Faculty discontents and the decline of loyalty

We reported a few weeks ago on a CHE report of a decline in faculty loyalty in many countries. Looking for an answer to a question raised in the comments, I found an earlier report on the same survey. This one outlined the basis for the decline. It may sound familiar, though a reiterated bottom line may be surprising: deans rule. In addition, given the familiar complaints about disengaged faculty, reading this report feels like reading a causal diagnosis.

In the summary of study’s findings that he plans to present today, William K Cummings says: “Academics in most countries think decision making is top down, that the administrative process is cumbersome, that communication between the administration and faculty is poor. The U.S. is no exception.”

Moreover, he says, the faculty members of many nations, including the United States, report having less power within their institutions than they did in the early 1990s, with midlevel decision makers, rather than college presidents or outsiders, being the primary forces professors cite as usurping their influence.

Except for in Britain and Japan, faculty members in most nations do not believe they, collectively, have much influence in most decision-making areas. Faculty members in the United States feel exceptionally powerless over their institutions’ affairs, being less likely than their peers in nearly every nation to report having a big say over the selection of key administrators, the budget priorities of their institutions, or their own teaching loads.

Especially in nations with well-developed higher-education systems, the management of colleges is perceived by faculty members “as asking for more while providing less,” making greater demands that are not accompanied by improvements in facilities or other forms of additional support, Mr. Cummings’s analysis says. Although those faculty members seem to be keeping their morale intact, in many nations they appear to be doing so by withdrawing from involvement in their institutions’ governance and instead focusing on their own academic pursuits.

In discussing the study’s results Thursday in an interview, Mr. Cummings said faculty members in the United States still report feeling a lot of personal attachment to their academic disciplines, but they display much less sense of connection with their academic departments or their institutions than they did in the 1992 survey.

“It is almost as if they are drawing into their own professional worlds and disengaging from substantial participation in the management and governance of their institutions,” Mr. Cummings said. To stay happy, he said, faculty members “have redefined their jobs.”

Mr. Finkelstein, who led the survey effort in the United States, said that here, “the dominant picture is of both the central administration and faculty yielding to deans.”