Monday, December 28, 2015

Retaliatory Governance and the University: Considering Hypothetical Questions on the Discretionary Authority of Deans and their Effects

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2015)

To what extent do unit administrators contribute to rising cultures of retaliation in the contemporary public university?  To what extent  are faculty protected against the sometimes subtle use of discretionary authority to coerce behavior?  These are questions that are increasingly asked by faculty but rarely answered by senior administrators.

The usual discourse of accountability and constraints on administrative discretion tends to focus on senior administrators. But accountability issues at most public universities ought to extend beyond senior administrators. Though senior administrative organs adhere to formal policies that appear to constrain the behaviors of unit administrators (deans, chancellors, and other middle managers with direct supervision of faculties), it sometimes appears that they also seek to advance a blank-check governance policy for their unit heads (including deans, department heads and chancellors of campus organizations), in fact if not in form.  One might think that these de facto policy choices might well violate university ethics codes and they certainly diffuse accountability to the point where it is formally well structured but functionally dead. Yet the principal effect of these rules may be cover for protecting rising cultures of retaliation whose principal characteristic is tolerating substantially unconstrained discretion by unit administrators with respect to the management of their unit bounded only by complex whistle blower related anti retaliation provisions that do little to soften the retaliatory effects of lower level administrative decision making.

In many cases issues of accountability, transparency, complicity, retaliation and ethics are tied closely together. Nowhere is the connection between these stronger, perhaps, than when deans interact with their faculties, faculties that retain (at least formally) some shared governance responsibilities.

This post considers these issues in the context of a hypothetical that might be posed by university faculty organizations to their senior administrators.  It suggests the answers that these senior administrators ought to give, and, lamentably, those that they are likely to make.

Question 1) Can the Dean prevent us from asking questions of a department head candidate without administrative surveillance?
Question 2) a) Is it appropriate for a Dean to send out an e-mail encouraging faculty to sign a public letter/petition? b) Should a Dean be engaged in activism when it could alienate many faculty and stakeholders, c) Should a Dean be encouraging faculty to sign petitions, which that Dean can see and then, potentially, hold against faculty who did not sign the petition?

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

"Now THIS is Shared Governance"; "NOW this is shared Governance"; "Now this IS Shared Governance": Embedding Faculty Within the Bureaucratic Machinery of Authoritarian Regimes

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2015)

The American university has changed.  A combination of (1) de-professionalization (in the form of dis aggregating  faculty responsibilities among a number of roles and limiting tenure to a remnant), (2) advancement of autonomous administrator cultures (senior administrators are socialized into an administrator caste system whose highest interest is to perpetuate itself and its own status interests), and (3) the change in the mission of universities from providing education (understood in what was its classical meaning of preparing individuals for citizenship and vocation) to efficiently producing suitable "product" for wage labor markets (targeted to different spots on that wage labor market depending on the position of the university within the industry) has transformed it into a point in global labor production chains. While hints of the classical American university might be preserved--something either as a "proof" that things are still the same, or for the production of elements slotted for elite responsibilities in society, markets, politics, defense, technology or religion, university administrators now serve as overseers of a distinctly different "human value added" production process. One might lament the change, but it is far too late for nostalgia--the ramifications of this foundational change must be recognized as embedded for some time to come.

With this change, of course, comes changes in the nature of the relationship between faculty and the administrator caste with respect to the operation of this "learning factory." No longer the most authoritative source of knowledge about either knowledge or programs of training for students to impart this knowledge, faculty are increasingly seen as little more than the operational element of market driven verities of knowledge and its transmission. Operating in the form of collegial "senates"--a Roman republican form grounded in deliberation, but one less useful in those more authoritarian regimes that mark the structures and cultures emerging as the new university governance architecture--traditional forms of faculty shared governance are becoming increasingly irrelevant, and indeed, burdensome, in an authoritarian learning factory model of education.  Senates are increasingly brushed aside or co-opted--not because they are incapable but because the ideology that made their operation so useful has been brushed aside in favor of another in which a vigorous Senate can play no vibrant and autonomous role.

This post considers a hypothetical drawn from a number of imagined strands of possible behaviors at public universities.  The hypothetical illustrates the contours of change in shared governance at the everyday and operational level.  It also suggests the ramifications for what might remain of effective faculty engagement in what is becoming the baseline cultures of American educational society.  It suggests both the context and character of the growing erosion of faculty authority--and its inevitability in the new educational order.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Shape of Engagement in University Governance--The AAUP Reports on the Search for the President of the University of Iowa

(Pix © 2015 Larry Catá Backer)

On December 10, 2015 the AAUP released its report of its review of the 2015 University of Iowa presidential search.  It provides a window onto an old world order that appears to be much more current today--the strict adherence to formal requirements of engagements even as that formalism masks a quite different reality. 

Indeed, it is becoming more common, at least by anecdotal accounting, for administrators to adhere more and more strictly to the appearance of engagement even as they strip engagement of all effective utility.  In its usual form it involves a call for nomination, and even meticulous efforts to conduct interviews and allow for comments and reactions, even well after a determination has already been made about a possible hire. This is said to occur at all levels--from the appointments of department heads, interim deans and middle level administrators, to, potentially, if one believes the AAUP report, to the appointment of a university president. Rumors of the embedding of these practices grow as the level of trust between university stakeholders is reduced--usually by the bad or careless conduct of people in charge. It follows a culture in which senior administrators lock themselves in their high towers, ever more remote from real engagement with their stakeholders, and resentful of any effort at engagement or accountability. For them, increasingly, asking questions is ambushingseeking a role in appointments is interference that must be carefully managed.

