What do we want?
When do we want it?
After peer review.
—Placard at the Rally to Restore Sanity, 2010
There has been a lot of discussion in recent years about the pressures reshaping universities: the emergence of the corporate university, the increase in upper-level administrative appointments, the sharp shift toward sessional labor and the concomitant loss of tenure lines, the relentless raising of tuition fees as class sizes creep up as well (or expand exponentially in MOOCs), and myriad other responses to various economic and ideological forces that do not always function consistently but can broadly be grouped under what Dominick LaCapra terms the “market model” (32–33).1 This market culture is presumed to oppose academic culture, particularly the ideals that emerged from the Enlightenment and were entrenched, for instance, in universities’ Latin mottos about the pursuit of truth in education and in research: lux et veritas, veritas vos liberabit, and various near variants (lux, veritas, virtus; veritas et libertas; veritas et virtus), some used by multiple universities in different countries. Bill Readings’s University in Ruins, to take a well-known discussion, places the philosophical ideals that have historically informed the representation of the university against these sorts of market-related forces, especially the reconfiguration of the nation-state under globalization. But this focus on economics has deflected attention from the problem of governance. The difficulty for North American universities lies not only with the gap between market culture and shared academic ideals (veritas et libertas) but also with the incompatibility of both with the premodern foundations of university governance structures.
I refer not to the monastic origins of the modern university, though they muddy the governance waters as well, but to many North American university charters’ reliance on predemocratic notions of citizenship—that is, a citizenship that is rooted in property and names a kind of power and privilege, as it did for Aristotle. Under these charters, faculty members, students, and staff members are citizens neither in the Aristotelian sense nor in the contemporary sense, and herein, I suggest, lies one of the causes of the governance-related crises we are now witnessing.2 In this essay, I begin with the distribution of decision-making power in the university in order to lay out some key terms for my discussion and to distinguish what is colloquially termed academic citizenship from the more traditional sort. I then turn to various academic institutions’ definitions of who owns university property, generally a corporate body termed a board or something similar,3 to explore the relation between property-based privilege and the limited franchise of the university senate. Overall, I conclude, professionalism as an employment-centered model reinforces the charters’ ancien régime, in which power, privilege, and property are inextricably intertwined and exclude faculty members (as well as students and staff members). But there are other, more participatory models of citizenship that are amenable to the university (both as idea and as institution) and are arguably underdeployed, models that could call attention to the power that academics have, as expert and committed members of the university, to understand, analyze, discuss, and evaluate university operations and so, through critical oversight, contribute to the rigorous ethical and academic development of all those operations—and to the belated modernization of our university charters.
Aristotle wrote, nearly two and a half thousand years ago, “[O]ne who is entitled to share in deliberative or judicial office is thereby a citizen” (87). Citizens were decision makers for the larger community, including those who could not, by his definition, be citizens—that is, most of the populace (women, slaves, migrants). Citizenship, in other words, named privilege and power. For the last few decades, North American academics have used the term citizenship informally to refer to faculty involvement in the institution as such. At first glance, this work includes decision making of the sort Aristotle might admit as proper to citizenship: a tenure-and-promotion committee, for instance, and a student appeals committee fit his notion rather nicely, and fit as well traditional ideas about faculty participation in academic oversight. But little faculty work in academic oversight rises to the “deliberative or judicial” level, and this model of academic citizenship does little to recognize the importance of financial decisions to university operations.
University decision making proceeds on two basic fronts: bureaucratic operations, largely focused on the university’s educational mission, and financial operations. The first includes various processes in which faculty members apply, revise, and communicate academic standards and results: entering grades, assessing tenure applications, making policy revisions, approving student admissions, answering e‑mail messages on course requirements, and so on. Senates are typically the highest authority on this work, overseeing curricula (including program development), policies, and other kinds of academic regulation. Research gets attention as well but tends not to be as heavily bureaucratized as teaching; most research regulation focuses on finances, ethics, and safety (where applicable) or is left to external procedures such as peer review. Financial operations refer to decisions about resources, from who gets a course release to which department gets a new tenure line to which faculty gets a new building or new undergraduate program and what tuition fees will be next year and how much of the library budget will go to books and how much to databases. Bureaucratic operations flow through such faculty bodies as senates, academic units, and committees; financial operations flow from boards down through the upper-level administrative structure to directors, heads, and chairs. (Both operations rely heavily on staff support, of course.) Nearly every full-time faculty member participates in bureaucratic operations as a decision maker, and some students do as well, precisely because of the emphasis on education; very few faculty members participate in decision making on financial operations. In this arena, faculty members are defined as employees and, moreover, as employees who are hired for research and teaching but not primarily to participate in university oversight.
