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Not sure the invisible college always wins; at the top of the academic ladder institution matters a lot ("I'm a Harvard economist").

Alex, there's something to what you say. A proper economic theory of identity would consider group allegiance a matter of choice, and then attempt to theorize that allegiance. Rationally people might choose, say, whatever identity was higher status.

But I don't think the challenges that I've described here are unique to lower-ranked academic institutions.

I thought this was good on how incentives often backfire and autonomy, mastery, and purpose are the real motivators, https://youtu.be/u6XAPnuFjJc .

What you say rings true to me. Especially non-academic staff identifying with the University. But I think academics identify with their department, like soldiers who are willing to fight for their small group.

But I wonder if this might be (partly?) conflated with a male/female difference?? (Speculative)

This is pretty consistent with my experience. Whether I identify with my department, university, or discipline (and whether I feel proud of this identity) also seems to depend on who I'm talking to.

Nick, I like that image of academics as soldiers, fighting for their unit. But at the same time, we're not exactly prepared to die for each other, are we? (present company excepted) Given how reluctant some of our fellow-soldiers are to take take on departmental level administrative tasks...

On the male/female difference - more results of the THE survey can be found at https://www.timeshighereducation.com/sites/default/files/best-university-workplace-survey-2016-results.pdf. There's a few where the relative grumpiness of academics might reflect male/female differences, e.g. academics disagreeing with the statement, "My university offers a fair deal to its employees, in terms of pay." But I don't think it's all male/female difference. E.g. differences in perceptions of "my job feels secure" may reflect underlying reality, and differences in agreement with "my university has compromised on student quality" may reflect differences in knowledge.

Lord, yes, that's great. Have you posted it before? It seems familiar.

I’ve mentioned before that I gave a copy of F.G. Bailey’s Morality and Expediency: The Folklore of Academic Politics


to Monique Begin when she had just begun teaching at McGill. She had mentioned to a mutual friend that she simply couldn’t understand university politics.

In the book, Bailey does consider of professors identify and the difference between an institution with a high reputation (your previous poster’s example of Harvard) where the professor is likely to identify with the institution, and in the rest of institutions where she’s likely to identify in her expertise.

I’m not an economist. My first reaction to your question was thinking that someone at CAUT would have to catch their breathe after reading your post.

Until unionization, the definition of a professor was, at law, that of a “master and servant”. And for the most part, things didn’t go well for the servant.

I once wondered how the same person could see the same institution so differently, so I asked a newly appointed VP of the University of Toronto why his stance on a seemingly important issue could be so markedly different than that of their union. I asked because two weeks before he had been the President of the union. His answer was simple: he had been President then, he was VP now.

I think it’s fair to suggest that that tug of war between the unions, or associations, and a central administration that in Canada is still defining itself affects how professors see their role.

John - thanks for replying, and for reminding me of that book.

Carleton's faculty union (CUASA) recently sponsored a presentation on fiduciary obligations for union members - it was done by one of the better union labour lawyers in town. I couldn't go, because I'm management right now, but I hear that people who went were actually surprised to learn the extent of their fiduciary obligations. So none of this should be news to anyone at CAUT.

Yes, I agree with you that the union-management relationship, and the nature of central leadership, matters, and that these do affect the extent to which professors identify with their institutions.

On people at higher ranking institutions identifying with their institutions. Perhaps. But it still doesn't stop them from using that high ranking academic affiliation to drum up consulting business, rather than expending their energies on academic research. There's enough deadwood at U of T (to pick on the university I most love to hate) to start a forest fire.

I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have agreed with anything the union lawyer said. I’m not really interested in union rights.

My interest is the legal definition of the university - from Bologna and Paris in the twelfth century to today.

When I graduated high school in 1969, the College I considered had 800 students, and Sir George Williams University which merged with it was gigantic at 4000. They’re now called Concordia in Montreal.

One of my professors, Hubert Guindon, a sociologist, explained to me that when he started at Sir George, the President, John Hall, bragged that he knew every student by name, and true or not people believed him.

We seem to want to apply the same rules, or myths, to institutions where departments and faculties are often larger than colleges were in the 1960’s.

"How can universities persuade professors to act like employees, and focus their time and energy on activities that directly benefit the university enterprise?"

Careful what you wish for!

In the private sector (where people work very hard too, and for much less money) this is as solved problem. Employees are generally required to be in the office during set hours, and your boss checks-up on you and your work. If you don't do what you ought to, you get fired. If your boss is unable to keep her employees doing the right things, she gets fired. And so on up the chain. Not sure many tenured prof's would be thrilled with a similar arrangement.

The military analogy applies in the private sector too. Soldiers are always way more loyal to their Sergeant than to the General. It has to be that way. It's rarely the General who leads the charge, and he (it's usually a he) certainly isn't going to take a bullet.