The Press release, with links to the full report, follows.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Faculty Engagement in Dean Searches: Shared Governance in an Age of Retaliation and the Problem of Anonymity

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2015)

It is still common, in the public and publicly assisted university, for the inclusion of some form of faculty and staff participation in the process of hiring unit administrators--deans and their equivalents who are charged with the management of the "operating units" of the modern university. But of course, faculty and staff have limited opportunities to be involved in hiring their managers. At many universities, that engagement involves participation by representatives of internal stakeholder groups--faculty, staff,. students--in a screening committee that considers submitted expressions of interest. Once winnowed down to an acceptable level, the finalists are usually brought onto campus for presentation to the unit--through a combination of interviews, meetings, and the opportunity to present to the relevant community. These stakeholders are usually given an opportunity to report their reaction to and assessment of the candidates brought to campus. These reactions, taken together with the impressions of decision makers and the relevant due diligence usually forms the basis of a decision on hiring of managers of this sort. The final decision, of course, is usually reserved to a senior officer of the university--usually the provost, confirmed by president and sometimes the board of trustees.

At first blush, this procedure appears innocuous enough. And also inclusive enough, providing at least a sense of thinking and reaction within a unit that may well be burdened with a choice that has, for all practical purposes, been made for it through representatives, outside stakeholders and administrative superiors.But in an age of retaliation, in an age in which one can never be sure about the ability of an institution to keep information confidential, the process raises an issue, especially for those in the most dependent position--to what extent do formally inclusive procedures of this kind expose the most vulnerable employees to a risk that their opinions, perhaps unfavorable, will be communicated to those who assume management of their unit--exposing them to a threat of retaliation?

That is the issue this post considers--and offers a suggestion for going forward.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Benefits at the Public University--Why the Individual Ought to Matter and Why This May Touch on the Ethical Obligations of University Administrators

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2015)

I have been writing for some time on the turn in the basic principles underlying the administration of health benefits at the American public and publicly assisted university. I have been particularly concerned that much of this turn has been driven by quite veiled changes in, and the manipulation of, the core premises within which discussions about benefits are presented--and constrained within relevant stakeholder communities (see esp."First Principles" and Benefits Policies at Public Universities--How "Where You Start" Determines the Shape and "Ends" of Benefit Programs). 

That is, when administrators choose to frame the "issue" of benefits as one of "sustainability" and cost containment, the resulting conversation will invariably turn on the means through which the scope and operation of benefits provisions may be legitimately discussed. It turns the human element into an abstraction--and the individuals benefited into factors in the calculation of operating margins--margins that when positive go toward the care of the institutional machinery that itself appears to need constant feeding without regard either to cost cutting or to the constraining language of sustainable operation. Sustainability, it turns out, can mean little more than the conversion of all university outlays into segmented units expected to pay for themselves.  It is the language of the balancing of ledgers without regard to ethics or morals.

What is lost when administrators manage university stakeholders into the sort of sterile  framework of "sustainability" and cost containment as the only basis in which benefits can be discussed? 

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Unionization of Fixed Term/Contingent Faculty and the Abandonment of Shared Governance--The View From the University of Chicago

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2015)

I have been suggesting that shared governance in the modern American university is failing. That failure is a function of fundamental changes in social expectations of universities, in the effect of the changes in the composition of university faculties (introducing a class element to labor structures), in the reactionary response of faculties unreasonably holding on to past ideals now effectively abandoned, and to university administrators eager to reject the classical model of collaborative governance in favor of the (more efficient) hierarchical corporate model of diffused governance in which accountability becomes easier to avoid.

These changes appear to move the university to the adoption of 20th century corporate factory models of administration and operation.    And the consequence of the adoption of that form will have an inevitable consequence for labor--the move toward unionization of a "deprofessionalized" cadres of knowledge workers seeking to protect their interests against exploitation by the operators of learning factories.  These effects are now quite visible among the most elite American universities.  The contingent and fixed term faculty at the University of Chicago have now begun a process that might lead to the unionization of their ranks (Maudlyne Ihejirika, University of Chicago's nontenured faculty file to unionize, Chicago Sun-Times, Oct. 29, 2015) (portions reproduced below).    

This post considers the inevitable move toward unionization and suggests that it may point to a radical change in the nature of the university and its abandonment of a collaborative for an adversarial model of governance. It suggests the way these changes may point to the need to restructure the operations and objectives of faculty governance institutions  in this new administrative and operational climate.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

"First Principles" and Benefits Policies at Public Universities--How "Where You Start" Determines the Shape and "Ends" of Benefit Programs

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2015)

I have devoted a lot of space on this essay site to the issue of benefits, especially at public universities in the United States (see eg here, here, here, here and here).  Beyond its obvious relevance for the operation of the modern public university, the focus on benefits has another and perhaps more important aspect:  benefits policies are a doorway to understanding the core managerial approaches of senior university administrators across the United States.  This class of university servant--now much more aligned with their own professional class interests across universities (eg provosts tend to align with other provosts with whom they share much more in common than with those upstream or downstream the emerging chains of university command)--tends to set the parameters within which all discussion of all aspects of the university are now constrained.  The recent efforts at Penn State (On the Practice of Town Hall Meetings in Shared Governance--Populist Technocracy and Engagement at Penn State) suggest the normative parameters of this significant shift in the locus of authority to determine the basis on which the university sees itself and structures its approach to identifying and meeting its mission.  (See also here). 

