Monday, January 18, 2016

Leading by Example--Ethical Decision Making at Penn State; Guiding Questions and High Level Decision Making at the University



The President of Penn State University has recently and quite publicly announced an embrace of a final version of what is called the Penn State Values. There is no doubt that the entire university community applauds the culmination of what this senior administrator has described as a complex four year progress producing a document, and its values, which, though merely "aspirational in nature" are meant to "guide our actions and decisions as members of the Penn State community".   

The university president encourages everyone "to use and incorporate the Penn State Values in their activities, planning and discussions" for which it has developed toolkits, an ethical decision making model, and a set of guiding questions. The Penn State community is promised examples of the application of these values gleaned from what were called Town Hall meetings and will recognize ethical model citizens from among the university community. 

Most important, perhaps, the university president noted that these Penn State Values now form part of the core of "the recently approved University strategic plan, which is currently being implemented." And plans are in the works to "further integrate" these aspirational values "more fully into University life at all levels." 

This post considers this valuable exercise and considers its application to the working lives of senior leadership.  In a university, like other leading American public universities, in which senior leadership ought to be committed to leading by example in a transparent way that enhances accountability, Penn State values culture might provide a useful mechanism for better decision making at the highest levels of administrative life. 

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Benefits May Not Be Accessed!: Penn State and the Transformation of Benefits Policy in the Contemporary American Public University

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2016)


To protect systems of benefits, benefits may not be accessed! That forms the core of the operational policy of the contemporary American public university.  The most successful benefit systems are those in which employees do not make claims; the ideal system, is one in which medical costs are shifted from plan to employee. A principal object of contemporary American universities is to socialize its employees into the belief that this premise is necessary and inevitable and that the ideal benefits program is one in which the recipient of the benefit pays its costs. And it is necessary and inevitable as universities transform themselves into insurance companies--adopting both the characteristics and behaviors of the more  forward looking leaders of that field of economic activity.

Penn State  provides a useful example of this national trend  that requires, as a necessary element, "socializing the current state of . . .  medical benefits and setting future direction on plan design and cost sharing."  This Post examines the nature and effects of this trend toward the transformation of benefits--from conception to operation within the contemporary American university.  

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Part 1 Penn State Law: The Public Face of Diversity--The Example of Penn State

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2016)

Diversity has become an important element of operations at the American University.  It has become a priority for governance at most research universities.

At Penn State diversity has been embedded at the core of the strategic planning of the university on both pragmatic (demographics) and normative (morals) grounds. Among the challenges identified by Penn State in its project of enhancing diversity touches on communication--both to stakeholders nd the wider community (see, e.g., here). is  This post and those that follow will consider the public face of Penn State's diversity efforts.  It will look at the way that Penn State's units have embedded diversity in their communications by looking at diversity on the web sites of Penn State's units.  The purpose is simple--the way a university projects itself provides a good means of understanding how the university sees itself.  In light of the President's commitment, it would be useful to examine the way that diversity appears throughout Penn State.  This post provides a short introduction to the character of that public face from the top of the administrative hierarchy.  In the posts that follow, we will consider how each of Penn State's units projects its own image of its engagement with diversity in light of official and public face of diversity at Penn State.

The object is not just to get a sense of the collective self projection of this important issue an an important an influential university.  It also serves to see the extent to which diversity can be administered in a coherent manner throughout a large and complex institution.  Do all units approach the issue the same way? Do all units share the same approaches to diversity as the central administration suggests they should?  What are the variations in approaches?  These and other related questions will be posed and considered.  Comments, suggestions, and additional insights are welcome as we work through the theory and practice of diversity at major institutions.

This post starts with Penn State Law.

The Table of Contents may be accessed HERE.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Introduction: The Public Face of Diversity--The Example of Penn State

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2016)


Diversity has become an important element of operations at the American University.  It has become a priority for governance at most research universities.

At Penn State diversity has been embedded at the core of the strategic planning of the university on both pragmatic (demographics) and normative (morals) grounds:
Building diversity at Penn State isn’t just good for business and environmental richness -- it’s a moral imperative, said President Eric Barron today (March 20) during an in-depth review of the demographics and 2020 census projections for Pennsylvania and the United States.

