Sunday, July 22, 2012
When Your University Is Out to Get You.
Wayne State University is one of three research universities in Michigan. It has a student body exceeding 30, 000. It has a medical school, a law school, a business school and all the rest of the accoutrements of a major university. It educates many first-generation college students. With its urban mission, it is never going to have the graduation rates of U of Michigan, but tap anyone in southeast Michigan on the shoulder and it is likely they or their family members got a degree of some kind at WSU.
At the same time, the administration has always been at odds with the faculty-dating back to the eighties and a particularly contentious President. The administration sees faculty as employees, not as the bedrock of a university. Not what a university is about.
There are more administrators than faculty and the number continues to grow. As faculty take flat salary increases, the administration averages 9%.
Most, not all, of the faculty is productive. My husband, for example, has written 14 books, over fifty articles (each over 20 pages and in major journals) dozens of book reviews, presented more than a hundred conference papers. He has won awards for his teaching and research, been awarded a Distinguished Fulbright award and so on. Many faculty members have similar records.
Now the university has turned its contract negotiations over to a law firm known for an intolerance of unions. Negotiations have begun with the strong suggestion that the administration intends to possibly eliminate tenure, reduce health, eye and dental care, cut salaries, fire faculty and staff at will. The elimination of tenure would be a first in the country. It is hard to explain tenure to people outside the profession, but if you can be fired without cause, you cannot just go down the street and find another job. Universities don't work like that.
Why not fire professors making high salaries and replace them with recent Ph.Ds? Or how about going to an all online institution? Or use adjuncts to teach every course?
Can you imagine what the chances are that this university will be now be able to attract any quality professors or researchers in the coming years. Detroit is a hard sell anyway. This will make it an impossible one. And all of this comes with a strong union in place although the state's attempts to make this a "right to work" state may abolish it.
Even if this is just a negotiating ploy, the damage to the university's reputation and its ability to recruit top-notch people is permanent.
I always thought that a university had a soul that a corporation didn't share. That educating students was its primary mission. Obviously that is no longer true at Wayne State. I used to be proud of my state and the university where we worked. All of it is gone.
Wayne State's motto, on billboards everywhere, is AIM HIGHER.
A clarification from a better informed source.
While striking out the Board Of Governors Statutes on de-tenuring, which include peer review and due process, the administration team did not strike out Academic-freedom Statute, even though the very statute (Appointments, Tenure, Employment Security Status, Termination and Dismissal Policies and Procedures) they want eliminated states, "Tenure is a means to certain ends, specifically 1. "Academic freedom."
The most important thing about universities is academic freedom. Without the freedom to explore alternative modes of thinking about the world, whether in politics, philosophy, literature, or science, we stagnate and ultimately wither as a society, as a species. To put people on a regime of quantified "production" as if they were turning out cars destroys the intellectual enterprise of a university and damages our students and our future. Not that for a moment we're arguing that people making cars should make less than a living wage with benefits that allow them to live a middle-class life.