To set the first principles of an issue, then, is both to shape the discourse (the way it is discussed) and the constraints (the structures within which that discourse is viewed as legitimate). This essay suggests the way that public universities now set these first principles for approaching the "issue" and "challenge" of benefits (notice how even here I have been able to shape the discourse by starting from the premise that benefits presents an "issue" that poses "challenges"). I will suggest that, in the hands of senior university officials, increasingly remote from and indifferent to any need to empathize with, their faculty and staff rank-and-file, benefits has ceased to be understood as a positive for the university and instead is almost invariably clothed in the language of burden or through the imagery of instrument to more directly shape the workforce they "own" into something that will profit them better.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Faculty Complicity in Undermining Shared Governance--A Hypothetical For a Large Public University

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2015)

Faculty governance depends, in large part, on the willingness of administration and faculty to bear the burdens of cooperation, consultation and compromise in furthering the mission of the university. That, in turn, is based in part on a further burden--the burden of undertaking institutional governance. For faculty, especially that involves the burden of collective governance responding to and assessing administrative actions, as well as in the traditional domains of faculty governance--courses, curriculum, and faculty tenure and promotion. In other words, while administration is institutionally designed for efficient operation, through the institution of hierarchical chain-of-command based operation, faculty governance is institutionally designed for inclusion and engagement in a necessarily inefficient meeting of relative equals gathered for collaborative decision making, consultation, action, and calling administration to account (see, e.g., here and here). 

Those foundational differences in institutional organization and operation cause conflict in collaboration, consultation and accountability.  Administration is built for speed, faculty governance is not.  Most often, that produces incentives to end run faculty (on efficiency grounds) or to cabin its engagement to those matters with respect to which administration views as of little importance to its leadership and command role (discussed here).

But faculty have also been socialized to belief in a hierarchy of values in governance that place efficiency and command and control structures well above the value of collaboration, debate and the processes of holding administration publicly to account.  To the extent that faculty view the logic of its own organization and operation as inefficient, it contributes to the undermining of its role in effective faculty governance by conceding that faculty impede rather than enhance governance by the very logic of its operational modes. 

This post includes a hypothetical example of the sort of complicit undermining of robust faculty governance that results when individual faculty seek to undo the core methods and techniques that are central to faculty governance.  The method is simple--importing values of efficiency and chain-of-command to faculty governance. The tragedy is that this may be done without thinking through implications or rather perhaps unconscious of their socialization into administrative cultures,or it may suggest the sort of systemic corruption that is itself something that may undermine faculty governance more profoundly still.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Return to Salary Transparency at Penn State and Transparency Failures at the University of Denver

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2015)

In May of 2015 I raised a concern about the reversal of transparency rules at Penn State University with respect to faculty salary data (The Rise of University Data Mining and Analysis Oligarchies--From Transparency to Confidentiality Regimes in University Operations and the Issue of Salary Information).  Though I remain concerned, as a general matter affecting all universities, about the ways that  both the harvesting of data on salaries (what is going to be gathered up  as data) and its presentation (the extraction of meaning from the data), can be a substantially manipulative affair, best controlled by those with the power to generate and analyze data (see here, here and here), those issues can only be addressed in a transparent environment.   

These concerns appear to have been shared by others in the university, including its administrators.  After much work, personally and deeply appreciated,  by key university administrators, the University Faculty Senate Chair, Mohamad Ansari, was able to make the folloibng announcement:
I am pleased to announce that the "20142015 Report on Faculty Salaries," Appendix O on the March 17, 2015 Senate Agenda, has been returned to the Senate Archives. This report can be viewed on the Senate website [HERE. The link to the salary tables is included in the report, but they can also be accessed through the following link: (HERE).
Please note that the Report in its entirety is public and may be freely referenced.

On behalf of the University Faculty Senate, I wish to express my sincere appreciation to Betty Harper, Interim Director of the Office of Planning and Institutional Assessment, and Karen O'Brien, Associate Director of Budget and Reporting, for their assistance in restoring public access to the report and tables.

This is an important step and Penn State University is to be lauded for its efforts.

The importance of such data cannot be underestimated.  What follows is an example of the consequences that might flow from failures of data transparency and the importance of transparency for accountability.  It also suggests the difficulties that occur where transparency comes late to an institution, even one with good intentions.  The example relates to recent events at the University of Denver which have been publicly reported. Irrespective any ultimate liability to the university, the important insight is that perhaps greater salary transparency might have reduced the likelihood that the dispute at issue would have taken this course.

Monday, September 7, 2015

The Power of Assessment and the Production of Knowledge: An Example and a Warning for Faculty Complacent About the Mechanics of Value

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2015)

I have been speaking to the issue of assessment--not so much as a set of techniques designed to extract data that can be evaluated, but rather than a mechanics for the management of behavior through the instrumental use of data extraction (here, here, and here; for the theory see Backer, Larry Catá, Global Panopticism: States, Corporations and the Governance Effects of Monitoring Regimes. Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies, Vol. 15, 2007).  

But theory tends to bore.  And in our culture theory has become detached from the way in which knowledge is produced and understood--and employed.  One teaches now by example, and perhaps clusters examples around a theory that may help provide context to example or fashion example into instrument to be used not so much to explain or understand, but to employ to change the world around us. 

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The University as Irony--Disciplining Faculty for the Exercise of Speech and for Seeking to Manage the Speech of Students

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2015)

I have recently noted the AAUP's Supplementary Report on the disciplining of a faculty member at Louisiana State University, in part, for the use of profane language (The "Spirit of the Law": From the AAUP--Supplementary Report of Misconduct by LSU Officials).  That, the AAUP has suggested is troublesome for a number of important reasons.  She was faulted for “her use of profanity, poorly worded jokes, and sometimes sexually explicit ‘jokes’ in her teaching methodologies.”  The actions of the University raise significant issues of arbitrariness and the erosion of what had once been deeply American attachment to rule of law systems.

