John V. Lombardi
(National Meeting of Liberal Arts and Sciences Deans.
Colleges of Arts and Sciences stand at the center of our universities. These colleges provide energy and intellectual focus. They teach the most students, give the largest number of degrees, shelter the most faculty, and earn the most research recognition.
We know the university cannot stand without its arts and sciences. We recognize that the college carries the university's primary mission and defines its place in western civilization. Yet, we still find the arts and sciences under attack and on the defensive. In most of our great universities, the arts and sciences have drifted out of the institutional focus. The arts and sciences disciplines find themselves competing with professional schools for institutional attention and resources and they struggle against attacks on their intellectual integrity from interdisciplinary programs that dilute their disciplinary authority. Where once the college controlled the destiny of its university, its moral imperative grows weak under the fragmenting power of micro-specialization and political controversy and under the dissolving agendas of race and ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation, class and entitlement.
Our popular audience, that once embraced us for our ability to explain science and history, literature and arts, politics and society, now rejects us as our discourse grows ever more abstract, specialized, and inaccessible. Historians write for historians, but the public looks to amateurs for its history. We reward research of such mind-numbing obscurity that the audience shrinks to a dozen, and we scorn the popularizer, the great teacher of the general public. Our incantation might go thus:
"Woe unto the academic who makes a popular success of her work, for she shall be scorned by her peers."
The Chautauqua spirit has died among us, and we who create new knowledge no longer preach the gospel of learning and discovery to the wider public audience.
Those of us who grew up in the universities of the late 1960s and early 1970s participated in the weakening of faculty authority and responsibility within our colleges of arts and sciences. We watered down the curriculum, we declined to accept responsibility for defining the core of our intellectual focus, we abdicated our authority for academic judgment and discretion, and we rushed into our sub-specializing research as a refuge against the bitter conflicts of the times. In the 1980s and increasingly now in the 1990s we have begun to recapture some of that lost ground and that abdicated authority and responsibility, but oh how slowly it goes!
Were these dilemmas not enough, the muckrakers of academe attacked our universities bitterly, irresponsibly, and effectively. A cottage industry of academic exposés sprang up, detailing the crass hypocrisy of the professor, outlining the college teacher's flight from teaching, and glorying in examples of a greedy grasping professoriat. Angry and pained, shocked at the welcome these attacks earned from the public, and hurt by the general failure of anyone to appreciate our self-recognized virtues, we in the universities struck out, crying foul, seeking solace in the belief we had been misunderstood and misrepresented.
Our response fell on deaf ears. Our public believed our attackers and not our protests. While recognizing the excess of muckraking, our public saw the basic truth in these books and articles and, in that truth, found a reason to lose faith in our achievement and our dedication.
That loss of faith hit hardest at the arts and sciences because, for the most part, the muckraker's examples came from arts and sciences departments, programs, and disciplines. Oh, to be sure, a shot here and there landed on a professional school, but by and large the big hits came against English, history, political science, sociology, physics, chemistry, comparative literature, foreign language, and the other pillars of our colleges of arts and sciences.
The arts and sciences, after all, taught those freshmen calculus classes with foreign-speaking teaching assistants, the arts and sciences had no standards for the core curriculum, the arts and sciences had no intellectual courage and cravenly followed every noisy special interest, and the arts and sciences faculty avoided teaching and pursued research of suspect utility. Yes, the university took a big hit from these attacks with ground zero located in the arts and sciences.
Is all this unfair and unwarranted? Did we all do wrong when we dedicated our lives to the critical center of our university? Are we indeed the irresponsible, self-interested, and mostly useless academic drones our critics would have our public believe?
Of course not. Our critics libeled us often. They slighted our successes, magnified our faults, denigrated our commitment, and ignored our sacrifices. Even so, even recognizing our critics bad faith, we who do the arts and sciences must accept the blame. When attacked, we responded weakly, mostly by whining. We offered few good answers, but lots of good excuses. We denounced the intellect and integrity of our critics, but we evaded the substance of their critique. And, we continued to need more and more money.
In abdicating the field of battle, in claiming to be above the grubby details of these petty complaints, in choosing to look inward for our principal controversies while denying the legitimacy of the external agenda, we asked for the trouble we have. It's not the mindlessness of an E. D. Hirsch, the pseudo-research of a ProfScam, or the high-minded intellectual rigidity of an Allan Bloom that damaged us. Not at all. It's our own intellectual arrogance that trapped us in a losing battle with no weapons of substance, fighting on the wrong battlefield.
Who among us needs to be reminded that we face a tremendous attack on the foundations of our institutions? Public or private universities, none of our constituencies want to pay what we tell them it will cost to sustain the quality and accessibility of America's system of higher education. We wage this financial battle on a million fronts, in state legislatures and community college districts, in private college board rooms and federal financial aid offices, in the fundraising councils of university capital campaigns and with the families paying ever-escalating tuition. This battle-now guerrilla war, now major pitched national battle; sometimes focused on research, sometimes on teaching -fragments our response, dilutes our firepower, and distracts our concentration.
