Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Social Dimension of the Eugenics of Employee Benefits--The View From Penn State

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2015)

I have been considering the move by universities to embrace cultures of eugenics through their benefits  programs (e.g., The New Eugenics--The Private Sector, the University, and Corporate Health and Wellness Initiatives (July 16, 2013); The "Wellness" Program at Penn State: The View From the Bottom Up (Aug. 6, 2013).  These programs are meant to serve as part of broader programs to manage employee behaviors to maximize their benefit to the university, and to capture, for the university, the increased productivity such behavior management generates (See here and here).  And the U.S. Government has sought to intervene to develop some regulatory structures within which employers are free to re-make their employees as they wish (See,  EEOC Issues Proposed Rule on Application of the ADA to Employer Wellness Programs ("The EEOC's proposed rule would provide much needed guidance to both employers and employees about how wellness programs offered as part of an employer's group health plan can comply with the ADA consistent with provisions governing wellness programs in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), as amended by the Affordable Care Act. In addition, the EEOC is also publishing a Fact Sheet for Small Businesses and a Question and Answer document for the general public.")).

I noted that this new eugenics, articulated through the management behavior controls increasingly incorporated into benefits programs, appears also to have a social dimension. The social dimension of benefits eugenics does not target behavior modification--instead it targets  the cultures of employment and the control of the thoughts and values of employees through processes of socialization that manipulate employees into becoming the strongest advocates of the programs the university targets to employees but for the benefit of the university enterprise.

This focus on the control of the "hearts and minds" of the target population is an efficient response to the problem of reducing the cost of imposing and policing programs requiring changes in employee behaviors and beliefs. By convincing employees to become the principle advocates, and monitors, of these programs, the university, like of other "masters" (understood in the sens of that term in U.S. labor law), the university increases compliance rates and decreases the costs of disciplining workers into the new managerial order.  The business case for a social dimension, then, is obvious.  

The methodologies of socialization requires the deployment of the traditional tools of incentives and disincentives common to mass management int he U.S.  It is common knowledge that the tax law in the United States has been used to manage behaviors by increasing and decreasing the costs of targeted activity by raising or lowering the tax consequences of that activity.  Business has long known that cost is a significant factor in consumer choice (and when used unfairly by pricing below cost a mechanism for destroying competition).  Where the object is to induce employees to become the advocates of the choices that university administrators have made for them, the ability to manage the costs of choices provides an important tool of this sort of socialization. Such socialization is best undertaken covertly, though the long history of tax behavior manipulation suggests that it can be as successful when the project is fully transparent. It is also best managed when a conscious policy of administrators, though the logic of administrative cultures might permit the adoption of policies that have the effect of socialization management without the need for a formal or conscious policy.

The possibility of the use of the social element of eugenics--socialization management--among a target population, can thus be discerned, at times, by the approaches that universities take to the pricing of choices among benefits made available to employees.  These issues were discussed in the context of the consideration, by the Penn State University Faculty Senate Committee on Faculty Benefits, of the pricing of benefits at Penn State.  This consideration was presented in its Advisory and Consultative Report, Employee Contributions to Penn State’s Self-Insured Health Care Costs (March 17, 2015). The six recommendations of that report were overwhelming approved by the Senate at its March 2017 meeting (Record).  While the university administration has yet to speak to the recommendations, it would not surprise to expect a negative response, and perhaps a passionate one.  I will report on that response when and if it is made.

 The report has importance not merely for the internal policy debates at Penn State but rather for the way it indicates that large universities are beginning to change their administrative operations and develop policy and policy approaches in the face of the need to contain costs, and to effectively manage their employees.  The social costs of those decisions will have ramifications far beyond the university, and those might have political dimensions as well.


