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Are you ready to give shared governance an F?

Maybe it’s time we learned our lesson about shared governance. Four decades of earnest collaboration with management have done little for the tenure stream partners in governance–except to see their steady replacement by instructors, moonlighters, staff specialists and student workers, including undergraduates.

This summer’s events on many campuses suggest that “sharing” governance has been just a figleaf for managerial control.

These past few months even the most Pollyanna of profs might have to admit that the fundamental powerlessness of faculty under systems of “sharing” governance is on spectacular display across the country–with opportunistic administrations using the economic crisis to achieve their hearts’ desire: wage cuts, furloughs, layoffs, program closures… but no reduction in administration, staff, services, or landscaping!

The administration building’s air conditioning is on full blast; their carpets are new and regularly cleaned; their kids are in private school, and they still get out for golf while you’re grading papers or paying for your research out of pocket, stealing time from your kids’ lives. On the occasions they’ve taken pay cuts, they’ve generally been symbolic, knocking a grand or two off a monthly take that would buy an average person a new car.

Professional Managers, Proletarian Professionals

Sure, one part of the story is partisan politics in the U.S.–the defunding of higher ed.  But the other part is the story I’ve been trying to find time to think about, regarding what seems to me to be a split in the professional-managerial class. It’s what literary folks call a chiasmus: the professionalization of management has resulted in their seeking to deprofessionalize everyone else. It’s happened already in higher education; the faculty is already deprofessionalized.

College faculty long ago gave up the key perquisites of a profession–control over who does their work and their qualifications–a lower percentage of faculty hold the PhD today than forty years ago, even while fatuous analyses of academic labor squawk absurdly about a “surplus” of doctorates. The only remaining question is guesswork: what single-digit percentage of the faculty will be tenure stream in twenty years?

The same thing is happening in law and medicine and accountancy, albeit with more determined and better-informed resistance by more militant professional associations. And it is happening in higher education unevenly–in some places more than others–but this unevenness has turned out to be useful to management. Since those of us at the top of the food chain retain some vestigial professionalism and control, we have a pathetic tendency to feel acknowledged and warmly appreciated because the boot is kicking us with less vigor.

Never Too Late to Learn

The future true history of this moment won’t waste time blaming one half of the U.S. CP (U.S. Capitalist Party) over the other, as if Democrats like Al Gore (see what he’s done for higher ed in Tennessee!) and our own Capt. Wal-mart would have saved the day.

Instead that history will point to the Rise of the Executive, the Stalinist era of a capitalist leadership cult, an entire culture of consolidating control of mission in an individual and his loyalists, his Band of Brothers, his famiglia, his team. The executive class has been so effective that they’ve managed to capitalize massively on themselves, wresting control of trillions in shareholder wealth to pour hundreds of millions in compensation into their individual pockets.

(Come on, did you really think the popularity of The Sopranos was because it pertained to actual New Jersey gangsters? It succeeded because it represents our everyday experience of gangsterism in the workplace, the production of revolting new concentrations of wealth out of our sweat and misery–the The Real Housewives of Orange County/Atlanta/New York/New Jersey. Sure, they’re not all Godfathers–most executives are just junior-league earners, beating up a call-center or two.)

We have a growing literature and culture and world of ritual associated with the rise of these executives and their domestic arrangements: it’s called the business curriculum.

Higher education plays a major role in producing and legitimating the executive class.  These steadily more professionalized executives are our product. We’ve made them more ambitious, more confident, more certain of the justice of their claim on outsize reward for quality-managing absolutely everything–not just business, but education, medicine, government, and organizations of all kinds, even labor unions.

I’ve already argued that higher education employment–permatemping, student-sourcing, interning, service “learning,” etc– has been a crucial laboratory for innovation in the labor process, which has been for decades of greater importance than purely technological innovation.

In other words, I’ve been observing that most of the nostalgic whiners are wrong–it’s not that we’re being managed like a business so much as businesses are trying to manage themselves like us. Every business wants workers to give themselves away the way faculty have.

