Join the discussion
the February/March 2000 issue
Citizenship or administrative burden?
By David Blumenthal
the December 1999/January 2000 issue
a Citizen Faculty
collegiality in the research university
Luke Timothy Johnson
Academic Exchange April/May
2000 Contents Page
Professor David Blumenthal's
response to my article on shaping a citizen faculty ("Blumenthal's
Folly," February/March 2000, and "Shaping a Citizen
Faculty," December 1999/January 2000) has good points to
which I gladly assent. I agree that faculty often spend too much
time on committees when they could be deepening and extending
knowledge. I agree that some academic administration can be done
by non-scholars. I certainly agree that faculty are citizens
of other worlds than the academy and should make a difference
in their communities.
We also agree, I think, that patterns of faculty governance need
attention. The myth of participatory democracy (a positive formulation
for systemic academic paranoia) should not camouflage inefficient
and spirit-draining attendance at meetings where little important
is said and nothing significant happens.
What, then, separates our positions? Different construals of
citizenship. Blumenthal wants to pay taxes and do his fair share.
He resists the institution's vampirish craving for faculty blood,
while Johnson calls for a sense of covenant, in which shared
participation lightens the load for all. These are fundamentally
different political constructions of the university. Blumenthal's
university is about the individual scholar's performance in teaching
and research; everything else is distraction. Johnson's university
is about the synergy of teaching and research among a collegium
of scholars that is enabled by their common effort.
Blumenthal's solution (his "Folly") is to cluster departments
under the administration of an MBA. He is perhaps too sanguine
about the likelihood of such a manager gaining recognition from
faculty, who often only grudgingly accept their peers as coordinators
of their efforts. He is certainly too optimistic about the eagerness
of an mba to administer units in which no one can be fired. And
despite the growing popularity of the sentiment that a university
should be run like a business, I don't think it a desirable option.
Professor Blumenthal acknowledges that even in a unit managed
by an MBA, "there are certain kinds of decisions--for example,
curriculum decisions--that must and should be made by the faculty
," but he thinks other decisions are straightforward and
"do not require a major debate by the faculty." It's
an important distinction. The real problem is applying it. If
involving the faculty in every administrative detail is paralyzing,
eliminating the faculty from some decisions leads to the loss
of the university.
Blumenthal seriously downplays the number of processes in which
faculty participation is essential. Curricular decisions might
be sporadic and curricular reform (thank goodness) rare, but
other decisions happen all the time. Among them are the recruitment
of new faculty and graduate students. Is there any faculty person
who does not want a role here? No decision more affects the future
of the university (and each faculty person's life) than those
determining the quality of faculty and students. Then there are
the practices of mentoring, reviewing, and assessing faculty
as they move toward tenure. Who can do this if not faculty? Add
the collaborative work required for the process of graduate education
past the seminar stage: qualifying examinations, dissertation
proposals, dissertation direction and defense. Can this work
be placed in anyone's hands but the most experienced faculty
who are also the most committed to research and publication?
Is it possible to teach Emory undergraduates responsibly--to
shift the focus a
bit--without also sharing in student advising (however defined),
having some contact with student life, taking part in such collaborative
efforts as freshman or honors seminars?
As this list indicates, it is not at all easy to distinguish
clearly between those elements of academic life that can be handled
without faculty participation and those in which faculty insight
and will are critical. Assigning travel funds and teaching assistants
(Blumenthal's examples) may be merely a matter of numerical calculation,
but they may also involve subtler and more complex issues such
as patterns of leaves and sabbaticals or the equitable distribution
of teaching load. For those matters that require no debate, an
MBA is hardly required; for those matters that require faculty
discernment, an MBA administrator would be little use--unless
she also had skills in facilitating and mediation.
With Professor Blumenthal, I bemoan the waste of academic talent
in frivolous process for process's sake. When we dissipate our
energy and time this way, we lose the leisure from which alone
depth in learning and wisdom can grow. But I submit that the
byzantine committee system that enslaves us is not the result
of genuine faculty citizenship. It is rather an ossified replacement
for the kind of organic, flexible, and responsive participation
for which I called in my earlier essay. In any complex organization,
committees serve valuable functions. They should not outlive
those functions, or (worse) become the sole expression of citizenship.
At Emory, we need to look at the structure of committees. Even
more, we need to address attitudes and practices that identify
citizenship with committees and committees with forced labor.