Saturday, December 1, 2018

The AAUP Will Now Investigate the Mass Terminations at Vermont Law School

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2016)

Some time ago I wrote about the implications of the mass terminations at Vermont Law School (Thoughts on Mass Tenure Revocation at Vermont Law School in the Shadow of the Market and Beyond Shared Governance). For that post, I offered
some brief thoughts on what is likely to be a very useful and evolving addition to the toolkit of administrators as they continue the hard task of commodifying and capitalizing education within what is still nostalgically referenced as "the university." The focus is not on the lawyering of protection for those faculty with respect to whom tenure has been made a mockery, though one clothed in the delightfully unctuous ululations of administrator speak. Rather the reflections here focus on the ways in which these actions evidence more generally a perhaps significant changes of power relations within an institution in which the notions of traditional shared governance has withered away.  The character of that withering away is itself of interest, as the successful de-professionalization of the faculty has opened the way for their replacement in governance by an emerging corps of professional administrators only some of whom are drawn from their ranks who (ironically) remain protected by tenure. 

Like most scandals of its kind, the scandal appeared to have a very short half life.  It was just another marker on the road to the unwinding of the American university, and its re-constitution as a learning factory within which administrators could preside over a  large factory, not so much producing knowledge--as disseminating enough of it so that its objects might be successfully inserted in appropriate slots in the American wage labor markets. To that end, tenure is an impediment--a marker of a quite different and disappearing way of life that can no longer be justified within the emerging business model of the contemporary university.  

That business model, in turn, is increasingly a function of quite straightforward quantitative markers. These were once proxies for quality; they have now become the incarnation of the quality they were meant to measure. These proxies now tell the tale of the contemporary university, not just in the measure of its production, but also in its dissemination of knowledge and in the "results" that dissemination produces for its consumers.  The value of knowledge dissemination is measured the momentary connection between the knowledge consumer and the objective for which consumption is undertaken--employment. Value is measured over time, with particular emphasis on the value of an initial insertion into wage labor markets.  Value itself is measurable in money; it is measured in the present value of anticipated earning, and in rates of return to the university--alumni donations, and the value of networks through which future students may be successfully inserted in wage labor markets, for example. The value of the quality of earning is also measured by proxy--through a detailed classifications of the status of the employment which itself serves as proxies for the value of dissemination programs. 

The value of knowledge production is measured by dollars. It's impact is now understood as a species of "clickbait," the value of which is to enhance the clickable potential of that which follows, which relentless follows, with regard only to time. For if time is now money, then the efficient use of time is measured by the artifacts, by the measurable things, with which it may be filled--graduation rates, bar passage rates, employment rates, citation rates, production rates, grant award rates, invitation rates, mention rates, collaboration rates. Quality has become its proxy precisely because it is the proxy that is valued. And in this inversion emerges the new business model of the university.  The inevitable consequence will be a parade of variations on the theme so scandalously elaborated in Vermont.

Now the AAUP has announced that it will investigate this action at Vermont Law School. It is necessary in the way that rear guard action is necessary slow the speed of transformation. And to be sure, such transformation will affect those very few institutions designated as the nurseries of power. And the forms of production will remain vibrant, as the producers of knowledge--ever sensitive to incentive and market forces--will adjust the quality of their production to suit the times. That is as it should be; but to that end, the model grounded in tenure (and its protections) will become increasingly irrelevant, except at the margins. Still, long after it will have effectively ceased to serve much of a function, its mythology will continue to inspire those who will be recruited into the learning factories that are now emerging.  Fading institutions retain their form long after its substance has vanished.  

The announcement follows.   We should all look forward to its results. 


Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Gender on Campus--New Essays From Academe Magazine



My friends at the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) have just released the latest issue of their signature magazine--Academe.  There are some very interesting essays worth reading.  The specific focus for this issue is gender in the academy, and the conceptual context is intersectionality analysis (my recent take here on intersectionality analysis).

