A Voice Crying in the Wilderness

A recent editorial in the local independent newspaper The Athens News made the mistake of referring to the Ohio University administration as the "bosses" and the faculty as the "employees" of the university. This bizarre miscontrual of the structure of a university has become ever more common, especially here in the United States, since the 1980s, when virtually everything was interpreted along the lines of the so-called "corporate model." My wife, the brilliant but usually reticent and reclusive Lisa, immediately wrote the following response, which the editor of the A-News was kind enough to print in yesterday's print edition:
Terry Smith’s editorial column “Can’t they all just get along at OU?” (5/25/2006) is based on a faulty—and damaging—premise. He describes the OU administration as “the boss” and faculty as “employees”; he also calls it a “management-labor relationship.”

Mr. Smith needs to rethink this subject and inform himself about its history. Professors are professionals, not laborers. Once upon a time, administrative posts such as deanships were filled by professors who returned to full-time teaching after a period of service. In recent decades, university administration has become increasingly professionalized, and administrators have been brought in from outside the university to do their worst before they move on to their next position. The “business model” in higher education followed this development, a model that has profited no one except highly-compensated administrators.

It confounds and saddens me to see the question posed by Mr. Smith: “How much influence should faculty have in how the university is run?” Who else, pray, is more fit for this responsibility? The students, perhaps? Mr. Smith argues,“Students, after all, are the ultimate purpose and focus of the university.” Indeed they are. But they are here to be taught, not to run the place. And they are here for a few years before embarking on their own professional lives. Is Mr. Smith seriously suggesting that students are in a position to evaluate the administration and make policy decisions? The administrators, then? This group is increasingly made up of careerists who want to make their mark before moving on. They come into an entirely new community and impose—from without and from above—their “vision” of what should be happening at whatever university they happen to be “managing” at the moment. This is absurd and insulting, one of those things that makes one wonder how we arrived at such a state of affairs.

The group of people best situated, and best qualified, to run a university are its faculty. This is how things used to be done. Sadly, over a period of time American faculties found that they had better things to do, and into the vacuum created by their negligence the professional administrator appeared to fill the gap. This is the situation in which college and university faculties find themselves today, and this is the situation the OU faculty is determined to change. It is the faculty who remain year after year at institutions of higher education, while students and administrators come and go. It is the faculty who are truly cognizant of the character of the institution where they teach, of the peculiar needs of their students, and of the best way to serve these needs. Their vision is sufficient when it comes to determining the priorities of the institution.

It is clear, however, that much ground has been lost, if terms such as “management” and “employees” come so trippingly off the tongues of our newspaper editors. The OU faculty is in the process of regaining ground, and it is to be hoped that Terry Smith and all others who are unaware of the sad history of power-grabbing in higher education will become better-informed, and approach these questions more thoughtfully, than is evidenced by his editorial.

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