Lessons from Václav Havel for a profession in decline
A tough read for me--so much truth here. Thank you for writing--this needs to be said.
We had a similar experience as the arts did in the science division except we had to meet with the governor who expressed her wish for us to train engineers with no souls.
I think the second verse of "where is my home" harmonizes with your point:
Where my home is, where my home is,
If, in the heavenly land, you have met
Slender souls in spry bodies,
Of clear mind, vigorous and prospering,
And with a strength that frustrates all defiance,
That is the glorious nation of Czechs
Among the Czechs (is) my home!
Among the Czechs, my home!
I love this! I’m looking for where are you write about broken reward systems but I can’t tell which piece that is.
A couple thoughts I have after years spent in higher ed, is that overall, there's a disagreement regarding mission. For some faculty the mission is teaching, for others it's research (and they could care less about teaching), for some people in the admin side (especially admissions) it's all about perpetuity. The institution needs X amount of students to be in the black for the year or to not be too far into red. This gets to what you're talking about regarding the brand, but the brand becomes a measure of perpetuity. If students don't want to attend, and numbers aren't met, then budgets will be cut. The brand becomes weaker.
How does an institution thrive when people aren't on board with the mission?
When I worked in the private sector it felt totally refreshing to have clear measures of success like the number of clients we have and revenue versus opaque measures like trying to assess critical thinking skills, graduation rates, and peer-rankings.
Also, working in higher ed as a librarian and then as a technologist, one sees a different side of faculty. I often use the analogy of Downton Abbey, with faculty as "the upstairs people" and staff as the "the downstairs faculty." There is often this faculty vs administrators dichotomy and it ignores staff.
Do you have hope that a new system can be built? Or are you in the revamp the current system camp?
I attended a small but well-considered research institution, consistently in the top engineering programs in the United States called "New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology" where I pursued a Bachelor's and a Master's in Mining Engineering. I also served as Student Association President for one term. My best memories in life are playing rugby or hanging out on the large grassy field between classes, and the incredible golf course we had right next to campus. I would walk around the pedestrian friendly campus and look at the historic WPA era buildings. I received a great education and I loved the experience.
If I had read the quotes from Havel without a citation I would have assumed they were reflections on what it's like to work for a capitalist enterprise. I don't know enough about Havel and his ideas to know, but it seems from his words that he hoped capitalism would mean some kind of employee involvement in the running of an enterprise; certainly that's what the theorists of Solidarnosc in Poland were hoping for. Instead they got a brutal neoliberal takeover of the economy and the stripping of public assets, which seems to me to be related to the kinds of woes you describe in academia--the notion that the only motivation imaginable is the profit motive, and that every part of society must be yoked to that cart. Ironically, our public institutions are subject to this as well, with the importation of corporate management techniques.
Dobry den Joshua! Úžasné najít tady druhého českého spisovatele!
RIP Vaclav Havel. Hopefully his thoughts won't go the way of dokonano jest as his corpse has gone. #HavelnaHrad
Couldn't agree more with what's been written here. My only reservation is that I don't know if a country is the same as a series of institutions. As well as Havel being Havel, he also became the President because the Czechs wanted a total end to Communism and he was the only one who wasn't an apparatchik. Implementing the same kind of change in academia would first have to result in every professor being fired. :P
...."because we believe the unknown is preferable to an iron lid on the horizon.
This is the most depressingly accurate description of the problems of turning Universities into (very poorly run) corporations that I have read in a long while. I sadly live this reality every day. Our department lost any control over budgets and our Head has no real power. We are at the mercies of bureaucrats and bean-counters who either ceased to be academics long ago (or who never were academics to begin with). Covid has exacerbated the issues, but it was headed into the pit well before that was an issue. Oh, I'm also a lifelong Pittsburgh Pirates fan, so that analogy was additional salt in the wound. :)
Unfortunately, new faculty have been conditioned to accept top-down governance and limited agency, and so they aren’t likely to reform institutions; they literally don’t know what they’re missing.