Friday, April 19, 2013

On the AAUP Condemnation of National Louis University: Lessons for the Exploitative Potential of General Education and Its Pernicious Effects on the Tenure System

Universities are entering an era of uncertainty, and one consequence is an indulgence of bad behavior excused by panic in the face of financial stress. See On the AAUP Condemnation of Southern University: Lessons for All Universities as They Begin to Panic in the Face of New Education Business Models, The Faculty Voice, April 4, 2013.

Panic is sometimes evidenced by an institutional embrace of the temptation to use process to cover arbitrary action, with the intent to avoid, and by avoiding undermining both shared governance and accountability.  The transmogrification of financial exigency is a case in point.  Originally understood as a means of providing university's in financial distress with a more flexible means of redirecting resources for the common institutional good, financial exigency has become for some a fig leaf to cover attacks on tenure and shared governance.  This is particularly the case with institutions seeking to move from the traditional system grounded on a governance sharing cohort of tenured faculty to a factory model in which tenured faculty members are converted into part time or temporary workers--fired from their jobs only to be rehired as "piece workers" at substantially reduced wages.  This is not conduct limits to universities.  Multinational corporations have sought to fire permanent workers and substitute temporary workers to reduce costs in their supply chain relationships.  It is ironic that U.S. university faculty are increasingly treated with the same ruthlessness as Indian or Pakistani factory workers, but without even the minimal protections of the Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Backer, Larry Catá, Privatization, the Role of Enterprises and the Implementation of Social and Economic Rights: A Comparison of Rights-Based and Administrative Approaches in India and China (January 1, 2013). Consortium for Peace and Ethics Working Paper No. 4-2013; Penn State Law Research Paper 4-2013.

And all of this is clothed in the soothing language of the traditional academic discourse.  It is in this context that the AAUP's recent condemnation of National Louis University ought to be considered in some detail.  It is particularly useful when considering the ways in which some institutions are using the language of finance and budgets quite loosely to effect a back door attack on the tenure and full time employment system for faculty to substitute a cheaper and more flexible piece work system that produces greater programmatic flexibility at a great price. It is also particularly interesting for what it has to say about the way university administrations might be tempted to use the general education system--not so much as a means of teaching students but as a means of generating revenue.  This is particularly important for Penn State as it begins the process of rethinking General Education--and faces the temptation of the need to preserve unit revenue at the cost of innovative reform that might affect unit revenues.  See Designing General Education for the Future: Penn State Report on General Education, The Faculty Voice, Oct. 3, 2012.

The AAUP Press release and links to the report are set out below.

A newly released AAUP investigating committee report concludes that administrators at National Louis University had no acceptable financial or educational justification for discontinuing fourteen academic programs, closing four departments in the College of Arts and Sciences, and terminating the appointments of at least sixty-three full-time faculty members, sixteen of them with continuous tenure.

The investigation, conducted in October and chaired by Professor Kerry E. Grant (Southern Connecticut State University), was authorized by the AAUP following complaints from NLU faculty members that the administration had discontinued departments and programs without first demonstrating the magnitude of the financial constraints facing the university and adequately consulting the faculty.

The investigating committee’s report focuses on the cases of three tenured professors whose positions were terminated. The subject of the first case was a biologist in the natural sciences department, one of the departments that was closed. The administration acknowledged that the university would continue to offer science courses as part of the general education curriculum and offered some of these courses to him to teach—provided that he did so at a reduced salary as an adjunct faculty member. (He declined the offer.)

The subject of the second case was chair of the natural sciences department. She told the investigating committee that no alternatives were discussed that would have allowed for retention of tenured natural sciences faculty, notwithstanding the fact that nine general education and upper-level science courses for students concentrating in biology or natural sciences would still be offered at NLU beyond the 2011–12 academic year.

The third subject was a professor who taught in the fine arts department, which had also been targeted for closure. She planned to continue beyond her terminal full-time year to teach courses on a contingent basis for approximately $2,000 per quarter, including general education courses that she had routinely taught as part of her normal workload as a tenured faculty member.

The investigating committee concluded that the administration, in terminating the appointments of more than sixty faculty members without having demonstrated cause for dismissal or a state of financial exigency, acted in violation of AAUP-supported principles and procedural standards. The committee further concluded that the role the administration afforded the faculty before, during, and after the decisions on program discontinuance and appointment termination was grossly inadequate. The committee was particularly struck by how quickly experienced members of the faculty, many of them with decades of service to the institution, had been replaced by a cadre of poorly paid contingent faculty members.

The AAUP’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure approved the publication of the report, and at its spring meeting it will formulate a statement on the NLU case that may recommend censure to the Association’s 2013 annual meeting in mid-June.

The full report is available on the AAUP’s website.

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