We survive, of course, but in large measure we survive because we still hold the strategic resource required for success in America: the college degree, the diploma, the credential. Our enemies, not having found a good substitute-and our institutions, still doing the best job in the world of preparing people to succeed in a difficult environment-prolong the battle. Many of my colleagues, with clear mind and good strategic and tactical sense, have learned how to win some of these battles and know what needs to be done.
Let me, then, share the perspective of a long-term academic warrior about the war for the arts and sciences and its universities.
We Must Begin by Understanding the Enemy
Our enemies love us. The public we serve want our services, they want our prestige, and they want our knowledge and our learning. They love the process of education, they thrill to the discovery of the classroom, and they dream of the benefits of college. Our enemies, who love us, include students, the public, and our politicians.
The students: The students love their universities and if they don't, they wish they did. So we start with a plus. They want to succeed and they want to have a good time. They don't want to work any harder than they have to, but they know that if they don't work hard at something they'll not succeed when they must leave.
Students become enemies when we treat them badly. When we make it hard to get the classes they need and want, when we give them the run-around on financial aid processing or on class schedules or on complex requirements. Students know we don't have enough money. Students think we give them a good education and they think their teachers do a fine job of teaching.
Mostly, students complain about process. They often think our core arts and sciences requirements are dumb, confusing, bizarre, and inflexible. They think our rules about getting into and out of majors, dropping and adding classes, getting prerequisites, and finding good advice exist to make their life difficult. Most students don't ever have a problem with these things. But, all students know someone who has had such a problem. Even though they have had a fine time and a wonderful academic experience, they believe that they were lucky not to get caught in the ineffective machinery of education.
Students are short timers. They live for the four or five years they attend the university. They seek quick answers and quick results. They know, in theory, that life is long and that universities were here yesterday and will be here tomorrow, but they don't really care because their time is now, their need is now, and if that need goes unmet, the loss is theirs. So students reject arguments about gradual institutional change. They assume faculty and staff fail to change because the official university thinks students don't matter.
Students want simplicity, they want predictability, and they want the opportunity to be inventive. Students, even when they love us, can become the enemy of our success.
The public: The public see the arts and sciences and the university in many forms. Mostly, though, they pay in one way or another for all that we do, whether as parents, as donors, as legislators, or as taxpayers. They pay. And while these various subsets of the public have different perspectives and levels of knowledge, the public shares a wide base of common understanding about universities and their core programs of arts and sciences.
They love us. They want their daughters and sons to attend, they want to be associated with us, they love our museums and libraries, they love our football and our volleyball, they thrive on our concerts, and they want to hear our great scholars. They love us, but they don't understand us.
They think our faculty are lazy and arrogant. They think our work ethic is poor. They think our intellectual courage is weak and our commitment to their values and ideals suspect. They know that we hold the keys to the magic kingdom of prosperity and success, but they resent our self-important cries for ever increasing money. They know that many of our faculty and staff receive small salaries and live in modest circumstances, but they suspect that many more of us do considerably better.
They think that although we earn our money from the public, we serve ourselves. They think we seek every devious way to avoid teaching (a task they understand and value) in order to do research (a process they admire and misunderstand). They think we reward the wrong values, they think we pander to special fringe groups, and they think that we think that they are bozos.
Yet, the public still loves us.
The politicians: These people support us, but usually they don't love us. They don't love us because we won't do what they want. They think we have an insatiable financial appetite. They resent our resistance to admitting their friends and children to high demand programs. They believe we resist hiring minority and women faculty and staff, that we drag our feet on recruiting enough minority students, that fail to graduate most of the obviously good students we admit, and that we cost too much.
They think we should make something useful out of all that research, and they wonder why we can never solve the problems that cause them so much trouble (race, class, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, economic development, foreign competitiveness, .... you fill in the blank).
They share all the negative opinions of the public, only they often have a responsibility and an opportunity to try to fix these perceived problems. The faculty don't teach? Require a fixed number of hours. The ethnic balance isn't right? Require a fixed ethnic representation. Then, when these simple-minded rules don't work because the world is complicated and intractable, the politicians think we sabotaged them and retaliate by cutting our budgets in hopes of punishing us enough to do what they think they want us to do.
Yet, with all these negative attitudes, the politicians continue to support us. But they don't love us.
