Higher Educ. - How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money...

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Ah, the professoriate! It's an alternate universe. While the rest of working Americans endure foremen and supervisors, professors often get to select their colleagues, vote on raises and promotions,and even in some instances vote out their bosses. The schools almost function for them, for their aspirations and interests. Students come and go every four years, administrators will move on, but the tenured stay on in Bloomington, College Park, and Chapel Hill, accumulating power, controlling resources, reshaping the university according to their needs.

Lost on the Professorial Campus is the presence of students and, for reasons that sometimes seem mystifying, an appreciation of an activity as joyful and useful as teaching.

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Think of the American colleges and universities as bound by a caste system, with different status grades assigned to the approximately , men and women the Department of Labor counts as full-time faculty. Part-timers come and go, often teaching a single course, sometimes on several campuses, so it's impossible to pinpoint their exact numbers. The top caste consists of some , associate and full professors, most of whom have tenure or will soon receive that award. The candidate we mentioned was already envisioning himself at that rank, which partly explains his entitled demeanor. Below them, there are about , assistant professors, most of them on the "tenure track" that we alluded to earlier.

Usually, those already on that track ultimately receive that promotion since they were carefully vetted and the people who hired them don't want it felt that their department made a mistake.

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Most of the other full-time faculty, the third tier in the caste system, are instructors and lecturers who aren't in line for promotion and who handle introductory sections at modest salaries and some benefits. A number are faculty spouses unable to find other employment.

This tier also contains visiting instructors, who usually come for a year to replace professors on sabbaticals. The fourth and fifth castes are made up of part-time adjuncts and graduate assistants.

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They are the contingent people of the campus--exploitable, disposable, impoverished by low wages. They do the bulk of the undergraduate teaching at many universities. So this chapter will focus on upward of half a million men and women holding the three professor ranks assistant, associate, and full and who make up about 57 percent of full-time faculty personnel. This professorial class controls what happens on many a campus and, too often, self-interested management is the result.

In theory, education is supposed to be a public service: like health care, firefighting, national parks. And by and large that describes the motivations of teachers from kindergarten through high school. But as we ascend to colleges and universities--the preserve of professors--self-interest, strengthened by a narrow sense of self-definition, begins to set in.

It starts with how professors identify with their disciplines. Imagine that we were to say that the employees in an enterprise all brought a central part of their personal history with them to work, and insisted that it govern how they did their jobs. Thus Methodists would contend that they had to adhere to their liturgy, with Baptists and Catholics and Jews making similar claims. All would argue that their creeds are crucial to their identities. Nor is it just how they've been raised; it is who they are.

As the social psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer, formerly of the University of Chicago and now the director of one of the branches of Berlin's Max Planck Institute, told us, "I believe it's one of the worst things that's happened, that people identify with a discipline or a sub-discipline in a way like members of a political movement identify with their party.

Under the venerable headings we see in college catalogs: physics, history, mathematics, drama, sociology, literature. The rigidity of these disciplines atomizes campuses, transforming departments into fiefdoms and actually hindering the transmission of knowledge. PhD programs, where fledgling professors are trained, are much like seminaries: elders impart the lore and litany of a liturgy.

Were anything like this to occur at the Boeing company, few Dreamliners would ever get aloft. During those postgraduate years, a candidate in anthropology becomes an anthropologist. So the discipline that a candidate chooses--its mores, its mentality, its methods--comes to express not only their profession but also an academic's identity. They begin to see and understand the world through the lens of anthropology. Even sociology and social psychology have different vocabularies, methods, and explanatory models.

Once upon a time, Harvard established a Department of Social Relations, in hope of integrating teaching and research in supposedly kindred fields. The joint department had a short life span. The professors were ill at ease outside their home territories. Probably the only area where interdisciplinary work has had any palpable impact is in the hard sciences, where physics, chemistry, biology, and computation have combined to uncover new knowledge about our macro and micro universes.

