Friday, March 20, 2015

Academy Cultures 2: The Managerial Culture

1. Yesterday I did some exploration of the first chapter Bergquist and Pawlak's, Engaging the Six Cultures of the Academy. I am building my own synthesis off their book's content. Three theses that emerged yesterday were 1) that strikingly different assumptions are present within a university like IWU about what the goals and mission of a university are, 2) that these assumptions are usually held unreflectively--people just assume them in conflict with each other without realizing they are not actually self-evident or beyond critique, and 3) that universities are, when all is said and done, businesses.

The last point is the rock bottom truth. A university can have all the wrong goals from some point of view; it can be of horrible academic quality from some point of view; but if it is financially sustainable, it eats your "quality" institution for lunch. You close. You die. No one remembers you. But the sustainable business lives and continues to reproduce.

2. I believe yesterday's chapter on what they call a "collegial culture" is really better divided into two distinct perspectives on higher education that are themselves potentially two different sets of cultural assumptions:
  • I'm going to call one a formational model. This is the in loco parentis model ("in place of the parent"). This tends to be the liberal arts model and is often the model for the small Christian college. It derives from British and Scottish educational influences. It's target audience is youth in its formative adulthood.
  • The second model might be called the research model. It tends to be faculty research focused and can almost ignore the student in the process. The individual faculty is pursuing truth with complete academic freedom and the lucky student gets to watch. It derives from German influences and puts a high premium on publication.
3. Today's chapter addresses what it calls a "managerial" culture. It's cultural sources, according to these authors, are Catholic education and the community college.

So Catholic education arose to serve immigrants who were coming in the mid-1800s and were somewhat scorned by the broader society. It had a bureaucratic character to it, focused on teaching and had a goal of preparing the student for advancement in society.

The community college had some similar focus in that it aimed to train a local individual to get a job. It was thus focused on training the student to do something that could be a vocation.

4. As with the last chapter, I would like to re-present this chapter with what I see as two additional models that are often in play within a single educational institution:
  • I'm calling the first the vocational model. This model sees the college or university as a place of training and preparation to get a job. It flows naturally from the community college strand.
  • The second I'd like to call the pedagogical model. This view of the university sees it primarily as a place where good teaching and learning takes place. This flows naturally from the Catholic strand of American education.
5. The vocational model is almost diametrically opposite to the liberal arts model, and the social origins of these two are quite different. The vocational model emerged from the lower end of the social system, where individuals were looking to move up the social chain. By contrast, the liberal arts college was often the stomping grounds of the upper class, whose eventual financial security was more or less guaranteed and, thus, whose education could focus more on luxury, namely, the arts and cultural formation.

There is, I think, a prevailing assumption by those outside the academy that the primary purpose of college is to prepare students to get a job. This is, after all, what sells a college the most to parents. Parents aren't interested in funding the research of an expert on monarch butterflies unless it will help their daughter get a job somehow. And parents aren't always interested in their son learning Shakespeare.

Since college is a business, these are realities that have to factor into how a college presents itself, like it or not. It doesn't matter that a faculty member thinks he or she knows what they should be interested in. I know that Latin can change a student for the better. But few parents are going to pay for their son or daughter to go to college to learn Latin. Like it or not, reality doesn't care. The wise man builds his house upon the rock.

6. The pedagogical model sees the primary function of the college as teaching and thus of student learning. This was an important corrective to the academy, the rise of the educrats. In the old days:
  • In the old days, professors may or may not have given a student a syllabus for a class. Perhaps the professor would give a reading assignment at the end of class or announce a writing assignment due in a week. You more or less found out what came next as you went along.
  • You might only have one test at the end of the class or one paper. Your grade might show up and you have no idea how you got it. Grading was more or less up to the whim of the professor.
  • Curriculum was more or less a set of required courses. There was no real accountability for what a professor taught in those courses. There was no way of knowing whether the students actually learned anything other than their grades.
It's important to me to say that those days weren't a waste. In fact, wouldn't we normally say that the level of learning was higher in the past than today? Just because you don't have any evidence doesn't mean that learning didn't take place. Anecdotal evidence is only hearsay, but that doesn't mean it is necessarily wrong.

There have been a lot of improvements in the last two decades:
  • All courses now are expected to have syllabi, a kind of binding arrangement between faculty and student.
  • Courses ideally list the "outcomes" of the course on the syllabus. These are the knowledge, skills, and dispositions you should be able to demonstrate at the end of the class.
  • Degree programs should be accessed by way of artifacts in key courses. Data is collected and evaluated.
There is no doubt that these changes are positive. The danger is when this "managerial culture" lets a certain educrat personality go too far. Systems of measurement become an end in themselves. Assessment might try to reach its hands down into every single course every single time in an obtrusive way. Endless data is generated and analyzed. Welcome to the culture of obsessive, pedagogical navel gazing.

At present, most universities recognize that they need to be able to demonstrate that their programs generally do what they say they do. So we hire an Assessment Officer or give load release to that odd faculty person who really loves this sort of thing. Perfectly appropriate.

The danger is when this personality gets too much control and tries to force every professor to become an educrat just like them. Faculty become administrators. Suddenly all the fun is sucked out of teaching for all but those with that particular personality--and it isn't necessarily the personality that students most enjoy or come to university to study with. Students find themselves doing a lot of busy-work that, in the end, doesn't serve their learning but serves the machine wanting artifacts to assess.

Syllabi get longer and longer, like a book, and the likelihood that a student will read it gets less and less. This subculture of the university is especially prevalent among professors of primary and secondary education, who are used to the paperwork of the public school. Instructional designers, if they are tasked to create preformed online classes, also have a tendency to be of this personality and background.

Education becomes one incredibly complex bureaucracy full of complex systems and processes of assessment. Again, I completely affirm the right of certain faculty and disciplines to do things this way. The problem is the unexamined assumption that those who do not do it this way are somehow deficient and need to be fixed.

7. Here are some of the just plain wrong assumptions here:
  • Not all personalities want endless details. In fact, many shut down when confronted with too many. Many personalities need to see the big picture and then fill in the details later.
  • Responsibility is not the same as learning. Educrats tend to reward the responsible, those who jump through pre-set hoops on time, perhaps even more than those who actually learn. There is a tendency to give full credit for doing what is asked rather than for excellence in thinking.
  • There is a latent positivist hangover, as if a tree doesn't make a sound unless someone is there to hear it. Assessment is good practice, and it is preferable that outcomes be accessible. But just because we don't or can't assess something, doesn't mean it didn't happen.
  • Intuitive assessment takes place all the time among quality professors. Most of the time, this kind of self- and peer assessment is far more valuable than numbers on a spreadsheet.
There should be a basic trust extended to professors, a presumption of the benefit of the doubt until something prompts more detailed investigation. The presumption of a university should be that if a professor teaches in a classroom, learning takes place. Otherwise, we have failed in our hiring, and it is our fault, not the faculty person's.

Bottom line: No one personality in the academy should have the gall to think everyone else should be like it, especially if the students are happy. ESTJs are not better educators than INFPs.

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