Whatever Happened to
Department Heads?

The traditional organization for the university is an institution divided into colleges comprised of departments. Universities are headed by a President supported by an administrative staff including a Provost for academic affairs. College operations are the responsibility of Deans. Department Heads assume leadership for individual educational programs within colleges. The entire university is overseen by a board of trustees, regents or governors.

Since the early 1970s, there has been extensive expansion of academic offices at the upper levels of the university through the addition of Vice-presidents, Assistant Provosts, Associate Deans School Directors and Associate Directors. At the same time, the position of Department Head in the visual arts has been disappearing.

Art and design programs at most state universities now operate under severe and unrealistic conditions for faculty members resulting from current administrative practices and policies for institutional and academic management. Administrative actions of recent years have steadily eroded faculty commitment, and there is no relief in sight. The impact of organization and organizational definitions on faculty productivity generally is ignored by administrators.

Perhaps management goals have been given a higher priority than educational goals. A shift in priorities has seeped down from the top creating new administrative policies, practices and objectives which are quite different from those in existence immediately after World War 11. By and large, change has occurred because of directives from Boards of Trustees, Governors or state legislators. Change with time is to be expected, but it is anticipated that it would be directed toward improving the institutional mission of education more so than its operation.

Of the many events since World War II that have shaped higher education, two stand out as having most influenced the management of educational institutions. These were student activism during the 1960s and the sudden reduction of government educational subsidies during 1970s. While there were additional social/economic factors which affected educational management, these two were at the root of most change.

The period of student activism when administration lost control of students accompanied by destruction of institutional property clearly demonstrated that academic governance was unable to control institutions under extreme circumstances. The response of boards and legislators was to expand administrative offices, increase administrative control, and to hire more professional administrative personnel. Within a relatively short time, administrators and staffs proliferated to a point where eventually they outnumbered faculty, and institutional resources such as budget and space have been diverted from academic use to administrative expansion. Universities today are over-managed with administrations being badly out of balance with the other segments of the university, and this imbalance is detrimental to faculty and student interests because the managerial values of the majority tend to dominate academic values of the minority.

During the 1970s and early 1980s, there was a sudden shift in the national economic base from manufacturing into service and technology. During the same years, the federal government reduced title and other grant programs to a trickle of what they had been previously. Reduced funding was an outgrowth of the Viet Nam war and inflationary trends. During the 1970s, educational costs skyrocketed with tuitions increasing dramatically and enrollments went into decline. At first, educational institutions believed the situation to be a temporary retrenchment, and that when the economy recovered, federal funding would resume at its previous levels. It did not.

American industry was in dire need of research because of rapidly developing technologies and a new world economy. American universities were in great need of new sources for funding to fill the vacuum created by the withdrawal of government support.


Business Changes Education
University faculties held the potential for research and development so desperately needed by industry. To meet competition for research grants, universities cranked up the faculties through reinstatement of the old Publish or Perish policies from the 1930s. Incredible pressures were put on new and senior faculty members for research, publications or professional practice. Retention, promotion and salary are often dependent on research or obtaining project funding rather than teaching. The strength of educational programs are frequently judged by how much institutional funding they generate rather than by academic standards. The pressures continue to this day as universities have become increasingly dependent on research grants. Government and industry are interlocked with universities in research at many levels. While this does enrich the educational environment for students and provide operating funds for the institution, it need not be as oppressive for faculty as it is now.

Problems connected to the combination of over-management, emphasis on research and pressuring faculty were extended by an infusion of MBA business values during the period of financial stress in the 1970s. Efficiency, bottom line, cost effectiveness and other such notions injected into both operational and academic aspects of the university have distorted traditional academic definitions. Education as a service with faculty as employees and students as customers is perhaps the most devastating. Applying business practices to organizational responsibilities and redefining academic positions according to managerial values have been debilitating for faculty members. Over a longer period of time, some business practices and values might prove detrimental to the institution itself.

An additional factor is the presumption that everyone and anyone can be a manager or a leader. This has resulted in considerable ineptness at both administrative and academic positions, and incompetence is neither recognized nor is it being promptly dealt with as it should be. In some instances, what traditionally have been leadership positions now have more emphasis placed on managerial functions. There is no question but what many traditional positions or roles have changed or been eliminated. The one of most interest to me is that which formerly was a Department Head.


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Rob Roy Kelly at Kansas City Art Institute, 1968

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