The all-administrative univesity

Jose M Sallan 2021-04-02 3 min read

Benjamin Ginsberg (2011). The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters. Oxford University Press. 248 pages. ISBN 978-0-19-997543-3

Higher education is one of most prominent institutions of the United States of America. The yearly income of American colleges and universities is between the GDP of Argentina and Saudi Arabia, and it is one of the US main export industries. Many of the most relevant technologies (like the ones that are allowing you to read this online) are outcomes of research and development from American research universities, and its social sciences and humanities departments are shaping the prevalent ideas of Western civilization and are one of the cornerstones of United States' soft power.

Ginsberg’s The fall of the faculty warns of a trend menacing the excellence of American higher education: the rise of power of administrators, that are transforming once-academic universities into the all-administrative university. In the all-administrative university, academic focus about teaching and research are replaced by a managerial focus, that sees universities and colleges as any other service firm. It is an example of managerialism, or the belief that any organization can be ruled pretty much in the same way, irrespective of its actual activities. Instead of the supply view of teaching adopted by academics, administrators favor a demand approach that reduces liberal arts education and increases vocational and shadow curriculums. Research projects with low overhead and that not ensure intellectual property to the institution are dismissed by administrators. And last but not least, the number (and salaries) of administrators (deans, denalets an deanlings, as Ginsberg calls them) grows steadily, while the proportion of tenured professors is reduced.

Ginsberg’s book is a good introduction to the complexities of American higher education structure and history. He tells us that the evolution of universities and colleges is driven by shifts of the balance of power between three groups: the board of trustees or regents (for private and public institutions, respectively), the faculty of tenured professors and the administration. Unlike other countries, American administrator’s background is diverse, going from faculty serving temporarily to professional managers. Faculty tenure consolidated in the first half of the twentieth century as a result of a shortage of supply of professors, and a coalition of professors and administrators. The shift of power towards administrators has arisen, according to Ginsberg, through an alliance between boards and administrators. Other possible reasons for that shift of power can be the growing importance of non-academic income sources in higher education (e.g., fundraising, returns of the endowment, tuition ancillaries) and the preference of academics to disregard administrative service.

The Fall of the Faculty is a well-written book, offering a explicitly partisan view of a major problem affecting higher education. Reading the book, one thinks that the accomplisments of the American higher education system have been grounded on academic excellence and generous funding, rather than on its governance model.