President Barbara R. Snyder and the business of business

The meaning of Spartan life

Jacob Martin

In a transcript that appeared in Salon Magazine, Noam Chomsky talked about how corporate business models are hurting universities. He spoke about how the increased hiring of adjunct professors and the failure to replace vacant tenure-track positions is much like a corporation hiring “temps” or part-time employees. This cuts costs, as benefits are not required, as well as establishing a set term of employment without the guarantee of returning.

In Chomsky’s—and my own—opinion, this creates a docile environment of fear. Docile because adjuncts have a weak voice—if at all, and fear because their employment is not secure despite their performance.

But the bigger implication is that with a move towards administrative powerhouses in academia, funds are allocated to numerous things other than education. There exists a disparity of needs and goals between administrators and those involved with the education itself: students and faculty.

On Monday, Nov. 17, I personally met with President Barbara R. Snyder for an hour in her office in Adelbert Hall. Our discussion topic was community and what it looks and feels like here at Case Western Reserve University.

There’s no doubt that a strong sense of community allows for open dialogue, engaged diversity, greater learning, more understanding and better human development, all of which lead to better education. But my discussion with Snyder tells me the disparity between administrators and students is prevalent.

She agrees wholeheartedly with my assertion that community is of the utmost importance for CWRU. She said, “Each person is within a range of experiences and needs to ask themselves: What can ‘I’ do to make a better community? But I’m not going to dictate answers to anybody.”

Her sentiments were reflected in both her written State of the University Address and the email addressing the racial Yik-Yak comments. Clearly Snyder wants to see our campus flourish, and using her voice is indicative of that. But our administrators’ efforts are not enough.

Yes, the Office of Student Affairs has established community as its primary goal this year, reflecting such a claim in its strategic plan; yes, there was a consultant on campus a couple weeks back brought in to create a CWRU-specific diversity training module; yes, Snyder has engaged the campus community recently. Again, it’s all not enough because no amount of effort will overcome a flawed system unless those efforts are aimed at fixing the system itself.

The structure of CWRU’s administration looks like an infinitely-layered wedding cake. There are provosts, vice presidents and associate vice presidents, deans and associate deans, executive directors and directors, department advisors and coordinators and aides. With many administrative departments having several people in several roles it’s no wonder student voices get lost in the airwaves.

Additionally, I asked Snyder what the purpose of our Tinkham Veale University Center (TVUC) was.

“It’s a formal space for student organizations to call home and an informal space for students to use,” she said. “It’s a place to bring people together, our entire community together. It’s a place for events and for people to mix. At the last [William N. Skirball] Writers Center Stage talk I saw students sitting across from me talking about a class or something related. There are always students sitting around there.”

This is a utopic vision and a broad answer: Snyder made TVUC seem perfect, and it’s not. I immediately thought we should all take off our fig leaves and start milling around the building as if it were Eden before the fall. Furthermore, what do students—the very people a university exists for—need in a university center? Certainly it can’t just be seats to sit in.

But Snyder can be cryptic because she can be cryptic. Let’s face it; ambiguity is a trademark of executive positions. I don’t blame Snyder for this nor do I criticize her for it. It’s a systemic criticism that should nonetheless be addressed, and I challenge her to rise above it.

This is exactly Chomsky’s point in his transcript, and it’s mine in my pursuit of a stronger community: the hallmarks of business are fundamentally different from the hallmarks of education. The hallmarks of education include dialogue and the free flow of ideas, comments and criticisms. But since CWRU and many other institutions of higher education have adopted a businesslike model of organization, political correctness, hierarchy and obscurity are now requisites of education systems.

In my column about my first meeting with Snyder I wrote, “It’s clear she is an intelligent businesswoman.” I stand by that claim and find it undeniable, but are businesspeople who we want leading our universities?

My last question to Snyder was what she wanted her legacy to be after her tenure at CWRU. She paused before saying, “That’s a big question. I don’t think you should define your own legacy; others should do that because it’s the stakeholders that matter. I think if you leave a place better than it was when you came.” I asked her to define “better,” but how is that possible?

Snyder’s logic might suggest it’s up to us.

Jacob Martin is a weekly opinion columnist, a senior English and political science major. He sincerely thanks President Barbara R. Snyder for her time on Monday and appreciates all the help from the Office of the President.