Clerical workers at the University of Vermont have voted, 339 to 278, to unionize, The Burlington Free Press reported. The ballots included a question on whether to form a union, and which union should represent the workers. On the second question, the top union (but short of a majority) was the Vermont chapter of the National Education Association, so a runoff vote will be scheduled to ask the workers whether they want to be represented by the NEA or not.
Higher ed, as the casual observer might divine, is awash in titles. We have directors and managers, assistants and associates, fulls and interims. We’re well-versed in vice. Titles mean everything, which is another way of saying they mean nothing.
I’m reminded of that “Cheers” episode in which Rebecca, the bar manager, gives Carla and Woody, barmaid and barkeep, respectively, contrived, bombastic titles because the establishment can’t afford to award raises. They’re thrilled beyond comprehension, sporting their titles like badges of honor and quickly forgetting the corresponding lack of pay.
Back here in collegeland, titles work much the same way. I once went from assistant to associate director of nail clipping, or some such activity, with no raise or change in duties. Nor did I suddenly outrank colleagues and demand they do my laundry. I did, however, have to get new business cards and amend my email signature. For that, I gather, I was supposed to feel professionally elevated and compelled to clip more nails.
Some titles are more self-evident than others. Presidents, we intuit, preside, just as chancellors chancel. An associate vice president is an aide to someone who aids the president. That individual is, technically, an administrative assistant, known in previous generations as a secretary. We don’t use that term anymore because it’s demeaning. Plans are under way in Washington, in fact, to create an “administrative assistant of state” cabinet position.
Provost also is a peculiar title. On most campuses, it denotes the chief academic officer. The equivalent abroad is pro-vice-chancellor, not to be confused with the anti-vice-chancellor, normally the faculty senate president. Some institutions add “academic vice president” to “provost” just to belabor the issue.
Using that logic, we could have a “president and august chief toastmaster” to head up the joint. Did you know that the University of Pennsylvania didn’t have a president until 1930? The campus was led by a provost, owing, ostensibly, to the university’s Scottish heritage. Actually, the phenomenon was the result of 72 failed searches over the span of 190 years.
Endowed positions provide yet another level of titledom. You can be the Ethan Allen Professor of the Ottoman Empire, certainly a distinguished chair, or perhaps the Anna Graham Professor of English Syntax or the Ben E. Drill Professor of Immunology. Some endowed designations have fallen out of favor, such as chairs tied to Enron, Big Tobacco, Arthur Andersen (not the accounting firm but the unfortunate chap who happens to share its name) and Pee Wee Herman. Nonetheless, endowed chairs provide incumbents incalculable prestige in the academy, enviable salaries, and slush funds for research, conference presentations and similarly frivolous junkets.
The longer the faculty title, the more clout it conveys. Having the Dr. Edmund and Ms. Fanny Fitzgerald Exalted Professorship in Midwestern Maritime Studies is clearly superior to the mundane associate professor moniker. Yet among administrators, the opposite holds true: president beats vice president, which in turn beats assistant vice president, which thoroughly trounces assistant to the assistant vice president. More modifiers equate to lower status on the admin org chart.
There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. Thanks to enterprising fund raisers, some non-teaching roles now carry fancy titles of their own. Donors can attach their names to deans, band leaders, coaches and, coming soon to a university near you, their favorite student-athletes. Imagine the country club bragging rights when you announce you’ve established the Duncan Dervish Endowed Power Forward Position, the proceeds of which, naturally, do not attend to the player himself. Naturally.
To manage these ever-elongating titles, the academy has come up with a series of initialisms. We have the CEO (borrowed from private industry, along with the salaries), the CFO, the COO (bloodless, usually), the CIO (which, somewhere along the way, lost its AFL), the CAO (which can be either the chief academic or advancement officer) and the CDO (relating to development or diversity, and never the twain shall meet). Lots of chiefs inhabit our universities, which is chiefly the reason why tuition continues to outpace inflation.
Titles even trickle down to students, beginning with freshmen, who are, for the sake of gender clarity, no longer known as freshmen. “Freshperson” never caught on, likely because of the suggestion of social impropriety, and “freshpeople” sounds like the latest boy band. So we went with “first-year student,” newbies who are subjected to freshman orientation and freshman seminars.
Each institution has its own titular culture, which can be confusing to those outside its gates. When a visitor comes to campus — say, a job candidate interviewing for a title of his own — we introduce ourselves by stating our titles and expect that person to know exactly what we do. “I’m assistant director of procurement operations,” you announce confidently, only to discover a flummoxed gaze in return. “I buy stuff,” you add. He’ll catch on.
We’ve grown entitled to our titles, forever chasing shiny new ones that bring luster to our resumes and fill us with a sense of pride and purpose. We look askance at those whose title pursuits seem downwardly mobile, even though they might have had good reasons — such as more money or better working conditions or a shorter commute — for their descent.
After we retire, we cling to our titles, often adding “emeritus,” Latin for “no longer on the payroll,” as a suffix. In an age when “personal branding” has become all the rage, we covet things that easily identify and position us. Titles confer worth, or perhaps validate it. They have become a form of currency. They define our existence.
