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More Critique of Provosts and Executive Teams, Not Less

Administrators, especially Provosts and Academic Affairs VPs need to receive the greatest possible scrutiny as we envision a new college and university climate where teaching is cultivated in a way that strengthens credit-based revenue streams and grows our colleges and universities into 21st century institutions: resilient, entrepreneurial, and reflexive.

Inside Higher Education report on Provost attitudes and trends describe, for me, a moment of reckoning, a post-mortem for a show that’s closing. Part of that investigation will be personal; another part will be deeply political. I refuse however to play the world’s tiniest violin “Just for the Provosts.”

Money comes from revenue: credit sales, business-academic partnerships, investment, and grants. I remember so many semesters in New Hampshire where I wondered why we’re not writing grants in teams, even the adjuncts.

Well, obviously we were busy. But, when hadn’t I been busy since starting my own career in 1996? Every day for close to fifteen years I kept a hectic schedule that brought with it challenges that kept me up at night and joys that will never be matched.

The greatest mental discomfort was brought about by Executive Team administrators who simply would not get the hell out of the way of innovation–new courses, improvements to existing courses, assessment-driven online, student-led accelerated courses, and hybrids. It was a Kafka-level nightmare to get anything done; and over time, myself and countless others simply gave up.

Why do so many colleges not get this?

Why are so many universities failing?

Here’s my list:

1) No trust between faculty and administration
2) Administration has forgotten its essential role: to support faculty in their mission to educate students
3) Cash cow can still work within existing (or new) assessment models
4) Elites of both liberal and conservative leaning distrust innovation
5) Industry-academic partnerships are not tended, left to run on their own — makes no sense to me
6) Full time program support = sustainable models = greater success
7) Contingent employment = tentative engagement = disposable teachers, students, and — get this — administrators <— increases mistrust
8) At a teaching institution, great teachers need to be rewarded; bad ones need to be let go regardless of credentials
9) At research institutions, tenured class needs to get over bias against undergraduates

That’s a good place to start. 🙂

We guard against corporatism. I agree. But, most successful corporations have people tasked to cultivate innovation and encourage revision, redirection, and resiliency. A built-in entrepreneurial machine.

Higher education has a similar in-house mechanism designed for success in the adjuncts (not everyone, but many). Yet, the arrogant, unhelpful, unproductive, and quite frankly idiotic, desperate, and lazy attitude of full-time faculty, chairs, and many administrators FEAR any idea that does not originate from their offices.

Further evidence that none of them teach, none of them write, none of them create from nothing — which is what artists, professors, scientists, business professors, and nearly everyone in the academic community. Even the industry advisors or trustees in New Hampshire do not (or will not) transpose their experiences in the business sector into workable, sustainable, and profitable models at the community college level. In fact, the Chancellor of the Community College System of New Hampshire, Ross Gittell, led the effort to elevate a local (River Valley) program with Hypertherm (machine tool corporation) but couldn’t pull it off. Faculty resistance to centralized governance threatened the program and System refusal to trust faculty and administrative initiative weakened the program. Both were wrong. Entrepreneurial activity, local or central, requires careful tending; these gardens died because too many boots trampled across the newly sprouted shoots and stems.

Teachers understand how long it takes to cultivate learning and how difficult it can be to assess properly the progress of students. How many times did I believe in my heart of hearts a student was going to drop a course or fail a quiz only to watch that student rise to the occasion and blow away my low expectations? Same for the reverse: “A” students performing with satisfactory results, me convinced it was something I did wrong when they just suddenly lost interest in the course or school in general and a thousand other reasons. So, it wasnt me, wasn’t the course. The same applies to those times when I over-reached or didn’t perform my best — it was time to shift gears and engage in a course correction.

I guess I’m just trying to state for the record here that innovation takes time, curriculum building and innovation doesn’t happen overnight. It can’t be forced; only guided. Very much like students. Our Provosts would know how to think like a teacher if they chose to remember their successes and failures in the classroom, applying those faculty lessons to administrative decisions made for an entire campus. It also helps to have teachers, especially adjuncts, involved in the daily governance of universities and colleges.

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About Dean RCB

Dean of Academics Lebanon College Philosophy and Integrated Liberal Arts Writer & Producer (theatre, television, film) Composer & Producer RCB lives in the Upper Valley with his wife and four boys.

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