Faculty members are, from a financial perspective, professionals. The term professional can adjectivally refer to professors, but the Oxford English Dictionary suggests that this usage is “now rare.” More familiar in the twenty-first century is the general definition: “Engaged in a profession, esp. one requiring special skill or training,” “a specified occupation or activity for money or as a means of earning a living” (“Professional”). It is as professionals that most faculty members interact with financial operations, that is, as employees negotiating workload, salary, and benefits. Moreover, faculty and graduate student professionalism is sharply distinguished from bureaucratic operations, as any survey of the professionalism courses that have emerged in recent decades will attest. Such courses tend to cover genres of academic research writing (conference papers, essays, grants), job applications and CVs, pedagogy, and introductions to theory and other research methods. This is the work of academic research and teaching—of a “special skill or training” making possible a “specified occupation or activity for money” (“Professional”). But professionalism classes rarely (if ever) cover such items as the responsibilities of a committee chair, including how to run a meeting efficiently, or the drafting of policy documents, let alone the management of paperwork and e‑mail in-boxes. Bureaucratic operations are not professional (see Burgan): graduate students do not train for such work, and universities do not hire for it. Hiring committees might take into account whether someone seems well suited for service in general but do not issue job ads for someone to chair a curriculum committee or oversee a department’s graduate program. In accordance with long-standing practice, faculty members are expected to figure out bureaucratic operations on the job and to move through many kinds of bureaucratic roles during their careers—such work is not “a specified occupation or activity for money.” Even upper-level administrators are typically not trained as such, often hired for a body of experience rather than on the basis of relevant degrees or other formal qualifications.
This gap between bureaucratic operations, in which faculty members safeguard academic standards and processes, and professionalism, in which they are subordinated to an employment structure, is ideological as well as traditional. Chris Lorenz notes, “There is an inherent conflict between bureaucracy and professionalism,” and he quotes Keith Roberts and Karen Donahue, who suggest that “bureaucracy expects its members to promote and represent the interests of the organization: the professional expects the interests of the client to be supreme” (611). Academics often call those who do a lot of this kind of bureaucratic work, pejoratively dismissed as “housekeeping” (Wall xi), good departmental citizens; such citizens are perceived to labor on departmental committees at the expense of professional goals such as career advancement through teaching and research. This misuse of the term citizen in academic circles has masked the broad lack of faculty participation in institutional decision making, especially in financial operations; it associates the word with self-sacrifice for the good of the community rather than with the civic exercise of privilege—of real citizenship, in Aristotelian terms. The divide between faculty-controlled bureaucratic operations that safeguard educational standards and executive-driven financial operations that safeguard the bottom line keeps getting wider and wider, but it is founded in university charters.
So who are the citizens, the clients that academic professionals serve? Western definitions of citizenship were long tied up in property, and not intellectual property either. Property was originally land and only much later expanded to include money and movable goods. For instance, Daniel Defoe argued in 1702 that only those who have a “Right to the Land,” landowners, have a “Right of Government” (19), contending that whoever owns land should get a voice in what happens to that land (and to the aggregate of the land, the nation) but not anyone else. For over two centuries after Defoe, landownership or rent above a set level was the key requirement of full citizenship through suffrage for adult men in Britain. In the United States, property was removed as a qualification for the vote nearly a century and a half after Defoe. As professionals, academics are employees, not property owners—not citizens. But neither, arguably, are members of that managerial class, upper administration.
