(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2014)
One of the most frustrating forms of engagement at public universities is the increasing tendency towards an engaged passivity by senior administrators that help mask the move toward policy decisions that avoid the need for the traditional engagement with university stakeholders, especially faculty. This strategic passivity reaches its most popular and pernicious form when the "market" is invoked as an "invisible hand" that directs action for which policy is unnecessary but which effectively produces policy in function if not in form.
Nowhere is this form of strategic passivity more in evidence than in the context of the attack on tenure from policies that produce an increasing willingness to hire fixed term faculty. Here both the budgetary needs of administration, and perhaps more, the move toward "made to market" education (e.g., Made to Market Education and Professionalization in University Education) has pushed administrators to view tenure and a permanent faculty as an impediment toward quick and responsive programmatic changes in education delivery to serve its new masters: wage labor markets and student demand. Not that these ought not to be important, but when they become the excuse that veils administrative decision making undertaken without strong consultation with faculty, then they exert a perverse effect not merely on shared governance but on the quality of education delivered.
The Penn State Faculty Senate Intra University Relations Committee has undertaken a long term engagement with the issue of fixed term faculty as part of a new mix of faculty at public universities. The engagement has sometimes strained relations with the administration, and sometimes sought to mollify it. Now comes a new Intra University Committee Report that is well worth reading for what it has to say about the way in which university administrations have confronted the issue fo fixed term faculty. A recent report produced by this Committee follows. Your reactions are solicited.