On many community college campuses, “corruption, cronyism, abuse of power, and fiefdom-building constitute business as usual,” writes Rob Jenkins, a Georgia Perimeter College English professor, on the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Feudalism and Soviet-style dictatorship are the most common governance models, he writes. Both are authoritarian and “feature relatively small groups of sycophants who place themselves in orbit around the leader, jockeying for position and seeking to consolidate their own power through flattery and zealous support of the official agenda.”
. . . under the feudal model, shared governance is paid only the barest lip service, if any at all. Some of the organizational bodies necessary to support shared governance, such as a faculty senate, might exist in name but are only window dressing, without any legitimate function.
The Soviet model, on the other hand, tends to have all of the trappings of democracy, or (in this case) shared governance—faculty and staff senates, policy councils, standing committees. Their meetings are often conducted with great fanfare. But in reality they are under the iron-fisted control of the leader and his or her cronies, and every decision made is part of the approved agenda.
Another important difference is that a feudal lord or lady may, on occasion, be relatively benevolent. The dictator is rarely, if ever, that.
In both models, the same people are named to the most important committees, which “always seem to reach conclusions or submit reports that are widely praised by the leader.”
Community colleges are especially susceptible to fiefdom-building, Jenkins argues. Few community college presidents have been full-time professors with academic qualifications, he writes. Furthermore, the “13th grade” mentality leads to top-down governance.
For some people, community colleges are not “real” colleges but rather occupy a place somewhere between a high school and a university—perhaps closer to the former than to the latter. Plenty of people in government, and even within the two-year institutions themselves, believe that community colleges should be run much like high schools, with strong, autocratic leaders and little or no input from the instructors.
“Our failure to embrace true shared governance has, it seems, opened the door to corruption, mismanagement, and abuse of power, writes Jenkins. “If you don’t hear from me again after this column is published, you can assume that I’m probably in a dungeon somewhere, awaiting my execution—figuratively speaking, of course.”