Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Statement of Senate Chair Made at the January 29, 2013 Penn State University Faculty Senate Meeting--Attendance, Alienation and Cronyism

The Penn State University Faculty Senate held its fourth meeting of this academic year on Tuesday January 29, 2013 (e.g. Faculty Senate January 29 Meeting Agenda).

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2012)
I used the occasion to speak to an important issue raised frequently at Senate meeting and an object of increasing concern by the chairs of our standing committees--the apparent alienation and passivity of senate members. These issue have important connections to current efforts to work through our self study and hopefully the development of proposals to effectively rework Senate governance structures. Some of these issues expand ideas explored in my prior remarks:  Form and Function in Faculty Governance: Aligning Governance Structures With Changing Realities of University Administration

Form and Function in Faculty Governance: Aligning Governance Structures With Changing Realities of University Administration

 In a previous post, Senate Forensic on Senate Institutional Reorganization  (Jan. 8, 2013), I discussed work on an exciting (though for some a disconcerting and status quo threatening) project--taking a hard look at the Senate, its organization and effectiveness at Penn State.  I have also posted some comments: Responding to the Senate Self Study Forensic--The Senate Can Work Better

("Sleeping dog" Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2013)

The Forensic Report, was the subject of discussion at the Penn State University Faculty Senate meeting of January 29, 2013, provided a number of questions--challenges really--that focus on areas of what some might conclude to be severe  under performance of our organization. I will report on this in a subsequent post. 

This post presents my written remarks on the work of the Self Study Committee and views of the structural issues underlying its work. 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Loyalty Oaths and the University: Should Penn State Continue to Reserve to Itself the Power to Terminate "Subversives"?

 (Image from http://www.historycentral.com/postwar/McCarthy.html)

Since 1951, the price of admission to the ballot in Pennsylvania has been a loyalty oath, a declaration that you are "not a subversive person."

But that relic of the McCarthy era now may be on the way out - thanks to the Socialist Workers Party nominee for the State House in Philadelphia's 198th District, in Northwest Philadelphia.

John Staggs, a meatpacker, refused to sign the oath when he turned in his nominating petitions earlier this year, and also threatened to sue the state. In turn, Attorney General Tom Corbett told election officials to stop enforcing the requirement because it is unconstitutional. (Thomas Fitzgerald, Pa. will no longer enforce its loyalty oath Pennsylvania will no longer enforce an oath of loyalty, Philly.com, Aug. 27, 2006).

The Penn State University continues to require its unit administrators to ensure the loyalty of its employees. Actually better put, it still requires the university to enforce the provisions of the Pennsylvania Loyalty Act, a provision which requires the termination of "subversive" faculty.   Yet our Republican Governor, as attorney General, bowing to a decision of the Pennsylvania courts, determined over 6 years ago to stop enforcing this provision as applied to elected officials. It is not clear that Penn State ought to continue to reserve to itself a power to terminate faculty appoints, as well as the employment of staff, on the basis of a provision which is offensive to both constitution and the freedom of individuals to express political beliefs without fear of having political disagreement labelled subversion.It is my hope that the University Faculty Senate takes the lead in urging its elimination.

What follows is the text of HR 30, last revised in 1995! (Cf John Dickison, Swearing Loyalty or Affirming Paranoia? 1998 Voices of Central Pennsylvania, Inc.).

AAUP Report on Governance Rights of Contract Faculty

Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2013
 This from the AAUP:
As the AAUP has documented time and again, the proportion of faculty appointments that are “contingent”—lacking the benefits and protections of tenure and a planned long-term relationship with an institution—has increased dramatically over the past few decades and continues to increase. The structures of faculty governance, however, as well as AAUP policies on the subject, tend to assume a faculty that is primarily full time and on the tenure track. This report examines the issues and makes recommendations on how contingent faculty should be included in institutional governance.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Salar Ghahramani on Fiduciary Duty and the Governor as a University Trustee

As the Board of Trustees of the Penn State University is wrestling with issues of its organization.  This self study responds in part to the scandals of 2011 and the subsequent recommendations of the Freeh Group, the dictates of the NCAA sanctions consent decree. Others have participated in the discussion, including the Pennsylvania Auditor General and the University Faculty Senate.  The Auditor General has already delivered his report urging structural changes to the board of Trustees. The University Faculty Senate will deliver its recommendations soon. I will do the same in the coming days.

