Sunday, December 29, 2013

A Malediction for Academia--The Kansas Regents and the New Social Media Policy--Docility and Servility Against Academic Freedom and the Need for Contractual Protection

There is nothing like individual bad taste and administrative overreaction to make for bad law and policy.  And so it goes in Kansas. In September, the University of Kansas suspended David W. Guth, a tenured journalism professor, after he responded to the shootings at the Washington Navy Yard with this comment on Twitter: "#NavyYardShooting The blood is on the hands of the #NRA. Next time, let it be YOUR sons and daughters. Shame on you. May God damn you." Jason Jaschik,  Fireable Tweets, Inside Higher Education, Dec. 19, 2013). In response, and in the face of a supposed absence of rules for dealing with this sort of old fashioned malediction or curse, the Kansas Regents rushed in with a broad effort to control the behavior of its academics.

 (Reeve and serfs in feudal England, ca. 1310; Source Wikipedia Serfdom)

But they have done more. The Kansas Regents have seen in the unfortunate malediction of a professor  an opportunity for more broadly controlling the academics of Kansas--certainly far beyond the scope of the offense of the professor's tweeted curse. In doing so, Kansas appears to be moving towards embracing an educational culture of servility and docility at odds with the robust democracy in which, by the sacrifices of those who would not be docile or servile, it operates. Under a new set of Kansas Board of Regents rules, faculty and other employees may be suspended, dismissed or terminated from employment for “improper use of social media.”  Docility and servility to one's master, whether that master acquires power by force (no longer formally possible in this Republic) or through wages, appears to be the core value that the Regents of the Kansas Board of Regents wish to instill in the children who are to be schooled in the institutions over which they now assert a control that a century ago might have been characterized as a species of Victorian-Edwardian house service more fit for the disciplining of the staff of 19th century English manor houses than for the robust global society that the United States must learn to navigate in or perish in this century.  And so a professor's curse has now come back to haunt that portion of the Kansas academy subject to the administrative ukases of the  Kansas Board of Regents.

This post includes the text of the Kansas Regents--HERE and below.  It also includes text of the AAUP Statement on the Kansas Board of Regents Social Media Policy (December 20, 2013) and some brief thoughts that apply some of the insights developed in Backer, Larry Catá, Between Faculty, Administration, Board, State, and Students: On the Relevance of a Faculty Senate in the Modern U.S. University (February 10, 2013). 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

"Sandusky's Ghost" and the Weaponizing of Scandal--Administrative Disciplining of Faculty at the University of Colorado

The Penn State sex abuse scandal centering on its former coach's abuse of small children on campus has already begun to morph from an important milestone in administrative oversight to a weapon in the hands of administrators looking to undermine academic freedom. Here we begin to move from sex abuse to disciplining faculty teaching courses that administrators dislike. When this weaponization of scandal is undertaken by a state university ought to be even more troubling.

("From left, University of Colorado Provost Russell Moore, Arts and Sciences Dean Steven Leigh and Boulder Faculty Assembly Chair Paul Chinowski hold a news conference Dec. 18 to discuss the controversy around sociology professor Patti Adler s prostitution skit in the Deviance in U.S. Society class. (Cliff Grassmick / Daily Camera)" story at Sarah Kuta, Top 10 local news stories of 2013: No. 10 - Brouhaha over Patti Adler's prostitution skit , Daily Camera, Dec. 21, 2013)

Recently, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) joined its Colorado state conference in condemning the University of Colorado-Boulder's treatment of sociology professor Patricia Adler. The University of Colorado, of course, has chosen silence over disclosure in the hopes of riding out the storm. And they may succeed. Yet, the AAUP has suggested that reports in the media and the testimony of many faculty and students at Boulder make clear that there has been an unwarranted and egregious violation of her academic freedom, specifically her right as a faculty member to select her own instructional methods within the broad parameters of her discipline and university policies.

This post includes brief thoughts on this matter and the text of the "AAUP Statement on the University of Colorado's Treatment of Professor Patricia Adler."

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Exposing the Weak Underbelly of Intra-Faculty Shared Governance--Managing the Faculty Message From the Top Through Unelected "Leaders"

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2013)

"[We] were sure that the Senate executive director would veto our request to communicate with the full Senate, so we compiled our own list, and sent it to the Senators directly. We figured, what are they going to do, sanction us for sending an email to our colleagues? It's all part of this obsession with control. They need to control everything, the composition of the committees, the flow of information, and the debates themselves."

