COVID-19 Spurs Rule by Bureaucracy

David Acevedo

Editor's Note: This article was originally published under the name "John David," the former pseudonym of NAS Communications & Research Associate David Acevedo. To learn more about why David no longer writes under this name, click here.

CounterCurrent: Week of 11/29

Colleges and universities have just about made their way through the first semester of Corona U., and it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The “second wave” predicted by health experts over the summer seems to be coming, meaning more lockdowns and school closures. At the beginning of the crisis, many institutions hoped to fully reopen for the spring 2021 semester. Now, it looks like it may not be until next fall, or even next spring in some regions, before we have anything resembling “college as usual.”

We all know about “remote” and “hybrid learning,” which continues to cause consternation for instructors and students alike. And we know that higher ed’s hourly employees, including dining and facilities workers, have borne the brunt of the sector’s layoffs. But what has university leadership been up to, besides building their arsenals for the anti-racism arms race?

It seems that college and university administrators have kept busy lining their own pockets at the expense of faculty, students, and “non-essential” staff (read: the most essential staff). In other words, the exact opposite of what we recommended they do in our April report Critical Care: Policy Recommendations to Restore American Higher Education after the 2020 Coronavirus Shutdown.

Our recommendations urged institutions to cut administrative overhead by at least 50% in order to survive this crisis. Instead, administrators have multiplied like rabbits and, in many cases, padded their own salaries, while laying off faculty and keeping costs high for students. Something’s deeply wrong with this picture. Expendable bureaucrats are treated as essential while all others pay the price.

In this week’s featured article, National Association of Scholars Research Associate Neetu Arnold examines how college administrators are “hollowing out the middle” of academia by taking power away from faculty and placing it into their own hands, diminishing the tradition of shared governance that has until recently been the modus operandi of American higher education. Neetu analyzes this administrative power struggle at the employee level, the departmental level, and the institutional level.

She concludes that, at all three levels, institutions have accelerated consolidation and centralization of power, ensuring that administrators are left unchecked when shaping the future of higher education. She writes,

[T]he actions taken by universities aren’t temporary aberrations; they foreshadow the things to come.

Universities, and particularly university executives, are taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to defenestrate full-time and tenured faculty from their positions of influence in making decisions about the future of the university. …

The pursuit of truth and the passing of the torch of civilization have given way to the efficient production of corporate- and government-funded research materials, and the maintenance and growth of a top-heavy bureaucratic machine.

This should be deeply alarming for all who care about the state of higher education—indeed, for all who want there to be higher education for their children and grandchildren. Administrators need to be checked, lest they run their institutions into the ground. Sadly, that’s already begun.

CounterCurrent is the National Association of Scholars’  weekly newsletter, written by Communications & Research Associate David Acevedo. To subscribe, update your email preferences here.

Image: Vkulikov, Public Domain

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