January 25, 2011: WannaBoan?
I haven't even completely read Gaye Tuchman's WannabeU, and yet already feel compelled to promote this fascinating book. Part of what is intriguing about Tuchman's book, an investigation of an unnamed large state institution focused almost entirely on the "bottom line," is that the light shines brightly on everyone, administrators and faculty alike.
In It's All Academic, there's a lengthy scene where the President's Cabinet at Boan University discusses the brand they wish to project; this discussion is created in part, because President Berrian is a bit taken aback by a policeman's ridiculing of administration's concerns about how an unsolved murder will impact their image.
Tuchman reveals some of those kinds of concerns about image when highlighting how the administrations at many universities base decisions on what will make them appear better in the U.S. News and World Report rankings, including the careful control of class sizes (the U.S. News and World Report apparently believing that smaller class sizes are better for students and learning; this may be true, by the way, but it's not necessarily always the case); the use of adjunct faculty as a cheaper work force (money aside, there has never been clear evidence, that I know of, that the use adjunct means better or worse learning experiences for students); and the accumulation of scholarly publications by the faculty (whether those publications are impacting education or society or humans at all).
These are easy targets, and let's face it, I went after some of them too in the book. However, just as rewarding to see is that Tuchman does not let the faculty completely off the hook. The greatest violation is a sense of intellectual snobbery. This may be well earned (in fact, I have no doubt that it is almost always well-earned), but as I tried to joke with a recurring chorus through It's All Academic, these critical voices of the faculty sometimes ring out in the same ways over and over through all of the disputes with the administration. Yes, administrators could stand to be more scholarly and teacher-like while administrating, but faculty can be more administrative-thinking while teaching and doing their scholarly work.
Can't wait to finish Tuchman's book.