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Volume 98, No. 2 - March 1998 FOCUS: Labor and Tenure   
Table of contents for this issue  
As Bad As It Gets
Three Dark Tales From The Annals of Acedemic Receivership
By Charlotte Allen

MUCH HAS CHANGED since Gerson Sher traveled to Yugoslavia to research his dissertation amid the political and intellectual ferment of the late 1960s. For one thing, the idiosyncratic country that captured his imagination no longer exists . Nor does Praxis, the group of Marxist humanist philosophers Sher studied. But this is not the only reason he responds warily to a request for an interview: "I am appalled," he says, "that you should be interested in Praxis at this time."

receivership may be academe's dirtiest word. For those colleges and universities that have had to employ the term, receivership is a shameful secret, a dark blot on academic reputation and institutional self-image. Unfortunately, it is also a surprisingly recurrent phenomenon. Like floundering businesses that file for bankruptcy and thereby surrender their autonomy to a court-appointed trustee, academic departments in receivership relinquish control of their affairs to an external authority -- a receiver. But unlike a bankrupt company that embraces Chapter 11 status to protect itself from creditors, an academic receivership is nearly always involuntary -- an arrangement imposed at the behest of an administrator when ideological and personal infighting wit hin a department becomes so intense that hiring, tenuring, and curriculum decisions grind to a standstill.

By the time the administration steps in, the dysfunctional department is apt to be in a state of near collapse, suffering from reduced productivity (as energy is drained away from research), student attrition, and, in the worst cases, a precipitous declin e in quality and reputation. Sometimes, resuscitation consists of bringing in an outside chair: an astronomer imported from the physics department, say, to whip the Spanish department into shape. Alternatively, the administration may appoint an external c ommittee, a group of professors drawn from outside the department -- sometimes from outside the university -- to make all hiring and tenure decisions.

Whatever the scenario, receivership bruises more than just the departmental ego. Faculty in an affected department may suffer daily humiliations as they find themselves beholden to colleagues from other disciplines for everything from paper clips to promo tions. And although universities don't like to talk about receiverships, much less publicize them, they are hard to keep hush-hush. Sooner or later, word gets out to the entire academic world -- or at least most of campus -- that those on high have adjudg ed the faculty in question incapable of managing their own affairs. "It's distressing," says Mary Burgan, executive director of the American Association of University Professors, "an admission of total failure."

The stigma notwithstanding, receivership may be, perversely, a flaw built right into the present-day academic system -- a by-product of the very freedoms that distinguish individuals in academic settings from their peers in the corporate world. As members of a department, professors are expected to reach agreement on whom to hire, whom to tenure, how to judge graduate students, what to teach. But the urge to forge a peaceful consensus is often overwhelmed by other concerns. After all, most academics at re search universities presume the right to pursue their own intellectual curiosity and judgment wherever it may lead -- they are under little professional obligation to subordinate their interests and beliefs to the requirements of their institution or to t he need for comity. And unlike business success, which usually depends on teamwork, prestige in academic scholarship -- research grants, endowed chairs, acclaimed books, teaching awards -- is a largely individual accomplishment. Is it any surprise, then, that many faculty look upon a "promotion" to committee head or even department chair as something to dread rather than seek out?

For the most part, departments muddle along or even prosper under these somewhat asocial conditions. As long as the basic obligations to keep offering courses and to keep hiring faculty are met, it's of little concern to a dean if a department's members a re at one another's throats (or barely know one another's names). But whenever a department exhibits a pronounced failure to agree on a curriculum or on which new professors to hire, a crisis arises. When the department is not meeting its responsibilities to the university, the rationale for faculty self-governance is suddenly put in question. Often, personal and ideological conflicts bring a department to this precipice. Exacerbating the likelihood of such a crisis is often -- but not always -- a budget crunch. When funding disappears, as it has at many universities in recent years, nasty departmental feuds can take on the aspect of a zero-sum struggle: What's to lose by fighting to the death?

Receivership is so mortifying for all concerned that few faculty members or administrators are willing to discuss their experiences with a reporter. Even fewer are willing to speak on the record. Nonetheless, Lingua Franca has pieced together the f ollowing tales of receivership in three top-tier university departments: anthropology at Columbia, literature at UC-Santa Cruz, and philosophy at Yale. In all three cases, the receiverships eventually ended, the diseased departments presumably restored to health. Still, our investigation suggests that many of the underlying problems that precipitated administrative takeovers in the first place have not been resolved. They may never be.