The Weapons of War
Our enemies have various weapons to use against us. Some are major armament and some are minor. The most significant weapon, of course, is money. If our enemies can choke off the money, then they win the war. It makes no difference if they or we are right, if the country needs us, or if the decline of the university will mean the end of life as we know it. If our enemies can eliminate the money, we are dead meat. So the equivalent of major air strikes in this war consists of budget cuts. These can came from the failure of the state legislature to appropriate dollars, the decline of federal funding for research, the loss of donor support, or the failure of students to sign up and pay their tuition. Any or all of these hits will damage the university, and the arts and sciences first among the various academic units.
Sometimes our enemies sow internal dissension, a key weapon in the arsenal. They encourage the professional schools at the expense of the arts and sciences, they argue for a vocational orientation in our educational programs and denigrate general education, or they urge the substitution of applied for basic research. These techniques seek to destroy from within by starting internal wars that put business, journalism, and engineering against the arts and sciences.
This tactic often works well. Some universities fragment their arts and sciences core into colleges of science, social science, humanities, and the like, diluting the power of the center and creating the illusion that the university has no core, just a sequence of schools of equal value.
An especially insidious attack comes from the disinformation campaign. Our enemies sow rumors about our behavior, our values, our morals, and our competence. They write books, publish articles, appear on TV shows, and infiltrate government agencies. And from these positions, they use their quasi-legitimacy as a cover for spreading unspeakable rumors about our commitment to our mission and our academic performance. Unchecked, this campaign of disinformation saps our will, sets us to quarreling among ourselves, and distracts us from the concerted, focused counter attack that the situation requires.
The University Counterattack
Universities and their colleges of arts and sciences have a host of weapons of their own, but in general we don't use them. The academic process, while it cultivates competition and achievement, does not select for direct aggression. People of aggressive temperament and command talent generally find the academic life too confining and leave long before they become useful academic warriors. Committees, bureaucracy, consensus management, consultation, reports, reviews, and the endless process of intellectual discourse that is the academic mind-set prepare people poorly for war.
Some kindly observers tell us we should change the process of academic management to hierarchical structures, chains of command, hire- and-fire ability, and all the other mythical trappings of modern corporate life. This we reject. A counterattack strategy that destroys the university's great strengths of academic management would leave us worse off. If successful, we might end up rich but without our academic soul.
With the right leadership, however, we can launch a successful counterattack. We begin by recognizing the power of our enemies' weapons. If the students, public, and politicians are right, we need to recognize it, for otherwise they will continue to hammer us with shots we fail to see. The best intelligence on our enemies' comes from our friends. Indeed, the more friends we have the more effective our counterattack.
Our Friends Fall Into the Same Groups as Our Enemies: the Students, the Public, and the Politicians.
The students: The students love us. They think we have the right stuff when we teach and research, but they think we do poorly when we manage the process of their academic life. So the first thing we must do is fix the process of student life. This counterattack requires revolutionary behavior by our faculty, staff and administration, but it has the advantage that it requires almost no intervention from outside the university and the college.
If our degree requirements are vague and confusing, we can make them clear. If the class schedule makes it impossible for students to graduate easily in four years, we can fix the schedule. If the faculty need to teach in the morning or at night, we can persuade them to teach in the morning or at night. If the drop and add rules appear dumb and confusing, we can make them better. All these issues, and each campus and college of arts and sciences has its own list, fall within the purview of the college. Can we make all the students our friends? No. Can we make almost all the students our friends? Yes.
As we counterattack by fixing the student processes, the amplifying effect of bad student news declines as students see the changes. Because students have a short time frame, it only takes three years to make a major difference in how students think and what they know. So if we counterattack by fixing the major process problems, we succeed here quickly. This success buys us some time to do really hard things that take much longer.
The weakness of this counterattack comes from ourselves. To succeed we have to recognize students as significant people whose needs, comfort, and success take high priority within the institution. If we choose to put faculty comfort, administrative convenience, and management ease over student satisfaction and success we deserve to lose the war. We need not pander to students, we need not have low standards or fail in our responsibility to maintain quality, but we must counterattack to meet the student's needs.
The public: The public loves us. To counterattack against our public enemies all we need to do is explain and teach the public what the university and its core college of arts and sciences are, what they do, how they do it, and why it costs so much. That sounds easy. It's not easy. This is a difficult counterattack. The weapons, especially for large universities, remain underdeveloped.
Hard as it is to accept, the key weapon here is accounting. It's not high-minded phrases, it's not windy speeches about the virtue of the educated citizen, it's not talks about the importance of research to America's industrial future. The public believe all this. They don't believe the accounting. They think we are cooking the books.
So the counterattack requires us to redo our books so a human being can understand them. Universities and colleges, as most of you know, do fund accounting. We get money for certain purposes (salaries, supplies, fringe benefits, heat and light, library). We spend this money, that is kept in funds, for these same purposes. When we get done, we account for the expenditure by seeing whether we spent the right amount of money from the right fund for salaries, supplies, fringe benefits, heat, light, and library. If we did, we get a clean bill of fiscal health, and we do it again. If we didn't, we catch hell, and try to do better next time.
