Thursday, September 3, 2015

The University as Irony--Disciplining Faculty for the Exercise of Speech and for Seeking to Manage the Speech of Students

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2015)

I have recently noted the AAUP's Supplementary Report on the disciplining of a faculty member at Louisiana State University, in part, for the use of profane language (The "Spirit of the Law": From the AAUP--Supplementary Report of Misconduct by LSU Officials).  That, the AAUP has suggested is troublesome for a number of important reasons.  She was faulted for “her use of profanity, poorly worded jokes, and sometimes sexually explicit ‘jokes’ in her teaching methodologies.”  The actions of the University raise significant issues of arbitrariness and the erosion of what had once been deeply American attachment to rule of law systems.

In the face of the apparent willingness of a university to discipline faculty for the use of profane language, it is exceedingly ironic to hear of the case of another university where a faculty member is (again) disciplined for efforts to prevent the use of offensive language by students.  In this case, Washington State University apparently faulted a faculty member for seeking to prevent the use of offensive words and speech, including those that got the Louisiana State University professor disciplined.

Irony indeed. Taken together, it appears at in the modern university, students are protected in saying things in the classroom that will get a faculty member disciplined.   A pretty picture indeed!  Both are problematic for the same reasons but to opposite effect. LSU evidenced the dangers of unbridled discretion clothed in the appearance of a rule system which, in effect, does not exist (except perhaps in spirit and as exercised in the discretion of officials with impunity).  Washington State evidenced the same sort of discretion, though this time again against faculty,  in a contect in which rules were ambiguous--at best.

The tragedy of both cases, of course, is that bad governance, and maladministration, tends to obscure the important issues at the center of each of these events--the extent to which language and expression may be managed within a classroom in its two most important aspects: (1) speech by faculty and (2) speech by students.  This discussion centers on an application of academic freedom , human dignity and the basic ground rules set by our nation's laws. And sadly, that is the only conversation that no-one seems in the mood to have. And perhaps that discussion ought to start from the approach of the University of Chicago (The Scope of Protection for Speech at the University--A View From the University of Chicago).

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The "Spirit of the Law": From the AAUP--Supplementary Report of Misconduct by LSU Officials

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2015)

It is becoming something of a truism within the industrial sector in which academic institutions occupy a large place, that administrations are increasingly adopting a two track approach to the enforcement of their regulations.  Academic administrators, and officials in collateral and financial departments are expected to abide by the spirit of the rules.  Employees, including (or perhaps especially) faculty are expected to abide by the letter of the rules (as interpreted in their contextual spirit by administrators). 

As one can imagine, the resulting chasm creates tensions in the way rules are understood and applied.  The problem is compounded because administrators, bound only by the spirit of the rules have an increasing and increasingly absolute control over the application fo the letter of the rules.  The result is to create a vast zone of discretion in which the relaitonship between administratrors and rules is becoming increasingly different from that between faculty and rules.

A recent example from Louisiana State University makes the point. And the point needs emphasis--the emerging approach to rule application and interpretation creates a large zone of discretion.  This zone of discretion increasingly serves as a space in which arbitrary decisions may be made with impunity and without regard to any principled system of accountability.  At its limit it will threaten to replace a "rule of law" system with one of almost pure administrative discretion that is quite at odds both with the core values of this Republic and with emerging societal notions of fairness.

What follows is the summary of the actions of Louisiana State University and the press release from the American Association of University Professors (AAUP).  The AAUP Report, "Academic Freedom and Tenure: Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, A Supplementary Report on a Censured Administration," may also be accessed here.   

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Presentation: "Institutionalization of Faculty Role in Shared Governance: The Faculty Senate at Penn State University"

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2015)

Last week I was pleased to have been invited to speak to Chinese and Japanese academics about the concept of shared governance from its origins, through its golden age to the challenges that have emerged in recent years (for more see, here, here, here, here, here, and here). The focus of the study was the organization, operation and challenges of the University Faculty Senate at Pennsylvania State University.

The group of administrators and graduate students was organized by Hideto Fukudome, Associate Professor, Graduate School of Education, The University of Tokyo. More about the group here.

A transcript of the presentation follows:

AAUP Reports on Four Cases of Investigations on Academic Freedom and Tenure: Mass Terminations, Tenure, and Social Media

The Association of American University Professors (AAUP) has recently announced publication of four (4) of its Academic Freedom and Tenure Investigative Reports:
University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Felician College (New Jersey)
University of Southern Maine

One of the cases, that of Professor Salaita is quite well know.  (See here and here). 

