Once upon a time, within living memory, universities were essentially run by the faculty. The faculty took responsibility for what we now term `student life' issues as well as the curriculum. They even dabbled in athletics. Knute Rockne, who graduated magna cum laude, taught chemistry before he became Notre Dame's head football coach. When I attended Notre Dame many years later there were faculty living in Lyons Hall, a sophomore dorm. The prefects and rectors throughout the dorms--C.S.C. priests, by and large--were also members of the faculty. Faculty lived with students at other universities, of course, Harvard and Princeton, e.g., and dealt with `student life' issues there.
When I taught at the University of Wisconsin, Madison (1969-1981) every significant academic administrative post was held by a faculty member and all of the supporting positions (associate deanships, e.g.) were held by a part-time faculty member. Some associate deans served longish terms, some only three years. The requirement was that you would continue to teach and do research in your department while you held the administrative position and return to your department when your term was completed.
While not entirely gone and not entirely forgotten, that world has been replaced by a bureaucratized university filled with administrators and administrative staff. Dr. Ginsberg tells this story and describes its implications in this bittersweet book. The story is sad; fortunately, Dr. Ginsberg has not lost his sense of humor. Moreover, he has not lost his courage, for he names names and names institutions as he details the most prominent offenders.
The general public often consider `the growth of administration' to essentially mean the proliferation of vice presidents and other `higher' officials. The actual growth, as Dr. Ginsberg explains, has been in nonteaching, nonresearching `academic' staff--what he calls `deanlets' and `deanlings'. In the modern university the number of students has expanded dramatically, the number of faculty has increased, but not dramatically; the number of higher administrators has increased; the number of nonteaching academic staff has exploded.
Some of these appointments are easily explained. Many are information technology professionals. Some are the `enrollment management' and `diversity' professionals. Faculty advisors have been replaced by `professional' advisors (often in response to a curriculum which is too complex for anyone to understand). Development staff have proliferated, and so on.
This is not always a problem. If development staff bring in far more dollars than they cost (16 cents on the dollar is a frequent guide number; 8 cents on the dollar is often seen) that is all to the good, assuming that development dollars match university priorities. And after all, what are public universities to do when their state contributions have been shrinking since the 1970's? Interestingly, though, the largest growth in the number of deanlets and deanlings has been in the private universities.
Their activities are often lumped under the catchall term, `student services'. These are the holders of hands and the providers of luxury. They do the work that the faculty refuses to do (in their narrative); their numbers are growing; their ultimate aspiration is to enjoy the status, compensation and prominence of the faculty.
Why is this a problem? Because it raises educational costs exponentially. Because these individuals tend to see the university as a business and students as customers. Because they distort the university and divert it from the pursuit of its core activities. Because they intrude in curricular areas, setting up parallel programs that are generally banal and less challenging than the traditional curriculum. Because they are paid for by the growth of contingent faculty. Tuitions rise and students are taught by part-timers while their hands are held by full-timers.
Dr. Ginsberg believes that much of this is calculated. He acknowledges that there are some good administrators, but he believes that many are involved in ongoing power plays to shift the university's efforts and authority from its libraries and laboratories and classrooms to its administrative conference rooms. Many of these individuals are thoroughgoing careerists whose personal aspirations trump the needs of their institutions, people who stay long enough to position themselves for their next jobs, often leaving chaos in their wake.
He ridicules their constant meetings, their tendency to stage corporate `retreats', their mouthing of platitudes and chasing of the latest management fads. In many cases he is absolutely, dead solid perfect, correct. These individuals are a blight on the academic world. His depiction of their pomps and works is deadly accurate, e.g. their preparation of `strategic plans', utterly worthless documents which provide the rationale for holding up current decisions until the plan is complete (by which time the planner will have gone to his next job, trumpeting his ability to craft a strategic plan and promising to do so at his next institution).
Dr. Ginsberg recognizes, of course, that there are also dedicated individuals who exhibit institutional loyalty and do their best to advance their college or university. There are even some administrators who continue to teach and do research and recognize those activities as central to the university. Would that there were more of them.
What he does not provide is an account of how the careerists have risen to power, though he does acknowledge the complicit role here of trustees and professional search firms. In part, I believe, we have technocratic, careerist administrators because the positions they fill have become unattractive to people for whom salary is less important than the development and dissemination of knowledge. The contemporary university is a litigious place; it is a bureaucratized place; it is a heavily-regulated place; it is racialized, politicized and corporatized. In some ways it receives `leadership' appropriate to its condition, though not always.
Dr. Ginsberg's proximate frame of reference is Johns Hopkins, an institution with a very large number of hand holders (Vanderbilt actually wins those sweepstakes) and a strong interest in civility- and diversity training. He asks the question (to which, of course, there is no rational answer, but many political ones), why should search committees be subjected to diversity training and racial-sensitivity training by ignorant neophytes when the membership of the search committee includes world-class experts on questions of race? And how will this `training' serve any useful purpose in the face of the fact that in one recent year there were only 10 African-American Ph.D.'s produced in Mathematics and 13 in Physics? It will take up faculty time and it will create careers for the trainers, but it will not increase the number of available African-American Ph.D.'s. The `diversity' is in the diversity training office, not in the Math or Physics department.
This is an interesting book. It is passionately argued, straightforward in its facts and justified in its concerns. I hope that it reaches a wide audience.