Wednesday, January 21, 2015

What Should be the Faculty Role in the Development of Administrative Regulation at the University--Penn State's Senate Debates the Issue

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2015)

In September 2012, I noted a substantial issue of transparency at large universities. Focusing on the situation at Penn State I explained:
I have been writing of the obligations of transparency in its two principal forms.  As communicative transparency, this embodies the obligation on the part of the speaker to provide a sufficient amount of information in a timely manner that conveys what is necessary for stakeholders to understand actions undertaken, or that acknowledges communication received or that explains the nature of basis of a decision.  As engagement transparency, it provides  information sufficient for stakeholders to fully participate in decision making to the extent appropriate to the decision.  I have also suggested the challenges to institutional programs of actions in the face of failures of communicative and engagement transparency, and the potential for significantly adverse distraction from even significantly positive institutional objectives. (On the Importance of Transparency and the Relentless Pursuit of Knowledge in the Sandusky Affair--Governance in a New Era; see also here, here, and here)
Penn State has addressed the issue of communicative transparency, and has become something of a model for communication to its stakeholders. Penn State, however, has been slower to fully embrace  engagement transparency in a more meaningful way.  The issue of engagement transparency thus comes back to the University Faculty Senate.  For its January 2014 meeting, the Senate will engage in an open discussion (what we call a forensic), led by Ann H. Taylor, Senator representing Earth and Mineral Sciences and the Director of the John A. Dutton e-Education Institute, about the need for greater engagement transparency in the development of university administrative regulations--especially those that directly impact faculty. 

This post includes Professor Taylor's description of the issue and some brief observations:

Friday, January 16, 2015

On the Penn State NCAA Sanctions Settlement--What Might it Mean for North Carolina . . . and the NCAA?

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2015)

This today from Penn State News:
Board of Trustees approves terms of proposed NCAA lawsuit settlement
January 16, 2015

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – By a unanimous vote, the Penn State Board of Trustees today (Jan. 16) approved the terms of a proposed settlement of the lawsuit relating to the Endowment Act. According to the settlement, the July 2012 Consent Decree between Penn State and the NCAA has been dissolved, and all punitive sanctions eliminated.

Under the terms of the new agreement:
$60 million will be dedicated in Pennsylvania to helping children who have experienced child abuse and to further prevent child abuse. Of the $60 million, the Commonwealth will receive $48 million to help provide services to child victims. Penn State will use $12 million to create an endowment that will be a long-term investment in expanding our research, education and public service programs to help eradicate child sexual abuse. All parties agree strongly that caring for victims and providing support for programs that help address the problem of child sexual abuse is of paramount importance.
The compromise restores 112 wins to the Penn State football program.
All other punitive sanctions also have been eliminated.
This post includes the statements of Penn State University's President and the Chair of its Board of Trustees.  Some comments then follow, not on what this means for Penn State--that is fairly obvious.  Instead I focus on the potential consequences of this agreement for the NCAA and its current investigations into scandals at other universities. 

Friday, January 9, 2015

Reflections on the "Crisis" in the Business of Legal Education and the Problem of the Conventional "Return to Eden" Strategy

 (Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2015)

The Association of American Law Schools (AALS) has just recently concluded its 2015 Annual Meeting. Like other field specific organization functions, the annual meeting provides a space where law faculty can meet to discuss interesting developments in law, showcase new scholarly work, and network.  And this year was no different in that respect.

But there was a difference.  For the last several years, the business of legal education has been under attack. (See here, here and here). And a weak economy, high entry costs and lower economic prospects has combined to substantially reduce law school applicants even as the number of law schools have expanded, the costs of operating law schools has increased as well. (See eg, here, and here).)   In the face of this criticism, there has been some push back as the legal academy seeks to defend its practices and culture--and to convince stakeholders of the value of the product it sells.  (See eg here and here).  But principal stakeholders have become more aggressive in seeking changes in the structure of legal education to suit their own tastes, including the American Bar Association (See, e.g., here), and senior judges (see e.g. here).

