Thursday, 14 July 2011

Forest of the dead

If my Facebook feed is anything to judge by, this interview with political science professor Benjamin Ginsburg on the growth of administrative bloat in American universities has struck a bit of a nerve. Ginsburg advances his thesis in a new book, The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters, due out soon from Oxford University Press.

Inside Higher Ed reporter Dan Berret summarizes the core of Ginsburg’s argument as follows:

[U]niversities have shifted their resources and attention away from teaching and research in order to feed a cadre of administrators who, he says, do little to advance the central mission of universities and serve chiefly to inflate their own sense of importance by increasing the number of people who report to them. “Armies of staffers pose a threat by their very existence,” he wrote. “They may seem harmless enough at their tiresome meetings but if they fall into the wrong hands, deanlets can become instruments of administrative imperialism and academic destruction.”

On the other hand, anonymous community college administrator Dean Dad coincidentally today attributes much administrative growth to regulation and the expansion of information technology, which is at least partially the case as well.

Both accounts, however, seem to leave out the faculty incentive structures that promote bloat, particularly outside the rarefied R1 air at Johns Hopkins and Cornell that Ginsburg has breathed in his career. Simply put, for most tenured faculty at regional comprehensives and other lower-tier institutions, the only route to a higher salary is to join in the administrative featherbedding. The vast majority of faculty post-tenure don’t have the research record to compete for tenured lines at flagships, even if they had the interest in pursuing such an agenda in the first place, and a move up the status hierarchy into a non-tenured position—effectively starting over—is precluded by norms that emphasize, particularly at top-level institutions, gambling on the potential upside of a newly-minted PhD rather than taking on faculty with demonstrated, but perhaps unspectacular, experience balancing teaching and research.

So, the only way out is administration. For the non-ambitiously-mobile without a research record, an administrative appointment is an easy source for an immediate pay increase by getting a year-round contract (which is not as bad as it may sound, as you still get much of the Christmas holiday off and a paid vacation on top of that, making the “12-month contract” effectively closer to a 10–11 month one), on top of a potential pay increase associated with the position itself, and relief from teaching one or more classes per semester—which, at an institution without TAs, may lead to a net workload decrease even accounting for that associated with the administrative appointment. Recognizing this incentive structure, it can’t be surprising that more than a few tenured faculty spend much of their time dreaming up ways to create new administrative positions—program directorships, assistant chair positions, associate deanships, honors and study abroad coordinating positions—with a view to becoming the first incumbent.

What of the upwardly or elsewherely mobile academic? The same incentives apply to them too. Even if you’re not in it for the long haul, creating your own bailiwick and running it for a few years may just be the line on your vita you need to move to a more desirable position. When a small liberal arts college is looking for a study abroad director, or a regional comprehensive needs to hire an outside chair, the record of a “deadwood associate” just isn’t going to cut it, but if you’ve got a few years under your belt directing a boutique program, you can easily spin the lack of productivity post-tenure in research as a “sacrifice” rather than a personal choice.

Structurally there isn’t much to be done to alleviate this problem, absent a strong will from the top to clearly delineate “administration” (supervisory positions worthy of 12-month appointments) from “extensive faculty service” (positions largely centered on work during the academic year worthy of release time and/or stipends for summer work, but often receiving neither in the current climate) and shift as much of the former to the latter category. But as long as service remains woefully undervalued relative to the time it takes, even non-ambitious faculty will quite sensibly—at least from their own perspective—push back and ally themselves with others with more pecuniary motives.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Working syllabi for spring 2010

Preliminary syllabi are now posted at the usual place, although there’s a good chance the assignments may change—requirements that seemed appropriate for a 30-student senior-level class no longer appear quite so reasonable with 45 students and counting.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Links that are in no way editorial comments on my employer

These items are presented for your edification without further comment.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

A political institutions reading list, revised and resubmitted

Here’s the current iteration of the book list. I’m also thinking of having the students write a book review each of an additional book not on this list.

