American Council of Learned Societies
Occasional Paper No. 44
The Humanist on Campus:
Continuity and Change
Copyright © 1998, Judith Shapiro
Institutional Loyalty in an
Expanding Academic Universe
President, Barbard College
Back in the 1950s, sociologist Alvin Gouldner carried out what was to become a classic study of the faculty of a liberal arts college. Gouldner was doing research on role theory, more specifically, on the distinction developed by Robert Merton between "manifest" and "latent" roles. In applying this distinction to the academic setting, Gouldner was seeking to understand how, beneath the surface of the college's system of manifest roles (those designated by the usual faculty and administrative titles, such as Assistant Professor of Biology, Professor of Latin, Dean of Students), there existed a significant pattern of "latent" roles that were central to the real life of the institution.1
The particular latent roles that Gouldner chose to analyze were those of "cosmopolitan" and "local." Cosmopolitans were those members of the academic community whose orientation was toward their profession. They were the faculty committed above all to achieving distinction in their respective fields, whose primary reference group was composed of colleagues in their disciplines. They were the ones who would jump at an offer from a more prestigious university, even if it were to involve a reduction in salary. "Locals," on the other hand, were focused on the institution, where their primary loyalty lay. They tended to be less productive as scholars and more involved in the affairs of the college community.
Over time, the trend has clearly been for faculty at most institutionsand certainly at academically selective liberal arts collegesto become more cosmopolitan and less local. The reward structure in academia has clearly supported this development, giving priority to publication and recognition within one's profession. Teaching, which has been under-rewarded by comparison, has remained more difficult to assess satisfactorily, and has only recently begun to benefit from the kind of collegial interaction and peer review that has long characterized scholarly activity. Service to the institution is a bit like housework-necessary, but relatively unappreciated, often viewed even by those who perform it as a distraction or an escape from more important work.
Another major delocalizing influence on academia is, of course, information technology, which, as is often pointed out, can bring one closer to colleagues across the world than to those down the hall. Developments in this area will continue to affect our working lives in ways that are difficult to predict.
A cosmopolitan faculty brings with it many advantages: excellence in scholarship; teaching informed by an ongoing engagement in one's field; a high profile for one's institution; and a good network into the wider world of the academy and the professions. Faculty with a "local" orientation, as Gouldner showed in his study, often suffer from intellectual stagnation and parochialism. Something important is lost, however, when the balance swings too far away from institutional loyalty. College and universities are, after all, communities and need to be able to function as such. In these times, especially, when the world of higher education is being challenged by rapid and unpredictable change and is under the gun from a government and a general public experiencing high anxiety about cost and access, it is all the more important that the best creative energies of the faculty be mobilized in the institutional interest. Colleges and universities must be able to commandand to deservethe engagement of their faculty on the home front.
In considering how an institution can retain the advantages of a cosmopolitan faculty, while making their focus more local, it is important to remember that these categories are analytical distinctions, ideal types. Any individual faculty member can combine the characteristics of both roles to varying degrees. It has been my own experiencemy own good fortune, in factto have spent my academic life at a series of institutions where faculty have been at once distinguished cosmopolitans and dedicated locals. This has been a major factor in the strength of institutions like Brandeis University, where I was an undergraduate; the University of Chicago, where I began my teaching career; and Bryn Mawr and Barnard Colleges, where I have spent the past twenty-three years as a faculty member and administrator. Selective liberal arts colleges like Barnard and Bryn Mawr are, in fact, particularly likely places to find a felicitous combination of cosmopolitan and local. Their faculties are composed of teacher-scholars who really do succeed in bringing together serious scholarship and dedicated teaching, while also devoting themselves to the governance of their institutions.2
Let us now consider where administrators fit in this scheme of things. They, too, were included in Gouldner's study, and at that time, generally fell into the category of locals. Since then, administrators have been subject to cosmopolitanizing trends of their own. Their responsibilities have become more complex and have taken them further from direct contact with academic programs. They have their own professional associations, which bring them together with their administrative peers and exercise a centrifugal force not unlike the disciplinary pull of scholarly associations on the faculty. Moving in different worlds, connecting to different reference groups, faculty and administrators have become members of separate sub-cultures.
