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Friday, June 4, 2010

Review of "Wannabe U: Inside the Corporate University."

The following review was submitted by a reader:

Wannabe U: Inside the Corporate University, Gaye Tuchman. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009. 256 pages.

Those familiar with Gaye Tuchman’s books know her as an ethnomethodologist who has investigated news-making processes and also as the author of Edging Women Out, which describes how male authors essentially took over the domain of the Victorian novel from 1840-1900, which had originally been dominated by women.

Tuchman has now turned her analytic attentions to the phenomenon of the corporate university. The after-the-colon title of her new book could as well be Edging Professors Out. In any case, her book should be of special interest to readers of ASC Forum Blog, for even though she is writing of the pseudonymic “Wannabe University,” most of her observations could as well have been made at the University of Toledo.

She shows the application of a mindless marketing model where the university becomes entrained to a competitive battle to move up in the rankings. The all too familiar administrative mantras of transformative change, benchmarking, strategic planning, five year plans and selling the brand are chanted too at Wannabe. Also seen are the same trends for increased enrollment with decreased faculty size and deprofessionalization of faculty balanced by augmentation of administration.

Wannabe manifests many of the very same administrative antics as UT. Presidents and provosts and other high level administrators are seen as wandering careerists passing through on their ways to presumably more glorious destinations. The university is to these “outside administrators” a “stepping stone to elsewhere.” Professors do not envy these “corporate types,” Tuchman points out, but resent them. She even cites Robert Jackal on the primacy of public relations rather than substance in administrative behavior and the need to outrun administrative nonperformance and mistakes by soon taking another job. (Even her cites are generally impressive and thorough, the footnotes worth reading.)

What is perhaps most alarming—actually this reviewer finds it sad—is the apparent sameness of it all—how little creativity is shown in what amount to heavily administered attempts at conformity. For one of Tuchman’s most striking findings is this: Wannabe transforms by compliance and conformity with the middle of the road practices at similar universities. Far from achieving excellence, it achieves only a mediocrity startling for its sameness and lack of deviance from what administrators perceive as “best practice.” Administrators, far from being the creative problem solvers that they present themselves to be, function as low-grade plagiarists. Tuchman describes them as middle status conformists. So much for excellence! For how does one become distinctive through mindless imitation and managerial fads?

Also much like UT, we see cumulative pressure on faculty, unclear priorities, people who some perceive of as “failed academics” with poor publishing records elevated to positions of power, a drumming rhetoric of institutional transformation and market logic, ceaseless fake planning, increased centralization and a lack of transparency—as it is better to say nothing—wryly observes Tuchman—than to have to lie, which would be corporately unethical.

Chillingly, Tuchman notes that the university is one of the last Western institutions to be “de-churched.” In practice this means commodification, corporatization and increased serious state surveillance. The corporate university is “not to educate, but to train.”

Vo-Tech anyone?


zoroxyz10 said...

Well said.

Anyone with inside behind-the-scenes knowledge of upper administration antics at UT (and far too many other universities) knows for a fact that many of these elaborate studies, reports and "transformative" strategic plans - many of which require tens of thousands of wasted dollars and thousands of wasted hours of precious faculty and staff human resources - are in fact little more than cut and paste jobs from a book or two and/or from other university websites.

A couple of former prominent UT administrators have admitted as much to my face.

And these careerist administrative jokers pick up whopping paychecks and bonuses for effectively plagiarizing and cheating on their final administrative exams - and then move on to bigger and better careers leaving carnage and mayhem in their wake.

zoroxyz10 said...

…but I must beg to differ on certain other points…

Sexist Feminists Hold Women (and Men) Back in Science, Academics, Careers and Life

In light of the ongoing heated controversies regarding women in science and how the deliberations of the UT Committee for Strategic Organization is likely to have a profound impact on these issues (and furthermore following up on my earlier posts under Les Femmes Nikitas etc.)…

Note that relativist Marxist-Feminist-Postmodernist academics and their pop cultural New Age counterparts have been preaching for decades that:

1) Science is merely an arbitrary logocentric social construct – not to mention a patriarchal white male tool of oppression and the evil cosmic countervailing force to the mystical, all-knowing, “holistic” and beneficent forces of the “Divine Feminine.” (If this were even remotely true we should expect the 12 “divinely feminine” and non-testosterone-challenged disciples on the UT Committee for Strategic Organization to produce nothing less than a New Testament or divinely inscribed sacred tablets directly from Mt. Sinai – or perhaps more appropriately, from Lilith or the Earth goddess Gaia).

At the same time, feminists insist on the logically incoherent and precise opposite of proposition #1 above:

2) Namely, that women are exactly the same as men in all respects and anything less than absolute gender parity in everything from university math and science departments and corporate boardrooms to Navy fighter pilot squadrons and frontline Marine fighting forces is clear evidence of discrimination and male oppression. (This also means it is only “fair” that men should get pregnant and gays and lesbians should “conceive” children etc. – thus the feminist discriminatory hatred of anything “hetero-normative” and their love affair with the “gay, lesbian and transgendered community.”)

Given that these false, incoherent and sexist feminist messages permeate the academy and the popular culture and continue to hold women back personally and professionally in science and many other areas – is it any wonder women are completely confused and still not achieving up to their full potential?

See Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature and his sister Susan’s The Sexual Paradox: Men, Women and the Real Gender Gap – for the true scientific story on gender differences.


Finally, in case anyone has any doubts that hidden beneath the explicit politically correct feel-good pabulum of “diversity,” “multiculturalism” and “promoting women and minorities” etc. is the implicit subtext of the de-motion of men, particularly white men – let’s do a little social science fieldwork, shall we?