The university’s property owners are defined in charters that often predate universal suffrage by a wide margin. I have surveyed a few dozen charters for universities of various sizes, focuses, regions, and nations, but in this essay I quote only a couple from the 1860s, the decade that saw the passage of the Emancipation Proclamation in the United States (1863) and the Confederation in Canada (1867). An 1863 Canadian charter declares, “The Board of Governors of Dalhousie College is continued as a body politic and corporate . . . and shall continue to . . . have the title, control and disposition of property and funds belonging to the College and University” (“Statutory Provisions”). An 1867–68 charter of a state university on the other side of the continent proclaims,
Regents to have power. All lands, moneys, bonds, securities or other property which shall be donated, conveyed or transferred to the said Board of Regents by gift, devise, or otherwise, including such property as may hereafter be donated and conveyed by the President and Board of Trustees of the College of California, in trust, or otherwise, for the use of said University, or of any college thereof, or of any professorship, chair or scholarship therein, or for the library, observatory, or any other purpose appropriate thereto, shall be taken, received, held, managed, invested, reinvested, sold, transferred, and in all respects managed, and the proceeds thereof used, bestowed, invested and reinvested, by the said Board of Regents.
If you think that this wording means that a board controls the money while faculty members control academic matters, think again. That 1863 charter was modified in 1988 by the addition of the requirement that “the internal regulation of Dalhousie College and University is committed to the University Senate, but any such internal regulation is subject to the approval of the Board” (“Statutory Provisions”). Look through university charters across Canada and the United States, and you will find few that go as far as that 1988 addition, but you will find that the founding principle of these nineteenth-century charters is standard: the board (or a comparable body) effectively owns the university. It appoints the upper administration, who are the public face of the sort of privilege that defines older ideas of citizenship, that is, an elite who owns property and makes decisions for the larger, unpropertied community. It is the members of the board who “have power” (“Chapter CCXLIV”). The board is, moreover, a “body politic” (“Statutory Provisions”); the Hobbesian resonance of the phrase reinforces the board’s connection to predemocratic forms of governance (or, more accurately perhaps, of dominance). The 1863 charter specifically limits the polity to the boards: they are a body politic, not the university community.
But university charters are rather idiosyncratic documents, arising out of old laws and often regionally and historically specific government concerns. In the 1960s, some major academic organizations in the United States developed their own vision of university governance: the Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities was “jointly formulated by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), the American Council on Education (ACE), and the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (AGB)” (Statement). All three groups supported the statement in late 1966, and it is, at the time of my writing, posted on the AAUP Web site as a policy statement, along with a few changes made over the years. Here is the key passage on faculty governance: “The faculty has primary responsibility for such fundamental areas as curriculum, subject matter and methods of instruction, research, faculty status, and those aspects of student life which relate to the educational process.” This is familiar territory; many university members take this division of responsibility for granted. Nonexecutive staff members—all those assistants, secretaries, managers, and technicians who keep the wheels turning—are not specified in the document. The president gets a few short paragraphs. It is when the statement turns to the board of governors that it gets interesting.
Boards are largely focused on making or approving decisions with financial implications—such as appointments—and guarding, zealously, the bottom line, consistent with their central identification as the university’s property owners. But here is the 1966 vision. The middle part is familiar enough:
The board plays a central role in relating the likely needs of the future to predictable resources; it has the responsibility for husbanding the endowment; it is responsible for obtaining needed capital and operating funds; and in the broadest sense of the term it should pay attention to personnel policy. In order to fulfill these duties, the board should be aided by, and may insist upon, the development of long-range planning by the administration and faculty.
This prose calls to mind recent complaints that the corporate university is shortsighted.4 More to my point, it is consistent with those nineteenth-century charters—and earlier political thought in which civic power is grounded in property—in tying control over “resources” to the top-level governance of the institution. But here is the part that seems especially surprising in the current climate, and I have yet to find anything like it in my survey of North American university charters:5
The governing board has a special obligation to ensure that the history of the college or university shall serve as a prelude and inspiration to the future. The board helps relate the institution to its chief community. . . . When ignorance or ill will threatens the institution or any part of it, the governing board must be available for support. In grave crises it will be expected to serve as a champion. Although the action to be taken by it will usually be on behalf of the president, the faculty, or the student body, the board should make clear that the protection it offers to an individual or a group is, in fact, a fundamental defense of the vested interests of society in the educational institution.
