Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Let Professors Rather Than Administrators Run Universities

Inside Higher Ed op-ed:  Let the Professors Run the University, by Samuel J. Abrams (Sarah Lawrence):

When the past academic year began, I warned that professors have ceded ground to a growing and powerful class of student-facing administrators who not only shape considerable academic discourse at colleges and universities but also are dangerous to the promotion of deliberative dialogue. Those administrators -- in offices such as student life and residential education -- are overwhelmingly liberal and have fostered the creation of a progressive and activist monoculture among students on many campuses with their extracurricular agenda-setting power.

Now that the academic year has come to a close, my warning appears to have rung true as a week would hardly go by without protests over institutional policies, activist demands to force curricular and faculty changesregular threats and incidents of violence, and the disinviting of speakers. While some colleges and universities like Johns Hopkins University took a stand against activism run amok, many -- such as Harvard University and my own, Sarah Lawrence College -- have capitulated more to student demands and ignorant mob rule.

So the question now is what can be done to improve the chances of having students in higher education genuinely embrace viewpoint diversity and debate ideas? My answer is quite simple: faculty members need to reassert themselves as the ones who direct discourse on college and university campuses both inside and outside the classroom. The bloated administrative bureaucracy must be checked.

Put simply, let the faculty -- not the students or administrators -- run the institution. This includes professors being the ones who have input in extracurricular programming from student orientation curricula to residential education initiatives where hard humanistic questions are tackled. It also means that faculty members who have expertise in particular subject matter or professional fields should mentor and advise students and not leave that to entirely to administrative advising offices like career services, which may not have the expertise and industry connections. ...

As a professor, I believe that a liberal arts and sciences education should be difficult. Students need to engage with questions and subjects that are not easy. They should be exposed to a multitude of viewpoints and tools that will help them tackle questions about life in general. They should have input in shaping their educational paths, but professors exist to help open up their worlds and force them to confront topics that they either would like to avoid or about which they are ignorant. The results of my survey, however, reinforce the idea that such views are appreciably different from the mission and views that most administrators hold dear.

Indeed, the data make it unambiguously clear that my views on the educational paths of students, while conforming to those of other faculty members, are at significant odds with the ones that the administrative class generally holds. To be sure, by allowing administrators to set so much of the tone and coordinate so many educational experiences, we in the faculty have been derelict of duty and our obligation to teach the skills to our students that promote tolerance and rational discourse and debate.

Those of us who value viewpoint diversity must re-engage with our students before they are coddled into thinking that they already know the ways of the world and how to learn. It is time for us professors to make our voices heard. Otherwise, the collegiate chaos over the past few years is likely to continue, to the detriment of both higher education and the nation at large when our students enter the real world.

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Posted by: Tom N. | Jul 24, 2019 12:33:13 PM

While it makes sense for a bloating administrative cabal to get a toxic sense of entitlement, professors can do groupthink too. Free speech (as well as the power of the purse) must be *exercised*...thanks for speaking up Professor.

Posted by: Anand Desai | Jul 24, 2019 3:48:03 PM

Not if you want them to be successful.

Posted by: Mike Livingston | Jul 25, 2019 4:16:38 AM