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2013)

But the review of the organization and operation of the Penn State University Board of Trustees is also producing some very interesting and useful academic studies. One is worth noting:  My colleague Salar Ghahramani, Assistant Professor of Business Law and International Law & Policy, Penn State University, has just posted a paper titled "Fiduciary Duty and the Ex Officio Conundrum in Corporate Governance: The Troublesome Murkiness of the Gubernatorial Trustee's Obligations Toward a University." The paper examines the role of nonprofit corporate directors in general and analyzes the governor's role as an ex officio trustee of Penn State in particular. The paper is worth a careful read and some discussion, not just among academics but within the Senate and the Board of Trustees.Ghahramani concludes that "the constant tensions that the current paradigm condones (those between public governance objectives and private corporate governance principles as defined by centuries of fiduciary law), cannot be sustained."

The abstract follows.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Official Minutes of the Senate Council Meeting of January 15 2013

The University Faculty Senate Council met on January 15, 2013.  The official minutes are produced below.

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2013)

A couple of points are worth emphasizing, principally because they are well buried in the official minutes.  The first touches on my remarks about the role of the Senate Council.  For some time now I have become increasingly concerned about the legitimacy of a Senate structure in which much of the basic decisions  at the highest level are taken without review by a small group of up to five people (Chair, Chair Elect, Immediate Past Chair (sometimes) and the Executive Director), one of whom is neither elected nor accountable directly to the representative body of the Senate.  The process is neither as transparent as it could be nor is it an inclusive as it ought to be.  It furthers the isolation of the leadership group and produces the remoteness and disconnection that was, in large part, an object of severe criticism in the Freeh Group report when considering a similar tendency among senior administrators before November 2011. One way to reduce the potential for and the appearance of an anti-democratic  process is to more intensely involve the Senate Council in the sort of work now routinely undertaken by the smaller group.  It ought to function more like the Penn State President's Council than as a body that is either viewed as an impediment to action or as something that must be managed to a coerced conformity to realities dictated from--views held in the past. I have done what I can to engage the Senate Council more often and more deeply, but I think structural reform is also necessary. It is my hope that the Senate Self Study Committee will take this opinion seriously and seek to restructure our organization to hard wire a more engaged and involved Senate Council.

The second touches on the report expected form the Senate Board of Trustees Committee headed by John Nichols. The work of that Committee in the view of our Board of Trustees has morphed from a tangential consideration of the relationship between the Senate and the Board of Trustees to something like a Senate report and recommendations on Board restructuring.  The confidence of our Board on this Committee is gratefully acknowledged and appreciated.  We hope the Report is taken seriously.  But we also expect that the Report will constitute only one part of what may be a more comprehensive Senate report to the Board of Trustees.  It is possible that once circulated, the Senate may wish to add commentary or recommendations; it is likely that I will in my capacity as Chair. My focus will be on the form of board monitoring of university activities and the autonomous role of the Senate in the fulfillment of that duty.  It is to be hoped that the Board considers all of these as it moves forward.

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Burdens of Service and Academic Success for Women in Academia--A New Report and a Missed Opportunity at Penn State

A few years ago I suggested that the Penn State Faculty Senate consider studying whether women faculty were effectively burdened with greater service requirements and the potential effects of this additional burden on advancement and career paths.  The idea was politely publicly received and privately mocked (ironically by older women in positions of power); it died undone. 

(Pix from Alexis Coe, "Being Married Helps Professors Get Ahead, but Only If They're Male," The Atlantic, Jan. 17, 2013)

I am happy to see that at least elsewhere academic research is beginning to suggest what I suspected--that women with academic appointments are effectively burdened with responsibilities, both in and outside the home, that disproportionately burdens their paths to career success and advancement. See Robert B. Townsend  "Gender and Success in Academia: More from the Historians' Career Paths Survey," Perspectives in History 51(1): (2013) (focus on marital status).

The report is described in Alexis Coe, "Being Married Helps Professors Get Ahead, but Only If They're Male," The Atlantic, Jan. 17, 2013.  Relevant portions of this article, focusing on the burdens of service, follow. I suspect that the distortions are greater when race and  ethnicity are also factored in. I can only hope that someone might take this up again at Penn State. 

