Gary Rhoades: Capitalism, Academic Style, and Shared Governance

Gary Rhoades: Capitalism, Academic Style, and Shared Governance
Academe, May-June 2005, Volume 91, Number 3

Restoring higher education's democratic commitment requires more than a restoration of the faculty's internal role in shared governance. It demands an expansion of perspective beyond the academy, and new mechanisms within the academy for democratizing governance.


In Academic Capitalism and the New Economy, my colleague Sheila Slaughter and I describe a cultural system that valorizes higher education's dual economic roles: generating revenue for academic institutions and producing knowledge and wealth to boost the global competitiveness of corporations. This system depends on a mode of production that fosters the growth of contingent faculty and nonfaculty professionals relative to full-time, tenure-track professors. It also gives rise to a mode of management that strengthens the governance role of central academic managers relative to that of faculty.

In doing so, academic capitalism challenges the institutional governance model of the AAUP, which accords administrators, faculty, and trustees shared but unequal decision-making responsibilities in their respective realms of expertise. In this article, I respond to the challenges of academic capitalism. But I seek more than restoration of the faculty's position in shared governance; I want to see new mechanisms developed to democratize governance. I aspire to broaden shared governance, making it more inclusive of and accountable to a wider range of interests and constituencies.

Higher education scholarship on campus governance has concentrated on formal structures such as academic senates. Higher education scholars Kenneth Mortimer and T. R. McConnell's classic 1978 work, Sharing Authority Effectively, and the AAUP's 1966 Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities define shared governance as a division of authority and decision-making responsibility between faculty and administration based on distinctive expertise. The model is an internally focused, bilateral division of labor, with little place for on- or off-campus constituencies beyond tenure-track faculty and academic managers (and their trustees).

That model has been and is being tempered and even challenged. Many faculties—especially in community colleges and less prestigious public four-year institutions—have turned to collective bargaining to gain a voice in decision making. Unionization has extended, codified, and modified shared governance, as academic senates exist alongside collective bargaining structures. A perhaps greater challenge comes from a management revolution that promotes strategic planning and administrative flexibility; advocates of this transformation say that traditional shared governance is ill suited to making hard decisions in hard times. Others argue that institutions of higher education need to be more responsive to parties outside the academy, particularly private employers.

Academic capitalism proposes that the market rules, and that its operation serves the interests of higher education and the larger society. Although engagement in markets can be vetted through shared governance structures, other mechanisms have been established to respond to market forces. These mechanisms enable managers and nonfaculty professionals to connect with markets through separate offices or advisory boards that include representatives of large employers. Academic managers have also created centers and institutes outside the control of academic departments to facilitate market engagement. From their vantage point, traditional academic structures are restraints on responsiveness.

The push for responsiveness to markets is linked to a drive for accountability. Scholars and policy makers concentrate on higher education's productivity and efficiency in narrow terms. They focus on faculty teaching loads, calling professors to account for giving more attention to research than to student needs. Similarly, they assess institutional performance, gauging productivity in terms of measures such as graduation rates. Marketplace logic demands more control over faculty work and greater institutional productivity.

I also call faculty and higher education institutions to account for democratic more than economic reasons. Yet restoring the academy's commitment to its democratic responsibilities requires more than restoring the faculty's role in shared governance. Why? Because academic capitalism and the new economy not only reduce the role of faculty governance but also reorient the purposes of the academy and of faculty and restructure professional employment.

A Changing Cultural System

Capitalism, academic style, was once most evident in the realm of patenting and technology transfer, pursued by a few research university faculty. But it now extends to instruction, the core educational function that touches all faculty and higher education institutions. Education is being transformed into a service mediated and delivered through technology. The result is a standardized and commodified education.

Academic capitalism is a cultural system within higher education; it is an internal, not just an external, threat. It shapes the way we talk about and define our role in the academy. University presidents increasingly see themselves as CEOs, and ask to be paid accordingly. More faculty view themselves as small businesspeople, although they treat their relatively secure academic salaries as sinecures; in public institutions, these faculty amount to state-subsidized entrepreneurs.

Capitalist consciousness reveals itself in the tendency of universities to conflate productivity with generation of external monies, and in that of faculty who get grants to talk of how they "subsidize" other fields. Administrators and professors refer to units that "bring in money," without acknowledging the public subsidies that make it possible for them to do so. And they talk about units that "do not generate revenues," without considering the tuition monies that many such units earn for the university through their large student numbers and high student to faculty ratios.

