To the Editor:
I was a faculty member at a comprehensive public university for over 30 years. I couldn’t wait to retire by the end. I enjoyed teaching and research, and I still teach one semester out of two, and publish books and articles. Why was I eager to retire, then? It’s very simple. I can’t speak to the experiences of staff, but faculty do not go into this profession to be “workers.” Nor did most of us expect to be “managed” as if we worked at Microsoft or Raytheon. The single biggest reason for faculty discontent that I observed over my years teaching was that the numbers of administrators increased steadily, all eager to tell us how to do our jobs. They have essentially “managed” the engagement and enthusiasm out of faculty (“Don’t Blame the Pandemic for Worker Discontent,” The Chronicle Review, May 27).
What do faculty want? We expect to be equal partners in the university. Not “workers” who are “below” managers who tell us what to do, even if they claim to consult us before making their decisions. We want to set the agenda — administrators are there to help us implement that agenda, not to run the show. We know what students need, we know what higher education should be, we know how to create environments conducive to learning and scholarship, better than managers, especially those recruited from outside the academy.
When I started my career, those who ran my university had in most cases spent years, if not decades, in the classroom, doing the job of teaching. They were experienced teacher/scholars who understood and respected the perspective of faculty because they had themselves been faculty for a long time before they became administrators. Consultation with faculty was meaningful, not just a veneer of “collegiality.” By the time I left, most administrators either had spent less than five-years as full-time faculty members or came from the business world. They might know about management efficiency theories, but they do not understand universities, and especially that universities are unique institutions that cannot and should not be run as corporations. Like corporate managers, these university administrators seek the lowest wage labor possible (adjuncts), they squeeze just as much “productive labor” out of faculty as possible, force most full-time faculty into the role of quasi-administrators (and department staff) by multiplying committees and “major initiatives” like popcorn to fill their own resumes while insisting that faculty participate by sitting in meetings and writing reports to explain and justify what they do. Department chairs are overwhelmed with paperwork and the oversight of legions of part-time colleagues.
Meanwhile, parents rightly complain about the skyrocketing cost of education. Where’s all that money going? Well, infrastructure and administration. Sure, in the aggregate, faculty salaries are the single biggest expense. But per capita, most administrators make at least a third more than your average faculty member, and senior administrators make a lot more than that. Junior faculty struggling to raise a family quickly realize that in academia, to quote John Dillinger, administration is “where the money is.” Many thus gravitate there as soon as they are tenured because it becomes apparent that faculty are devalued, demoralized, and underpaid compared to administrators. Those who choose to remain faculty also know where they really stand in the hierarchy of respect, agency, and pay in the institution, which is why more and more are finding other things to do with their lives. Anyone paying attention to higher education will not find any of this surprising. Too many folks, however, are invested in the management culture that has taken over the academy, and in their own comfortable place within it, so unfortunately I am not optimistic that the situation will improve any time soon.
Gayle K. Brunelle
Professor Emeritus of History
California State University, Fullerton