Posted by ganeshbala
- Feb 18, 2009, 10:25 PM
Power and the Professions
The degree of power and control that practitioners hold over workplace decisions is one of the most important criteria distinguishing the degree of professionalization and the status of a particular occupation or line of work. When it comes to organizational decisions surrounding their work, professionalized employees usually have control and autonomy approaching that of senior management. For example, academics often have equal or greater control than university administrators over the content of their teaching or research; the hiring of new colleagues; and, through the institution of peer review, the evaluation and promotion of members. They therefore have influence over the ongoing content and character of their profession. In contrast, members of lower-status occupations usually have little say over their work. The data show that, compared with people in traditional professions, faculties have limited power or control over key decisions that influence their work.
This hierarchy in institutions is both understandable and consequential, given the nature of faculties' work. Institutions are not simply formal organizational entities engineered to deliver academic instruction; they do not simply teach children reading, writing, and arithmetic. Institutions are one of the major mechanisms for the socialization of children and youth--a process captured in the contemporary concept of social capital. The task of deciding which behavior and values are proper and best for the young is neither trivial, neutral, nor value free. Hence, it is no surprise that those who do this work--faculties--and how they go about it are matters of intense concern. Indeed, underlying the accountability movement is the understandable assumption that education is far too important to be solely left up to educators.
As a result, teaching is an occupation beset by tension and imbalance between responsibilities and power. On the one hand, the work of teaching--helping to prepare, instruct, and rear the next generation of children--is both important and complex. But on the other hand, those entrusted with the training of this next generation are not entrusted with much control over many of the key decisions concerned with this crucial work
The Faculty in the Middle
Control and accountability in institutions can be exerted in a wide range of ways. These are not necessarily direct and obvious mechanisms, such as rules and regulations, "sticks and carrots." Indeed, organizational analysts have long held that the most effective mechanisms for controlling employees and holding them accountable are often embedded in the day-to-day culture of the workplace and, hence, are often taken for granted and are invisible to insiders and outsiders alike.
This is reflected in the role of faculties in institutions. Faculties are akin to men or women in the middle. A useful analogy is that of supervisors, or foremen, caught between the contradictory demands and needs of two groups: their super-ordinates--institution administrators--and their subordinates--students. Faculties are not part of management, and they are not the workers. They are in charge of, and responsible for, the workers, their students. Like other middlemen and middle-women, faculties usually work alone and may have much latitude in seeing that their students carry out the assigned tasks. This responsibility and latitude can easily be mistaken for a kind of professional autonomy, especially in regard to tasks within classrooms. A close look at the organization of the teaching job shows, however, that although it involves much responsibility, it involves little real power.
A little recognized but telling indicator of this mixture of great responsibility and little power is the widespread practice among faculties of spending their own money to purchase classroom materials.
The Effects of Faculty Control
From the public's viewpoint, a safe and harmonious environment in institutions is as important as academic achievement. A "good" institution is characterized by well-behaved students, a collegial and committed staff, and a general sense of cooperation, communication, and community. Likewise, a "bad" institution is characterized by conflict, distrust, and turmoil among students, faculties, and administrators. To evaluate some of the consequences of faculty power and influence, I undertook a series of advanced statistical analyses of the data, looking at the effects of faculty control on a series of outcomes. These included the amount of student behavioral problems; faculties' sense of commitment, efficacy, and engagement; the degree of collegiality and cooperation among faculty and between faculty and administrators; and the levels of faculty retention and turnover.
The outcomes are directly connected to the distribution of power and control in institutions. Institutions in which faculties have more control over key institution-wide and classroom decisions have fewer problems with student misbehavior, show more collegiality and cooperation among faculties and administrators, have a more committed and engaged teaching staff, and do a better job of retaining their faculties.
However, the effects of faculty control and influence on these outcomes vary by the type of decision or issue involved. The data show that one of the most consequential areas of decision making has to do with institution and classroom student behavior and discipline policies, and not with instructional issues & the faculty control over such issues is strongly related to faculty retention and turnover. Almost one in five faculties in institutions with a low level of faculty control over student discipline issues were expected to depart, whereas only one in 20 were expected to depart from institutions with a high level of faculty control over such issues.
Why is faculty control over student behavioral issues so consequential? The data indicate that, although faculties have substantial responsibility for enforcing student discipline and maintaining an orderly institution and classroom, many have little input into creating or modifying these rules, which are largely conceived by others. Moreover, faculties often have little say over the kinds of penalties used to enforce these rules. Say for the faculties are rarely allowing to remove students who disrupt their classrooms, must first obtain permission to discipline a student for an infraction, and may not be allowed to punish students who are caught cheating on tests. These limitations on faculty control can undermine their ability to be in charge of their classrooms and can lead to high turnover rates.
Power and Accountability
The accountability perspective, and many of the reforms to come out of it, commonly suffers from several problems. The first involves the accuracy of the diagnosis. The data show that the high degree of centralization in institutions and lack of faculty control of their work--and not the opposite--often adversely affect how well institutions function. Top-down accountability reforms may divert attention from the organizational sources of institution problems.
Second, accountability reforms are sometimes unfair. Policymakers and reformers often question the caliber and quality of faculties, telling us time and again that faculties lack sufficient engagement, commitment, and accountability. However, the data suggest just the opposite--that faculties have an unusual degree of public service orientation and commitment and a relatively high "giving-to-getting" ratio, compared with those in other careers. The critics fail to appreciate the extent to which the teaching workforce is a source of human, social, and even financial capital in institutions.
Third, accountability reforms often don't work. Top-down reforms draw attention to an important set of needs--for accountability on the part of those doing the work. But these kinds of reforms sometimes overlook another equally important set of needs--for autonomy and the good will of those doing the work. Too much organizational control may deny faculties the very power and flexibility they need to do the job effectively, undermine their motivation, and squander a valuable human resource--the high degree of commitment of those who enter the teaching occupation. Having little say in the terms, processes, and outcomes of their work, faculties may doubt they are doing worthwhile work--the very reason many of them came into the occupation in the first place--which may contribute to high rates of turnover. Consequently, accountability reforms may not only fail to solve the problems they seek to address, but actually end up making things worse.
It makes no sense to hold people accountable for something they do not control or to give people control over something for which they are not held accountable. Accountability without commensurate power is unfair and can be harmful. Likewise, giving faculties more power alone is not the answer. Experts in organizational management and leadership have long held that accountability and power must go hand in hand in workplaces, that increases in one must be accompanied by increases in the other. Changes in both accountability and power are necessary to accomplish the larger systemic goal--ensuring that there are high-quality faculties in every classroom.