And yet, they don’t. Titles come and go; intrinsic value persists. Case in point: I tried giving my dog Brady a new title, executive canine, to see if he would stop stealing dirty underwear from the laundry pile. We emblazoned his new title on his bowl and fastened a sign on his crate.
I even wrote a press release for the family newsletter touting his appointment. He did strut about with a more dignified air, but, alas, his malfeasance continued. Stripped of his title and standing, Brady has found legitimacy on his own terms.
He’s a consultant.
Mark J. Drozdowski is director of university communications at the University of New Haven. This is the second installment of an occasional humor column, Special Edification.
The State University of New York has been pushing the idea of "shared services" in which various of the 64 campuses would seek joint contracts or combine functions to save money. Some pairs of campuses have decided that single administrators will perform jobs for both institutions, while many other campuses sought economies of scale with joint contracting. In the first year of the program, the system saved $6 million, SUNY officials announced Wednesday. The money was reallocated to academic instruction and student services, officials said.
City College of San Francisco is very close to bankruptcy, in part because of its spending and personnel decisions, a state audit has found, The San Francisco Chronicle reported. The study found that the college has almost twice the number of tenured faculty members per 1,000 students (24) as comparable community colleges in California. Further, the audit questioned some of the benefits employees receive, such as 23 paid holidays on top of vacation time.
Authorities at Arkansas State University arrested Carlon Walker, a 44-year-old local man, on Tuesday for allegedly making a bomb threat against a women's dormitory. Students were evacuated from the facility (and an adjacent building), but were permitted to return after a room-by-room search of the building found nothing of danger. A spokeswoman for the university said Walker was not known to have any connection to Arkansas State, and that authorities did not believe this threat was linked to four others against colleges and universities in the last week. Those threats have not been linked either, but law enforcement officials are investigating the incidents for possible connections.
Last week my daughter sent me a link to a website that ranked the alleged “Top 100 Universities in the World.” (She was proud that her school – the University of Pittsburgh -- had made the list, albeit sneaking in at number 98.) The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was in 57th place, one slot ahead of the United Kingdom’s University of Warwick.
Like UNC, Warwick is a public school, but a comparative newcomer founded in 1965. Its mission statement notes goals consistent with America’s finest public universities, such as “become a world leader in research and teaching” and “equip graduates to make a important contribution to the economy and to society.” To have earned such a superb international reputation in not quite 50 years of existence, it must be doing something right.
In the wake of Monday afternoon’s news that UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp – rightly or wrongly under fire for myriad athletics-related transgressions in Chapel Hill -- had decided to step down, I wondered what role sports played on Warwick’s campus. The university website notes opportunities to participate in over 75 club teams (from rugby to windsurfing, and everything you can imagine in between), an initiative known as “Warwick Active” promoting physical activities for all members of the university community, and a wide variety of additional opportunities suggesting an environment that values the pursuit of a physically vigorous lifestyle.
The adages “sound mind, sound body” and “something for everyone” immediately came to mind. As is the case in virtually all of higher education except for the United States, more highly competitive sports are conducted outside the Warwick campus. In fact, with the billions American universities spend on the pursuit of championships, our society’s proclivity to yield to every need and desire of television executives, and compensation for coaches dwarfing that of college presidents, I’m convinced that Thorp’s counterparts at schools like Warwick may think that our system of Division I intercollegiate athletics borders on insanity.
Many fans of North Carolina’s Tar Heels have long believed that their pristine campus was above the scandals and seemliness of big-time sports. That happened to the other guys, the play-fast-and-loose crowd from the Southeastern Conference, those intellectual lesser lights in the Big 12, and yes, the wannabes up the road at N.C. State in Raleigh. Be assured, many are reveling in UNC’s agony.
But what happened at Chapel Hill and to Thorp could have happened at any major university that chases the often-false glory associated with big-time college sports in America. To blame Thorp for Carolina football players taking money from agents or athletes being steered to courses where they were assured high grades is taking the easy way out and not really addressing the root of the problem.
The popular cry from those who favor reform is “the presidents need to take charge.” If only it were that simple. In reality, when it comes to college sports some presidents are little more than middle managers stuck in between high-profile coaches and ineffective, often not particularly courageous trustees.
I once asked a well-known university president why he and his colleagues hadn’t done more to clean up college sports. He confessed that a university CEO who endeavored to take on big-time football or basketball did so at the risk of spending so much political capital as to be rendered powerless in addressing more important needs such as student affordability, funding for research and facilities, support to attract top faculty, etc.
Indeed, it is not unusual to hear about trustees who appear more concerned with their school landing a top quarterback or power forward than a scientist whose research might hold the key to fighting an incurable disease.
So where do we go from here? Holden Thorp’s exit changes nothing. The new chancellor will be faced with the same challenges many university leaders do in terms of controlling their most visible sports programs. The ball is in the trustees’ court, and if they can’t figure out a way for sports to be a legitimate part of the university and not the other way around, perhaps UNC should look overseas -- maybe there’s room in the University of Warwick’s league.
Bob Malekoff is an associate professor and department chair of Sport Studies at Guilford College.