In the face of the apparent willingness of a university to discipline faculty for the use of profane language, it is exceedingly ironic to hear of the case of another university where a faculty member is (again) disciplined for efforts to prevent the use of offensive language by students.  In this case, Washington State University apparently faulted a faculty member for seeking to prevent the use of offensive words and speech, including those that got the Louisiana State University professor disciplined.

Irony indeed. Taken together, it appears at in the modern university, students are protected in saying things in the classroom that will get a faculty member disciplined.   A pretty picture indeed!  Both are problematic for the same reasons but to opposite effect. LSU evidenced the dangers of unbridled discretion clothed in the appearance of a rule system which, in effect, does not exist (except perhaps in spirit and as exercised in the discretion of officials with impunity).  Washington State evidenced the same sort of discretion, though this time again against faculty,  in a contect in which rules were ambiguous--at best.

The tragedy of both cases, of course, is that bad governance, and maladministration, tends to obscure the important issues at the center of each of these events--the extent to which language and expression may be managed within a classroom in its two most important aspects: (1) speech by faculty and (2) speech by students.  This discussion centers on an application of academic freedom , human dignity and the basic ground rules set by our nation's laws. And sadly, that is the only conversation that no-one seems in the mood to have. And perhaps that discussion ought to start from the approach of the University of Chicago (The Scope of Protection for Speech at the University--A View From the University of Chicago).

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The "Spirit of the Law": From the AAUP--Supplementary Report of Misconduct by LSU Officials

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2015)

It is becoming something of a truism within the industrial sector in which academic institutions occupy a large place, that administrations are increasingly adopting a two track approach to the enforcement of their regulations.  Academic administrators, and officials in collateral and financial departments are expected to abide by the spirit of the rules.  Employees, including (or perhaps especially) faculty are expected to abide by the letter of the rules (as interpreted in their contextual spirit by administrators). 

As one can imagine, the resulting chasm creates tensions in the way rules are understood and applied.  The problem is compounded because administrators, bound only by the spirit of the rules have an increasing and increasingly absolute control over the application fo the letter of the rules.  The result is to create a vast zone of discretion in which the relaitonship between administratrors and rules is becoming increasingly different from that between faculty and rules.

A recent example from Louisiana State University makes the point. And the point needs emphasis--the emerging approach to rule application and interpretation creates a large zone of discretion.  This zone of discretion increasingly serves as a space in which arbitrary decisions may be made with impunity and without regard to any principled system of accountability.  At its limit it will threaten to replace a "rule of law" system with one of almost pure administrative discretion that is quite at odds both with the core values of this Republic and with emerging societal notions of fairness.

What follows is the summary of the actions of Louisiana State University and the press release from the American Association of University Professors (AAUP).  The AAUP Report, "Academic Freedom and Tenure: Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, A Supplementary Report on a Censured Administration," may also be accessed here.   

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Presentation: "Institutionalization of Faculty Role in Shared Governance: The Faculty Senate at Penn State University"

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2015)

Last week I was pleased to have been invited to speak to Chinese and Japanese academics about the concept of shared governance from its origins, through its golden age to the challenges that have emerged in recent years (for more see, here, here, here, here, here, and here). The focus of the study was the organization, operation and challenges of the University Faculty Senate at Pennsylvania State University.

The group of administrators and graduate students was organized by Hideto Fukudome, Associate Professor, Graduate School of Education, The University of Tokyo. More about the group here.

A transcript of the presentation follows:

AAUP Reports on Four Cases of Investigations on Academic Freedom and Tenure: Mass Terminations, Tenure, and Social Media

The Association of American University Professors (AAUP) has recently announced publication of four (4) of its Academic Freedom and Tenure Investigative Reports:
University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Felician College (New Jersey)
University of Southern Maine

One of the cases, that of Professor Salaita is quite well know.  (See here and here). 

Another (Southern Maine) deserves substantially more attention than it has gotten--the increasing use of mass layoffs through program closures as an effective means of short circuiting the traditional protections designed into the "financial exigency" standards that had served as a common basis of action for several generations.  What had started after Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana Universities (see, e.g., here) now looks to have evolved into a mechanism for relatively easy faculty terminations.  Effectively, the movement seems to be to a standard in which the financial deficiencies of a single program now appear enough to trigger university financial exigency sufficient to support the termination of faculty in the targeted program. For universities, this is a way around the protections of tenure at a time when universities are moving to a very different model for delivering education "product", one in which faculty protected by tenure are increasingly painted as "in the way."  

The other two follow--in a world in which faculty are increasingly viewed, like copy paper, as consumables in the manufacture of education products, tenure is increasingly viewed as an impediment to efficient production.  Its only value, increasingly limited, is as a means of revenue raising (by grant funded faculty) and in the competition within prestige markets that, it is believed, increases the quality of students harvested for income production and consumption of education. For universities this presents a problem, and the two cases suggest current experimentation: is there a way of retaining the revenue raising and prestige enhancing benefits of tenure without actually providing the security that makes such objectives attainable?   

