On “Changing” Higher Education

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:

  1. Do you believe the U.S. system of higher education is in need of change and, if so, why and to what degree?
  2. 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.




Filed under Questions, Resources, Theories, What Is A Scholar?

7 responses to “On “Changing” Higher Education

  1. Americans have always been lucky enough for having an option to take free education that is sponsored by the government. The majority of countries worldwide don’t have this right.

    Note: I have corrected spelling and some grammar in this comment, but otherwise I have not changed it. The writer claims to be “Carolyn Porter” — I only know of one Carolyn Porter — http://english.berkeley.edu/contact/person_detail.php?person=99 — but she wouldn’t write this comment. If you go to the commenter’s URL you can see he describes himself as an idealistic 15 year old man. –Z

  2. Carolyn(?) – this needs to be backed up with evidence, and you need to show how it is relevant to the post! If you are really Carolyn Porter, I know you can do it!

  3. Obviously this is not the remark of a person who knows anything!

  4. Yes. And it is odd nobody else has commented on this. It’s sort of the wrong week to publish it, really… just after finals and graduation!

  5. human

    I was going to comment, but I forgot! Of course, I was only going to make a snarky comment about how of course we couldn’t possibly give students a voice in their own educations.

    What I really I think is that you are right in saying universities should get bigger budgets – enough to pay their staff properly and stop exploiting adjuncts – and that state legislatures should not be nickle and diming them.

    But I despair of ever seeing that happen. It would involve a lot of people (the politicians, the university administrators) voluntarily giving up their power over others.

    Now, if we could drop anvils on their heads and start from scratch… but that’s not realistic. 😦

  6. Here’s Sherman Dorn’s post on this matter — quite interesting.


  7. Also — related to all of this — I’d comment on Leslie Madden-Brooks’ post “Are Universities Abusive Employers” if it didn’t mean I’d need to get another username and password. So I’ll link to it:


    Are universities abusive employers? Yes, by definition, if you consider that what they promote is conformity MORE than they do originality, and they crave submission. Having initiative/vision/originality is good if you show it elsewhere and bring credit to the university, but showing it on your home turf is dangerous. So you must become someone who can hide it on your home turf … if not you will have it beaten out of you there, or be asked to cut it out of yourself, your very own self … and all of that is, of course, abusive.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s