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Mark P. Murphy
Educational Leadership
The Pennsylvania State University

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Struggle between Power and Caring: Will/Can There be Balance?

The Struggle between Power and Caring:
Will/Can There Be a Balance? By: Samantha, Professor of Education

This is a story about power and caring. The players include the administration of the university, the colleges of Education and Professional and Continuing Education and the Educational Leadership Department; the Educational Leadership doctoral faculty and program facilitator; and, ultimately and most importantly, the doctoral students in Educational Leadership. The dilemma involves the impact of economics linked to poor financial decisions by the top administration and the economic downturn of United States society as they affect program, professional, and personal integrity and ethics. The concern arises from the ways in which the difficulties are dealt with, i.e., how processes are put into place to ameliorate the problems; and whom they benefit, whom they harm, and why. It is a deeply personal story addressing the tensions between personal and professional ethics. It also presents a question I never thought I would ask: Is it possible for an ethic of care to function as the basis of decision making and relationships in an organization driven by economic “success”? If so, what compromises need to be made, and will the organization make concessions to care in the light of possible economic loss or delayed economic gain? Finally, what is the cost to a caring individual, personally and professionally, to live by an ethic of care where community building and relationships are rhetoric rather than practice?


The doctoral program in Educational Leadership began over a decade ago at a mid-size university with the mission of serving educators in the semi-rural and low SES urban areas in the region. Faculty with degrees from primarily research institutions were hired to develop and work in the program. Three years ago there were seven faculty members to serve approximately 80 students on the main campus, and one off-site campus. At the beginning of the summer 2008, students totaled almost 160, including two off-campus sites, with another starting in January 2009, increasing the number of students to 190; projected number of dissertations is 70, Spring 2009 and 100, Spring 2010. In June 2008, there were two full-time faculty, one two-thirds time, two three-quarter time, and the department chair expected to chair dissertations. Vacated faculty lines are not being filled.

Two years ago, the University commissioned the start of the College of Professional and Continuing Education (CPCE), which has become the base for all off-campus graduate courses and programs, as well as all non-degree courses and/or workshops. This college developed because of the need for increased revenue to offset University budgetary losses resulting from land purchases that have not yielded the income intended, and student housing construction problems. The intent, as well, for CPCE revenue is to limit increases in undergraduate tuition and fees, and to freeze tuition for graduate and doctoral courses (doctoral course tuition is the highest in the state). This narrative addresses CPCE only in terms of its connection to degree programs.

The provost arrived at the University two years ago, instigated CPCE, and brought the temporary dean of CPCE with him from his former university. The provost met with the Educational Leadership faculty to explain the benefits of working with CPCE with regard to offering the doctoral program in off-site locations, that is, the benefits in terms of profit sharing. After that meeting, we met with the College of Education (COE) dean and CPCE temporary dean to detail the working relationship. The primary concern for faculty centered on putting courses and, eventually, the whole program, totally online. Much discussion ensued, during which time the doctoral faculty questioned the pedagogical wisdom of totally online courses and, especially, putting the entire doctoral program online (the doctoral program was the particular target since it had shown much success and there was already the promise of off-campus delivery to central state K-12 administrators and intense interest in establishing a community college cohort central or north in the state). The doctoral faculty agreed to working with hybrid online courses, that is, 60% online and 40% face-to-face. The doctoral faculty were pressured—despite the administration’s denial of this—to sign a Memo of Understanding (MOU) with CPCE. Since that time, 1 ½ years ago, many demands have been made by the staff of CPCE regarding the delivery of courses (8 weeks instead of 16, all online as of fall 2010, adjuncts to chair dissertations and deliver online coursework). Finally, the mandate is that all graduate programs must be self-sufficient; however, despite requesting information for over a year, we have not received a breakdown of the costs of the programs (everything is included, salaries, phone, paper, advertising, graduate assistants, travel, etc.). When profit sharing is seen in that light, there are little, if any, monies for anything but the essentials.

