Friday, December 14, 2012

Open Access at Penn State: Scholarsphere

 (Pix from

I was pleased to note that Penn State has been moving to embrace open access. 
"ScholarSphere is a secure repository service enabling the Penn State community to share its research and scholarly work with a worldwide audience. Faculty, staff, and students can use ScholarSphere to collect their work in one location and create a durable and citeable record of their papers, presentations, publications, data sets, or other scholarly creations. Through this service, Penn State researchers can also comply with grant-funding-agency requirements for sharing and managing research data. " (Penn State, What is Scholarsphere))
Set our below is a draft of an Informational Report recently repared by our Penn State University Facult Senate Committee on Libraries, Information Systems and Technology discussing Penn State's Scholarsphere. Please cionsider sending comments and suggestions.  In any case I  hope our community takes advantage of the opportunity and provides the sort of feedback necessary to make it better.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Statement From the Penn State University Faculty Senate Chair

("Penn State's Chi Omega chapter apologized for this photo that was posted on Tumblr." From Moni Basu, Penn State sorority sisters denigrate Mexicans in party photo, CNN Dec. 5, 2012)

 Like many people in this country, I was chagrined to see, yet again, what is altogether too common--an "innocently" offensive playing out of what is an unconscious part of the larger socio-cultural landscape of this Republic. A close look at the picture suggests the innocence--the effort to invoke items of clothing associated with the people of the Mexican Republic.  It also, however, slaps the viewer with its quite conscious offensive meanness, one rooted in racism and ethnocentrism (even if mindlessly so)--the reference to the willingness of people, whose common denominator appears to be these items of clothing, to exchange thankless menial labor (in which they have traditionally been exploited in the U.S.) for marijuana. The double offense is clear--violators of immigration and drugs laws, a lawless group fit only for humor and expulsion.

This innocent double offense is also quite perverse.  It is well known that demand in the United States drives the drug trade with respect to which Mexico sadly serves as a gateway if only because of its geographical connection to the United States. Worse, it suggests an understanding of economic relationships with immigrants that is grounded on the assumption that base exploitation is both expected and acceptable. It damns a people and a culture with the wrongs--social, moral and legal--of those doing the damning. 

The picture struck home to me quite personally.  That sort of humor was quite common when I came to this country as a young immigrant from another humorously exploitable nation--Cuba.  I well remember the mindlessness with which people of my parents generation would generate "humor", humor that almost invariably crossed from the good natured to the deliberately mean and mean spirited.  I watched my peers learn to mimic their parents and to absorb their bad behavior and even more perverse attitudes masked by the "innocence" of humor.  But my family and I knew precisely what was going on--and so did these "humorous folks".  The young adults in this picture are the heirs to a tradition that continues to sting those of us who came here only a few generations after their own ancestors. We understand the point and "get" the humor.  We feel the insult nicely buffered by a smile and a laugh.  We continue to feel the way this humor is meant to reinforce and remind some of us of our "real" place in the social and economic (and perhaps even the moral) order of this Republic.  We know the "place" reserved for us very well.  We are less willing to pay the price of earlier generations who hoped that laughing along with this sort of innocent thing is a "price" that we are expected to pay for getting along and moving up.  I am not a probationary member of this country and neither are many of the people who were the object of this humor.   

So, even decades later, when I am well protected form this sort of thing, "this sort of thing" still hurts, and it still threatens.  I appreciate the sensitive efforts of our administration to both condemn and protect these young adults. Their "Open Letter to the Penn State Community" is reproduced below.  It is both heartfelt and sensitive to the legal context in which a large institution like Penn State operates. Yet I believe that it is worth emphasizing that though these young adults are the bearers of constitutional rights in which we all believe and which we all dedicate our professional and personal efforts to protect--they are also burdened with a host of social responsibilities that they have violated consciously and deliberately and with little consequence other than the need to make an apology.  This is not to suggest that punishment is in order--I suspect that punishment would merely reinforce the cycles of antagonism that produces, in this most benign form, the sort of meanness that produced the event and the photo. But it does suggest that the social responsibilities of these young adults and students ought to lead them to something more than a "sorry."  Some sort of public expression of a "lesson learned" and an understanding of the problem might be in order, the specifics of which are not for me to say. 

As Chair of the Penn State University Faculty Senate I join with President Erickson and his administration colleagues in the "Open Letter."  I am grateful for their sensitivity and for the content of that letter. I expect that many of my colleagues on the Senate will also join in.  Yet, as someone who has been the target of this innocent "playfulness" and whose family, some of whom are more darkly complected and less able to navigate the English language,  have suffered more when innocent play becomes something more ominous, I hope that these young adults do more than find comfort in their constitutionally protected rights. 