This post considers the consequences of the current challenges facinmg law schools, especially those operating within public universities.  It suggests the difficulties of the usual response to such market stress--contraction and a vain effort to recreate a past without stress (the "return to Eden" strategy) and suggest the contours of another and perhaps healthier approach.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Scope of Protection for Speech at the University--A View From the University of Chicago

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2015)

I have been considering the complications of both civility (Here) and academic freedom (e.g., Here and Here). Most institutions have expended a tremendous effort to avoid the issues (see, e.g., here, and here) or to redirect the conversation in ways that suit their own internal agendas (see, e.g., here).  Some institutions, public, have sought to build walls of constraint on faculty expression--privileging faculty status as university servants over their role as citizens in a democratic republic (see, e.g., here and here). 

In the case of Steven Salaita it has conflated issues of protection for speech and the constraints of civility to produce an ongoing and politically polarizing context.  (See here). The resulting intervention by a university committee would reject civility as a governance standard, while permitting the university to bring civility in through the "back door" by using evidence of incivility as circumstantial evidence of inability to meet professional academic standards. 

A committee of the University of Chicago has now also sought to add its institutional intervention to this conversation. Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression (Jan. 2015).  The Report explains:
The Committee on Freedom of Expression at the University of Chicago was appointed in July 2014 by President Robert J. Zimmer and Provost Eric D. Isaacs “in light of recent events nationwide that have tested institutional commitments to free and open discourse.” The Committee’s charge was to draft a statement “articulating the University’s overarching commitment to free, robust, and uninhibited debate and deliberation among all members of the University’s community.”
The Committee has carefully reviewed the University’s history, examined events at other institutions, and consulted a broad range of individuals both inside and outside the University. This statement reflects the long-standing and distinctive values of the University of Chicago and affirms the importance of maintaining and, indeed, celebrating those values for the future. (Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression , supra, pp. 1)
This Statement has already received an important endorsement--from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE (FIRE Endorses University of Chicago’s New Free Speech Statement, Jan. 7, 2015).

The text of the Report follows, along with some comments on this effort.  While the University of Chicago provides a useful set of general principles, it may be less useful generally in two respects.  First, it provides little institutional guidance for implementation, especially for public universities.  Second, the University of Chicago was careful to note that the statement reflected its distinctive values--and by implication suggested that other universities may be (legitimate) values different from that of the University of Chicago that might merit some deviation from the broad principles developed for a first tier private university educating the children of global elites.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Steven Salaita, Civility, and Academic Freedom--Report of the Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure at the University of Illinois

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2014)

I have not spoken to the Steven Salaita affair at the University of Illinois since the story broke earlier this year.
The university's August decision not to hire Salaita -- just weeks before he and his would-be faculty colleagues thought he would start teaching in the fall semester -- set off a huge national debate over academic freedom, civility and the role of trustees and administrators in reviewing hiring and tenure decisions. (Scott Jaschik, A Mixed Report on Salaita Controversy, Insider Higher Education (Dec. 24, 2014))
Though I have been considering the complications of both civility (Here) and academic freedom (e.g., Here and Here), my sense was that Professor Salaita's case presented a number of complicating factors, some technical (employment status), some institutional (procedures and protections principles at the University of Illinois) and some overtly political (using Professor Salaita as a proxy in the domestic intellectual front of the religious wars of the Middle East).  

Professor Salaita's case, then, has been is still too bound up in the personal and the greater culture wars to yet be useful for rigorous critical discussion. It is, I think, still far too early to sort all of these complications out, and to distill the governance and academic freedom issues from the rest for purposes of drawing lessons and suggesting better approaches in future cases. That is particularly the case with respect to the role of the institutional faculty as a critical stakeholder in this case at the University of Illinois.

It is to that later point that I write now. On December 23, 2014,  the Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign issued a subcommittee “Report on the Investigation into the Matter of Steven Salaita” (the "Salaita Report"). The Salaita Report (see full PDF here) has been praised (e.g., here) and was well reported by Scott Jaschik, A Mixed Report on Salaita Controversy, Insider Higher Education (Dec. 24, 2014). It's most interesting discussion flows from a factual conclusion that it reaches--that Professor Salaita occupied a space between applicant and employee that triggered a set of obligations on the part of the University of Illinois, and from a rejection of civility as a standard for employment. I will consider those issues here.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

On the Diseases of University Administration--Lessons From Pope Francis

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2014)

