Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Standardization and the Death of Academia

I have already written about quantification (Post I and Post II) as a scourge visited upon academia by college administrators recruited from the ranks of corporate managers. These anti-intellectual and, frankly, unintelligent people have no idea what it means to engage in intellectual pursuits. Their only goal is to run universities according to a business model. As I explained in my posts on quantification, they are very numbers-oriented. Words mean nothing to these haters of literature and language. Hence, they go out of their way to force academics to follow them down the path of quantifying the unquantifiable.

The amount of time educators spend nowadays trying to calculate, count and quantify is ridiculous. Every semester, for example, I have to write a report which quantifies how much time per week I spend on each of my work-related activities. It's obvious that there is no way for me to predict how much time I will spend thinking. In their push to quantify thinking, college administrators follow a worthy predecessor: Comrade Stalin. In his brilliant autobiographical novel In the First Circle: The First Uncensored Edition, Nobel Prize winner Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn tells a true story of intellectuals, imprisoned by Stalin and forced to do research in jail for the benefit of Stalin's regime. There, scientists also had to account for how many hours each day they spent thinking, inventing, reading work-related literature, etc. Just like these prisoners of Stalin's regime, I realize how ludicrous such practices are and simply invent numbers to put on my report. This, of course, creates mountains of useless paperwork, makes us waste time we could spend actually working, but who cares? As long as our administrators feel that the intellect they fear and hate so much is firmly under their control, they are content.

Quantification is not the only strategy administrators employ to bring the unhealthy corporate environment to university campuses. They hate the freedom and creativity that historically have always defined academia. They don't want us to nurture our students as free-thinking, independent, intellectual people who can form and articulate their own opinions. And, of course, they don't want us to help students arrive at a decision to act on those opinions. This, God forbid, might loosen the corporate grip on this country, and that perspective is deathly to these ambassadors of the corporate world.

The new, business-minded college administrators want us to churn out obedient robots who will produce endlessly, follow orders perfectly, and never entertain a single thought of their own. Standardization is another practice that administrators use to curb freedom of thought and creativity on campuses. Professors are required to conform their syllabi to a single model in ways that border on insane. For instance, I have to make sure that phrases from our college's mission statement are copy-pasted directly into the syllabus. And paraphrasing is not good enough: our administrators cannot be expected to draw their own conclusions. No, the exact (and extremely tortured, might I add) verbiage of paperwork created by linguistically challenged administrators has to be used.

The saddest thing is that educators so often don't understand the true goal of standardization. They would appoint course coordinators who would make sure that the way one teaches courses conforms to some silly model as much as possible. I have worked in environments that were so heavily standardized that any initiative by the teacher was punished severely. We were given class plans created according to the standardized model aimed to please unintelligent administrators and were forbidden to depart from it. The model would look something like the following: "Page 60, exercise 2 - 10 minutes; page 61, exercises 3 and 4 - 15 minutes," and so on. And woe be unto a teacher who, tired of doing boring exercises from a boring textbook, would try to do something fun and creative with students. She would be forced to offer humiliating explanations of why she dared to defy the Plan. Once again, Comrade Stalin would be happy.

Instead of making the administrators' task of turning universities into corporations easier, we need to resist these strategies. Colleges only exist because there are teachers and there are students willing to be taught by them. The next time we are told to put our teaching within the rigid framework devised by some clueless administrator, let's just say no.


eric said...

The cultural studies program n which I was a grad student (and where I met my wife) was taken apart bit by bit by these dweebs.

Corporatization can be attributed to a variety of interrelated causes: the majority of capital going to the top 1%, politicians from both parties who push Neo-liberalism, helicopter parents infused with the zeal of "New Managerialism", and the overall hegemony of corporate culture qua social discipline.

I think the goal is nothing less than to make the university workforce more "flexible" (firable), ultimately by making professors punch in, breaking unions, reducing benefits, and yes, quantifying everything.

I like how you draw the comparison between Stalinism and actually existing capitalism. Very apt.

Pagan Topologist said...

Absolutely. I am so very glad that there are people your age who think this way. I have been under the impression that it was solely the purview of those of us over 60 years of age.

Richard said...

Ah metrics: the last refuge for incompetent managers who are capable only of managing widget production and are lost when they have to deal with the creative and cognitive processes at the core of knowledge based enterprises (such as universities).

Clarissa said...

Thank you, guys. I'm grateful for the support for my ideas. If more of us realize how damaging this push towards corporatization of academia is, the easier it will be for us to resist. For now, our lack of solidarity keeps playing into the hands of the administrators.

More on this subject in the next post.

Anonymous said...

Having worked in the corporate world my whole life (except for the army), and never having been in academia, it does sound like academia is in fact becoming exactly like corporate-land -- that is to say, the amount of useless, counter-efficient paperwork, quantifying and accounting seems to be approaching what I have to do.

I spend 50-60% of my time doing things that are of benefit to no one, and in fact actually counterproductive as far as business goals go.

All management ideas, of course.