Losing Our Faculties

By Saslow, James M. | Academe, May/June 2012 | Go to article overview
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Losing Our Faculties


Saslow, James M., Academe


THE FALL OF THE FACULTY: THE RISE OF THE ALL-ADMINISTRATIVE UNIVERSITY AND WHY IT MATTERS Benjamin Ginsberg. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT: UNIVERSITIES, ADMINISTRATIVE LABOR, AND THE PROFESSIONAL TURN Randy Martin. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2011.

THE PRODUCTION OF LIVING KNOWLEDGE: THE CRISIS OF THE UNIVERSITY AND THE TRANSFORMATION OF LABOR IN EUROPE AND NORTH AMERICA Gigi Roggero (trans. Enda Brophy). Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2011.

REVIEWED BY JAMES M. SASLOW

It's hardly news that academia is in perpetual crisis, but to judge from a spate of recent books, we've reached a tipping point. The latest books on the state of higher education evoke both sadness and anger, particularly for a gray-bearded baby boomer with enough historical perspective to remember when everyone respectfully called my boyhood friend's father, a professor at a tiny local liberal arts school, Doctor Rockwood. When I went offto an ivy-covered Gothic Revival campus, the stained-glass windows glowed with the quasi-sacred dignity of the life of the mind, and the soaring arches seemed the portal to a fulfilling life of thoughtful and cosmopolitan citizenship.

As that quaint vision recedes, critics of higher education fall into two camps: those who believe that the university has shortchanged society and those who think that society has shortchanged the university. The books surveyed here align with the latter faction. Their common core is an urgent wake-up call to the subversion and usurpation of faculty power and autonomy. While acknowledging that our syndrome has many symptoms, most focus on one cluster: the professoriate's progressive loss of authority over curriculum, hiring, tenure, and promotion; over institutional purpose; and over our own working conditions. The authors range in tone from impassioned political analysis (Randy Martin) to ironic bemusement (Benjamin Ginsberg). Ginsberg provides frequent anecdotes from his own experience, while Gigi Roggero eschews examples for a jargon-heavy and historiographic but blistering sociological critique. All concur that academia, once widely treasured for its perch above worldly pressures, now operates more like a corporation than an ivory tower.

These diagnosticians probe three sore points: power, ideas, and money. First is the mushrooming of powerful administrators and their creeping takeover of the higher education agenda. This is Ginsberg's strong suit: The Fall of the Faculty brims with absurdist cynicism over managerial bloat that has come at the expense of actual teaching. He labels these newly created administrators "deanlets": professional managers who often do not come from an academic background and thus favor public relations over pedagogy.

In the region of ideas, according to Ginsberg, what hurts are the sweeping changes in curriculum and teaching, mainly toward vocational courses and instructional technology, initiated by those deanlets in response to outside pressures. The debate is between education and training: is college an apprenticeship for informed public participation or a store selling competitive private credentials? The pain lies not only in the changes themselves-which reflect a major shiftin public perception of education-but in the fact that it is no longer educators who decide what students should know, as opposed to what the business model wants them to know (or not know).

As for money matters, business forces are restructuring the college workplace, aiming to turn the ivory tower into a factory. Salaries stagnate even as demands increase for accountability, spawning timeconsuming forms and reports and the dreaded insistence on "outcomes assessment." And that's for those with a "real" job. The drastic reduction in tenured positions has reached the point where, at my school, more than half of all classes are taught by adjuncts.

What needs to be understood, if any headway is to be made in countering these trends, is that this infection in the US academy is but one outbreak of a broader epidemic: the penetration of American society by the values and methods of the increasingly global, latecapitalist social-economic order.

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