Links to the reports and summaries follow:

Sunday, July 26, 2015

"We Abhor Retaliation But Expect Loyalty to Our Decisions" -- Techniques that Undermine University Shared Governance, the Honorable Mentions and the Deeper Issues they Reveal

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2015)

I have posted thought on my list of the top ten techniques that administrations currently have deployed to undermine shared governance ("You Don't Have the Authority": Counting Down the Top Ten Techniques that Undermine University Shared Governance).  I should add that these techniques were not necessarily developed nor are now utilized solely to undermine shared governance.  My sense is that these techniques are useful in a variety of situations, including when faculties and traditional forms of shared governance seem to get in the way of an evolving sense of administrative prerogative within the "business" of running a university. 

That the techniques are not necessarily developed to subvert shared governance for its own sake hardly absolves an administration that on the one hand heralds its embrace of shared governance and on the other engages in radical industry transforming actions that  enhance structures in which faculty become "knowledge workers" on an assembly line the principal purpose of which seems to be the "production" of units (students) ready fr insertion in labor markets at a level commensurate with the reputation of the university itself.

This post is dedicated to listing the honorable mentions, those techniques that undermine shared governance but that did not make the original top ten list.  If there are others you find useful to share, please send them in (and in the spirit of honorable Mention No. 1 below) via personal email from a non-university computer using non-university provided internet service.  

Saturday, July 25, 2015

"You Don't Have the Authority": Counting Down the Top Ten Techniques that Undermine University Shared Governance

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2015)

It is well understood by now that the societal context in which issues of shared governance are discussed, and its character shaped, have been changing dramatically. Much of this change  is tied to changes in the way that faculty at universities are characterized--from professionals and knowledge leaders to employees in learning factories who require the discipline of administrators. Some "critics long have pointed to the skewed power tenured professors and other employees have in decision-making, at an ever-rising cost to taxpayers." Courtney Mullen, Lawmakers: We won’t be swayed by University of Wisconsin System president’s threats, WisconsonWatchdog,org. 

Much of the attention has been on politically ambitious members of the political class who have sought to transform shared governance as a formal matter.  Among the leaders of this movement is the current Governor of Wisconsin, an individual with presidential ambitions.   Wisconsin has recently removed statutory protections for tenure in its university system and shared governance (the faculty's "primary responsibility" for academic and educational activities and personnel matters). See, e.g., here.

But university administrators have a host of techniques that can be deployed to undermine shared governance without the politically costly effort to mandate the transformation of the professorate into production line workers, whose job is to obey and not engage in the production and dissemination of knowledge (the sources and content of which are critically dependent on their habits, culture and autonomy).     

This post includes my "top ten" administrative techniques that administrators may be using to effectively undermine shared governance:

1.  "You don't have the authority."

2.  "We can't share that information."

3. "Let's form a Task Force"

4. "This is a technical issue that requires administrative expertise"

5. "You have a conflict of interest"

6. "Let us define the premises for you"

7. "We consulted faculty; we reached out to specific faculty directly who we thought had expertise"

8. "We consulted. . .we showed you the final draft shortly before roll out and asked your opinion"

9. "You take too long. . we need to do this now."
10. "An outside agency is making us do this."

 Each is briefly discussed below. If you have other ploys you have discovered, please share!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

From Scholars at Risk; "Free to Think: Report of the Scholars at Risk Academic Freedom Monitoring Project"

It is true enough that the attacks, especially by vanguard elements of the political class, have been seeking to  eliminate  the substantive elements of academic freedom as they have come to be understood  and applied in developed States.  The United States provides an important battleground, for example in the recent actions of the political sector in Wisconsin (e.g., here).

But these battles pale in comparison to attacks on academic freedom in other parts of the world, some of which can make things quite dangerous, physically as well as professionally, for faculty. These are monitored by the folks at Academic Freedom Monitor. It is maintained by Scholars at Risk, an international network of institutions and individuals working to promote academic freedom and to protect higher education communities worldwide.

For those interested I have included links to a new report produced by the Scholars at Risk Academic Freedom Monitoring Project, Free to Think  (June 2015; ISBN 978-0-692-45867-9). The Release Statement noted:
The report calls on all stakeholders, including the international community, states, the higher education sector, civil society and the public at large to undertake concrete actions to increase protection for higher education communities, including documenting and investigating attacks, and holding perpetrators accountable.

SAR invites you to download and share the report with your networks over social media. Use the hashtag #Free2Think and join the conversation!

The Press Release, Forward and Table of Contents follow:

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

New Paper Posted: Backer and Haddad "Philanthropy and the Character of the Public Research University—The Intersections of Private Giving, Institutional Autonomy, and Shared Governance"


(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2015)
I have been considering issues of shared governance at the university for some time (e.g., here, here, here, and here). With my former student Nabih Haddad (M.I.A. Penn State), now a Ph.D. student at Michigan State University, we have been exploring the issue of the effects of more targeted philanthropy by powerful and ideologically committed donors on universities. Increasingly, powerful donors have sought to use their wealth to increase their influence in the provision of education and the operations of the university. This has caused controversy (e.g., here,here, here and here).

We have posted our examination of some of the issues involved in a just completed manuscript: " Philanthropy and the Character of the Public Research University—The Intersections of Private Giving, Institutional Autonomy, and Shared Governance." We expect that it will appear as chapter 3 in Facilitating Higher Education Growth through Fundraising and Philanthropy (H. C. Alphin Jr., J. Lavine, S. E. Stark & A.Hocke, eds., Hershey, PA: IGI Global, forthcoming 2015).

The abstract may be accessed via SSRN HERE.

The manuscript may be accessed here.

Comments and discussion welcome.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Jerry G. Gaff, Senior Scholar, Association of American Colleges and Universities: Is it Time to Revisit the 1940 Statement of Principles of Academic Freedom and Tenure?