The recent drinking-related death of a freshman at California State University at Fresno should alert college administrators, students, and parents to the seriousness of student alcohol abuse as it occurs in and around campus settings. This unnecessary tragedy should also motivate students to use every precaution available when engaging with alcohol, a popular – and dangerous – hobby.
When I read of these incidents, and there are far too many, I wonder why student alcohol misuse continues to be a problem. It seems that every tragedy sparks a renewed campus interest in curbing alcohol abuse, whether in the form of community vigils to raise awareness, student activism aimed at changing the college culture, or policy reforms that promise safer campus environments. However, just as soon as we take a step forward to make a campus environment safer, popular culture pushes us two steps backward.
College students are targeted with messages that promote drinking as a part of the college experience. Students see images from mega-beer advertising in everything from sports to popular reality TV shows. In this year of the presidential election, drinking beer has even played a role in making President Obama appear more likable to voters. In this environment, I find myself resigned to the belief that notwithstanding the risks, students are going to consume alcohol, sometimes in unhealthy ways, while in college. It is a part of the college experience, just as much as the freshman 15 and the sophomore slump are rites of passage.
Campus administrators have responded to student alcohol misuse with education, policy and advocacy outreach. Campuses have grown their arsenal of websites, policies, pamphlets, posters, videos, training sessions, peer educators, themed housing, community coalitions, online assessments, and other tools to combat the issue and help students make safer choices with alcohol. The research suggests that the use of these various tools does curb alcohol misuse and risky drinking behavior. In my research, I have found that students frequently engage with alcohol in risky ways while attending off-campus parties. The bottom line is simply this: students are better off with the intervention than without it.
But are these interventions sufficient? And conversely, if we add one more program to our strategy, will it make a difference? My research leads me to believe that a focus on off-campus party hosts could make a difference. It is clear that those who organize or host parties are underprepared and ill-educated to do so. I advocate for targeted education of party hosts so that they can work to create and manage parties in safe and responsible ways. I focus on students who host parties, because I believe they are the best individuals to make decisions that can save the lives of others. In the same way that they bring groups of students together for parties, both on- and off-campus, they also stay at campus parties long after administrators have gone home or to sleep.
Focusing on hosts leads to some important policy and programmatic strategies. Policies that encourage hosts to take protective actions when promoting alcohol use are likely to be more effective than banning alcohol from parties. However, most party hosts are not ready for this responsibility. Students are underprepared to create and manage parties in which others can socialize with alcohol in safe environments. For example, when I asked hosts about their preparations for and actions during a party, they said they are unlikely to provide any snacks, heavier food, water, or non-alcoholic beverages. By not making these common protective items available, they are missing an opportunity to reduce the likelihood of intoxication among party guests.
In addition, hosts are unlikely to use basic party management techniques, such as adherence to state alcohol laws; preventing minors from drinking at their party; having a sober team or keeping sober themselves; calling police if the party gets out of control; verifying that the smoke detectors and fire extinguisher work before a party; and contacting neighbors in advance of a party. Party hosts seem unaware that each of these proactive measures could greatly reduce personal liability and risk to students.
Party hosts are a weak link in the chain of strategies to manage the campus environment. There is a need to be more aggressive as we extend alcohol education programs to those who host or plan to host off-campus parties. It is a safe assumption that on-campus and off-campus party hosts behave similarly. In our collective effort to curb student alcohol-related incidents, campus administrators should continue their work along the environmental management approach by intentionally targeting student party hosts. Because this is a challenging group to reach, hosts would benefit from a curriculum that promotes safe party management, practical online resources for event planning, messages from campus and community leaders that reinforce healthy drinking behaviors, and policies that give students the incentive to do the right thing, like good Samaritan and medical amnesty policies.
But is curbing student alcohol misuse the ultimate goal? No, we need to push beyond curbing alcohol misuse to stop senseless and preventable alcohol-related deaths. For this to happen there needs to be a cultural shift in the way in which the campus community values alcohol and alcohol-related activities, especially as they occur on or near college campuses. Common practices that send unintended messages to students include limited late night or weekend student activity programming; few Friday or weekend classes or exams; sporting events that sell alcohol and promote a tradition of pre- and post-game tailgate parties; open bar events for university donors, faculty, and alumni; vague student alcohol policies that are often not applied equally to all student groups; and area restaurants and bars that give significant discounts for happy hour, pitcher, and bottomless cup promotions. Until we seriously address the issue of campus drinking, including a campus dialogue between and among campus members, campus administrators will remain handcuffed to strategies that are additive in nature but that do not adequately address the problem.
Designing and implementing a comprehensive party host curriculum and training is additive – but significant. I urge scholar practitioners to rethink, research, and discuss new and integrative approaches to alcohol education. Students who are new to college campuses, such as the case at Fresno State, deserve a better environment in which to learn and develop. They deserve an environment and a campus administration that strives for more than curbing student alcohol misuse. The goal of an environmental management approach is to influence behavioral changes within campus and community environments; the challenge is to do so with campus-specific interventions, limited resources, and narrowly tailored campus committees responsible for risk management.
Rick C. Jakeman is assistant professor of higher education within the Graduate School of Education and Human Development at George Washington University.