ASU should lead the way in restoring courage to higher education


The Appalachian Online

Kevin Griffin

When Chapel Hill law professor Gene Nichol came to campus last week, he delivered insight on a range of issues from poverty to academic freedom to the failure of political leadership in North Carolina.

As a student, however, it was his repeated assertion that the leadership in higher education lacked courage that has particularly stuck with me.

During a small meeting organized by AAUP on Friday, Nichol said that modern administrators at universities “are defined by never taking a position on anything.”

Unfortunately, Nichol’s statement holds a great deal of truth. With the exception of faculty members in certain places, we do not have that many high level administrators who take bold stands on the threats taking place against higher education.

What is even worse than this reality is the fact that the system now is largely set up to work that way.

Nichol attributes the situation to the role of university boards which he said tend to be filled with wealthy individuals whose backgrounds put them at odds with the “values of universities.”

That is certainly one reason, but there are still others. In the current system, we have a situation where the resources in universities are flowing away from academics and toward a class of professional administrators.

A 2014 study by the New England Institute for Investigative Reporting and the American Institutes for Research has found that the number of administrators had increased by over 500,000 between 1986 and 2012.

Many of these administrators are doing quite well. The Institute for Public Policy found that the rate of pay for college presidents at top schools grew at double “the national average for public research universities.”

This concentration of wealth has severe ramifications for those at the bottom. More and more, universities exploit adjunct and non-tenure track faculty who receive low pay and lack job security.

An AAUP fact sheet puts the number of non-tenure track faculty at universities at 76 percent of all faculty.

This system creates a situation where the chances of higher education professionals taking the risk to speak out on important issues is severely limited.

At the top, many people lack the background to understand or sympathize for the ideals of higher education. At the bottom, we have an ever-growing class of people whose livelihoods would be in jeopardy if they were to speak out.

Appalachian State presents an interesting case.

In many ways, we are embodying these trends. Reports over the last two years from the AAUP and the Non-Tenure Track Faculty Committee reveal that we are well within the norm in terms of administrative growth and non-tenure track reliance.

In other ways, there is perhaps some hope. Chancellor Everts has an academic background, so hopefully she will prove to be more forthright in pointing out and fighting these trends.

I hope that in a state and a system that is increasingly hostile to higher education, Appalachian State can distinguish itself by the way its leaders stand up to this broken system.

Griffin, a senior journalism major from Madison, is an opinion writer.