Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Remarks of the Senate Chair Made at the April 23, 2013 Meeting of the Penn State Faculty Senate

The Penn State University Faculty Senate held its first meeting of this academic year on Tuesday April 23, 2013 (e.g. Faculty Senate April 23, 2013 Meeting Agenda). This post includes the remarks I made at the conclusion of that meeting.  They are my last remarks as Chair of the Faculty Senate and represent both a summing up and a look to future challenges.

 (Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2013)

This post will also be the last for the "Faculty Voice" but not the end of this blog.  Having dedicated my year as Chair to issues of governance and transparency, it seemed to make sense to continue the blog during the year I assume the duties of Immediate Past Chair of the University Faculty Senate.  In its new form this blog will have a new name--Monitoring University Governance--and a new focus: engaging in a spirit of collegial cooperation, core issues of transparency and shared governance that marks the essence of university organization and governance not just at Penn State but elsewhere within universities in the United States and abroad.      

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Report of the Student Conduct Code Task Force

The road to simplicity can sometimes be strewn with the wreckage of good intentions and knowledge excessively applied to judgment that might have been better ripened. In September 2012 I charged a special committee of the Penn State Faculty Senate with the task, one that I thought simple and straightforward at the time, to combine the many student honor codes and related principles into one simple to read student oriented document designed to permit an entering student who sought to "do right" with all the basic necessary information of expectations.  At the time I wrote:
I have also charged a Student Conduct Code Task Force, chaired by Keefe Manning. Its task is at once simple and yet likely highly controversial. Academic integrity and related codes of behavior and behavioral expectations for students, including so-called “Honor Codes” and conduct principles, have become an important regulatory tool for universities. Over the last decade, these codes, in all of their forms, have also presented a number of issues for universities, including issues of complexity, overlap, policy and code incoherence across units and campuses and the like. I have asked this committee to try to simplify this potentially overgrown regulatory patch and bring simplicity and order. The object is to be student centered, though sensitive to the important distinctive needs of particular areas—athletics in particular. But even so, these behavior commands ought to be written for the benefit of students and to help them do the right thing, rather than as an indulgence for the convenience or greater glory of our faculty, unit administrators or anyone else who sees in these an instrument for their own ends first. And the primacy of student dignity, as a species of human dignity, ought to militate against the temptation to see in these codes a means of social engineering that may threaten the long traditions in this country of preserving individual liberties. (Statement of Senate Chair Made at the October 16, 2012 Penn State University Faculty Senate Meeting)
 After some initial resistance by the committee, I expected to receive no report.  To my surprise, and on the day before the end of my term as Chair, I received  the Report of that Special Committee.  I appreciate the Committee's honest engagement with the charge and its willingness to try to explore possibilities as they came to understand it.  I am hopeful that further engagement by others may at some point and in some form bring us closer to the day when we might be able to provide a student just starting her academic career and eager to do right, not philosophy or ethics or an engagement in the complexities of cultural production and replication, but instead a simple set of rules to follow to do right.   The Report follows.

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.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Upcoming Senate Forensic Session--"Search for the Next University President--Senate Input"

I am happy to announce that at the last Senate Council meeting there was a consensus for formal Senate participation in the recent efforts by the outside consulting firm Isaacson Miller to gather information from important stakeholders at the university about what the Presidential search committees ought to be looking for in reviewing candidates for the next president of Penn State.  

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2013)

The forensic session will take place at the last Senate meeting of the Spring Term, April 23, 2013 at Kern Hall at Penn State. All faculty are encouraged to send their thoughts to their Senate representatives and all Senators are encouraged to speak up during the forensic.  The session is as important for whatever insights our executive search firm may choose to draw form it as it for the faculty's discussion of its sense of the appropriate relationships between faculty and high administrative officials and the character consequentially, of those who are fit to hold that position.  It is, in this sense, an important marker of faculty thinking about the character of shared governance and its expression in the person and office of president.  I am looking forward to a lively and informative session.  

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Remarks on Receiving the Penn State University Council of Commonwealth Student Governments’ Friend of the Commonwealth Award 2012-2013

I was privileged to receive from the Penn State University Council of Commonwealth Student Governments the annual Friend of the Commonwealth Award for 2012-2013 at a lovely banquet given at the University Park campus this past Saturday.  I was especially proud to receive this recognition from students whose good opinion I value highly, and especially to Ben Clark, the outgoing CCSG President, who did an excellent job this year under conditions of unusual stress. 

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer)

What follows is a slightly edited version of my remarks on accepting this award.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Growth Rates in Adminstrative Versus Faculty Position--A View From the Operational Level

I have been speaking to the issue that many people refer to as "administrative bloat."

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2013)

During this year our University Planning Committee has been looking at the issue of administrative hiring and its relationship to faculty hiring.  This post presents their preliminary findings.  I hope it can add to the discussion about the relationship between administrative and faculty hiring hiring, including its effects on the move toward changing the hiring mix between contract and tenured packages.  Administrative choices in firing may well produce "facts" that appear to make inevitable faculty hiring choices that might neither be inevitable or factual.

