Skip to content

The Roadmap to Nowhere

February 23, 2010

The college to which I belong recently issued what it called its “roadmap”.  This document outlines how the college’s priorities will be used to allocate money to departments in the future.   What the roadmap starkly reveals is that the college has only one priority, preserving the status quo.  That would be bad enough, but the college has now classified each department based on its potential to generate revenues from tuition and research.   In other words,  the college’s teaching and research missions have been reduced to their use or exchange value as is unequivocally illustrated in a table that relates teaching expectation (course loads) to research funding.    For each $50,000 in research funding, faculty course loads  are  reduced by one course per semester.  (Interestingly, you don’t have to buy your way out of teaching  courses if you bring in large amounts of research funding.  You automatically are entitled to a lower course load.)  If your discipline can’t generate enough research dollars, you are expected to teach more in order to generate revenue for the college.   The Mind and Body Shop is no longer a satirical novel.  It has become the college’s  roadmap.

The dismal table that is the college’s  roadmap reflects the negative impact of our new budget model on the college’s vision of itself.  Under our budget model,  tuition and indirect costs from grants are allocated by formulae to the colleges.  When the budget model was adopted, faculty (and the Faculty Senate) were repeatedly reassured that it would only be applied at the college level and not at the departmental level. This promise has clearly been broken. Departments and faculty are now being treated and judged as revenue generating centers and nothing more.

The roadmap stratifies academic subjects and faculty based on the exchange value of the knowledge that they posses, not to the wider society or even to students, but solely to the budget of the college. If you can’t bring in money through grants, then your only value to the college is to generate tuition revenue; other kinds of scholarship or service don’t count. Faculty in disciplines that cannot generate large amounts of grant dollars are being punished by being labeled as only good for teaching. This roadmap clearly has serious implications for tenure, especially for faculty trapped in the teaching intensive ghettos. When looking at this table, the word discrimination comes to my mind rather than vision.  This purely economic evaluation of  academic disciplines is the college’s equivalent of a practice long-condemned in the banking industry, redlining.

In short, the roadmap confirms what many had long feared — decision making by the college is solely driven by market imperatives. More specifically it seems to confirm that: (1) in spite of protestations to the contrary, all the college increasingly cares about is maximizing revenues, not improving the quality of its academic programs or the success of its students; (2) knowledge as an end or public good in itself is unimportant/irrelevant; and (3) the college is unconcerned about the increased narrowing of academic offering on students.  The latter has implications for students coming to a public university because it exacerbates socio-economic inequalities in our society.

Like so much of the planning around here, this roadmap was developed with little faculty input.  Not surprisingly, faculty reaction to it has has been decidedly negative.   What should the college look like in the future? Where are potential areas of growth? What can we do to improve the experience of our students? Answers to these and related questions require faculty input and ultimately faculty buy-in if they are to be used to set college priorities.  One-dimensional plans like the  proposed roadmap only undermine faculty confidence in the competence of the college’s administrators.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: