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April 27, 1995


The fallacy of the marketplace analogy

To the editor:

In austere times, one hears much about "right sizing," "efficiency," and other buzz words that are part of the rhetoric of managers. The language of the marketplace is commonly used to suggest or justify the proposals and fiats of academic administrators. The elements of the typical analogy include administrators as "managers," faculty as "service workers," and students as "customers." In a service organization the needs and the demands of the customers are necessarily paramount (the customer is always right) and the service personnel need to be held accountable for their actions. As continuous direct observation by managers is neither desirable nor feasible, "feedback" from customers (evaluations) and periodic review by management is part of the process of attempting to increase the predictability of worker behavior. Enlisting service workers' peers in the process of controlling and predicting service workers' behavior is merely an extension of supervision with a "democratic" wrinkle.

Analogies are useful, if one has an analogy of the right sort, but a faulty analogy may lead to a lot of organizational mischief. To paraphrase Kenneth Burke, faulty analogies bring rhetoric to the edge of cunning.

Students are not customers and education is not a service or product. If one insists on using the awkward language of the marketplace, the society, as a whole, is the client. (What else would justify tax subsidies and loan guarantees?) The "products" are (1) an educated person, that is, a person whose capacity to think and act rationally is enhanced, whose information is usefully increased, whose aesthetic capacities have been elicited, whose capacity to function autonomously has been developed, and whose ability to participate in the society in an ethical way has been supported by the educational process, and (2) knowledge for understanding all aspects of the universe, of which our world and particular society is a part, and knowledge for immediate application. All of this is what should be meant by the relation of teaching to learning, and scholarship (which subsumes "empirical" research). The university's development of knowledge and its contribution to producing educated people is its reason for being and its primary service to society.

Education and professional educators. Education is a process, not a product. The professional people who design and participate in the process are neither technicians nor service workers. They cannot be lumped together with secretaries and salesmen as "white collar workers" because their functions and social roles are fundamentally different. There are fundamental differences between vocation and profession, between sets of limited skills which involve narrow, repetitive application, and intellectual skills and interpersonal insights which require broad understanding and creative application in changing circumstances.

Professional academic work requires a relatively high degree of autonomy and the educational process, in contrast to indoctrination, must be free from the tyranny of ideological zealots and those who would substitute their personal beliefs for the process of open inquiry, freedom of speech, and individual liberty. In brief, the educational process requires a guaranty of academic freedom and the sole structural guarantee of academic freedom is tenure. Whatever the liabilities of the "tenuring" process may be, there does not appear to be a better guarantee of academic freedom. That means that when this or that student organization targets a professor, the organization has less chance of imposing its norms on the whole academic community. That means that when an administrator is offended by a professor's demeanor or views, that professor's integrity is less likely to be compromised. It means that educators cannot be fired for what they think, for what others believe they think, for what they say as educators, or for their refusal to say what others want them to say.

Academic administrators. The main role of academic administrators is to facilitate the educational process and this role should be properly subordinated to the educational functions of the university. Academic administrators are not "supervisors" of professional educators. (After all, an English professor cannot "supervise" the teaching of history or social work, and an experienced educator has no business "supervising" the teaching of his similarly experienced colleague.) An academic administrator, on the other hand, needs to fit the budget to the academic goals of the faculty and the educational needs of students, within the context of available resources. So, it appears that academic administrators are something other than factory managers or people who manage temporary white collar workers.

The fallacy of the marketplace analogy. It appears that the usual marketplace analogy of manager-worker-customer to academic administrator-educator-student is rather forced and can only lead to misunderstandings about what is necessary for a university to properly function.

Arden E. Melzer


School of Social Work


Defending academic freedom

(Editor's note: The following letter to the Board of Trustees is reprinted here at the request of the author.)

Dear Trustees:

On behalf of the Anti-discriminatory Policies Committee, I wish to comment on several recently published newspaper articles concerning Chancellor O'Connor's support for the University Senate-recommended stance opposing ROTC recruitment policies, as well as the awarding of [some University] benefits to same-sex couples. One article stated that the chancellor's support of "more liberal policies than the business community endorse" has caused him problems with the University's Board of Trustees.

It must be noted that freedom of speech and freedom of thought are among the most important aspects of academic life. Indeed, a hallmark of the best academic institutions is their tolerance of expressions of a diversity of viewpoints. When a university appears more liberal than the general community, this is a sign of strength rather than weakness. Chancellor O'Connor was courageous in his opposition to the policy that banned homosexuals from the ROTC, just as he was principled in his support of a benefits policy for same-sex couples. In contrast, when any segment of the community (including those represented on the Board of Trustees) believes it may or should dictate the University's views on matters of academic freedom, it threatens to weaken our institution of higher learning.

As we embark on the search process to select a new chancellor, the importance of academic freedom and the role of the Board of Trustees in supporting the University as a "marketplace of ideas" should be clarified. It is vital that our next chancellor be able to defend academic freedom without fear of censure by those who hold that no attitudes contrary to their own should be supported at the University of Pittsburgh.

Barbara K. Shore

Distinguished Service Professor and Professor Emerita

School of Social Work and Chair, Anti-discriminatory Policies Committee


Offering a public apology

To the editor:

Our nation's greatest need today is an honest, public discussion of the very real human issues too long left unresolved by all of the people. The only answer — to racism, violence in the home and murder in the streets, brutal disrespect of the disempowered, or psychological violence practiced in the name of individual prerogative — is a personal commitment to human dignity, a human dignity practiced in how we think about ourselves, and a human dignity practiced in daily life. This will be impossible to accomplish unless we all agree to change the American culture. Nonviolence begins with one individual's effort to uplift him or herself.

As a doctoral student in the School of Education, I have been proud to serve this year as a member of the University's Student Publication Board. The student yearbook staff launched a revolutionary effort. The Pitt News achieved a new standard of student journalism — until the last issue.

Last Thursday's [April 20, 1995] newspaper looked to be a blockbuster paper until you reached the editorial page and the second VOX section. The public scorn of a managing editor and two unconscionable headlines degraded freedom of the press, leaving behind a numbing sadness and a sense of moral outrage. It wasn't just three foolish, adolescent mistakes we can disregard as high jinks.

As a human being, I offer a public apology to the University of Pittsburgh community and to the people of Pittsburgh for this irresponsible rebuke of human decency and blatant violation of professional ethics. Nothing will "take back" what has already been done, but I will work to see this turned into something positive which might help strengthen our sense of community.

Violence (of any variety) as a means of persuasion lost some of its vitality in modern social movements led by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. It is my hope that someday, inner violence (as evidenced by prejudice, self-hate, and fear born of ignorance) will succumb to the simple practice of human dignity.

Jonathan R. Seaver

Administrative and Policy Studies

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