The Corporate Professor   /   Spring 2012   /    The Corporate Professor

Pressured and Measured

Professors at Wannabe U

Gaye Tuchman

Graduation photo, flickr.

Once professionalization gathered faculty at very different institutions under the same tent; today it divides them.

Life at Wannabe University is pretty wonderful these days.11xWannabe U is the fictitious name of a real university. Because of agreements with the Institutional Review Board, I have also renamed people who work at Wannabe, but the documents I cite and quotations I paraphrase are based on personal interviews, my notes at meetings, or documents I have read. The Chronicle of Higher Education coined the term “Wannabe U” to indicate a university with five characteristics, including the aspiration to high rank in specified rating systems, to national as opposed to regional recognition, to build an outstanding advertising campaign, and to physically transform its campus. See Michael Arone, “The Wannabes,” The Chronicle of Higher Education 49.17 (3 January 2003): A18. Wannabe U is a agship research university in the northern US, where I have been observing campus life—including academic ambitions, achievements, and follies—on and off for almost a decade.

In the past three years, Wannabe U has acquired a new cast of characters: a new president, a few new deans, a new chair of the Board of Trustees. The new head of the trustees sends handwritten notes to thank people for meeting with him, a recipient of some of those messages has told me. The new top administrators treat professors like valuable people, not mere ciphers in the newest strategic plan. Although their view of the contemporary flagship university is pretty much the same as that of their predecessors, being kind to faculty and staff is no small thing. “It matters,” said a dean. It counts so much that many professors have not even noticed that they are increasingly immersed in a metric universe.

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