Wednesday, January 21, 2015

What Should be the Faculty Role in the Development of Administrative Regulation at the University--Penn State's Senate Debates the Issue

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2015)

In September 2012, I noted a substantial issue of transparency at large universities. Focusing on the situation at Penn State I explained:
I have been writing of the obligations of transparency in its two principal forms.  As communicative transparency, this embodies the obligation on the part of the speaker to provide a sufficient amount of information in a timely manner that conveys what is necessary for stakeholders to understand actions undertaken, or that acknowledges communication received or that explains the nature of basis of a decision.  As engagement transparency, it provides  information sufficient for stakeholders to fully participate in decision making to the extent appropriate to the decision.  I have also suggested the challenges to institutional programs of actions in the face of failures of communicative and engagement transparency, and the potential for significantly adverse distraction from even significantly positive institutional objectives. (On the Importance of Transparency and the Relentless Pursuit of Knowledge in the Sandusky Affair--Governance in a New Era; see also here, here, and here)
Penn State has addressed the issue of communicative transparency, and has become something of a model for communication to its stakeholders. Penn State, however, has been slower to fully embrace  engagement transparency in a more meaningful way.  The issue of engagement transparency thus comes back to the University Faculty Senate.  For its January 2014 meeting, the Senate will engage in an open discussion (what we call a forensic), led by Ann H. Taylor, Senator representing Earth and Mineral Sciences and the Director of the John A. Dutton e-Education Institute, about the need for greater engagement transparency in the development of university administrative regulations--especially those that directly impact faculty. 

This post includes Professor Taylor's description of the issue and some brief observations:

Friday, January 16, 2015

On the Penn State NCAA Sanctions Settlement--What Might it Mean for North Carolina . . . and the NCAA?

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2015)

This today from Penn State News:
Board of Trustees approves terms of proposed NCAA lawsuit settlement
January 16, 2015

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – By a unanimous vote, the Penn State Board of Trustees today (Jan. 16) approved the terms of a proposed settlement of the lawsuit relating to the Endowment Act. According to the settlement, the July 2012 Consent Decree between Penn State and the NCAA has been dissolved, and all punitive sanctions eliminated.

Under the terms of the new agreement:
$60 million will be dedicated in Pennsylvania to helping children who have experienced child abuse and to further prevent child abuse. Of the $60 million, the Commonwealth will receive $48 million to help provide services to child victims. Penn State will use $12 million to create an endowment that will be a long-term investment in expanding our research, education and public service programs to help eradicate child sexual abuse. All parties agree strongly that caring for victims and providing support for programs that help address the problem of child sexual abuse is of paramount importance.
The compromise restores 112 wins to the Penn State football program.
All other punitive sanctions also have been eliminated.
This post includes the statements of Penn State University's President and the Chair of its Board of Trustees.  Some comments then follow, not on what this means for Penn State--that is fairly obvious.  Instead I focus on the potential consequences of this agreement for the NCAA and its current investigations into scandals at other universities. 

Friday, January 9, 2015

Reflections on the "Crisis" in the Business of Legal Education and the Problem of the Conventional "Return to Eden" Strategy

 (Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2015)

The Association of American Law Schools (AALS) has just recently concluded its 2015 Annual Meeting. Like other field specific organization functions, the annual meeting provides a space where law faculty can meet to discuss interesting developments in law, showcase new scholarly work, and network.  And this year was no different in that respect.

But there was a difference.  For the last several years, the business of legal education has been under attack. (See here, here and here). And a weak economy, high entry costs and lower economic prospects has combined to substantially reduce law school applicants even as the number of law schools have expanded, the costs of operating law schools has increased as well. (See eg, here, and here).)   In the face of this criticism, there has been some push back as the legal academy seeks to defend its practices and culture--and to convince stakeholders of the value of the product it sells.  (See eg here and here).  But principal stakeholders have become more aggressive in seeking changes in the structure of legal education to suit their own tastes, including the American Bar Association (See, e.g., here), and senior judges (see e.g. here).

This post considers the consequences of the current challenges facinmg law schools, especially those operating within public universities.  It suggests the difficulties of the usual response to such market stress--contraction and a vain effort to recreate a past without stress (the "return to Eden" strategy) and suggest the contours of another and perhaps healthier approach.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Scope of Protection for Speech at the University--A View From the University of Chicago

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2015)

I have been considering the complications of both civility (Here) and academic freedom (e.g., Here and Here). Most institutions have expended a tremendous effort to avoid the issues (see, e.g., here, and here) or to redirect the conversation in ways that suit their own internal agendas (see, e.g., here).  Some institutions, public, have sought to build walls of constraint on faculty expression--privileging faculty status as university servants over their role as citizens in a democratic republic (see, e.g., here and here). 

In the case of Steven Salaita it has conflated issues of protection for speech and the constraints of civility to produce an ongoing and politically polarizing context.  (See here). The resulting intervention by a university committee would reject civility as a governance standard, while permitting the university to bring civility in through the "back door" by using evidence of incivility as circumstantial evidence of inability to meet professional academic standards. 

A committee of the University of Chicago has now also sought to add its institutional intervention to this conversation. Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression (Jan. 2015).  The Report explains:
The Committee on Freedom of Expression at the University of Chicago was appointed in July 2014 by President Robert J. Zimmer and Provost Eric D. Isaacs “in light of recent events nationwide that have tested institutional commitments to free and open discourse.” The Committee’s charge was to draft a statement “articulating the University’s overarching commitment to free, robust, and uninhibited debate and deliberation among all members of the University’s community.”
The Committee has carefully reviewed the University’s history, examined events at other institutions, and consulted a broad range of individuals both inside and outside the University. This statement reflects the long-standing and distinctive values of the University of Chicago and affirms the importance of maintaining and, indeed, celebrating those values for the future. (Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression , supra, pp. 1)
This Statement has already received an important endorsement--from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE (FIRE Endorses University of Chicago’s New Free Speech Statement, Jan. 7, 2015).

The text of the Report follows, along with some comments on this effort.  While the University of Chicago provides a useful set of general principles, it may be less useful generally in two respects.  First, it provides little institutional guidance for implementation, especially for public universities.  Second, the University of Chicago was careful to note that the statement reflected its distinctive values--and by implication suggested that other universities may be (legitimate) values different from that of the University of Chicago that might merit some deviation from the broad principles developed for a first tier private university educating the children of global elites.