So we make these executives and they get into a job and they have to innovate the labor process and where do they look for inspiration? The university and its racist, sexist division of labor:

Hey, got a high household income or inherited wealth? You too can be a college teacher! Few Hispanics and African-Americans need apply! And ladies? We have some introductory courses for you; a nice man will give you a syllabus to teach from. Need a man-sized income so you can hire a lady to raise some kids for ya? No problem, just get smart in a manly discipline or go into administration!

The racist, sexist division of labor isn’t the intention, of course–universities desperately want to hire affirmatively. It’s simply the unintended consequence of the higher priority, the race to the bottom in faculty wages at the expense of any pretense at actual learning: the mindless starvation of student mind and faculty body in service of capital accumulation. To get more buildings, bigger endowment, more flowers and new paint in the offices of important people, wages have been driven down to the point of near volunteerism, and the faculty closely resembles the demographics of the class that can afford to do good works in their spare time.  (In short, despite our imagined faculty superiority, we’re structurally bound to the world of The Real Housewives franchises: hence the train-wreck fascination.)

The true history of this moment in higher education therefore is a subset of the true history of the split in the professional managerial class: a tale of administrations engorged with power and blood lust, running amok while hooting their battle cry, “Never let a good crisis go to waste!”

Of course the next moment could simply be an intensification of the misery and hypocrisy we have today, being pushed for by think-tank drones in both the Republican and Democratic wings of the US Capitalist Party: “Excepting those loser dropouts who really oughta be in prison working for even lower wages, these kids are getting a great education and I have the test results from our patented nationwide curriculum to prove it! We have built a Global Coalition of the Educationally Willing to use our Teacher-Proof Curriculum and They Love It, according to our completely unspinnable metrics! My numbers prove that we don’t need teachers at all; students can teach students, just like in log-cabin schoolrooms! Though personally, my kids are in private school.”

Or it could be better, if we’re willing to learn from our past follies. We might even need to stop “sharing governance” and kick some of these turkeys to the curb.

Summer School For Faculty

Possibly you’re tired of beach reading–or perhaps you couldn’t afford the beach this year? You say you’d like to get beyond the “Thank you, sir! May I have another?” school of governance?

I have a few suggestions.

AAUP’s Academe. Read it online for free. Better yet, join the militant new AAUP, helmed by the dream team of Cary Nelson and Gary Rhoades. Former editors include heavy hitters like Paula Krebs and Ellen Schrecker; be sure to look for the completely overhauled website and investigative-journalistic mission promised by incoming editor Cat Warren.

The new Workplace: A Journal for Academic Labor. When Wayne Ross fled Louisville and its subsequently-indicted education dean for the University of British Columbia (think of it as Canada’s Cal-Berkeley), he took Workplace with him. Featuring an all-new format, energetic new board and coeditor, the journal now releases articles in a timely pre-print fashion. Recent releases include Bruno Gulli on the Super-Exploitation of Contingent Academic Labor  and fellow Louisville escapee John Welsh’s two contributions, Theses on College and University Governance: A Critical Perspective and The Status Degradation Ceremony: The Phenomenology of Social Control in Higher Education.

Journal of the Edu-Factory Collective. The current top article is an essential piece by Chris Newfield on Militant Chairs, about the possible stiffening of spines–even at R1s! even in nonconfrontational California! even by chairs! in response to the opportunistic wage-cutting by capo di regimes at the University of California. Featuring an international cast of mostly radical intellectuals, you’ll keep up to date with the quarter-million strong German education strike and occupations of Italian admin buildings and the sleazy new Australian conversion of foriegn students into indentured guest workers.  You’ll learn how educators and students across the planet have been fighting (sometimes winning, sometimes losing) many of the fights we have in the U.S.

Polygraph 21: Study, Students, Universities. Fair warning: these kids are Marxists. This issue of what is perhaps the best-run graduate student journal in the U.S. is sparked by a simple, core, observation: There are students in the university. 

Remaking the University. Together with two collaborators, Newfield’s blog, currently devoted to the running thuggery in California. Chris makes the best and most thorough case for the defunding-of-the-u dimension of the current disaster. See especially his discussion of the furlough’s bias and his analysis of the Cal budget from 1990 planning and benchmark insitutions to the moment of “Extreme Arnold.”

CFA Headlines. Keep up with the news on the California Faculty Association’s struggle to keep mandatory furlough days under faculty control.



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