Thursday, January 30, 2014

Penn State University Faculty Senate Chair Censured by the Faculty Senate

 (Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2014)

I have been writing about the consequences of the wellness wars at Penn State.  (Penn State's New "Wellness Program" in the News (UPDATED Through 8 August 2013)). These consequences have affected not merely relations between faculty and administration (e.g., The Wellness Wars Continue--A Task Force is Constituted and the Institutional Role of the Faculty is Reduced in Function).  It has also brought attention to the issue of the duty of loyalty that a Senate Chair owes to the representative body of the Senate of which he is a part (e.g., The Wellness Wars and the Corruption of Shared Governance--The Fallout Continues). 

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 the 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.

At the January 28, 2014 Penn State University Faculty Senate meeting, both motions were passed.  It remains to be seen what, if any effect, that passage will have on the way in which the Senate leadership approaches its task and the university administration listens.  No official word has been distributed.

Both motions follow:

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Transparency in Senate Elections--Reform From the Bottom Up

Faculty Senate elections at Penn State have traditionally been secret affairs.  The numbers are tabulated and the results announced with no indication of vote totals.  That fits in nicely in a system that traditionally sought to manage the nominations in a way that was meant to avoid plurality votes.

I am happy to report that at its January 28, 2014 meeting, the University Faculty Senate voted to approve a motion to make voting more transparent.  The motion was made by Senator Jim Ruiz (Harrisburg).

The approved motion follows.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Interview on the Senate Forensic at Penn State: Implementing the Affordable Care Act (ACA)

The University Faculty Senate at Penn State will be conducting a forensic session on aspects of Penn State's compliance with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The forensic documents can be accessed at Implementing the Affordable Care Act at Penn State--Employer Responsibility Provisions and the Part Time Employee

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2014)
The folks at the University's student newspaper, the Daily Collegian, will be covering the forensic.  They were kind enough to ask my views on the session.  This post includes the gist of the interview questions and answers for the Collegian.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Managing Perception and Creating Reality Through Data Management--The Battle Over the "Best" Way to Understand MOOCs

I have recently posted about the habits of lazy and perhaps bad management as an impediment to the  development of MOOCs as an important element of university activity (Bad Management and the University Administrator: Giving Up on MOOCs?) and, as well, about the way in which assessment regimes are quickly replacing rule making as a means of governing institutions like universities (and its ill effects on shared governance) (Rulemaking Through the Back Door--Using Assessment Tools to Shape Education).

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2014)

These two trends have made an appearance recently in the conceptual battles over the way in which the academy "understands" MOOCs.  Now the academic machinery has appeared to have been put in overdrive as academics begin to deploy strategically chosen premises and the data harvested in the service thereof, to support any number of ways of "definitively" understanding MOOCs.  The stakes are high.  As consensus develops around the "better" way of "understanding" MOOCs, these will be used as the foundation of policy choices by university officials (and the governmental regulators who oversee them) to make policy about the scope and direction of MOOC use within the academy. People love data--they pay less attention to the premises in the service of which it is harvested and deployed to support some conclusion or other.  Both may be altered to strategic good effect.

This is not to mock those efforts or to suggest, necessarily, bad faith, on the part of researchers,  Quite the reverse. It is their good faith that lends these efforts their power, and the willingness to avoid critical engagement--with "data". However, it does suggest both the contingency of these investigations, and the way they are necessarily embedded in the policy  debates around which they are conceived. This post notes one of those efforts,  Ho, Andrew Dean and Reich, Justin and Nesterko, Sergiy O and Seaton, Daniel Thomas and Mullaney, Tommy and Waldo, Jim and Chuang, Isaac, HarvardX and MITx: The First Year of Open Online Courses, Fall 2012-Summer 2013 (January 21, 2014). HarvardX Working Paper Series No. 1. This study is particularly interesting because it explores the effects of changing a core premise of MOOC evaluation, and determines, that changing that premise may have a substantial effect on measuring "value". It starts with an excellent analysis: Jennifer Howard, Completion Rates Aren't the Best Way to Judge MOOCs, Researchers Say, Chronicle of Higher Education, Jan. 22, 2014.  We can only hope that these reports will contribute to a more nuanced and helpful discussion of consequences--especially about the role of MOOCs in the university and the relationship of faculty to these.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Rulemaking Through the Back Door--Using Assessment Tools to Shape Education

