Can Faculty and Administrators work together to address Higher Ed Problems?

Today’s Chronicle of Higher Education’s commentary asks faculty and administrators to work together to solve the problems facing today’s Higher Ed institutions.  This is my question: can we actually do that?

I have complete faith that we can arrange town halls and ad hoc committees, we can even arrange for large-scale conferences dedicated to the future of higher education.  At my institution we’ve done that and will probably continue those forums. That, however is not my question.

Instead I am asking this: can we truly break down the barriers between faculty and administrators, draw on our fields of expertise and actually work together to address issues of cost, student access to required courses, evaluate on-line learning and the other multiple problems facing our institutions?

While Jeffery Salingo is optimistic about this as a possibility, I am sorry to say I am not.   I work at a dynamic “up and coming” university known for its multiple innovations.  It’s a great place to work.  Faculty have many opportunities to experiment with new courses and programs of study.  Like most state universities, we are woefully underfunded, so most of what faculty accomplish is either on our own dime or with minimal support.  Still, it is an exciting intellectual community with relatively few barriers to new ideas and initiatives.

Despite these positives, faculty and administrators operate in largely distinct realms of experience.  Most university-wide decisions are made by administrators, sometimes with faculty input, but most often without our consultation or even knowledge.   Last semester during conference on the future of higher education on my campus, I witnessed what I thought was the quintessential problem with faculty-administrative communication.  The final forum featured the new university President, the Provost and a number of other upper administrators, all discussing the “what next” for our university.

The discussion was largely optimistic, and could be summarized thusly: most of the teaching innovation will come from faculty, and although they discussed the possibility of funding those initiatives, there was no promise that faculty would be compensated. What I found most striking was the discussion itself: it centered on the expected role of the faculty, but there were no faculty on the panel, neither were there department chairs.  There wasn’t even a dean.

My problem with this “open forum” on the future of higher ed centers on who was left out–there was no acknowledgement from the panel that perhaps faculty should be part of the discussion or more significantly, that they should have been on the panel.  The entire event was open to the public, but remarkably, I was one of a handful of tenure line faculty from my college who actually attended the event.  My impression is that faculty were not strongly encouraged to attend.

I write this not to criticize my university’s administration, which I believe as a whole does an admirable job running our university.  My point is to highlight how even my institution, which is much more committed to faculty input and innovation that most,  the administrators and faculty operate largely in distinct silos of experience.

Breaking down those silos should be the first step in true innovation in high education restructuring and reform.

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