Imagine our governing boards as “champion[s],” “help[ing] relate the institution to its chief community,” and supporting the “inspiration[al]” possibility of university activity. While this vision might be attractive in a climate where education is increasingly seen as mere job training for the purpose of personal financial gain and thus outside the public interest, in political terms it makes the board responsible for the defense of the realm and external relations, like an early modern monarch. It also makes the board responsible for the “defense” of the Enlightenment premise “of the vested interests of society in the educational institution.” In defining the board, then, the document imagines a pre-Enlightenment institution in a precariously Enlightenment society: a “champion” who enters the lists to defend the value of education beyond the university’s walls. In this pre-Enlightenment enclave, the upper administration, answerable to the board as professionals are to a client—and not to the faculty, students, or staff—are more akin to courtiers than citizens.
In scholarship on the emergence of the modern nation-state in eighteenth-century Europe, one point comes up repeatedly: the shifting of power from the monarch to a voting public arose from an Enlightenment turn to reason, transparency, education, and moral philosophy (or secular ethics). Jürgen Habermas, for instance, points to the “critical process that private people engaged in rational-critical debate brought to bear on absolutist rule . . . : public opinion aimed at rationalizing politics in the name of morality” (102), and Anthony D. Smith has tied this process structurally to the emergence of a civic bureaucracy (76), that is, educated bureaucrats who exerted a check on aristocratic and monarchical power. Instead of the will of the monarch, sanctioned by divine right and expressed through statutes managed by courtiers, who varied widely in competence and in moral behavior (the rare Metternichs and Richelieus and the forgotten many), a citizen bureaucracy emerged hand in hand with regular ethical principles and a public sphere defined by “rational-critical debate,” to use Habermas’s phrase.
Universities typically have senates to govern academic matters, with varying balances between administration and faculty and student representatives, but generally speaking a significant majority of members in a university senate have advanced and specialized education. Nearly all but the undergraduate student representatives have degrees, typically doctorates. The senate offers, on a compact scale, a more or less functional civic bureaucracy. The senate is still elitist, like an eighteenth-century civic bureaucracy, insofar as there are significant excluded and underrepresented constituencies, such as graduate students, contingent teaching labor, lab assistants, and staff members, who are nevertheless deeply involved in research, teaching, and “student life” (Statement). Senate meetings do, however, tend to be open to the university community, except when confidential business is conducted, and to allow questions from the floor, extending the decision-making bureaucracy into the general public sphere of the academic branches of the university, where the value of rational-critical debate is a foundational principle. But senate activity is not professional: it is not specialized training for pay; in its ideal form, it is the exercise of broad academic oversight, both ethical and intellectually rigorous.
The board is a different animal. Many board members in North American institutions do not have advanced degrees or engage in activity clearly connected to teaching and research. Boards also tend not to hold public meetings. They are at a remove from the public sphere of the academic community and its emphasis on rational-critical debate, and their roles are based on predemocratic forms of citizenship in which privilege, property, and power are inextricable. As a consequence, there is a structural inconsistency in university governance: senates are partly representational and stress rational-critical debate, whereas boards (appointed and even self-renewing bodies) derive their power and their purpose from resources, that is, from property. One focuses on bureaucratic operations, largely devoted to the maintenance of educational standards and processes; the other controls financial operations. Neither the board nor the senate, it should be stressed, typically displays much commitment to the principle of universal suffrage and other key features of political modernity.
This lack of commitment leads me to a central question raised by the 1966 statement, especially in the light of recent controversies over governance. In the twenty-first century, who is responsible for defending the “vested interests of society in the educational institution,” a duty that was given to boards in 1966? For with boards now largely composed of people from the business world and explicitly tasked in university charters with focusing on financial operations, their responsibility to defend the social value of education has faded from view. The 1966 document was forged in heady days when North America was awash in public dollars for roads, bridges, hospitals, and new universities; there was also a burgeoning public debate about traditional institutions, most clearly in the civil rights movement. It does not imagine the possibility of a penny-pinching board of governors or a Western nation-state supposedly without sufficient funds to maintain its public institutions effectively. Put another way, the Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities does not anticipate a governance crisis that is focused on resources rather than on rights and responsibilities.6 A resource-based crisis puts further stress on the ideological rift between the charter-defined role of the property-owning board and the Enlightenment-shaped project of academic activity, locking many campuses structurally into a rather antiquated struggle for power while those “vested interests of society in the educational institution” go largely undefended.