I have been writing about the ways in which our governance cultures have been moving away from a rule-command structure to a behavior management structure (Backer, Larry Catá, Surveillance and Control: Privatizing and Nationalizing Corporate Monitoring after Sarbanes-Oxley, Law Review of Michigan State University 2004).  I have suggested that while we continue to produce rules and law, we increasingly seek to govern conduct not by rules but by using measurement and assessment tools (Backer, Larry Catá, Global Panopticism: States, Corporations and the Governance Effects of Monitoring Regimes. Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies, Vol. 15, 2008).  
(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2014)
Measurement and assessment tools have substantial advantages over law--they provide a way for totalizing regulation in ways that law is incapable of doing.  It can focus on specific behaviors that are to be emphasized and those for which the regulator is uninterested, and it provides a veil of neutrality and measurement for what are quite pointed  choices for directing behavior.  Best of all these form fo regulation makes it easier to internalize standards within the governed classes--law, in effect, moves from being an external command that must be obeyed to an internalized "understanding" of what is "right"  (e.g., Elements of Law 3.0 Notes of Readings: I-E (What is Law? Law Beyond Law--Social Norms, Contract Communities, and Disclosure Regimes)).
There are advantages--governing through the technical rules of assessment makes it possible to avoid the transaction costs of rule making.  These involve time, effort, and transparency.  In addition, rule making through the manipulation of assessment techniques, within the university setting, also avoids the need to subject managerial decisions to shared governance.  One can cut the faculty out of governance by making them the object of assessment rather than the partner in developing substantive rules. It advances a project of celebrating the (empty) forms of shared governance while abandoning effective shared governance as a functional matter.

Many times, the university is not the driving force of this movement; it is just complicit in its development by outside evaluating agencies. Nowhere is this better evidenced than in the growing market for outside reputation and quality  evaluations of universities. This post includes a report from the American Educational Research Association, Randall Reback and Molly Alter, True for Your School? How Changing Reputations Alter Demand for Selective U.S. Colleges, published in: Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 36(1), March 2014, and described in Eric Hoover, Your College's Reputation Matters in Measurable Ways , Jan. 16, 2014. It speaks to some evidence of the effect of measurement toolkits on university behavior, and on the power of stakeholders, in this case consumers of education, to affect the internal governance of universities and their development, and on outside assessment agencies, to shape the educational agenda.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Implementing the Affordable Care Act at Penn State--Employer Responsibility Provisions and the Part Time Employee

 (Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2014)

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) ― also known as the Affordable CareAct or ACA ― is the health reform legislation passed by the 111th Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama in March 2010. The so-called employer responsibility provision of ACA (ACA § 1511 et seq.) must be implemented by all large employers, including Penn State, in 2014. The employer responsibility provisions primarily affect part-time faculty and staff. Employer penalties will be assessed if Penn State does not offer affordable health care to 95% of its employee population who meet the "full time" employee criteria of ACA.

But this requires defining part time employees. This is a straightforward exercise for hourly employees (assuming hours are fairly and completely counted, something of an open question in some institutions given working time assumptions). It becomes more difficult where hours are not counted directly, especially for example for teaching staff. As such, the determination of part time employment may in reality involve policy choices, and produce consequences, well beyond the extent to which the university is compelled by law, or obliged through the constraints of the social norms within which it operates, to provide benefits. And as an "industry leader", the choices Penn State makes will have some substantial influence of the approach generally adopted by other universities. As such, consideration of Penn State's ACA requirements has national dimensions.

Though it already appears to have moved to implement these provisions as it sees fit, Penn State has also nodded, if only as a matter of empty courtesy, in the direction of consultation with affected stakeholders, including the university faculty Senate. Originally that "transparency" effort was to be presented in the form of an "informational report" funneled through the Senate Faculty Benefits Committee. After sustained discussion about its form and content, I agreed to sponsor, in its place, a forensic discussion about the university's approach to ACA compliance (at least in this respect) as originally set out in that draft report.

This post includes the Forensic materials: Implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) at Penn State: Employer Responsibility Provisions; Part Time Benefits and High Deductible Plans.

Feedback and comments on the university's implementation approaches as described below would be most welcome. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Bad Management and the University Administrator: Giving Up on MOOCs?

 (Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2014)
American university administrators, like many of their counterparts in the business world, have begun to embrace a certain culture of managerial laziness and short termism that in the long run will likely be as detrimental to the project of maintaining the superiority of American university education as ti has begun to affect the reputation of American business.