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2015)

I have written about the very useful program presented at the annual conference of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) (see here, and here). For this post I wanted to consider the very powerful presentation made at the conference by Jerry G. Gaff, Senior Scholar at the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U). Dr. Gaff received a Ph.D. in psychology from Syracuse University. He served on the faculties of five institutions and was dean of the College of Liberal Arts and acting president of Hamline University. He authored numerous books including Toward Faculty Renewal (1975), General Education Today (1983), and New Life for the College Curriculum (1991) and co-edited the Handbook of the Undergraduate Curriculum.

His remarks, presented June 12, 2015 and entitled, "Academic Freedom for a New Age," suggests that the great changes that have engulfed higher education since the last great set of glosses to of the last third of the 20th century now have set the stage for a necessary reconsideration of one of the great foundational document of modern university education--the 1940 Statement of Principles of Academic Freedom and Tenure. This post considers his argument (all citations are to Dr. Gaff's remarks).

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Speaking Past Each Other About Retaliation at Universities--The Example of Penn State

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2014)

I have considered the issue of retaliation within the context of shared governance at large universities (see, e.g., here, here, and here). The problem is especially acute where, as at Penn State, employees, including faculty, are increasingly encouraged to serve administrators through whistle blowing mechanisms (see, e.g., here) that themselves tend to be traps for the unwary (see, e.g., here). 

This post considers the difficulty of speaking to issues of retaliation at U.S. universities.  It suggests that at its core, the difficulty lies in the inability of administrators and faculty to communicate effectively.  And it further suggests that this inability arises not merely because people speak but don't listen, but also because key terms have acquired substantially distinct meanings and because administrators and faculty/staff approach the issues from quite distinct perspectives. The issues are illustrated with a pair of letters reflecting on the poor state of discourse at Penn State University.  

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

On the Practice of Town Hall Meetings in Shared Governance--Populist Technocracy and Engagement at Penn State

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2015)

 So-called "town hall meetings" have their origins in efforts to practice direct democracy (but not its binding forms) reflecting the style that echos the informal New England town meetings, generally open to all townspeople (now stakeholders) and held at the town hall (now virtually any venue) and in which the attendees were given an opportunity to present ideas, voice opinions, and ask questions of local public officials. This form of engagement has become an increasingly important feature of governance in both public and private sectors, including universities (see, e.g., here).  Indeed, many organizations now offer "tips" for managing these events (see, e.g., here, here, here, here, and here).

But town hall meetings are now deployed as much to manage stakeholders to to serve as a means of listening to stakeholder ideas, opinions, criticisms and the like. 
For most large-enterprise organizations, the company all-hands or town hall meeting is one of the most important events in a corporate communications strategy. The company town hall is typically an annual or quarterly meeting, attended by every employee, that allows the CEO and/or management to present company goals, awards and recognition; engage in planning sessions; and provide inspiration for the work ahead. (ON24, Town Hall Meetings)
No longer a means of engagement, they appear to have become a technique of control and socialization of productive sectors of institutional communities, as a means of harvesting data to better achieve those ends, and as a form, of socializing productive forces through interaction with high officials who use the opportunity of a town meeting more to speak than to listen.   

I have suggested how university administrations have sought to weaken traditional structures of faculty representation by embracing a populist-technocratic model of governance. And in that context examined a recent example in the form of the announcement of a town hall meeting at Penn State (Practicing Mass Democracy at Penn State: The New Populist-Technocratic Model of University Governance, Socialization, Stakeholder Management and Benefits). 

The Penn State administrative Town Hall Meeting was held as scheduled.  This post considers the way that such town hall meetings effectively convey a very precise set of optics--messages about the ordering of universities, the hierarchies of authority and the socialization of inferior classes within the new governance orders so that shared governance, in its new more deferential form, may be practiced better among appropriately socialized faculty and staff. This analysis is hardly peculiar to Penn State; it reflects instead a trend that is likely to affect the way in which shared governance is coming to be performed in modern U.S. universities.  And it suggests the way that the current principles of tenure and shared governance are increasingly less relevant to the practice of university governance in this century (e.g., here).  

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Links to Remarks and Information from the AAUP 2015 Conference


For those interested in additional resources from the recently concluded 2015 Conference of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), Julie Schmid, AAUP Executive Director has provided updates and links to remarks from the Conference.  These follow.

Monday, June 15, 2015

At the 2015 AAUP Annual Conference: Remarks, "Undermining Academic Freedom from the Inside: On the Adverse Effects of Administrative Techniques and Neutral Principles" and PowerPoint of Presentation "Developing Social Media Policies for Universities: Best Practices and Pitfalls"

The 2015 American Association of University Professors (AAUP) Annual Conference, held in Washington, D.C., June 10-14, had as its theme, "100 Years of Defending Academic Freedom" to mark the AAUP's centennial.

My remarks, Undermining Academic Freedom from the Inside: On the Adverse Effects of Administrative Techniques and Neutral Principles,  may  be accessed HERE.  IT IS ALSO REPRODUCED BELOW.  The text flows the remarks delivered but it has been expanded slightly, and links and references to additional texts that might be of interest have been included. 

My presentation PowerPoints, "Developing Social Media Policies for Universities: Best Practices and Pitfalls," highlighted the social media policies of US universities" may be accessed here.  A summary of the presentation may be accessed here.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Practicing Mass Democracy at Penn State: The New Populist-Technocratic Model of University Governance, Socialization, Stakeholder Management and Benefits

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2015)

Few people really like to think about the structural bones of governing an institution.  It is a lot like thinking about structural integrity--foundation, plumbing or wiring--when looking at houses.  Most people prefer to worry about lighting fixtures than the state of the electrical system that is necessary to run the lights. Likewise, most people find the issue of governance  either opaque, arcane or unnecessary for something "simple", like the way a university is managed (it used to be governed, but that is another story). 

