Self-government is better than good government.
Academic receivership – a relatively rare event in which a departmental chair is imposed from the outside by a dean or provost when the department is judged unable to govern itself effectively – is an instance of alien rule within the academy. In one of the few articles on the subject, Charlotte Allen (1998) wrote, “Receivership may be academe’s dirtiest word … receivership is a shameful secret, a dark blot on academic reputation and institutional self-image” – strong words indeed to describe instances in which an anthropology department is chaired by a historian and a literature department chaired by a linguist. This chapter explores what makes an academic leader alien, the conditions that may increase the probability that outsiders are chosen to lead academic departments, why disciplinary affinity might matter, the possible reasons for faculty preferences for leaders of “one’s own kind,” and what motivates alien rulers to accept the mantle of leadership.
As with nationalism, in which grievances are given voice in nationalist terms principally under conditions of alien rule (Hechter 2000), academic receivership may turn the universal language of academic grievances into something with a distinctly disciplinary tone. Yet as with nationalism, the veneer may also represent something with deep meaning, and it is that which the analysis seeks to understand.