How to Radicalize Your Faculty

How to Radicalize Your Faculty in 7 Easy Steps: A Guide for University Administrators

by James J.F. Forest

The excellent book Extremism ( published recently by JM Berger offers a range of unique and important insights about how radicalization towards violence is a process that can be influenced by a variety of actions, communication and contexts. The following are observations and lessons learned from the study of terrorist radicalization that can be useful for senior administrators of a college or university who desire to see their faculty rise up, pitchforks in hand, in a full-blown violent rebellion.

1)  Establish clear, impermeable in-group and out-group boundaries, particularly when it comes to the distribution of power and decision-making authorities at your college or university. When defining the “us versus them” relationship, be consistent in explaining that the faculty “just don’t get it, they don’t see the big picture” that you do. You are not all part of the same team, striving toward common goals. Treat the faculty as minions, pawns in a larger game they do not or simply cannot comprehend. Where possible, sow divisions among the out-group members according to their discipline, rank, grant revenue production, academic pedigree, personal favorites, etc. Ensure specific, visible perks for members of your in-group that are unavailable to the out-group, from special VIP parking spaces and lunch tables to flying first class and maintaining significant salary differentials (e.g., no members of the faculty will be allowed to earn more than administrative decision makers, because they don’t deserve it). And finally, never be seen doing what the faculty are expected to do (e.g., teaching a class, advising a student, grading research papers, etc.) as that would diminish the perceived boundaries between the in-group and out-group.

2)  Mandate policies and procedures for the university that the out-group have no say in, and no choice but to comply with (e.g., announce that “next Wednesday is a Monday class schedule”). This is particularly important with regard to policies that impact things the out-group does most, like classroom teaching, or things they rely on, like technology, information platforms, support staff and services, transportation and parking, library resources, conference travel support and so forth. Try to be as arbitrary and capricious as you can when making decisions that affect the out-group’s livelihoods and professional satisfaction. Few things inspire fear and loathing of an administration more than being unfair, unjust and uncaring. Never show sympathy, as it would obviously be viewed as a sign of weakness.

3)  Since you have control over budgetary allocations, use your financial resources to enlarge your in-group. Add more assistant and associate deans, more assistant and associate vice provosts, etc. It is particularly easy to do this when you can link an administrative position with the possibility of future funding sources (for example, fundraising campaigns, alumni and donor relationships, external affairs, and so forth). Also, you should never allow members of the out-group the power to choose who will join their out-group. You, not the faculty, know who are the best job candidates to hire in every discipline. Allow them the façade of a faculty search committee and all that, but you must never let the out-group think you trust their judgment, for they will never be as trustworthy as members of your administrative in-group.

4)  When the operating context presents a crisis, us it to further strengthen bonds within your in-group, and amplify the differences of the out-group. Under certain situations it may even be possible to blame the out-group for the crisis (for example, students are protesting because the faculty are too liberal). Also, when periodic enrollment declines result in revenue shortfalls, your first instinct must be to cut classes, make faculty teach larger classes, refuse to replace faculty who retire, cut costs associated with support staff, services, and so forth. When budget cuts are required, spread them across the entire faculty regardless of department enrollment, faculty size, quality of programs or other considerations. You must never cut back on those new administrative positions you created, and never reduce staff at senior levels. Any criticisms about increased costs of a bloated administration must be deflected and obfuscated.

5)  Consistently foster a climate of uncertainty – keep them guessing! Of course, few things reduce uncertainly like transparency, so never be as transparent as the faculty want you to be. Pursuant to that, restrict open communication as much as possible between the in-group and the out-group. Communication should be limited to one direction: from the in-group to the out-group, never the opposite. Do not give members of the out-group any impression that you offer a true “open door policy” or that you are eager to hear what they have to say. You must remain separate, above them for the sake of in-group solidarity. Take heed of this warning: the administrator who is unfailingly kind, generous and empathetic will only be taken advantage of by members of the faculty. Such is the inherently evil nature of the out-group. Also, do not respond to their e-mail messages quickly. Wait for a period of time, even if your response will be a simple “no”, or better yet, forward them to a support staff member in your office “to deal with”. And on those rare occasions you do meet with out-group members, regularly check your email and your watch, answer a phone call, arrange for other administrators to disrupt the meeting. Demonstrate visibly that you have more important things to be doing and other places to be. In time, the requests from faculty to meet with you will likely decline.

6)  Openly demonstrate disdain for out-group opinions about you administration’s policies and decisions, especially regarding personnel hiring, budgeting, curriculum, planning, and so forth. Who do these faculty think they are to offer opinions or criticize your in-group? As the old saying goes, you must never let the inmates run the zoo. If members of the out-group chafe at your decisions, they can simply go work at some other college or university. The fewer troublemakers to deal with, the better.

7)  Disempower the out-group as much as possible, and ensure they “stay in their lane”. Limit any opportunities for faculty grievances to be heard or acknowledged. You should certainly not give the impression that their grievances matter in terms of how you view what is in the best interests of your college or university. Since they are members of the out-group, it should be fairly easy for you to dismiss them out of hand. However, if you really want to frustrate them, you should offer the façade of collaboration or faculty governance, trick them into believing they can have a say in university decision-making. Occasionally solicit input from the faculty but regularly ignore it (or even criticize it – for example, “this strategic plan you’ve sent me isn’t even worth my time responding to”) as a way to “show them who is really in charge.” Obviously, ignore them when implementing new policies. If the faculty are unionized, violate the spirit (if not the letter) of the union contract whenever possible. Any grievance process will be cumbersome, daunting and unsatisfactory for the faculty to gain any meaningful outcomes. Remember, your administrative in-group must always have primacy over the faculty out-group.

To sum up, radicalization toward violent extremism is a process that can be influenced and incentivized by contexts, words and actions. So, if you want to truly radicalize your faculty, follow these steps and see results!

James J.F. Forest is a Professor in the School of Criminology and Justice Studies at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, and co-editor of the journal Perspectives on Terrorism ( He has published 20 books and dozens of articles on terrorism and security studies as well as on university teaching and higher education (