Confession: I haven’t followed up on Elliot Jaques. I tried, guys. I really did. It was not happening. His handbook-style writing was too managerially oriented for me, and his academic stuff…well, I’m no longer required to read academicese so I’m not going to.
That said, however, I really like his idea of how time influences levels of responsibility in job descriptions. That is, that the length of a person’s longest project determines, to some degree, the amount of competence and intelligence needed for the position. This is one of the ways you can divide the “layers” between a worker and his manager, by the length of time needed to complete a project. A worker might be dealing with daily or weekly tasks, while the manager is looking over six months, a year, or longer.
This approach makes sense, and it makes sense that the higher a person’s IQ, the more likely it is for that person to complete a long-term project. My intuition says that this dovetails perfectly with the Marshmallow Test that also correlates with success, and success correlates with IQ.
Anyway. I’m not just here to talk about management theories. Let me bring this to a point.
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how higher education is stuck in a no-man’s-land between “academia” and “the free market.” This idea needs more elucidation, but essentially I see a huge battle between the way that faculty view the university and the way that the administration does.
Faculty want the university to be a personalized place of free inquiry, protected from the rogue waves of the free market, where decisions are made through discussion and all the “administrative” tasks are done voluntarily, and shared.
However, college is now thought of not as a place of free inquiry, but a place that you go that prepares you to get a good job. There are a lot of reasons for this, and trying to tease them out made this blog post get really lopsided so I’ll ignore them for now. The point is, with this statement of purpose, colleges have “entered the game,” so to speak. They are now players in the marketplace of job seeking, of hiring and firing and all that.
Higher education has become an industry in its own right, and as such has had to build up an business infrastructure to support itself. The problem is that the way of business and the way of faculty will never, ever get along.
This clash was highlighted in two articles on The Chronicle of Higher Education today.
One, on the revolving door of Provosts (basically the VP of Education, for y’all nonacademics):
In the past decade, since I started work in a tenure-track position here, we have had eight provosts. When you subtract the interim ones, we’ve only had four. However, I think it’s more than fair to count the interims, because they last almost as long as the “permanent” ones. I wish I was kidding. Frankly, most of the interims have been better than most of the permanents — though I do have high hopes for our new “permanent” provost, who started this academic year.
Now you know why I brought up Elliot Jacques earlier. Let’s put a provost in the Stratum V category, which would have a project timespan of 5-10 years. Getting a new provost roughly every 2 years is not nearly enough time for a competent person to execute a good plan, and its an excellent smokescreen for an incompetent person to get in the position and wreak a lot of havoc.
The author details some of the specific problems of this method of management, and problems they are.
On the other side of the faculty/administration line, faculty are figuring out that they are treated like employees, not members or colleages. After counseling colleagues to be sparing with their academic service, this author also points out that
Increasingly, what used to be the purview of faculty governance has been outsourced to accrediting institutions, to state legislators, to boards of trustees, and to administrators — all groups that are, along a continuum, often far removed from the grass roots of teacher/scholars. Faculty service is increasingly academic theater that stays at the level of rehearsal and never really gets to the main stage.
While true, what is missing from this observation is that by not participating in service activities, faculty abdicate this role to the administration. Some of the administrative duties are made up, to be sure, but many of them are roles that have been coupled with the liberal arts university for decades or even centuries.
The advice given in the comments to that article is incredibly rational, but it also contributes even further to the fracturing of the university.
For any STEM tenure-track assistant professor at an R1 university, my advice is simple and blunt. Use your service hours at the regional and national level so that you get exposure for your proposals, papers and external review letters which are needed for your tenure application. After all, see what is counted – research expenditures, doctoral students, and papers/citations. So serve in your technical division in the most recognizable professional society in your field, and go through the ranks to become an officer; volunteer for panel reviews of proposals at NSF, become a reviewer for known journals and national conferences, organize and chair sessions at national conferences. Limit your service at the departmental, college and university level to departmental meetings, accreditation, and occasional adhoc committees. At the end of the day, it is your life and you are responsible for maintaining your sanity.
Now loyalties of the faculty primarily lie outside of the university (let’s not lie, they almost always did; academic discipline typically trumps university unless it’s Harvard or something) and instead of staying around for 5 years like all the revolving provosts in the first story said that they would do, you have people who will cut and run at the least provocation.
Universities have a huge problem right now. Faculty don’t want to admit that the university is now a business, but administrators also do go in and blatantly disregard traditional faculty practices in the implementation of business-type practices. This results in a lot of animosity that doesn’t help either “side.”
If this conversation doesn’t happen, rationally and out in the open, more and more universities are going to close. It’s already started, with closures and mergers, and lots of people being scared every day.