Capitalism takes no survivors. Ironically, the very concept of capitalism was the result of deep, intellectual reflection. Not that trade hadn’t existed before then, but the arguments that an economy could be based on these principles took an academic setting to become established facts. Universities have been the bastions of new ideas for centuries now. In the United States, however, they are being eroded into corporate playgrounds. Benjamin Ginsberg’s The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters, will, unfortunately, probably be read only by those who actually care about higher education—faculty and a few curious parents who wonder why they’re paying so much. This is a very important book, and Ginsberg addresses a theme that has been repeatedly expressed on this blog: higher education is in severe crisis because it is treated as a business, not as an educational enterprise. Unlike most situations in life where ambiguity reigns, there’s no question, in this case, whence the blame lies. Ginsberg places the finger firmly where it belongs: professional administrators do not understand, or really even care for, higher education. If you’re curious why you’re paying top dollar for your child’s education, and yet they’re being taught by adjuncts, look no further. Ginsberg has your answers.
Administration, while somewhat necessary, has become an end in itself. A self-perpetuating lackey of capitalistic double-speak. I’ve worked in corporate America enough to know that recognizing a person’s true strengths (what we used to call gifts) is not where managers excel. The bottom line is all they can see. Ginsberg’s is an angry book. And this anger is full of justification. Higher education has become just another garden-variety business, for profit at the heart of it, because faculty have let it slip away. I have been formally associated with eight institutions of higher education, and I’ve seen this pattern operate over and over and over again. Despite the fact that universities thrived in the centuries before professional administrators began treating them as “businesses,” even my alma mater, where Adam Smith himself once taught, could not help hiring a public relations firm to try to bolster the image of an institution which could claim David Hume, Walter Scott, Charles Darwin, and Alexander Graham Bell, among many others.
How the mighty have fallen. Ginsberg does offer some solutions, but is skeptical that many schools can be saved. The fact is, the highest growth rate in the higher education “industry” has been administrators. As faculty jobs are cut and diced ever finer, administrative posts increase at triple-digit rates, and their standards are those of businesses, not educators. Hindsight, of course, comes with greater acuity than foresight, but now that faculty realize they’ve been outmaneuvered, there is little hope of turning the ship in time. Nine-tenths of this iceberg lies hidden beneath the sea, and everyone presumed this ship was unsinkable anyway. Universities were devised by theologians, not entrepreneurs. Like ants crowding around cookie crumbs, business interests have been drawn to the great, untaxable bastions of what used to be called higher education. Factories come in many shapes and sizes. One of the most deceptive is that which bears the once honest nameplate of university.