The Roman Catholic Pontiff's annual greetings to the Roman Curia at the end of Advent usually goes unnoticed.  But the current Pontiff, Francis I, used the opportunity  to stress to his leadership, the highest levels of the Roman Catholic Magisterium, of the dangers  and errors into which they might have fallen. Presentation of the Christmas Greetings to the Roman Curia, Address of his Holiness Pope Francis, Clementine Hall, Monday, 22 December 2014

The importance of the Pope's message should not be underestimated.  Indeed, it is even more applicable to the rigid bureaucratism, cronyism, and self referencing blindness, born of arrogance and insularity, that afflicts many offices of senior leadership throughout American academic institutions. The issue, as one will see, is not that the diseases point to conduct that is of itself bad, but rather to an unbalance that produces bad results when the shared space of the institution is overwhelmed by personal agendas.  And the remedy is simple--to restore balance, administrators at all levels, and the faculty and staff complicit in unbalancing behavior, must engage in the sort of open criticism and self criticism that restores the objectives of the institution of the university, and its mission, to its central role.

And so, in the spirit of this Christmas season, and for the edification of our colleagues serving in senior administrative positions, I offer the wisdom of Pope Francis tuned more precisely to the dangers and errors to which the great authority with which these hard working officials, because of the frailties of human nature and the weakness of the institutions in which they operate, is sometimes subject. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Undermining Accountability and Enhancing Authoritarianism in University Faculty Senates--Is Penn State to Play a Vanguard Role?

It is well known generally that the early 21st century has seen a cultural shift toward authoritarianism--either in the form of authoritarian democracies in the political sphere, or in the form of corporatism in the private and civil society sphere.

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2014)

The university has not escaped these larger socio-cultural trends.  And indeed, many within it have succumbed in large respect to the blandishments of control, monitoring and management of subject populations that they have been elected or appointed to represent. As a consequence, the ability of groups to hold their leaders accountable have been increasingly replaced by regimes designed to separate people from the systems set over them for their governance.  For U.S. universities, this should be a disturbing trend, yet many have sought to turn their representative institutions from democratic into managerial spaces.  In the process the character of faculty governance will change and change dramatically.

While I have written from time to time on these trends as they affect university administration (see HERE, HERE and HERE), I have rarely had occasion to observe and comment on the  way these trends are also shaping the internal governance of university faculty senates.  

This post considers one such effort--the quite misguided effort to extinguish the authority of university faculty senators to interpose resolutions at open meetings of the Senate and to replace it with a system in which such authority is managed by the very Senate leadership who are the object of the accountability enhancing character of this "right to resolution."

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Indulging the Politics of Age in University Benefits--The Example of Move to Strip Older Family Members of Education Benefits

Universities sometimes provide a window onto the darker natures of societal expectations and beliefs.  And there is nothing like the drumbeat of fiscal crisis (the extent of which remains debatable) to permit these darker natures to indulge in otherwise taboo behaviors.  

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2014)

Nowhere now is this more notable than in the way in which the current (and fashionable) fear of a benefits "crisis" has permitted universities, and sometimes even their faculties, to indulge their darker passions in sometimes quite regrettable ways. I have written about the way in which these crises have permitted universities to indulge in eugenics.  (See, The New Eugenics--The Private Sector, the University, and Corporate Health and Wellness Initiatives).

Today universities are beginning to indulge their passion for discrimination--this time against older persons. The latest trend is marked by the indulgence of a desire to reduce the availability of educational benefits to faculty members by capping the age at which such benefits might be accessed.  

While such efforts tend to be carefully crafted to avoid legal liability for discrimination, the discriminatory intent, as a matter of social norms, is inescapable.  This post considers the vacuity of the rationales usually put forward to support these efforts and suggests that though there may be a legal authority to enact these discrimination, there ought to be a moral basis for opposing these efforts. 

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Riskless University and the Bureaucratization of Knowledge: From "Indiana Jones" to Central Planning

 (Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2014)

It is now a commonplace to hear various sectors consider the "corporatization" of the university--especially the Research I institution, once well known for pioneering research in a large variety of fields.  To some extent, these discussions focus on the obvious institutional consequences of moving from a knowledge to a student-income production objective.  Among these are the  sideways attack on tenure through the growth of contract and teaching track faculty, the proliferation of administrative positions that lend to provide the budgetary excuses for the reduction of tenure lines, the metastasizing of monitoring and surveillance regimes by outside stakeholders (principally but not always government) and the need to devote resources to the satisfaction of data production obligations, and the shift in the focus  (in the jargon of the age, the "de-centering") of faculty from the educational/research enterprise (e.g., Engaged Scholarship--De-Centering Faculty From Research and Teaching in a Relentless March Toward a Training Model for Middle Tier Universities?).

