Me & Tony Talk About the Corporatization of Higher Ed on Facebook

I like the “On this day” app on facebook. I don’t teach anymore but I’m reminded of things I taught or read and what I thought about them, it’s good to reflect now that I’m an official “post-ac” (that’s a former academic, mostly adjuncts, who got fed up with the b.s. and left academia for greener pastures).

In today’s facebook feed I was reminded of an article I read in 2010, “What do we mean by leadership in an academic institution?” At the time, I was a busy Sociology adjunct at Butte Community College, I served on 7 committees, including serving as an at-large senator on the academic senate. I also applied for and participated in a two-year leadership program at my school called the BCLDI, or Butte College Leader Development Institute. I didn’t know it when I applied, but this was a program intended to train and develop future college administrators. Coming from sales and industry, I wasn’t put off by the business lingo, in fact, I embraced it and then later, rebelled against it. I realized I was being trained as a tool for the McDonaldization of Higher Education, someone who’s skills were being exploited for the corporatocracy, I’m a sociologist, it wasn’t hard to turn away from the corporate/leadership nonsense. I’d left Barnes and Noble (a bookstore job!) because a manager was hired from Staples Office Supply who didn’t read and referred to books as “units.”

At any rate, this businessification of higher ed has sucked out the learning and turned it into a meaningless path to the job market, where faculty are there to “serve customers” and where administrators are guardians of the bottom line; a world where for example, a chair who senselessly power wields and causes colleagues misery is kept on because, “she’s great with the FTE’s.”

Today, I had one of my great facebook conversations with my former prof, thesis committee chair, and good friend, Tony Waters. I could tell you about it but instead, I’m going to copy and paste our conversation right here. Make sure you give a click and read this first so you know what the hell we’re talking about in the conversation below: “What do we mean by leadership in an academic institution?”

Tony: “I liked the comment about academic leaders being recruited for their “marketing skills.” The higher you go in the administrative hierarchy, the more likely you are required to spend a great deal of time with donors. Another word for spending time for donors? Marketing.”

Julie: “This is good, just reread it. I copied this part because I think it highlights the issues with power wielding that come up when faculty take on administrative power: “One of the things that happens to their brains is that once given a title with some attached authority they start to believe they are taking on the mantel of leadership. The term is thrown around very loosely as if it is interchangeable with the title of authority. To be fair, however, many faculty and staff develop expectations that just because someone has the title of provost or chancellor, or whatever, that they must be leaders, as if by definition. A better term for their roles would be coordinator. The issue, at base, is how good are they at coordinatorship?””

Tony: “That’s also a good quote. I like co-ordinators. But co-ordinatorship can corrupt–and turn into a concentration of power. In academia it corrupts because people like me would prefer to ignore the problem, and focus on their teaching and writing. I think he also makes that point!”

Julie: “That’s the marketing thing you’re talking about, a little bit of authority in the hands of untrained faculty often results in unnecessary power wielding and lots of interdepartmental drama.”

Tony: “From the Dean level up, there is often an emphasis on “fundraising” from private donors very prominent in the job description because such fund-raising is viewed as necessary for the survival of the modern university. The problem is that the only people who have the money to be fundraised from are businesspeople who use their business-based views of the world to tie strings to “donations.” This is an important part of how the “business model” has become so prominent in university administration today.”

Julie: “…this is why President Zingg has worn out his welcome, once a college prez is “spoiled” by controversy they are a poor marketing tool for donors. They retire or leave under a cloud only to appear fresh and ready to sell, sell, sell at their new school. Butte’s prez was transparent with us about that when I was in the 2 year leadership program. I think that’s why I got encouraged to attend pre-admnistrator training, I have that sales/marketing background, it wasn’t a turn off like it was for many faculty.”

*Please share your thoughts on the corporatization of the university in the comments, we want to hear from you and commiserate!