Once the field's preeminent leader, the anthropology department at Columbia University has undergone not one but two embarrassing receiverships in the last fifteen years. The roots of the troubles reach back even earlier, to the institution-wide financial crisis that followed the 1968 student occupation of Columbia's administrative offices. Throughout the 1970s the university operated on a deficit, the physical plant deteriorated, and celebrated faculty members -- including sociologist Daniel Bell -- fled to more hospitable jobs elsewhere. Many slots remained empty.

In anthropology, a decade-long hiring freeze prevented promising young scholars from joining the ranks of a renowned but deeply traditional departmental faculty. This old guard, composed of anthropologists loyal to the teachings of the discipline's foundi ng father, Columbia's own Franz Boas, doggedly pursued the traditional "four-field" approach to anthropological study, even as the discipline was changing drastically everywhere else. The Boasian ideal -- an anthropologist comprehensively trained in four fields (physical anthropology, archaeology, linguistics, and cultural anthropology) -- was being supplanted by the modern specialist who received a basic training in all four fields but quickly focused on a particular field or subfield (medical or symboli c anthropology, say) to the near exclusion of all other areas. By the end of the 1970s, the Columbia department was looking tired and provincial, while the newer, more specialized programs at Chicago, Michigan, and UC-Berkeley gained cutting-edge reputati ons.

To make matters worse, the Columbia department was riven by personality conflicts. Its senior members had coalesced into two camps, one headed by the brilliant and charismatic Robert Murphy, a cultural anthropologist who studied the Mundurucu people in th e Brazilian Amazon basin, and the other composed of those who bitterly resented Murphy's pervasive influence. Perturbed by what appeared to be paralyzing departmental politicking, the administration appointed Alexander Alland Jr., a well-liked traditional ist, as acting chairman in 1981 and -- in order to stop the quarreling -- organized an "expanded executive committee" to take charge of hiring and tenuring. In addition to the regular group of senior anthropologists, the committee included two Columbia fa culty members from other departments. "Everything from staples to faculty appointments was under monitoring," says an observer close to the scene.

Alland became the official chair the following year, and with the executive committee's help he increased the department's sagging numbers by recruiting six junior professors from Berkeley, Yale, and elsewhere. This was generally perceived as a move in th e right direction -- except that the younger contingent discovered that many of the older faculty members, more loyal to the four-field model, would scarcely speak to them. And the committee never did manage to make a single addition to the badly depleted senior ranks: Columbia's (not to mention New York City's) lackluster reputation at the time served as a disincentive to well-known scholars with comfortable posts at other universities.

Exasperated by the slow rate of progress, Jonathan Cole, Columbia's vice president for arts and sciences, pared down the executive committee and placed the department in receivership: In 1988, he appointed Richard Bulliet, a Columbia history professor, an thropology chairman. Bulliet had the powers of a dictator, and for sixteen months, he exercised them without inhibition. "The department had had a history of frequent and acrimonious meetings," Bulliet, now director of Columbia's Middle East Institute, r ecalls. "It was a culture of argument. So I just stopped it."

Indeed, Bulliet held virtually no meetings with faculty. (Given the contentiousness within the department, he says, group meetings were pointless.) He was supposed to have outside advisers -- anthropologists from other institutions -- but they never mater ialized. With no one to oppose him, he successfully pushed through the tenuring of two of Alland's young recruits, restructured the curriculum, and loosened some of the old four-field requirements for graduate students. "Not once did I have any direct com plaints from faculty members," he says. "By and large they were relieved that I was there." Bulliet stepped down in the winter of 1989, satisfied that "the climate of rancor had been alleviated." The department's first receivership was over.

But shortly after Bulliet returned to the history department, the generational struggle on the anthropology faculty resumed. Group meetings became more divisive than ever: Two more young scholars joined Alland's newly tenured faculty, creating a forceful alliance known to senior members of the department as "the gang of four." By now, the discipline was dominated by specialists and subspecialists -- from materialists who studied Marx or ecology to symbolists who approached cultures largely as discursive s ystems. The old four-field approach seemed less and less relevant.

