A Society for the Prevention of Knowledge

I have recently read that the Diversity office at the University of Michigan employs 93 people, many of them at princely salaries. Nice digs if you can get them. The notice came in an article that logged the stunning growth of college administrative positions at the expense of tenured professors and, of course, the bank accounts of the parents who send their children to college, apparently not to be educated but to be diversified, like a mutual fund.

When I arrived at Providence College in 1990, the School of Continuing Education—the night school—had a dean, an associate dean, and a couple of secretaries. The former dean, Roger Pearson, had just then given up his position to return to the English department. He once told me that when he was in his prime, he ran the night school with a single secretary and no other help. He knew everybody in Rhode Island, so when he needed a course on banking he could call one of his many friends, and that was that. According to his testimony, he ran the school in the black, returning to the college about a million dollars a year. The night school has long since run in the red, I’ve been told, and now boasts a dean, an associate dean, an assistant dean, two secretaries, an “academic counselor” (I have no idea what that is), an “education coordinator” (or that), and an “administrative coordinator” (likewise, I’m sure). It does give a new meaning to the term “permanent diaconate.”

The college has not grown in enrollment during those years. The number of regular faculty has grown very slightly, but also unevenly across the departments. Business is big now—I mean business classes; English and history, not so much, and the modern languages can go hang.

I’ve been teaching at the college level since 1985, and can say with absolute confidence that nothing from any administrator has ever assisted me in the classroom. The most we want from administrators is to get the legal paperwork done (these days, to pay off a variety of governmental and quasi-governmental protection rackets), to keep records, to make payroll, and to balance the books. Those are necessary tasks. They are not of the essence of education.But with administrators obeying the prime commandment of the Creator, to increase and multiply, we see more and more that the administration of a school is one thing, and education is another, just as, for a place like Michigan, the athletic department is one thing, and the rest of the undergraduate college comes tagging along after. I liken it to a stately oak, tangled with the creepers of poison ivy and nightshade, till most of the green you see is not oak at all but the creepers, and the only reason the oak still stands is because of a still-green crown far above, while the ivy and nightshade use the trunk to make themselves flourish and to put down new roots all about it.

But the faculties at our colleges are not blameless, either. In any protection racket, you have middlemen who gladly endure the thievery of their superiors, so long as they can rob the people lower down. Professors do so in two principal ways.

The first is to employ administrative power to compel students to take courses they would otherwise shun, or to reward students for taking courses that have no great educational content. Most courses in “studies” fit this bill. At Providence College and many another like it, if you take a course in Anglo-Saxon poetry, which is as far removed from our cultural situation as is the third moon circling about Saturn, assuming you can find one, you will be given credit for the course and no more; but if you take a course in a Latina author writing in English about our current unpleasantness, taught by a feminist professor from a political angle which you will have encountered all your life, you will satisfy a required “diversity proficiency.” Consider too that if you are a young man, you will endure an additional indignity: whether you take that course or not, you will pay for it, just as if you had been a Baptist in England paying a tax to endow Anglican clergymen who run down Baptists.

The second is to pass along the more arduous educational tasks to ill-paid underlings, called “adjuncts.” Here we should note the fine humor of our professorial class, who dress their courses with low-calorie Marxist slogans, like sprigs of arugula to garnish an overpriced entree at Chez le Philosophe, while shunting off to the underlings the bulk of their grading, courses in composition, and freshman and sophomore level courses in their own departments. Meanwhile those adjuncts sweat for a lower wage than they would earn waiting tables at the Pig in a Poke Diner. What could be more just?

A parasite doesn’t want to kill its host, but it also doesn’t want the host to be strong enough to drive it out. Parasites produce a kind of functional debility, and then the host says to the parasite, “Really, I can’t imagine how I could survive without you!” How could my old college have survived before the lawyer, worrying about compliance with federal regulations (a protection racket) and liability lawsuits (another protection racket), forbade children from the college grounds? Thus, at a stroke, they slew the good will they earned from our group of 250 homeschooling families, because we used to show classic films in one of the unused auditoriums a few times a year, to well-behaved teenagers. How could it have survived, in the days when the playing fields were all open, to be used by anybody at any time?

I don’t teach there anymore, as our readers may know. I now teach at a place whose president, William Fahey, is a teacher first and an administrator second or ninth, and where everything we do is aimed not ultimately and in a vague theoretical sense toward the good of students, but immediately and directly, and where the few regulations set us free, and children happily run about the grounds. Some of those children are not even in college yet.

ANTHONY ESOLEN is professor of English Renaissance and classical literature at Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in Merrimack, N.H. He is a prolific author and has translated several epic poems of the West. He is a graduate of Princeton and the University of North Carolina. He is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.

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