But we never ask the fateful question: "Did we get our money's worth for all that expenditure?" We never ask: "What did it cost to produce the quality product that we say is our purpose?" We do not do cost accounting. We don't do it because we don't want to have to say what it is we produce. You can't do cost accounting unless you know what you produce. We produce credit hours, student graduates, research, teaching hours, laboratory experiments, funded research projects, service to the community, and a host of other things. We have to learn how to explain the relationship between the costs and the results if we are to persuade the public that we are God's People and deserve their support.
The most important weapon in this counterattack is a very simple device. It is a resource balance. The resource balance takes all the money that comes into the college or university from every single source and puts it into columns. One for tuition, one for endowment earnings, one for state support, one for research dollars earned, one for annual gifts, and so on. Then we arrange the money in each of these columns by the departments or colleges that earned the money (a row for chemistry, a row for English, a row for physics). That's the income balance. Then we take all the university's expenses during the year and we put them into columns. One for salaries, one for equipment, one for teaching assistants, one for staff, one for supplies, one for travel, and so on. We then distribute these expenses among the various departments (a row for engineering, a row for Arts and Sciences, a row for biology, or whatever).
Now comes the fun part. We total across the columns by row and find out that the Sanskrit department has a negative balance between the money earned and the money spent. We also find out that English has a positive balance. If Sanskrit can't go into deficit and float a loan, then English is subsidizing Sanskrit. Now that's something the public can understand.
This resource balance needs to include some other things. It needs to show how much of what we said we do we have actually done. So if we say we teach, we need to show how many credit hours, how many sections, how many courses, or whatever it is we call teaching. If we do research, we have to figure how many units of research we delivered for the dollars we spent. Do we measure grants per faculty, books per faculty, articles per faculty, exhibitions or performances per faculty? Whatever it is, we need to put on the record what we do and what it cost to do it. And finally, we need to know what the quality of that production might be. Good students, good classes, good publication, good performances? What?
When we get this accomplished, and we must or we will lose the war, we can have some very interesting discussions with our colleagues and with our public. The first thing our resource balance will show is that for almost all good universities and colleges, we teach a lot of students very well for not very much money. (And if we don't do that, we need to teach more and better). It also shows that while faculty do a lot of research they also earn a lot of money, in the aggregate, doing it. It shows that the value the public places on such things as fine arts, good music, excellent history, prize winning literary studies, has a cost that can be calculated just as teaching a class has a cost.
More important than all of these benefits from a good resource balance and a thorough effort at cost and quality accounting, however, is the direct hit that this counterattack makes on distrust. If you put the numbers on the table, if your rhetoric and gospel match the numbers, then the burden of deception disappears and the renewal of faith begins. Then the argument doesn't address the public's question:
Instead our public asks:
We can win the second argument with the public, but not the first. A good resource balance gives the public a way to price the value of the thing they love, the university and its education, in relationship to other needs. If we are under-supported, the resource balance will show it, if we are wasting money the resource balance will show it, and so, we move the warfare onto our ground where the issues are essentially educational and where we own the territory.
This counterattack scares all faculty and some administrators, but while it surely has its dangerous side effects, it is the nuclear device of this war.
The politicians: A few politicians remain our friends, but many suspect us and would prefer not to fund us. As long as they can tell the public that we are not doing the right thing with the public's money, they can avoid the fallout from letting the university decline. Our friends among the politicians become more effective, however, if we persuade the public that we are doing the right thing in a very cost effective and efficient way at high quality. To deny us, when we are right and the public, that loves us, also trusts our numbers, hurts our enemies and helps our friends.
Also our political friends need ammunition in the legislative battles for higher education funding, and our resource balance thermonuclear device provides them with the best know weapon against cynicism and suspicion: fact and numbers.
The Home Front
No war is won without strong morale on the home front. That morale comes from the faculty and the deans, it comes from the department chairs and the students, it comes from the staff and the alumni, and it requires leadership everywhere. Presidents have their uses, but without strength from the deans, and especially the core dean of arts and sciences, the battle will fail. Without the commitment of the arts and sciences, the war will falter and the university will be lost. Presidents can preach and exhort, they can march and attack, they can appear at the front and lead the troops, but, if only the president speaks the words, if only the president orders the battle, then the college and its university are lost.
We will remain the world's best colleges and universities because we will have strong, effective, and vital colleges of arts and sciences. We can meet the competitive challenges of our new world with an aggressive recognition of our strengths, enemies, and friends. And we can win with the weapons of clarity, candor, completeness, and coherency. With numbers, action, and friends, we will easily win this war. So, from all of us who fight this war, I call on you, who represent the arts and sciences center of our universities, to join us in this battle.