In 1993 one of the younger generation, M. Elaine Combs-Schilling, became chair, but her efforts at restoring morale and reputation proved controversial. At her urging, the department hired Michael Taussig, a maverick anthropologist then teaching in the pe rformance studies department at NYU. The colorful Taussig, who is known for lecturing barefoot and for attempting to blur the lines between ethnography and surrealism, quickly acquired a reputation for offering vituperative opinions of his Columbia collea gues and for opposing tenure bids. (Taussig declined to be interviewed for this article but denied such behavior.) In 1995 the National Research Council rated Columbia's anthropology doctorate program sixteenth in the nation -- a humiliating ranking for t he onetime cradle of the discipline. Moreover, thanks to the reluctance of distinguished outsiders to join Columbia's anthropology faculty, the number of tenured professors had shrunk to eleven (from a peak of eighteen in the late 1970s). In 1995, two yea rs into her three-year term, Combs-Schilling abruptly stepped down.

At that point, extraordinary measures once again seemed necessary. David Cohen, who had inherited Cole's job as Columbia's vice president for arts and sciences, decided that the only way to save the anthropology department was to take it over personally. Again, Alland was to be the front man. At the urging of his colleagues, Cohen recalled Alland from a sabbatical in France to serve as chairman for a year. "The vice president said that if we couldn't get our act together he would shut us down," Alland rec alls.

It was Cohen, however, who actually did the hiring. As provost of Northwestern, Cohen helped build several departments into nationally ranked programs. Now, he paid top dollar to bring in five tenured professors, all of whom were involved in cutting-edge, wide-ranging anthropological research. "I got deeply involved in the search," says Cohen of his talent hunt, which netted him, among others, Nicholas Dirks, who co-founded the interdepartmental program in anthropology and history at Michigan, and Sherry B. Ortner, a Himalaya specialist and MacArthur "genius" grant recipient who was teaching at Berkeley. To house his enhanced faculty (the five new full professors plus another five of junior ranking), Cohen had the anthropology department's offices complet ely refurbished. The receivership was over. It was a remarkable -- and to all appearances, successful -- brain transplant.

Buying a brand-new department is one way to cure the ills of the old. However, Cohen's dollars may be unable to resolve the long-term problem: continued uncertainty and division over the future of anthropology as it becomes ever more specialized. "The dis cipline has always been unraveling, if by that you mean there is no internal consensus," says one former Columbia anthropologist. "But if the healthy diversity of opinions is not bound by a healthy respect for the bureaucratic process, you can -- and will -- get into real trouble."


The literature department at UC-Santa Cruz has always been something of a mongrel among purebred rivals at other top-drawer research universities. Unlike other schools, Santa Cruz has no separate departments of English, Italian, or classics. Instead, the several-dozen full-time professors who teach these and related subjects belong to a single academic unit, Literature, which was called a "board" until last summer and now bears the more conventional title "department." This sprawling department's eclecti cism -- its course offerings range from Greek mythology to contemporary Latin American novels and creative writing -- has always been a source of friction among its faculty. With more than six hundred majors signed up at any given time, Literature also ha ppened to be Santa Cruz's most popular undergraduate humanities program; the department frequently found itself understaffed. Yet, when it came to hirings, there was no agreement whatsoever. Should the department add a Japanologist? A specialist in Caribb ean fiction?

By the late 1970s, the recurring curricular and ideological tensions had reached a boiling point. In 1977 Helene Moglen, a specialist in eighteenth-century English literature at SUNY Purchase, came to Santa Cruz as a literature professor and dean of human ities. Today, Moglen, who is chairman of the faculty senate, enjoys a campuswide reputation as a deft consensus builder and politician. Such was not the case twenty years ago, when, according to several colleagues, her assertive personality and tireless c ampaigning for a women's studies program (which she obtained) alienated many in the department.

Leading the opposition was John M. Ellis, a professor of German literature who served as dean of Santa Cruz's graduate division during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Ellis was not a big fan of new trends in literary scholarship. In 1989 he published a cr itical study titled Against Deconstruction (Princeton), and in 1992 he became literary editor of Heterodoxy, an anti-PC journal. The following year, he helped found the Association of Literary Scholars and Critics, an organization designed a s an alternative to the Modern Language Association and its many feminist extremists, canon busters, and Marxist-oriented New Historicists. "Studying Marx is for the political science department," insists Ellis, who retired from Santa Cruz in 1994. "If yo u want to study Marx, become a political organizer. Our job is to teach literature."

Determined that Santa Cruz would not succumb to the virus of political correctness, Ellis fought a rear-guard battle against feminism and deconstruction. Moglen grew more conciliatory in the late 1980s, but by then, another assertive, progressive-minded p rofessor had joined the department. Kristin Ross, whose scholarship on French popular culture was rated impeccable, quickly became an outspoken presence at faculty meetings. She and several colleagues set up a pilot program for a new major called "World L iterature" that focused on writers traditionally overlooked by the Western mainstream: Latinos, Pacific Islanders, Africans, Asians, and so forth. "Rather than a ghettoized 'ethnic studies' program of the 1960s variety," Ross wrote in an essay explaining the program's goals, "we wanted to recognize ethnic studies as pivotal, central, and connected -- in no way peripheral or marginal -- to world literary and cultural production and debates."