The Report follows or may be accessed HERE.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Crafting a Policy for Open Access to Scholarly Publications From the Penn State University Faculty Senate

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2015)

Open access has become an important issue for the dissemination of knowledge.  I have written about the way in which the efforts of the last decade to financially exploit the dissemination of knowledge has produced an increasingly class based system of knowledge dissemination in which the rich or well funded have access to knowledge denied to poorer individuals and institutions.  (E.g., Disseminating Knowledge Broadly--New Offerings From the Digital Commons Network (Jan. 7, 2014), Open Access at Penn State: Scholarsphere (Dec., 14, 2012);   Between Scholar and University--Sharing Knowledge, Protecting Revenue and Control--Is the UCSF Approach Worth Considering (May 28, 2012); Opening Access: Course Proposals Archive at Penn State (June 1, 2012); Digital Humanities From the CIC (Oct. 6, 2012).

Mirroring the age in which we live, and the technology that has changed the way in which knowledge is produced and distributed, we can no longer assume an identity between prestige markets for academics and the populations to which works of scholarship are addressed. Moreover, prestige markets themselves have fragmented--the markets for prestige and advancement within a university may not be the same as markets for prestige  within globally dispersed fields.  And universities have been taking to measure the impacts of such prestige in distinct ways, parsing out rewards accordingly.  Beyond that, and though sometimes it tends to be overlooked in the quest for institutional and personal self interest, their is or ought to be a public duty to the production of scholarship that might call for the broadest possible distribution of works to spread knowledge to those without access to the university or to those business enterprises that make money from publication. 

More insidious are current efforts (I know some in professional schools) the object of which is to seek to assert institutional rights to faculty scholarship and then to hijack scholarly production of faculty, in the name of open access.  The effect, of course, is to transfer effective control of scholarly work from faculty to the institution, leaving, of course, the rights of publishers untouched.  Between the effort of publishers (for perfectly reasonable economic reasons) to capture for themselves most of the value of scholarly production, and of the university (for perfectly plausible reasons of controlling the production of its "servants" at least to the extent that the university might satisfy its conscience that all such work are at least hypothetically plausibly connected to employment) to capture for itself the prestige and distribution value of scholarship that remains. (See here).

The Committee on Libraries, Information Systems, and Technology of the Penn State University Faculty Senate, has sought to develop a reasonable middle way, one that maintains the strong bond between scholars and the institutions in which they are resident, publishers rights (and the logic of publication prestige systems), and the control of scholars over their work. The Committee has proposed a "Resolution on Open Access to Scholarly Publications" for consideration by the University Faculty Senate at its April 28, 2015 meeting (April 28, 2015 Senate Agenda (PDF)).  The Resolution seeks to balance the needs for open access and knowledge dissemination, with the needs of publishers, the protection of faculty rights to their work which represents a substantial amount of their working time and efforts. It builds on earlier work of the Committee and ought to be seriously considered as a benign step toward more vigorous access to knowledge for those who the university, and its academics, ought to serve.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

On the Uneasy Relationship Between Learning Outcomes Assessments, Shared Governance and Academic Freedom--A View from Beneath the Administrative Apparatus at Penn State

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2015)

Learning outcomes assessment has become a very popular concept among those who seek to assert a measure of control over the university and its "product" (understood as students well equipped for insertion into appropriate segments of labor markets usually as a function of the position of the university within the prestige hierarchies in education). (See here). Sectors with a particular interest in asserting such control include political elites (for any number of reasons, judgment of these "reasons" and "justifications" is beyond the scope of this post), governmental ministries and the functionaries set to that task (usually in the form of some sort of governmental accreditation or standardization sub ministry), organizations of professionals seeking to preserve the integrity of the professions over which they assert power to set qualifications therefor (particularly the medical, legal and other professions), and of course university administrators who might see in the business of assessment a means of broadening cultures of control of the learning factories that are being constructed from out of universities in the early 21st century.

And, of course, it may be useful to faculty as well--perhaps as a means of communal self discipline, of personal improvement, as a means of retaining coherence in courses of study.  Yet, within the context in which it has arisen, faculty have been the most reluctant stakeholders to embrace this approach to the management of the business of education. Timothy Reese Cain, an associate professor at the University of Georgia’s Institute of Higher Education and a senior scholar at the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment has recently produced an Occasional Paper worth considering. Timothy Reese Cain, Assessment and Academic Freedom: In Concert, Not Conflict (National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment Occasional Paper No. 22 Nov. 2014).  He argues that it is possible to construct systems of learning outcomes assessment that complement rather than threaten the now century old cultures of shared governance, tenure and academic freedom that are the hallmark of elite American universities.

