Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Export Controls and the Control of Speech On University Campuses and By Faculty Abroad--On the Complicity of Universities and Government to Monitor and Restrict Access to Speech and Speakers

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2014)

Universities have become willing partners in systems of privatized law making.  Recently, universities have extended their complicity in these public-private regulatory complexes by extending a power to monitor and regulate a faculty's engagement with "foreign visitors" and more importantly with the people that a faculty member may see and engage with while that faculty member is abroad without the prior approval of the university.  This should concern not merely faculty but anyone interested in the privatization of rights regimes to enable the state to constrain behavior indirectly that they would be unable to effect directly without public accountability, and perhaps constitutional constraint. 

Set out below, besides a "model" of these university surveillance and approval systems, is information from the US Department of Commerce Bureau of Industry and Security on the "Denied Persons List" and its "Lists of Persons of Concern."  Faculties are urged to engage with their administrators on this issue should it raise similar concerns--and legislators might be held to account within  our democratic system for decisions that produce this state of affairs.

Friday, March 21, 2014

General Education Reform: The Students Speak, Will Faculty Listen? Marginalizing the Student Voice in the Reform Process

The Pennsylvania State University, like many universities of its size and reputation, periodically review and modify what has become a staple of higher education branding and "product differentiation"--general education. At its last Senate meeting, the University Faculty Senate held a forensic discussion about progress to date. The Forensic report, A Progress Report to the University Faculty Senate, is available HERE.

 (Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2014)

This post does not speak to the merits of the substance of those proposed modifications  to Penn State general education; that will be undertaken later.  Instead the post focuses on perhaps on its potentially substantial process weaknesses--the extent wot which adequate consultation and engagement has been undertaken among all key stakeholders in the general education reform process.

One key stakeholder group--the students of the Penn State system--have not felt either engaged seriously in the process of general education reform, or adequately consulted. It is one thing for faculty to develop programs grounded in their own sense of the value of changes proposed. Indeed, traditionally, in purely faculty centered education systems, faculty would relay almost entirely on their own sense, drawn from the insights gathered from study in their respective disciplines, of the merits of affording students with a particular set or program of study leading toward the attainment of a clearly defined educational objective.  But educational objectives have become more complicated now--intermeshed with a number of social systems the objectives of which may not  be focused on the pure dissemination of knowledge but on its practical utility as that may be understood within these systems (e.g., wage labor markets).  And for that purpose the role of students in having a larger voice in their studies has been given greater legitimacy.  Thus, it is quite an important matter when changes to foundational educational programs are justified through endorsement by students intimately involved in its development, when there may have been substantially less engagement than warranted by such suggestions of support and engagement.  

That criticism, an important and weighty one, going perhaps to the legitimacy of some of the bases of support for the changes proposed, was made by student leaders at the last Penn State University Faculty Senate Meeting.  The student statement follows. It was delivered by Melissa McCleery (PSU '15 expected) UPUA Representative, College of the Liberal Arts and Chair of the Academic Affairs Committee, for the student senate caucus.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Breaking For Brief Moment of Levity

(Pix (c) larry Catá Backer 2014)

Humor sometimes serves not merely to lighten the mood but to create a space, within laughter, within which adversarial relations might be recast on more collaborative terms.  It is in that spirit that the academics of 2st Century have offered us video mockumentaries of some of the more contentious issues in academic governance today.

In 2012 they brought us the academic adventure mocku-feature--"Academic Wars"--via Youtube HERE.

They have recently focused on the restructuring of medical school governance, Contemporary Medical Academia, which touches on everything from leveraging grants as a substitute for institutional pay and the funding of the great edifices of medical education.


Monday, March 17, 2014

Proposing a Set of Social Media Policy Guidelines For Penn State University

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2014)

I have written about emerging efforts to manage the speech of faculty in American Universities.
1. Kansas Social Media Policy to be Reconsidered; Does a Segmented Approach to Academic Freedom Follow?

2. The Rising Price of Speech on Campus

3. 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

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

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

It is clear that the issue of faculty access to social media is emerging as an important issue, and likely the subject of efforts to regulate faculty access to these media, later if not sooner. Yet the important issues that this instinct to regulate may, as in the case of the original efforts by the Kansas Board of Regents discussed above, lead to the wrong kind of regulatory approach--one grounded in a short sighted effort to suppress and control, rather than one to provide a reasonable set of guidelines that recognizes the important interests of individuals (who also happen to work for a university) and the university itself. The better sort of regulatory approach is one that starts from the foundational principle of academic freedom and the general American principle of enhancing the human dignity of individuals, but one that is also sensitive to the important institutional role of the university on the life of society the the need to preserve its place and legitimacy within the social fabric of this Republic.

