Eliot Cutler’s commentary of Nov. 26 failed to present a cogent vision of how Maine’s university system can better contribute to workforce development (and never addressed whether that should be the only goal of the system).

Cutler seemed content to indict frontline employees of the system (faculty) for a lack of responsiveness and accountability, charging faculty with teaching “what each knows best, which too often is what they studied 30 to 50 years ago.” Yet his own critique relies on the “management-speak” of “silos,” popularized 30 years ago; cites an economic “forecast” some 10 years old; and argues for increased Chinese studies based on personal experiences (i.e, what he “knows best”).

Cutler complains the university system “is an infinitely horizontal organization with little hierarchy” and implies faculty are the de facto administrators.

In fact, there is an abundance of actual administrative hierarchy (system chancellor, 16-member system Board of Trustees, seven university campus presidents, Boards of Visitors of up to 20 members for each campus, various school deans and others).

Eliminating any existing program may be best for the intellectual development of the university’s students, but the process of making that decision must include administrator-faculty collaboration to be successful.

Nearly 100 years ago, Thorstein Veblen warned in “The Higher Learning in America” against the meddling of governing boards and their appointees, which, at its worse, molded higher education in their own likeness. Veblen said that in such circumstances the “school becomes primarily a bureaucratic organization and the first and unremitting duties of the staff are those of official management and accountancy,” leading to “a substitution of salesmanlike proficiency … in the place of scientific capacity and addiction to study.”

If this is the limit of Cutler’s vision, the University of Maine System will not be made over for the better in the long run.

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