The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters
Benjamin Ginsberg. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2011; 264 pp; ISBN: 978-0-19978-244-4, cloth $29.95 USD.
Reviewed by Hans Skott-Myhre
Benjamin Ginsberg’s book is a well-articulated scholarly polemic against the increase in the scope and influence of administrators and bureaucrats within the academy. It is an important book for anyone interested in issues such as the importance of faculty governance, academic freedom, and faculty control over their own teaching and research. Ginsberg tells us his book sounds a warning cry that could signal actions to avoid the calamity of what he terms, “administrative blight.” However, he warns that it may “come too late for some victims.”
Although, the book is written from an American context, there is a definite resonance for the Canadian academy. His claim that institutions are “mainly controlled by administrators and staffers who make the rules and set the priorities of academic life,” has not fully taken hold in Canada, but appears to be well on the way. Indeed, there is no doubt that administrative growth at Canadian universities and colleges has far outstripped growth in the ranks of faculty.
Ginsberg traces the gradual erosion of direct faculty involvement in the management of the academy in the United States. He notes that, until the last 20 years or so, faculty members held administrative functions on a short-term basis. It was assumed such faculty would return to the professoriate in short order, having fulfilled their service as administrators.
As a result, the author argues that presidents and provosts were highly dependent on the faculty to manage the university. This dependence insured that faculty had a voice in the development and vision for the institution. The short-term nature of their involvement kept their focus on the centrality of quality teaching and research. Ginsburg argues the fact that faculty, as short-term managers, never lost sight of their own pedagogy and scholarship led to the development of U.S. universities as premier institution of secondary education.
He contends this focus has been lost for many U.S. universities in the shift from a faculty perspective to a managerial perspective. This difference in perspective is central to his overall argument that faculty should control and lead universities and colleges. Ginsburg proposes that for faculty, the university exists as an institution that promotes their teaching and research. Alternatively, administrators and managers see teaching and research as a way to fund and support the institution. In short, for faculty, the university is a means by which teaching and research are accomplished, while administrators see teaching and research as a means to sustain the university as an institution.
Ginsberg traces the development and growth of the managerial class in the academy illustrating both its influence and tactics through numerous empirical examples. Again, while the context is largely U.S. (there are some Canadian examples), the trends and issues brought to light are relevant for North American and European institutions of higher learning. In particular, the author explicates strategies for the growth of administrative influence and its impact on faculty governance and voice. The fascinating and horrifying aspect of this section of the book is that I recognized each tactic being deployed both at my home institution and elsewhere.
The tactics outlined include the use of budget crises as a justification for significant restructuring of the institution. He makes the case that these budget crises may have some basis in fact, but that they seldom reasonably link to the “reforms” being implemented. In fact, the administrative solutions proposed often exacerbate the underlying budget problems.
Ginsberg points out that costs for administration and capital expenditures almost always grow, while funding for the core mission of teaching and learning almost always shrinks. He suggests this growth is a logical outcome. Administration will always seek to grow itself if it is staffed by people whose career path is management. This is why he feels shared governance structures cannot function under current conditions in which management and administration is no longer the province of faculty. If administration is largely self-sufficient in having the personnel and the budget to manage and administer the university, they have no motivation to take faculty concerns into account.
This is the foundation for what the author terms the all-administrative university — one in which faculty have no significant role except as contract labour who produce piece work, such as on-line courses, and then move on. If this is the goal of ever-expanding administration then there is no need for shared governance.
The author also notes strategies such as study commissions and strategic plans are largely borrowed from managerial business models. As these exercises have little to do with research, scholarship or pedagogy, their deployment by administration gives them an arena in which managerial expertise trumps the centrality of the academic core mission. While such plans pay lip service to the academic mission, their true function is the spread of hierarchical corporate models of management in which faculty take the role of workers subjugated to the will of management.
For anyone whose university has experienced a branding campaign, Ginsberg’s demonstration of the importance of image polishing to the administratively focused university will be disturbingly familiar. Similarly, the use of managerial buzzwords and the overarching importance of the administrative fad of the moment as the core of a university provost’s or president’s address to the faculty will strike a chord.
Unfortunately, the book is marred, at times, by Ginsberg’s obvious disdain and profound dislike of managers and administrators as a class. Although he goes to some length to note that he has known good managers and administrative staff, his anger about the incursion of administrative values and practices into the academy can lead to excessive polemic. This colours two main chapters in unfortunate ways.
The first is a chapter on what Ginsberg claims is an appropriation of the academic left by administrative forces. What he then delineates is what he feels is an inappropriate expansion of identity politics and the agendas of women, people of color and sexual minorities into the world of pedagogy. This is dicey territory and the case he might make here is tainted by his annoyance about aspects of what he terms the academic left and the rule of administration. The second problematic section touches on corruption in the ranks of administrators. Unfortunately this trend, while disturbing, doesn’t warrant the length of exposition and detracts from his main argument.
The next chapter on academic freedom and the history of the development of the tenure system in
the U.S. is excellent and well worth a careful reading. The close ties between tenure and academic freedom and the recent assaults on tenure by administrators are empirically supported.
In the opening to the book, Ginsberg states that he intends for this book to offer a prescription against the disease of administrative bloat. In the final section he offers detailed suggestions for boards, the media, alumni and faculty as well as parents and students. His suggestions are pragmatic, including having an elected faculty member on the board of trustees, enforcing conflict of interest provisions vis-a-vis board members and the university, vigorously resisting administrative accountability measures of faculty pedagogy, and ensuring that media analysis includes administrative bloat as a factor in coverage of struggles in higher education, to name a few.
In the end, the author leaves us with the possibility that it may be too late to reverse this process in some places. He also offers hope that if we can become aware of how this is occurring we can resist the trend and maintain the core mission of the university. This book is clearly an important tool in the latter process.
Hans Skott-Myhre is president of Brock University Faculty Association.