Return to Irving Hexham's Web Site to his study page or read:
1) Academic Plagiarism Defined
2) Forget about academic fraud? Were you sexually harassed?

3) Transforming Higher Education
4) University Reform: A Radical Proposal
Christianity and Call-Girls
Towards a Philosophy of Education

University Reform: A Radical Proposal
Irving Hexham

[From: The University of Calgary Gazette, February 18, 1997, Vol.26 No. 31, p. 4]

Copyright 1997

The Co-ordinating Task Force has completed its work with a series of apple pie and motherhood proposals which were met by a collective sigh of relief and general agreement. Now, during the interregnum before the implementation phase of the Task Force's work begins, faculty members wait anxiously to see what will happen next. In this climate of uncertainty it is perhaps time to suggest some radical proposals for university reform.

Let us begin with a situation analysis. Faculty feel cheated, discouraged and overworked. The number of harassment cases before the Faculty Association has risen dramatically. An unprecedented number of faculty are off on sick leave while many others freely admit to being seeking psychological or other medical help to enable them to cope. Everything is made worse by the widespread belief that most administrators are out of touch with the realities faced by faculty. In short, morale is at an all time low. All of this bodes ill for the future because the full effect of our generous early retirement scheme has not yet been felt.

On one thing everyone agrees about is that teaching is at the core of the university's mission and, if we are to continue to exist as a real university, not a glorified high school, faculty must undertake significant research. There is also general agreement that student satisfaction, which is based on personal contact with individual faculty, plays an important role in both the learning process and overall well being.

The problem we increasingly face is that class sizes continue to rise at a time when other pressures on faculty are increasing at a phenomenal rate. Large classes also have a very negative impact on students because it is no longer physically possible for many professors to give individual students the close attention and care they deserve. No wonder we see an increase in plagiarism and poorly written term papers. Students are not to blame for these developments. The problem lies in a system which has replaced close supervision with impersonal classes and lack of real contact.

No wonder so many faculty seek to escape the intense strain of classroom teaching by moving into the busy, but less tense, world of administration. For example in my own department there are some faculty who teach around 240 students per academic year while others teach as few as 60. Such gross disparities are quite unfair even though everyone is working very hard.

Of course most administrators will angerly deny that one motivation for taking up administration is to avoid the classroom. But, I've been around too many institutions and heard far too many people admit that they went into administration to "escape" from teaching to doubt the truth of my observations.

It is true, I admit, that administrators are under increasing pressure and work very hard. This is not in doubt. There is no question that everyone in administration works long dreary hours. All I want to argue is that for all its drudgery administration is far less stressful than teaching. It also enables people to avoid the tension of creative research.

Further, when we calculate the amount of time used to release faculty from teaching to allow them to take on administrative duties it becomes clear that most departments lose at the very least the equivalent of one full time faculty member each year. In larger departments the loss is even greater with some departments having the equivalent of two or three full time faculty seconded from teaching to administrative duties.

Given these facts it is time to acknowledge that administration itself is an outmoded colonial concept that has outlived its usefulness. Administrators are empire builders and that's the last thing we need in the modern university. Today what is needed is good management not archaic administration.

What is the difference between administration and management? Historically colonial administrators administered subject peoples. Today university administrators are civil servant types who seek to organize an institution. As such administrators are constantly on the lookout for new things to do, for problems to be solved and for ways to demonstrate their usefulness to their superiors. In other words they quickly learn to play politics instead of concentrating on teaching and research. Hence the endless and time consuming initiatives which university administrators are always inventing. Thus, current administrative practices are both wasteful and destructive of faculty morale.

Managers by contrast are concerned with the bottom line and the efficiency of an enterprise. Therefore, they seek to eliminate unnecessary tasks which prevent them and others from concentrating on the prime goal of their organization. This means that the management ethos is diametrically opposed to that of the administrator. What we need today is a management ethos which reduces unnecessary work by focussing on the primary functions of the university.

If we are to replace administration with management we need to begin by focusing on our primary task. What is that task? Surely the prime task of the modern university is the creation and transmission of knowledge.

