Friday, November 01, 2019

Recognizing the same old, same old--curmudgeonly or wise?

How does change happen in academe? The Chronicle has one take on it, although if I hear one more empty phrase about "breaking down barriers" and "silos"--hey, all you MBA types who want to disrupt the university, they're called "disciplines" and represent a body of knowledge--I'm going to build a cliché generator and pitch the resulting article to the Chronicle myself.

If you've been in academe for a while, you recognize the pattern of change. (And this happens everywhere.)

1. New higher-up administrator(s) pledges increased transparency, faculty involvement, and an exciting goal. Sometimes it's assessment, but it's always something that takes time and thought from faculty.

2. Faculty are asked for their ideas. Sometimes they're asked to rank things, go to seminars or webinars, meet in committees. They're asked to dream big: what would X program look like in an ideal world? What would make your program achieve better excellence (if you get my drift)? What could you do without if we make your dreams come true, not that you'll have to do without it?

3. Faculty dutifully fill out forms filled with hope & dreams: more faculty! Fewer administrative regulations! More money for research, or for students!

4. They take time out from their research to write the reports, go to the meetings, and so on.

5. Outcomes: 

a. Possibility 1: "So will we be getting money to do this?" "No." "More resources of any kind?" "No." (This is what Roxie's Blog used to call "excellence without money.") And those things that you might do without in a perfect world? We're not funding your dream, but we're cutting those.

b. Possibility 2: Report is deep-sixed and the administration does what it was intending to do anyway.

c. Possibility 3: A different change is implemented despite the advice of faculty and may or may not be a success.

d. Possibility 4: Real and positive change occurs.

6. Administrator(s) move on to the next school, now with a fresh initiative under their belt as proof of their innovation and effectiveness.

For our own sanity, I guess we have to believe that the process moves change forward in positive ways, and sometimes you see incremental and real changes. And I do think those higher-ups putting us through our paces in the process are sincere in wanting to make things better.

But when you see a proposal come around and think "didn't we do this 10 years ago?" should you put your heart and soul into it?

Or should you follow the Academic Serenity Prayer? "Grant me the serenity to hear about another time-sucking initiative on which they claim to want our input, the strength to read between the lines, and the wisdom to know that it's already a done deal and I don't have to pay any attention to it."


Dame Eleanor Hull said...

I always, always go with the Serenity Prayer.

Many of my colleagues regard me as a cynic of the deepest dye.

But they worry about Stuff, and I am serene.

gwinne said...


And now I return to writing a promotion letter for a colleague who has all the ideas (I say this without a touch of irony--I really do adore this individual) and will hopefully help us get some of the resources...

Bardiac said...

This sounds so so familiar

undine said...

Dame Eleanor--serenity is it. I'd like to think of it not as cynicism but as energy conservation, as in they can call me when they're serious.

gwinne--ideas are good. But I agree: If they get shot down too many times, it wastes goodwill as well as energy.

Bardiac--it's endemic to academia and for all I know, all institutions.

sophylou said...

In my workplace's case, I would LOVE it if #6 would happen. In our case, the administrator is empowered to start all over based on the "success" of 1-5, so we are constantly awash in their "vision" with results (if there are any) that, oh how funny, only benefit that person's favorites. So my response to #6 is, in the immortal word of the Waco Kid, "When??"