I have been writing about the increasing tendency of university administrations to become rigid and risk averse on a number of fronts. (e.g., "Sandusky's Ghost" and the Weaponizing of Scandal--Administrative Disciplining of Faculty at the University of Colorado (Dec. 24, 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 (Dec. 29. 2013); The Rising Price of Speech on Campus (March 10, 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 (March 29, 2014)).
I have also proposed policy changes for universities, at least respecting social media. (Proposing a Set of Social Media Policy Guidelines For Penn State University (March 17, 2014)).
(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2014)
But the problem not only persists but appears to be increasingly embedded in university governance cultures. It seems that the answer for many university administrators faced with controversy in political and social spaces that are traditionally dynamic is to (1) declare a broad authority to regulate, (2) produce regulations to confer an unconstrained discretion on administrators charged with carrying out its "objective", and (3) treat these regulations as trumping academic freedom, shared governance and the personal and human rights of the regulated class. While their motives, from an institutional perspective, are rational, their application becomes obsessively irrational.
These issues were recently nicely discussed by academic and social commentator Glenn Harlan Reynolds, a University of Tennessee law professor. Professor Reynolds suggests a combination of culturally institutional paranoia plus isolation may account for the problem. I think that he is basically correct but that the culprit is the system in place to reward institutional paranoia in the form of rigidity and risk aversion. Until universities stop being rewarded for producing (and universities stop rewarding) the administrators described in the article, this problem will only increase.