14 September 2010

The Bain Berkeley model for faculty: the sequel

First of all, here's why we should all care about what happens at Berkeley. The model being pushed at UCB by the administration on the basis of their Operational Excellence  initiative and the report commissioned from Bain is bound to be a benchmark for the whole system. The other nine campuses will be under increased pressure either to take similar measures or to be relegated to second-tier teaching institutions. It's important therefore that faculty and staff through the system respond to the more extreme distortions of the Berkeley-Bain model, on pain of seeing that model pushed on them as well.

We already commented on the two main components of the proposed model, i.e., the push to both centralize and standardize, and Chris Newfield now has a detailed analysis. In particular, Newfiled points out how the solutions proposed by the Bain report do not align with the problems they identify. Their diagnosis of the administrative problems at Berkeley should rather recommend a bottom-up, distributed organizational model (which is characteristic of organizations with a capacity to innovate), not the top-down, authoritarian model that Bain imported wholesale from  corporate culture – and an outdated one at that.

The most disturbing aspect of the report, of course, is the proposed staff reorganization based on the concept of supervisory span (the target here is a 6.6 span, meaning that each supervisor should have on average 6.6 position immediately below in the organizational chart). Moreover, the advertised 6% to 8% cut in their $700M payroll would translate in laying off close to 10% of the staff. Berkeley staff are understandably worried, especially in absence of any meaningful and organized response (see the comments to Michael Meranze's Staffing the Downsize).

Faculty should not be lulled in the conviction that the proposed reorganization does not affect them. It does and it will. If the recommendations of the Bain report are implemented, this would make life much more difficult for faculty as well (as also Chris Newfield points out). Let's not make any mistakes about this: until and unless the faculty speak up about this and support, even lead, the staff in their push-back, this what the future will look like at UCB and across the system.

But there is more: the Berkeley administration has, of course, a particular vision for the faculty as well (we would not expect anything less from them). It's just that it's easier to deal with staff first. The documents posted in preparation for the Aug 19 "Retreat" for Deans and Chairs spells it all out. A handout ominously entitled "Beyond Compromise" (written by two Berkeley faculty and an administrator) explains the implications of the Commission on the Future recommendations for Berkeley. Beside the by-now old chestnuts of online instruction and non-resident tuition, the presentation introduces "alternative faculty compensation plans." The handout does not go into much detail about these compensation plans, but it does indicate clearly that it would involve a "two-tiered status of faculty." The top tier supposedly would be comprised of research faculty (bringing in copious amounts of grant money under increased overhead rates), while the bottom tier would be comprised of mainly teaching faculty, including a "greater proportion of courses to be taught be lecturers and GSIs." The proposed shift would naturally result in "fewer ladder rank faculty, more lecturers."

Not a lot of reflection is needed to see just how bad an idea this is. The two-tiered model for faculty runs counter to very idea of a research institutions and undermines shared governance. The whole point a student coming to Berkeley is the opportunity to be taught by world-class faculty and, for instance, learn physics from a Nobel laureate. Conversely, our top faculty should relish the opportunity to teach introductory-level courses. Expanding the roles of lecturers and GSIs would greatly damage the idea of an institution such as Berkeley. Graduate students are not here to provide cheap labor but to learn the trade and develop their research skills.

One also has to wonder how exactly Berkeley plans to reduce the ratio of ladder faculty to lecturers and GSIs. Attrition through a hiring freeze? Tightening tenure standards? Encouraging people to leave by not matching outside offers?

Again, if the faculty at Berkeley and elsewhere do not speak up and develop an articulated response to these guidelines, this is what the future will look like.


  1. I suspect the faculty compensation plans you refer to will result in at least 4 tiers of ladder-rank faculty (in addition to other academic tiers). #3 is the new one!

    (1) 9-month appointments in fields that can't even get summer salary.
    (2) 9-month appointments in fields with sufficient grant funding to pay summer salary
    (3) non-health sciences faculty who are working in research fields that can pay faculty salary support during the academic year, and who are encouraged to seek this by getting higher compensation levels.
    (4) health sciences faculty who participate in a Medical Compensation plan

  2. Thanks for the clarification, Anon. So tier #3 would represent a way to lure faculty off the general-fund payroll through higher compensation. Which non-health fields would this apply to?