“More power to the faculty” is the current rallying cry of academic reformers. This idea pops up with a persistence that goes beyond ideological divides, appealing even to self-described academic traditionalists, who view professional administrators and boards of regents and trustees as philosophically out of tune. This criticism does seem valid if one looks at the intrusion of the federal government into American higher education over the last half-century. By funding our universities, the state has made them into laboratories and bully pulpits for every government-sponsored crusade, from fighting fascism, communism, and segregation to laboring for multiculturalism. But worse than the government for many “moderate” conservatives (who may in fact understate government’s contribution to the problem at hand) have been the new-class academic administrators who represent multiculturalism and political correctness. Academic Questions and other educationally traditional publications feature stories about such types, who are thought to typify the academic managerial class. Meanwhile, the left also calls for reining in academic management. In Dogmatic Wisdom, socialist Russell Jacoby argues that professors, not their administrative superiors, will maintain standards against capitalist commercialization. According to Jacoby, where academic resistance to the “depersonalization” of students and the treatment of learning as a commodity can still be found, it is humanistic professors who are fighting the good fight.

Though it is possible to find both Jacoby’s principled professors and the philistine administrators whom I heard Allan Bloom decry some 20 years ago, these portraits are nonetheless selective. Academic administrators more often than not come out of faculty ranks, and most must get along with professors in order to remain in office. Moreover, the cultural and social politics that these managers pursue overlap those of their professorial subordinates. In a diligently conducted survey, Stephen Balch demonstrated that most professors secretly oppose having social and gender quotas applied at their schools. However, most of those polled would not openly reveal this opinion. It is easy to imagine similar results in a poll of academic administrators. They too are threatened by affirmative action but publicly declare “diversity” as beneficial. And since administrators are recruited largely from the professoriate, they would share its other values, ceteris paribus.

From my experience, it seems improbable that any further shift of academic power from administration to faculties would improve college education. All assaults on traditional learning that I have witnessed since the 70’s have started with, or received decisive backing from, the professoriate. Multiculturalism, gender-inclusive language, the dumbing down of courses, the inflation of grades, and the vigorous recruitment of academic candidates flaunting alternative lifestyles have all been faculty causes wherever I have worked. Though administrators have sometimes embraced the same causes, they have typically done so more slowly. At my college about five years ago, the faculty showed less than rational judgment by pressing the administration to make gender-inclusive language mandatory for institutional publications. The faculty even called for verification of such language in scholarly publications by their colleagues as well as in classroom teaching. Albeit languidly, the administration resisted, not wanting to shock the trustees or the public in a predominantly conservative Pennsylvania Dutch community.

But the new administration, which faculty representatives helped install, has applied no brake whatsoever to the multicultural engine. The language and politics of diversity and victimology have taken over at all levels. Both our lecture series and the outlines approved for our core courses showcase the struggle against sexism, homophobia, and institutionalized racism. Coupled with this is a litany from both faculty and administration about meeting the emotional needs of our students and raising their self-esteem. Though the administration is certainly anxious about retention at a small, vestigially denominational, allpurpose college, the major preoccupation with accommodating students at colleges, according to Myron Lieberman, has usually been on the faculty side. Professors raise their self-esteem by boasting about good student evaluations and by posing as progressive intellectuals. Administrative pressures contribute only minimally to such conduct.

Some might argue that the only way professors will become responsible is if they are made to assume real responsibility. If aging wastrels had to manage grown-up affairs, they would soon mature. But such advice takes no account of the effects of the experiment. It is like the effort by former HUD Secretary Jack Kemp to teach the underclass of Washington, D.C., about homeowning by having taxpayers subsidize low-income housing. It may make someone feel good, but it is not likely to instill responsibility—nor result in sound management. To the extent that colleges must try to be financially solvent, educationally rigorous, and professionally fair, it would be foolish to put most faculty in charge. According to studies by Robert E. McCormick and Roger E. Meiners, faculty rule has usually resulted in a deterioration of education. Though some may change jobs and go into administration, most faculty seem neither temperamentally nor emotionally suited for administrative work.

