Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Priorities in Higher Ed - Admin Bloat By the Numbers

Yesterday I followed a tweet from New Faculty Majority to Academe Blog (from but not speaking for the AAUP) - and read a startling set of statistics.

I posted this tweet:
It was re-tweeted a lot (for me). As I altered and sent out the numbers again over twitter, those tweets were picked up by more people and circulated.  Clearly the story these numbers tell seemed compelling to the twitter-academics.

Here's the context from the blog:
In this past week’s issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education, there is a very revealing graph representing the changes in employment in colleges and universities from 1976 to 2011. The graph is based on an analysis of IPEDs data by AAUP’s John Curtis.
I've talked about this before when discussing the rise of the administration (aka the "Fall of the Faculty"). I wrote:
"I was called out for using the phrase, "administrative bloat." It's pejorative and I think I will drop it. [spoiler alert: I haven't dropped it] There certainly has been a rise in the number of administrators. This has both cultural and financial costs. A recent piece from the Chronicle notes that the faculty:admin ratio declined from 2000-12 by 40%, now at 2.5:1. Thus the savings from shifting to the adjunct model have largely been spent on hiring new admin. But at least some of this has happened because of new regulatory models (assessment assessment assessment), and "bloat" suggests that the university did this on purpose, rather than having no choice. It's an issue to consider."
That was me being nice. I know so many brilliant, dedicated, administrators who do amazing work to make their institutions of higher ed better. I feel exceptionally fortunate in the administrators with whom I work at Dominican. But the numbers are kind of bleak. Moreover, as I'll discuss below, there are choice here being made by administrators that lead to bloat, even if it's not deliberate, even if many of the choices are defensible.

When I survey the big higher ed landscape, I see the following linked processes [update: see comments for clarification] - 

1) Cuts in funding for public universities
2) Cuts in numbers of tenure track lines
3) Rise in numbers of students at the same time
4) Explosive growth of adjuncts
5) Explosive growth of staff and admin

What this ends up meaning is that the money saved by cutting full-time lines ends up going to admin and other non-instructional costs rather than to education OR to improve bottom lines. Adjunctification, admin expansion, and the cutting back on FT teachers has been a somewhat zero-sum game shifting costs around rather than saving money (to some extent).

Academe Blog has this useful take after running the numbers [my emphasis]:
It is as if higher education has borrowed very selectively and poorly from the corporate model. Although we now have much the same ever-widening gap in compensation between upper management and the bulk of the employees, we also have the sort of burgeoning middle management that was more typical of American corporations in the third quarter of the 20th century and increasing eliminated from our corporations in the last quarter of the 20th century. If our colleges and universities were truly operating as efficiently as the best corporations, the increase in administrative staff would be among the lowest numbers on this chart and not the highest number.
That rings true to me. It's not just that the universities have corporatized, but that we've DONE IT BADLY.

A really smart criticism of my customer service article for the Chronicle emphasized that my discussion of customers relied on a model for customer service not reflecting best practices in the business world. I believe it! But I also know that my outmoded model reflects the model that most universities use when they say "students are customers." It's not just corportization, it's bad corporitzation.

I don't think admin bloat happens intentionally - no one says (I really hope): Let's get rid of a bunch of tenure-track lines, hire a ton of Deanlets for high salaries, and then fill the classrooms with adjuncts. Rather, administrators get hired defensively - a need is located and the solution is to hire a single person and to give them a title to solve it. Those people are often understaffed, under-budgeted, and individually pretty well compensated as they try to wrestle with difficult tasks. They are hired, though, so their salaries now eat up a chunk of the budget once occupied by tenure-track lines, and the numbers have to balance. Enter the adjunct to save the day (or fill the lecture hall anyway).

Right now, at my unversitiy, we are hiring our first Chief Diversity Officer. We have real diversity issues on my campus. We are becoming a majority Latina/o university taught by a mostly white faculty.  A swastika was carved on an elevator door. There have been racial slurs against some African-American students, and plenty of other problems. I'm particularly focused on disability as diversity, and we've issues there too. If your campus doesn't have diversity issues, it probably means that you aren't looking hard enough and that your students - whether divided by race, class, gender, orientation, religion, ability, etc - don't feel safe enough to raise the issues. Denial is not a diversity strategy.

I'm pleased Dominican is taking this step. I hope a CDO helps all our students and faculty feel safer, empowered to speak out, included, and I will do everything in my power to support whoever we hire, though I'm not convinced an administrative hire is the optimal solution to our issues.

There's a cost here though. I assume the salary, at the president's cabinet level, will be significantly higher than my own, perhaps as high as one and a half starting tenure-track lines. That means one fewer faculty member, bigger undergraduate classes, and more part-timers. We're a tuition-driven institution and the budget has to balance.

