“Administration,” “management,” or something else?

Along with other right-thinking people, I have always believed that one should call a person or group whatever they tell you they want to be called. It’s not always straightforward or easy, and one will make mistakes. Those names may change, and the rest of us must gamely try to keep up. But as a fundamental principle of respect, society ought to acknowledge the right of groups and individuals to name themselves.

What, then, to call those people over in the administrative offices?** For decades, centuries even here at UNB, they have been “the administration.” However, they refer to themselves, with characteristic flair, as the “University Management Committee” or UMC, and who are the rest of us to argue? As it turns out, we probably should argue. Whatever they call themselves reflects their vision of the university and the way they intend to interact with the rest of us.

The issue recurred just now while reading a piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education about the pernicious belief that students are “customers”:

Education is created, not consumed, but we cannot expect students to believe that when every message from academe itself tells them that they can just buy it.

In addition, any short-term power that students gain over their professors by introducing a controlling commercial metaphor into the classroom dynamic is more than mitigated by the losses. Faculty members respond to the student-as-consumer by teaching defensively, fearing the management that we formerly referred to as administration. But administrators administrate on behalf of the faculty. Employees delivering customer service get managed. [emphasis added]

This passing reference to administration cum management caught my attention. “[A]dministrators administrate on behalf of the faculty. Employees delivering customer service get managed.” Well I know which sounds better to me and it is not the UMC.

Our collective agreements call us “the union” and them “UNB”, which has always rankled with me as I was here before most of them and, gods willing, will be here long after they have giddily moved on to positions with more reports. The Dalhousie Faculty Association had a wonderful “I AM Dal” campaign that squarely falls in the wish-I-had-thought-of-it-first category, a campaign to highlight the central position of academic staff and students within the institution, to proclaim their shared ownership, and to contest leaving the power to define with one small segment of the Dalhousie community.


Indeed, in our own small way, some of us made the same point, with less typographic flair, during our job action.


Naming is important. Should we call them “the administration” in the hope that perhaps they will decide to live up to the label? Should we call them what they apparently want to be called — management — or would that make us complicit in, or at least resigned to, the ongoing degradation of the University? Or should we drop the euphemisms and recognize, with our use of language, that people capable of threatening to cut off our children’s medical benefits and of hiring an outside security force during a strike are to all intents and purposes on the same continuum as the Cripple Creek mine owners with their Pinkerton guards? CAUT would have us call them, in the spirit of calling a spade a spade, “the Employer.” Some colleagues have, in the past at least, found this a little too, well, industrial. No doubt recent events have clarified things.

Me, I’m mourning the loss of administration. And am I the only one who has noticed that there is no longer a link for “University Governance” on the UNB website? It has been replaced by “University Leadership.” Is “governance,” specifically “shared governance,” to join “administration” in the quaint old storeroom of past glories? Or will the university community exercise its right to name?


**I hope it is clear from the context that I am talking about senior administration.

Have been dipping

into the vexed issue of program prioritization for these last several days and was reminded by two colleagues that this is merely the latest bandwagon on a very wide road. There are any number of examples but one will suffice: our administration’s infatuation with Michael Shattock and the so-called Warwick model. Have to say, the UNB public relations juggernaut lost a wheel when they chose the title for this talk. Wonder what alternatives they considered? “University Planning Via Coin-Toss“? “Picking a Number in the PSE Lottery“? “Pin the Tail on the Strategic Plan“?


In case there is anyone here

who is not a regular reader of AUNBT.ca — which would be weird, but people contain multitudes — we have started a new page over there to focus on program prioritization. I know, it doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue, does it? But that is the buzz phrase so there it is. “Program prioritization” is the rationalization of university programs and departments. It is widespread, it employs lots of expensive consultants, administrators love it because it uses simple metrics and many Powerpoint slides, and it is truly horrifying. On the plus side, as an issue it is extremely galvanizing to anyone who gives a fig about education. Interesting critiques are being produced and people are drawing together to defend universities as public institutions. Read Jon’s overview, follow some of the links, then meet me back here to strategize about what to do. Once this pesky bargaining round is resolved, I mean.

These days

I find myself disagreeing with Alex Usher much more often than not, but it’s hard to stay mad at a guy who comes up with the phrase “techno-fetishist windbags” to describe promoters of MOOCs and other “disruptive” technologies. Read the whole piece for some good quotes from Sebastian Thrun, founder of patient-zero Udacity, including his admission that “[w]e have a lousy product” or my fav: “We’re not doing anything as rich and powerful as what a traditional liberal-arts education would offer you.” Doesn’t get blunter than that.

(Read the original interview with Thrum.)

Various links

to stories I’d like to post so I can close all those browser pages:

“Students who are anxious about finishing their degree, and avoiding debt, sometimes see the breadth requirements as getting in their way,” said Nicholas Dirks, chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley.

The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC), whose members are university presidents and whose chair is UM President David Barnard, defines academic freedom narrowly as only “the rights of the teacher to teach and of the student to learn” and “the right to freely communicate knowledge and the results of research and scholarship.” In other words, the employers see academic freedom as a very restrictive set of rights that refer only to teaching and research, but do not include professors’ right to comment on the administration of their own institutions or even to pursue their own research agendas.

University faculty, by contrast, overwhelmingly regard academic freedom more broadly, as the right to pursue research of their own choosing, to speak openly about their research and to criticize their own institution when it threatens to restrict those choices or demand that research be tailored to meet corporate or other external objectives. Faculty members consider themselves professionals like doctors or lawyers, experts in their fields who are better qualified than their employers to make certain decisions including, when necessary, to identify problems with the university.

I have noted at least four or more major changes in the University during my years here, that may provide some reasons for this lamentable decline of the U of S from a once-healthy, intellectually vibrant and employee-supportive post-secondary institution to its present toxic state: first, the alarming mushrooming of the number of administrators on campus, especially in recent years; secondly, and related to this, the subtle but increasing erosion of respect for faculty that has accompanied the emergence of this burgeoning group of bureaucrats, many of whom seem to know next to nothing about what faculty actually do; thirdly, the increasing focus on, and financial encouragement of, those branches of the University that train, rather than educate; and finally, the accompanying devaluation and resulting marginalization of the Humanities, Fine Arts, and even some of the Social Sciences.