By focusing on professorial unfitness for managing education, I do not mean to confer a bill of health on either government or most academic administrations. While neither seems as irresponsible or ideologically driven as faculties, both have contributed to the same crises. Administrators, too, have politicized education, encouraged the erosion of academic standards, and pushed forward the diversity industry. But if responsible academic leadership is to be created, it cannot come from ordinary faculty ranks—and certainly not from intellectually unproductive faculty looking to make money in administrative posts.

At private schools, boards of trustees hold the actual reins of power and—if they exercised them sufficiently—could install presidents and administrations committed to better education. Though trustees have behaved less responsibly at the institutions I know, they have done so not because they hunger to be like faculty. Rather, they have turned down legitimate power because of a lack of moral interest, abdicating their rule in favor of those unsuited for the work of running educational institutions. Trustees have also picked presidents who shun critical decisions and who hide their lack of leadership behind therapeutic gibberish and bureaucratic process. Almost all college presidents of my acquaintance fit this unhappy description. But there was an age of highly activist presidents. Though not all of them acted in a way we might approve, one might do well by trading today’s typical college presidents for leaders like Robert Maynard Hutchins, Charles Eliot, Nicholas Murray Butler, and James B. Conant. All of these presumed autocrats enhanced learning at their institutions and acted from an ethic of responsibility. Unfortunately, the problems that confront today’s academic institutions go well beyond anything Hutchins or Conant could have imagined. Many colleges are more like resort hotels than places of learning. Others have been disfigured by the triumph of victimology and irrationality, and by weak-kneed administrators going with the flow.

Ordinary leadership is not enough. This situation calls for what Carl Schmitt characterized as “provisional dictatorship,” the suspension of quotidian procedure and the delegation of extraordinary powers to those able to make universities run properly. Universities have a fixed function: to transmit an agreed-upon body of learning and the tools for analytic thinking. Schools which subordinate these tasks to sensitivity to kinky lifestyles and self-esteem for the incompetent are not academic institutions but enclaves of emotionally crippled individuals or crass recruiters of lazy adolescents.

Colleges and universities can only be brought back to an academic mission by having one imposed from above. This will often require unapologetic authoritarian rule by those enjoying the support of their superiors, and admirable indifference toward faculty grumbling and the outbursts of the American Association of University Professors.

As a young professor, I had the pleasure of working for John Howard, former president of Rockford College and the founder of The Rockford Institute. Descendant of an illustrious Midwestern family and a man of considerable financial and moral resources, Howard ran the college as a dutiful autocrat. He hired outstanding young scholars to grace his departments, built an entirely new campus without incurring debt, and gave back his salary each year to underscore the purity of his service. His stiff Methodist manner offended the politically fashionable but contributed to his reputation of incorruptibility. Howard’s successor, who began as a darling of the faculty, spent millions of dollars on grandiose projects (as well as on his own lifestyle) before dilatory trustees finally got rid of him. He left the college disastrously in debt and having to sell most of its property to stay open. But as a generous party giver and the husband of a self-declared feminist, he remained popular among the faculty until his fall.

As a sociological generalization admitting exceptions, it may be argued that the best college and university presidents have been educated non-academicians—or marginal members of the professoriate without its dominant social attitudes. Bourgeois patricians have been particularly honest and effective leaders, but ascending from the faculty is not a hopeless obstacle for academic leadership, as long as the leader has an independent sense of social worth and a critical view of his subordinates. The least desirable situation is that he feel dependent on them politically or emotionally. One infers from Lieberman’s works on unionized “education” that more than material interests unites his subjects and allows them to adulterate their products while remaining morally arrogant. They share an esprit de corps derived from their inflated status, one that cannot be shaken even when its bearers reduce instruction to feel-good pabulum and restructure their personalities to fit student evaluations. It is therefore imperative that those who seek to reform their activities neither think like them nor crave their approval. Only then can provisional dictators save college faculties from their all too apparent lower natures.