As Gerry Canavan has eloquently pointed out, the perpetual crisis mentality of higher ed is an indication that the very large and expensive management class that has taken over universities in recent decades is an utter failure. Well-managed universities should not need significant “flexibility” in their course offerings semester to semester, for example, nor should they be blindsided by demographic trends that were easily predictable decades ahead of time. Gerry notes, of course, that the apparent “failure” of the autonomous administration class actually reflects a success on another level: they want to destroy the traditional university, and using constant crises to force budget cuts is a great way to destroy anything.
The exact form this destruction took was perhaps not predestined, but in retrospect, it was inevitable that putting people without a deep investment in academia into administrative positions would lead to the undermining of traditional academic institutions (such as tenure, etc.). This tendency became exacerbated once administrators began jumping from campus to campus as a routine part of their career path. At that point, your focus is on building the resume to get the next better position, not on the future of your current institution.
It doesn’t require any individual to be a bad person — it’s a structural problem of incentives. And the only way to align incentives appropriately is faculty self-governance. I’m in favor of a very strong system of self-governance, where all academic administrators are appointed out of the regular tenured faculty of the university with limited, renewable terms.
In my ideal system, literally no university would ever do an outside search for dean or provost, ever, and there would be a minimum time served requirement before any new faculty hires could do administrative tasks. This would ensure that all administrators are absolutely tied to the future of their current institution and would be anticipating rejoining the regular faculty in the future. If they screwed over their colleagues, they would have to live among them as a peer for decades to come.
This system would also presumably inculcate broader loyalty to academia as such, pushing against the destruction of the teaching profession via adjunctification, etc., etc. But even if it didn’t have such wide-ranging effects, it would at least keep administrators from actively destroying their own institutions, simply out of self-interest.
Now I know that self-governed faculties are to blame for the rise of the current situation. They chose their short-term interests over the long-term interests of the profession, and we’re all paying the price. The same could be said about labor unions more generally — they sold out and began looking solely inward, allowing a two-tiered system of labor to emerge. But just as something like a union is the only conceivable way to increase workers’ collective bargaining power, so also is something like faculty governance the only way to preserve academia as an autonomous, self-reproducing institution. The only alternative is to hand all the power over to the bosses, and the bosses as a class — no matter how nice or kind-spirited an individual boss might be — only care about enriching themselves and destroying anything that could challenge their power.