Monday, April 8, 2013

You Get What You Pay For: Penn State and the AAUP Salary Report 2012-13

In my recent "Statement of Senate Chair Made at the March 12, 2013 Penn State University Faculty Senate Meeting: Restructuring the Way We Operate" I spoke to the Faculty Benefits Committee’s 2012-2013 Report on Faculty Salaries.
(Pix from AAUP)

While Penn State’s salaries are still close to the salaries among other AAUDE institutions, Penn State does seem to have fallen slightly over the last year. The Report explains that ”the decline in Penn State’s competitive position is also reflected in the University’s ranking among selected peer institutions (Table 4). Among a group of 22 other public AAUDE institutions, Penn State has fallen from 5th in 2008–2009 to 9th for professors and 8th for associate professors in 2011–2012. Among the more limited group of Big Ten public institutions, Penn State continues to be among the top. However, the ranking among the Big Ten also shows some decline over recent years.” The Committee, however, notes that the wealth of data provided may of limited use, especially when employed on a comparative basis. It explains that “[t]here are also factors such as market forces, non-monetary compensation and benefits, lifestyle choices, professional reputation, and individual personality that are not reflected in the data.” Yet despite these cautions it is possible to discern areas of potential concern—everything from what appears in some units to be disparities based on gender to the sparseness of data based on race and ethnicity. More important, perhaps, is the need to include more information about fixed term faculty from the study. Though there are some information about fixed term faculty in the supporting tables, fixed term faculty remain virtually invisible within the university, at least with respect to considerations of salaries. Librarians fare only a little better. At an institution where fixed term faculty comprises almost half of our faculty, the absence of those numbers substantially distorts any effort to understand the salary structures of faculty here. I look forward to learning more as our administration addresses these issues. ("Statement of Senate Chair Made at the March 12, 2013 Penn State University Faculty Senate Meeting: Restructuring the Way We Operate")
The supporting materials of the Senate Faculty Benefits Committee Report are available on the web HERE.  

One of the interesting omissions from these salary reports is the relationship between rises in benefits obligations of faculty and the so called salary raises reported.  These salary reports are more optimistic than reality might suggest.  Where benefits payments exceed salary increases the net result are salary decreases rather than increases.  But salary reports fail to take this into account.  That presents a false picture of salary "progress". 

But university salary reports also paint a misleading picture in the absence of comparative data. This post contrast the Penn State salary report with that recently published by AAUP.  It suggests that institutions like Penn State may be at an increasing disadvantage in salary competition with its private sector competitors.   It might be useful to investigate this further.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

On the AAUP Condemnation of Southern University: Lessons for All Universities as They Begin to Panic in the Face of New Education Business Models

Universities are entering an era of uncertainty.  Universities are increasingly unclear about their business model, and to the extent any achieve clarity, it is at the expense of what had once been a solid consensus among the community of universities about the role of universities  and their relationships with their stakeholders.


But much has changed.  Tenure is slowly being eroded, usually excused by the invocation of a market's driven passive aggressiveness on the part of administrators, and a complicity of silence on the part of faculty and students.  Academic freedom is slowly being transformed into the domain of technocrats and budgetary ministers.  Everything from course title selections to course and program choices are driven increasingly either by (1) technical rules in which choices are now made dependent on the constraints  built into the computer programs set up to facilitate these choices or (2) budget models that reverse the traditional notion of faculty and pedagogy driven course and program choices, substituting regimes of student tuition production for value driven production. Made to market education philosophies are revolutionizing the approach to education enforcing a 19th century factory production model on the university in which even deans and chancellors are forced to assume the role of factory floor supervisors whose role is increasingly driven by the need to measure and increase productivity among the productive forces through which university revenue is generated (though when it suits the administration those productive forces are decried for their drain on budgets).

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 Southern University ought to be considered in some detail.  The AAUP Press release and links to the report are set out below.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

On the Penn State Presidential Search: An Open Letter to the Presidential Search Firm – Isaacson, Miller--and the Penn State Community

"Penn State is searching for its eighteenth President. A Trustee Presidential Selection Council and University Presidential Search and Screen Committee have been named, following an announcement by President Rodney Erickson that he intends to retire no later than June 30, 2014. Assisting in this effort will be executive search firm Isaacson, Miller." (From Penn State Presidential Search) For Isaacson, Miller, this search is being led by Michael Baer and John Isaacson with Jackie Mildner and Karla Saunders.

A key component of the search will be to gather valuable input from the University community.  All all faculty, staff, students, and alumni have been encouraged to use the “Presidential Search Firm – Isaacson, Miller” link to nominate a candidate and/or provide thoughtful input to assist in the process.  

This post serves as the first of what may be multiple engagements in the process of moving toward a new President at Penn State.  It provides my own thoughts on the qualities that the Penn State community might find valuable in a new president and includes links to additional helpful sites.  The hope is that the Penn State community will engage actively in the search process and provide the sort of deep and constant communication with the search committees to help them in the formidable task of choosing a new Penn State President. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Agenda for Upcoming Senate Council Meeting of April 9 2013

The agenda for the Penn State Senate Council meeting scheduled for April 9, 2013 has been finalized. It is set out here.  
(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2013)
The agenda includes consideration of a number of important informational reports.  In an effort to make our work more transparent I have included many of them here as well, or will posy them shortly.  It would be useful for stakeholders to read these before our meeting and send comments either via this post or directly to the Senate officers ( ).