, in this academic climate, that’s going to be the default assumption about campus leaders unless they demonstrate otherwise.
And staying true to yourself and recognizing when things go wrong are desirable skills.
You want your readers to have a sense of who you are as a person, what you feel deeply about, why you care about them and your campus. If you can pull that off, then your readers will like you and cut you some slack when you make mistakes and decisions that disappoint them, as you most certainly will. Of course, if most of your decisions disappoint them, then perhaps you should explore other career options.
Tempting as it might be to say "we'll have a better university when we have better faculty or students or teams."


Dave Tufte said...

Wouldn't it be interesting if there was a website that kept track of the actual academic background of academic administrators?

Our current president has no academic background. Neither did the previous president, but he did write a biography. I think the third president back actually was a professor at UWM in the 60's, but quickly got into administration.

Our current provost decided he wanted to be an administrator rather than a professor when he was still in graduate school!!! I'll give him credit, he does publish. I'm not sure the previous provost had ever published before being told that he had to publish something/anything. The third provost back did do research, and bailed to go back to that job. There was an interim provost in there, who'd come up through the faculty ranks when this was a junior college, and didn't publish.

Our current dean does publish some. But his career path was active duty officer, graduate degree, then military school professor, then straight to public university dean ... with those three big academic stages knocked off in less than a decade.

We also have more than one person on this campus of dean or equivalent rank who got the position before they completed their Ph.D./Ed.D/J.D./M.D or similar degree.

Stephen Karlson said...

It's the responsibility of faculty governance to raise questions or raise objections when the trustees or current administrators foist inexperienced people on the university.

One of the stories I heard at a winter break social event was about local smaller colleges and universities appointing adjunct faculty as department heads and to other administrative positions.

But until the faculty assert their stewardship that will continue.