Daily Egyptian

Letter to the editor: ‘You can’t simply cease to hire’

By Ryan Netzley, English professor at SIU

“You can’t simply cease to hire.” So says the Associate Provost of Academic Administration, Dave DiLalla, in recent comments to The Daily Egyptian (in an article dated 30 January 2018).

I mean, you could, but you know what he means.

Jobs need doing, gaps need filling, so jobs need filling. For example, the Vice Chancellor for Research James Garvey, calls himself “tickled to death” that he can just “fill gaps” with the current chancellor’s son-in-law.

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At a higher pay grade, the permanent position of Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs needed filling and it’s now occupied by Lori Stettler (who, prior to December, occupied the non-permanent version of the same position).

That position, by the by, was approved on Thursday, 14 December 2017, at the same Board of Trustees meeting that saw quite a lot of discussion about administrative reorganization, whether departments are essential to research and teaching.

Apparently, it occurred to no one to debate extensively whether a permanent Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs (annual salary of $178,000) was necessary for research or teaching.

What should be curious about the associate provost’s comment is its selective application. I suspect that some departments, academic and non, would be shocked to learn that “You can’t simply cease to hire,” given that they’ve been muddling through de jure or de facto hiring freezes for quite some time.

But then again, maybe what’s curious isn’t the selectivity, but the fact that we all know what the associate provost means and have become accustomed, even inured to it: viz., the things that need doing, the gaps that need filling, aren’t really in the field of teaching and research, but rather in the management of teaching and research.

SIUC’s senior administration has not yet met the problem that yet another associate vice provost of excellence cannot solve. One need only look at the current reorganization plan to see that this is so.

Despite all the Sturm und Drang about the slapdash nature of the proposal and disciplinary or departmental autonomy, the plan has only one central feature: the creation of yet another layer of bureaucratic parasitism within a university structure already laden with them (the current SIUC organizational chart runs to 27 pages).

One need not carry a copy of Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom in one’s back pocket to recognize that all this language about liberating innovation and entrepreneurial synergy, from state-employed middle managers no less, is a sinister, willful misrepresentation.

The synergy of the 1980s was an outgrowth of the shareholder revolution (and especially mergers and acquisitions), and was built on one thing: eliminating the very middle-managing bloat and bloviation that required thousands of up-channel reports in order to accomplish anything.

One would have thought that an administrative caste so bent on promoting research would have at least taken the time to discover this. I don’t presume to know what makes the average student tick, but I have the sneaking suspicion that it’s not organizational charts, rejiggered reporting lines, and scholastic debates about administrative nomenclature.

I also don’t suspect that it’s business-school buzzwords from the 1980s. The Associate Provost of Academic Administration tells us that, “It’s not that we’re [re]organizing to save money—we’re reorganizing to do a lot of things to make the administrative structure more flexible, more responsive.”

If this is indeed the goal, perhaps he might spearhead an initiative to reduce the number of forms and signatures required to introduce new courses (it currently takes about a year).

Or perhaps he and the vice chancellor for research might get together and reduce the amount of internal paperwork required to apply for an external grant involving indirect cost recovery.

Or perhaps he might launch an initiative to reduce the sheer volume of paperwork, reporting, patronizing training sessions (and courses), and hidden fees that currently beset every single SIUC student.

But the associate provost, the chancellor, and all the other associate vice assistant provosts won’t do any of that, because that’s not what they mean by a “more flexible, more responsive” administrative structure.

What they mean is the ability to hire whomever they want, whenever they want, to fill whatever invented gaps they want. What they mean is the repeated, groundless insistence that middle-managers are the vanguard of change, that more bureaucracy will set us free.

What they mean is the patronizing, mind-numbing drumbeat of managerial selfjustification, that a university’s students and faculty need more management, more administration, more governance, more meetings where professional meeting-conveners tell us all how to do what we’re already doing.

“You can’t simply cease to hire.” Perhaps that’s true. But I’d hazard that any worthwhile administrative reorganization of SIUC would begin by eliminating those senior administrative positions that contribute nothing to the university’s teaching and research mission and whose sole purpose seems to be enabling and defending nepotistic corruption and know-nothing managerialism.

That’s the sort of flexible response that might just convince potential students that SIUC is serious about “change.”

Ryan Netzley is a Professor of English at Southern Illinois University.

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