Thursday, August 29, 2013

Enablers, Servants or Stakeholders?: Thoughts on the Role of University Faculty Senators

I have started to consider the consequences of the University Faculty Senate's failures of response in the face of sustained faculty anger and frustration (however misdirected or wrong) including the fracture of faculty cohesion institutionally represented by its University Faculty Senate (e.g.,The Wellness Wars at Penn State--Is the Institutional Faculty Splintering?).

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2013)

But a University Faculty Senate's failures can run deeper.  Much of it might be a long time in the making--bad habits and the cultivation of cultures of servility against which I have spoken quite publicly in the past (e.g., Remarks on Assuming Duties as Chair of the PSU University Faculty Senate; and On the Institutional Role of a Faculty Senate: Part 1).  Some of it might be deeply structural--that is it is built into the way in which the Senate is organized and operates.

Starting with this post I will consider some of the fatal structural or cultural deficiencies that may hobble a university faculty senate. This post considers the nature of the role of a faculty senator.  My hope is to provide faculty at university senates with perspectives that may either trigger conversation or help in the analysis of their own situations, that is whether their own organizational structures are aligned with their institutional objectives.  I will try to suggest the ways in which that may not always be the case.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Wellness Wars at Penn State--Is the Institutional Faculty Splintering?

I have been following the quite heated controversy over Penn State's new wellness program.  Like the Sandusky scandal of 2011, the scandal generated by the roll out of this eugenics program for faculty and staff will have consequences far beyond what would have been an eminently repairable gaff in program implementation (e.g., Susan Berry, Penn State Employees Protest Wellness Mandate over Privacy Concerns, Breitbart, Aug., 21, 2013 (tying wellness efforts to repercussions from Obamacare); Tom Emerick and Al Lewis, The Danger of Wellness Programs: Don't Become the Next Penn State, Harvard Business Review, Aug. 20, 2013 (managerial failures)).  

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2013)

Beyond the obvious errors one could chronicle relating to the management of the program's roll out (a program the general approach of which was inevitable though not in the form eventually adopted and defended in every detail) through the well known but substantially ignored channels for engagement and participation at the university, the regrettable choices of some in appearing by their choices and actions to make the resulting controversy personal and the strategic missteps in responding to what should have been expected reactions, and the appearance of an unwillingness to reach out in a well focused way to key stakeholders,  it might be argued that some of those charged with the imposition of this program have effectively played into the hands of any number of actors who might seek to use these managerial failures as a way of opening opportunities that will have an impact far more substantial than the benefit program changes that would have been relatively easy to procure acceptance with the right touch. But all of that is water under the bridge.  All actors have staked out their positions and it is now merely a matter of following this aggregated set of strategic calculations, and the choices that followed, to their conclusion.   

This post considers an important though overlooked consequence--the University Faculty Senate's responses in the face of sustained faculty anger and frustration (however misdirected or wrong) has produced one result already, the fracture of faculty cohesion institutionally represented by its University Faculty Senate.  The Faculty Senate may be losing coherence; more worrisome, it may be losing relevance to faculty interested in protecting their interests within the political structures of the university.  The University Faculty Senate may have taken an inadvertent  step toward its transformation into a form of employer union and low level administrative body within the university's management structures.  Most important, it is possible that the pace and form of its response might well have paved the way for something that would have been improbable even six months ago--the establishment of a potentially significant new faculty representative organization (and competitor for faculty loyalty and support) at the university, the American Association of University Professors.  It is far too early to tell whether or to what extent the AAUP chapter will be able to displace or supplement the University Faculty Senate, but its establishment suggests that even the University Faculty Senate is accountable to its members and that members will use what power they have to either work within the organization or if thwarted to seek representation elsewhere. As a former Chair of the University Faculty Senate I view this as regrettable. As a member of the faculty and an AAUP member I can only hope that this new chapter will represent its constituents and the rest of the faculty with honor, sympathy and restraint.    