So begins an all to common complaint at many public and publicly assisted universities from within the university faculty senate--not about the way in which university administrators might seek to control shared governance, but instead about the way in which the faculty's own institutional structures appear to be primarily complicit in the distortion and perhaps debilitation of a functionally effective internally coherent faculty partner in shared governance.  This is particularly acute where the institutional seneschal, usually a Senate Executive Director, reporting to an administration official, is given control of the machinery of communication among faculty senators.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Administrative Reprisals and Tenure: AAUP Report on Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago

The issue of reprisals by administrators appears to remain a substantial drag on progress toward effective shared governance and may contribute to another aspect of the erosion of academic freedom (along with the receding prominence of tenure among other things). In its report, Academic Freedom and Tenure: Northeastern Illinois University (December 2013, the AAUP concluded in part:

The investigating committee finds, on the basis of the information made available to it, that President Hahs’s stated reasons lack credibility as grounds for denying tenure to Professor Boyle. What stands unrebutted is the opinion, broadly held by NEIU faculty members, that the president denied tenure to Professor Boyle in retaliation for the linguistics professors’ expressed opposition to the administration and for their central role in the votes of no confidence in her and her provost. (Ibid., p. 11)
Particularly disturbing was the use of the collegiality prong of assessment as a weapon behind which to hide what appears to be ulterior reprisal motives.  And indeed, as used by the NEIUC administration, collegiality is defined as avoiding any disagreement with administrators.  This turn is particularly troubling because of the recent efforts to consider the value of collegiality in assessing faculty performance. (e.g., Collegiality as Factor in Personnel Decisions. . . But Only for Faculty, June 17, 2013).  Faculties, like those at Penn State and Virginia, where faculty took strong stands against either administrative decisions or the actions of a board of trustees, might view this turn in administrator behavior cultures with some trepidation.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Wellness Wars and the Corruption of Shared Governance--The Fallout Continues

As the Wellness Wars at Penn State lurch to their inevitable and lamentable end, the longer term consequences of the political and strategic choices of the principal actors is becoming more apparent.

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2013)

 One of the most interesting consequences is the way in which shared governance has been undercut by strategic choices of the Senate and administration leadership. These choices have both (1) undercut the integrity of the Senate as an institution, through the decisions of these parties to ignore the institutional actions of the Senate, and its rules, for unnecessary and short term goals, and (2) suggested the ephemeral and inconsequential nature of consultation when an administrative official favors.  The first unnecessary, of course, flows from the University President's authority to choose the members of whatever Task Force he chooses to constitute, without  the need to interfere in the methods chosen by the Senate to select the candidates they present to the President for his consideration.

The second was inefficient, reducing the ability of the university to harvest ideas that could be used to motivate staff while keeping necessary programs substantially intact. Thus, the other consequence touches on the way in which the Task Force system itself forecloses direct consultation with faculty.  Task forces appear to be increasingly used to insulate administrators and other decision makers from direct contact with stakeholders.  They increasingly appear to serve as a filtering device, one through which engagement may appear to occur but without the messiness of discussion.  Here the representative device appears to enhance engagement (formal transparency) without actually requiring deep engagement (weak functional transparency). Because the members were administratively selected, it is not clear whose interests the members of the Task Force will serve.

These consequences have not gone unnoticed by Faculty Senators.  At the University Faculty Senate meeting held December 10, 2013, two motions were presented for faculty consideration and vote at the January 2014 meeting. The first appears effectively as a censure motion; it condemns thre Senate leadership for breach of their duty to the Senate and a failure of fidelity to the core responsibilities of their office. The second is an engagement motion.  It seeks to inject the Senate back into the process of deliberation of the scope and character of changes to the university's wellness programs in ways that the Task Force was meant to preclude.  These motions suggest both the extent of the damage done and the efforts undertaken to repair, to some extent, the weakening of shared governance.

This post includes the language of the motions put forward.  I am happy to post reactions and comments on either or both, especially from Penn State stakeholders.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The AAUP Issues a Revised Version of "Academic Freedom and Electronic Communications"

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2013)

Since the AAUP last issued a report on Academic Freedom and Electronic Communications in 2004, the higher education landscape has been significantly transformed by a number of factors, including: (1) the emergence of social media as vehicles for electronic communication; (2) increased outsourcing of information technology resources; (3) cloud computing; (3) expanded security concerns, and (4) new communications devices.  Moreover, the conception of the classroom has been transformed by technology and de-centered by administrative efforts to move education from a faculty driven effort to a markets driven effort to satisfy the demands of wage labor markets.


These changes have emboldened universities to begin to assert more complete control over the efforts of individuals who are employed as faculty.  I say it in that way because it appears to be a strategic calculation by universities to suggest that the mere entry into an employment relationship with faculty entitle them to "own" everything that comes from the individual.  While some might suggest that this transformation begins to touch on the incidents of slavery (there is no space that the individual may call her own, because it is all owned by the university), the courts have not yet confronted that issue.  Yet the trend is felt strongly as universities have sought to exploit all creative activities of faculty however tenuously tied to the scope of employment (on the theory that the scope of employment includes everything that an individual does, at least to the extent that the university wishes to claim it for itself).

This post includes the press release announcing the revised version and the executive summary of the revised version. The revised version may be accessed here:  Academic Freedom and Electronic Communications; Download: