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Faculty Governance Seminar: Chad Orzel’s ’93 Detachment

This is the eighth installment in our (now) two week seminar on President Adam Falk’s letter about the “alignment of senior administrative responsibilities.”

So far, I have been somewhat skeptical of Falk’s plan because it clearly results in less faculty influence/control/governance at Williams, continuing the trend of the last 100 years. Being a fan of the faculty, I want more faculty influence/control/governance, not less. But perhaps I should revisit that assumption, and Chad Orzel ’93 is here to help me.

Orzel displays a typical insider’s snobbery in this comment about my idea for a Wiki for academic questions.

I’ve been watching this series with the sort of amused detachment appropriate to anything where people spout off about the operations of businesses they don’t understand, but I have to say, this Wikipedia idea is by far the silliest suggestion to date.

If this comment is directed at me, then its main effect is to demonstrate Orzel’s cluelessness rather than his “detachment.” He thinks that he knows more about the “operations” of Williams than I do. Hah! Has he read the financial statements, talked with current (and former) Williams presidents, deans of the faculty and the college, provosts, committee chairs and senior faculty? Has he taught at Williams, closely studied the Record over the last decade, read the senior theses which focus on Williams, learned about the history of the College and of Williamstown? Has he talked (as I have) with hundreds of Williams students and alumni over the last 7 years? I doubt it.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that Orzel is a bad guy. I am sure that he is a good guy! And he certainly knows much more about Union (where he teaches) then I do. But, like many academics, he suffers from the delusion that only he and his fellow members of the faculty priesthood are qualified to opine on the “operations” of Williams.

To the extent his comments are not directed at me, they are even worse. Consider the views of other Williams alums about my “Wikipedia idea”:

kthomas: “David’s suggestion seems to me not to eliminate advising, but to strengthen it by setting a framework for it, and providing good answers to common questions”

rory: “. . . this wiki page sounds nice and would help with many questions . . .”

bfleming: “I think it sounds like a fantastic idea.”

hwc: “I think David’s wiki idea (or a similar approach using an advising FAQ) is not only a good idea, but so commonsense that it’s hard to imagine anyone being against it.”

Are these four Ephs guilty of “spout[ing] off about the operations of businesses they don’t understand?” In Orzel’s mind, Yes. (And note how his comment makes it fairly clear that he did not bother to read the discussion thread.) Orzel’s position is a perfect example of technocratic elitism: If you are not an insider on topic X, then you “don’t understand” enough about topic X to do anything other than “spout off.” Parallel examples of technocratic elitism would be Marines who think that no one without military experience is qualified to offer an opinion about military policy or bankers who argue that no one outside the industry has anything useful to say about financial regulation.

Why, in the context of a seminar on faculty governance, do I bother to so thoroughly fisk Orzel’s comment when it, obviously, has no merit? Because Orzel’s attitude and world view illustrate why schools like Williams (and Union) may be better off with less “faculty governance.” Instead of having people like Orzel run Williams, perhaps we are better off with people like Stephen Klass doing so. That is not something that I want to believe, but Adam Falk is a smart guy, smart enough to know that Orzel (whatever his strengths as a physicist and teacher) might be completely incapable of considering and learning from the opinions of other people, especially outsiders like kthomas, rory, bfleming and hwc.

Perhaps the less influence that Orzel has at Union (and the less influence faculty like Orzel have at Williams), the more successful these institutions will be in the future. I don’t want to believe that but, if Adam Falk does, then maybe I am wrong.