Two characteristics especially appear to contribute to these trends. The first, managerial laziness, tends to evidence itself is the move to over exploitation of bought experts on virtually all aspects of university administration, In some cases one might suspect that administrators would hesitate to move their chairs in the offices without having paid an outside consultant first. The problem is not with consultation, necessarily, but with the way in which administrators now tend to mindlessly use consultation reports and recommendations as both a sword to manage and a a shield against personal responsibility for the consequences of following advice. In a sense this dependence on consultants is the more perverse side of risk aversion evidenced by cultures of mindless use of benchmarking to serve as a cover and excuse for doing or failing to do something without any effort to specific application to the context of the university that the administrator is paid to manage.

But more pernicious is the embrace of short term thinking within academic administration. Increasingly, programs and other managerial projects rise or fall within a very short time frame.  The judgement neither looks toward a shake out and development period, nor are hard analytics applied to determine  weaknesses and sites for improvement.  More perverse, perhaps, is that this short termism is deepened as the mad obsession with immediate cash rewards for administrative efforts becomes more prominent in programmatic decision making.  Thus, if a new program is rolled out and fails, without any tweaking or modification based on experience, to produce sizable revenues almost immediately, the program tends to be abandoned in search of the next quick fix.  That, over the long term, this may deny the university valuable income and prestige producing programs appears to make little difference.

Nowhere is this sort of emerging managerial culture more in evidence than in the rise and fall of MOOCs. I have been skeptical, myself about the way in which MOOCs have burst onto the scene--but principally because they have been developed haphazardly and supported by administrators with an eye toward easy money rather than toward academic and programmatic integrity (e.g., Do MOOC Faculty Have a Responsibility For How Courses are Used?Monitoring University Governance: "Pigs Get Fat; Do MOOC Faculty Have a Responsibility For How Courses are Used?; Debating MOOCs: Shared Governance, Quality Control, Outsourcing, and Control of Curriculum at Harvard, Duke, American, San Jose State; A Better Approach to Faculty Centered Discussion of Technology Enhanced Education ). 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Disseminating Knowledge Broadly--New Offerings From the Digital Commons Network

I have written about the way in which the efforts of the last decade to financially exploit the dissemination of knowledge has produced an increasingly class based system of knowledge dissemination in which the rich or well funded have access to knowledge denied to poorer individuals and institutions.  (E.g.,Open Access at Penn State: Scholarsphere (Dec., 14, 2012);   Between Scholar and University--Sharing Knowledge, Protecting Revenue and Control--Is the UCSF Approach Worth Considering (May 28, 2012); Opening Access: Course Proposals Archive at Penn State (June 1, 2012); Digital Humanities From the CIC (Oct. 6, 2012).

As a result, academics and academic institutions in developed states, and the wealthy elites in developing states have access to knowledge production denied to poorer individuals and institutions.  Publishers (but generally not the producers of knowledge) profit from this new market regime, and the perpetuation of systems of academic prestige based on publication through these knowledge exploiting and restricting enterprises compounds and deepens the effect, while hiding its financial objectives.Efforts by some publishers to permit the free circulation of older work is to be lauded as a nod in the right direction, but the pricing structures of new knowledge and the unwillingness, especially of certain market dominant publishers to contribute remains troubling.

It is in this environment that efforts like those of the Digitial Commons Network ought to be hailed and supported.  From their website: "The Digital Commons Network brings together free, full-text scholarly articles from hundreds of universities and colleges worldwide. Curated by university librarians and their supporting institutions, the Network includes a growing collection of peer-reviewed journal articles, book chapters, dissertations, working papers, conference proceedings, and other original scholarly work." 

This post includes the latest efforts of that Network to spread knowledge freely. Additions are made frequently HERE. Visit often.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Kansas Social Media Policy to be Reconsidered; Does a Segmented Approach to Academic Freedom Follow?

(Kansas Board of Regents, Fred Logan, Chair from their website; HERE for the current board of regents )

It now appears that after a healthy amount of bad press the Board of Regents has appeared to reconsider its original decision to go forward with the media policy.  Both they have gone about this in a curious way.  As reported by Nick DeSantis:
The board said in a news release that, because of those concerns, Mr. Logan had asked the board’s chairman “to work with the university presidents and chancellor to form a work group of representatives from each state-university campus to review the policy.”

Mr. Logan asked that the group’s recommendations for changing the policy be presented by April. (Nick DeSantis, Kansas Regents Will Reconsider Controversial Social-Media Policy, Chronicle of Higher Education, Dec. 31, 2013 (Fred Logan is the chair of the Kansas Board of Regents))

The Press Release follows along with some thoughts about this path that the Kansas Regents insists on following.