What is a university to do? We have a need - whether it's diversity, or assessment, or more IT needs, or better facilities, or any number of other kinds of problems requiring staff/admin to solve. Yes, in some colleges we've got explosive middle-management issues based on #badmin (as the hashtag goes) trying to carve out self-replicating bureaucratic fiefdoms. That's not the problem at my small university and I expect not the problem at many other places either.

And yet, the growth of admin continues and the faculty fall.


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Do you want gender norming with that?

McDonald's toys are in the zeitgeist. More specifically, the gender-normative ways in which McDonald's describes their toys are in the zeitgest, and perhaps some progress has been made.

Last year I wrote a "straight married white male feminist manifesto." I wrote it for the Good Men Project which means I deliberately waved a red flag in front of Men's Rights Advocates (MRAs). It was a good learning experience and I like the essay. I reacted to current events (at the time) to explain why I am a feminist:

I am a feminist because when I go to McDonald’s (and yes, I know I shouldn’t go to McDonald’s), and order a Happy Meal, they ask me whether I want a “boy’s toy or a girl’s toy.” The boys’ toys are active, with moving parts, and often violent: cars, giants, aliens, catapults, action figures, heroes, and heroic paraphernalia. Girls’ toys come in pink, purple, yellow, and orange. They are passive—at most, they sparkle. Dolls, plastic versions of clothing, and animals—but not animals that might climb or hunt, but cute little things you can snuggle. Right now, boys get Hot Wheels ™. Girls get Sparkle shoes (little plastic keychain shoes, covered in hearts and flowers) from Sketchers ™. The people at the counter are supposed to say—do you want the shoe or the car? But they never do. What am I supposed to do if my son wants the shoe and my daughter the car? Of course, having heard the gender norming question, they just go with what’s expected. 
I discovered that the daughter of a friend of mine got angry when she was a child about this, so wrote McDonald's and received a nice corporate letter saying it wasn't their policy. She used to wave it at people who asked if she wanted the girl or boy toy. This has been on my mind for awhile.

And it turns out on other minds as well.

On Medium, Elly Vila Dominicis wrote, "I'm a girl and I want the boy's toy."
Every afternoon, my mom diligently picked me up after school and asked me what I wanted to eat. Chicken McNuggets was always the answer, but“Chicken MacNuggah” was what came out of my undeveloped five-year-old mouth.
We routinely went through the McDonald’s drive-through, craning our necks and straining our eyes to scan the menu even though we always ordered the same thing every day — a Happy Meal for me with Chicken MacNuggah, french fries, and a Sprite.
“Boy or girl?” the drive-through loudspeaker would yell.
A quick, expectant glance from my mom looked back at me from the rearview mirror.
A simple knowing nod in response from me.
“Boy,” she assured the loudspeaker.
The piece goes on to show the toys and their gender split.

Meanwhile, in Slate, a 14-year-old girl named Antonia Ayres-Brown wrote about her campaign to really change the language. Like my friend's daughter, she too got that letter from corporate HQ, but noted it didn't change anything. She contacted the CEO, and:
Instead of filing another complaint, I tried a more conciliatory approach. I again wrote to the CEO of McDonald’s, now Donald Thompson, sharing the results of our recent study and expressing my continued concern with the harmful effects of gender-classified toys. On Dec. 17, I received an amazing letter back from McDonald’s chief diversity officer, Patricia Harris, saying, “It is McDonald’s intention and goal that each customer who desires a Happy Meal toy be provided the toy of his or her choice, without any classification of the toy as a ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ toy and without any reference to the customer’s gender. We have recently reexamined our internal guidelines, communications and practices and are making improvements to better ensure that our toys are distributed consistent with our policy.”

Even more heartening, DoSomething.org just posted a photo of a manager’s notice on the wall of an actual McDonald’s store instructing employees: “When a customer orders a happy meal you must ask ‘will that be a My Little Pony toy? Or a Skylanders toy?’. We will no longer refer to them as ‘boy or girl toys.’ ”
 So that's nice. I suspect the toys will still emerge in pink and passive vs colorful and active. Why can't we have a pink ninja robot? A bright blue lipstick with lightning bolts? There's room for variety here.

Still, small victories are victories. Good work Ayres-Brown

Monday, April 21, 2014

Cult of Compliance - Georgia School Edition

Most of my writing on the cult of compliance focuses on police violence. It's where the deification of compliance is most visible and most dangerous. Schools, however, are another site for such practices, especially as they turn into bunkers. Sometimes such moments turn violent, but there are more subtle forms, such as this story out of Georgia.
MARIETTA — The parents of two West Side Elementary students say they do not want their children taking the CRCT, a standardized test given in Georgia, but the city’s school system told them their children would be trespassing if they came to school and didn’t take the exam.
The context for this story is the right-wing myth that standardized tests "collect data" on the kids to be used in nefarious government plots. Myths aside, the problems with the testing regime abound:  For example - Teaching to the test erodes critical thinking skills, many tests are designed with inherent biases, they take away lots and lots of time from actual teaching.