Rethinking the Economics of On-Line Education; Considering Three Different Models of Faculty Involvement in Emerging On-Line Education

One of the most interesting aspects of the move toward on-line education is its financial aspects. Universities are buying in certainly because they tend to like to follow demand and they perceive student comfort with this form of knowledge delivery.  But what makes accommodation to taste more compelling is the financial aspects--on-line education provides  a means of substantially increasing income margins for universities as they leverage their teaching staffs per student.

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2013)

Yet it may be that the leveraging potential of on-line education may be far smaller than theory might suggest.  The reason is simple--while synchronous knowledge delivery has great leverage potential, the move toward student centered and assessment/outcomes based education methodologies cuts deeply in the opposite direction.  These models are grounded int he idea of constant supervision and management of student involvement in course work.  That requires a greater rather than a lesser involvement of faculty in the conduct of classes.  Where on line classes can leverage lecture contact hours per faculty members, the requirements of surveillance and assessment/outcomes based  education requires substantially greater numbers of faculty to mind the students enrolled in these on-line courses. 

This post considers three distinct "approaches" to this problem that have been proposed or that will likely be influential in determining the emerging structures and expectations of on-line education and the reconstruction of the role of faculty within universities.  

Monday, August 19, 2013

Adding Fuel to the Transformational Fire: Moody's Report and Trending Public University Operational Frameworks

One of the most interesting and well known trend for public universities has been the movement form academic program and faculty centered governance to one in which the center of operational gravity shifts toward the Vice President of Finance and the general counsel.  What once were viewed as issues of program and instructional advances driving university operations, subject to concerns of sustainability and economic viability has been turned upside down.  Today, public universities and especially publicly assisted universities,  start with the objective of revenue enhancement and then drive program and operations to achieve this objective,  

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2013)

This post suggests the role of credit agencies in disciplining universities toward an embrace of this model of operations. Eric Kelderman,  Moody’s Report Forecasts a Gloomy Future for Public Universities, Chronicle of Higher Education, Aug. 14, 2013.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The "Narrative Advantage": The Two Faces of Wellness Programs at Penn State and the Importance of Control Its Master Narrative

One of the most important aspecst of campaigns to win the hearts and minds of target populations is the ability to control the master narrative, the script that is used when we tell stories or understand what is going on around us. Master narratives (Jean-Francois Lyotard, The postmodern condition: A report on knowledge Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press 1984). Despite its political origins, the concept has become important to both business practices and academic understanding of the context in which people understand what is going on around them.  "Our adherence to a master narrative dictates how we frame stories, whom we interview, the questions we ask and ultimately the work we produce, which typically reinforces our belief in the master narrative."  (What is a Master Narrative, Covering Communities) Once an institution or institutional actors can assert substantial control over the master narrative, they can easily manage populations to their point of view. Indeed, public relations companies, including those with a relationship to universities, now rely heavily on the theory of master narrative to refine their own work on behalf of their clients.

(Dan Lochmann, Senior Account Supervisor, Edelman Japan, "Master Narrative: Four Keys to Unlock Your Company's Essence," Blog post July 4, 2013; "Over the years at Edelman, we have worked on a large number of Master Narrative projects together for companies big and small, Japanese and Western. As we approach each Master Narrative project, we are presented with a different set of challenges depending on the client and its objectives. But there are always a number of things that we try to keep in mind throughout the project to ensure the final narrative really captures the essence of the company and makes the most impact possible once it is communicated to stakeholders: 1) Stay focused on your audience, not the company itself; 2) Tell a story, not a corporate message; 3) Find a niche that you can own and build on; and 4) Keep it short and sweet."  It should be noted that "Penn State announced today that it has retained Edelman and La Torre Communications to immediately support the University in corporate communications, media relations and stakeholder engagement."Penn State retains Edelman and La Torre Communications, Penn State News,

Control of the story, then, is essential to managing the interpretation of the "facts" deployed to reinforce a particular perspective and to deepen that perspective as the only "natural" way of seeing things.  That suggests, of course, that challenges to the premises of the master narrative are not merely wrong, they are deviant, anti-social and disruptive--the sort of challenge that might well justify discipline. (Jan M. Broekman and Larry Catá Backer, Lawyers Making Meaning: The Semiotics3of Law in Legal Education (Dordrecht: Springer, 2012).

