Showing posts with label shared governance. Show all posts
Showing posts with label shared governance. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Rule By Administrative Task Force--End Running the Institutional Voice of the Faculty and Undermining Shared Governance

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2014)


One of the most interesting issues facing universities, as institutional actors, is the future of shared governance, especially in the effectiveness of shared governance with the institutional voice of the faculty. Universities have sometimes succumbed to the temptation of invoking formal institutional structures to mask efforts (deliberate or unconscious) to undercut the role of faculty in university governance. (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)). 

The increasing resort to university task forces, in lieu of engagement with shared governance partners provides a case in point. These task forces, usually composed of administrative functionaries or their representatives, reporting directly to the highest levels of university administration, and including specially designated faculty, chosen for their expertise or from a stable of "usual suspects", have tended to produce recommendations and action plans that avoid the need to engage faculty representatives in those key areas of policy formulation and implementation at the core of shared governance.  Though task forces serve a useful purpose, the composition and deployment of this specific form fo task force ought to cause concern. 

This post considers the way this may occur by positing a hypothetical decision by a university administration in a "conventional"  public university to establish two task forces--a sexual assault and harassment task force and a health care and benefits advisory task force--and their potential consequences for faculty shared governance at the institutional level.  These task forces can be used to co-opt internal discussions of institutional responses to internal governance matters as well as to short circuit internal engagement with external pressures for institutional change. The former is exemplified by "benefits" task forces; the latter by sexual assault task forces. 

The bottom line is simple enough to grasp--the more an administration "engages" its stakeholders through task forces, the less likely there will be an appropriate engagement by the institutional voice of the faculty in those areas now pre-empted by task force mandates. Where administrations seek to govern through task forces, they maintain the appearance of shared governance but eliminate its effect precisely because they control access to membership, the scope of their mandates, and the framework of debate.   Though task forces serve useful purposes, they ought not to be substituted for engagement with the representatives of the faculty and faculty voices that administrations (and boards) may not think to hear. 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Part I--University of Texas at Austin; Tracking Social Media Policies in U.S. Universties and Its General Implications

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2014)


I have been following the development and roll out of the social media policy imposed by the Kansas Regents on its university system. The unfortunate history of the Kansas social media policy has led to to consider the issue of social media policy in other universities in the United States. To consider the implications and scope of the issues raised nationally, I am undertaking a series of posts that examine the social media policies of U.S. universities. 

These posts highlight the social media policies of United States universities.  The object is simple: (1) to catalog; (2) make policies more accessible, and (3) provide a  basis for comparison and discussion.  There will be little initial attempt at  analysis, though I will point out some unique or significant features.  The principal objective is data harvesting, comparison and increasingly analysis of the broader implications of these policies layered on atop the other to produce a dense mille-feuille of policy with substantial broader implications.


The nature of that effort was described in the Series Introduction.

This post considers the social media policy of the University of Texas--Austin.

Introduction: Tracking Social Media Policies in U.S. Universties and Its General Implications

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2014)


I have been following the development and roll out of the social media policy imposed by the Kansas Regents on its university system.  (e.g., Surveillance and Control: The Kansas Regents Social Media Policy; Administrative Discretion, Employee Obligation, Citizen Duty, Human Dignity and the Possibility of Systemic Corruption).  This is part of a larger project that considers the extent to which universities, as a species of employer in the United States, are seeking to control the work and non-work speech of the people hires for service (e.g., On Administrative Overreaching: Threats, Social Media, and Academic Freedom, April 23, 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 24, 2014; "The Tweeting Professor": A Parable About the Price of Speech Made in the Service of Others, July 3, 2013). And that, in turn touches on a broader project that I have undertaken--to explore the huma rights obligations of universities under international law and norms (e.g., More Penn State Wellness Programs in the News and From the Bottom Up, Aug. 12, 2013).

The unfortunate history of the Kansas social media policy, and the lamentable choices that the Kansas Regents appear to have clung to (despite the better choices offered them by their own stakeholders) suggests that the issue of social media policy provides an important indication of the scope and extent to which employers, as a general matter, are now asserting control rights over the lives of individuals.  This trend is important to understand for its legal, social, civil and political implications. Generalized, it suggests the extent to which the institutionalization of power beyond the state, and complicit with it at times, is freeing institutions (like business, religion, and universities) from the constraints of state control (though not of management by the state as a new form of soft though effective governance)while increasingly abstracting individuals and reducing then to a bundle of  intangible rights and obligations (flesh made abstract) that are contingent on the needs and interests of institutional actors (abstractions made flesh). This all the more so, for example, as recent trends in labor policy suggest that the increasing loosening of constraints on employer power may have some effects that touch on fundamental economic, social, civil and political rights (e.g., Rob Wiley, Belarus Is Planning To Bring Back Serfdom, Business Insider, May 29, 2014).

