Sunday, May 17, 2015

Do University Administrators Have an Ethical Obligation in Developing and Defending Decisions on Benefits?

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2015)

The first decades of the 21st century has seen the rise of ethics as an important tool for university governance.   These serve both as guiding principles for conduct and as rules, the violation of which may indicate more serious breach.  

Indiana University, a respected member of the CIC (Committee on Institutional Cooperation) provides an example of the approach state and state assisted universities have come to embrace respecting the application of ethics to the conduct of university personnel. See Indiana University, Principles of Ethical Conduct (the "Ethics Principles"). Unlike other CIC universities, Indiana University sought and obtained the approval of the relevant university faculty governance institution before final approval by the Indiana University Board of Trustees. And that, perhaps, marks the ethical practices of Indiana University beyond the words of the Ethics Principles themselves, in the sense that they appear to practice what they preach. 

This post considers briefly the contours of Indiana's Ethics Principles as an exemplar, and then attempts to apply it to sketch out the boundaries of ethical conduct that may constrain administrators when they  seek to develop and defend decisions related to university benefits for employees. To that end a hypothetical is considered.  The discussion may be useful to other CIC institutions considering ethics principles--Penn State University, Ohio State University, Rutgers, etc.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

AAUP Reports on Mass Faculty Dismissals at the University of Southern Maine and on Felician College

(Pix (c) Larry Catá  Bcaker 2015)

From a recent AAUP Press Release
Last month the AAUP released the reports of investigations of alleged violations of academic freedom and tenure at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Today I’m writing to announce the release of two new investigating committee reports, both involving mass dismissals of faculty.

In these two new reports—on the University of Southern Maine and on Felician College—the investigating committees found that both administrations violated standards recommended by the AAUP and widely accepted in the academic community.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Rise of University Data Mining and Analysis Oligarchies--From Transparency to Confidentiality Regimes in University Operations and the Issue of Salary Information

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2015)

I have been considering the management of data as a source of power in the relations between university faculty and administration.  In particular, I have been suggesting the ways that  both the harvesting of data on salaries (what is going to be gathered up  as data) and its presentation (the extraction of meaning from the data), can be a substantially manipulative affair, best controlled by those with the power to generate and analyze data (see here, here and here). 

While my focus has been on the quality of the data and the manipulative potential of its presentation, especially in thew way in which it might be used to both undervalue labor and to justify the allocation of productivity gains away from its producers (effectively resulting in increasing wage-productivity gaps that result in effective wage decreases per unit of productivity). But perhaps all is fair in the battlefield of the wage labor markets in which universities operate. Yet when the field of negotiation on which these contests are played out are no longer level--when they are substantially tilted in favor of those with a disproportionate amount of market power, and deliberately so for what appears an unfair advantage--one wonders about the application of general principles of ethics and fairness play within an institution that might consciously operate in that environment. 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The AAUP Report on the Salaita Affair--Speech Rights or a Contest Over the Faculty Appointment Power Within Universities?

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2015)

I have been considering social media policies (See here, here, here, here, and here).  I have also been considering what may be a hard case--the way in which social media interventions contributed to the actions taken in connection with Professor Salaita's appointment at the University of Illinois (see here) especially in the context both civility (Here) and academic freedom (e.g., Here and Here). 
Today the AAUP announced the release of the report of its Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure that investigated the case of Steven Salaita:  AAUP, Academic Freedom and Tenure: The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (April 2015).  The Report is a prelude to possible censure of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign by the AAUP.

The facts around the appointment of Professor Salaita remains quite controversial. In reporting on the AAUP action, Colleen Flaherty noted (Censure Threat, Inside Higher Education, April 28, 2015):
There’s been no shortage of criticism, both formal and informal, of how the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign handled the withdrawn faculty appointment of Steven Salaita last summer. (The university has a substantial number of supporters who say it was right to reject Salaita for the tone of his anti-Israel remarks on Twitter, but detractors have been numerous and vocal.)
The Report of the AAUP's Committee A appears to support Professor Salaita's position more positively than an earlier report of the Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign subcommittee “Report on the Investigation into the Matter of Steven Salaita” (see full PDF here). That Report had earlier been rejected by the University of Illinois Board of Trustees (Academic Freedom and Tenure: The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (April 2015, pp. 8-9).  However, the AAUP decision was not unanimous.
Cary Nelson, a professor of English at Urbana-Champaign who has defended the university’s right to consider matters of civility in hiring decisions, sits on Committee A and said he disagrees with a number of the report's conclusions. Nelson said he thought that the investigation on which the report was based failed to answer key questions about the case, such as whether the American Indian Studies program had any warning that Wise perceived problems with the appointment, as faculty members have alleged they did not, and whether Salaita’s tweets can truly be separated from his academic oeuvre. While the committee report references Salaita’s “impassioned” tweets in response to the fight “raging between Israeli troops and Palestinians in Gaza” last summer, Nelson said Salaita’s vociferously anti-Israel tweets started at least months before that violence broke out, and parallel thoughts in some of his previously published works. (Censure Threat, Inside Higher Education, April 28, 2015)
The Press Release, the Report and some comments follow.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Power and Control Through the Prism of Benefits -- Between Administration and Faculty Senates Shared Governance When Convenient

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2015)

The relationship between the institutional voice of a faculty, usually organized, as it is at Pennsylvania State University, through a University Faculty Senate, and an increasingly professionalized cadre of administrators, organized within a substantially autonomous and self-referencing organizational structure from out of which it manages and controls sub-system to sub-system structural coupling (see eg here and here (at pp. 15-25)), and usually in the form data harvesting and command communications,  has been quite dynamic over the course of the last several years.  That dynamism evidences both changes in practices and shifts in power among the various sub-systems (administrative organizations, faculty senate, board of trustees, legislature, etc.) that together formally constitute the governance apparatus of the university. 

The currency of power is usually expressed as control over (1) factors in the production of university wealth and prestige, (2) the results of that production (usually measured in money). The exercise of that power is usually effectuated through mechanisms, the objectives of which are to (1) socialize subordinate factors of production within power regimes (eg to get labor to do what is commanded or to accept what is done), and (2) to mask the realities of control through elaborate systems of transparency that feigns engagement but offers only the provision of information.

This post considers these trends in the context of the rejection, by Penn State's administrative apparatus, of the recommendations of the University Faculty Senate, and the larger institutional context, relevant to universities nationally, that these represent. I welcome a conversation and continue to look forward to rewarding interactions with all university stakeholders.

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.