I Don't Think He Understands

The Colorado faculty is going apeshit because the state has proposed making Bruce Benson, a Colorado oilman-Republican, who *gasp* only has a paltry BA degree, head of the University of Colorado system.  To a large extent, folks are going nuts largely because he has different politics than 97% of the faculty and because he has actually done something productive in his life.  However, not being able to say this out loud  (we're a government body so we are not supposed to have political tests, wink wink) his lack of an advanced degree has become the centerpiece of the opposition.

State House Majority Leader Alice Madden, a Democrat and CU law school
graduate, declared that Benson would be "the least educated president
ever considered in modern history."

Apparently, his academic record does not live up to University of Colorado standards, which has gleefully employed academic titans like Ward Churchill.  (By the way, isn't it interesting that these folks respect a couple of years at the age of 23 getting a masters in petroleum engineering more than 50 years of demonstrated excellence actually practicing petroleum engineering.)

But here is my advice to Mr. Benson:  Don't take the job.  Mr. Benson, in the private sector, you were probably used to having employees who didn't like you or think you were the best person for your job.  However, you knew that they could either be persuaded by demonstrated performance over time, or else you at least knew that people would work for your goals despite their dislike for you, since they knew that their success lay in the success of the organization as a whole.

University faculty do not behave this way.  They have a completely different set of incentives.  With a job for life, and knowing that no matter how bad the university gets, it will still get state support, they have absolutely no incentive to pull together for the good of the institution or, even less likely, for the well-being of the student body.  There are many exceptions to this; in fact, the exceptions may number more than 50% of the faculty.  But these exceptions do not drive faculty behavior.  Those that drive faculty behavior are the ones that are out for either self-aggrandizement or the promotions of symbols over performance or both. 

There once was a dean at Princeton University I liked and respected named Neil Rudenstine (actually he was Provost when I was there, but who the hell knows what a Provost is?).   Rudenstine was named President of Harvard, and was a good fundraiser (like Benson) and was very hands-off in his management style (as Benson promises to be).  Neil was a good man, but he was broken by the Harvard faculty, driven to what probably was literally a mental breakdown.  And then there was Larry Somers.  He was a very different type of man than Rudenstine -- tougher, more politically experienced.  But he too was broken by the Harvard faculty in an attempt to move that institution perhaps 1% of the way towards where you probably want to move Colorado. 

Don't do it. 

  • Anonymous

    Minor point: Larry Summers.

  • SRC

    If I were him, I'd take the job. That way I could propose drilling for oil on the Boulder campus. I've always liked watching heads explode, figuratively, of course.

  • dearieme

    Of course, one can always try to earn the respect of the faculty by doing what a recent Vice-Chancellor (Head) of a British University did. Sack the senior administrator and appoint your mistress in his stead.

  • TC

    "... they have absolutely no incentive to pull together for the good of the institution or, even less likely, for the well-being of the student body. "

    For a crystal clear example check out Duke since March 06 through to current!