It is also clear that the sorts of regulatory conversations that might lead to reasonable approaches to the management of speech on social media, might best be undertaken jointly by faculty and administration. But the experience in other systems also suggests that such a conversation is best undertaken with faculty rather than as an administration developed product that faculty might be permitted to comment, but with the development of which faculty are not permitted to engage.

Taking the new draft guidelines proposed for the Kansas university system as a model, one developed by a task force of university faculty and administrators, I offer for adoption by the Penn State Faculty Senate, and through it by the university, a set of guidelines for implementing a reasonable and respectful set of social media policies for Penn State.

The resolution follows

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Nominees Selected to Penn State Board of Trustees--Opportunity to Engage In the Confirmation Process

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2014)

This was recently Reported: 
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett turned to a National Hockey League executive and a former director of the Pennsylvania Lottery on Friday to be the next two members of the Penn State Board of Trustees.

The governor nominated Buffalo Sabres chief development officer Cliff Benson - who also is a former member of the board and finance chairman of The Second Mile, the Jerry Sandusky-founded charity for children - and the lottery’s former executive director, Todd Rucci.

The nominees must be approved by a majority in the Pennsylvania Senate. Benson and Rucci would take the board seats currently held by Ira Lubert and Alvin Clemens. (Mark Scolforo,  Corbett nominates Benson, Rucci to Penn St. board, The Washington Times, Feb. 21, 2014)

The nomination must be approved by a majority vote of the PA State Senate. The Senate Majority Leader is Senator Dominic Pileggi:

Harrisburg Office 717-787-4712
Chester Office 610-447-5845
Glen Mills Office 610-358-5183
Twitter: @senatorpileggi
Anyone with something to contribute to the discussion in the Pennsylvania legislature might consider contacting Senator Pileggi or their own state senator.  This is a good time for people who feel strongly about issues of governance and engagement in the process of  selecting those with overall authority over the operations of the University to make their opinions known. I am happy to share them as comments to this post as well.

Additional press coverage follows:

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Tracking Online Education in the United States Babson Survey Research Group Report (Jan. 2014)

Grade Change - Tracking Online Education in the United States, the 2013 survey of on-line learning report, authored by I. Elaine Allen and Jeff Seaman, is the eleventh annual report in this series on tracking online education in the United States. Originally the Sloan Online Survey, in recognition of the founding sponsor, the report is now produced through the Babson Survey Research Group.
(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2014)

This from the on-line announcement:
Using responses from more than 2,800 colleges and universities, this study is aimed at answering fundamental questions about the nature and extent of online education:
Is Online Learning Strategic?
Are Learning Outcomes in Online Comparable to Face-to-Face Learning?
How Many Students are Learning Online?
How are Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) faring?
And much more...
This survey also reveals that in 2013:
--7.1 million of higher education students are taking at least one online course.
--The 6.1 % growth rate represents over 400,000 additional students taking at least one online course.
--The percent of academic leaders rating the learning outcomes in online education as the same or superior to those as in face-to-face instruction, grew from 57% in 2003 to 74% in 2013.
--The number of students taking at least one online course continued to grow at a rate far in excess of overall enrollments, but the rate was the lowest in a decade. (Sloan Consortium, 2013 Survey of Online Learning Report)

 The survey may be downloaded: click here to download a copy of the survey.

The executive summary follows:

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Rising Price of Speech on Campus

 (Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2014)

Americans appear to have developed a quite distinct but two sided vision of what we like to call "free" speech on campuses.  On the one hand, we have embraced the idea of universities as a place of deep and sometimes fractious open discourse, where students and faculty work diligently in the pursuit of knowledge, wherever it may take them, and for its dissemination through instruction that is meant to challenge and train. On the other hand, we have increasingly come, again, to view faculty the way aristocrats once thought of the tutors for their children-- as staff that ought to be careful about their place and their role.

These views are irreconcilable and both are deeply held.  Their interaction tends to work tolerably well in times of relative social calm.  But when there are substantial social and political rifts, the contradictions become more plainly visible.  The resolution of that incompatibility tends to formally embrace  the "open discourse" premise while creating functional systems that strip "open discourse" to a quite precise meaning the control of which is no longer in the hands of faculty.  And indeed, at times of the greatest social and political rifts, it tends to be the faculty that bears a substantial amount of the brunt of this exercise of control--faculty are after all, charged with the care of the progeny of  adults deeply divided in their politics and social and economic stations.  And many of these adults (and the children they have produced and proffered up to the university for "finishing") prefer to keep it that way.

