Thursday, June 27, 2013

Engaged Scholarship--De-Centering Faculty From Research and Teaching in a Relentless March Toward a Training Model for Middle Tier Universities?

The financial crises of the first two decades of the 21st century has forced innovation on universities.  Forced to compete for decreasing numbers of students less able to afford increasing costs of traditional education and more likely to encounter university education instrumentally a factor in strategic entry into labor markets, universities have proceeded with profound changes the effects of which will not be apparent to most for years to come.  (A great student perspective on the crisis of university education may be accessed here).

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2013)

Most of these changes have been well veiled by a combination of well developed rhetoric of passivity ("we can only respond to the market" rhetoric, whose falsity is only augmented by the profound effect on markets that responses produce especially by the largest university players) and by restructuring that increasingly re characterizes most important aspects of university operations as administrative and financial and thus beyond the reach of the traditional governance mechanics of academic governance. These changes have found ready acceptance and the culture of university governance has been affected so that faculty, trustees, administrators and students have begun to understand the university as cultural object in ways that would have been unthinkable a generation ago.

At middle tier universities the changes have been evidenced in a  number of ways.  One of the most interesting is what has been euphemistically pushed by senior administrators as "pedagogical efficacy" (see here). In the form of a movement toward "engaged scholarship" some aspects of this drive involve the active complicity of well placed faculty.  The ways in which influential faculty have rushed to rework their academic cultures to more comfortably conform within new markets driven operational cultures at universities provides a useful basis for understanding the nature and direction of changes to the "business" of the academy. In the process of being "helpful", these faculty efforts that mean to change the culture of the academic enterprise, may transform the nature of the academic enterprise, from an autonomous production model driven by its own objectives to one that becomes a secondary element of wage labor markets and the enterprises that drive them. This essay considers whether recent movements to compel academic conformity to so-called "engaged scholarship" might provide a good example of the profound and perhaps profoundly disturbing example of faculty complicity in movements from education to training models, models in which the academic enterprise may lose its autonomy and thus transformed, more explicitly serve other masters. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Godzilla Versus the Swamp Creature: MOOCs, the Control of Online Education and the Move From Education to Training for Labor Markets

While much attention has been drawn to MOOCs from the perspective of large institutions and those charged with increasing the productivity of teacher-workers to deliver high margin education enhancing capacity, I have been considering some of the side effects of MOOCs.

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2013)

These include the way in which MOOC development has managed to weaken shared governance, and the way in which MOOC operations has deepened recent movements to move education and course/program policy making from the academic side of the university administration to its finance (and non-academic) side. More important, perhaps, have been two additional side effects.  The first is the way in which university administrations have used MOOCs to extend their control over faculty creativity--seeking in effect to capture all individual work whenever produced on the basis of the fact of an individual's hire.  While this has the feel of extraction without compensation, the issue remains unexplored.  The second is the way in which MOOCs may make it possible to leverage teaching by aggregating teaching capacity across universities and using that aggregation and leveraged delivery of education products to reduce the size of expensive staff.

It is with this later point in mind that it may be worth reading carefully the intervention of the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC) provosts in the contests for the control of MOOCs and their revenue generating and faculty cost generating potential. CIC Ad Hoc Committee for Online Learning, CIC Online Learning Collaboration: A Vision and Framework (June 15, 2013) (The CIC Provost Report).  This post includes the bulk of that report along with the way in which the COIC action was reported in the academic trade press, the Chronicle of Higher Education, in Steve Kolowich, "Universities in Consortium Talk of Taking Back Control of Online Offerings," Chronicle of Higher Education, June 19, 2013.  While the trade press characterizes this story as one of a battle between institutional giants for control of a revenue generating new form of student training (and thus the title of this post); a closer reading suggests a more potent theme, the way in which innovation is being used to continue to strip faculty of control of any meaningful role in setting the direction fo courses, course content and educational programs.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Collegiality as Factor in Personnel Decisions. . . But Only for Faculty

The issue of collegiality as a factor in personnel decisions, especially for promotion, tenure and increasingly post-tenure review, is highly contentious.

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2013)

The issue sits at the center of an American cultural dilemma, one that prizes the rugged individual rising to great heights of socially productive work against the equally prized notion in American culture that tends to discipline and marginalize these very people for their anti-social behaviors.  And it implicates another dilemma:  the tension between shared governance and labor management within a university in which knowledge production is an individual enterprise that is dependent on a strong connection to a supportive community of scholars.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Presentation at the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) 2013 Annual Meeting: Shared Governance Under Stress

The American Association of University Professors recently concluded its 2013 Annual Conference in Washington D.C. (June 12-15).

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2013)

The highlight of the Annual Conference on the State of Higher Education will be four days of presentations by faculty members and administrators from around the country. The presentations begin Wednesday, June 12, and continue through Saturday, June 15. Issues to be addressed include: the role of faculty in institutional decision making; collective bargaining in higher education; faculty working off the tenure track; assessment and accountability; the corporatization of teaching and research; academic freedom; the twenty-first century curriculum; MOOCS and online education. (AAUP  2013 Annual Conference website)
The Conference was notable for its lack of optimism.  It seems that in the aggregate, there is a growing sense, correct in my view, that structural forces are making the traditional form,s and premises of shared governance irrelevant, except as a veil behind which governance moves up  an increasingly hierarchical ladder and across to the non.academic and increasingly powerful finance-compliance-risk management departments.  More interesting is that these effects appear more pronounced in smaller local and regional institutions, though what is learned there is likely to leak out to more prominent institutions sooner or later.

This post provides a link to the PowerPoint of my own presentation, one that touches on these Conference themes: "Shared Governance Under Stress: Reflections of the Chair of the Penn State University Faculty Senate."