Faculty Empowerment

During my years as a university president, I often wondered at the chasm that seemed to separate faculty from the administration. I had served on the faculty prior to being appointed to my first administrative position, and perhaps I was unusually fortunate in serving under a wise and respected vice president for academic affairs. Other professors respected him too, so it came as something as a shock to me that a lack of tension between faculty and administration was unusual.

When I was appointed VPAA and dean of the faculty at Methodist University in Fayetteville, North Carolina, I encountered tenured professors who were meeting secretly to craft legislation that would empower them vis-a-vis the administration. Since I was a new arrival to that campus, my initial reaction was annoyance. If you have a problem with the administration, I wondered, why not just come to my office and tell me what you want?

After two more campuses as an administrator and after discussions with provosts, presidents, and chancellors across the United States, I came to realize that faculty everywhere feel neglected, overworked, underpaid, and underappreciated. Why was that the case?

The reason lies not in any fundamental clash between faculty and administrative roles. Instead, the problem lies in the increasing “legalization” of campus administration due to a host of unfunded mandates. These mandates include the Clery Act, federal financial aid legislation, NCAA compliance regulations, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and equal opportunity laws. All of these have positive, even virtuous goals. But for the most part, Congress has not funded them adequately. In some cases, Congress has not funded them at all. So universities are left to fend for themselves, increasing tuition and fees as their only means to pay for these unfunded mandates.

In 1960, universities could hire deans of students whose focus was to care about students. Now, in the 21st century, we must hire deans of students whose primary role is to keep their respective universities out of legal hot water.

Is the university subject to federal fines because crimes against students are going unreported? Is the university facing penalties because students are not repaying their student loans? Are events on campus happening that tend to discriminate against a protected class of students? Are student athletes gaining advantages that other students don’t enjoy?

What I am saying is that today’s campus administrators are all required to be paralegals first and university employees second.

What happens as a result? Campus administrators become more highly paid, because they are required to be more highly trained in the law. They spend their time filling out forms to ensure the necessary paperwork exists to satisfy the regulators. But then they have no time for faculty or students.

The real work of the university–that of teaching students and conducting research–is taking a back seat to the university’s response to the needs of social engineers.

What should faculty do in response? That will be the subject of future posts.

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