Ellis was on leave during much of World Lit's planning stages, but that didn't stop him from denouncing the major as a Marxist indoctrination program whose real subject was not literature but colonialism and other perceived European injustices toward non whites. A number of Literature faculty members agreed with Ellis that the program had distinct ideological overtones. Furthermore, these critics complained, the World Lit contingent refused to let courses offered by faculty outside their own small group q ualify for the program. Ultimately, the World Lit group hoped to found a breakaway department at Santa Cruz, but students showed little interest in the idea. Although lower-level World Lit classes were well subscribed, the program never attracted more tha n about fifteen majors.

Tensions in Literature boiled over in 1993, when the department deadlocked over the election of a new chair. At first, no one volunteered for the post. Eventually, however, two candidates came forward. One was John Lynch, a popular classicist who had held several administrative posts; the other was Richard Terdiman, a professor of French literature. "Each of us had to go before the faculty in two separate sessions," says Lynch, whose plan to standardize course requirements for the Literature major enraged the World Lit faction. "My part of the session was fairly ugly, but I heard that Terdiman's session was uglier still." The reason: A female professor in the department had accused Terdiman of sexual harassment, and although the charges were found to be w ithout merit following an official investigation, the accusations resurfaced as the most burning issue at Terdiman's inter -view. Ultimately, both can didates withdrew their names in disgust.

By the time Santa Cruz's dean of humanities, Gary Lease, stepped in, the situation seemed insoluble. In desperation, he sought help from outside the academic community altogether: He hired Marilyn Man ning, a management consultant who had extensive experi ence in team building and conflict mediation to try out her techniques on the warring academics. Her three visits to Santa Cruz were by all accounts a failure (some faculty simply refused to talk to her). "I'd say they were one of the most challenging gro ups I'd ever had," is her delicate way of putting it. "They were sharing very few of the same priorities. Standing in front of their classrooms hadn't given them any meeting-management train ing or personnel-management skills. I believe that I was called in too late. If I'd been there a year or two earlier, I could have turned it around." After Manning's pricey but unsuccessful intervention, receivership must have seemed the only possible remedy.

Lease, who had a reputation for playing hardball with intractable departments, subsequently devised a cheap and effective method for imposing order on the Literature faculty: financial deprivation. Implementing the plan was not difficult. The state of Cal ifornia was in the middle of a deep recession, and Lease was helping to administer 5-percent-per-year budget cuts throughout the UC system. With attrition and early-retirement incentives (Ellis was one of the takers), the Santa Cruz Literature department lost about ten positions, a third of its usual complement. Lease appointed Jorge Hankamer, a member of the linguistics department, as chair but refused to allow any of the department's vacancies to be filled, arguing that the department should first devel op an orderly plan of growth.

Though few in the department harbored warm feelings for Lease, the receivership succeeded in restoring a measure of calm to the beleaguered department. Hankamer installed as his deputy Loisa Nygaard, a hardworking Germanist who enjoyed the respect of all factions, and when Hankamer replaced Lease as humanities dean in 1995, Nygaard succeeded him as chair, and the program was once again run by an insider. The World Lit major quietly disappeared, together with its attendant controversy. Most striking of all , when he took over the deanship, Hankamer gave faculty morale another boost by reversing Lease's moratorium on departmental growth. Funds for new positions began to flow again.

Lease, however, thinks it's premature to celebrate. The troubles at Santa Cruz, he suspects, are likely to resurface as soon as the glow of the extra greenbacks wears off. "The problems were not just personal," he says. "The department still has an amoeba -like structure. My plan was to reduce it to a level where you could get a design in place, not just throw them a bone to quiet them. Now, I won't be surprised to see the same problems pop up again in a few years."