The Problem

A doctoral colleague and I have been removed from the doctoral program and re-assigned to the MA in Higher Education and the MA in Educational Administration, respectively. That act was not anticipated by either of us, nor was the new department chair or the outgoing department chair aware of that impending action. We were each called separately to the dean’s office to receive the “news”. When asked why this was occurring, she told each of us that she was going to fix the dysfunctionality within the program and among the faculty, and this was her way of doing so. Each of us asked for specific data, but was denied any explanation other than generalities, e.g., other faculty came to her about our dysfunctionality, students came to her, etc., and that was disturbing the effectiveness of the program (despite students recruiting others to the program and the program’s doubling in the last three years).
Incidents that May Have Lead To this Action.

1 At the spring meeting of the University Assembled, the President of the University presented the 5-10 year strategic plan. During the Q & A session, I noted that no mention was made of graduate education and asked what the plans were for that. He was taken aback, then responded that graduate education was only a service and that monies would not be taken at the expense of undergraduate education to support graduate education. I responded that it is my understanding that university status is dependent upon graduate programs, specifically doctoral programs. He agreed and said that they needed to be self-sufficient. End of response.

A while later, he embedded what he called a “white paper,” into a report of the committee tasked with writing and posting the strategic plan on the University website. If you were not aware of this paper, you most likely would have missed it. However, a doctoral student employed in the University alerted my colleague to it, and she told the department faculty about the paper and where to find it. The document stated that graduate programs were only a service to people in the region, that the people who wanted graduate courses were not “like us” in that they only wanted credit or degrees and weren’t interested in substance, and other demeaning comments. My colleague mentioned the paper to a doctoral student who, with another student, got the word out to other doctoral students, some of whom wrote or emailed the President, protesting his comments. One student’s files were taken from our office by the dean of our college; I do not know what happened. One of my students did receive a response from the President, which she felt skirted the issues.

My colleague and I were called to the dean’s office and questioned about how students found out about the “white paper”; it could be retrieved by various “clicks” from the University home page. We basically were told to keep our students “under control” and if students had questions, to invite the President to our classes. My colleague did that. The doctoral students asked tough questions and made him aware of 1) the doubling in growth of the doctoral program in three years and 2) the doctoral faculty’s decrease to half of what it had been three years ago, information he was surprised to hear! He said that when he wrote the paper, he didn’t even think about the doctoral program. It is the only doctoral program on campus, is most successful, and he is virtually unaware of it.

2 There have been continuous difficulties with the doctoral program and CPCE. Although we signed the MOU in good faith that there would be further discussion of issues as we moved forward, there have been changes made to it, without consult with faculty, that are now expected of the doctoral program and faculty. We must agree that the program being offered online and through CPCE is exactly the same program we offer on campus. True, the courses are the same, but the faculty who are putting the courses online are two three-quarter time persons who have not taught doctoral courses prior to this, will teach the online course once if they choose to, and then turn them over to adjuncts. Furthermore, CPCE has now mandated that all but two courses, one research course and the proposal course, will be taught in 8 week-sessions.

The facilitator or the doctoral program met with CPCE staff and agreed to the demands, despite the remaining faculty members’ disagreement and requests to meet with the CPCE staff to explain why the courses should not be taught in 8 weeks (as well as why all the courses should not be taught 100% online, especially since the initial agreement was a hybrid of online and face-to-face). My colleague and I were out-spoken about how this delivery could not possibly be conceived as pedagogically sound. The facilitator reiterated the efficiency and financial “effectiveness” while we strongly suggested that the integrity of the program is at stake. Our “complaints” were taken directly to the dean and we are seen as dysfunctional members of the faculty.