First, we need an accurate figure for the number of white male students, staff, faculty and upper administration at UT. I don’t know the precise figure off hand (maybe one of you A&S blog editors can help me out here) but I would guess it might be something like 40%.

For the sake of argument, let’s say the total proportional representation of white males on campus at UT is 33% - or 1 in 3.

Now go through the university’s website and advertising, marketing and promotional materials (billboards, TV and newspaper ads, catalogs, brochures, web pages etc.)

Note these areas of university marketing, PR etc. tend to be heavily over-represented by women.

Okay so far? Good.

Now let’s play a little game I like to call “Where’s White Waldo?”

You will find a super-abundance of women and people of various non-white races and ethnicities in UT internal and external marketing materials (and that is truly a good thing) – BUT you may be shocked and surprised (or not so shocked and surprised) to find White Waldo coming in at a very dismal “under-representation” of maybe 12%.

I’m just sayin’…

Anonymous said...

It is all so sad as the book pegs what is happening. I felt the same thing that this demand for conformity, sameness, is going to make the university unbearable for truly creative people and thus only those suited to the widget making mentality will stay.

Anonymous said...

When everyone thinks alike, there is no much thinking taking place :) and then you wonder what is the ultimate goal of UT administrators?

Anonymous said...

Finally, along with everything else, the business community succeeded in re-creating higher education completely in their own image. Tell me, once they have their way, what will the academic version of the recent economic collapse, and the Gulf oil spill look like?

Anonymous said...

I hear tell that the Performance Assessment of President Jacobs is out and available for inspection in the Faculty Senate office. And I hear tell, too, that it is a very poor review. This is must read stuff.

Anonymous said...

Will the evaluation of the President and Provost/Dean/VP gold be available online anywhere?

Anonymous said...

Read the hard-copy version while you can. It is in the Senate office in UHall. I doubt it will ever go electronic and be widely disseminated. It is a career-killer. Thanks to Faculty Senate for conducting the survey. The reported results in their detail amount to an overwhelming chorus of "no confidence" in the leadership of President Jacobs. If this report does leak out into cyberspace he should be gone by Christmas.

Anonymous said...

The president has to please the board and the board loves him. Gone by Christmas? The worse the report by Fac Senate, the more the board sees that as proof Jacobs is right. Jacobs will be here til his contract ends and the board will thank him profusely as he leaves.

Gone by Christmas is kidding him/herself.

Anonymous said...

A vote of no confidence by faculty senate would have no effect of jacobs tenure cause it is the board who makes the decision. I find it hard to imagine anything short of actual criminal behavior would remove him.

Anonymous said...

The Board may love Jacobs, but it does not love public embarrassment and humiliation, especially all over the Ohio and the United States. This kind of information has legs.

Anonymous said...

You're dreaming. I'm not saying you shouldn't be right, but you're not. Jacobs would wear a vote of no confidence as a badge of honor.

Anonymous said...

There are a few BOT members with some backbone, and one in particular whose life's work is resisting exploitive corporate erosions of basic human protections and freedoms under the American Constitution. I have faith that when these and other BOT members read the survey report they will finally hold themselves accountable for supporting inept and arrogant leadership on this campus for far too long. Then they will do the right thing.

None said...

Then youre a fool. You think the board will buy out the $1.5 million-plus of his contract and do an expensive national search when they want the university to have faster cycle times? You think they'll shift to neutral now? Just cause faculty don't like him? You're dreaming.

This is why faculty are so ineffective at advancing a cause. You did a research report on Jacobs, found a result and expect the world to bow. You may get a headline or two. You say Jacobs is awful. He says change is hard. The world moves on.

Jacobs is on boards all across the community and is tied into economic development efforts the state of Ohio has asked universities to accomplish.

I'll check back in Christmas. Jacobs will be president and as strong as ever. He's here until Nov. 2013. Your ineffectiveness, however, is permanent.

Anonymous said...

Although a public report may not change anything, a private, quiet report certainly changes nothing. The Senate does not need to have a no confidence vote. A public comment on an evaluation made public is its own evidence. Change is hard. But leadership does not mean dragging the institution in a direction without faculty support. All that does is create skid marks.

He may retain Board support but the change he is pushing (or how he is pushing it) may not retain board support in the light of this report.

Anonymous said...

He is pushing on behalf of the board... The whole "transformative change" stuff... that's the board's language. If you don't realize he is doing what the board wants him to do, then when you appeal to the board to say Jacobs sucks, you'll be telling the board they suck. And regardless of whether they suck, if you tell them that they aren't going to be sympathetic to your view that Jacobs should be fired.

Anonymous said...

The Board sets the goals. The president implements the means to accomplish those goals. The evaluation of Jacobs is an evaluation of his "means". His ability to lead is not just about his acceptance of the Board's goals. If he cannot lead, if he cannot find a way to bring the faculty along to meet a goal, if he cannot find a way to get the faculty to share the goal, then he fails as a leader. That is what the evaluation is about. In this sense, Jacobs has failed at UT.

This is not a rejection of the Board or even of the Board's goal for "transformation of the university". How do you make real and lasting change? You must allow the faculty to share the goal and embrace it. His "leadership" has merely led to people digging their heels in the ground because he doesn't tend to respect the people he is supposed to be leading. That is what the Board should look at in their evaluation of his leadership. Not just his ability to "follow" their lead.

Anonymous said...

Yes, this is not about the faculty voting no confidence in Jacobs, for this is not what has been done on this Blog, nor has anyone proposed it.

This is about an independent evaluation of his performance and what the BOT/public will think of it.

And believe me, the results are unambiguous, and come from all the schools and colleges, not just Arts & Sciences. Jacobs has not been able to carry out the BOT's goals.