“It’s our obligation as a public institution of higher education to teach the people in our communities, in our state, in the nation, and increasingly at Penn State, students from around the world,” Barron said in his address to the Board of Trustees.

Diversity/demographics is one of six topics declared by Barron as major talking points of his presidency. Barron presented numerous slides worth of data describing demographic projections for 2020, University-wide demographics for students and faculty/staff as of fall 2014, and snapshots of the demographics in 20 statewide recruitment areas.
 Barron said he sees three imperatives: moral, educational and business. The University has a duty to teach all people, a diverse campus is a richer learning environment, and a welcoming and inclusive campus responding to changing demographics is crucial in attracting students.
“At many universities, diversity is an assigned responsibility,” he said, “when in fact, we won’t be successful unless it is everybody’s job.”

Penn State’s diversity will need to grow if the University is to mirror the racial makeup of Pennsylvania and beyond, according to Barron. (Barron stresses demographics', diversity’s importance in future of Penn State, Penn State News, March 20, 2015)
Among the challenges identified by Penn State in its project of enhancing diversity touches on communication--both to stakeholders and the wider community (see, e.g., here). is  This post and those that follow will consider the public face of Penn State's diversity efforts.  It will look at the way that Penn State's units have embedded diversity in their communications by looking at diversity on the web sites of Penn State's units.  The purpose is simple--the way a university projects itself provides a good means of understanding how the university sees itself.  In light of the President's commitment, it would be useful to examine the way that diversity appears throughout Penn State.  This post provides a short introduction to the character of that public face from the top of the administrative hierarchy.  In the posts that follow, we will consider how each of Penn State's units projects its own image of its engagement with diversity in light of official and public face of diversity at Penn State. 

The object is not just to get a sense of the collective self projection of this important issue an an important an influential university.  It also serves to see the extent to which diversity can be administered in a coherent manner throughout a large and complex institution.  Do all units approach the issue the same way? Do all units share the same approaches to diversity as the central administration suggests they should?  What are the variations in approaches?  These and other related questions will be posed and considered.  Comments, suggestions, and additional insights are welcome as we work through the theory and practice of diversity at major institutions.

Contents

Introduction
Penn State Law 


Monday, January 4, 2016

Breaking New Ground: Emotional Support Animals in American Universities; Is it Time for a Change in Policy at Penn State?

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2016)


It would have been quite unremarkable for universities to ban all but a limited number of service dogs from campus only a few years ago. It would have been quite extraordinary for the university to permit animals otherwise. There was a constant tension between students who sought to sneak small pets into dorms, faculty who would bring pets to their offices, and bureaucrats waving policies grounded in their sense of risk assessment and safety (and more likely an easy sense of the limits of propriety).

It is with some interest, then, that these anti-animal policies have come face to face with an increasing sensitivity to the needs of accommodation of people--and to the growing understanding of the critical role of animals in human health and social functioning. But even in the face of these changes, universities have been reluctant to change their own policies, now deeply ingrained. And thus it is only through the threat of litigation--and by the government--that universities now appear to be bending their stubborn unwillingness to embrace new knowledge and apply it to their own operations.

The initial battleground was Kent State University. The object of interdiction were “emotional support dogs.” The field of battle was a courthouse where the issue of university intransigence would be tested against the constraints of federal civil rights law; a civil rights lawsuit was brought by the U.S. Justice Department alleging discrimination against students with psychological disabilities. The result was a settlement through which the university will agree to allow these service animals in student housing at Kent State University, which has settled a civil rights lawsuit brought by the U.S. Justice Department claiming the school discriminated against students with psychological disabilities.

This post includes a recent news account of the action. It then suggests how the Kent State settlement might be a useful basis for reconsidering  university rules on service animals, considering in this context the example of Penn State. 

Monday, December 28, 2015

Retaliatory Governance and the University: Considering Hypothetical Questions on the Discretionary Authority of Deans and their Effects


(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2015)


To what extent do unit administrators contribute to rising cultures of retaliation in the contemporary public university?  To what extent  are faculty protected against the sometimes subtle use of discretionary authority to coerce behavior?  These are questions that are increasingly asked by faculty but rarely answered by senior administrators.

