Our post on “What Surprised You When You First Started Working in Higher Education” (the results of our brief survey) generated a fair number of emails and tweets about the politics in higher education, so we thought we would look into this area a bit more for today’s post.
The idea that higher education is quite political is not new and even people outside of higher ed seem to know this. In fact, many of us have heard some form of the saying “Politics in higher education are so vicious because the stakes are so low.” So it wasn’t a big surprise (to us, anyway) that the highest number of responses to the “surprise” question centered around how intense the politics are in higher ed. There were also other related groupings of comments, specifically in the areas of lack of collaboration/uncollegial actions/infighting and hierarchy/divide between faculty and administrators.
Some interesting comments in these areas included:
From a tenure track faculty member: “How nasty academic politics really are – the egos, the arguments against the speaker, the insecurity, the faddishness, the groupthink.”
From an administrator: “The political maneuvering that I witnessed between various offices was a big shock. A lack of collegial spirit between colleagues was also a sober awakening.”
From an administrator: “The politics. The rankism (faculty over staff, often quite heavy-handedly).”
From someone with an “other” title: “The politics, jealousy and in some cases, a total lack of professionalism.”
From someone that does both teaching and administrative work: “How much bureaucracy, red-tape, and politics are involved.”
From someone with an “other” title: “The non-relationship between faculty and staff.”
From a tenure track faculty member: “The attitudes of administration towards faculty, the attitudes of TT faculty toward contingent faculty, and the attitudes of students toward everybody.”
From an administrator: “How petty the environment; while attitudes are lofty, the behavior is low.”
From someone in an executive role: “Not everyone is well-meaning.”
We looked at where the comments came from, wondering if faculty thought higher ed was more (or less) political (or uncollegial, or divided between faculty and administration) than administrators, adjuncts, or other roles. Turns out this was not the case – in fact, the percentage of comments on politics/lack of cooperation/divide very closely mirrored the percentage by respondent type. For example, administrators made up 36% of the respondent base and 39% of the comments about politics/lack of cooperation/divide came from administrators. For tenure track faculty it was 17% and 13%, and for those that both teach and do administrative work it was 18% and 19%.
Where there was some difference, though, was in viewing responses by the amount of time in higher ed – the percentage of comments on politics/lack of cooperation/divide tend to increase with the amount of time someone spends in higher ed. For example, those in higher ed for 1-5 years made up 13% of survey respondents and 10% of comments about politics/lack of cooperation/divide between faculty and administration came from this group. For those in higher ed for more than a decade the numbers were 57% and 71%.
So, of course we wondered what was behind this. Is it that politics has declined and therefore those newer to higher education haven’t been as surprised by the politics? (Okay, we doubt that, too). Is it that people that abhor politics leave higher education quickly, leaving only those that are politically adept to stay on? Or perhaps it is something else.
What has been your experience with politics/lack of cooperation/divide between faculty and administration?