One of the most interesting trends in recent years has been the way that university administrations have sought to weaken traditional structures of faculty representation by embracing a populist-technocratic model of governance.  

A good example of the way in which the new populist-technocratic model of university governance operates might be seen in recent efforts at Penn State relating to the long standing and contentious issue of benefits.  What follows is (1) a short description of the characteristics of the new mass democracy models that are generally emerging in university governance, and (2) an excellent example of the deployment of the techniques of the populist-technocratic model of governance in aid of the socialization of faculty directly respecting reforms of benefits at Penn State.  It is clear that as change comes to the university, university administrations in the United States will seek much less engagement and much more control.  Within this new construct there is very little room for an effective institutional organ of faculty representation.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Do University Administrators Have an Ethical Obligation in Developing and Defending Decisions on Benefits?

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2015)

The first decades of the 21st century has seen the rise of ethics as an important tool for university governance.   These serve both as guiding principles for conduct and as rules, the violation of which may indicate more serious breach.  

Indiana University, a respected member of the CIC (Committee on Institutional Cooperation) provides an example of the approach state and state assisted universities have come to embrace respecting the application of ethics to the conduct of university personnel. See Indiana University, Principles of Ethical Conduct (the "Ethics Principles"). Unlike other CIC universities, Indiana University sought and obtained the approval of the relevant university faculty governance institution before final approval by the Indiana University Board of Trustees. And that, perhaps, marks the ethical practices of Indiana University beyond the words of the Ethics Principles themselves, in the sense that they appear to practice what they preach. 

This post considers briefly the contours of Indiana's Ethics Principles as an exemplar, and then attempts to apply it to sketch out the boundaries of ethical conduct that may constrain administrators when they  seek to develop and defend decisions related to university benefits for employees. To that end a hypothetical is considered.  The discussion may be useful to other CIC institutions considering ethics principles--Penn State University, Ohio State University, Rutgers, etc.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

AAUP Reports on Mass Faculty Dismissals at the University of Southern Maine and on Felician College

(Pix (c) Larry Catá  Bcaker 2015)

From a recent AAUP Press Release
Last month the AAUP released the reports of investigations of alleged violations of academic freedom and tenure at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Today I’m writing to announce the release of two new investigating committee reports, both involving mass dismissals of faculty.

In these two new reports—on the University of Southern Maine and on Felician College—the investigating committees found that both administrations violated standards recommended by the AAUP and widely accepted in the academic community.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Rise of University Data Mining and Analysis Oligarchies--From Transparency to Confidentiality Regimes in University Operations and the Issue of Salary Information

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2015)

I have been considering the management of data as a source of power in the relations between university faculty and administration.  In particular, I have been suggesting the ways that  both the harvesting of data on salaries (what is going to be gathered up  as data) and its presentation (the extraction of meaning from the data), can be a substantially manipulative affair, best controlled by those with the power to generate and analyze data (see here, here and here). 

While my focus has been on the quality of the data and the manipulative potential of its presentation, especially in thew way in which it might be used to both undervalue labor and to justify the allocation of productivity gains away from its producers (effectively resulting in increasing wage-productivity gaps that result in effective wage decreases per unit of productivity). But perhaps all is fair in the battlefield of the wage labor markets in which universities operate. Yet when the field of negotiation on which these contests are played out are no longer level--when they are substantially tilted in favor of those with a disproportionate amount of market power, and deliberately so for what appears an unfair advantage--one wonders about the application of general principles of ethics and fairness play within an institution that might consciously operate in that environment. 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The AAUP Report on the Salaita Affair--Speech Rights or a Contest Over the Faculty Appointment Power Within Universities?

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2015)

I have been considering social media policies (See here, here, here, here, and here).  I have also been considering what may be a hard case--the way in which social media interventions contributed to the actions taken in connection with Professor Salaita's appointment at the University of Illinois (see here) especially in the context both civility (Here) and academic freedom (e.g., Here and Here). 
Today the AAUP announced the release of the report of its Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure that investigated the case of Steven Salaita:  AAUP, Academic Freedom and Tenure: The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (April 2015).  The Report is a prelude to possible censure of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign by the AAUP.

The facts around the appointment of Professor Salaita remains quite controversial. In reporting on the AAUP action, Colleen Flaherty noted (Censure Threat, Inside Higher Education, April 28, 2015):
There’s been no shortage of criticism, both formal and informal, of how the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign handled the withdrawn faculty appointment of Steven Salaita last summer. (The university has a substantial number of supporters who say it was right to reject Salaita for the tone of his anti-Israel remarks on Twitter, but detractors have been numerous and vocal.)
The Report of the AAUP's Committee A appears to support Professor Salaita's position more positively than an earlier report of the Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign subcommittee “Report on the Investigation into the Matter of Steven Salaita” (see full PDF here). That Report had earlier been rejected by the University of Illinois Board of Trustees (Academic Freedom and Tenure: The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (April 2015, pp. 8-9).  However, the AAUP decision was not unanimous.
Cary Nelson, a professor of English at Urbana-Champaign who has defended the university’s right to consider matters of civility in hiring decisions, sits on Committee A and said he disagrees with a number of the report's conclusions. Nelson said he thought that the investigation on which the report was based failed to answer key questions about the case, such as whether the American Indian Studies program had any warning that Wise perceived problems with the appointment, as faculty members have alleged they did not, and whether Salaita’s tweets can truly be separated from his academic oeuvre. While the committee report references Salaita’s “impassioned” tweets in response to the fight “raging between Israeli troops and Palestinians in Gaza” last summer, Nelson said Salaita’s vociferously anti-Israel tweets started at least months before that violence broke out, and parallel thoughts in some of his previously published works. (Censure Threat, Inside Higher Education, April 28, 2015)
The Press Release, the Report and some comments follow.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Power and Control Through the Prism of Benefits -- Between Administration and Faculty Senates Shared Governance When Convenient