Currently two narratives are competing to serve as the master narrative of employee benefits and of Penn State as an institutional actor.  One seeks to situate the narrative in the benign and engaging efforts of a caring university in which employees may trust their superiors, the other situates the narrative in adversarial relationships in which a commodified labor pool of faculty and staff are viewed as a factor in the production of cash flow and in which there is little trust between university administrators and employees about each others' motives and objectives. The first suggests a mutually engaged relationship built on trust and deference in which there can be a certain level of trust that employee interests will be valued in administrative decisions focused on other objectives; the second is built on distrust and the need for vigorous outside monitoring to ensure that employee interests are protected. This post highlights the way both variants of competing master narratives are being deployed to win the "hearts and minds" of both employees and the wider communities (some of them important university stakeholders or with the power to affect stakeholder perception) with an interest in this.  

Friday, August 16, 2013

A Better Approach to Faculty Centered Discussion of Technology Enhanced Education

Cash strapped universities, including many in the CIC, have used their claims of desperation to do two things: first they have increasingly ceded authority over education programs and methods to their Finance Vice Presidents.  Then they have tended to make decisions, driven my the need to generate cash, which they then impose on their institutions with only the barest formal appearance of faculty and staff engagement. Though they tend to fool themselves  into believing that all is well, this sort of ham and high handed approach to programmatic innovation will tend to erode faculty buy in, promote the move to contract faculty (much more docile and cheaper) and ultimately produce a crisis of reputation.

Top tier public institutions appear to be adopting a different approach, one that other public and publicly assisted institutions, increasingly managing from behind the high walls of their academic Versailles, might do well to consider.  This post reports on the way in which the University of Texas has chosen to approach the issue of technology enhanced education.

Monday, August 12, 2013

More Penn State Wellness Programs in the News and From the Bottom Up

I have been reporting on the coverage of Penn State's newly announced wellness program in the news, and to capture all sides of the debate, one that regrettably did not occur within Penn Staten before the imposition of the program, about the value of eugenics based programs like this in terms of cost savings, the quantification of health benefits and the risks to employees that the university will permit on their behalf.  (Penn State's New "Wellness Program" in the News (UPDATED Through 8 August 2013). 

 (Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2013)

Since this last post Penn State University continues to be very much in the news about its wellness program. This post provides an update not just about recent coverage but also to provide links to experts whose views about the soundness of aspects of the program may broaden the scope of discussion.   It is provided in the interest of analysis and debate, including on the general issues raised by programs of this kind of benefits offered by enterprises in the U.S. It also suggests some of the complications of emerging issues of consultation in shared governance contexts in the face of increasingly large informational asymmetries between administration and faculty.