3 In the spring semester we had a program review, for which we had no input regarding the program reviewer or the process. The facilitator chose the reviewer, a friend, had a graduate student compile data concerning the program (number of students matriculated, number of years to finish, dissertations completed and length to do so, etc., much of which was inaccurate), and gave us the dates the reviewer would be here and the dates the reviewer would “help” us re-structure the program based on her review. We were aghast. When we objected to the process, the facilitator reported directly to the dean; we were viewed as dysfunctional “team” members. When the program reviewer was unable to keep the date for the re-structuring session, the facilitator gave us another date. The entire doctoral faculty responded they could not attend because of other obligations; the facilitator had the dean email us strongly encouraging us to “cooperate”. (Another date was chosen because too many other people would have been affected had we all had to re-schedule our prior commitments.)

4 My colleague and I have objected to adjuncts teaching because they tend to be hired with little or no time to prepare prior to the beginning of the semester. Additionally, the adjuncts we’ve had have had little background in research; the students who have had them are complaining because they are lost when they begin to work on their dissertations. Additionally, to hire adjuncts to teach the proposal course, which is the dean’s intent for this semester, is not appropriate because we have a unique dissertation, one that is focused on the student’s study of her leadership through an action research project (in virtually all cases) that is the lens through which her leadership is assessed. That is, the dissertation is really two studies: the assessment of a change project to improve the goals of the organization and the assessment of leadership through the ways in which the student leads the change.

5 My colleague and I also have been outspoken in our concern regarding adjuncts chairing dissertations. There are excellent adjuncts, but they are not required to be here other than for the courses they teach and may leave the University at any time, thus, potentially putting students in a precarious position. They, often, do not have a strong foundation in research, particularly action research. The intent of CPCE is to staff the online courses with adjuncts. The totally online program, additionally, brings into question the “need for” a dissertation. The on-campus program will receive no new full-time faculty, may receive three-quarter time faculty, and is encouraged to find adjuncts for courses.

Where Are We Now?

Because so many doctoral courses are unstaffed due to my colleague’s and my removal from the program and because of the number of students we now have, the dean has allowed each of us to teach one course in the program. The department chair scheduled me for a course I usually teach in the fall; the facilitator, upset because she wanted to teach it (she usually teaches it in the spring), spoke with the dean and I am now scheduled to teach a different course (which is fine, but is a new prep). I also am scheduled to teach a course in the MA in Administration Program, a new prep for me. Furthermore, the course is not filled and there has been vigilant monitoring to assure courses have a minimum number of students before they are allowed to meet; the doctoral faculty are always threatened with having a course closed because at this time students have not registered (students routinely register at the last minute to delay tuition payment). There is little chance this section will be filled, but the department chair has been guaranteed that it will be taught and I will teach it. I received my course assignment for the fall with only 5 weeks before the start of the new semester. The doctoral program has at least three courses not covered, one of which, the proposal course, has 4 sections. The dean’s response is to “find good adjuncts”.

My colleague is teaching a research course (she has taught the research courses in the past) and one course in the MA in Higher Education, a position she has wanted (one course in the doctoral program and one in Higher Education), but had been denied the opportunity to teach in Higher Ed for several years. The dean’s “reasoning” in the past has been that because she was doctoral faculty on a twelve-month contract, she could not teach in a master’s program; master’s faculty, on ten-month contracts, however, could teach in the doctoral program.

Value Audit Analysis

Using Hodgkinson’s definition of a values audit, that is, taking stock of my own values through reflection on this narrative, I am aware of how important caring, professional ethics, and social justice are to me, despite or in spite of, the surrounding circumstances. In light of those ethics, this narrative addresses the ways in which this university’s administrators use power as a mechanism to control, rather than to balance power of position with an ethic of care to engender education that is in the best interests of all students, to be governed by professional ethics to seek to maintain program integrity even in times of financial turmoil, and to lead with behavior that is socially just.

The conflict of this story is twofold: the perception of the doctoral program at the University and the maintenance of the integrity of the quality of the doctoral program as it is used to generate increased revenue for the University through growth of off-campus sites. The conflict involves the dean of COE, my colleague and me. Other doctoral faculty, the doctoral facilitator, and other department members are in the midst of the turbulence. Indirectly, and ultimately, the current students, potential students, and graduates of the program have concern for how the outcomes of the situation will affect the value of their degree.

