Faculty as Barrier

More than half of trustees, 57 percent, agree that “the general public perception of higher education in the United States has declined in the last decade,” according to a survey conducted for the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, as reported by Rick Seltzer, in Inside Higher Ed.

Asked about the biggest “barrier” to changing higher education’s business model, 28 percent of respondents pointed to a lack of support from faculty members. The lack of faculty support was by far the most popular answer, followed by a lack of confidence among institutional leaders in making changes, cited by 19 percent of trustees, and a lack of consensus among leaders, cited by 16 percent, the article reports.

Keep in mind that the survey involved trustees at all levels of higher education. One can certainly criticize the premise of the barrier question asked of trustees. If, say, you are in charge of a big hospital and wish to make major changes, what stakeholders would constitute your biggest challenge? Doctors and nurses, probably. But are they barriers, or simply the professionals who actually treat patients? You can make comparisons with other organizations along the same lines. You might think of yourself as the captain—or even the owner—of a ship, but you’ll need the crew. If they aren’t on the team, you are sunk.

The survey, importantly, is of trustees, not the general public. Here in Texas, as reported in a previous post, the public remains generally supportive of higher education. Obviously, residents are concerned about costs, but this sentiment has little to do with pedagogy. It is almost impossible to find anyone who doesn’t support community colleges.

Faculty often question (and sometimes resist) substantive changes that might affect their ability to perform, as they see it. Teachers, as mentioned here often, should be consulted and included, not because they are wise, but because they do the actual teaching. You can talk all you want about “disruption” as a stratagem, and draw a thousand flow charts with boxes and arrows, matrices, and rubrics, but you still must contend with the professionals who implement policies.