To perform this task adequately we need to radically re-organize the university by replacing a wasteful administrative structure with good management. Only by radically reforming the structure of the university can morale be restored and students given the education they deserve. This is because a reformed university will put more bodies back into the classroom by drastically cutting unnecessary administrative tasks.

At this point I can hear a howl of outrage as heads and other administrators protest. "That can't be done. We are overworked. You simply don't know what you are talking about."

In fact I do know what I am talking about because I have experienced a similar situation in industry. I know that radical reforms can rapidly trim an overgrown and inefficient bureaucracy. As a manager with the North Western Gas Board I saw an organization transformed by bold initiatives to make it one of the most efficient management groups in England.

The solution is simple: create a situation where people must concentrate on the organization=s main task and let them abandon the unessential themselves.

In our setting this can be done by the President issuing a decree that everyone below the rank of dean, unless supported by external research grants, will teach a full load from the beginning of the next academic year. Deans on the other hand will be allowed some relief from teaching - one course per term. In other words let us adopt the highly efficient European model, which is also followed by universities in South Africa, and many other Commonwealth countries.

Once again a chorus of voices will be heard yelling that this is impossible and that I must be quite mad. But, is it impossible? Consider for a moment what would such a decree mean.

Quite clearly university administration as we know it today would cease to exist. Instead it would have to be replaced by good management practices. Heads in particular would not have the time to sit on endless committees. But, quite suddenly, everyone would discover that many of these committees are really unimportant. It would also be discovered that surviving committees met far less often, for much shorter periods, with equally good, if not better, results.

Further secretaries and administrative assistants would be used more efficiently to perform many of the tasks heads carry out today. Today many departments heads are glorified clerks on inflated salaries who have to justify their existence by creating endless paper work. It is a gross waste of resources to pay highly trained professors to carry out the everyday tasks of running an office for which they are essentially untrained. These tasks can be done far more efficiently and at less cost by professional office staff.

Of courses some committees will continue as will some specialized tasks within each department. But, these can be allocated on a rotating basis so that everyone takes their turn over a number of years. In other words professional committee membership will become a thing of the past.

Other positions like that of student advisor should also be changed. The fact is such posts are really unnecessary. Each faculty member ought to carry out these functions as part of their normal duties. If, however, a specialist is needed for technical questions this task can be allocated on a rotating basis.

At the same time the designation "Head of Department" ought to be changed to "Chair" to reflect the reality of our situation. The title "head" comes from the days when the head was the most senior professor in a department and someone who could offer academic leadership to everyone else. Today's heads are administrators chosen because deans find them efficient regardless or their publication record or international reputation. As a result the title is a misleading anachronism.

It is also important to remove the perks received by heads and other administrators. The fact is that the biggest rewards go to academics who enter administration to the detriment of teaching and research. Of course everyone denies that these perks exist and claim that all heads receive is a "small honorarium." But, nobody is fooled. A large annual increment followed by one year's administrative leave is a considerable inducement to become a head.

On the other hand if we had rotating chairs on a three year cycle such inducements would be unnecessary saving the university a considerable amount of money and ensuring that heads continued to maintain their teaching and publication records.

Similarly deans ought to be elected for three year periods on the continental model allowing them to concentrate on academic matters. The other tasks which burden their present existence should be turned over to a central management group. Day to day management tasks can be left to professional managers. Of courses this might mean an increase in the number of administrative assistants. But, given salary scales, this would still prove a big saving for the university as more highly trained and expensive academics are returned to the task of teaching and research for which they are best suited.

The drastic reforms I've suggested are both practical and necessary if this university is to continue as a first class institution. Despite all the many advantages of technology it still remains true that the cheapest way to ensure a good education and student satisfaction is through classroom teaching. These reforms would dramatically increase the number of courses we can offer while reducing class size. They would relieve the pressure on those of us who do carry a full teaching load and would bring more students into direct contact with faculty. Finally, they would be a source of endless innovation as former administrators were forced to transform their lives by managing their time more efficiently. Thus we would see many sincere attempts to create an efficient university rather than one based on empire building and bureaucratic waste as a way of avoiding teaching and research under the guise of "administrative duties."