The implications are substantial.  They may suggest the re-drawing of power relationships between institutions (like corporations) and political organisms (like the governments of states).  They may also suggest the ways in which law is being transformed from a system of commands (laws that proscribe or command behaviors) to one of management (rules that assess performance or subject one to discipline for failures to conform or comply with objectives based or relational targets that are assessed in a variety of ways).  That shift from command to management also appears to widen significantly the scope of discretion that might be exercised by "overseers", those individuals or institutional devices tasked to monitor and assess conformance with standards. That shift, in turns, may materially affect the way one comes to understand in new and potentially odd ways, the meaning and application fo concepts like "rule of law" "abuse of discretion" and the like. It furthers suggests the character of the privatization of power over the control of the behavior of natural persons, from the state to the employer, and thus the nature of of the bargain that can be struck when a natural person hires herself out for "service"--the implications of the control that an individual cedes upon the acceptance of payment for "service" and the extent of the "service" to be rendered one's master are also nicely evidenced by the scope of the power of the employer to control the extent of personal and other communication by one in the service of the university institution.  Finally, and most broadly, these polices suggest another consequence of the transformation of individuals into commodified abstractions and of institutions into abstractions made flesh-- corporate speech is increasingly liberated while that of individuals is increasingly regulated (and especially through the employment relationship with corporations) (cf. Backer, Larry Catá, The Corporation as Semiosis, 'Citizens United,' the Signification of the Corporate Enterprise and the Development of Law (February, 28 2012). CPE Working Paper No. 2012-2). That control matrix will likely have material consequences for the way in which we understand the extent and locus of the individual right to speech under the U.S. Constitution and international human rights law and norms (e.g., Backer, Larry Catá, An Institutional Role for Civil Society within the U.N. Guiding Principles?: Comments on César Rodríguez-Garavito and Tatiana Andia 'Business and Human Rights: Beyond the End of the Beginning' (March 11, 2014). Implementing the UN’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: A South-Initiated North-South Dialogue Brown University, February 20-22, 2014).

Thus, starting with this post, I will highlight the social media policies of United States universities.  The object is simple: (1) to catalog; (2) make policies more accessible, and (3) provide a  basis for comparison and discussion.  Thus, for example, despite its may lamentable policy choices, the Kansas Regents were good on transparency (in the form of information accessibility) but less successful on engagement (engagement transparency).  It is not clear that all universities even commence with this basic embrace of transparency in the construction and dissemination of their social media policies.  We will see. The principal objective is data harvesting, comparison and increasingly analysis of the broader implications of these policies layered on atop the other to produce a dense mille-feuille of policy with substantial broader implications.

I will be including a table of contents here with links:

Part I--University of Texas at Austin.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Surveillance and Control: The Kansas Regents Social Media Policy; Administrative Discretion, Employee Obligation, Citizen Duty, Human Dignity and the Possibility of Systemic Corruption

I have been following the progress of events in the Kansas state university system, as its Regents struggle to develop a reasonable and coherent social media policy respectful of the human dignity and citizenship rights of its employees while protecting the limited but legitimate interests of the university (e.g., 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 (12-29-2013); Kansas Social Media Policy to be Reconsidered; Does a Segmented Approach to Academic Freedom Follow? (1-5-2014); The Rising Price of Speech on Campus (March 10, 2014); Proposing a Set of Social Media Policy Guidelines For Penn State University (March 17, 2014)).


 From Peggy Lowe, Strict Social Media Policy Approved By Kansas Board Of Regents, KCUR, May 14, 2014; "Critics of the social media policy stand during part of Wednesday's Kansas Board of Regents meeting in Topeka to demonstrate their opposition. Credit Stephen Koranda / KPR").

At the end of 2013, the Kansas Board of Regents, responding to a wave of bad press that met their initial ham handed effort to control the social media activities of university employees, declared that they would constitute a committee made up of senior administrators, faculty and staff to reconsider the issue. (Kansas Social Media Policy to be Reconsidered; Does a Segmented Approach to Academic Freedom Follow? (1-5-2014)). That committee came up with what appeared to be a reasonable policy, respectful of the human dignity rights of individuals and the material interests of the university.  (Available HERE: Social Media Work Group Draft Policy (.PDF)).  It appeared for a while that this draft policy would serve as the basis for a revised Regents' policy in Kansas. 

