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Corporate Model ‘Chipping Away’ at Essence of Academy: Five Issues

As universities nationwide are implementing the corporate model, faculty need to deal with issues of how the model is spreading to many aspects of university life and is negatively impacting students, especially first-generation students.

Consider the following reflections:

Dr. Joseph SanacoreDr. Joseph Sanacore

Issue 1: Boards of trustees are reorganizing the university structure and redirecting its policy toward a business model. Upper-level administrators are then hired as “business” leaders and are often rewarded with bonuses and promotions based on their ability to cut positions and to make greater demands on those who survive, resulting in a less-than-desirable environment for effective teaching and learning.

Issue 2: Deans of schools are often not on a tenure track and therefore are beholden to carry out the dictates of upper-level administration. Their survival depends on this loyalty, so if administration dictates cutting programs that benefit students, non-tenured deans are likely to comply.

Similarly, many faculty hires are not on a tenure track, so their existence hinges on adhering to corporate rules. This usually involves top-down demands to engage faculty in extra services that take time away from supporting students’ growth and development.

Issue 3: Department chairs are becoming middle managers. Traditionally known as academic leaders, chairpersons are now expected to produce corporate results. In today’s context of consolidation, a chair’s stresses are even greater as she or he works collaboratively with faculty in reorganizing larger departments as well as attending to departmental details.

The more chairs serve as middle managers, the less time they have to be instructional leaders who model and support effective teaching and learning.

Issue 4: Both non-tenured and tenured faculty are expected to accept responsibilities beyond the routine essentials of their positions. Faculty have always embraced a variety of dedicated roles, serving on committees, mentoring junior faculty members and engaging in extended, instructive office hours to support students’ personal and academic success.

Today, faculty are immersed in extended roles that include time-consuming grant proposals, community service, parent-professor conferences for undergraduate students, accreditation activities and open-house salespersons’ presentations to motivate new student enrollment.

The small percentage of tenure-track faculty must also engage in these activities, as well as conduct research and publish extensively, if they expect to successfully complete the elusive tenure process. These and other time-consuming roles prevent faculty from working closely with students, and first-generation students are especially in need of this personal support.

Issue 5: As a strategy for balancing their budgets, some universities are involved in the unethical practice of accepting “marginal” students and not providing them with appropriate support. These low-income, first-generation students find themselves gamed in a corporate-style context as they meet with smooth, articulate admissions counselors who help them complete applications for government-backed financial aid and loans. Regrettably, the counselors do not provide important information about programs and services (if any) that are available for helping these students achieve success and graduate in a timely fashion.

Most of the first-generation students have wide achievement gaps and are not made aware during the admissions process that the university does not use a considerable part of their tuition to provide a substantial high-impact approach that increases their potential for success. Nor do the counselors mention retention and graduation rates and the subsequent requirement of repaying loans whether or not students graduate. For example, some 4-year, not-for-profit universities in New York state have graduation rates below 30 percent, and one Brooklyn campus with a high percentage of low-income students has a graduation rate below 10 percent. Yet, the New York State average is more than 55 percent.

This information is extremely important for first-generation students because they have dismal graduation rates and therefore deserve accurate information to help them choose a prospective college that is well-matched with their potential for success.

Collectively, these reflections demonstrate that the corporate model is chipping away at the essence of the academy and is promulgating an anti-intellectual environment. Consequently, tenured faculty are in a key position to demonstrate strong leadership, but what can they do to reverse or slow down the corporate momentum?

The temptation to resist extended roles would probably result in more responsibilities placed on deans, department chairs, non-tenured faculty, administrative assistants and secretaries. These professionals, however, are already overburdened, and if resistance becomes the antidote to the corporate model, then tenured faculty might be pitted against those who are forced to accept increased responsibilities. Conflicts and even hostilities would inevitably ensue and reduce the effectiveness of the academy. Yet, sometimes strong positions and sacrifices are needed initially to send a message to all that the top-down business model is not working and that alternative considerations are needed.

If we are to maintain the original intent of the academy — and we are currently losing the battle — tenured faculty need to be in the forefront in their attempts to preserve the value of teaching, learning, scholarship and pertinent service. When upper-level administration makes extra demands on faculty and “middle managers”— for example, time-consuming tasks of accreditation, grant proposals, community relations — tenured faculty should demand through their unions that administration hire appropriate personnel or appoint volunteers and provide remuneration. At some universities, directors or assistant deans have been hired to carry out “extra” time-consuming roles.

Furthermore, tenured faculty should reach out to the media with articles, op-eds, infomercials, YouTube videos and other communication sources that clearly depict how upper-level administration’s corporate-based demands are diminishing effective teaching and learning. These and other demonstrations of academic freedom and whistle-blowing can be effective in slowing down the corporate model that is spreading across universities in the United States, including my university. Deans, chairs, non-tenured faculty and support staff would secretly welcome such strength demonstrated by those in reasonably secure (tenured) positions.

For now, when extra top-down demands prevent us from giving extra support to our students, we need to ask ourselves: to what extent do we succumb or to what extent do we resist?

Dr. Joseph Sanacore is a journalist, researcher and professor at Long Island University.

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