What interests me in this case, though, is this part of the response from the school (emphasis mine):
The Finneys worked out a meeting with school administrators early Wednesday morning to talk things over. But when they arrived, they were confronted by a police officer instead of the principal.
According to Tracey Finney, the officer was extremely nice and professional, but told them being on school property while actively opposed to the test was “kind of a trespassing thing” and that their kids weren’t allowed on the property either if they weren’t going to take the test. The officer’s report confirms the parents were told they and their students would be trespassing if they stayed on the property.
Now there's a whole context of missing emails, canceled meetings, and a reasonable question as to whether the parents were being deliberately provocative. I don't especially care. What's important to me here is the quick recourse to the language of criminalization and criminal penalties.

I expect it's complicated for a school to have all of their staff involved in testing and to know what to do with kids who opt out. Schools will have to sort that out. It's got to be complicated when angry parents show up for a meeting that was canceled and demand to see the principal (if I am sorting out what happened here).

And yet, to start saying the kids who aren't testing are trespassing, with the legal ramifications, is a perfect example of the softer side of the cult of compliance (as opposed to having one's face smashed in, being tased, shot, etc.). It's insidious and it's spreading.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Sunday Roundup - Legos and Manifestos

This was a good week. Spring is here in Chicagoland, my son is currently head-banging to the CD version of "Let it Go," and later I'll be cooking salmon in delicious little packets of butter, lemon, and tarragon. For lunch, thanks to secular Easter, we'll be having egg salad. I've got 5 higher-ed columns out for review at the moment and hope for them to start rolling out in the middle of May. We'll see how it goes.

I wrote a manifesto about work and inclusion for people with developmental disabilities (and other disabilities). If you have time, please read the manifesto, give me your thoughts, and share it. I need to get this right. More context below.

This week I wrote briefly about: "Cutting Edge," a program at Edgewood college for adults with developmental disabilities and compiled some resources on Catholic Higher Education and immigration reform for a future column.  My university is a real leader in this cause and I'm proud of them.

The most read piece this week was a fun essay on teaching writing using lego metaphors, from my friend and fellow medievalist Leigh Ann Craig. If you're at all concerned about critical thinking or just frustrated with writing instruction at any level, give it a read. I can't wait to try it in the classroom.

I got angry at Slate reporter Jordan Weissmann for being excited that people are losing their jobs in higher education. I like Jordan - we've had cordial twitter exchanges and I read him a lot, but I think he's mis-using the payscale data to make his arguments, I think his assumption of a rational market in higher ed is mistaken, but most of all I think one should never be excited about people losing their jobs. Yes, markets change, technologies make jobs irrelevant, and disruption happens. It's rarely rational in its outcomes. The human suffering is real. Do not celebrate it, even if you think it's necessary.

I spent a lot of the week writing about inclusion. My mantra: inclusion; not same-ness. I stand by that mantra, but this week have had to work with a key caveat - Inclusion as appropriate for a given individual. So I first wrote about shifting away from sheltered workshops as the primary work-space for people with disabilities in Rhode Island, then blogged about an important piece in the New York Times arguing for the need for non-stigmatized segregated school space for some children with disabilities - and now I follow the author on Twitter. She's another Chicago historian and advocate. Segregated and sheltered spaces are a vital part of the landscape for individualized accommodations for people with disabilities. I don't want them to be the default, but nor should we stigmatize them.

I'll have much more to say about employment and developmental disability in the coming months. But this week I wrote a manifesto, by which I mean a set of guiding principles as I write about this topic. As I said at the start, if you have time to read one thing, I'd appreciate any feedback.



Saturday, April 19, 2014

"Cutting Edge" - Down Syndrome and Edgewood College

In a happy Saturday post, here's a story going viral about Noah, a man with Down syndrome in Wisconsin, being accepted to Edgewood College in Madison.

I hope to go to Edgewood in the fall and write about Noah and their "Cutting" Edge" program.

It's a nice conclusion to a complicated week of writing about inclusion. I don't know to what extent inclusion is happening at Edgewood ... but I'm gonna find out!


Friday, April 18, 2014

Education - Individualized; not-sameness

I've been writing about work and inclusion this week. I actually began the week by writing against the sheltered workshop model and celebrating a Rhode Island decision. But as I clarified in that post, the goal isn't to end all sheltered workshops, but to end the default slide into segregation that dominates the work-life of people with developmental/intellectual disabilities.

