First, an epigraph of sorts from Dr. Crazy, who first answered the question ten of us were asked. Her answer is so good, it is hard to top (although it might be complemented, which is my aim here). She introduces her piece thus:
Craig Smith from AFT (and the blog FACE Talk) asked me (along with a slew of cool folks) to weigh in on questions surrounding how and if higher education needs to change. I like the premise of Craig’s call to arms:
Now, there are some out there who are offering up solutions, but I am curious–since the inclination when discussing the future of higher education is to do what the CHE did and chat up association and institutional leaders–if there might not be just a teensy bit more room for faculty and staff in that discussion? And that is what this is really about.
So, here are two questions:
- Do you believe the U.S. system of higher education is in need of change and, if so, why and to what degree?
- What are the top three things you would change in the long-run if you had the power to do that?
Finally, the intention is not just to encourage folks to talk about staffing (unless that is one of the areas you firmly believe needs changing), but rather to generate a wide range of ideas from a faculty and staff perspective since one fundamental change we believe in is more faculty voice in academic decision making . . . but I get ahead of myself.
I again urge everyone to read and contemplate Dr. Crazy’s well thought out response to Smith’s questions, as well as Historiann’s truly important (and funny!) criticism of some NYT pieces which appear to have helped to prompt Smith’s query.
My piece is not so well researched as these because (a) I am behind on something else, and (b) I do actually plan to write a scholarly article on the academic industrial complex one day. I even have a manila folder full of materials for this piece, and I am reserving my deepest thoughts for that manuscript. However, massively flattered to have been contacted by Smith, I will sketch out answers to his two questions.
Do you believe the U.S. system of higher education is in need of change and, if so, why and to what degree?
Yes. First of all, the U.S. system of higher education [hereafter USSHE] is not well enough funded to support its expanding mission(s). Therefore it must constantly seek patches and temporary solutions. As these become standard practice by default, teaching and sometimes research goals become distorted. Yet more importantly, the USSHE must seek partnerships with industry and government which often benefit those entities more than they do the university itself. The result is another distortion, or in other words, a profound change which is not necessarily one the USSHE would have chosen had it been in a position to choose freely.
Secondly, the USSHE is overly politicized. By that I do not mean it has too many “liberal” professors, or that the curriculum has “gone crazy” — these things are simply not true. I mean that for the public universities, the power of legislators in determining curriculum and in some cases funding for programs and departments is too great. I do not think it should be up to a legislature to decide which disciplines are valid — it should be up to the university.
Finally, the USSHE is outsourced and unevenly professionalized. For example, decisions which could easily be made by faculty and students are outsourced to consulting firms, and courses which should be taught by regular faculty are outsourced to underpaid adjuncts. If we had as many regular faculty positions as we actually need, we might find we have not overproduced Ph.D.s to the degree we now commonly claim.
What are the top three things you would change in the long run if you had the power to do that?
1. Reallocate much war and other DoD funding to education, including K-12 as well as the USSHE. That way we can address the problems outlined above, as well as eliminate NCLB (which I am convinced is a cost cutting measure and not a way to enhance learning), combat the pernicious and inappropriate “business model” and the related concept of the “university of excellence” (concepts I would explain here if I were not anxious to return to other writing, but which interested parties can easily look up).
2. Restore faculty governance, as opposed to outsourcing academic, curricular, and other decisions to out of field administrators, nonacademic staff, and consulting firms. Note that this outsourcing has become “logical” in part since so many faculty are now temporary and part time staff, and so many full time staff do not hold professorial rank. Recognize what a reduction this is of faculty and also student power. You know, the power of ones who learn, teach, and do research — the things a university is supposed to do — and who might have some very good ideas about what “changes” might be desirable and how they might be realized.
3. Greatly expand the student role in all matters having to do with curriculum and governance. By this I do not mean we should further inflate the currently encouraged image of the student as a spoiled consumer of academic credentials and entertainment, or merely give a yet greater voice to student government as it currently exists. I mean: the social construction of “students” as one or more of these: a. spoiled consumer, b. underpaid/subsidized low level clerical or lab worker, c. denizen of actually existing student government in a well circumscribed role, is ridiculous. What if, for starters, majors and minors were given a serious voice in every department and program? What if they were a powerful committee with a charge and a budget?
These are just some Sunday thoughts before I go back to reading about Haiti. I welcome your ideas and I thank Craig Smith for requesting mine.