The move toward models of servant or teacher, or perhaps servant-teacher, appears to be the thrust of recent trends in academic disciplining of faculty--that is, of the construction of the rules within which one can distinguish between appropriate and naughty conduct in an institution where free thinking (within bounds of course) must be permitted for the edification of those being prepared to assume their stations within society's social, economic and political hierarchies, but where that free thinking and its challenge must be well managed within the bounds of propriety and the sensibilities of those at the apex of power structures. This is the ancient aristocratic tutor model now dressed up in democratic garb, where the aristocrat has given way to the think tank, media authorities, and the usual array of institutional leaders.  Within it, "smart" is purchased but to be applied in ways that may be appropriate to the expectation of training suitable for the social and economic station expected to be assumed by the students who are sorted into institutions that are themselves ranked and constituted to serve the various levels of American social, economic and political organization.

The use of social media has been the current focus of efforts to discipline and regulate faculty speech.  It is an easy target because it is new and because it tends to leverage faculty voices enough to make them more important than other conventional forms of expression.  Faculty publications and lectures, however provocative, tend to have a fairly narrow audience in most cases.  Social media tends to permit faculty voices to be heard more "loudly" and thus to compete for a role in managing mass culture with traditional social culture leaders. The contentious nature of debates about faculty behavior on special media--and who may control it--has produced some reaction.  The AAUP's Draft Report: Academic Freedom and Electronic Communications (Nov. 2013) may be accessed HERE.  It has also produced some study.  E.g., Mike Moran, Jeff Seaman, and Hester Tinti-Kane, Teaching, Learning, and Sharing: How Today’s Higher Education Faculty Use Social Media, Pearson Learning Solutions and Babson Survey Research Group (April 2011).

To ensure that necessary disciplining, the modern American academy has deployed two old approaches to governance.  The first include regulatory systems that vest discretion in university administrators (and important outside stakeholders) to set the proper boundaries for faculty speech.  The second involve the invocation of social norms so that these regulatory constraints might be better internalized--to avoid the bother of monitoring and enforcing command based rules. I have touched on these themes recently: (1) 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 (Dec. 29, 2013); (2) "Sandusky's Ghost" and the Weaponizing of Scandal--Administrative Disciplining of Faculty at the University of Colorado (Dec. 24, 2014).

Both governance approaches are much in evidence in two recent reports from the Chronicle of Higher Education each described briefly below. On the regulatory aspects of managing faculty speech:  Peter Schmidt,  Colleges Are Divided on Need for New Speech Policies, Chronicle of Higher Education, March 10, 2014.  On the invocation of social norms to inculcate appropriate internalization of speech boundaries in faculty: Peter Schmidt, One Email, Much Outrage, Chronicle of Higher Education, March 10, 2014. 

Each provides a glimpse of an aspect of the rising forms of the management of faculty speech.  Together they serve to illustrate the evolving social system within which faculty are better taught to understand their place.   Added to evidence the governance effects of these trends is the current and proposed rewritten policy on social media use drafted for approval by the Kansas Board of Regents.  Available HERE: Social Media Work Group Draft Policy ( .PDF )

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Diversity in Silence--The Joint Diversity Task Force Report at Penn State University Becomes Less Visible

Penn State University, like many other similarly situated institutions of post secondary education, has been struggling with the very hard work of moving from the embrace of flowery statements of solidarity respecting diversity to actually making it a lived reality in the environment in which students, staff, faculty and particularly administrators operate. (Statement From the Penn State University Faculty Senate Chair ).
(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2014)

Among the most pro active elements of Penn State's conversations about diversity have been our students.  (Student Statement of Solidarity With Duke University Student Body).  Current efforts to bring greater focus on diversity started in January 20'13 when the students addressed the Penn State University Faculty Senate about the issue. (Diversity Awareness Task Force: Statement to the University Faculty Senate January 29, 2013).

Following that intervention a Joint Diversity Awareness Task Force was constituted including elements from the major stakeholders of the University.  Its charge included:
· Bring a diverse group of administrators, faculty and students together to work collaboratively to engage in dialogue and provide recommendations to the University Faculty Senate and Administration to enhance diversity awareness in the University Community.
· Thoroughly investigate practices that will be most effective to increase diversity understanding among the student body.
· Provide recommendations to the Faculty Senate Committee charged with reforming the general education curriculum as a whole.

The JDATF as now produced an informational Report.  It will be delivered to the Senate but in silence. The Penn State University Faculty Senate Council approved the JDATF’s Informational report and it will be included in the March 18th Senate Agenda. But it will not be presented.  It will be posted online only and that there will not be any presentation at the Senate meeting. The JDATF will not be able to present the report or stand for questions.

