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    Tracy Mitrano explores the intersection where higher education, the Internet and the world meet (and sometimes collide).

Faculty, Look Up!
July 4, 2011 - 12:15pm

The clarion call to higher education administration goes largely unheeded. While many factors contribute to that state, and notwithstanding the notable efforts that some innovative individual leaders (David Shulenberger, for example) are making to change it, the main impediment is the failure of faculty to get it.

Faculty, as a whole, remain insulated and focused on their own career path. By the same token, they identify with the institution so immediately that they get in the way of any efforts to change it. Players on the stage of a Greek tragedy, faculty, those paragons of autonomy, are dependent on the weaknesses of their strengths: staring into the pond of (their?) research they become so enamored of its (their?) beauty they see only its (their?) reflection and little of the challenging world around them until it is too late to make a material difference.

They have published (in commercially controlled, peer review journals); they have pulled the brass ring from the merry-go-round of tenure (thanks to that commercial publication of articles, journals and books); perhaps they have even moved into administration, at which point they have either internalized the process so thoroughly as to be immune to change of it, or, having failed to exercise personal leadership at the hero's point of their ascension in the ranks, where modeling change would have made all the difference, now they call back to those below them through the glass growing increasingly dark. As if in a dream, those still struggling up the ladder rungs might look up to hear the muffled voices, but they can't exactly make out what it is their betters are saying, so eventually they stop listening and return to gaze into the pond, calmed by the (their) reflection and comfortable in the routine of repetitive tasks that they have almost completely now mastered.

Harsh? You don't know harsh. You can't think of harshness in the higher education world because maybe you have come from true material harsh into the safe harbor of academic life and cannot imagine going back to it. Alternatively, you are to the manor born and have no sense of what harsh is really like. Being made redundant due to "efficiencies" and a "lack of funding." Not being recognized for your accomplishments because the "market" values neither those skills or traits. Oh, you didn't know that the not-for-profit status of your institution means almost nothing now because the for-profit market has so heavily encroached upon its services and administrative functions as to have altered its spirit? Let's be frank, it is not out of the question that the worse could happen: being denied tenure for its failure to exist. Having been commercialized, higher education cannot "afford" it. You didn't see it coming, because you didn't look up.

Sorry, I am not backing away from this post until I see faculty on every rung of the ladder step up to the plate and begin to discuss, debate and move with the intelligence, skills and expertise that you all have collectively to make a difference for those institutions that you say you not only "represent" but "are." (As in "the institution is the faculty," a refrain heard most frequently in defiance, but how about singing it affirmation of what it stands for collectively for once?) You could turn the ship around now if you act with integrity and the sense of imminence that resonates with existing threats. You can be the hero you teach about in literature or history, the leader you are in the classroom elevated to public state of true relevance. But you must look up. Countenance the challenges that (your) institutions of higher learning face.

Begin with the commercial publishing boondoggle. From that exercise so many more dynamics will be revealed, you will be able to figure out the rest. And that, by the way, is why the Georgia State case matters.


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