This post considers in a very preliminary way his recommendations and their relation to efforts to construct systems of what ought to be a typical example of its type among research I universities--the  learning outcomes assessment structures at Penn State. I will approach the later as if I were an uninformed outsider considering only information publicly available.  Even this preliminary assessment suggests that if assessment becomes, in part, a system of evaluation not of courses or of programs but of faculty, then the fears about the use of assessment to end run both shared governance and academic freedom may well be realized

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

More on Salary Data: The AAUP 2014-2015 Annual Faculty Compensation Survey

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Bacier 2015)

I have been writing about faculty compensation and the underlying ideologies and management strategies (conscious and unconscious) for the presentation of "facts" (harvesting of data) and the extraction of inferences from the data (here, here, and here).  I have also suggested how these exercises do as much to veil "data" and avoid "inference" as it aid in their development and exposure (for a more theoretical discussion HERE).

Now comes the AAUP with its 2014-2015 Annual Faculty Compensation Survey.  This should be added to the constellation of data already harvested and from which inferences may be drawn. 

The AAUP press release with links follows.

Monday, April 6, 2015

In Aid of More Robust Labor Markets: From the Chronicle of Higher Education--An Interactive Salary Tool

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2015)

Open, fair, robust markets are the essence to fair allocations of resources and a fair distribution of the gains of productivity for the contribution of each of the factors of production to the production of enterprise wealth. That is the policy the underlies nearly a century of market regulation in the United States and more recently globally. Transparency is indispensable to open and robust markets.

EXCEPT with respect to labor markets. Labor markets tend to be segmented, and regimes of secrecy are meant ostensibly to protect privacy but in reality protect the power of labor market managers to avoid labor market distortions in the service of other objectives. This is particularly true with respect to labor markets as reflected in faculty salaries. With respect to those the opposite of conventional sound economic policy appears to apply--concerns for worker solidarity as well as privacy veil salary information.  But that delicacy also inhibits robust markets in pay (which might or might not be a good thing) and more importantly shifts power over the construction and operation of salary markets from market interactions between administration and labor to the regulatory capacities of administrators. 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Faculty Assessment--From "Man is the Measure of All things" to "The MEASURE is Man"

 (Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2015)

In many universities the Spring term signals the start of assessment season, that time when administrative superiors review and assess their faculty inferiors (from the point of view of administrative chains of command).  That assessment, increasingly has come to be understood as necessarily based on objective measures. That move has given comfort to both assessor and assessed, though for quite distinct reasons.

The objectification of the assessable individual is itself an inevitable product of the embrace by universities worldwide of a self conception increasingly described in terms of production, of learning factories (see here, here, here and here). Universities produce "things" (tangible and intangible) that can be measured, the production of which can be assigned with a fair degree of specification to various factors deployed in the production of these "things." These production lines can be structured for identification and assessment at the macro level (producing graduates for successful insertion in wage labor markets; alumni for post graduation giving; successful participants in government for access to centers of political and societal power, etc.). Yet they are also useful at the micro level (creating structured objectives to assess both instruction (maximizing content for achieving macro objective goals)), and the success in implanting those objectives into their recipients (the student)).

This post considers some of the elements and consequences of this move toward a bifurcation fo assessment along the lines of a factory model and its effects on the shape of productivity within the university.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Problem With Data: Faculty Salary Reporting and the Management of Perception

 (Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2015)

Universities, and faculty organizations like the American Association of University Professors and the Society of American Law Teachers (SALT), have published variations of faculty salary surveys for some time now.  The AAUP publishes its Annual Report on the Status of the Profession (the 2013-2014 Report may be accessed HERE).  SALT publishes its salary survey (the 2012-2013 Report may be accessed HERE). Universities usually make theirs available in some form their their faculty senates (for Penn State, see SENATE COMMITTEE ON FACULTY BENEFITS 2013-2014 Report on Faculty Salaries (Informational); tables may be accessed HERE). .