A job shortage in the world of physics has made interdisciplinary studies, particularly in biology, attractive to young physicists--science has a growing number of people who now dub themselves "biophysicists. Scott Page, who holds a joint position in economics and political science at the University of Michigan, told us that his colleagues "spend years keeping up with one discipline and want to continue on that path; it's like a zoo where each species is in a separate cage.

At a reinvented Arizona State University, Michael Crow, its president, has tried to break down some of the disciplinary walls. He has abolished whole departments, using senior appointments skillfully and creating new interdisciplinary institutes. His professoriate, or at least some parts of it, has been outraged. This suggests to us he is doing something right. Professors are often isolated not only from those outside their disciplines but also from the outside world.

In the nineteenth century, when most colleges and universities were founded, the idea took hold that they should be situated far away from the sordid cities. It's a tradition that holds till this day.

Even state universities are sequestered in towns like Eugene, Norman, and Tuscaloosa. We'll leave it to others to judge how far a verdant campus keeps corruption at bay. What interests us now is the effect this isolation has on members of the faculties.

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The first fact is that given the reclusive setting, the college is the only game in town. For all intents and purposes, nothing else is going on. So whatever happens on the campus becomes the focus of attention, looming larger than it is or needs to be. A friend who taught for many years at Cornell told us about faculty parties, where one might expect cerebral conversations on the state of the universe. Factionalized politics and isolation also become a way for professors to maintain their privileged environments.

But it is not the only way. Maybe most important, professors in many departments have been able to take workplace democracy to an unprecedented level.

The Real Benefit of a College Degree

Through self-governance, the interests of one class of employees, the tenured professors, predominate. Self-governance, perhaps unsurprisingly, uses a great deal of teachers' time and energy.

As we traveled to college campuses, the plaints we heard from professors most frequently centered on the time spent serving on committees. Such meetings are usually put under the heading of s ervice, a third requisite for promotion and recognition along with teaching and research. But it can come close to consuming as much time. And that's the problem. Certainly, people in other occupations meet occasionally to share ideas and agree on decisions. When Claudia's colleagues at the New York Times meet on Tuesday afternoons, they keep each other abreast of projects and share sources and information about new developments on their beats.

It's a wonderful seminar in contemporary science. Sometimes committees will be formed to solve specific tasks, but they terminate when the project is completed. Not so in the academic world. Not only are most college committees permanent; new ones are formed every semester. Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota population 19, has a fine liberal arts program, engaged students, and a dedicated faculty. Despite these and other virtues, it is severely afflicted with the committee virus.

According to its website, it has sixty-eight of them, which we calculate comes to one such entity for every three members of its faculty. And this doesn't count committees within departments or divisions. Yet filling the seats on all these committees will keep many a professor occupied with tasks that have little to do with the actual teaching of their students. When we inquired of our professional colleagues whether faculty, students--everyone--would benefit from a little less consultation, we were asked if we preferred that the adjudication of sexual assaults be left to appointed administrators.

Or if we'd wanted the concerns of junior faculty to be handled solely by the provost rather than a panel of colleagues and peers. Or whether having a recreation committee isn't a better way to schedule swimming hours than by using a desk-bound director.


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There is a general consensus within the professoriate that administrators are a kind of class enemy and a danger, rather than facilitators of a joint enterprise. In the end, we are being asked to accept that committees like Carleton's are patently needed, since the democratic ethos is predicated on participation and consultation. But we can't help but wonder: can there be too much public input? And we can't help but remember that there are huge sectors of every university's community--contingentfaculty we'll write about later--that have less than no voice in governance.

Higher Education How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing by Claudia VG

Committees are not only busywork, they are a surrogate for faculty members who have long since given up on scholarship. Rebecca Chopp noticed this when she first arrived at Colgate to assume the presidency. But they handily turn out forty-page committee reports.

Rebecca Chopp--who has gone on to head Swarthmore--told us that her faculty at Colgate wanted to establish a "strategic planning committee" to oversee all presidential decisions. When Chopp tried to enlist faculty to invite students to informal gatherings in their homes so they could see professors in another setting, she found few takers.