A Song of Vice and Mire
By Rob Jenkins
The Chronicle of Higher Education
For fun, I've been reading George R.R. Martin's marvelous fantasy epic, A Song of Ice and Fire, about a medieval-ish kingdom and its wars and intrigues. If you haven't yet encountered the books (five in the series so far), I highly recommend them, as Martin deftly intertwines fantastical elements, such as dragons and wights (medieval zombies), with a quasi-historical storyline to create a kind of J.R.R. Tolkien-meets-Philippa Gregory effect.
What fascinates me most about the narrative, however, is the extent to which it parallels my experiences as a community-college professor and administrator. As I follow the political machinations of the fictional court at King's Landing—the alliances and conspiracies, the jealousies and betrayals, the dalliances and beheadings—I am frequently put in mind of actual people I have known and events I have witnessed over my 27-year career. Sometimes I wonder if George R.R. Martin isn't really just a pen name for some old colleague of mine who has been secretly plugging away all these years at a monstrous roman-à-clef.
I suppose that is an indictment of community colleges, but I believe it is a fair one. Because, truth be told, for all of their many fine points and all the good they do for society, community colleges have historically been rather bad at governance, to say the least. On many two-year campuses, if not most, corruption, cronyism, abuse of power, and fiefdom-building constitute business as usual.
I make that observation as someone who has worked at five two-year colleges and visited dozens more, who corresponds frequently with colleagues around the country, and who reads everything available about community colleges. But the truth of what I'm saying should be obvious to anyone who has followed recent high-profile cases involving alleged corruption and mismanagement at two-year institutions in Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, New Jersey, and New York. To name a few.
That isn't a new phenomenon. In California's community-college system, the largest in the country, such problems grew so rampant that in the late 1980s the state legislature mandated a shared-governance model, intended to give faculty members and other key stakeholders significant involvement in how those institutions were run. Yet more than a decade later, Linda Collins, then president of the system's Academic Senate, wrote: "We have yet to create structures and cultures that support and nurture the practice of shared governance throughout the state's community colleges."
Her statement seems to still hold true today for most of the country's community colleges. Despite the best efforts of many faculty members, some administrators, and national organizations such as the American Association of University Professors and the National Education Association, true shared governance has still not become the model of choice at most two-year campuses.
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