Institutions of higher education must find a way to counteract these centrifugal forces, and decrease the distance between faculty members and administrators. Collegial and effective working relationships between faculty and administration are key to the kind of constructive change that needs to take place in our nation's colleges and universities. What strategies are likely to be helpful in sustaining such relationships?
To begin, we should recognize the two basic ways in which faculty members and administrators differ: First, given their disparate responsibilities, they do not routinely spend their time considering the same types of issues. Second, they are not called upon to make decisions in the same way and with the same frequency. The first difference lies within the domain of what we might call the sociology of knowledge: how information is distributed in a society according to the social positions of its members. In the course of pursuing their respective activities and fulfilling their respective obligations, administrators and faculty members come to involve themselves with different things. If, however, faculty are to play an informed and productive role in the affairs of the institution, administrators and faculty must share more knowledge.
In this context, it is important to remember that teaching is the responsibility not only of the faculty, but of all of an academic community, administrators included. Administrators must provide information to the faculty in a useful, economical, and compelling way. Since the goal is not to turn faculty members into administrators, the time faculty members spend in governance must be used with maximum efficiency. Data must be presented clearly and in ways that facilitate analysis. Information-sharing must be driven by institutional priorities and geared to decision-making.
This brings us to the second major difference between faculty members and administrators: the frequency with which decisions must be made and the empirical basis required for reaching closure on an issue. Faculty can defer reaching a conclusionare, in fact, socialized to do sountil all possible relevant evidence has been gathered. They know that it is always possible to push the research further, deepen the analysis, make the description fuller, enrich and add nuance to the interpretation. Indeed, this provides the forward momentum of the various scientific and scholarly disciplines. Administrators, on the other hand, must make decisions constantly, often with imperfect data. They attempt to gather as much sound information as possible on a matter under consideration; they do their best to subject that information to alternative modes of analysis, and to think creatively about a range of possible solutions. But their institutional responsibilities demand that they address an issue expeditiously and move on to the next one. Faculty members need to understand this, and adapt to it as they work in partnership with administrators.
In the course of the work they do together, faculty members and administrators are both best served, at times, by forgetting the differences between them and operating as a group of colleagues trying to solve a problem together. At other times, the division of labor in governance comes to the fore, and there must be clarity on the ultimate responsibility that administrators bear for making certain decisions. Every attempt should be made to reach decisions by consensus, though this is not always possible. When consensus is not reached, administrators are accountable to their faculty colleagues in the literal sense of having to present an account, an explanation of why they have felt it necessary to pursue a course at variance with what faculty have recommended. This account must be responsive to the points that faculty members have put forward and to concerns that they have raised. While administrators will not always compel agreement, they should make every effort to be understood. Faculty, for their part, should find it fair that authority and accountability go hand in hand.
As faculty members and administrators come together in their differing roles and seek to bridge the gaps that lie between them, they share not only responsibility but also credit for the fortunes of their institutions. Just as institutions need what a loyal faculty can offer them, so do faculty themselves reap rewards from participation in the life and vitality of a local academic community. Even those faculty members who are the hottest commodities in the academic marketplace, who can write their own tickets and make their fortunes anywhere, canand doderive a satisfaction from being institution builders that runs deeper than the satisfactions of their individual careers.
The sense of contributing to something beyond oneself, what the committed teacher derives from interaction with students and the dedicated scholar from an enduring contribution to a field of study, awaits both faculty members and administrators who come together to make a real difference in the life of a college or university. We hold these institutionseach with its own distinctive history, identity, mission, and set of possibilitiesin trust for those who will come after us. Let us give ourselves the pleasure and the privilege of feeling that they have become better places because we were a part of them.
1 Alvin G. Gouldner, "Cosmopolitans and Locals: Toward An Analysis of Latent Social Roles," Administrative Science Quarterly 2, 1957. Some of the following discussion of Gouldner's work was included in Judith Shapiro, "What Will It Take to Attract and Retain Outstanding Faculty?" DePauw Conference on Leadership in the Twenty-first Century, Report of the Proceedings, 1989. [Back to text.]
2 In an often-cited study, Robert McCaughey, Professor of History and former Dean of the Faculty at Barnard College, provides evidence for a correlation between research productivity and teaching effectiveness at a group of selective liberal arts colleges (Scholars and Teachers, New York: Conceptual Litho Reproductions, Inc., 1994). [Back to text.]