The Conflict

The obvious difficulty stems from the difference between the administration’s need to use the doctoral program to bring in revenue without apparent concern for maintaining program integrity and without consideration for how the immediate changes in the delivery affect current and potential students, as well as the effect it has for graduates of the program; and my colleague’s and my need to voice those concerns with the expectation that they would be addressed. The result was that our not being compliant, that is, questioning and not simply following the mandates, resulted in punitive actions that impact our teaching, as well as in my case, the integrity of another program, and may influence our research. Additionally, the removal from the doctoral program has concerned students because we were the only full-time faculty in the on-campus program, thus, providing stability and continuity for them.
Possible Actions

The deans have the mandate to bring in more revenue and will be evaluated in those terms. The CPCE dean was hired specifically to start a college with the primary aim of finding markets that would generate increased profit for the University. The deans of the academic colleges, some more than others (Engineering, Business), have as part of their performance evaluations the amount of money they bring in for the University. Consequently, I understand the pressure they are under regarding funding. However, in terms of the ethics of professional and caring, there is a gap between bringing in money and making sure that what is being done is in the best interests of all students, which would include doctoral students.

Dialogue would have been helpful to see what is needed and how the program could move forward, meet university needs, and maintain and improve its quality for students. That did not occur. Meetings held with the deans of COE and CPCE were controlled by them. They interpreted questions as our being non-cooperative and contentious. At the end of a meeting, we were pressured into agreeing with them, with one or the other saying that we had a choice; we did not have to comply. However, implied in that was non-agreement meant that we would receive no funding for our program. My colleague and I were ready to stand our ground because the colleges, especially CPCE, needs the doctoral program, as it has brought in more money by far in the past year than any other college’s program or courses. However, other doctoral faculty would not stand with us and were inclined to go along with what was proposed, even though there would be grumbling in our doctoral meetings.

Transparency related to decisions would be helpful. As is stands, we have been in the position of understanding one thing, then having that changed without our knowledge. For instance, we agreed to teach off-campus students using a hybrid model of online delivery. The next time we met with the deans, we were told that the program would be delivered totally online by fall 2010, even though we had an email from the COE dean stating we could teach the program using the hybrid model. When we evidenced surprise during the meeting, we were reprimanded by the dean of CPCE saying that we knew that the hybrid model was the delivery mechanism only until the whole program was online.

Maintenance of programmatic quality and reliance on appropriate and good pedagogy was never part of the conversation, although we asked the question. My colleague and I asked questions that addressed the wisdom of part-time faculty who had never taught in a doctoral program being required to put doctoral courses on line, of adjuncts who did no research teaching research courses, of adjuncts who had never participated in our dissertation process being responsible for teaching the course readying our students for their proposal writing (we have a unique dissertation), of teaching a doctoral course in eight weeks to students who work full time, of exporting our program to international sites without considerations for culture and monitoring who actually participates in the courses, of the ways in which field work would be done through online courses and who would supervise students, and, finally, how dissertations, both numbers of and chairs, would be handled. None of these were addressed. What did happen was the facilitator (this position is one of management, not decision-making; is to represent the others in meetings with the dean of COE or with staff from CPCE) reported (not requested b y the dean) to the dean whenever my colleague or I disagreed with what the dean wanted.

My colleague and I are not opposed to online courses, but believe we are rushing in without faculty expertise and without university infrastructure to support it. We have suggested that we use the hybrid model for 2-3 years, evaluate the delivery from student perspective and our perspective, then either go forward with total online courses, continue the hybrid, or determine another direction. Our concerns are simply interpreted as our being non-cooperative; other faculty members do not question in meetings with the deans.