The usual discourse of accountability and constraints on administrative discretion tends to focus on senior administrators. But accountability issues at most public universities ought to extend beyond senior administrators. Though senior administrative organs adhere to formal policies that appear to constrain the behaviors of unit administrators (deans, chancellors, and other middle managers with direct supervision of faculties), it sometimes appears that they also seek to advance a blank-check governance policy for their unit heads (including deans, department heads and chancellors of campus organizations), in fact if not in form.  One might think that these de facto policy choices might well violate university ethics codes and they certainly diffuse accountability to the point where it is formally well structured but functionally dead. Yet the principal effect of these rules may be cover for protecting rising cultures of retaliation whose principal characteristic is tolerating substantially unconstrained discretion by unit administrators with respect to the management of their unit bounded only by complex whistle blower related anti retaliation provisions that do little to soften the retaliatory effects of lower level administrative decision making.

In many cases issues of accountability, transparency, complicity, retaliation and ethics are tied closely together. Nowhere is the connection between these stronger, perhaps, than when deans interact with their faculties, faculties that retain (at least formally) some shared governance responsibilities.

This post considers these issues in the context of a hypothetical that might be posed by university faculty organizations to their senior administrators.  It suggests the answers that these senior administrators ought to give, and, lamentably, those that they are likely to make.

Question 1) Can the Dean prevent us from asking questions of a department head candidate without administrative surveillance?
Question 2) a) Is it appropriate for a Dean to send out an e-mail encouraging faculty to sign a public letter/petition? b) Should a Dean be engaged in activism when it could alienate many faculty and stakeholders, c) Should a Dean be encouraging faculty to sign petitions, which that Dean can see and then, potentially, hold against faculty who did not sign the petition?

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

"Now THIS is Shared Governance"; "NOW this is shared Governance"; "Now this IS Shared Governance": Embedding Faculty Within the Bureaucratic Machinery of Authoritarian Regimes

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2015)

The American university has changed.  A combination of (1) de-professionalization (in the form of dis aggregating  faculty responsibilities among a number of roles and limiting tenure to a remnant), (2) advancement of autonomous administrator cultures (senior administrators are socialized into an administrator caste system whose highest interest is to perpetuate itself and its own status interests), and (3) the change in the mission of universities from providing education (understood in what was its classical meaning of preparing individuals for citizenship and vocation) to efficiently producing suitable "product" for wage labor markets (targeted to different spots on that wage labor market depending on the position of the university within the industry) has transformed it into a point in global labor production chains. While hints of the classical American university might be preserved--something either as a "proof" that things are still the same, or for the production of elements slotted for elite responsibilities in society, markets, politics, defense, technology or religion, university administrators now serve as overseers of a distinctly different "human value added" production process. One might lament the change, but it is far too late for nostalgia--the ramifications of this foundational change must be recognized as embedded for some time to come.

With this change, of course, comes changes in the nature of the relationship between faculty and the administrator caste with respect to the operation of this "learning factory." No longer the most authoritative source of knowledge about either knowledge or programs of training for students to impart this knowledge, faculty are increasingly seen as little more than the operational element of market driven verities of knowledge and its transmission. Operating in the form of collegial "senates"--a Roman republican form grounded in deliberation, but one less useful in those more authoritarian regimes that mark the structures and cultures emerging as the new university governance architecture--traditional forms of faculty shared governance are becoming increasingly irrelevant, and indeed, burdensome, in an authoritarian learning factory model of education.  Senates are increasingly brushed aside or co-opted--not because they are incapable but because the ideology that made their operation so useful has been brushed aside in favor of another in which a vigorous Senate can play no vibrant and autonomous role.

This post considers a hypothetical drawn from a number of imagined strands of possible behaviors at public universities.  The hypothetical illustrates the contours of change in shared governance at the everyday and operational level.  It also suggests the ramifications for what might remain of effective faculty engagement in what is becoming the baseline cultures of American educational society.  It suggests both the context and character of the growing erosion of faculty authority--and its inevitability in the new educational order.


