How Ego, Greed, and Hubris (Almost) Destroyed a University: Implications for Academic Freedom

By Howard Karger


An increasing number of private nonprofit colleges are coming under financial stress due to demographic changes and other events often beyond their control, including higher operational costs. Institutions handle those problems differently, with some closing their doors, some merging, and some borrowing and depleting their endowments in hopes of a better future. To attract students, some colleges borrow heavily to remodel their campuses and develop more student-oriented amenities, such as e-sports, upscale dorms and eating facilities, and state-of-the-art gyms. While some private universities socialize their deficits widely across their operations, including administrative salaries, others place the burden squarely on the backs of faculty. Hawai‘i Pacific University offers a case example of how one nonprofit university chose to deal with its financial and enrollment problems. The absence of tenure and union representation combined with HPU’s hierarchal and corporatist management approach has led many faculty members to fear termination for myriad causes. The lack of job security has curtailed dissent and meaningful faculty governance, and it has severely restricted academic freedom.

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I have read many articles and journal entries about the imperative need for faculty shared governance at colleges and universities throughout the country. However, I don't see how they benefit any institution, especially smaller non profits, in today's reality.
There are examples of colleges closing their doors because the indicisive administration and faculty couldn't agree on a strong but necessary course of action to address fiscal and sustainability issues.

Shared governance is a great idea but in a utopian society where higher education is universally revered and cherished, where private and public institutions have adequate funding, and for-profits don't exist.
In reality, many higher education institutions lack needed funding and no longer have the public trust it once enjoyed (for which it arguably shares some responsibility). Colleges are in fierce competition with each other for students, status, and grants, resulting in the teaching of knowledge taking a back seat to numerical data.

Because of today's current problems the idea of shared managerial solutions appear archaic and even utopian. Often they exasperate urgent fiscal issues, due to inflated egos being bruised. Rather than buckle down and support a struggling university as a whole, faculty support can often sour because their voices were not heard (and often times obeyed).

Is there any profession other than higher education that demands that the certain workers be allowed to share in the direction and decision making of the entity? Faculty are employees of the university, just like salaried and waged staff, but only they feel they are worthy to have a say in how a college should function.What would happen if our military did this, or any company in America?

What is wrong with having a faculty and staff advisory committees? They would advisenthe administration based on their constituents professed needs, and the university's issues. However, they shouldn't be surprised or hurt if the administration decides to follow another path than what was advised. That's the role of leadership. Administrators should ask for options and alternatives but are ultimately responsible for leading the institution through times of feast and famine, and are ultimately responsible for it's success or failure.

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