There is a tremendous amount of turbulence that arises from and affects the program and
department faculty, the deans of COE and CPCE, the current students, graduates of the program, the presidents of community colleges who contracted with us to make a doctoral program available to community college leaders, and potential P-12 administrators who will begin the program in the fall. With the exception of the facilitator, the other program faculty are concerned about our not teaching in the program because of our expertise; the department faculty member have to deal with reassignment to courses in the doctoral program so that I can teach in the MA in Educational Administration program. Current students and the community college presidents are concerned with the integrity of the program and the methods by which the administration worked with us; they question what might they expect if another “controversy” occurs. The current students and graduates question the value of their degree if the program becomes totally online, even if that occurs only for off-campus sites, for the administration insists that the doctoral program is the same whether online or traditional delivery. Students beginning the P-12 cohort off-campus are confused, saying they were not aware that the program would be delivered totally online; many would not have signed up for it had they known. COE and CPCE deans view my colleague and me as dysfunctional.

Intrapersonal Conflict

My conflicts revolve primarily around an ethic of care: how does caring in this situation affect the students, the administration, and me? I believe in doing what is in the best interest of students. They want a degree for personal and professional reasons—knowledge, status, power---all of which have the potential if used appropriately, to work toward a more socially just and democratic society. Without caring, I do not believe that can be achieved. In this particular instance, my concern was for democratic education and social justice, neither of which were addressed or even alluded to. I tried to foster a democratic process through my questions that related to what is best for students and through requests to meet with CPCE staff members who continually seemed to be at odds with our thinking. Both tactics seemed only to exacerbate the situation by angering the deans and encouraging the doctoral facilitator to increase her covert support of the administrative proposals, perhaps because she was going up for promotion and needed the dean’s recommendation. Her continuous reporting my challenges and alternatives to the proposed actions of the administration served to annoy the dean who, then, saw my colleague and me as impeding the process and, thereby, as dysfunctional members of the program. Was our delivery too assertive—or aggressive? I honestly believed there was room for dialogue when the process began, but realized shortly after that the meetings with the deans were of two types neither of them favorable to dialogue. If we asked for a meeting, we needed to provide an agenda with reasons behind our concerns; the deans, then prepared responses for which there was, in reality, no room for debate or discussion. The other type of meeting consisted of being told by the deans we were to report for a meeting: no agenda, no discussion of time and date, and a presentation of what would be. At each of these meetings, we were asked if we agreed and told we could disagree. When I did, I learned quickly that there was no point as I wasn’t heard; the administrators simply reiterated their case and said we didn’t have to comply (implied threats of limited or no funding).

At one meeting, I tried to foster a compromise. We were stymied regarding how to handle dissertations is we admitted the number of students discussed and if we went to a totally online program for off-campus cohorts. At issue was signing the Memorandum of Understanding, which we were reluctant to do without the dissertation concerns resolved. My suggestion was to sign the MOU in good faith with the agreement we would re-visit the dissertation dilemma. The deans were pleased, and my colleagues, after some discussion regarding a guarantee to revisit this, signed the MOU. Needless to say, I have lived to regret that attempt at “compromise,” for changes have been made to the agreement without out input. The stock response is, “But you signed the MOU.” Since that signing, changes continue to occur, including totally online delivery, eight-week courses, adjunct delivery of online courses using templates developed by part-time staff, and the recurring comments about doing away with a dissertation. How could that be in the best interests of students? Was I too na├»ve, hoping to establish common ground—trust?—between the faculty and administration?

Through this whole experience, I’ve learned that speaking out, having voice, is punishable if what is said is not “in line” with administrative thinking. Do I become silent, or do I continue to question, challenge, and attempt to establish dialogue, and become susceptible to punitive measures? Will my punishments serve student needs, or will they actually take away from their best interests?