Another (Southern Maine) deserves substantially more attention than it has gotten--the increasing use of mass layoffs through program closures as an effective means of short circuiting the traditional protections designed into the "financial exigency" standards that had served as a common basis of action for several generations.  What had started after Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana Universities (see, e.g., here) now looks to have evolved into a mechanism for relatively easy faculty terminations.  Effectively, the movement seems to be to a standard in which the financial deficiencies of a single program now appear enough to trigger university financial exigency sufficient to support the termination of faculty in the targeted program. For universities, this is a way around the protections of tenure at a time when universities are moving to a very different model for delivering education "product", one in which faculty protected by tenure are increasingly painted as "in the way."  

The other two follow--in a world in which faculty are increasingly viewed, like copy paper, as consumables in the manufacture of education products, tenure is increasingly viewed as an impediment to efficient production.  Its only value, increasingly limited, is as a means of revenue raising (by grant funded faculty) and in the competition within prestige markets that, it is believed, increases the quality of students harvested for income production and consumption of education. For universities this presents a problem, and the two cases suggest current experimentation: is there a way of retaining the revenue raising and prestige enhancing benefits of tenure without actually providing the security that makes such objectives attainable?   

Links to the reports and summaries follow:

Sunday, July 26, 2015

"We Abhor Retaliation But Expect Loyalty to Our Decisions" -- Techniques that Undermine University Shared Governance, the Honorable Mentions and the Deeper Issues they Reveal

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2015)

I have posted thought on my list of the top ten techniques that administrations currently have deployed to undermine shared governance ("You Don't Have the Authority": Counting Down the Top Ten Techniques that Undermine University Shared Governance).  I should add that these techniques were not necessarily developed nor are now utilized solely to undermine shared governance.  My sense is that these techniques are useful in a variety of situations, including when faculties and traditional forms of shared governance seem to get in the way of an evolving sense of administrative prerogative within the "business" of running a university. 

That the techniques are not necessarily developed to subvert shared governance for its own sake hardly absolves an administration that on the one hand heralds its embrace of shared governance and on the other engages in radical industry transforming actions that  enhance structures in which faculty become "knowledge workers" on an assembly line the principal purpose of which seems to be the "production" of units (students) ready fr insertion in labor markets at a level commensurate with the reputation of the university itself.

This post is dedicated to listing the honorable mentions, those techniques that undermine shared governance but that did not make the original top ten list.  If there are others you find useful to share, please send them in (and in the spirit of honorable Mention No. 1 below) via personal email from a non-university computer using non-university provided internet service.  

Saturday, July 25, 2015

"You Don't Have the Authority": Counting Down the Top Ten Techniques that Undermine University Shared Governance

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2015)

It is well understood by now that the societal context in which issues of shared governance are discussed, and its character shaped, have been changing dramatically. Much of this change  is tied to changes in the way that faculty at universities are characterized--from professionals and knowledge leaders to employees in learning factories who require the discipline of administrators. Some "critics long have pointed to the skewed power tenured professors and other employees have in decision-making, at an ever-rising cost to taxpayers." Courtney Mullen, Lawmakers: We won’t be swayed by University of Wisconsin System president’s threats, WisconsonWatchdog,org. 

Much of the attention has been on politically ambitious members of the political class who have sought to transform shared governance as a formal matter.  Among the leaders of this movement is the current Governor of Wisconsin, an individual with presidential ambitions.   Wisconsin has recently removed statutory protections for tenure in its university system and shared governance (the faculty's "primary responsibility" for academic and educational activities and personnel matters). See, e.g., here.

But university administrators have a host of techniques that can be deployed to undermine shared governance without the politically costly effort to mandate the transformation of the professorate into production line workers, whose job is to obey and not engage in the production and dissemination of knowledge (the sources and content of which are critically dependent on their habits, culture and autonomy).     

This post includes my "top ten" administrative techniques that administrators may be using to effectively undermine shared governance:

1.  "You don't have the authority."

2.  "We can't share that information."

3. "Let's form a Task Force"

4. "This is a technical issue that requires administrative expertise"

5. "You have a conflict of interest"

6. "Let us define the premises for you"

7. "We consulted faculty; we reached out to specific faculty directly who we thought had expertise"

8. "We consulted. . .we showed you the final draft shortly before roll out and asked your opinion"

9. "You take too long. . we need to do this now."
10. "An outside agency is making us do this."