As a matter of core principle, I continue to emphasize that, like any other institutional organ, an enterprise (like a university) must exercise substantial restraint and sensitivity when it seeks to manage or to appropriate to itself a power to manage or control the personal choices of individuals in ways that touch on the human dignity and personal autonomy of the individual.   In many highly developed Western states, the protection of human dignity and personal autonomy is a matter of constitutional commitment. At its limit, of course, that protection serves as a rationale for the suppression of slavery and the incidents of slavery as a matter of law. But between slavery and complete personal freedom there is a large space within which the state, and the enterprises it permits to operate within its borders, permit some control of autonomy.  That space, of course, is essential for the operation of a free society, and is usually grounded, in the area of human economic activity, on the boundaries within which enterprises may hire labor to meet its specific objectives.  However, the existence of this discretionary space is not meant to produce a place where autonomy and human dignity may be completely disregarded in the drive toward enterprise welfare maximization. To permit that freedom would be to allow slavery by other means--and the state of peonage, the closest model for that sort of society, has also been suppressed in most civilized states.  As a consequence, enterprises ought to be sensitive to the detrimental effects of the instrumental use of their authority over their employees when they seek to that power to manage and control the human beings they employee.  This responsibility to be sensitive to the detrimental effects of employer self interested actions ought to be especially strong where the mechanisms of control and management touch deeply on matters of human dignity and autonomy.  That responsibility to respect the human rights of their employees may not be strictly required by law but is central to the social license of enterprises to claim a right to legitimate operation within the societies in which they operate. This notion reflects emerging consensus at the international level around the responsibilities of enterprises for the human rights effects of their activities. (e.g., United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights) These are no less binding on universities where they act as economic actors.  Where enterprises rely principally on their raw power and expand their control of elements of production, especially human beings, for reasons other than to respect their human dignity and autonomy (for example for reasons of cost reduction or productivity gains, both quite respectable in their own right of course), the enterprise ought to bear a special duty to be  sensitive to human dignity concerns in fashioning such programs.  That duty increases as the human dignity and autonomy effects of these actions increase, including potential violations of privacy interests and the effects of the appropriate of the right to exploit employee information by employers. When the enterprise fails to exercise this sensitivity in its imposition of dignity and autonomy affecting projects, it may rely on its coercive power, supported perhaps the discretionary space permitted by law, to impose its will. But it will also act in ways inconsistent with the sort of respect for human dignity and autonomy at the core of our values. Individuals may conform because they must, but trust is lost and the willingness of individuals to cooperate may decrease.  Eugenics programs sit at the very core of human dignity and personal autonomy, and absent substantial and comprehensively explained reasons, these merit substantial sensitivity and engagement before they are either formed or imposed. That an enterprise may impose its will in these matters in this country as a matter of law does not necessarily mean that it is the right thing to do.  

Friday, August 9, 2013

Without Comment: The University Speaks to Its Wellness Program

I have been following the efforts by Penn State University to implement a new kind of em,ployee lifestyle and health management program in an effort to create more productive workers at cheaper cost.  Much of the recent dialogue has emerged from the objects of this management and cost savings; and the effort has appeared to center on engaging in discussion of portions of the plan, some of which, under similar circumstances, were substantially modified at other universities.

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2013)

This post provides, without analysis or comment, the response of the university in the form of a communication from its President. The response is rich and deep and merits careful study for its hints of the evolution of the character of the relationship of the university to its stakeholders going forward, and of the management of university policy of direct concern to them.

Privacy Rights and On Line Health and Fitness Apps

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2013)

I have been writing about important shifts in corporate approaches to the management of their employees, focusing on the use of eugenics programs as a means of achieving cost reduction and employee productivity objectives. Penn State University's efforts--announced in mid summer, the "“Take Care of your Health” Wellness Rewards Initiative" is particularly interesting.  In a move that is notable for an institution with a well earned reputation for administration by benchmarking, this program presents a number of innovations in terms of formulation, scope and implementation that will likely prove influential if successfully imposed. Indeed, given the failure in 2010 of similar approaches at the University of Indiana, where the health survey portion of their eugenics program was dropped (see HERE), this new program is likely to be quite influential if successful and therefore worth careful study.

One of the more interesting feature of this program, and one that has generated substantial concern among the objects of this "cost savings through social engineering" program is the use of Internet based third party providers both as a medical record keeper and as the instrument through which medical data on employees is mined for the benefit of the employer's financial objectives (grounded of course in a concern for the useful health of its employees). (Penn State, Frequently Asked Questions for the “Take Care of Your Health” Initiative, last updated Aug. 5, 2013).  

This post considers both Penn State's official position that such an innovation poses little or at least manageable (as the University understands that term) risk for employees (whose damages, of course, the University may contribute which which the university will not bear) and the recent Report from Privacy Clearinghouse,  Privacy Rights Clearinghouse Releases Study:Mobile Health and Fitness Apps: What Are the Privacy Risks? (July 13, 2013).