But this was not to be. "But Logan and two other regents differed with a working group proposal that the social media policy be scrapped and replaced with an advisory policy on proper use."Kansas regents stick with social media policy for universities, The Kansas City Star, April 17, 2014). And thus, the "Kansas state attorney general approved a revised policy that states any employee at a public university in the state can be fired over improperly using social media, raising questions that their First Amendment rights are being infringed upon."  ("Social media posts could get Kansas university employees fired," Foxnews, May 21, 2014 ("One of the elements of the new policy that has legal experts confused is the part that says a faculty member can face disciplinary action for "speech contrary to the interests of the university.")).  


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

On Administrative Overreaching: Threats, Social Media, and Academic Freedom


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.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Wellness Wars and High Deductible Plans--A University Obsession With Substantial Consequences Including for Shared Governance


(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2014)


The Report of the Penn State University Health Care Task Force has been circulated. The HCTF devoted much space, necessarily, to a critical examination of the University’s Wellness Plan roll out last year (e.g., The New Eugenics--The Private Sector, the University, and Corporate Health and Wellness Initiatives; The Wellness Wars Continue--A Task Force is Constituted and the Institutional Role of the Faculty is Reduced in Function).

But the Report also spotlighted an important element of the University’s benefits strategy that escaped much notice–high deductible benefit plans. This post considers some issues that faculty might examine as they turn from the Wellness Plan to this other strategic move on the benefits front that is a common strategy employed by universities as they seek to deal with the issue of benefit plan cost containment.

As many universities continue to buy ideas from their stables of benefits consultants (the rate and use of which and their benefits compared to their costs remaining substantially well hidden from any form of accountability), one idea has begun to resonate well--high deductible benefits plans.  These plans have much that is desirable in benefits plans--they offer the appearance of coverage and deliver less.


Sunday, April 20, 2014

The State of Diversity at Penn State--An Interview With Leaders of the Joint Diversity Task Force


(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2014)
Issues of diversity have become an important element of engagement among stakeholders at Penn State--especially our students who have been driving current efforts (e.g., Diversity Awareness Task Force: Statement to the University Faculty Senate, January 29, 2013).  Upon petition by students before the University Faculty Senate, and with Senate support, a Joint Diversity Awareness Task Force was appointed (discussed at Diversity in Silence--The Joint Diversity Task Force Report at Penn State University Becomes Less Visible). Its work includes involvement in the university's recent complex efforts to reform Penn State's General Education programs.

The members of the JDATF have been working hard move Penn State's diversity project forward.  I recently sat down with the three co-chairs of the JDATF - Dr. Patreese Ingram, Dr. Karyn McKinney, and Brian Aynardi - to discuss the work of the committee one year after being charged.  The notes of our interview and responses to my questions are set out below.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Wellness Wars Heat Up--Of Lawsuits and Corporate Wellness Programs Pitting Moral Rights Against Legal Power

Universities tend to lag behind their corporate "brothers" and "sisters" in the corporate world.  Mostly it is a matter of re-framing governance cultures.  But also it is that corporations tend to be governance and institution organization leaders--universities follow, and somewhat timidly.  There is good reason--the university is a vastly different form of industry (in culture and organization and governance).

But not, it seems, when it comes to the structuring of benefits--especially wellness programs.



(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2014)

I have been following the wellness wars at Penn State for its valuable lessons about the transformation of stakeholder and governance relations within the university, and for what it tells us about the changes in universities culture about its willingness to control the non-work lives of its employees in the name of revenue protection (e.g., The New Eugenics--The Private Sector, the University, and Corporate Health and Wellness Initiatives).  As Penn State awaits the report of its Wellness program task force (e.g., The Wellness Wars Continue--A Task Force is Constituted and the Institutional Role of the Faculty is Reduced in Function), it might be well learn what one can when the wellness wars heat up in the corporate world.

What the corporate world is now beginning to experience is that when it crosses deeply held cultural lines--when it treats employees as property over which it can assert increasing control, when it seeks to control the non-working lives and choices of employees, for example--in ways that are alien to basic cultural and political (though perhaps not legal) premises on which this democratic Republic is founded, then there is likely to be a reaction.  In the courts, usually, but not always. 

And so we have this: Jillian Berman and Hunter Stuart,  CVS Sued Over Controversial Wellness Program, Huff Post Business, March 20, 2014, parts of which follow.  What is most interesting in the reporting is the way in which employees invoke moral and personal rights and employers counter with legal power.  In this sort of contest, the employer may win in the short run, but their legally permissible actions will tend to undermine the system that makes their operation possible in the long run.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Who is the Real Drag on University Revenues? The AAUP Reports that Rates of Pay Increase Faster for Administrators than Faculty or Staff





There is a specter haunting the opinion-fueled reality that is the "sense" that there is a crisis in higher education. That spectral presence howls to any who would listen (and there are many) that the great driver of cost increases for universities are "staff" salaries--faculties and others who are a necessary evil (the chief engine in the "production" of university product--tuition paying graduating students).