Capitalist consciousness is also often evident in intellectual property negotiations. Many faculty concentrate as much on their individual share of profits as on the public good, if not more; indeed, the public is usually left out when the profits are divided up. The focus on profits is less intense in the area of copyrighted educational materials, where many contracts establish professional control over the quality of the materials, a few contracts prohibit commercialization, and some faculty promote free "open-source" software.

On an individual level, faculty and academic administrators conflate revenue production and productivity in ways that affect time allocation. Surveys reveal that faculty are spending more time in class (generating student credit hours) but less in advising, and that as they ramp up their research and instructional productivity, they devote less time to service. In a capitalist academy, time spent on shared governance is wasteful; it takes away from production time and yields few measurable results.

Traditionally, one aim of faculty and administrators in sharing authority was to ensure that decisions served the public good, and both parties were perceived to contribute perspectives on that good. But as faculty and administrators increasingly seek revenue-generating opportunities, that ideal is undermined. Today, those who govern the academy focus mostly on a reduced range of economic functions.

New Professionals on Campus

Another change that comes with academic capitalism is the rise of nonfaculty professionals on campus. Although these professionals have advanced degrees, technical bodies of knowledge, and professional associations, they are hired, evaluated, and fired by supervisors, not by peers, as faculty are. Their presence on campus thus shifts power to management. I call them "managerial professionals" to emphasize that administrators have more control over them than over faculty.

These managerial professionals conduct some academic work and affect other such work, including teaching. Some participate with faculty in technology transfer to commercialize intellectual property. Others are involved, through teaching, professional development, and instructional assessment offices, in evaluating or developing the instructional activity of faculty members. They make decisions about and are involved in the production of software and multimedia packages used in the classroom. They promote the use of technology in instruction, conflating it with innovation and quality, and argue that faculty should change their instruction to become more interactive.

Capitalism, academic style, then, is a mode of production. With entrepreneurial universities comes a restructuring of professional work. But the rise of managerial professionals challenges not only the faculty's expertise—it also challenges the prevailing model of shared governance that sees two parties on campus, faculty and administrators (with the latter serving the trustees).

Most clearly, academic capitalism is a corporate model of management that, as I have written, makes faculty increasingly managed professionals. The model is justified by the need to make decisions more quickly than is possible under shared governance. Typically, the new corporate style of management does not dismantle traditional structures of faculty governance, such as faculty senates. Rather, it supersedes them with new structures that allow managers greater discretion. Some structures are separate offices—for example, technology transfer, information technology, and extended university structures. These realms of academic activity are created and run mainly through managerial initiative, governed outside shared governance procedures, and staffed largely by managerial professionals. Other structures are embedded within academic units, yet are not subject to academic control. For example, many academic colleges in universities now have advisory boards, populated by wealthy alumni, potential donors, and businesspeople. These bodies raise money and connect colleges to employers, articulating the latter's needs in terms of curricula, programs, and graduates. Generally, they reside outside the processes of shared governance.

In practice, the corporate model rejects shared governance. It recognizes neither the benefit of the deliberation and compromise involved in shared governance, nor the importance of the faculty's role in decisions about academic programs, quality, and institutional direction.

More than that, the corporate model infuses decisions with a market-oriented calculus that redefines higher education's functions. Market criteria and revenue generation increasingly trump merit and educational criteria in basic academic decisions and influence other impor-tant choices, such as those about salaries (salary compression and market-based inequities are problems nationwide); institutional reorganizations (in which meritorious programs are downsized to permit investment in areas seen as having market potential); academic staffing policies (that allow the appointment of increasing numbers of contingent faculty who have no governance role); and technologically mediated educational delivery systems.

This approach to decision making shifts priorities among the functions of colleges and universities. As academic managers work to bring in money and respond to employers' demands, and as employers gain influence through college and university boards, institutions focus increasingly on short-term revenue-generating activities and economic functions such as workforce preparation, continuing education, applied research, and product development. With little open discussion, long-term and long-standing educational, social, scholarly, and public-service functions that have shaped and served our democracy are compromised.

Toward Democratic Accountability

Although I believe in the centrality of the faculty's governance role, I do not think that shared governance, as it is currently configured, is up to the challenge delineated above. The AAUP's governance model is the product of a social context, a time in the United States of industrialization and the emergence of professions that claimed expertise in particular realms.

Accordingly, the AAUP model bases the faculty's claims to academic freedom and a voice in governance on the scholarly expertise of faculty members, which had to be protected against external pressure from capitalists who would try to influence and compromise the independent judgments, teachings, and research findings of faculty. Like other professions of the time, the professoriate accepted existing hierarchies of managerial power. It sought to ameliorate the excesses of such power through professional control over delimited functions, but it claimed only an advisory role in decisions.

