PHRASING

Posted in Rants on July 23rd, 2014 by Ed

Higher Ed administrators are, bluntly, the worst people on Earth. Take everything obnoxious about the MBA and law school types, give them no relevant skills other than self-promotion, pay them exorbitantly, and give them jobs consisting mostly of filling their own time with endless Meetings and Committees. It is a high six-figure "Dig hole, fill hole" job, yet by and large they seem to think they are brilliant and important because, hey, they don't merely work at a university, they're in charge of it. Picture a baby in a car seat using a toy steering wheel to pretend to drive a car. Pay it $250,000 per year and call it Associate Dean of Development, teach it outdated 90s business school jargon, and you've got yourself the perfect administrator.

Sure, some Deans and Presidents and Provosts are great. They're brilliant and have vision. For the most part, though, it is just staggering how ignorant they are as a whole. If you want to learn a lot about which online schools or public university system branch campuses are offering the best deals on tuition and the easiest classes, peruse the CV of the higher ups at any university. Like all people who aren't terribly bright, they're incredibly tone deaf. They don't quite understand why everyone dislikes them so much, being incapable of differentiating between things to say with the Inside and Outside voices.

This Chronicle piece from the always hilarious "Provost Prose" column has made the rounds recently as an example of just how utterly clueless and tone deaf the academic One Percent can be:

My wife and I gave our daughter a choice for her sixteenth birthday. If she wanted, she could have a party or we could go on a family cruise. Deep down I was hoping she would select the cruise but my wife and I were both very careful not to have our choices influence the conversation. I was very pleased when the choice was a cruise but then there was a major surprise. She would like her birthday cruise to be the same islands cruise we took as a family six years ago.
I tried to convince her to select another cruise destination. The 2008 cruise was terrific but there were still so many places for all of us to see that I didn't want to consider a repeat prior to visiting more places for the first time. But since this was my daughter's cruise, we went with her decision.

But there were differences worth noting the second time around. The ship hadn't changed much and the itinerary/tours hardly changed at all but what did change made the experience even more special. The staff seemed noticeably more positive and supportive. Last time, this wasn't a strong point; this time it helped enhance the experience. And the food was also noticeably better, both the buffet style food as well as the specialty restaurants. There was even one outstanding chocolate dessert which always resonates well with me. The entertainment was also more substantial. Overall, even though so much remained the same, the changes noticeably enriched the experience.

In the cruising business as well as in higher education and almost all other businesses, it is often the little touches that make the difference between an OK or good experience and a memorable experience. The overall experience matters most but customer satisfaction is often determined at the margin. Small changes can make meaningful differences. Some of these changes cost money, others are cost neutral. For those of us in higher education, even when our programs are strong it is worth the extra time and effort to see what can be strengthened.

Where to start.

Perhaps, as we approach the tenth birthday of the era of furloughs and frozen salaries, it is not the best idea to write a column about how as the Provost you give your brat teenager birthday gifts that cost many thousands of dollars. When the faculty and staff have gone six years without a raise (or are getting their 0.5% annual pittance increase) and tuition goes up 5-10% every year, you might think twice about advertising your own largesse. If you were smart. Instead of a Monty Python parody of an Upper Class Twit.

Additionally, even if well meaning, perhaps a pleasure cruise is not the best metaphor for the college educational experience. We're supposed to want them to learn something, right? Not merely to be entertained? But…

…administrators really do buy the "Student as Customer" "business model" for higher education. The student pays (more accurately, either the student loan programs or the Bank of Daddy pays) and we are supposed to fawning serve them not unlike dining hall staff on one of Carnival's pestilent shit-barges. Is everyone here having enough fun? What can I do to make your college experience more fun, Allyssonn?

If you want to know everything that is wrong with higher education without having to do copious research, just bookmark this page and remind yourself that people like this are running it.