“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.

STEM meme

The STEM Crisis: Reality or Myth?” Michael Anft. The Chronicle of Higher Education (November 11, 2013):

But is the mantra true? Are there too few well-trained Americans for the high-skilled research and manufacturing jobs available stateside?

Most researchers who have looked into the issue—those who don’t receive their money from technology companies or their private foundations, anyway—say no. They cite figures showing that the STEM-worker shortage is not only a meme but a myth.

The focus is on the U.S.A., so your milage may vary.


More MOOC-talk

[F]ar from a radical innovation, MOOCs are simply the natural extension of trends that have been at the heart of the modern university for decades….
[N]early all of America’s colleges and universities have moved away from the cultures and intellectual traditions within which they were founded.
“We are concerned that there is an experiment being done on students and we don’t know the outcome but it could jeopardize their higher education,” said Eileen Landy, the elected secretary of United University Professions, the bargaining union for faculty at 30 of the State University of New York’s 64 campuses. She said union leaders were left in the dark until the deal was announced and said there could be collective bargaining implications of the new arrangements.
  • Outsourced Lectures Raise Concerns About Academic Freedom.” Steve Kolowich. The Chronicle of Higher Education (May 28, 2013): “[W]where state legislators and college administrators see an opportunity, some professors see a threat—if not to their jobs, then to their freedom to teach a course as they believe it should be taught.”

letter, published on Thursday in The Harvard Crimson, the student newspaper, and signed by 58 professors, asks Michael D. Smith, dean of the FAS, “to appoint a committee of arts and sciences faculty members “to draft a set of ethical and educational principles” that would govern their colleagues’ involvement in Harvard-branded MOOCs.”

  • Massive (But Not Open).” Ry Rivard. Inside Higher Ed (May 14, 2013): “The Georgia Institute of Technology plans to offer a $7,000 online master’s degree to 10,000 new students over the next three years without hiring much more than a handful of new instructors.”
  • Not Staying the Course.” Chris Parr. Times Higher Education (May 10, 2013): “The average completion rate for massive open online courses is less than 7 percent, according to data compiled by an Open University doctoral student as part of her own MOOC studies.”
Companies, colleges, and columnists gush about the utopian possibilities of technology. But digital life has a bleaker side, too. Over the weekend, a cross-disciplinary group of scholars convened [at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee’s Center for 21st Century Studies] to focus attention on the lesser-noticed consequences of innovation.

Still talking about MOOCs

MOOC Professors Claim No Responsibility for How Courses Are Used.” Steve Kolowich. The Chronicle of Higher Education (May 21, 2013): “[Mohamed A. Noor, a professor of biology at Duke University] says he believes dismantling departments and replacing them with MOOCs would be ‘reckless.’ But the Duke professor also believes that, in such a case, ‘the fault lies with the reckless administration,’ and not the professor who furnished the MOOC to the vendor that furnished the MOOC to the administration.”

ETA: “Laptop U: Has the future of college moved online?” Nathan Heller. The New Yorker (May 20, 2013):

David W. Wills, a professor of religious history at Amherst … started out being open to moocs, he said. But the more he heard the more his concerns grew, and none of edX’s representatives seemed able to address them. “One of the edX people said, ‘This is being sponsored by Harvard and M.I.T. They wouldn’t do anything to harm higher education!’ What came to my mind was some cautious financial analysts saying, about some of the financial instruments that were being rolled out in the late nineties or early two-thousands, ‘This is risky stuff, isn’t it?’ And being told, ‘Goldman Sachs is doing it; Lehman Brothers is doing it.’ ” The language he heard from edX, he said, was the rhetoric of tech innovation—seemingly to the exclusion of anything else—and he worried about academia falling under hierarchical thrall to a few star professors. “It’s like higher education has discovered the megachurch,” he told me.

[T]he political theorist Thomas L. Dumm, described the conveyance of moocs to weaker universities as “eating our seed corn.”

Duke U.’s Undergraduate Faculty Derails Plan for Online Courses for Credit.” Steve Kolowich. The Chronicle of Higher Education (April 30, 2013): “Duke signed a contract last year with 2U pledging to develop online courses, the first of which would be offered on the 2U platform in September. But a late push by skeptical faculty members, many of whom resented the Duke administration for not consulting with them before entering into a preliminary agreement with 2U, set the stage for a close vote.”

Why Some Colleges Are Saying No to MOOC Deals, at Least for Now.” Steve Kolowich. The Chronicle of Higher Education (April 29, 2013): “Th[e] known costs, combined with uncertainty about whether the MOOCs will make enough money for colleges to recover their investments, might be enough to deter some institutions, says R. Michael Tanner, a vice president and chief academic officer at the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities—especially public universities that are facing budget cuts.”

Mind the money, not the Moocs.” Steve Smith. Times Higher Education (April 18, 2013):

I also think that the likely impact of Moocs is being overstated. That is not to say that they will not transform much of the way in which university education is delivered, but I do not think that Moocs themselves can replace the education offered by or the brand value associated with traditional universities. Not every university will face the same level of threat, mind you; Moocs pose a very different challenge depending on which part of the university ecosystem you inhabit. They also need to be monetised, and to find a way of linking study with assessment.

Catching up on news

The measure would allow Florida officials to accredit individual courses on their own — including classes offered by unaccredited for-profit providers.
“We’re saying the monopoly of the accrediting system is not designed for the world of MOOCs or other individual courses,” said Republican State Senator Jeff Brandes, the bill’s sponsor.