We've seen that default slide end in education. When I was a child, I never saw kids with disabilities. That's just not an option anymore and we are all better for it. That doesn't mean, however, that every child should be fully included all the time. I wrote this:
There's no one pathway forward. The key is, as always, inclusion; not same-ness. For some people, a segregated controlled environment is absolutely essential for making progress in education or work or anything. My son is one of those people. In First Grade, he spends about half the day in a special needs room and half the day with his class. Although philosophically I am deeply committed to full inclusion, it's not the right thing for Nico right now. He needs the social interaction of a full class, but he also needs the quiet, controlled environment in order to work on his math, spelling, reading, and writing.
With that in mind, here's historian Margaret Storey in the New York Times, a DePaul professor and advocate for the same principle for her daughter.
A Civil War historian, I never thought I’d use the word “segregationist” to describe myself, but my daughter’s public school has changed all that. I’m not talking about racial segregation — her school is one of the most economically and ethnically diverse in our town. I’m talking about self-contained education for children with disabilities, which, in the United States, is increasingly rare.
My daughter is 10 years old, but as dependent on others as a 12-month-old. She cannot speak, but communicates volumes with her eyes, vocalizations and gestures. It can take a while to “get” her, but once you do, you’ll never forget how deep she is, nor how much she understands.
My daughter’s school challenges the idea that children with disabilities are best served by being educated alongside non-disabled peers. But the idea that inclusion is best, I would argue, is in danger of hardening into a dogma that risks re-stigmatizing children with severe or profound disabilities.
The dogma is very concerning. Nico is flexible, but needs some segregated space. Story's daughter, on the other hand, needs isolation. We can't let the laudible growing focus on inclusion undermine her needs. Storey continues:
The alternative of a special school is hard for some parents and educators to embrace. As one mother reflects, “Sending a child to a separate school can feel like a surrender, as if you’re giving up on keeping a child in the community.” I see this stigmatization all around me — most recently, in the mother who had to fight to have her nonverbal, significantly cognitively delayed child placed in a specialized school over the determined resistance of district authorities.
But there is an alternative: destigmatize these children and the special schools they need.
My daughter loves to learn, but to do it, she requires specialists trained to teach a child whose memory and cognition are affected by multiple daily seizures and loads of dulling medications. She needs a setting where the student-to-teacher ratio is low, the expertise of the staff very high, and one that has the resources necessary to pay for that intensive support available. There is no shame in this.
There should be no shame at all. Stigma is always a mistake. And yet she's right, our oscillation from segregation to inclusion has become a kind of dogma. Storey finishes:
We still need self-contained special education schools, and we need them to be rigorous and well-funded. Only when we honestly admit that we need these schools can we get down to the hard work of educating kids with disabilities, no matter what the setting. We cannot truly celebrate the diversity of people with disabilities if we fail to acknowledge the diversity among people with disabilities, and rise to meet the varied needs of all.
I'm really glad the NYT published this and hope we can extend the call beyond this piece.

Once again, I offer my manta: Inclusion, to the extent inclusion is appropriate, not same-ness.

That mantra includes Story's daughter and her need for a special school, with rigor, without stigma.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Legos and Teaching Writing

One major complaint about college students today, even highly-prepared college students, is that they have been taught to do well on tests, not to think critically. The culprit may be No Child Left Behind, and I'm not convinced that the Common Core will change this.

As a history professor, I assign a lot of essays asking students to analyze multiple sources, events, people, artifacts, etc. What I get, most typically, are essays that describe all of the individual sources, events, people, artifacts, etc., rather than building a thesis-driven argument or analytical case.

I'm not alone. On Facebook today, medieval historian Leigh Ann Craig posted the following metaphor about writing and legos, which I share with her permission. Emphases mine.
It occurs to me, as I read another batch of papers in which my students' k-12 training to fear and avoid independent critical analysis is sadly evident, that perhaps what they need in order to make the conceptual leap is a good Lego metaphor.
Primary source analysis: Here is a Lego brick. What color is the Lego? Who made it? How many buttons does it have and what shape is it, and what could it potentially be used to build? What could it NOT be used to build?
Book review: Check out this Lego car someone built. What bricks did they use? Tell me about the Lego car's design, whether it is any functional good, and what the problems might be with it. Is there anything especially ingenious about the car's design?
Position essay: Here's an entire bucket of Legos. Build me a Lego car. Make sure it's functional.
Research Paper:  Hey, I hear there's Lego bricks out there all over the place. Go find some. Build me a car out of the Lego bricks you are able to locate. Make sure the car is functional.
Historiographical essay: review all recent Lego cars built. Consider what sort of design needs are typically not being addressed very well. Propose possible new design for Lego cars. Or maybe Lego airplanes.
Because when I ask you to build me a Lego car and you passively look over and then describe to me a series of individual Lego bricks, that's a problem.
I like it and am going to use this metaphor in class. Or maybe just bring in a lot of legos and tell them to get building.