Responding to the Senate Self Study Forensic--The Senate Can Work Better

 In a previous post, Senate Forensic on Senate Institutional Reorganization  (Jan. 8, 2013), I discussed work on an exciting (though for some a disconcerting and status quo threatening) project--taking a hard look at the Senate, its organization and effectiveness at Penn State.  The Forensic Report, to be the subject of discussion at the Penn State University Faculty Senate meeting of January 29, 2013, provided a number of questions--challenges really--that focus on areas of what some might conclude to be severe  under performance of our organization. 

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2013)

One response merits serious consideration.  It highlights those deficiencies that in the eyes of people outside the Senate "inner circle" may help account for the sense of a remote Senate.  These include a failure to engage faculty meaningfully in the process of developing reports, sloppy compilation that effectively makes it impossible to use Senate resources easily (this is an old and unresolved complaint), and the failures of the Senate to use technology to engage faculty.   It is included below without identifying information. Please keep the responses coming!   

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Report From the AAUP: "The Role of the Faculty in Conditions of Financial Exigency"

From the AAUP:
Increasingly, administrators and governing boards are making budgetary decisions that profoundly affect the curricula and the educational missions of their institutions; rarely are those decisions recognized as decisions about the curriculum, even though the elimination of entire programs of study (ostensibly for financial reasons) has obvious implications for the curricular range and the academic integrity of any university. (AAUP, The Role of the Faculty in Conditions of Financial Exigency, Executive Summary)

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2013)
Though one may not agree with the details of the proposal made by the AAUP, the focus on budgets and its collateral effects on the core relationship of faculty to the university and to the fundamental values of shares governance cannot be ignored. 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Core Principles for Trandsforming Remedial Education: A Joint Statement

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2013)

The objective was ambitious:
 As a result of new research and promising practice, we have more clarity than ever about how we can fundamentally transform our developmental education system to improve success for all students. To propel the movement forward, this statement offers a set of clear and actionable principles that, although not the final word on dev ed reform, sets a new course that can dramatically improve the postsecondary success of millions of students across the nation. (joint Statement)

Read more here.  AT a time of decreasing student numbers and the tendency among academic institutions to engage in sharper competitive practices for what they deem to be shrinking markets, there is much to mine here.  "In the end, the strategies we propose increase overall college completion rates, particularly among students who have traditionally been underserved by our postsecondary institutions." (joint Statement)

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Agenda for Upcoming Senate Council Meeting of Jan 15 2013

The agenda for the Penn State Senate Council meeting scheduled for January 15, 2013 has been finalized. It is set out here.  

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2013)

The agenda includes consideration of a number of important informational reports.  In an effort to make our work more transparent I have included many of them here as well.  It would be useful for stakeholders to read these before our meeting and send comments either via this post or directly to the Senate officers (www.senate.psu.edu ).

Senate Forensic on Senate Institutional Reoorganization

As part of my remarks at the October Penn State University Faculty Senate Meeting I mentioned the work of a new Self Study Task Force:
Last, I think the lessons of governance reform ought to be applied to the Senate as well. To that end, I have charged a Senate Self-Study Committee, chaired by Mohamad Ansari. Periodic self-study is a vital part of institutional renewal. It is an exercise that helps maintain an institution’s relevance and connection with its members. It provides a chance for reflection on the large issues of governance and the institutionalization of the faculty voice within the context of university shared governance. Self study also provides the Senate with an opportunity to take a hard and dispassionate view of itself and to reorganize itself so that its organization complements those of the administration (and its operations) and is consistent with the priorities of university strategic planning in ways that most effectively provides voice to issues of greatest concern to faculty. This is expected to be a major task. Everything is on the table: including the current organization of the Senate whose work is now split among 15 standing committees and a Senate Council, the production of altogether too many informational reports, the effectiveness of the Senate processes for engagement with its members and the faculty at large, and the organization of the administrative offices of the Senate—its budget, autonomy, and operations.
(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2013)

Here is the Committee Charge: Senate Self-Study Committee Charge 9/17/12. The Committee has been hard at work and is preparing a forensic discussion for the January Senate meeting.  I have included here the text of the forensic report.  In subsequent posts I will be discussing my own views about the scope and direction of necessary change for a revitalized Senate institutional structure.  I urge anyone with ideas or suggestions to contact the committee chair before the January meeting so that he may have an opportunity to address your input.