These are meant to serve a useful purpose--as an important contribution to informational transparency.  This transparency, in turn is meant to paint a picture of the state of faculty earning that can be used, as an authoritative data set, to further  positions and negotiating strategies,  of university administrators, faculty, legislators and the like.  It is also a valuable mechanism for managing public opinion about the state of the university and the privilege (or lack thereof) of a key university stakeholder.

All of this is well and good, and fair game, in the context of the politics of university administration, public policy development, and the operation of wage labor markets for university faculty labor talent.  Yet, data is a relational as well as an objective measure.  For policymakers, and especially for engagement, the choice of relational elements--the way data is packaged and the choice of data types to place in relationship to each other--will have a profound impact on the way on which the data is read and understood. More importantly, if done with some calculation, the careful presentation of relationships among data (including some excluding others) can be used to manage conclusions as well. This no doubt is usually inadvertent, but perhaps not always so. 

This semiotic insight is both powerful and so deeply embedded in our culture that it tends to go unnoticed.  This post considers how the way in which these relational markers work affect the presentation and utility of faculty salary surveys.    It also suggests the ways in which they might be managed and exploited.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Evolving Governance Structures in Sub-University Governance Units--The Changing Face of Shared Governance on the Front Lines

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2015)

In 2013, at a conference organized by the Wisconsin Board of Regents to discuss disputes over university cash reserves, the issue of the institutional inefficiencies of university governance drew substantial attention.  The conference, entitled ironically enough, “Finding Common Ground: Regent Governance, Funding, and Partnerships for Wisconsin’s Public University System,” served as a platform for legislators intent on rejecting the customs and traditions of university administration in Wisconsin to broadcast a radical reinvention of university governance. (Colleen Flaherty, New Threat to Shared Governance, Inside Higher Education, Sept. 9, 2013).
Michael Falbo, the board's president, told legislators they needed to “reboot” the longstanding partnership between Wisconsin and its public universities. . . .
During a panel discussion on board governance, however, legislators took the opportunity to start a discussion about the role of the faculty in decision making.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, a Republican, said governance changes within the system were a matter of “when, not if,” and that university chancellors should be empowered to “truly be the chief executive officers.”
Vos added: "Does the role of allowing faculty to make a huge number of decisions help the system or hurt the system?"  (Ibid.).
The issue appeared to produce a short but sharp conversation.  Less than two years later, however, and again in the context of budget discussions, the issue reappeared, this time from out of the mouth of a governor with potential presidential aspirations.
Governor Scott Walker, a possible Republican candidate for president, announced Tuesday a $300 million cut to the 26-campus University of Wisconsin System. The planned cuts will come as a pair of $150 million cuts in each of the next two years.
* * *
“The people of Wisconsin deserve a government that is more effective, more efficient and more accountable,” Walker said in a statement announcing his higher education budget, “and this plan protects the taxpayers and allows for a stronger UW System in the future.”
* * *
Under Walker’s plan, tenure and faculty governance would be stricken from state code, although faculty leaders expect the Board of Regents to adopt similar or identical policies, resulting in few real changes. Usually, those tenure and shared-governance policies -- which faculty consider crucial protections -- are written into university regulations. In Wisconsin, they are enshrined in state code. (Ry Rivard, Deep Cuts in Wisconsin, Inside Higher Education, Jan. 28, 2015).
Despite the appearance of substantial formal change, the functional effect of Governor Walker's intended action will be slight.  The Wisconsin Board of Regents appears ready to embrace the long standing and conservative approaches of most other states with respect to shared governance.   Yet the Wisconsin Governor this year, and his more radical legislative colleague in 2013, raise an important issue that is worth considering seriously. How should one look at issues of efficiency when considering the role of shared governance in university administration? How do efficiency  and shared governance principles connect at the sub-university level--in the  governance styles at the front lines of university operations--its law schools, liberal arts, engineering colleges and the like?  What about shared governance adds to aggregate efficiency in the operations of the university, especially at the operational level?

This post considers three distinct governance styles that appear to be emerging the operations level of university organization.  These tend to provide different balancing of efficiency and shared governance principles that might produce substantially different approaches to governance--not just with respect to its form (and the power relations inherent in a distinct governance style) but also with respect to the objectives of shared governance.  

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.