Universities overpowered by administrators?
If you believe, as I know many academics do, that universities have become places in which professional administrators have subverted the intellectual and scholarly principles of the academy, here’s a book for you. In The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters, Professor Benjamin Ginsberg of Johns Hopkins University takes aim at what he regards as the current university culture. His thesis is summed up in this paragraph from the book:
‘Alas, today’s full-time professional administrators tend to view management as an end in and of itself. Most have no faculty experience, and even those who have spent time in a classroom or a laboratory hope to make administration their life’s work and have no plan to return to the faculty. For many of these career managers, promoting teaching and research is less important than expanding their own administrative domains. Under their supervision, the means have become the end.’
Professor Ginsberg writes as if he has discovered something startling and new, but really this is a fairly well trodden path. But does it lead anywhere? He, like others who feel the same way, wants the faculty to re-assert control over decision-making, and he wants that decision-making to avoid strategy, vocational education, interdisciplinarity and research commercialisation.
And that, really, is the problem, because Professor Ginsberg is in the end not really worried about administrators, but about what our wider society now wants universities to do. Remove every single administrator, and government calls for accountability and transparency will still remain and have the same effect. In the end it is not really that a new administrative class has come out of nowhere, but that the taxpayer is no longer willing to give universities money and then let them spend it without any reference to public policy. That may indeed have subverted the traditional academic mission, but administrators are not the cause, just its implementation.
In the meantime, while I have myself often had doubts about some aspects of university administration, I have absolutely never met an administrator who ‘views management as an end in itself’. In any case, what does that even mean? And if we are to re-establish a sense of self-confidence and shared intellectual purpose in the academy (which we must), I doubt that this kind of argument by personal insult will help us get there.