In Which CollegeProf Gets Nicked by Occam’s Razor

Last post, I discussed an inherent contradiction in the roles of manager and professor, and the origins of their respetive authority, as they have been understood in contract negotiations for the last 30+ years.  I suggested that resolving this contradiction may be a necessary prerequisite to achieving the “improved faculty/management relations” that everybody (including the authors of the Workload Task Force) claim to want.

Others disagree that any contradiction exists.  This in from a frequent correspondent:

Forgive my apparent opacity, but I see no philosophical problem at all. The justification for management is set down in law and tradition. Management is not in a position to exercise its almost unlimited power and authority over faculty and staff just because they “say so,” nor because educational workers (called “professors, counselors, librarians, instructors and so on) pusillanimously acquiesce in their dominance.

Management’s control over the workplace comes from the Colleges Collective Bargaining Act (2008), and from the recently accepted Collective Agreement. In section 6.01 of that Agreement, a number of “exclusive” management “functions” are set out which, collectively understood, add up to management’s virtually unfettered ability to do what it pleases.

If there is any “philosophical” point to be argued, it would have to do with the question of what colleges “ought” to be, rather than what they are. In a postsecondary institution worthy of the name authority would be vested in the academic community, and what we call “management” would more accurately be called “administration,” the purpose of which would be to ensure that there was chalk (or electronic information technology, if you insist) in every classroom, the snow was removed from parking lots in a timely fashion and the electricity bills were paid.

Decisions about what to teach, how to teach and why to teach would properly be in the hands of teachers. Alas, no such model exists in any Ontario college (and anything approaching it is increasingly rare in any Ontario university).

Instead, the “industrial model” has been gleefully embraced by everyone from the provincial cabinet to bloated local college managerial personnel, consisting of an ever-growing number of Vice-Presidents, Directors, Deans and Deanlets who fall all over themselves and step cheerfully on us in a never-ending saga of turf-building, political infighting and bureaucratic ossification of the imagination.

While it is true that some of these people may be good and honest public servants, and a few of them might even have pertinent academic or professional qualifications, their knowledge of curricula and their skill as educators is quite irrelevant to their actual jobs.

They are in charge of the commodification, marketing, packaging and sale of educational products. They are driven almost exclusively by a market-oriented business model. Their existence as policy-makers and organizational superiors from presidents to “front-line supervisors” is a function of power relationships established in an institutional context in which academic or professional credibility and integrity have nothing whatever to do with their tasks.

To take the philosophical question seriously would be to contemplate nothing less than a fundamental reorganization of the college system. Until then (and I am not holding my breath), the matter is moot.

Personally, I’ll reserve enthusiastic agreement.  I’ve read the legislation — I don’t find anything in it that makes it illegal for professors to have academic freedom, nor mandates that managers sign off on course textbooks, so I’m not yet convinced that the law, pure and simple, is at the heart of the problem.

In fact, I wasn’t able to find Article 6.01 of the legislation (to which the correspondent refers), but I did find that Definition 5 (at the very bottom of the legislation) defines a manager as:

(a) is involved in the formulation of organization objectives and policy in relation to the development and administration of programs of the employer or in the formulation of budgets of the employer,

(b) spends a significant portion of his or her time in the supervision of employees,

(c) is required by reason of his or her duties or responsibilities to deal formally on behalf of the employer with a grievance of an employee,

(d) is employed in a position confidential to any person described in clause (a), (b) or (c),

(e) is employed in a confidential capacity in matters relating to employee relations,

(f) is not otherwise described in clauses (a) to (e) but who, in the opinion of the Ontario Labour Relations Board, should not be included in a bargaining unit by reason of his or her duties and responsibilities to the employer.

I don’t yet see anything there mandating academic control.  What I see is that managerial responsiblity for formulating “organization objectives and policy in relation to the development and administration of programs of the employer or in the formulation of budgets of the employer” has been interpreted in such a way as to give managers responsibility over the performance of all academic programs, which the assumption that “the programs of the employer” represent a corporate vision.

In other words, this dynamic is one in which professors are merely labourers because education is merely service-delivery.

But my opinion remains that — thus far — this dynamic is rooted in an interpretation (one itself based on a constitutive contradiction), not a fact.  I think that, in the past, attractive financial offers permitted professors to accept the fact that their academic authority was subject to the authority of those who lacked expertise in the field of study.  If the money dries up, we’ll see if this dynamic becomes the target of increased criticism.

As I said back in December, “money, workload, academic freedom” — management will need to compromise on one of the three, just to maintain the status quo.  To actually improve the status quo in a manner that would increase collegiality, they might need to compromise on much more.

And yes, I’m aware that there are calls amongst the faculty to facilitate collegiality by improving the tone of “labour/management relations” (whatever that is).  But — while I’m all for civility — I’m personally of the opinion that collegiality is facilitated by rectifying inequalities, rather than sweeping them under the carpet.

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