  • Shepsle and Boncheck, Analyzing Politics.
  • Buchanan and Tullock, The Calculus of Consent.
  • Farrell, Electoral Systems: A Comparative Introduction.
  • Cox and McCubbins, Setting the Agenda Legislative Leviathan (replacing Krehbiel, one of whose books will probably become a book review).
  • Aldrich, Why Parties?: The Origin and Transformation of Political Parties in America.
  • Baum, The Puzzle of Judicial Behavior, per comments from commenter “prison rodeo” who correctly lamented the lack of anything on the judiciary.
  • Skowronek, The Politics Presidents Make, because I need something on the presidency and this one looks promising.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Toward an American political institutions reading list

Here’s what I’ve got for my fall graduate seminar thus far:

  • Shepsle and Boncheck, Analyzing Politics.
  • Buchanan and Tullock, The Calculus of Consent.
  • Farrell, Electoral Systems: A Comparative Introduction.
  • Krehbiel, Information and Legislative Organization.
  • Aldrich, Why Parties?: The Origin and Transformation of Political Parties in America.

Obviously that doesn’t include articles yet, but I don’t need to figure those out until August or so. Obviously I'm trying to bring in a lot of rational choice here, since our undergraduates really don't get any of that as far as I know; I figure I can get away without Arrow and Downs since Shelpsle and Boncheck cover that territory, but I want something on election systems and I’ve used Farrell before and am happy with his treatment. So, any suggestions?

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Jobbing out

For my on-the-market readers who haven’t swung by the rumor forum yet, I have a short post about our International Relations and/or Political Theory position (originally it was two positions, hence the weird combination… but that’s a long, boring story) that allegedly is winding its way towards eJobs soon.

The bottom line: I’m happy to meet (informally—this ain’t an interview or even a APSA meat market session) with anyone who’s interested in the job this weekend at TLC in Baltimore; drop me an email if you’re interested in talking.

Short “pimp this job” FAQ: the pay is good for the region, the load is a 4–3, I think we’re willing to hire in IR or theory or both (frankly I don’t think we can usefully narrow the pool to and only, although there’s a chance the theory part is more non-negotiable since we’ve lived a while without an IR person but haven’t lived without a theorist until this semester), there is some research support, we don’t have the kind of “identity politics” issues that you see at other minority-serving institutions, and all your colleagues would be really nice folks. Playing nicely with others is essential; we do have our disagreements, but starting or engaging in pitched battles over ideology, qual/quant, pedagogy, etc. will not earn you a fan club, nor will free-floating hostility towards (as opposed to occasional mere frustration with) students. Last, but not least, it’s probably easier to live in Laredo and teach at TAMIU if you can tone down (or just bear with) any “Type A” tendencies in your personality.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Get your learn on

My APSA Teaching & Learning Conference paper co-written with my colleagues Lynne and Marcus is now done; I’m looking forward to my quick trip to Baltimore to present it and catch up with the methods-teaching crowd this weekend.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009


Syllabi for Texas Government and Congress and the Presidency are now done. Yay?

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Another day, another syllabus

My current draft of my graduate political behavior seminar syllabus. There are a few holes here and there—and I know it’s probably closer to a senior seminar-level syllabus at a more selective institution—but I’m confident I can refine it a bit in the next few weeks while I tackle the easier syllabi.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008


Public opinion, voting behavior, parties, and interest groups all shoved together in one unholy syllabus. And the best part is that I couldn’t even figure out how to cram in two books I’ve already ordered, which no doubt will annoy the bookstore to no end.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Further adventures in international diplomacy

On Wednesday, TAMIU hosted Todd Huizinga, the public affairs officer for the U.S. Consulate General in Monterrey. I enjoyed his talk, which touched on a variety of issues of mutual concern for the U.S. and Mexico, as well as (at least in passing) the likely continuity of policy in the face of the current presidential transition, quite a bit.

I also had the opportunity to ask what I think is the $64,000 question when it comes to U.S. relations in the Western Hemisphere—how can the U.S. successfully promote its foreign policy goals in Latin America when, even though most of those goals are aligned with the domestic interests of those countries (improving the rule of law and developing state capacity, reducing economic and social inequality, replacing the failed models of import substitution and central planning with a more free market economy, etc.), those actions may be perceived as “imperialist”? I think it was a pretty tough question but Huizinga handled it very well—which, I suppose, is what he’s paid to do.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

“This beehive needed whacking”

Day two of the TAMIU plagiarism saga hits Inside Higher Ed with such pearls of wisdom from the (now terminated) instructor who apparently instigated the controversy.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

The ass end of the campus grapevine

At least now I know why we all suddenly had to complete a training module on FERPA last week, although in fairness it was the only required training module thus far that actually seemed minimally relevant to my job.

