RCM bullies professors to ‘defend their turf’

By Matthew

For the most part, the debate concerning tenure and the implementation of Responsibility Center Management has been framed as a debate between administrators and faculty members. However, because the stakes are at least as high for students as they are for faculty, I would like to take a moment to examine these proposed changes from a student’s perspective.
First, what is Responsibility Center Management and how is it connected to tenure reform? RCM is an attempt to make each department at the University responsible for generating its own funds through enrollment. As described by administrative proponent Leo T. Furcht in his opinions piece, “Re-engineering a crucial goal for the U” (May 17), the management agency also provides faculty with “productivity-based compensation” for their achievements in publishing.
The management agency parallels the re-engineering plan designed by CSC Index consultants, who received $2.5 million from the University for their ideas. Interestingly enough, among other major industry consultants, CSC Index has a rather low ranking, and its consultants themselves report a historical failure rate of up to 70 percent. More interesting, however, is that CSC documents claim (as indicated by professor Carol Wells in her opinions piece, “Tenure revisions driven by administration,” April 18) that in order to “implement changes more rapidly,” CSC needs “to change tenure and faculty governance.” Apparently, tenure is the means by which faculty members have the freedom to resist top-down managerial moves, and, therefore, the abolishment of tenure is necessary for the implementation of RCM.
Many students have taken classes with uninspired professors. It is suggested that, if tenure were abolished, competition would drive these professors to try harder, be more creative and spend more time with students. However, under RCM, I believe that just the opposite would take place. If departments have to be “financially self-sufficient” through enrollment, departments and professors would be forced to pander to the lowest common denominator — oftentimes creating “entertaining” courses to beef up enrollment. Let’s face it: Academic rigor is a factor essential to education, not to popularity.
In effect, the management agency enslaves professors to student whims, and results in the market-driven “dumbing down” of courses. One only has to look at the effect of ratings on television broadcasting to see what would happen to education under RCM — remember, “Baywatch” is the most popular show in the world and by the pressure of ratings, “news” programs are becoming indistinguishable from tabloids.
The availability of small seminar courses and specialized courses would also suffer under RCM. Furthermore, the agency poses a potentially vicious threat to interdisciplinary cooperation and cross-listing of courses because departments would then have strong economic incentives to “defend their turf.” Of course, CSC Index would like to say that these evils will somehow be avoided, but many small departments have already resorted to these survival tactics in preparation for the devastating changes.
I also believe that the replacement of tenure with “productivity-based competition” among professors will make them more compliant and less likely to say or study anything controversial. Abolishing tenure will only result in the rapid homogenization of opinion, blunt the inventiveness of the experimental researcher (for fear of failure) and create a sterilizing environmental gravity toward consensus. Moreover, since productivity is measured in terms of publishing, professors will have strong incentives to spend even less time with students.
Finally, in this RCM environment — which is hostile to faculty concerns, lacks a tenure code to defend academic freedom and encourages the creation of courses that are popular rather than rigorous — many of our first-rate professors will seek positions elsewhere, as I presume many already are.
In light of these considerations, students should understand that we will not gain from these proposed changes and, in fact, have a great deal to lose. RCM and CSC “re-structuring” ought to be revealed for what it is: the big plan on campus bullying us around like any high school thug.

Matthew Paymar is a senior in the College of Liberal Arts.