@Patrick Understanding the institution and its definition helps to understand attachment.

I wrote a paper on the importance of Regiments in the Canadian and UK military versus the United States system. In Canada, it isn't the Sergeant that would win out, it's the family as defined by the Regiment.

A Regiment in an army would equate to a department in a university.

It's the personal that counts.

Captain and former Adjutant, Canadian Grenadier Guards.

H. John Rolton: I was using a metaphor. My apologies if that didn't come across. I meant no offense. I certain make no claims to know what happens in a real military. My point was that, in general, people feel close ties to those with whom they share toil and hardship on a daily basis. People leave (or stay) in jobs not because of their sense of allegiance to the firm, but rather their personal relationship with their boss.

Patrick No offence taken. I understood your point. I'm simply trying to stress that the average university professor does't feel the same connection to their university as they feel to their department. It's personal. An army recruit is attached to the Regiment not the army.

The original question was I think:

"How can universities persuade professors to act like employees, and focus their time and energy on activities that directly benefit the university enterprise?"

I honestly believe the answer is to be found in how departments can persuade their members.

Patrick: "In the private sector (where people work very hard too, and for much less money) this is as solved problem. Employees are generally required to be in the office during set hours, and your boss checks-up on you and your work."

I think I remember hearing that Singapore universities are similar. The pay is very good, but someone is watching when you arrive and leave the department.

Patrick: "In the private sector (where people work very hard too, and for much less money) this is as solved problem."

As an aside: private sector salaries aren't uniformly lower than public sector ones. But they're much more unequal, so people in the bottom to mid part of the earnings distribution get less.

Getting the best out of employees is never a solved problem. The tech company solution is to have a completely open-plan office, where everyone can see what's on everyone else's computer screen. Sure, that's an effective way of stopping people from spending their day on facebook, and getting them to show up on time. But the constant noise and visual distractions make it hard to concentrate. You can lead an employee to their desk, but you can't make them think!

Where I agree with you is that universities would be very different if it was easier to let people go. Sometimes I think about the demotivators poster here that says "sometimes the best way to improve morale is just to fire all the unhappy people."

John and others, on departmental loyalties...

The thing is, the department is becoming less and less important as an organizational unit within the university. At Carleton, the fastest growing undergraduate programs are ones not associated with departments, e.g. the Bachelor of Health Sciences and the Bachelor of Global and International Studies. This is because the state of knowledge and the nature of student demand for programs changes far far more rapidly than departmental boundaries.

Military units can be redeployed from Afghanistan to the Arctic, as needed. It's extraordinarily difficult to redeploy an academic department.

Other trends that make the department relatively less important over time are technological change - computer programs which make it possible for an administrator to observe, for example, precisely how a department is using their TA resources, and then come in and make improving suggestions. Also governments' truly inexplicable desire to have some sense of whether or not they're getting any value for the millions of dollars that go to universities each year, which is leading to quality assurance, learning outcomes, etc etc etc. Departments continue to have a key role, but that role is, e.g., being responsible for crafting learning outcomes, rather than having the autonomy to say "we don't want to have anything to do with this whole learning outcomes business."

You are I think talking about the distinction Robert Pirsig makes between the First University ("Church of Reason") and the Second University (the legal/corporate entity). His summary:

"But this second university, the legal corporation, cannot teach, does not generate new knowledge or valuate ideas. It is not the real University at all. It is just a church building, the setting, the location at which conditions have been made favorable for the real church to exist.

"Confusion continually occurs in people who fail to see this difference ... and think that control of the church buildings implies control of the church. They see professors as employees of the second university who should abandon reason when told to and take orders with no backtalk, the same way employees do in other corporations.

"They see the second university, but fail to see the first."

"Getting the best out of employees is never a solved problem"

Granted. I was being flip. The main tool firms have to ensure employees are acting in the best interest of the employer is supervision and active performance management.

BTW, I've worked in tech companies. In my experience, open office plans are pretty rare and don't really work very well once most of the staff are no longer doing engineering. Imagine a bunch of salespeople all on the phone in an open office? It'd sound like a school yard at recess.

So if a professor's "fidiciary duty" to act in the best interests (defined implicitly as its financial best interests, which is then, simplistically, linked to "reputation"), what if, as could very likely be the case, those interests are in conflict with the professor's choice of research and her pursuit, generally, of knowledge? Does the pursuit of knowledge simply follow the money, or prestige, even if the professor deems another way more interesting or important?

Essentially, you're saying professors are intellectual salesman; or prostitutes, and the university is the pimp, and students are the johns.

It's akin to a doctor only administering medicine that maximizes the profits of the Hospital (or more likely, the private practice) he works at.

