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A Doctoral Degree To Administrate?

By Professor Doom


Administrator: “A student is appealing her grade, and I need you on the appeal committee. [The professor] gave an A for final grade scores ‘two standard deviations above the mean,’, and an F for grades ‘two standard deviations below the mean.’ Can you explain what the instructor is doing?”

Me: “Uh, sure.”

--an Education faculty member, for some bizarre reason, decided to give final grades based on the normal distribution. This was double-bizarre in a class with about a dozen students, since it was all but impossible for two students to get an A with such a grading system (likewise, it’s nigh impossible for more than one student to fail). The second-best student in the class complained, since her A grades weren’t averaging to an A, and the better she did on tests the higher the score she needed to get an A—always out of reach. The administrator has a Ph.D., used statistics in the dissertation, but was completely clueless on basic statistics, as was the Educationist, also with a Ph.D. that used statistics. This was my first clear hint that administrative Ph.D.s were very different than in other fields.

In the modern world, a doctorate is considered the ultimate degree for teaching or research, the terminal degree. The version of the doctorate-holding professor is a relatively recent invention in academia—in the 19th century, most academic staff or professors held no such degree (and the staff were often faculty). A Master’s was sufficient for teaching, indicative of a mastery of the knowledge sufficient to help others learn. The primary difference between the two is a doctorate represents research, generally successful research that contributes to the field of knowledge. A Master’s degree is obviously desirable in a teacher by a student wanting higher education. I certainly would want to be taught and trained by someone knowledgeable in the field, and I’d be willing to pay for have someone like that. A master in the field that has also extended the knowledge would be even more desirable for a student wanting to know everything. But what about for an administrator? Of what use is a research degree there?

Your writing is just a hobby.”

--Administrator, as part of an explanation of why, since my many paid articles didn’t directly relate to my job as mathematics teacher, I should expect no particular assistance or credit from my institution. But the administrator sees nothing wrong with getting higher pay for a research degree in a job with no research…

Although administrative positions command high pay for doctoral, research, degrees, it’s a little puzzling why this would be the case. The Dean’s job description I listed previously has nothing to do with research, or even with teaching. When I go into McDonald’s, I neither want, nor am willing to pay for, a manager with a doctorate in meat cooking to ring up my bill on the register, just for a burger and fries no different than at any other McDonald’s. If the manager pursues some arcane knowledge as a life goal, good for him. I just want my burger and fries.

In a similar vein, I imagine if students had a choice of say, 40% lower tuition, or administrators with doctorates, they’d take the former in a heartbeat...probably why students don’t ever get that option.

For all the talk about how business-style efficiency is necessary to make higher education better, it’s odd that administrative positions prefer a degree that implies knowledge and skills irrelevant to the position. In fact, almost all administrative positions require, or “prefer,” advanced degrees, even though advanced academic degrees are mostly desirable for teaching and research…the things most administrators don’t do. A bit of hypocrisy here in light of the talk about running institutions efficiently, but administrators decide what administrators need (and their pay), the hypocrisy is merely icing on the cake.

Phone call: “Hello. I understand you’re interested in a Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration?”

--in my research, I naturally clicked a box indicating such an interest. For weeks, I received daily sales calls from institutions wishing to sell me a degree. They were all accredited, of course.

There are a great number of institutions offering a wide variety of doctoral degrees in administrative fields. To be more clear, there are a ridiculous number of institutions, for an insane variety of degrees.

Particularly disturbing is these administrative degrees are taught through education departments. This was an unexpected benefit of my research here. Time and again I was puzzled at administration’s bizarre fascination and unshakeable faith in Educationist beliefs. It’s no longer a wonder how Educationists acquired their nearly occult power over administrators: administrators are beholden to Educationists for their degrees.

Administration and Education go hand in hand as “fields of knowledge.” Hand in hand may be too platonic a phrase, as the relationship is quite incestuous: educationists hand the advanced degrees to the administrators, who use those degrees to get jobs allowing them to hand positions to Educationists.

A look at the course titles in the curriculum for Administration degrees only adds to the puzzlement: Progressions in Leadership Thought, Governance and Structures in Higher Education, Fiscal Management in Higher Education (sounds useful, but it’s more about fundraising; you’ll need actual accounting credentials to get a financial position), Strategic Planning and Change, Leading Across Cultures…again, it just goes on. There’s hardly any rhyme or reason to these titles, and almost nothing relies on anything else for understanding. Much as in many bogus undergraduate degrees, each course is composed of material that requires but a few months at best to master, with no applications elsewhere.

Curiously, there are no courses on “Increasing Retention.” There’s also no instruction on “Acting with Integrity,” somewhat problematic seeing as this is key to accreditation. Nor is there anything on how to teach, how to deal with teachers, or how to deal with students—over-the-top omissions in training for an administrator at an institution with teachers and students. And yet, it’s assumed these managers know these, the most important things in their job, have been trained extensively, in fact, and they’re paid for it accordingly.

Not only is a graduate degree excessive for administrative positions absent of teaching or research, their degrees don’t have anything that apply to the position. Now it becomes clear why administrators seldom know anything about what goes on in my, or any other, courses, or have much respect for education in general. All those degrees, and yet completely ignorant of what their underlings do…nothing like a business model, even as they’re paid as much as highest level managers. My image of an administrator able to discuss Shakespearean poetry, prove a theorem in differential equations, run a biology lab, and grade a test in French collapses like any childhood fantasy: administrative training gives them nothing that relates to the primary task of the campuses they rule over.

The bulk of college money goes to pay for administrators, possessing (theoretically) advanced training in degrees and knowledge that have utterly no relationship to their job. Perhaps I’m making too big a judgment just from the titles of the courses. I’ll be looking at their coursework soon, but until then: how is it not fraud that most of the student debt goes to people that literally have nothing to do with education?

Think about it.



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