This specter feeds on "numbers"--that collection of data that when appropriately packaged appears to --definitely-- suggest a single and privileged view of the "reality" of the "price" of education--the need to pay people to do it. That vision is made manifest through a simple calculus. When one aggregates the full cost of the provision of salary and benefits to staff against all of the other costs of operating a university, then those costs tend to dwarf the others. But that says little more than that faculty and staff constitute the largest factor in the production of revenue. It both states the obvious but in a way that suggests something more. And indeed it could suggest the opposite of the purpose for which is is trumpeted--that the larger the percentage of faculty/staff cost, the larger the university and the greater its aggregate revenues.

More interesting but less often used are measures of productivity. These are less often used because the obligations of faculty are not just to churn out class contact time. Faculty are also leveraged by the university to produce prestige (and thereby increase the "quality" of revenue from higher status students, and as a draw for students from other states) and to generate revenues through grant income. More difficult still is quantifying "free" time, the time universities expect faculty to perform that nebulous duty: service. Because these measures are hard to assess, most universities either engage in acts of dissimulation--they reduce faculty productivity to student contact related time (and thus create a tension between internal expectations of productivity and public measures thereof).

More interesting still, if our aim is to measure burdens on revenues, might be to shift the assessment gaze from faculty/staff toward administrators. Thus, for example, a very different picture of "drags" on revenue generation appear when one compares aggregate increases in salary/benefits for faculty against aggregate increases in salary/benefits for administration and athletic personnel. This generates a host of issues--from the assessment of administrative productivity (a measure that universities might appear to be as eager to resist as these institutions have been enthusiastic about applying sometime incomplete or misleading measures to faculty productivity for public consumption). Indeed, if faculty salary/benefits have been substantially flat for the last several years, while those of the administrative and athletic personnel have been increasing and increasingly substantially above the rate of inflation, then it might be possible to conclude that the greatest drag on the growth of marginal revenue lies with administrators and athletics personnel rather than with faculty/staff.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Working Toward a New Social Media Policy for Penn State--Some Resources for University Owned Social Media

I have been writing about issues of university control of social media and efforts to regulate the use of social media, including those neither owned nor controlled nor used for university purposes, but which are maintained by university employees. See Proposing a Set of Social Media Policy Guidelines For Penn State University and links there.

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2014)

This post includes links to social media policies for academic libraries.  There is much that might be usefully learned here as universities move forward toward social media policies respectful of their own interests and mission and those of the individual liberty interests of its faculty and staff. 


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Widening the Wellness Wars at Penn State--A Report From the Student Front

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2014)



One of the most contentious issues that now drive university-stakeholder engagement is health care and benefits. This issue has implications not merely for the substantive issues of benefits for employees at universities, but also touches on core issues of shared governance and university culture that will contribute to the changing character of universities going forward. I have been following the wellness wars at Penn State because the university appears to be an "industry leader" in these matters and what happens here will likely shape the way that universities generally will approach these issues. 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 Wellness Wars Continue--A Task Force is Constituted and the Institutional Role of the Faculty is Reduced in Function; 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).

While these discussions have centered on faculty and staff, universities have recently opened a new front in their wellness wars--one directed at students. (e.g., The Wellness Wars at Universities Opens a Student Front). This initiative will likely have profound changes on the relationship between universities and their students (especially their graduate students). And, like similar movements to professionalize student athletics (see, e.g., Alicia Jessop, Northwestern Student-Athletes Clear The First Hurdle To Unionize, Forbes, March 26, 2014; Irony and Incoherence in the "Professionalization" of University Education) these moves to "manage" benefits for students will likely also contribute to the move to professionalize graduate students.

Like student-athletes, these students occupy multiple positions within the university. They are both students and also employees, in their latter role playing an increasingly important role in substituting for full time faculty positions (tenured or contract) and serving to leverage senior faculty research projects--which appear to benefit the university in real ways. As these roles change in importance and become unbalanced it is likely to affect the way in which students see themselves and how they respond to changes in "working conditions" offered by the university.

Those changes can be seen at work at Penn State. This post provides an update of the moves and counter-moves that pass for dialogue on these issues at Penn State. Beyond the obvious--the way that ego and hierarchy, the way that entrenched ways of looking at things and the passive "virtues" of incremental modifications to effect profound change--the current state of relations suggests yet more evidence of the consequences of failures to build trust through engagement and open, honest dialogue. Hard decisions will always have to be made in large institutions--but in a university setting, certainly, they need not be made through a hierarchical structure that impedes rather than fosters cooperation and joint effort for a common cause. 
 

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.

Enjoy.

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




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 )