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.”

3 thoughts on “Faculty discontents and the decline of loyalty

  1. Very interesting.
    My impression is that Brown is unusual in both respects, and that this may be no coincidence. That is, Brown has relatively active faculty governance (including participation in choosing key administrators, but also more day-to-day and month-to-month things), and also more faculty loyalty than most American universities. Not perfect by any means, and quite possibly declining in both respects.

  2. Precisely one day ago we faculty were admonished to “do more with less,” yet again. Verbatim! One brave and insightful soul said something like, ” actually, we do less with less because everyone here is working beyond their FTE, and the problem is that we don’t talk about it, and so those decisions are not purposefully made nor carefully considered.” Amen.

  3. Jamie, it’s fine to mention one’s own university, but it makes me want to stress that the post is not a covert complaint against my own university. On the contrary, I have some considerable regard for our administration’s concern for individual faculty.

    I suspect that the situation we want, and it looks like Brown has, requires a convergence that may be difficult to achieve. The one time I was involved in the selection of a president, the university ended up with an extremely unsuitable man who actually was a quite wonderful person. But the board of regents believed the head hunter over the faculty. After all, the man pushing the unsuitable candidte made much more money than we did.

    At other times, the fault can be down to those infaculty governance. It can be very hard not to be captivated by having the ear of the most powerful people in our world. And the basic common sense of management good practices is not inborn in faculty who become leaders.

    I hope this doesn’t sound like a kind of patting myself on my back. On the contrary, what I got right was due in significant part to reading tons of management studies, largely from Harvard. Along with very good work on universities the Carnegie foundation has published.

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