Here is what they had to say about the issue:

This issue of Academe uses the feminist concept of intersectionality to consider gender on campus in relation to race, class, and other categories that shape our understanding of higher education. Contributors reframe problems such as sexual violence, declining access to public education, the vulnerability of contingent faculty, and the exploitation of graduate student labor through the lens of intersectional solidarity.
The links to the features follow.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

From the AUP: Academic Freedom and Tenure: St. Edward’s University (Texas)







Even as the nature of university education change, and its forms and functions along with it, there is sometimes some reassurance from knowing that things never change. But reassurance is only short lived, In the case of university administrators with thin skins and no appetite for criticism, shared governance continues to be increasingly incompatible with governance models that are based on hierarchy whose principal mission is compliance and risk mitigation. It is with that in mind that the AAUP presents yet another casualty in the long slow decline of shared governance and its transformation into something else.

The recently circulated Press Release announces:

Calling general conditions for academic freedom and governance at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas, “abysmal,” a report we released today found credible the claims of three faculty members that their criticism of administrative decisions led to actions against them. Two of the faculty members, both tenured, were suddenly fired in their twelfth year of service. The third was not reappointed after her fifth year on the tenure track, ostensibly for financial reasons.

An AAUP investigative committee found that administrators had violated the academic due process rights of all three faculty members. The committee also noted that “fear and demoralization” are widespread among the faculty at the university.

Read the full report here.


Thursday, October 11, 2018

Call for Applications: 4th Business and Human Rights Young Researchers Summit




We are happy to announce the 4th Business and Human Rights Young Researchers Summit in collaboration with University of St. Gallen's Institute for Business Ethics and NYU's Center for Business and Human Rights. The Summit will take place on April 11-12, 2019. Application deadline is November 1st, 2018. May we kindly ask you to forward the call for abstracts (see attachment or scroll down) to your PhD students and post-doc researchers and distribute widely among other interested researchers. For further information visit: http://bhr.stern.nyu.edu/young-researchers.

Details Follow.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Twenty-Second Annual Meeting of the Association for the Study of Law, Culture and the Humanities







We are pleased to announce that the Twenty-Second Annual Meeting of the Association for the Study of Law, Culture and the Humanities will be held at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada on March 22-23, 2019. The event is co-sponsored by The Pauline Jewett Institute of Women’s and Gender Studies, Carleton University and the University of Ottawa. Information regarding the pre-conference Graduate Student Workshop will follow shortly.

More information follows:

Saturday, September 8, 2018

German Law Journal: Call for Special Issue Proposals



I am happy to pass along this call for special issue proposals form the German Law Journal.  For those interested in a wide readership, the call ought to be quite tempting.

Information follows or may be accessed HERE.


Friday, September 7, 2018

Call for Papers: 4th National People of Color Scholarship Conference--"People of Color and the Future of Democracy"; American University 21-24 March 2019



I am happy to pass along information and a call for papers for the 4th People of Color Scholarship Conference.  It will be held at American University, Washington College of Law 21-24 March 2019. The Conference theme, People of Color and the Future of Democracy,  is intentionally broad and relates to critical conversations such as: the role of lawyers and law professors; intersectionality, inclusion, and action; and whether and how to reframe and reclaim particular narratives.


The Call for Papers Follows.


Tuesday, August 7, 2018

From the American Association of University Professors: Report of Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure, 2017–18



The American Association of University Professors has just released its 2018 Bulletin.  Its website explained that "This year's Bulletin features an academic freedom and tenure investigative report, revised Recommended Institutional Regulations on Academic Freedom and Tenure, reports on the assault on science and campus-free-speech legislation, and annual reports and other business documents. 

