“People who are not steeped in those traditions are not prepared to defend them in the way that they deserve,” he said.
As UNC and the UNC System search for a new chancellor and president, some stakeholders have expressed concern that people from the corporate world, rather than academia, may fill up these positions. While some feel that a private sector background would benefit administrators, others think a background in higher education is necessary. Coupled with the gap between faculty and administrative salaries, this adds to concerns that the increasing corporatization of higher education — the infusion of corporate ways and values into colleges — is trickling down from the administration.
The system president
The system president, a role currently filled by interim President Bill Roper, oversees all 17 campuses of the UNC System. The questions about who should lead became even more widespread when Roper announced that he would not pursue the position permanently.
Though many chancellors and stakeholders hope to see a career academic in the system president role, former Board of Governors chairperson Harry Smith brought up the possibility of a candidate with a corporate background during the search process. At a September meeting of the UNC System Presidential Search Committee, Smith said he sees value in having a candidate from the private sector.
Appalachian State University professor Michael Behrent said choosing someone from the corporate world for this position is not inherently bad, but he does see it as dangerous. Behrent, who serves as the chairperson for the faculty senate at Appalachian, said that while the search committee has not said it is looking for a candidate from the corporate world, he thinks its members are open to the possibility.
One concern Behrent has with this possibility is that he does not think universities and corporations are that similar, even though they both seek to use resources efficiently.
“It’s crucial to understand that the role of a university is not to generate dividends for shareholders,” Behrent said. “Its goal is to educate and to produce research.”
Thorp said he thinks the system president should have a background in higher education, though he worries this will not be the case. He said the BOG already does not value the core principles of academia as much as he wishes they would. If the system president did not value them, he said this would be problematic for UNC-System schools.
“And it’s going to make it really hard to be the chancellor of those schools,” Thorp said.
Thorp said former UNC-System President Erskine Bowles’ commitment to these academic values was important to him when he was chancellor.
“It was easy because Erksine Bowles was such a strong leader that anytime anything problematic happened, he just put his arm around me and would tell everybody that we had it all under control and it all worked,” he said.
A ‘distinct constituency’
The idea of corporatization is not unique to the UNC System, and Behrent said administration is only one area within universities where it originates.
One way in which this happens, he said, is “administrative bloat”: when there is an increase of administrators such as vice chancellors and provosts on college campuses and significant resources are put toward their salaries.
Behrent said university administration is also becoming a “distinct constituency” from the faculty. He said he sees people professionalizing themselves to become administrators, rather than serving in these positions as a kind of service assignment before returning to their work as faculty. Administrators often jump around between administrative jobs because of this trend, he said.
“I think that this corporate training and specialization of the administrative position, as opposed to just being a faculty member, means that administrators have different goals and priorities than faculty members,” Behrent said.
High salaries and incentivized pay, Behrent said, are also ways in which college administrations mimic the corporate world. He brought up a resolution the Board of Governors passed in September, which approved an incentive pay plan for UNC-System chancellors.
“These are people who are already being paid very well in the system," he said. "And they’re actually looking at getting very sizable annual compensation on top of their pay if they meet these goals — and at a time when salaries are quite stagnant for most other UNC employees.”
UNC geography professor Altha Cravey, president of the American Association of University Professors' North Carolina Conference, said she sees high salaries and raises going to administrators. At the same time, she said decisions are increasingly made in a top-down fashion instead of using shared governance — a system where both faculty and administrators have input in University decisions.
Cravey said this damages the relationship between administrators and faculty.
“When faculty are treated as expendable and are simply expected to follow orders, relationships with bosses deteriorate rapidly,” she said in an email interview. “The pay gap contributes to this social distance.”
Cravey cited former Chancellor Carol Folt’s move to the University of Southern California as an example of administrators jumping from job to job without having a deep commitment to their university communities.
Chancellors at UNC and beyond
Despite some faculty concerns about administrators leaving after a brief time in power, Richard Stevens, who chairs both the UNC Board of Trustees and the Chancellor Search Committee, said there is no specific length of time he hopes the next chancellor will serve. Stevens said there has never been a term of office for a chancellor, and that he hopes to see someone serve as long as they are effective in the job.
“That’s the ideal time, whether that’s two years or 20 years,” he said.
Regarding the possibility of a candidate with a corporate background, Stevens said he is open to the idea of a non-traditional candidate. But such a candidate, he said, would have to be highly committed to and knowledgeable about higher education.
There are administrators with corporate backgrounds serving in universities across the country, including the UNC System. At UNC-Wilmington, for example, Jose V. Sartarelli has served in the chancellorship since 2015.
Sartarelli worked at West Virginia University before coming to UNC-Wilmington. According to UNC-Wilmington’s website, he also worked in international marketing and management with Johnson & Johnson, Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. and Eli Lilly and Co. for about 30 years.
Hal Kitchin, the chairperson of UNC-Wilmington’s BOT, said Sartarelli’s background in private business has given him a solid foundation for his work as the chancellor.
“Any university is a business, and to effectively lead a university, good business and management skills are critical,” Kitchin said in an email.
The private sector, Kitchin said, is not the only area where an administrator can gain the necessary skillset. He said they can gain the same skills by moving through the ranks of a university.
As for the job of leading the UNC System, Kitchin said the area where the ideal candidate comes from depends on the individual.
“The job of leading the UNC System is a very important one,” he said in the email. “There might be an extraordinary leader in the corporate world who would be a good fit. But generally I'd think the best candidates will be those with a mix of private sector and higher ed experience.”
Faculty concerns about the corporatization of the UNC-System administration relate not only to the people in power, but also to the relationship they will have with faculty. Cravey said a concern she has with corporatization is that it leads to anti-intellectualism at universities, as well as a decay in shared governance.
Thorp said it’s an inherent property of UNC — and American higher education in general — that the faculty are involved in matters of governance.
“And if the system doesn’t have respect for that, then that’s when a lot of these problems that you’ve seen over the years happen,” he said.