The public is unaware of the lethal and brutal war zone faced by faculty and academic departments or programs.
Bureaucats pit department against department in a conflict and race for funds or support. Fearing the sidelining or elimination of a major or program, faculty ferociously protect their turf. To lose a tenure-track position is viewed as a mortal wound and the beginning of the end. In the quest to maintain or improve the status quo, they take a destructive aim at any program that might harm their existing major.
Their tactics include stonewalling in committees that approve new programs; lies about professors proposing the programs; and the creation of artificial standards of excellence that only the politically knowledgeable can reach. (I will discuss the politicizing of General Education classes later.) During my tenure at a recent university General Education was placed on the cutting block twice. During my first attempt to garner a General Education class for Religious Studies, the committee would not even allow me to talk with them. I submitted several classes and they told me, “You are only going to get one.”
General Education classes are the bread and butter of many departments because they are required courses for all students. In the second round of developing a new list of General Education classes twenty years later, the committee sent back my proposal three times. One altruistic person on the committee came to me and said,” Let me edit your proposal and include the words they are looking for.” This committee reluctantly added a Religious Studies class to the line-up.
There is no real interest in excellence on these campuses. There is a pretend politic of “excellence” that has nothing to do with the content of the classes themselves. There is only the game of survival where you knock down your opponents so they can’t get up, so they won’t come back to the table. I have seen this happen over and over again where professors lose hope and just give up because they are not politically knowledgeable or strong.
Politically strong or the politically aligned departments who “woo” the bureaucats end up with most of the resources on campus for salaries, equipment, classrooms, support to travel, support for research, and resources.
For years at my previous university only one college had access to the use of digital projectors and computers in the classroom. This college was using classrooms in the building of our college. When their new enhanced offices and classrooms were completed, they left the technology behind. And what do you know; some of our classrooms had projectors now! When money for technology finally became available, not all departments were informed. Religious Studies was always left out of announcements about any type of funding, whether for office furniture, software, or technology. Even if we finally heard of the offers, the guidelines were written so specifically that only certain programs or departments were eligible.
This type of competitive lethal environment destroys collegiality and harms excellence in the classroom. Uninformed committees limit choices for courses. Newly minted classrooms and facilities attract students to the powerful programs and away from smaller programs. Faculty in departments with little power end up personally purchasing software, videos, and other classroom materials that other departments receive for free. Larger politically strong departments place so much pressure on small programs and departments that faculty just give up. This is a way of indirectly destroying an academic area. One provost was discussing the History Department with me. History produces enormous student credit hours for the university. He said, “They are a cash cow!” How crude! That one phrase betrayed his bias toward the department. History taught more students than his entire college. But he had the power to limit the resources to this department … and so he did with a smile on his face!
For fear of escalating this blog, I would connect some of the violence against professors and students, and faculty who harm each other, to the culture of bullying that is infused into the hostile and competitive culture on campus.