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2015)

The relationship between the institutional voice of a faculty, usually organized, as it is at Pennsylvania State University, through a University Faculty Senate, and an increasingly professionalized cadre of administrators, organized within a substantially autonomous and self-referencing organizational structure from out of which it manages and controls sub-system to sub-system structural coupling (see eg here and here (at pp. 15-25)), and usually in the form data harvesting and command communications,  has been quite dynamic over the course of the last several years.  That dynamism evidences both changes in practices and shifts in power among the various sub-systems (administrative organizations, faculty senate, board of trustees, legislature, etc.) that together formally constitute the governance apparatus of the university. 

The currency of power is usually expressed as control over (1) factors in the production of university wealth and prestige, (2) the results of that production (usually measured in money). The exercise of that power is usually effectuated through mechanisms, the objectives of which are to (1) socialize subordinate factors of production within power regimes (eg to get labor to do what is commanded or to accept what is done), and (2) to mask the realities of control through elaborate systems of transparency that feigns engagement but offers only the provision of information.

This post considers these trends in the context of the rejection, by Penn State's administrative apparatus, of the recommendations of the University Faculty Senate, and the larger institutional context, relevant to universities nationally, that these represent. I welcome a conversation and continue to look forward to rewarding interactions with all university stakeholders.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Social Dimension of the Eugenics of Employee Benefits--The View From Penn State

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2015)

I have been considering the move by universities to embrace cultures of eugenics through their benefits  programs (e.g., The New Eugenics--The Private Sector, the University, and Corporate Health and Wellness Initiatives (July 16, 2013); The "Wellness" Program at Penn State: The View From the Bottom Up (Aug. 6, 2013).  These programs are meant to serve as part of broader programs to manage employee behaviors to maximize their benefit to the university, and to capture, for the university, the increased productivity such behavior management generates (See here and here).  And the U.S. Government has sought to intervene to develop some regulatory structures within which employers are free to re-make their employees as they wish (See,  EEOC Issues Proposed Rule on Application of the ADA to Employer Wellness Programs ("The EEOC's proposed rule would provide much needed guidance to both employers and employees about how wellness programs offered as part of an employer's group health plan can comply with the ADA consistent with provisions governing wellness programs in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), as amended by the Affordable Care Act. In addition, the EEOC is also publishing a Fact Sheet for Small Businesses and a Question and Answer document for the general public.")).

I noted that this new eugenics, articulated through the management behavior controls increasingly incorporated into benefits programs, appears also to have a social dimension. The social dimension of benefits eugenics does not target behavior modification--instead it targets  the cultures of employment and the control of the thoughts and values of employees through processes of socialization that manipulate employees into becoming the strongest advocates of the programs the university targets to employees but for the benefit of the university enterprise.

This focus on the control of the "hearts and minds" of the target population is an efficient response to the problem of reducing the cost of imposing and policing programs requiring changes in employee behaviors and beliefs. By convincing employees to become the principle advocates, and monitors, of these programs, the university, like of other "masters" (understood in the sens of that term in U.S. labor law), the university increases compliance rates and decreases the costs of disciplining workers into the new managerial order.  The business case for a social dimension, then, is obvious.  

The methodologies of socialization requires the deployment of the traditional tools of incentives and disincentives common to mass management int he U.S.  It is common knowledge that the tax law in the United States has been used to manage behaviors by increasing and decreasing the costs of targeted activity by raising or lowering the tax consequences of that activity.  Business has long known that cost is a significant factor in consumer choice (and when used unfairly by pricing below cost a mechanism for destroying competition).  Where the object is to induce employees to become the advocates of the choices that university administrators have made for them, the ability to manage the costs of choices provides an important tool of this sort of socialization. Such socialization is best undertaken covertly, though the long history of tax behavior manipulation suggests that it can be as successful when the project is fully transparent. It is also best managed when a conscious policy of administrators, though the logic of administrative cultures might permit the adoption of policies that have the effect of socialization management without the need for a formal or conscious policy.

The possibility of the use of the social element of eugenics--socialization management--among a target population, can thus be discerned, at times, by the approaches that universities take to the pricing of choices among benefits made available to employees.  These issues were discussed in the context of the consideration, by the Penn State University Faculty Senate Committee on Faculty Benefits, of the pricing of benefits at Penn State.  This consideration was presented in its Advisory and Consultative Report, Employee Contributions to Penn State’s Self-Insured Health Care Costs (March 17, 2015). The six recommendations of that report were overwhelming approved by the Senate at its March 2017 meeting (Record).  While the university administration has yet to speak to the recommendations, it would not surprise to expect a negative response, and perhaps a passionate one.  I will report on that response when and if it is made.

 The report has importance not merely for the internal policy debates at Penn State but rather for the way it indicates that large universities are beginning to change their administrative operations and develop policy and policy approaches in the face of the need to contain costs, and to effectively manage their employees.  The social costs of those decisions will have ramifications far beyond the university, and those might have political dimensions as well.


The Report follows or may be accessed HERE.