This response provides an excellent illustration of the approach to diversity at many institutions--engagement and oblivion.  This is all the more important because of it collateral result--Marginalization.  Even as the University devotes a tremendous amount of resources to its reconstruction of General Education, even as it focuses substantial public time to experiential learning and other important elements of a public education--the education and practice of diversity is buried and marginalized.  Consider this:
Our guiding principle in revising General Education is to enable students to acquire the skills, knowledge, and experiences for living and working in interconnected and globalized contexts, so they can contribute to making life better for others, themselves, and the larger world. (Penn State Gen Ed Matters, Vision)
Diversity plays virtually no role in the construction of either experiential learning or general education reform, unless, perhaps, one does some very deep interpretive reading.  The expectations appear simple enough--provide a formally responsive forum for meeting, produce a report well received but avoid robust interconnection to the vital life of the university, and then move on with a sense of satisfaction of having engaged with diversity.

You judge for yourselves.  For those interested, it might be possible to raise questions and issues--especiually about the ways in which diversity has been integrated as an important part of the reform of general education and the formation of premises that support experiential learning during the "New Business" segment of the Senate Meeting or elsewhere.  It might also be time for another forensic on the state of diversity in the University Faculty Senate. 

The Informational report follows:

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Wellness Wars at Universities Opens a Student Front

The University's administrators and its stakeholders have been engaged in a relatively one sided conversation about wellness and the state of benefits at Penn State since the summer of 2013 when, without substantial engagement, the University rolled out what proved to be quite controversial changes to its benefits programs for faculty and staff.  (The Wellness Wars Continue--A Task Force is Constituted and the Institutional Role of the Faculty is Reduced in Function).

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2014)

Penn State is not unique--most large universities have, perhaps on the theory of "benchmarking strength in numbers", have coordinated loosely (though I have no idea whether it was intentional or instrumentally managed) on similar approaches at roughly the same time. I have chronicled some of this engagement (e.g., The "Narrative Advantage": The Two Faces of Wellness Programs at Penn State and the Importance of Control Its Master Narrative; The Next Round in the Wellness Wars-- A Response From Faculty Representatives).

Now the university, again probably not unlike others, has opened a new front in its wellness wars.  This time the objects are students. Penn State, like many other public universities, is moving to substantially constrict benefits for its graduate and student assistants without any decrease in working conditions and obligations. It intends to substantially increase premiums and benefits costs to students. The move is necessary, from the university's perspective, to preserve fiscal integrity and the viability of its benefits programs (e.g., Peter Schmidt, College Leaders and Labor Organizers Spar Over Possible Graduate Student Unionization, Chronicle of Higher Education, July 24, 2012).   The move is unwelcome, from the student perspective, because of the precariousness of their existence now made harder by these moves (e.g., Sean Flynn, EDITORIAL: Grad students give more than they get, Voices, March 5, 2013). 

This move may have consequences.  Already there is a strong movement toward unionization of graduate students (Christy Thornton, Opinion: "Why NYU Grad Students Fought to Unionize," Al-Jazeera, Dec. 16, 2013).
Graduate student unionization is very much in the news these days, with the National Labor Relations Board expected to rule soon on whether graduate assistants may unionize at private universities. . . .

Currently, there are no private universities with graduate student unions. But many public universities have them, and the authors of a paper released this year surveyed similar graduate students at universities with and without unions about pay and also the student-faculty relationship. The study found unionized graduate students earn more, on average. And on various measures of student-faculty relations, the survey found either no difference or (in some cases) better relations at unionized campuses.

The paper (abstract available here [and below]) appears in ILR Review, published by Cornell University. (Scott Jaschik, Union Impact and Non-Impact, Inside Higher Education, October 2013)
Indeed, even within the CIC, a trade organization of mostly state and state assisted universities in mid-Atlantic and Midwestern regions of the United States, the issues are looming larger. "Legislation that aimed to stop University of Michigan graduate student researchers from unionizing is unconstitutional, according to a ruling Wednesday by U.S. District Judge Mark A. Goldsmith. The decision by Goldsmith, an appointee of President Barack Obama, follows a years-long struggle by the graduate student research assistants to form a collective bargaining unit. The group represents 2,200 graduate students employed by U-M professors to assist in research projects involving lab work, data analysis or some other task that is not related to teaching." (Kim Kozlowski, Federal judge strikes down state law banning unionization of graduate students, The Detroit News, Feb. 5, 2014).
Read more from original sources below.