Without wading into the specifics of the case at hand (all I know is what is printed in the local paper), I will say that I have no problem in principle with the idea that students ought to be entitled to due process regarding charges of academic dishonesty, just as they are entitled to due process in the determination of their grades in other circumstances, provided that those entrusted with the duty of reviewing these charges take violations seriously and operate with the presumption that the burden of proof in a grade dispute is on the student rather than the faculty member.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Friday campusblogging

Per request, here are some photos of the TAMIU campus I took over the summer; I don’t have any javelina pictures (they seem to mostly come out at night), but there are some of our whitetail deer in the pictures like the one below:


Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Only at TAMIU

From my inbox:

Members of the Campus Community -

This Fall, campus wildlife is especially prevalent, with a substantial increase in populations of both whitetail deer and javelina.

Seeing both on campus on a regular basis often leads members of the University community and visitors to consider our wildlife tame and approachable.

This is NOT the case. The animals remain wild and, if provoked, may respond.

Construction projects underway have temporarily cordoned off some favorite feeding areas and animals have been wandering more frequently into general campus areas. Mating cycles may also be in play, creating additional tensions among the populations.

Please avoid all contact with the animals and do not engage with them. Exercise caution on campus and if animals are gathered in your path, select an alternate route.

If you feel threatened by any animal population, contact University Police at [xxx]. Provide your location and request assistance.

Please exercise all relevant precautions so that all residents of our campus, both two and four-legged, can share this special environment.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Syllabi: creating excuses for professors to read what they need to read

Our book orders were due ridiculously early, so I didn’t slip in everything I probably should have added from my “to be read” list, but at least I got in The American Voter Revisited, The End of Inequality, and Partisan Hearts and Minds between my graduate political behavior course and the senior-level course I’m using to shoehorn political behavior, parties, and interest groups into our (radically in need of some overhaul) undergraduate major.

Now I have to make up some fake syllabi for two courses I’m unlikely to ever teach—but since I put in the proposals for our new graduate methods sequence, writing the syllabi for the curriculum committee is my job even though I’ve deferred to a PA person and a sociologist to teach the sequence regularly (which lets me focus on undergrad methods, which the PA person doesn’t want to teach and which I’d rather teach than the graduate sequence).

Monday, 15 September 2008

Gotta have our priorities

Wednesday, 20 August 2008


The policy syllabus is done and the website is more-or-less up-to-date; I’ll probably update the CV and teaching philosophy/research interests statements over the weekend, but that doesn’t need to be done for a couple of weeks yet.

In the meantime, I get to wear fancy regalia tomorrow, although I’m really not sure it’ll be that much fun given tomorrow’s weather forecast.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Murdering trees

Two syllabi down, one (the graduate public policy seminar) to go. I’m still trying to figure out exactly what I want the students to do in the policy class, although I think I have it narrowed down to three relatively brief papers plus a take-home final.

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Plus ça change

By the time I start my new job in the fall, it appears that the department chair, college dean, and (now) provost will all be different people than those I interviewed with a month ago.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

On the potential of becoming a public figure

One of the more appealing aspects of the new job is that it’s an opportunity to make an impact at an institution that serves a community that historically has not been served well by higher education. The community in turn seems more enthusiastic than most about the university, in spite of a rather marked “town-gown” gap in terms of the demographics of the university faculty versus the student body and wider community.

The downside of this arrangement for those not comfortable in the limelight—a category I firmly count myself within—is that nary a happening at TAMIU fails to make the newspaper. Case in point: a goodly share of my future department is quoted in a single article in yesterday’s Laredo Morning Times, a fate I am likely to share in the future.

The potential silver lining: I doubt I’ll ever become as ubiquitous as Frequent Commenter Scott. Being a sharp-dressed, vaguely handsome tall guy trumps everything I can bring to the table with the media.

Monday, 3 March 2008

Run for the border

I’m very happy to announce to all of my readers that I’ve accepted a tenure-track position as an assistant professor of political science in the Department of Social Sciences at Texas A&M International University in Laredo, Texas beginning in the fall. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to teach and conduct research at one of America’s newest universities in a dynamic, rapidly-changing community.

Perhaps most happily, I won’t be getting there until well after all the politicians leave town!