 Each is briefly discussed below. If you have other ploys you have discovered, please share!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

From Scholars at Risk; "Free to Think: Report of the Scholars at Risk Academic Freedom Monitoring Project"

It is true enough that the attacks, especially by vanguard elements of the political class, have been seeking to  eliminate  the substantive elements of academic freedom as they have come to be understood  and applied in developed States.  The United States provides an important battleground, for example in the recent actions of the political sector in Wisconsin (e.g., here).

But these battles pale in comparison to attacks on academic freedom in other parts of the world, some of which can make things quite dangerous, physically as well as professionally, for faculty. These are monitored by the folks at Academic Freedom Monitor. It is maintained by Scholars at Risk, an international network of institutions and individuals working to promote academic freedom and to protect higher education communities worldwide.

For those interested I have included links to a new report produced by the Scholars at Risk Academic Freedom Monitoring Project, Free to Think  (June 2015; ISBN 978-0-692-45867-9). The Release Statement noted:
The report calls on all stakeholders, including the international community, states, the higher education sector, civil society and the public at large to undertake concrete actions to increase protection for higher education communities, including documenting and investigating attacks, and holding perpetrators accountable.

SAR invites you to download and share the report with your networks over social media. Use the hashtag #Free2Think and join the conversation!

The Press Release, Forward and Table of Contents follow:

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

New Paper Posted: Backer and Haddad "Philanthropy and the Character of the Public Research University—The Intersections of Private Giving, Institutional Autonomy, and Shared Governance"


(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2015)
I have been considering issues of shared governance at the university for some time (e.g., here, here, here, and here). With my former student Nabih Haddad (M.I.A. Penn State), now a Ph.D. student at Michigan State University, we have been exploring the issue of the effects of more targeted philanthropy by powerful and ideologically committed donors on universities. Increasingly, powerful donors have sought to use their wealth to increase their influence in the provision of education and the operations of the university. This has caused controversy (e.g., here,here, here and here).

We have posted our examination of some of the issues involved in a just completed manuscript: " Philanthropy and the Character of the Public Research University—The Intersections of Private Giving, Institutional Autonomy, and Shared Governance." We expect that it will appear as chapter 3 in Facilitating Higher Education Growth through Fundraising and Philanthropy (H. C. Alphin Jr., J. Lavine, S. E. Stark & A.Hocke, eds., Hershey, PA: IGI Global, forthcoming 2015).

The abstract may be accessed via SSRN HERE.

The manuscript may be accessed here.

Comments and discussion welcome.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Jerry G. Gaff, Senior Scholar, Association of American Colleges and Universities: Is it Time to Revisit the 1940 Statement of Principles of Academic Freedom and Tenure?

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2015)

I have written about the very useful program presented at the annual conference of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) (see here, and here). For this post I wanted to consider the very powerful presentation made at the conference by Jerry G. Gaff, Senior Scholar at the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U). Dr. Gaff received a Ph.D. in psychology from Syracuse University. He served on the faculties of five institutions and was dean of the College of Liberal Arts and acting president of Hamline University. He authored numerous books including Toward Faculty Renewal (1975), General Education Today (1983), and New Life for the College Curriculum (1991) and co-edited the Handbook of the Undergraduate Curriculum.

His remarks, presented June 12, 2015 and entitled, "Academic Freedom for a New Age," suggests that the great changes that have engulfed higher education since the last great set of glosses to of the last third of the 20th century now have set the stage for a necessary reconsideration of one of the great foundational document of modern university education--the 1940 Statement of Principles of Academic Freedom and Tenure. This post considers his argument (all citations are to Dr. Gaff's remarks).

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Speaking Past Each Other About Retaliation at Universities--The Example of Penn State

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2014)

I have considered the issue of retaliation within the context of shared governance at large universities (see, e.g., here, here, and here). The problem is especially acute where, as at Penn State, employees, including faculty, are increasingly encouraged to serve administrators through whistle blowing mechanisms (see, e.g., here) that themselves tend to be traps for the unwary (see, e.g., here). 

This post considers the difficulty of speaking to issues of retaliation at U.S. universities.  It suggests that at its core, the difficulty lies in the inability of administrators and faculty to communicate effectively.  And it further suggests that this inability arises not merely because people speak but don't listen, but also because key terms have acquired substantially distinct meanings and because administrators and faculty/staff approach the issues from quite distinct perspectives. The issues are illustrated with a pair of letters reflecting on the poor state of discourse at Penn State University.