Unfortunately, not only can receivership fail to cure departmental dysfunction, it can make the problems worse. The troubles at Yale's philosophy department date back to the war over methodology that plagued many American philosophy departments during the 1950s and 1960s. Those decades were the glory days of analytic philosophy, derived from the thinking of Ludwig Wittgenstein, Bertrand Russell, and others. Analytic philosophy eschews airy speculation and, broadly speaking, focuses on the logical analysis of language and concepts. While rival methodologies -- phenomenology, existentialism, structuralism -- flourished on the European Continent, analytic philosophy became the dominant school of the Anglophone world. The American analytics believed that they alone really "did" philosophy. Everyone else -- Platonists, Kantians, devotees of American pragmatism -- was perhaps an intellectual historian or a political theorist but certainly not a philosopher. To this day, several of the nation's top-rated philoso phy departments, including Harvard and Princeton, are almost exclusively analytic in orientation.

The Yale philosophy department, by contrast, tried for many years to represent a spectrum of schools. In 1973 the department hired Ruth Barcan Marcus, a leading analytic philosopher and specialist in modal logic. Marcus (who declined to be interviewed for this article) had a cast-iron personality, and she was determined to remold Yale into a bastion of analytic thinking. Her main technique was to fight to the death tenurings of nonanalytic junior faculty as well as appointments of nonanalytic outsiders. S he quickly helped send packing two promising junior phenomenologists, David Carr (now chair of philosophy at Emory) and Edward Casey (now chair of philosophy at SUNY Stony Brook).

But absolute victory eluded Marcus. Her leading opponent on the Yale faculty was John Smith, an exponent of the American pragmatist school and a philosopher of religion. As department chair, Smith had recruited Marcus to Yale but remained a staunch advoca te of the program's pluralistic tradition. In 1980 Smith was elected president of the Eastern division of the American Philosophical Association (APA) over the opposition of Marcus, who chaired the APA's national board of officers. Smith and Marcus were f amous for their floor fights at the APA -- mostly debates over pluralism within philosophy -- which they took back with them to Yale.

The result was an impasse that prevented virtually any new hirings or tenurings for most of the 1970s and 1980s. Never large to begin with, the Yale philosophy department began to implode, as deaths, retirements, and departures of talented members who cou ld no longer stand the atmosphere took their toll. As the department grew smaller, the internecine battles only intensified. With entire fields of philosophy now missing from the senior-faculty roster, visitors (including Casey, invited back from Stony Br ook) and junior members increasingly performed "service" work, such as teaching needed undergraduate courses. Finally, in 1985, the department managed to agree on a new senior hire, Jonathan Lear, who, to Marcus's satisfaction, had been analytically train ed but whose scholarship included Aristotelian and, later, psychoanalytic studies. The following year, the high-profile Columbia law school dean Benno C. Schmidt Jr. took over the Yale presidency. Schmidt (who declined to be interviewed) reportedly made Lear what seemed an irresistible offer: If he would agree to serve as philosophy department chair, Schmidt would give him some new faculty positions and back him up in departmental feuds.

By all accounts, however, Schmidt failed to provide the promised budgetary and moral support. After struggling through two years as chair, Lear threw in the towel. Partly at Lear's urging, Schmidt then set up a two-committee receivership for the philosoph y department: an outside team of distinguished philosophers from elsewhere who would determine scholarly gaps and recruit new faculty to fill them, and an internal team of nonphilosophers on the Yale faculty who would operate the department on a day-to-da y basis. "It was a very unpleasant kind of time," says Smith. "It was unpleasant to be summoned after forty years to an outside executive committee. It's like losing your credit."

Despite the internal turmoil, the outside experts did their best to carry out their assigned task. They came up with five talented youngish candidates for new senior appointments, including Sam Scheffler, an ethicist from UC-Berkeley, and Alan Code, an Ar istotle specialist from Ohio State. The committee dangled offers before the five candidates and submitted their names to Schmidt for approval. But university officials failed to follow through; Schmidt reportedly did not even return any of the candidates' phone calls. The formal offers eventually came through, but all five candidates, by now feeling insulted, turned them down. Miffed at Schmidt's high-handedness, the external committee disbanded itself, leaving departmental operations in the hands of the internal committee members, who joked that they had come to think of themselves as philosophers. Hirings and tenurings came to a standstill.

By 1992 both Smith and Marcus had retired, and the number of tenured philosophy professors in the department dropped to three. That year, the department declared a moratorium on the admission of new graduate students. (Amazingly, philosophy remained one o f the ten biggest undergraduate majors throughout this period.) Finally in 1993, just after Schmidt resigned, an interim administration approved the first philosopher to chair the department in three years: Robert Adams, a specialist in philosophy of reli gion who was then teaching at UCLA. Adams's wife, Marilyn McCord Adams, also on the UCLA philosophy faculty, had been recruited by Yale's divinity school and religious studies department, and the two came to the university as a package.

