Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Practicing Mass Democracy at Penn State: The New Populist-Technocratic Model of University Governance, Socialization, Stakeholder Management and Benefits

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2015)

Few people really like to think about the structural bones of governing an institution.  It is a lot like thinking about structural integrity--foundation, plumbing or wiring--when looking at houses.  Most people prefer to worry about lighting fixtures than the state of the electrical system that is necessary to run the lights. Likewise, most people find the issue of governance  either opaque, arcane or unnecessary for something "simple", like the way a university is managed (it used to be governed, but that is another story). 

One of the most interesting trends in recent years has been the way that university administrations have sought to weaken traditional structures of faculty representation by embracing a populist-technocratic model of governance.  

A good example of the way in which the new populist-technocratic model of university governance operates might be seen in recent efforts at Penn State relating to the long standing and contentious issue of benefits.  What follows is (1) a short description of the characteristics of the new mass democracy models that are generally emerging in university governance, and (2) an excellent example of the deployment of the techniques of the populist-technocratic model of governance in aid of the socialization of faculty directly respecting reforms of benefits at Penn State.  It is clear that as change comes to the university, university administrations in the United States will seek much less engagement and much more control.  Within this new construct there is very little room for an effective institutional organ of faculty representation.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Do University Administrators Have an Ethical Obligation in Developing and Defending Decisions on Benefits?

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2015)

The first decades of the 21st century has seen the rise of ethics as an important tool for university governance.   These serve both as guiding principles for conduct and as rules, the violation of which may indicate more serious breach.  

Indiana University, a respected member of the CIC (Committee on Institutional Cooperation) provides an example of the approach state and state assisted universities have come to embrace respecting the application of ethics to the conduct of university personnel. See Indiana University, Principles of Ethical Conduct (the "Ethics Principles"). Unlike other CIC universities, Indiana University sought and obtained the approval of the relevant university faculty governance institution before final approval by the Indiana University Board of Trustees. And that, perhaps, marks the ethical practices of Indiana University beyond the words of the Ethics Principles themselves, in the sense that they appear to practice what they preach. 

This post considers briefly the contours of Indiana's Ethics Principles as an exemplar, and then attempts to apply it to sketch out the boundaries of ethical conduct that may constrain administrators when they  seek to develop and defend decisions related to university benefits for employees. To that end a hypothetical is considered.  The discussion may be useful to other CIC institutions considering ethics principles--Penn State University, Ohio State University, Rutgers, etc.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

AAUP Reports on Mass Faculty Dismissals at the University of Southern Maine and on Felician College

(Pix (c) Larry Catá  Bcaker 2015)

From a recent AAUP Press Release
Last month the AAUP released the reports of investigations of alleged violations of academic freedom and tenure at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Today I’m writing to announce the release of two new investigating committee reports, both involving mass dismissals of faculty.

In these two new reports—on the University of Southern Maine and on Felician College—the investigating committees found that both administrations violated standards recommended by the AAUP and widely accepted in the academic community.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Rise of University Data Mining and Analysis Oligarchies--From Transparency to Confidentiality Regimes in University Operations and the Issue of Salary Information

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2015)

I have been considering the management of data as a source of power in the relations between university faculty and administration.  In particular, I have been suggesting the ways that  both the harvesting of data on salaries (what is going to be gathered up  as data) and its presentation (the extraction of meaning from the data), can be a substantially manipulative affair, best controlled by those with the power to generate and analyze data (see here, here and here). 

While my focus has been on the quality of the data and the manipulative potential of its presentation, especially in thew way in which it might be used to both undervalue labor and to justify the allocation of productivity gains away from its producers (effectively resulting in increasing wage-productivity gaps that result in effective wage decreases per unit of productivity). But perhaps all is fair in the battlefield of the wage labor markets in which universities operate. Yet when the field of negotiation on which these contests are played out are no longer level--when they are substantially tilted in favor of those with a disproportionate amount of market power, and deliberately so for what appears an unfair advantage--one wonders about the application of general principles of ethics and fairness play within an institution that might consciously operate in that environment. 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The AAUP Report on the Salaita Affair--Speech Rights or a Contest Over the Faculty Appointment Power Within Universities?