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Devil is in the Implementation: Developing a Punch List of Glitches in Penn State's Wellness Program

I have been following the institutionalization of wellness programs at academic institutions.  I have noted its character as eugenics for the benefit of the employer and the incidental benefit of employees, grounded in the fundamental cost cutting premises as the basic objective of such programs.

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2013)

What is starting to emerge now are the sorts of traps for the unwary, and other implementation glitches that tend to have a detrimental effect on employee beneficiaries though no real harm to the bottom line of the plan administrators.  For that reason alone, it might be useful to highlight these glitches as they become apparent.  If readers come across additional glitches, and traps for the unwary, please write in and I will post them for the benefit of other participants.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The "Wellness" Program at Penn State: The View From the Bottom Up

I have been considering how (1) the American infatuation with eugenics, (2) the nation's culture of permitting the private sector a vast area of unchecked discretion that affects the individual human dignity of employees, and (3) the natural goals of U.S. enterprises (both for profit and non-profit) to maximize income and minimize expense, have contributed to the move toward the current interest in "wellness" programs being embraced by American industry.  Usually, employees, the object and ostensible beneficiaries of all of these programs, are rarely or adequately consulted.  And the relationship between employee welfare and enterprise cost cutting is less fully addressed than it might be.   It might be useful, though, for enterprises to have a sense of the reaction from the "bottom" as they develop, implement and operate such programs.

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2013)

I have also suggested the way these enterprise programs to make a "better" employee--one whose maintenance is "cheaper" and whose availability for greater work at lower unit cost with flat or declining salary--has found a home in the American university.  Penn State's recently announced version of this "wellness" program movement provides one of the more interesting examples of the operationalization of this tendency in the American workplace. This post seeks to provide a small window on some of the reactions from the "bottom" at Penn State. Please feel free to include your own comments, even if they are anonymous.  It may help those who have authority over this plan to think through additional issues of implementation and reform. 

Saturday, August 3, 2013

More on Penn State's "Wellness" Program: Letter to the Faculty Senate From the Faculty Executive Committee at Penn State Brandywine

I have been writing about the move by private employers and universities to migrate eugenics notions into their benefits programs for employees, and usually either to make their employees better fit for work (as they see it) or to reduce their costs of offering benefits they deem necessary to retain employees or their reputation in the marketplace. (e.g., The New Eugenics--The Private Sector, the University, and Corporate Health and Wellness Initiatives).

 (Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2013)

I have recently noted the reaction to this change among actors at Penn State. (e.g.,Penn State's New "Wellness Program" in the News). As faculty at Penn State begin to consider more carefully the recently announced changes to the university's benefits programs, institutional faculty actors are now beginning to be heard.  With permission, this post includes the text of a Letter to the Faculty Senate From the Faculty Executive Committee at Penn State Brandywine.  They raise important issues that ought to be considered both at Penn State and generally by those considering these sorts of benefits program changes. 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Penn State's New "Wellness Program" in the News (UPDATED Through 8 August 2013)

I wrote some weeks ago about the movement by private sector and business related enterprises, including universities, toward a new eugenics directed to the management of the health and social habits of their employees, one driven by cost containment policies (e.g., The New Eugenics--The Private Sector, the University, and Corporate Health and Wellness Initiatives, July 16, 2013)

 (Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2013)

Since then Penn State University has been very much in the news about a wellness program it announced several weeks ago, one which has generated interest in part because of a curious component penalizing employees who fail to embrace the eugenics program built into the new "wellness" system. This post provides an update.  It is provided in the interest of analysis and debate, including on the general issues raised by programs of this kind of benefits offered by enterprises in the U.S. It also suggests some of the complications of emerging issues of consultation in shared governance contexts in the face of increasingly large informational asymmetries between administration and faculty.