It is time for us to modify our governance models. We have a unique relationship today to a form of capitalism that differs from the type existing at the inception of the AAUP. I offer a challenge to faculty, administrators, and the academy: let us fashion governance structures and processes that make higher education more accountable to and inclusive of a broader range of external and internal constituencies. I call for a public-interest-oriented professionalism and entrepreneurialism, with a bottom line not of revenue generation, but of societal enhancement—social, cultural, political, educational, and economic.

I mean more than appointing a few individuals to boards of regents to represent a broader range of interests, particularly when they are overwhelmed by representatives from private industry (fourteen of the eighteen regents of the University of California, for example, are businesspeople). I mean changing the culture and orientation of academe by making it more democratically engaged with and accountable to more diverse constituencies.

In response to the growing capitalist consciousness among faculty and administrators, we must establish accountability mechanisms that systematically engage external stakeholders other than just large employers, and that foreground the contribution of higher education to the public good. I am not referring to the model in which a few external representatives are added to existing internal structures that focus on individual personnel decisions (some professional schools appoint community representatives to hiring committees for deans, for example). Rather, I am thinking of new structures in which external representatives are in the majority.

One mechanism to achieve more democratic engagement could be public trusts for institutionally generated revenue. Committees (which would include community representatives) would commit the monies from such trusts to public interest activities. Another mechanism could be affiliated councils that would include representatives of nonprofit entities and community groups. The councils would work with institutions to track and encourage their contributions to surrounding communities.

On campus, we need to expand academic democracy beyond tenure-track faculty and senior administrators to include contingent faculty and managerial professionals. Faculty are not the only professionals on campus; the number of nonfaculty managerial professionals is growing rapidly. Increasingly, they participate in institutions' basic academic work, and, like faculty, they have important expertise about the academy to contribute in shared governance. In short, we need a more inclusive, democratic academic republic.

Such a republic would encourage wider deliberations about strategic directions than now occur. It would also ensure that academic managers are accountable to their organizations and to the surrounding community. The structure might encourage "trickle-up" mechanisms for strategic initiatives in which ideas originate at the departmental level. Such an approach would be particularly effective when those ideas involve partnering with community groups; indeed, I can envision a strategic challenge grant or an investment capital process that emphasizes community or regional development. The focus could be on initiatives undertaken by partnerships of academic units, the community, and nonprofit organizations, with award decisions made by a board of community groups and university personnel.

Drawing on the belief that strong institutions foster creative tension and exchange between managers and internal and external parties, a democratic academic republic might also solicit feedback from community groups and other constituencies internal to institutions in the evaluation of academic managers. I find the claim that academic managers need the flexibility to move as rapidly as private-sector managers truly remarkable, given recent CEO abuses and the lessons they teach about unbridled managerial authority and insufficiently circumspect decisions regarding investment and resource allocation. We do not need faster decisions, but more careful consideration and evaluation of managerial choices.

Having grounded so much of this article in the AAUP's shared governance model, I close by returning to that organization's origins. A key case that gave rise to the AAUP, and fashioned its role in academic freedom and governance, was the dismissal of Stanford University professor Edward Ross in 1900 at the urging of Jane Lathrop Stanford. One need not glorify Ross, nor gloss over his anti-immigrant or racist views, to recognize that his firing, like that of several other professors of that time, had much to do with taking political positions critical of prevailing corporate industries and elites, and supportive of child-labor legislation and workers' rights, including the right to unionize. In Ross's time, several colleagues in other departments resigned in protest.

Today, under the influence of academic capitalism and the new economy, some of Ross's colleagues might be on an ad hoc advisory committee reviewing academic programs in a strategic reallocation process, and they might recommend that Ross's program be curtailed or eliminated because it is not attracting external monies. So it is not just the structure that matters. What we need now are a dedication to democracy and a recognition of the need for higher education to contribute to the public good. It is a commitment to debate, dissent, and diversity over short-term efficiency, revenues, and expert management. Those are the values we must cultivate in higher education governance.

If we fast-forward to the Cold War, after the AAUP had published positions on academic freedom and shared governance, and when many universities had faculty senates, instead of resigning, the reaction of Ross's colleagues might have been different. They might have followed shared governance procedures and recommended that Ross be censured as a communist sympathizer. Sociologist Lionel Lewis wrote about such occurrences in his 1993 book, The Cold War and Academic Governance, as did historian Ellen Schrecker in her 1986 book, No Ivory Tower.

Gary Rhoades is professor of higher education and director of the University of Arizona's Center for the Study of Higher Education. He is author, with Sheila Slaughter, of Academic Capitalism and the New Economy, published in 2004.