The one thing reading this is, I would certainly counsel against anyone taking this professor's courses, or attending his university.

Jeff - this talk of the "church of reason" is all very well and good, but what happens when the students are a bunch of atheists, and have no interest in listening to the old sermons or reading the old books?

Do we force the students to sit in hard wooden pews, to get down on their knees, to repeat centuries old phrases?

Patrick - interesting. I agree with you about the value of supervisors in motivating employees.

David: "as could very likely be the case, those interests are in conflict with the professor's choice of research and her pursuit, generally, of knowledge?"

In my experience with university administration, I would say that 99.9% of university administrators couldn't care less what people do research on, as long as they manage to publish, get research grants, and can teach something that students want to learn.

The problems are: what if the choice of research and pursuit of knowledge doesn't lead to any measurable output?

What if the professor's choice of research is in conflict with what the student actually wants to learn? As I said right up front:

"A university's reputation, to the extent that it is at all malleable, can be enhanced by serving students well"

Before you start dissing me as a prof, or saying that students shouldn't take my course, read what the students say about me on rate my professors.

@Frances re: what happens? Answer: the same thing that happens to an actual church, or any business, when demand for its (only) product goes to zero. The only product of the "real university" is reason/truth. Or, if you like, "critical thinking". Or alternatively if the "second university" acquiesces, i.e. changes its product and thus becomes no longer a "real university", what happens is loss of accreditation.

Jeff: "Answer: the same thing that happens to an actual church, or any business, when demand for its (only) product goes to zero."

Thing is, there isn't a single "church of reason". There are dozens of different "sects of reason". Economics is one "sect of reason." Sociology is another. Mathematics is another. And somehow the second church has to accommodate all of these different sects - sort of like the "all faiths shopping mall" parodied on This is That.

@Frances As I alluded, whether the organization rates as a so-called "church of reason" is determined by accreditation. Here is an interesting elaboration on how the U.S. handles that: http://www.thebestschools.org/degrees/accreditation-colleges-universities/

You write: "The number one interest of a university is financial survival,...". No. The number one interest is truth. Finding truth, teaching truth, writing the truth. If truth threatens survival (or reputation), truth should always take priority. My fiduciary obligation as a tenured professor is to truth. My obligation to my university is secondary, and a means to that end.

John: I doubt such lofty goals would be quite as comfortable outside the warm embrace of a tenured professorship at a University.

John "The number one interest is truth. Finding truth, teaching truth, writing the truth."

The statement 2+2=4 is true. But the fiduciary obligations of university professors is not teaching students that 2+2=4.

The statement "alcohol is more harmful than tobacco" may or may not be true. But urging students to think deeply about what "harm" means, getting students to understand the difficulty of inferring causality, teaching students how to interpret and work with data - all of these are worthwhile activities, even if the end of the day all students learn is that it's really hard to know whether or not any something is true.

Students come to us in the hopes of making better lives for themselves. Governments give us funding in the hopes that our research will make the world a better place.

We betray them and ourselves by self-indulgent research and teaching.

Interesting post, Fran, and I could comment on many aspects of it. First, is the "least productive" person in a dept necessarily "deadwood"? Our merit system requires that a certain proportion of faculty receive zero merit. Second, what do we know about who donors are? If we give in to grade inflation, and if this raises student evaluations - or if we hire only males, and this raises evaluations! - does that lead to more money from alumni? If the university increases class sizes to increase current revenues, does that depress or increase future alumni donations?

Linda - "First, is the "least productive" person in a dept necessarily "deadwood"?" -

One person's deadwood is another person's beautiful antique dining table. I'm certainly not someone who is in a position to throw stones in this regard.

I agree that merit-based systems that require a certain proportion of the faculty receive zero merit have all sorts of problems - that's something I was trying to point out here.

Yup, there are all sorts of issues associated with catering to donors - as Carleton has had cause to find out!

The tribalism among faculty members for their discipline (or even subdiscipline) over the department, college or institution has been recognized for a long time. While department chair, I had hired a person whose subdiscipline was important at the time. We had beefed up that area with earlier hires so our commitment was real, and this was an opportunity to lead.

During a faculty meeting this professor announced, "I am an independent businessperson." In context it meant that there was no way to get any effort toward improving the department that did not also enhance the professional reputation of this faculty member.

It was a sorry day to be chair, but I learned something. That, and other episodes led to the summation of my experience: "Leading a community of scholars is a phrase with three errors in it."

Dean to dept head:"The Minister is visiting next week with a delegation from the THE. Time to clean up. I hear about a guy you have that is "thinking" about what would happen if a man were sitting on ray of light and opened his flashlight. Fire that Einstein guy!"

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