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. 

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.