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2015)

I have been considering social media policies (See here, here, here, here, and here).  I have also been considering what may be a hard case--the way in which social media interventions contributed to the actions taken in connection with Professor Salaita's appointment at the University of Illinois (see here) especially in the context both civility (Here) and academic freedom (e.g., Here and Here). 
Today the AAUP announced the release of the report of its Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure that investigated the case of Steven Salaita:  AAUP, Academic Freedom and Tenure: The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (April 2015).  The Report is a prelude to possible censure of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign by the AAUP.

The facts around the appointment of Professor Salaita remains quite controversial. In reporting on the AAUP action, Colleen Flaherty noted (Censure Threat, Inside Higher Education, April 28, 2015):
There’s been no shortage of criticism, both formal and informal, of how the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign handled the withdrawn faculty appointment of Steven Salaita last summer. (The university has a substantial number of supporters who say it was right to reject Salaita for the tone of his anti-Israel remarks on Twitter, but detractors have been numerous and vocal.)
The Report of the AAUP's Committee A appears to support Professor Salaita's position more positively than an earlier report of the Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign subcommittee “Report on the Investigation into the Matter of Steven Salaita” (see full PDF here). That Report had earlier been rejected by the University of Illinois Board of Trustees (Academic Freedom and Tenure: The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (April 2015, pp. 8-9).  However, the AAUP decision was not unanimous.
Cary Nelson, a professor of English at Urbana-Champaign who has defended the university’s right to consider matters of civility in hiring decisions, sits on Committee A and said he disagrees with a number of the report's conclusions. Nelson said he thought that the investigation on which the report was based failed to answer key questions about the case, such as whether the American Indian Studies program had any warning that Wise perceived problems with the appointment, as faculty members have alleged they did not, and whether Salaita’s tweets can truly be separated from his academic oeuvre. While the committee report references Salaita’s “impassioned” tweets in response to the fight “raging between Israeli troops and Palestinians in Gaza” last summer, Nelson said Salaita’s vociferously anti-Israel tweets started at least months before that violence broke out, and parallel thoughts in some of his previously published works. (Censure Threat, Inside Higher Education, April 28, 2015)
The Press Release, the Report and some comments follow.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Power and Control Through the Prism of Benefits -- Between Administration and Faculty Senates Shared Governance When Convenient

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2015)

The relationship between the institutional voice of a faculty, usually organized, as it is at Pennsylvania State University, through a University Faculty Senate, and an increasingly professionalized cadre of administrators, organized within a substantially autonomous and self-referencing organizational structure from out of which it manages and controls sub-system to sub-system structural coupling (see eg here and here (at pp. 15-25)), and usually in the form data harvesting and command communications,  has been quite dynamic over the course of the last several years.  That dynamism evidences both changes in practices and shifts in power among the various sub-systems (administrative organizations, faculty senate, board of trustees, legislature, etc.) that together formally constitute the governance apparatus of the university. 

The currency of power is usually expressed as control over (1) factors in the production of university wealth and prestige, (2) the results of that production (usually measured in money). The exercise of that power is usually effectuated through mechanisms, the objectives of which are to (1) socialize subordinate factors of production within power regimes (eg to get labor to do what is commanded or to accept what is done), and (2) to mask the realities of control through elaborate systems of transparency that feigns engagement but offers only the provision of information.

This post considers these trends in the context of the rejection, by Penn State's administrative apparatus, of the recommendations of the University Faculty Senate, and the larger institutional context, relevant to universities nationally, that these represent. I welcome a conversation and continue to look forward to rewarding interactions with all university stakeholders.