Much of this has generated some drama--and some attention among media outlets as eager to participate in these changes as to report on them.But the greatest changes invariably come with a "still small voice".  Such is the case with respect to the relationship of institutional risk and the production of knowledge by faculty. One of the most profound changes that is now occurring, as universities transform themselves into a more (and lamentably late 20th century) factory model and abandon its traditional knowledge production-instruction model, is the assertion by universities of greater intrusive authority to manage the risk element of knowledge production.  This is not being done overtly--that is hardly the cultural marker of university action.  Rather it is done sideways, and true to corporatization, in a benign sounding institutional regulation way.  But the effects, both on transfers of authority over the shape and scope of research, and the power to control its production, will be quite dramatic in the "new" factory university emerging in this present century.

This post considers one such measure--the move toward greater control of the travel activities (and thus the research and knowledge production-dissemination) of faculty.  These policies mean to shift authority over that aspect of faculty activities from the individual researcher to the university, and to substitute the mechanical risk management strategies of the institution for the risk-reward balancing required of front line research in a globalized educational and research environment. At its worst, these moves suggest the increasing power of the non-educational sides of the university house and how risk managers, finance officers, compliance and budget officers increasingly intrude on the substantive decisions of research and education in the new factory university.  A typical example is considered.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

University "Codes of Responsible Conduct"--Fashionable Gesture, Radical Imposition of Obligations to Mutual Spying, or Traps for the Unwary?

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2014)

Ethics has become an increasingly import aspect of governance cultures in public and private institutions. Once a principal concern of economic enterprises and governments, universities have sought to inculcate cultures of "ethics" within their operating environment. The intensity of these efforts, like those of other public and private institutions, has intensified as the common cultures that serve to ground an understanding of the nature and character of ethics has fragmented.

But it is precisely because of this fragmentation of the grounding culture that efforts to memorialize the framework of ethical conduct has encountered difficulties. These difficulties sometimes produce ethical codes that may appear as generalized gesture. (e.g., University of Illinois Code of Conduct). They invariably are reduced to short hortatory statements that are sometimes burdened with double duty as mandatory rule (a role to which they are ill suited). In either guise, these codes sometimes may produce either traps for the unwary or appear to impose radical new obligations that may produce cultures of mandatory mutual spying rather than ethical cultures among the affected university stakeholders.

Many times these efforts are generated as a response to outside pressure--from regulators, governments or as a result of scandal that suggests some sort of moral failure among employees, athletics staff, administrators or trustees. Often times the determination to proceed with these efforts as well as the drafting and management of its development is conducted by administrators, either through administrative staffs or under cover of a committee well larded by individuals who are described as "representatives" of most of the important sectors of university stakeholders. Often, institutional representative organs, like a faculty senate, are given a brief and pro forma opportunity to comment on wording only after the Code is ready for imposition, an opportunity that is expected to produce no substantive change and timed to make it virtually impossible for effective consultation on the embrace of the policy or the premises for the construction of the Code in the first place. Still, even this nod ion the direction of engagement ought to be gratefully received with hopes that a more effective relationship might emerge--in the future.

This post considers a generalized "typical" product of this next generation "Code of Responsible Conduct". It suggests that Codes of this type, reversed engineered int he sense that they are generated in the usual case in what might be understood to be hermetically sealed environments in which inputs are carefully screened o conform to the expectations of the form of the final product, may create some substantial traps for the unwary and provide a wide space for discretionary discipline which in the hands of unethical administrators can be used as a cover to punish faculty and staff (and lower tiered administrators) indirectly. This is most likely with respect to Codes that impose a positive obligation to report "wrongdoing."  This is not to suggest that hortatory Codes are wasted efforts--indeed the opposite is true.  But the analysis that follows suggests that Codes that purport to add a mandatory element may prove more troublesome than helpful, even in the short run.