Monday, December 21, 2015

The Shape of Engagement in University Governance--The AAUP Reports on the Search for the President of the University of Iowa

 
(Pix © 2015 Larry Catá Backer)

On December 10, 2015 the AAUP released its report of its review of the 2015 University of Iowa presidential search.  It provides a window onto an old world order that appears to be much more current today--the strict adherence to formal requirements of engagements even as that formalism masks a quite different reality. 

Indeed, it is becoming more common, at least by anecdotal accounting, for administrators to adhere more and more strictly to the appearance of engagement even as they strip engagement of all effective utility.  In its usual form it involves a call for nomination, and even meticulous efforts to conduct interviews and allow for comments and reactions, even well after a determination has already been made about a possible hire. This is said to occur at all levels--from the appointments of department heads, interim deans and middle level administrators, to, potentially, if one believes the AAUP report, to the appointment of a university president. Rumors of the embedding of these practices grow as the level of trust between university stakeholders is reduced--usually by the bad or careless conduct of people in charge. It follows a culture in which senior administrators lock themselves in their high towers, ever more remote from real engagement with their stakeholders, and resentful of any effort at engagement or accountability. For them, increasingly, asking questions is ambushingseeking a role in appointments is interference that must be carefully managed.

The Press release, with links to the full report, follows.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Faculty Engagement in Dean Searches: Shared Governance in an Age of Retaliation and the Problem of Anonymity

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2015)



It is still common, in the public and publicly assisted university, for the inclusion of some form of faculty and staff participation in the process of hiring unit administrators--deans and their equivalents who are charged with the management of the "operating units" of the modern university. But of course, faculty and staff have limited opportunities to be involved in hiring their managers. At many universities, that engagement involves participation by representatives of internal stakeholder groups--faculty, staff,. students--in a screening committee that considers submitted expressions of interest. Once winnowed down to an acceptable level, the finalists are usually brought onto campus for presentation to the unit--through a combination of interviews, meetings, and the opportunity to present to the relevant community. These stakeholders are usually given an opportunity to report their reaction to and assessment of the candidates brought to campus. These reactions, taken together with the impressions of decision makers and the relevant due diligence usually forms the basis of a decision on hiring of managers of this sort. The final decision, of course, is usually reserved to a senior officer of the university--usually the provost, confirmed by president and sometimes the board of trustees.

At first blush, this procedure appears innocuous enough. And also inclusive enough, providing at least a sense of thinking and reaction within a unit that may well be burdened with a choice that has, for all practical purposes, been made for it through representatives, outside stakeholders and administrative superiors.But in an age of retaliation, in an age in which one can never be sure about the ability of an institution to keep information confidential, the process raises an issue, especially for those in the most dependent position--to what extent do formally inclusive procedures of this kind expose the most vulnerable employees to a risk that their opinions, perhaps unfavorable, will be communicated to those who assume management of their unit--exposing them to a threat of retaliation?

That is the issue this post considers--and offers a suggestion for going forward.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Benefits at the Public University--Why the Individual Ought to Matter and Why This May Touch on the Ethical Obligations of University Administrators

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2015)


I have been writing for some time on the turn in the basic principles underlying the administration of health benefits at the American public and publicly assisted university. I have been particularly concerned that much of this turn has been driven by quite veiled changes in, and the manipulation of, the core premises within which discussions about benefits are presented--and constrained within relevant stakeholder communities (see esp."First Principles" and Benefits Policies at Public Universities--How "Where You Start" Determines the Shape and "Ends" of Benefit Programs). 

That is, when administrators choose to frame the "issue" of benefits as one of "sustainability" and cost containment, the resulting conversation will invariably turn on the means through which the scope and operation of benefits provisions may be legitimately discussed. It turns the human element into an abstraction--and the individuals benefited into factors in the calculation of operating margins--margins that when positive go toward the care of the institutional machinery that itself appears to need constant feeding without regard either to cost cutting or to the constraining language of sustainable operation. Sustainability, it turns out, can mean little more than the conversion of all university outlays into segmented units expected to pay for themselves.  It is the language of the balancing of ledgers without regard to ethics or morals.

What is lost when administrators manage university stakeholders into the sort of sterile  framework of "sustainability" and cost containment as the only basis in which benefits can be discussed?