The ivory towers of academia

This is a stark reminder:

Universities have long ceased to be “temples of learning”. There are few places with a “culture” which stayed with you throughout your life (and associations). Those are slipping by. Universities have now been encroached by the cancer of bureaucracy.

Here’s a damning article:

Administrators Have Seized the Ivory Tower — The James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal

If there is a constituency still living the ivory tower dream, it is not professors but their bosses: university administrators. Anyone who has had to deal with academic leadership in recent years has encountered the dizzying array of vice provosts, associate deans, and associate vice chancellors. Not only do titles proliferate, but offices do as well: The academic deep state is chock-full of departments with chirpy but obscure names like “Student Success,” “Inclusive Excellence,” and “Strategic Initiatives.” It is in this world, in which administrators compete for titles like old regime aristocrats in bureaucracies so opaque they would make Kafka blush, that the new ivory tower is to be found.

Here’s more:

The American university thrived historically on the marrying of teaching and research—the idea that faculty should be not only competent in the classroom but accomplished practitioners of their field. But many of today’s administrators have little research experience and, rather than Ph.Ds. (the global benchmark of academic accomplishment), boast of esoteric degrees in their own administrative nooks and crannies (in fields like “strategic enrollment management” or “student affairs”). It is also not uncommon that administration rewards failure: Faculty who are mediocre teachers and indifferent scholars are offered career redemption when they are promoted to administrative positions. More than ever, faculty and administrators seem to inhabit different worlds.

I’d disagree about the global benchmark of a PhD. At most, a PhD makes an individual aware of the “research methodology”. There’s some background work (and courses) and a dissertation. I am not discounting the effort; I am questioning the idea of this “benchmark”. A PhD doesn’t necessarily become a better administrator, because leadership demands a panoramic view of issues; not a niche focus.

What I’d definitely agree is this: the transformation of the “academia” into “professional managerial class”. There is a beautiful rendition of what this entails:

In many respects, university administrators are academia’s answer to what has become known as the “professional managerial class,” or PMC. As Catherine Liu argues in a recent book, the PMC is comprised of educated professionals who embrace a moralizing progressive ideology while believing that it can be realized only in a top-down, hierarchical manner. The struggles of social movements and democratic processes leave them cold, as these contribute little to administrators’ hunger for professional recognition. Consistent with Liu’s description of the PMC, university administrators “labor in a world of floating signifiers, statistics, analytics, projections, predictions and identity performativity, virtue signaling, and affectual production.” Because they see universities as stages on which they are destined to display their own professional and moral superiority, they hold in low esteem the matters that preoccupy professors—sound pedagogy, academic rigor, publishing in one’s discipline, even reading books. While there is no denying that many professors are politically liberal, many still adhere to the principles of pluralism and recognizing the existence of multiple viewpoints on controversial issues. More than the faculty, the academic PMC is the source of the dogmatism that haunts contemporary academia.

I’d hasten to add: profit maximisation. When you are outcompeting, especially for foreign students, these signalling mechanisms assume outsize importance for the administrators in a drive to ensure a healthy “profit”. There’s nothing wrong in the profits; the academia shouldn’t suffer in the process. This separation of administration from academia has interesting parallels between “state” and the “church” that forms “bedrock” of the European Renaissance. I’d give it to the EU to flagellate at their “intellectual superiority”, but much of their plundered wealth (and ideas) were repeatedly internalised and corrupted. These are coming back to haunt them, because it never evolved with the changing times.

Ivory towers are symptoms of a deep rooted malaise.

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