Privilege in universities: collegiality run amok

Collegiality is dangerous, whether at a university or a police force, and results in corruption veiled under the guise of professional unity. All for one and one for all has been the downfall and ultimately weak point of many organizations, some which have been challenged, a few that changed usually in almost imperceptible baby steps, and others that refuse to have anyone question their legitimacy.

While I’m not against unions and the advances they have made for Americans, they have been the instruments, in some industries, that have protected bad actors and perpetuated a collegiality of self-interest at the expense of the public, public safety, and societal change, particularly for the underserved.

I know, it sounds like the opposite of what we see unions doing, which is often trying to gain living wages and benefits for America’s workers. But when you have the might of gigantic, international and national labor unions behind an issue, they could be used a force that makes changes in critical areas, such as revamping how police officers are hired, trained and disciplined, including firing, an impossible wall to breach. But they aren’t. Instead they perpetuate their own greed and mediocrity.

Collegiality, in most regards, is privilege. As part of the “force”, whether a police force or a faculty force, their world perpetuates privilege for the very people who’s job is bringing equity, safety or intellectual pursuits to the masses.

Take faculty as an example. Whether within a union or not, faculty who are members of the ‘tenure track’ are among the most privileged workers in America, but are the least aware that maybe this is a problem. I’m not talking about part-time or adjunct faculty who don’t get paid much, rarely get benefits, and are a ‘hire at-will.’ I’m talking about the faculty who enter a world of privilege where their job is ultimately protected FOR LIFE, who often work nine months a year and earn more in consulting in summers and during the academic year; who frequently determine what they want to focus on for their work, whether “scholarship” or research; who teach a few classes a week; who have the freedom to come and go from their offices; who gain sabbaticals when they’ve put in a certain amount of time, able to do whatever they want in that time; and who have generous pay and benefits packages. And the ‘Shame on You’ award to faculty: they remain one of the only professional fields where they have the freedom to sleep with their subordinates, students in this case, “because it’s consensual.” I guess they missed the class where Quid Pro Quo was discussed. Or flunked it.

I’m not saying that some faculty don’t work really hard, or don’t change people’s lives as a professor or mentor, because some do just that. I’m saying that they are privileged by the nature of the structure of the collegial atmosphere. But they never acknowledge this. The excuse for tenure, which started right before WWII, has always been academic freedom: that the tenured professor can’t get fired for their opinion or approach to their field. Yet many today argue that tenure in fact does the opposite: it advances mediocrity, keeps professors on the straight and narrow and in line with whatever someone umpteen years ago said was what you need to accomplish for tenure.

Anyone who has ever worked in a university has seen the arrogance of some faculty playing out in many ways. Faculty’s inability to make a decision and come to agreement with each other, let alone with the administration they find so horrid, has slowed progress at universities large and small across this country. God forbid, a leader comes in and tries to fix some long standing, entrenched problems, whether pay systems cobbled together over time or offering something that you would think faculty would like, such as innovation grants or a push for some to pursue research and research grants. Self-interest and paranoia of faculty rears its ugly head, they push back on the evil empire administration, including Deans, stalemates ensue, and nothing changes. They might do a Vote of No Confidence on the president or provost. They demand shared governance, a term which no one will define specifically in terms of what it means in practice, purposely, so they can just complain and moan about it endlessly and always profess the administration unjust.

Faculty who are part of unions may play hard ball on pay increases and hundreds of other articles in a labor contract. And despite knowing that the bulk of university expenses are salaries and wages — and thus must be paid for by student tuition that has to rise with pay increases — faculty sometimes resort to going on strike. Students love their faculty in many cases, who are leading them into new worlds and skill sets. So like Trumpizoids, they support the very movements that increase costs for them. When states pulled back financial support for public universities, student tuition replaced it, as well as the scrabble for well-heeled donors. Faculty get talking points from the national labor union to counter these financial realities with their alternative facts based on questionable data from a person who crosses the country speaking to faculty, reminding me of revival tent fanatics or snake oil salesmen. They tell faculty what they want to hear.

No, I’m not saying that administrations don’t have things to work on. That’s another post for another day. But privileged faculty need to take a step back and see that few have the pay level, job security, work flexibility, freedom to say anything to their boss without recourse, protection of a strong national union — itself one of the best propaganda machines I’ve ever seen in 40 years in public affairs — and the protection of collegiality in their place of employment.

Yes, it is perhaps the greatest irony that the very institutions which have educated the under-served and provided untold opportunity since the Great Society programs opened higher education access to the masses in the 1960s — does in fact practice one of the strongest centers of privilege in our nation. And are blind to it.

From Lady Proverbs, somewhere on the Oregon Coast

Visit PulayanaPress.com for more from Lady Proverbs and other provocative writers.

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