Will Covid-19 Revive Faculty Power?Breaking News
tags: higher education, labor, Faculty
In 2011, Benjamin Ginsberg, a political-science professor at the Johns Hopkins University, published The Fall of the Faculty, a blistering argument that
over the previous three decades, administrators without serious academic backgrounds had swelled in number, shrinking the power of professors.
Naveeda Khan, a fellow Hopkins scholar, remembers reading the book but not finishing it. She got the gist and didn’t think she needed to understand “the minutiae,” says Khan, an associate professor of anthropology.
But this summer, she’s reading it again. Both “for knowledge,” she says, “and for strategy.” This is the pandemic era.
In March, leaders had to make unprecedented decisions by the hour. As the virus spread and cases grew, they wrestled with what to do in the fall and how to withstand the impending financial blow. In April, Hopkins announced that salaries would be frozen and retirement contributions would be suspended for the next fiscal year. The president “regrettably expected” layoffs and furloughs in some units.
Hundreds of professors objected, saying the decisions had been made unilaterally. Historically, there’d been this bargain at Hopkins, one professor says, that the administration would govern with a light touch so that faculty members didn’t have to bother with governance themselves. Now, the touch was not so light. (Hopkins’s provost said that faculty members have been consulted in myriad ways since the pandemic began, including through existing shared governance structures.)
Faculty members wrote a letter to university leaders, raised funds for an independent financial analysis, and started reimagining their role at the famously decentralized institution. It was a level of collaboration among instructors that some say they’d never seen at Hopkins before.
That shift is not isolated to Hopkins. Across the country, faculty members are campaigning to be meaningfully heard by the powers that be at their institutions — big and small, elite and open access. They’re laying the bricks of new structures of faculty and staff governance after decades of erosion. In some ways, the pandemic has become this “great leveler,” says Jennifer Fredette, an associate professor of political science at Ohio University. Tenured professors are feeling the insecurity that contingent faculty members have long experienced. A raw deal has reached their doorstep, she says, and they’re now saying, “Nobody deserves this.”
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