Most interesting was the Report of Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure, 2017–18,  which follows below.  The Report was particularly interesting for the way in which the Committee continues to wrestle with the efforts to boycott the State of Israel (and deal with Israeli state retaliation) as well as discussion of the release of the Report: National Security, the Assault on Science, and Academic Freedom. This is particularly interesting for the development of an American academic set of principles dealing with foreign exchanges and espionage, as well as the difficulties of engaging with the political effects of academic work.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Assessment and Learning Outcomes Comes to Law Schools: Some Recent Scholarship

(Pix Nebamun viewing his geese and cattle; British Museum, 2018)


We live in a word of accountability, whose laws are implemented not through the coercive police power of the state but rather by the constant and repetitive process of assessment. That assessment, in turn, constitutes a data driven self reflexive system that both monitors and imposes orthodoxy through the choices made with respect to those data and that analytics on which judgment is rendered and consequences felt.

Faculty have assumed an interesting place within these cultures of monitoring and data driven assessment. In one respect the metrics used for assessment have consequences for their own evaluation; simultaneously, these metrics are at the center of emerging cultures of the assessment of faculty handiwork--the effect of their interactions with students. What could be more neutral than data driven analytics--especially ones whose parameters are chosen by those on whom they are imposed.  Assuming, of course, that there is real choice. And that, increasingly, may not be the case as regulators--whether public or private, increasingly use their authority to constrain and manage choices that can be made respecting the scope of assessment, its objectives and the objects of its analytics. that changes not merely the focus of the assessment-accountability exercise, the its purpose as well.
 
Whatever one thinks of these new approaches to accountability of the role of faculty to disseminate of knowledge to students; it has produced at least one benefit--the expansion of knowledge production to include assessment itself. This is especially the case in the context of legal education. The Winter 2018 issue of the Journal of Legal Education (JLE) takes an in-depth look at the revised ABA standards on assessment and learning outcomes. Links to the articles follow. Each is worth considering carefully.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Thoughts on Mass Tenure Revocation at Vermont Law School in the Shadow of the Market and Beyond Shared Governance

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2016)

The decision by the Vermont Law School to terminate the tenured positions of more than half of its faculty (precise numbers rumored but unavailable as of the date of this posting) and then to rehire some as contract faculty at presumably lower cost (to the Vermont Law School anyway) has been circulating for a number of days now.
Fourteen out of 19 members of the Vermont Law School faculty lost tenure on July 1 as part of a restructuring effort at the South Royalton institution. . . . Professors said they were informed of the decision to revoke tenure in a private meeting with McHenry and Academic Dean Sean Nolan. Faculty members were told they could choose to continue teaching another year under a new contract or they could opt for six month contracts with varying teaching requirements and salaries, or they could leave. Tenured faculty were required to sign a non-disclosure and non-disparagement agreement, prohibiting them from speaking to anyone except their spouses. The agreement prohibited faculty from making derogatory remarks about Vermont Law School and its administration. (Katy Savage, "Vermont Law School revokes tenure for 75 percent of faculty," VTDigger 15 July 2018)
The reactions are what might be expected, though surprisingly muted (see, e.g., here, here, here, here, and here). In the end, after the hand wringing and acrimony, the substance of this action will likely remain undisturbed. "If the reports are accurate, Vermont has essentially acted as if tenure does not exist. This could potentially raise questions about whether Vermont is in compliance with ABA standard 405, but it is unclear how assertive the ABA or site visit teams will be in enforcing those standards." (How secure is tenure? (Michael Simkovic)).

For this post I offer some brief thoughts on what is likely to be a very useful and evolving addition to the toolkit of administrators as they continue the hard task of commodifying and capitalizing education within what is still nostalgically referenced as "the university." The focus is not on the lawyering of protection for those faculty with respect to whom tenure has been made a mockery, though one clothed in the delightfully unctuous ululations of administrator speak. Rather the reflections here focus on the ways in which these actions evidence more generally a perhaps significant changes of power relations within an institution in which the notions of traditional shared governance has withered away.  The character of that withering away is itself of interest, as the successful de-professionalization of the faculty has opened the way for their replacement in governance by an emerging corps of professional administrators only some of whom are drawn from their ranks who (ironically) remain protected by tenure.