Sunday, September 30, 2012

Administrative Bloat by Deans and Other Unit Administrators--An Overlooked but Important Source of Direct Attack on Shared Governance

I have been looking at administrative boat and suggesting its ubiquity within large public universities.  My counterpart at Purdue, J. Paul Robinson, has made an eloquent case for the perversions of administrative bloat--advanced, of course, for all of the most innocuous reasons.  (e..g. Administrative Bloat and Managing Faculty-Administrative Conflict; Address of J. Paul Robinson, Chair of the Purdue University Faculty Senate.

 (Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2012)

But administrative bloat is at its most pernicious when the number of administrative roles metastasize at the unit level--college, schools and campuses.  It is in the vast expansion of administration at the unit level, where deans, chancellors and the like seek to surround themselves with something that approaches the courts of medieval fief holders in imitation of the royal courts, that both the university and its commitment to shared governance is put most effectively at risk. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Administrative Bloat and Managing Faculty-Administrative Conflict; Address of J. Paul Robinson, Chair of the Purdue University Faculty Senate

Shared governance from the faculty side tends to be a lonely business.  The institutional voice of faculty governance tends to work in isolation.  Though some universities have sought to reduce the isolation of their institutional faculty governance units, most still tend to work in relative isolation, at least relative to the sort of cooperation and collaboration networks that haves been developing among administrators and boards of trustees that have been developing among university organizations.  Within CIC universities, there have been some efforts made to provide a space for developing faculty research/teaching networks, developing administrative leadership skills from within faculty ranks, and for collaboration among CIC university faculty senates.

J. Paul Robinson, SVM Professor of Cytomics, Professor of Biomedical Engineering Chair, Purdue University Senate

It makes sense for CIC University Faculty leaders to engage in more vigorous sharing of experiences and approaches to shared governance issues and perhaps to work together toward shared approaches to meeting these issues. This post takes a stab in that direction by highlighting the University Faculty Senate at Purdue University. Like Faculty Senate leaders elsewhere in the CIC, Purdue faculty leaders are seeking to respond to frustration from various senators about administrative bloat, and difficulty with managing faculty-administration conflict.  The Chair of the Purdue University Faculty Senate, J. Paul Robinson, has been kind enough to share two documents that might give some perspective on issues at Purdue that can affect all faculty governance organizations. One was a presentation to the Purdue Board of Trustees, and the other an address to the Purdue Faculty Senate.

There area lot of lessons here for Penn State with respect to its governance, its relationship with administration and the form and nature of its engagement.  It suggests the great extent to which our isolation, insularity, and our reticence has impeded the sort of robust and positive exchanges that contribute to the joint construction of a more aggressively and cooperatively forward moving institution. One thing worth emphasizing from Professor Robinson's Report that especially resonates at a Penn State increasingly obsessed with the financial impacts (and costs) of its operations and prone far too often for its own long term good to indulge in the characterization of faculty as a cost item on the fnancial ledgers rather than as the engine (and really the only engine) that produces value at the university.

Faculty impact every aspect of the institution. However, we are a moderately small group of individuals in the big picture. If you consider the graphic below, dividing Purdue into 4 groups of individuals, faculty represent the smallest group. However, if you consider the impact that faculty have, their contribution to the total income of the institution is very significant indeed. It is of course obvious that it is the faculty who deliver the education and bring a very significant share of funding to this institution. (J. Paul Robinson, Chair University Faculty Senate, Purdue University, Report by the Chair of the Senate to the Board of Trustees on the State of the Faculty, July 2012)


Monday, September 17, 2012

The Obligations of Transparency--Omnidirectionality, Mutuality and Good Faith

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.

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2012)

Both forms of transparency assume only the perspective of the holder of information.  It suggests, in effect, that transparency involves a unidirectional activity from a harvester and distributor of information to a set of information consumers.  But reality paints a different picture. First, every participant in transparency activity serves simultaneously as a producer and consumer of information. Second, interactivity posits not merely the obligation to produce information but also the obligation to receive it.

In a prior post I suggested the consequences of a failures to produce and distribute information in a unidirectional context (e.g., On the Importance of Transparency and the Relentless Pursuit of Knowledge in the Sandusky Affair--Governance in a New Era). This post suggests the consequences of failures of interpretation, and the distortions of transparency possible where transparency is conducted as a uni-directional exercise and where the parties acknowledge a right to information but not the obligation to receive it.  Failures of mutuality can distort the communicative and engagement aspects of transparency. Penn State again provides a good illustration of the failures of mutuality in communication--in which the production of communication that adheres to the forms of transparency might mask agendas far removed from the formal object of a transparency project.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

On the Importance of Transparency and the Relentless Pursuit of Knowledge in the Sandusky Affair--Governance in a New Era

The longer I serve as Chair of the Penn State University Senate the more convinced I am of the importance of transparency.  And I do not mean the simpleminded sloganeering that passes for transparency among administrators eager to sound good but change none of their habits, or of faculty who like the word as a fetish but fail to embrace the obligations inherent in the concept.  I mean transparency in its two forms: engagement transparency and communicative transparency.  The former requires the production and dissemination of information necessary for key stakeholders to fully participate in shared governance.  The latter requires the publication of information that clearly provides information justifying or explaining actions taken.  

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2012)

It is not enough to speak transparency as some sort of rhetorical trope or to wave it about like a wand that makes everything better.  Transparency is work,.  In stressful times, failures of transparency, especially where such failures go to the legitimacy of decision making and to the legitimacy of the system of governance in place, can make a bad situation worse.  Penn State provides a lesson in the good and bad of movement toward a more transparent governance structure.  Large institutions, in today's world, are constantly monitored by external organizations even if they are successful in reducing the effectiveness of internal monitoring and even as they seek to severely control the flow and content of information.  This post provides examples of the good and bad that is emerging as a result.  There are lessons here for all large organizations.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

And Now for Something Completely Different: The University of Akron's Adhoc Post-Tenure Under-Appreciated Band Composition: "Bored of Trustees"

Penn State and the University of Virginia have been at the center of movements producing changes in the relationships between Board of Trustees and senior administration.  In the case of the University of Virginia, the changes were ignited internally; in Penn State's case the changes were forced from outside. These are serious matters that will re shape post secondary education for a generation.
(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2012)

Now comes the University of Akron's Adhoc Post-Tenure Under Appreciated Band (Steve Aby, Joseph LaRose, and David Witt) to remind us that even the most important subject can be observed from a variety of perspectives, some of them providing a momentary smile in the middle of the serious business of governance.  And so, without more ado I invite you to listen to the mp3 recording of their song, "Bored of Trustees" which may be accessed below.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Donald Ford on Football Culture at Penn State

Donald Ford, Dean and Professor Emeritus at Penn State, has shared with me an important assessment, viewed through the critically important lens of history, of Penn State faculty culture surrounding PSU football.   

Dean Emeritus Ford has kindly given me permission to post his thoughts, and I am extremely pleased to be able to share them.  These comments add a significant nuance to the "Statement by a Group of Past Chairs of The Pennsylvania State University Faculty Senate Regarding the Freeh Report, the NCAA Consent Decree, and Their Academic Implications August 28, 2012" and to my own critical endorsement of that statement (e.g., A Critical Endorsement of the Past Chairs Statement Regarding the Freeh Report and NCAA Consent Decree).   I really appreciate it.  I welcome comments and reactions.