June 01, 2004

Silly Academic Titles

The Chronicle of Higher Education contains a piece entitled Assistant Directors of the Underclass, Unite! [subscription required] by Robert M. Kahn, about the silly titles that have been cropping up in academia.

As he suggests, some of them are due to downsizing resulting in the combination of what were formerly separate administrative units:

Division Chair for Engineering-Related Technologies, Health, Mathematics, Nursing, and Sciences

Some seem to be the titular equivalents of vanity license plates, intended to make the holder feel unique:

Assistant Professor of Nonformal Educational Processes
And some result from political correctness:
Gender Faculty Specialist
Director of Social Equity

But I have to disagree with Kahn's assessment of some of the titles that he lists under the heading Products of Adjectival Impairment:

Coordinator of Organized Research
Organized Research is probably what is more usually called Sponsored Research, but is perhaps more accurate, including group research projects that receive no external funding.
Director of the Office of Academic Student Instructional Support
Academic Student Instructional Support is very likely support for academic students as opposed to vocational students. It needs to be qualified as instructional support to contrast it with, say, financial assistance or psychological counselling
Coordinator of Liberal/General/Interdisciplinary Studies
liberal, general and interdisciplinary are not synonyms. In many institutions, liberal studies would be a some sort of liberal arts program, while general studies usually indicates a smattering with no focus at all. interdisciplinary studies might deal with individually designed interdisciplinary degrees, though in at least one case that I know of it is basically a euphemism for "postmodern stuff". I suspect that this person's job is to oversee all of the various degrees that are not traditional departmental degrees. The double-disjunction is a bit awkward, but it isn't as awkward as Coordinator of Degrees That Are Not Traditional Departmental Degrees, and it doesn't sound as funky as Coordinator of Non-Traditional Degrees, which sounds suspiciously like it involves a lot of meditation and ingestion of controlled substances and things like that.

What Kahn doesn't mention is that you need to watch out for the acronyms that result. A friend of mine back in British Columbia has just become the Coordinator of what in Canada is usually known as something like First Nations Educational Support Services at the University College of the Cariboo. First Nations is a Canadian cover term for Indians and Inuit and Métis, but at UCC they have decided to use Aboriginal instead of First Nations. They've also decided that it isn't necessary to specify that the support services are educational. The resulting unit is therefore Aboriginal Support Services, which means that my friend is now the Coordinator of ASS.

Posted by Bill Poser at June 1, 2004 11:46 PM