Adams's nick-of-time arrival was supposed to signal a brave new beginning for philosophy at Yale. And in some ways it did. Under Adams, four new senior faculty members were hired. In 1994 Adams reopened the department to graduate students, and today there are approximately twenty doctoral candidates.

Other aspects of his oversight have been problematic, however. For one thing, the internal advisory committee of nonphilosophers continued to vote on faculty appointments and tenurings for three years after Adams took the chair, leading critics to charge that he was using the panel's votes to push through his own candidates. Indeed, a lawsuit alleging exactly that is pending against Yale over one of the committee's last official acts before it disbanded in 1996: a vote against tenure for Susan Neiman, a w ell-regarded Kantian who had been teaching in the department since 1988. Neiman's book The Unity of Reason: Rereading Kant (Oxford, 1994) was widely hailed as a major contribution to the field, while her more personal work Slow Fire (Schock en, 1992), about German-Jewish relations, won an award from PEN in 1993. Neiman was also only the second philosophy instructor to have won Yale's Sarai Ribicoff Award for excellence in teaching in the humanities. When she was nominated to fill a vacant te nure slot in Kant studies, the department's senior faculty split down the middle two to two, with Adams casting one of the negative ballots. When the nonphilosophers from the internal committee cast their votes with Adams, Neiman lost the battle. The Kant position went instead to Allen Wood, also a respected Kant scholar, and, unlike Neiman, a friend of Adams's.

Jonathan Lear, who was one of Neiman's chief supporters, resigned from Yale to protest and took a position at the University of Chicago. "I tried to convince the chair and the provost that Yale should appoint an ad hoc committee of Kant experts to evaluat e Neiman's qualifications," Lear recalls. "When that did not happen, I could not remain at a university where my erstwhile colleagues were indifferent to the most elementary conditions of fairness in the evaluation of a junior colleague."

Neiman also left Yale, to accept a lower-paying job at from Tel Aviv University. Her suit charges Yale with breach of contract for entrusting her promotion to a group of scholars who were not trained in her field and did not understand her work. Moreover , ac cording to Neiman's legal complaint, when Yale administrators expressed their willingness to fund a second senior Kantian, Adams refused to consider her for the post. Adams declines to comment on Neiman's suit except to defend the internal committee: "The people who were involved here from outside the discipline got advice from relevant, qualified people in the field."

Neiman's lawsuit represents a worst-case scenario of receivership: In challenging the authority of the non philosophers to judge her work, her suit strikes at one of receivership's central practices. But even without her suit, the Yale philosophy departm ent's seven years of receivership cannot be said to have done it much good. "The department is still struggling," observes Casey, who still pinch-hits for Yale from time to time (and currently heads a search committee for an interim chair at the deeply tr oubled Stony Brook English department). "Given all the bad press it's gotten, many distinguished people have been hesitant to come to Yale," he explains. "They don't know what to expect. They don't know what kind of graduate students they'll have. Adams's job is to change all of that, but he's having a hard time."

IS THERE a way to avoid the shame and the pain, not to mention the frequently equivocal outcome, of an academic receivership? William F. Massy, a former education professor and administrator at Stanford who holds a degree in operations management, thinks there is. He is currently a senior researcher at the National Center for Postsecondary Improvement. Along with Andrea K. Wilger, he is busy compiling case studies of sick and healthy university departments. The wisest course, he says, is to treat departme ntal dysfunction -- early warning signs include bickering faculty -- long before the disputes become paralyzing. Massy suggests that deans and vice presidents look to the "quality movement" surging through industry and government for hints on how to foste r greater departmental collegiality and effectiveness. "What we can try to accomplish is to set common goals and figure out what we should be working on in teams," he says. "The goals can be commonsense things, taking a cohort of undergraduates through a core curriculum, for example." One good technique, Massy suggests, is the old carrot-and-stick approach, using budget allotments as incentives for departmental peacekeeping: "Invest in the department that gets the job done," he says.

All of Massy's advice sounds obvious and sensible, but carrying it out won't be easy. Advocates of teamwork confront an academic culture devoted to the hard-won prerogatives of individual choice and self-governance. For all that, deans and faculty alike k now that with new rounds of budget cuts ahead, the tensions within university departments are only likely to increase. Departments will continue to fall apart. And academic receivers will continue -- with varying degrees of success -- to try to pick up th e pieces.

Charlotte Allen is a contributing editor of Lingua Franca. Her book, The Human Christ: The Search for the Historical Jesus, is forthcoming from The Free Press.


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