Academic Excellence Has Been Thrown Out the Window!
(This blog will be published in two sections.)
Majors at my former university were fair game to exploit by bureaucrats and powerful donors. Majors were deployed front and center on the university web pages with links to programs, and faculty/staff, and explanations about the major and possible careers. This is a smart thing to do. From the outside of academia, one could never imagine that majors and their academic integrity and excellence often took a back seat to politics.
- targeted by bureaucrats for elimination as a retaliation tactic, or state politic
- created by bureaucrats (Let’s call them bureaucats!) to produce additional revenue and for their own political/career gains
- marketed only by official admission representatives
- created by a donor who gave targeted funds to the university
- in competition with each other.
Transient and Flighty Evaluation Criteria
Throughout my entire long career at my former university the criteria for judging educational programs kept changing year after year. They were moving targets and depended upon which bureaucat was in power. If you met criteria and they did not like that outcome, they would change the criteria.
Sometimes they assessed the numbers of majors or minors to determine viability. At one point we had only one professor and about twenty minors. The Dean wanted to cut the program. I asked her about another department and how many majors and minors they had. Oh, they had fifty and how many faculty, oh fifty! Well, then to equalize your assessment, you must require that department to have five hundred majors. We were out performing them and being punished for it.
Sometimes they looked at student credit hours produced. Sometimes they looked at average class size. This had no merit whatsoever because almost every department offers classes that enroll only one person, especially in special project or thesis classes. Sometimes they looked at the cost of the total budget/cost of a department in relationship to produced revenue. And while some majors were thriving, some of the market studies suggested that those majors were dying elsewhere and should be eliminated. So based upon one article, a Dean eliminated a major.
Those majors that were eliminated had severe repercussions throughout the university. While bureaucats thought they were saving money, they actually lost revenue because those students left the university. And when they left the university they did not enroll in General Education classes. Oh, they forgot about the other classes!
Simplistic and Reductionistic Mentalities
Bureaucats are often (if not always) cut off from the real academic mission of the university. They are out playing their own game. They don’t even try to pretend that they understand the educational enterprise. They do not understand that one course may be required by ten different departments and when that course is eliminated it, all of those programs are affected negatively.
The strength of a university is that it can offer multiple programs, with multiple points of view that stretch across the humanities, sciences, technology, arts, and more. Students MUST have a broad education in order to learn how to be flexible in a changing and shrinking global environment. Some bureaucrats want to eliminate majors so they can streamline the “message” to customers. They believe if they reduce the content and number of majors, more students will cross the threshold of the university steps.
Bureaucats do not understand that learning/teaching only one skill is the worst thing we can do for students. They need to learn and practice many skills. That skill that is learned today may not be needed in four years. I have talked to numerous students from my previous university who argue that everything they learned was out-of-date!
Politicizing the Major
Departments cannot attract students to their programs if no one knows anything about the programs they offer. For years I fought to keep my academic area listed on the webpages with links. It kept disappearing as one bureaucat after another did not want my academic area offered on campus.
I was hired to create and manage a Department of Religious Studies but the bureaucats, and powerful faculty, never allowed that to happen in almost a quarter of a century. The minor took three years to pass all of the committees with two representatives dissenting from other colleges. For two years my student helper and I studied programs in Religion in the nation, the world, and within Missouri.
We discovered that no other state university offered an on-line major. We were on the cutting edge and knew that the program would be successful. Religious Studies was the first online minor in our college.
The major was blocked. The proposal was about sixty pages long, about the size of a Master’s thesis. Religious Studies now has 18-20 dedicated and diverse courses in its minor but no official major. We did write Individualized Majors for students but who could find us if we were not featured on the webpages?
At my former employer, only official majors could be marketed. If you do not have an official major in your academic area, it does not exist. There are no official flyers, brochures, and no admission representatives talking about your program. The university will not support you. So Religious Studies was in a Catch-22 situation.
Marketing was left up to us if we were to survive in this hostile environment. We did everything we could to advertise Religious Studies: press releases, flyers, articles in school newspapers and online newspapers, special events, concerts, panels of invited academics, contests, you name it! We partnered with every department that would partner with us in these activities. We were more than successful!
Gifts that Dominate Academic Programs
Many bureaucats are greedy for cash. They also want to advance their career, prestige, clout, on campus and with their friends. So they allow outside donors to control the curricula. Without any data, a Dean received funds and immediately created a new major in an area that should have been in the Physical Education Department. Some people began calling our college, the College of Dance and Entertainment. Within a blink of an eye, the curriculum was created, faculty were hired while Religious Studies languished unsupported right down the hallway. It was demoralizing. This non-academic area was lauded before all of us!
Religious Studies produced, during a year, nearly half a million dollars above costs. Most of our courses were online so we were rewarded with thousands and thousands of dollars. Most of that money the Dean took from us and gave it to other departments. Please do not weep! At least we could buy pens. This program had only one full-time professor and six part-time adjuncts. In essence, one full-time person was producing all of this revenue for the college. The bottom line is that I was a slave.
Continued next week!