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Smart Guy That Ginsberg

A post in this space on November 21 noted Professor Benjamin Ginsberg’s commentary on the exponential growth in the number of administrative staffers and their soaring influence in higher education (see his book: The Fall of the Faculty, The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters.) Ginsberg has also made several other observations on various aspects of the modern university — ones that I think have relevance to the College.

On strategic planning:

Until recent years, colleges engaged in little formal planning. Today, however, virtually every college and university in the nation has an elaborate strategic plan. Indeed, whenever a college hires a new president, his or her first priority is usually the crafting of a new strategic plan. As in Orwell’s 1984, all mention of the previous administration’s plan, which probably had been introduced with great fanfare only a few years earlier, is instantly erased from all college publications and Web sites. The college president’s first commandment seems to be, “Thou shall have no other plan before mine.”

On fly-by-night administrators:

Still another way in which strategic planning serves administrators’ interests is as a substitute for action. Many senior administrators are smooth and glib, in the manner of politicians. These qualities are sure to impress the corporate headhunters who direct contemporary administrative searches, and to help administrators secure job interviews. But, like some of their counterparts in the realm of electoral politics, university leaders’ political dexterity and job-hunting skills are often somewhat stronger than their managerial and administrative capabilities, inevitably leading to disappointment on the campus after they take charge. Indeed, the disparity between their office-seeking savvy and actual leadership ability probably explains why many college and university presidents move frequently from campus to campus. By the time people on the campus have become fully aware of a leader’s strengths and weaknesses, he or she has moved on to another college. Thus, for many administrators, 18 months devoted to strategic planning can create a useful impression of feverish activity and progress and may mask the fact that they are frequently away from campus seeking better positions at other colleges.

“Smooth and glib,” eh? That sounds familiar. You would almost think that in the latter paragraph Ginsberg was writing with Jim Kim in mind. But, no. Kim is not an original — just a slick example of a well known type.

Addendum: While we are on the subject of burgeoning non-teaching staff at schools, I noticed the following graph in the film Waiting for Superman. Secondary education has had the same bloat problem as colleges like Dartmouth:

Superman School Employment3.jpg

Needless to say, a line on the above graph denoting academic achievement would head downwards not upwards.

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