John Seery loves higher education. More specifically, he loves small liberal arts colleges.
The Pomona College professor describes himself as “an outspoken apostle” of the small liberal arts college. Yet, he says “that institution is falling fast into desuetude.”
That’s the argument he makes in an article published recently by the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal. Seery notes only about 1 percent of today’s college students attend small liberal arts colleges, and most of all he laments how these colleges are being taken over by “administrate creep and bloat.”
From the article:
Much ado has been made about administrative creep and bloat at big universities across the country, the proliferation of vice presidents and deans and assistant directors and supervisors and others with executive-sounding or middle-manager puffed-up titles. That cancerous disease has infected small colleges too, and its damaging effects are particularly pernicious there.
An autonomous managerial class has emerged whose immediate and ulterior motives are occupational as opposed to educational (a distinction that ought not to be collapsed), and whose mission is to serve administrative as opposed to teaching purposes. Perhaps worse of all, the managerial model of organization, in trying to bring small colleges into the fold of purportedly national “best practices” is destroying the distinctiveness, the very raison d’etrê, of small colleges.
Regarding administrative bloat, Seery reports that at Pomona College the number of administrative positions has climbed from 56 in 1990 to 271 in 2016. Seery says college presidents “bear the bulk of the blame” for the recent situation at small liberal arts colleges. He writes it’s a college’s president that “holds the keys to the Chevy and can drive it pretty much wherever he/she wishes.”:
Here’s my saddest revelation: small liberal arts college presidents don’t know what they are talking about, and yet they talk as if they do. They are to promote the college as a place of teaching. But they are not teachers. They are to sing the praises of the liberal arts classroom. But most of them have never set foot on a liberal arts college campus before heading one up. Most of them, I dare say after perusing their track records and career choices, would never have sought out a presidency at a [small liberal arts college] but for the enormous pay and status that now come attached to those jobs.