As much as I do not want to deal with the reality of budget, I understand that is a given. The administrators, from the president and provost to the deans, are under great pressure from the board of trustees to limit the debt encumbrances. Performance evaluations, therefore, in part, influence tenure at the University, depending on progress toward limiting debt and bringing in money through grants, increased enrollment, or innovative workshops or courses that draw people to campus. I can understand the priority those people put on revenue. However, I cannot believe that bringing in money has to be the driving force of the University. If the administrators saw the big picture, that is, education for students, how could they not think first of what students need and how we then move simultaneously to meet the needs and find ways to fund them? Administrators did not ask our students to suggest what they would be willing to do, give up, or consider in order to maintain quality in the program, as well as to increase the numbers of students in it. However, before that could happen, the issue of what is best for all students would need to be addressed, as the top administrators have decided that undergraduate education is the focus of the university and graduate education is only a service, as needed, to people in the region. My feeling is this is a social justice issue. The institution became a “university” because of the graduate programs, specifically because of the one and only doctoral program. The latter has gained a creditable reputation which the administrative body simply wants to use to increase revenue, but for which there is little support or recognition. This is not a balance of power and caring leadership.

Finally, I question caring in terms of caring for me. How much should I be willing to sacrifice on a personal and professional level for the best interests of students? Professionally, I’ve been put into a position of working with master’s level students going into K-12 administration. I have never been a K-12 administrator and chose not to get a PhD in that area. The people who must now teach in the doctoral program are former K-12 administrators with the practice and/or research to support their teaching. My focus is ethics, social policy, and theoretical perspectives of leadership. It is not the nuts and bolts of the principalship, New Jersey educational law, or school organization. I will have to devote much more time to class preparation, at the expense of research and personal time, in order to provide the best teaching for students because I’ve not taught the courses nor have I read the material. I will have to become involved in credentialing, which has not been part of my position to this point. Contact with doctoral students will be minimal, so there will be less opportunity for me to work with dissertation students whose work I know; which is a part of my work that I particularly enjoy.

As I write this section, caring for me, I feel physically disturbed. Is it legitimate for me to feel this way, or am I just whining? Perhaps this is why my research focuses on care of the self---what is it and is it “deserved”? What is meant by care for others as one cares for self? Is that an aspect of social justice we overlook?

Note: This narrative was authored by Samantha, Professor of Education, and posted by the blog administrator.


JTW said...

I hear your pain and frustration. As technology continues to transform our educational system often times it creates an inner struggle with our traditional beliefs. I believe that you are experiencing such an inner struggle. Your core values/beliefs are different than those of your administration. I agree with your summation in regard to the University president. It seems as if the ethic of care is lacking from his vocabulary. However, keep in mind that in today's educational climate financial efficiency is key to any business surviving. It is obvious by your description of events that the University is being viewed as a business, thus the ethic of care is to a lesser degree. It seems to me that you will need to determine what is in your best interest as well as your students. Best wishes.

lrc said...

Wow, what a dilemma. I am sure you are frustrated. Money talks, and budgetary constraints sometimes come before expertise. Adjuncts receive less pay than their full time counterparts, and when push comes to shove, they can fill in the gap. It seems like the Doctoral students are the ones that pay the "price" if there is no continuity in the program and "academic freedom" is primary.

karen said...

This reminds of Lawrence Summers and his time spent leading Harvard. I think he had a view of academia that was different than many of the professors in the institution. His goals and values clashed with the faculty and created a great deal of turbulence.
Your situation is similar in that the goals you and your colleagues believe are important seem to be more consistent with the traditional goals of academia rather than those of a business organization. I would argue that the University is a business and does need to make a profit; however, quality programs, reputation, an emphasis on students and an accomplished faculty are essential. I feel your pain.

Keun Jin said...

"If the administrators saw the big picture, that is, education for students, how could they not think first of what students need and how we then move simultaneously to meet the needs and find ways to fund them?" is impressive. Best interest of students is the important value in education. However, students' need is ignored by the school organization in terms of business logic. I think education reform in the school also should first consider students' need, but, in many times, it does not.