[See also “United Opposition,” Ry Rivard, Inside Higher Ed (March 28, 2013), about a similar bill in California.]

Let’s call a spade a spade — the proposals being imposed on post-secondary institutions have absolutely nothing to do with improving an educational model, nor are they based on any empirically-tested reformation program that has been successful elsewhere. These initiatives are being enacted for two very specific reasons — budget mismanagement and an impending labour shortage.

  • Saint Louis U. Threatens Faculty With Copyright Suit Over Campus-Climate Survey.” Peter Schmidt. The Chronicle of Higher Education (April 2, 2013): “Efforts to measure the mood of Saint Louis University’s faculty members might in fact have worsened it, as the administration has threatened a faculty leader with a copyright lawsuit if he circulates his own version of a survey about the campus climate.”
  • Under California Bill, Faculty-Free Colleges Would Award Exam-Based Degrees.” Allie Bidwell. The Chronicle of Higher Education (April 2, 2013): “A bill being considered this month by the California Assembly would create a fourth division of the state’s higher-education system that would provide no instruction and would issue college credit and degrees to any student who could pass a series of examinations.”
  • AAUP Calls on Colleges to Calculate Adjuncts’ Work Hours Fairly.” Nick DeSantis. The Chronicle of Higher Education (April 2, 2013): “The American Association of University Professors on Tuesday issued a statement calling on colleges to devise “fair methods” for calculating the working hours of adjunct instructors, after the Internal Revenue Service issued proposed rules earlier this year that sought to advise colleges on how to do so for the purpose of providing part-timers with health benefits.”
  • United Opposition.” Ry Rivard. Inside Higher Ed (March 28, 2013): “[F]aculty representatives are concerned California lawmakers are preparing to hand over untold thousands of students to for-profit companies that have not proven their courses can pass muster.”
  • Dal faculty wants more funding for programs, less for new buildings.” Clare Mellor. The Chronicle Herald (March 27, 2013): “Millions of dollars are being diverted from academics at Dalhousie University to pay for shiny new buildings, says its faculty association.”
  • Alberta demands universities streamline programs, co-operate on transfer credits.” James Bradshaw. The Globe and Mail (March 27, 2013):

The five-page draft letters [detailing government plans] come only two weeks after Premier Alison Redford’s government slashed schools’ operating grants by 7 per cent as part of its recent hard-luck budget. As universities grapple with the fallout, Thomas Lukaszuk, the new advanced education minister and Deputy Premier, is open about capitalizing on the cutbacks as a “catalyst” for changes to the system.

MOOCs in the media

  • Beware of the High Cost of ‘Free’ Online Courses.” Steve Lohr. The New York Times (March 25, 2013): Michael A. Cusumano, professor at the Sloan School of Management at M.I.T.: “I am mostly concerned about second- and third-tier universities and colleges, and community colleges, many of which play critical roles for education and economic development in their local regions and communities.”
  • The Brave New World of College Branding.” Kevin Carey. The Chronicle of Higher Education (March 25, 2013): “There’s another way to think about brands and technology, however. This brings us, of course, to MOOCs. I know: again with the MOOCs. I apologize. Let’s set aside for a moment the question of whether MOOCs are the ultimate neoliberal conspiracy or mankind’s final redemption, and focus on the fact that they have been powered largely by brands.”
  • Walk Deliberately, Don’t Run, Toward Online Education.” William G. Bowen. The Chronicle of Higher Education (March 25, 2013): “There is a real danger that the media frenzy associated with MOOCs will lead some colleges (and, especially, business-oriented members of their boards) to embrace too tightly the MOOC approach before it is adequately tested and found to be both sustainable and capable of delivering good learning outcomes for all kinds of students.”
  • I Don’t Want to Be Mooc’d.” Albert J. Sumell. The Chronicle of Higher Education (March 25, 2013): “But at smaller, lower-ranked institutions like mine—those typically with a city rather than a state in their names—MOOCs present a greater concern. Cost is a more important factor for our students in deciding whether and where to enroll. We would see decreased enrollment and tuition revenue, and without an unexpected increase in public support, we would be forced to further reduce the number of tenure-track faculty positions and/or compensation to current faculty members as a result.”
  • Coursera’s Contractual Elitism.” Ry Rivard. Inside Higher Ed (March 22, 2013): “The Silicon Valley-based company said to be revolutionizing higher education says in a contract obtained by Inside Higher Ed that it will “only” offer classes from elite institutions – the members of the Association of American Universities or “top five” universities in countries outside of North America – unless Coursera’s advisory board agrees to waive the requirement.”
  • The Professors Who Make the MOOCs.” The Chronicle of Higher Education (March 20, 2013):

Robert W. Ghrist, a professor of mathematics and electrical and systems engineering at the University of Pennsylvania, is among [those who think MOOC students deserve course credit]. His MOOC, “Calculus: Single Variable,” is one of the five Coursera courses that ACE has recommended for credit. Fitting his assessments into the parameters of Coursera’s auto-grading system has been somewhat limiting, but no more than the math placement exams that Penn already uses, said Mr. Ghrist, who previously oversaw those tests. “I would, of course, prefer it if I could read over their work carefully and follow their logic,” he said. But that is a technology problem that Coursera will soon solve, he believes.

  • Colleges Assess Cost of Free Online-Only Courses.” David Wallis. The New York Times (March 18, 2013): Gary W. Matkin, dean of continuing education, distance learning and summer session at the University of California, Irvine, “forecasts tough times ahead for what he calls the ‘mediocre middle’ — institutions that have not been invited into what amounts to a higher-education V.I.P. room.”