Larry Catá Backer
W. Richard and Mary Eshelman Faculty Scholar &
 Professor of Law, Professor of International Affairs
2012-13 Chair University Faculty Senate
Pennsylvania State University

Informal Report: Faculty Senate meets for final meeting of 2012

In its final meeting for 2012, Penn State’s Faculty Senate on Tuesday (Dec. 4) held a forensic session on faculty appointment ratios; considered a motion supporting university leaders, heard a report on initiatives to address student alcohol issues; approved revisions to standing rules pertaining to faculty athletics representatives and received several informational reports.

This post summarizes the events of that meeting and provides links to more information.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Statement of Senate Chair Made at the December 4, 2012 Penn State University Faculty Senate Meeting--Is the Senate Fatally Ineffective?

The Penn State University Faculty Senate held its third meeting of this academic year on Tuesday December 4, 2012 (e.g. Faculty Senate December 4 Meeting Agenda).

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2012)
I used the occasion to speak to an important issue raised by our Senators at the last meeting of the University Senate Council--Why does the Senate appear to be ineffective? This post includes the remarks I made at the start of the meeting.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Comments on the Consideration of a Senate Resolution in Praise of University Leaders

 (Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2012)

In a prior post, Senate to Consider Resolution in Praise of University Leaders (Oct. 31, 2012), I announced that at its December 2012 meeting, the Penn State University Faculty Senate will consider the following resolution, proposed at the October Senate meeting by Senator Thomas O. Beebee, Liberal Arts: 
In light of the Freeh Report, the NCAA sanctions, and the conviction and sentencing of Jerry Sandusky, the Faculty Senate of the Pennsylvania State University wishes to convey its deepest sorrow in the face of these crimes, and to extend its sympathy to all victims of these proven criminal actions. The Senate furthermore hereby:
·   Expresses its support for President Rodney Erickson and the Board of Trustees in their efforts to bring greater transparency and accountability to university governance;
·   Affirms its commitment to furthering the cultures of excellence at Penn State: cultures of teaching, of scholarship and research, of service, of student philanthropy, and of student athletics;
·   Pledges its own best efforts, through its committee work, Senate Council, shared governance, and plenary meetings, to continually making Penn State a better place to work and live, and an environment where cultures of excellence can flourish.

I invited comments to aid the Senate in its deliberations.  I received many.  Some of them were posted as comments to the original message.  I received many more.  This post includes a number of comments received but not posted, along with those posted earlier as comments.  I note the following as you consider these posts: (1) a number of commentators feared to provide identifying information because they thought retaliation would be likely; that this feeling still runs so deep ought to cause us great concern; (2) the more intemperate comments were omitted; (3) emotions still run deep among some members of the Penn State community; it is not clear that ignoring or marginalizing this group is the best way top deal with the emotion; (4) it is not clear what others who declined to write in think; it would be a mistake to think that these comments express the universe of reactions. 

Without more ado, here are the comments.  I hope they help senators decide how they will approach the issue of the approval of the resolution.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Faculty Senate to Consider Issues of Administrative Bloat at Penn State in Wake in of Similar Action at Other Universities

 U.S. universities employed more than 230,000 administrators in 2009, up 60 percent from 1993, or 10 times the rate of growth of the tenured faculty, those with permanent positions and job security, according to U.S. Education Department data.

Spending on administration has been rising faster than funds for instruction and research at 198 leading U.S. research universities, concluded a 2010 study by Jay Greene, an education professor at the University of Arkansas. (From John Hechinger, Bureaucrats Paid $250,000 Feed Outcry Over College Costs, Bloomberg, Nov. 14, 2012.)
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 by Deans and Other Unit Administrators--An Overlooked but Important Source of Direct Attack on Shared Governance and Administrative Bloat and Managing Faculty-Administrative Conflict; Address of J. Paul Robinson, Chair of the Purdue University Faculty Senate.

“Why is it that we can’t find any money for more faculty, but there seems to be an almost unlimited budget for administrators?” asks J. Paul Robinson, a Purdue University professor of biomedical engineering and chairman of the school's faculty senate. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg 

This post provides more information on the work of tracking administrative bloat at our CIC sister university--Purdue University. John Hechinger, Bureaucrats Paid $250,000 Feed Outcry Over College Costs, Bloomberg, Nov. 14, 2012. It also announces efforts by the Faculty Senate at Penn State to look at the issue as well.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Senate Agenda for Dec 4 2012 Meeting

Here is the Senate Agenda for the December 4 2012 meeting.  Please send email comments in especially for the information report.  Too often they go un-noticed when a few sharp questions can bring out the issues that they are seeking to bring out.

 (Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2012)