A reader who is a college professor writes:
What I’ve been reflecting on is the possible parallels between the Trump phenomenon and the current situation higher education. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about the growing economic-power gap between the administrative class in higher education and those who actually deliver the goods: the professors, but especially the exploding sector of adjuncts and those who manage on-line courses. The latter are, of course, barely compensated and overworked. They cobble together inhumane teaching loads in order to make a living. Meanwhile, the administrative class, whose historic role has ostensibly been to serve and to protect those who teach, continues to cash in (quite literally) through their efforts to “streamline delivery” in higher education.
Here’s just a sample of what’s out there on the trend of administrative bloat.
Granted, there are different ways of interpreting what is happening in higher education. Some of it is mid-level administrative bloat (for an increasing array of student services) and not merely increases in executive compensation. Still, I think an argument can be made that the “working class” within colleges and universities (i.e., the professoriate) – especially those who teach in non-professional disciplines (e.g., general education, liberal arts courses) – feel an increasing distance from the “administrative establishment” that “governs” them. An example of this is the recent debacle at Mount Saint Mary’s College.
Obviously, faculty in higher education don’t always straightforwardly “elect” the administrative class. But if Trumpism in the civic realm is partly explained by the sense that many voters have of being let down by the leadership who should have been looking out for their interests, and if my instincts about there being a parallel phenomenon taking place in higher education are right, then higher education in America could be in for the kind of bumpy ride that the GOP has been experiencing during this election cycle.
How that tension in higher education might play out will likely be different than how it’s playing out in the current presidential race. Barring poor job performance (as defined by the administrative class), college and university executives aren’t regularly required to vacate their seats of power in the manner of our elected officials. Thus, there’s a sense in which administrative protectionism (i.e., protecting one’s set of power) in higher education might even be stronger than it is in politics. And the edifice that protects that power in American higher education (e.g., federal funds and the policies that govern their use, accrediting bodies) is big and powerful.
Perhaps the only “solution” for those who see the situation in American higher education in this way is to establish alternative institutions of higher education in the spirit of your Benedict Option. The difficulty here is that doing this will likely require more courage than most academics possess, myself included. Our felt need for academic credibility and peer validation makes us beholden to the academic establishment. Trumpism in the political realm costs little; it’s just a vote. An anti-establishment vote, one motivated by a sense of administrative betrayal in higher education, would mean academic exile, effectively a form of academic suicide.
Readers — especially college faculty, staff, and administration — what do you think? What would a “Trump movement” in the sense this professor means look like if it took off on campus?