Nanney Autobiographic Essays
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Tilting at Windmills - Educational Misadventures in the Big Ten (Draft 02-10-06)
David L. Nanney

5. Comparing Institutions

The Provost at Illinois, Gordon Ray, when I went for an interview, impressed me, paradoxically, with the declaration that Illinois was far from Paradise. The very contrast between the attitude and the administrative style of Michigan and Illinois was refreshing.  I had on occasion visited President Harlan Hatcher in Ann Arbor – attempting to preserve Clem Markert’s job, when it was under attack.  I was conveyed through a series of chambers with progressively deeper carpets and more sophisticated lighting into the inner sanctum where the handsome white-haired president was enthroned in indirect illumination behind a huge highly polished desk. At Illinois I enquired in the administration building about the location of the provost’s office.  I was told to go down the hall to the right, to the third door, and knock.  I walked on squeaky pine floors to the door identified, and knocked.  The provost was seated at a typing desk by an open window, in shirt sleeves, typing a manuscript. The provost informed me, among other things, that the loose structure of the University of Illinois provided a stark administrative contrast to the centralized and integrated University of Michigan. He asserted that Michigan had been organized on a General Motors model, primarily to funnel maximum tax-free benefits to its employees and to maintain tight fiscal control. Illinois, on the other hand, was probably the most decentralized major university in the country. While I found the chaos refreshing, the provost – like several subsequent administrators – weren’t so sure; he left a year or two after I came.

The informality and acknowledgement of problems was characteristic of the officers of the institution. Orin Halvorson – the old sanitary engineer who was newly designated Head of the School of Life Sciences – told me that the biology faculty at Illinois was not currently comparable in quality to that at Michigan, but that a major recruitment program was under way.  Most significantly, he reassured me that any educational program that I could sell the biology faculty at Illinois could be implemented without interference from elsewhere in the University.  He didn’t mention the disadvantages of a loose administrative structure, but these revealed themselves soon enough.

Salary scales in these days became major points of contention. California at this time was trying to maintain a common pay scale across disciplines – from anthropology to zoology - based on rank and time since the award of the PhD.  That ideal was soon lost in most “comprehensive universities”, along with any hope of maintaining cross-disciplinary collegiality.  Generally faculty in the sciences, particularly in fundable disciplines, became the “haves”; those in the arts and humanities became the “have nots”. More subtle discriminations developed within the sciences and compounded the task of maintaining equity among subdisciplines, even within the sciences.  This hidden economic motif underlay much of the subsequent discussion of hiring priorities and department compositions. Salary differentials even affected modes of faculty governance, particularly with respect to transparency.

Faculty members within departments offered some resistance to offering large salaries to new faculty members because funds were not often provided to raise significantly all the salaries within a department; off-scale salary increments for existing faculty usually required counter offers, or moves to new institutions.  The academic chairs game undercut departmental collegiality and work equity, and increased the trend toward reorganization.  Much of the turmoil within the biology community reflected the intrusion of market values into the academy.