Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Wellness Wars and the Corruption of Shared Governance--The Fallout Continues

As the Wellness Wars at Penn State lurch to their inevitable and lamentable end, the longer term consequences of the political and strategic choices of the principal actors is becoming more apparent.

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2013)

 One of the most interesting consequences is the way in which shared governance has been undercut by strategic choices of the Senate and administration leadership. These choices have both (1) undercut the integrity of the Senate as an institution, through the decisions of these parties to ignore the institutional actions of the Senate, and its rules, for unnecessary and short term goals, and (2) suggested the ephemeral and inconsequential nature of consultation when an administrative official favors.  The first unnecessary, of course, flows from the University President's authority to choose the members of whatever Task Force he chooses to constitute, without  the need to interfere in the methods chosen by the Senate to select the candidates they present to the President for his consideration.

The second was inefficient, reducing the ability of the university to harvest ideas that could be used to motivate staff while keeping necessary programs substantially intact. Thus, the other consequence touches on the way in which the Task Force system itself forecloses direct consultation with faculty.  Task forces appear to be increasingly used to insulate administrators and other decision makers from direct contact with stakeholders.  They increasingly appear to serve as a filtering device, one through which engagement may appear to occur but without the messiness of discussion.  Here the representative device appears to enhance engagement (formal transparency) without actually requiring deep engagement (weak functional transparency). Because the members were administratively selected, it is not clear whose interests the members of the Task Force will serve.

These consequences have not gone unnoticed by Faculty Senators.  At the University Faculty Senate meeting held December 10, 2013, two motions were presented for faculty consideration and vote at the January 2014 meeting. The first appears effectively as a censure motion; it condemns thre Senate leadership for breach of their duty to the Senate and a failure of fidelity to the core responsibilities of their office. The second is an engagement motion.  It seeks to inject the Senate back into the process of deliberation of the scope and character of changes to the university's wellness programs in ways that the Task Force was meant to preclude.  These motions suggest both the extent of the damage done and the efforts undertaken to repair, to some extent, the weakening of shared governance.

This post includes the language of the motions put forward.  I am happy to post reactions and comments on either or both, especially from Penn State stakeholders.

1.  The Censure Motion:
Proposed Senate Resolution 
December 10, 2013 
Be it resolved that it is the sense of the University Faculty Senate of the Pennsylvania State University that:

1. The University Faculty Senate legitimately exercised its authority within the Penn State shared governance framework to require that the Senate leadership present to the University administrators its selections for the Wellness Task Force based on a plebiscite of the Senate.

2. Having failed to consult with the Senate, or Senate Council, before conceding to President Erickson’s rejection of selection by plebiscite, the Chair may have substantially weakened the integrity and legitimacy of the Senate as a democratic and representative institution.

3. That it is regrettable that the University’s administration as well as the Senate’s leadership ignored the expressed will of the Senate, concerning the selection of faculty delegates to the wellness task force. That action raises concerns about the effective commitment of Senate leaders and the university's senior administrators to transparency and respect for shared governance.

2.  The Engagement Motion
Proposed Senate Resolution
December 10, 2013
'Whereas the September 24, 2013 resolution of the University Faculty Senate of the Pennsylvania State University called for a Wellness Task Force to be formed with 1/3 of its members elected; 
and whereas such task force has since been constituted through appointed members only;
and whereas general concern among the Penn State community, as well as concern expressed by Congresswoman Slaughter (NY) to the E.E.O.C., focuses on the collection of private data by wellness programs under threat of financial penalty;
Be it resolved that the University Faculty Senate of the Pennsylvania State University hereby expresses to the Wellness Task Force and to the Administration that it considers unacceptable any coerced participation by any Penn State employee in any questionnaire or survey that calls for the disclosure of private medical or lifestyle information. '

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