Graphic Credit: Denny Check | Managing Editor for Design
With national decreases in state and federal funding for education and rising tuition costs, the idea that colleges and universities should run more like businesses has been supported by many looking for a way to make higher education more efficient and affordable.
Yet, in a recent survey within Ohio State’s College of Arts and Sciences, faculty members expressed disagreement with the business model of education. Just over 90 percent of those who responded to the anonymous survey disagreed or strongly disagreed with the use of corporate strategies and practices to run OSU.
The surveyed faculty held similarly negative views of the school’s bureaucracy, with just over half of respondents saying that bureaucracy at OSU has “greatly increased,” and more than a third saying that it has “increased,” over the past five years.
Of the 1,445 ASC faculty invited via email to participate in the survey over 15 days in November, 563 responses were received, although two were completely blank, according to a member of the Faculty Survey Team. Emails were sent to faculty members’ university email addresses and included a link to the survey. The link was non-transferrable, and the recipient could only access the survey from the email, which restricted one from taking the survey more than once.
In an open letter posted on its website, the FaST team said it was inspired to conduct this survey — the first one it has done — in order to “provide an alternative mechanism for determining and communicating faculty opinion on crucial issues facing our university.”
Harvey J. Graff, an Ohio Eminent Scholar in Literacy Studies and professor of English and history, said he thinks the results clearly show a breakdown in communication between faculty and administrators.
“We do not have management that is integrated at any level. We have terrible communications, and we desperately need much better communications at every level,” he said. “OSU could be a much, much better institution than it is. We have the human resources, but we need this communication and the integration of leadership that we do not have.”
In an interview with The Lantern, Interim Executive Vice President and Provost Bruce McPheron and Executive Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and Vice Provost for Arts and Sciences David Manderscheid declined to directly address the survey, and instead they focused on the broader issues conveyed by the questions.
However, McPheron and Manderscheid said they have seen concentrated efforts by the university to improve communication with faculty.
“Four months into being the provost, it is very clear that we need to use a lot of different avenues of communication,” McPheron said, citing increased web presence, visits with chairs from colleges and departments, and communicating “judiciously but regularly” via email with faculty.
Manderscheid agreed and said increased communication with faculty members has been a goal for him this year.
“(OSU) is a big, complex place. But, (we are) trying to get information out there as much as we can … We are trying to communicate,” he said. “One thing we did this year in the College of Arts and Sciences is I have encouraged the Arts and Sciences Faculty Senate, which is a group of faculty, to be more involved and to look at issues in the college, and I think that has been well-received.”
Additionally, McPheron said the university has tried to make it easier for other members of the OSU community to share their thoughts with administration, and he mentioned the public sessions hosted about the university’s Comprehensive Energy Management Plan.
“We can come up with a set of ideas, but in many ways, on these really important topics, we should always think of this as a straw plan that is just put out there to generate conversation,” he said. “There are times when you have to make a decision, that is why you are hired into administrative roles, but my style is to do everything that I can do to make those informed decisions.”
Bradley Peterson, professor emeritus and former chair of the Department of Astronomy, said he still thinks that communication between faculty and administration can be improved, saying that there is “leadership potential on the faculty that is utterly ignored by the administration.”
“The way universities are traditionally envisioned is the administration exists to run the university on behalf of the faculty, and the idea is the faculty are the scholars. They are the researchers. They know what they are doing. We need to trust them. We are not getting that at all anymore,” he said. “I am not impressed with the whole administrative class that we have now. The faculty don’t want to follow them. They may want to lead, but the faculty do not want to follow, and that’s what the survey showed.”
In the letter on its website, the FaST team defended the survey’s validity and its creators’ decision to remain anonymous.
“We believe that what FaST has produced is of considerable value because it establishes a clear and sometimes overwhelming faculty consensus on most of the issues raised to date, and that the actual membership of the team is immaterial,” the letter stated.
Robert Perry, a professor of physics and vice chair for undergraduate studies within the Department of Physics, said that the way in which questions were asked in this survey may bias responses. However, he noted that all surveys, including those administered by the university, have that inherent potential.
“I’d say that it is like all surveys. The way they phrase the questions, in some sense, it elicits the kind of response you want,” he said.
Perry added that although these factors are important to recognize, he does not think it “(invalidates) the response that they are getting in either case.”
Perry also said the survey shows how university management is becoming increasingly top-down.
“It is a pendulum swing. We have gone from maybe too much autonomy at the department level to far too little autonomy at the department level, from the viewpoint of the faculty,” he said. “Increasingly, we are acting like a business where the faculty are at some lower level of the business and are treated like, ‘Well, they are not supposed to be at the table because they are lower-level employees.’”
Graff agreed and said the departments and the university at all levels need to work together toward change. However, he added that he is “not holding (his) breath” for those changes to be realized.
Correction, 11 a.m., April 8: The graphic with this story previously represented the “Disagree” bar under the category “Research and scholarship have been improving over the past 5 years” incorrectly.