Bureaucratic operations are, by their nature, internal. Financial operations are, by their nature, external, and hence the board is historically the interface between the university and the wider community, defined and empowered by public documents (legislation) to act for the university in and for the public realm: “The board helps relate the institution to its chief community” (Statement). This is precisely why it makes sense for the statement to give faculty members the responsibility to safeguard the quality of education and the board the responsibility to “defen[d]” “the vested interests of society in the educational institution.” For the framers of the statement, the board is not just supposed to “share in deliberative or judicial office” (Aristotle 87), passing final judgment on financial operations in the institution; it must also speak for the institution in the larger public sphere. But charters have not much followed the statement on this point.
Professionalization, as a collective move toward presenting the doctorate as a specialized qualification worthy of remuneration, has arguably defended tenure lines but has also drawn tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty members into a scramble for resources from the client (the board), who still embodies the premodern trinity of power, privilege, and property. Professionalization is a fourth p that does not share in but reinforces the standing of the other three, on almost Hegelian terms. This is where the opposition between professionalism and what I have been terming bureaucratic operations has been most insidious—impeding, or at least complicating, the emergence of a kind of civic bureaucracy that might begin to set new ethical limits on upper-level decision making and to put university governance back on a more modernizing track.
Universities need an idea of academic citizenship that will not only revalue faculty participation in bureaucratic operations as necessary to support academic standards but also energize the collective ethical and rigorous scrutiny of the operations of the university as a whole and within society—displacing in major ways the board as it is conceived in both charters and the statement. This idea would be in some respects merely an Enlightenment citizenship, at least as a first step in which university communities might concertedly consider the “vested interests of society in the educational institution” in the twenty-first century. In this vein, Benjamin Baez examines “race-related service” to argue for “the recognition of a critical agency which uses service to redefine institutional structures,” suggesting that “in this regard service is important and valuable when it furthers social justice” (364). He thus points to the potential for university service, broadly understood in relation to “critical agency” (recalling Habermas’s term, “rational-critical debate”), to address larger ethical goals. Scrutiny, debate, and critique—these are the kinds of oversight that began the work of modernizing the nation-state in the eighteenth century, and so they might begin to modernize today’s university governance structures.
For example, pressuring a dean to defend a threatened undergraduate program follows the medieval and hierarchical model in which a community pins its hopes on an authority (a champion or a divinely ordained ruler) who will act on its behalf. A more modern response would be to have faculty members analyze the situation and open up the decision-making process to considered, informed debate. Complaining in the hallways about administrative waste (bloated salaries, glossy brochures no one reads) has little institutional effect; investigating expenditure decisions and putting the results into a public forum might lead to more accountable procedures, even to a rich and largely untapped form of interdisciplinarity. Faculty members from diverse disciplines—say, economics, sociology, literature, and political science—collectively have the expertise to generate a researched, methodologically cogent, and rhetorically powerful response to decisions about financial operations. Such interdisciplinarity does not aim to advance knowledge in the usual academic sense, but it could further the collaborative and collective exercise of scrutiny. This interdisciplinary scrutiny could raise the level of discussion and resulting analysis to better inform financial decision making on a daily basis and not just on the large questions (such as the elimination of departments) that periodically galvanize campuses and social media. The corporate university is in part a symptom, rather than the cause, of a structural failure to modernize our institutions politically, organizationally, and operationally, and the abjection of faculty citizenship as mere housekeeping has obscured the potential for effective participation in the institution and its future.
Academics can work to bridge bureaucratic and financial operations in defiance of the separation of powers entrenched in so many university charters. As has been widely discussed in recent years, upper-level financial decisions, made largely without faculty participation, are reshaping not only educational programs and research activity but also the North American university as such.7 But this development grows not only out of current economic and ideological trends but also out of the premodern origins of our universities. By charter, most boards are primarily concerned with finances and not directly involved in education or research, and recent cultural shifts—including deregulation, declining public funding, and packing boards with likely donors rather than community leaders—have pushed that financial mission even more to the fore. We are witnessing an increase in fund-raising, corporate partnerships, and upper-level administrative positions. Unprecedented discussions are taking place about how the university can serve not the “vested interests of society in the educational institution” but the vested interests of business and the financial mission itself—not “veritas et libertas” but “expand and patent”—as if the university’s mission in research and teaching is supposed to further the board’s financial goals instead of the other way around.
These are complex challenges that need multifaceted solutions, but one way forward is to revise our governing documents. University charters are not easy to change. It is easy to ignore them by elbowing into discussions of university financial operations and related decision making, and perhaps that elbowing is a necessary first step so that members of the university community at large can comprehensively rethink university governance. There needs to be a grassroots-up discussion, not least because of the diversity of institutional needs and responsibilities in the present century. But it is time to pick up political models that are more participatory and structurally open to debate and scrutiny than was imaginable in the 1860s or 1960s and write our charters into the twenty-first century.
I am grateful to Jason Haslam for his very helpful comments. I would also like to thank the audience at a Committee for Professional Concerns panel at the 2012 meeting of the Association of Canadian College and University Teachers of English, who responded generatively to a shorter version of this paper, and the panel’s organizer, Clint Burnham, for inviting me to participate. Finally, I would like to thank all my more virtual colleagues for many shares of articles, comments, and tweets on current events at North American campuses. Social media are already emerging as a resource through which academics can bring scrutiny and debate to bear on governance-related campus issues.
In gesturing to the inconsistency of this culture’s effects, I refer to “bur[ying] the notion of substantial effectiveness under that of formal efficiency” (Lorenz 606) and to the shifting of university resources from the work of the institution (teaching, research, and the administration they require) to the marketing-driven work of revising the university’s image: Web site redesigns; the revamping of library space into banks of computer stations (often called learning commons)—ironically, just as smartphones, tablets, and notebooks started becoming common student tools; and, most recently, rebranding, so that the University of Western Ontario is now, after nearly a century with that name, Western University, and the University of California has exchanged its nineteenth-century logo for an animated GIF evocative of a spinning clothes drier (see Readings 10–11 for early instances of the same trend). ↩
I refer here to various recent controversies, including the University of Virginia Board of Visitors’ asking the university president to resign (2012), the votes of nonconfidence in the president of New York University (2013), and events at two universities that led to censure by the American Association of University Professors (2013). ↩
I use the term board throughout as the one common to most of my sources (including Statement), but it is not universally used in North American institutions. ↩
Oxford University faculty members rejected the corporate model on the grounds that such “governance produces only partial and short-term governance solutions” (Trakman 69). ↩
Some come close in requiring the board to act in the larger interest of the university, but only in very broad terms: for instance, British Columbia’s University Act requires that “[t]he members of the board of a university must act in the best interests of the university” (“University Act”), and Brandeis University’s board of trustees is subject to the requirement that “[t]he clear income of the estate, real or personal, of which said corporation shall be seized and possessed, shall be applied to the endowment of said University in such manner as most effectually to promote the general educational purposes of said corporation” (Charter). ↩
See Lorenz’s argument that “[n]eoliberalism . . . shifts its focus from rights to risks” (602). ↩
The AAUP report on National Louis University offers a dramatic instance of this reshaping (Academic Freedom). ↩
Academic Freedom and Tenure: National Louis University (Illinois). American Association of University Professors. AAUP, Apr. 2013. Web. 12 July 2013. <http://www.aaup.org/file/National_Louis.pdf>.
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Wall, Cheryl A. “Foreword: Faculty as Change Agents—Reflections on my Academic Life.” Doing Diversity in Higher Education: Faculty Leaders Share Challenges and Strategies. Ed. Winnifred E. Brown-Glaude. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 2009. ix–xiv. Print.This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Posted December 2013