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.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Crafting a Policy for Open Access to Scholarly Publications From the Penn State University Faculty Senate

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2015)

Open access has become an important issue for the dissemination of knowledge.  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., Disseminating Knowledge Broadly--New Offerings From the Digital Commons Network (Jan. 7, 2014), 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).

Mirroring the age in which we live, and the technology that has changed the way in which knowledge is produced and distributed, we can no longer assume an identity between prestige markets for academics and the populations to which works of scholarship are addressed. Moreover, prestige markets themselves have fragmented--the markets for prestige and advancement within a university may not be the same as markets for prestige  within globally dispersed fields.  And universities have been taking to measure the impacts of such prestige in distinct ways, parsing out rewards accordingly.  Beyond that, and though sometimes it tends to be overlooked in the quest for institutional and personal self interest, their is or ought to be a public duty to the production of scholarship that might call for the broadest possible distribution of works to spread knowledge to those without access to the university or to those business enterprises that make money from publication. 

More insidious are current efforts (I know some in professional schools) the object of which is to seek to assert institutional rights to faculty scholarship and then to hijack scholarly production of faculty, in the name of open access.  The effect, of course, is to transfer effective control of scholarly work from faculty to the institution, leaving, of course, the rights of publishers untouched.  Between the effort of publishers (for perfectly reasonable economic reasons) to capture for themselves most of the value of scholarly production, and of the university (for perfectly plausible reasons of controlling the production of its "servants" at least to the extent that the university might satisfy its conscience that all such work are at least hypothetically plausibly connected to employment) to capture for itself the prestige and distribution value of scholarship that remains. (See here).

The Committee on Libraries, Information Systems, and Technology of the Penn State University Faculty Senate, has sought to develop a reasonable middle way, one that maintains the strong bond between scholars and the institutions in which they are resident, publishers rights (and the logic of publication prestige systems), and the control of scholars over their work. The Committee has proposed a "Resolution on Open Access to Scholarly Publications" for consideration by the University Faculty Senate at its April 28, 2015 meeting (April 28, 2015 Senate Agenda (PDF)).  The Resolution seeks to balance the needs for open access and knowledge dissemination, with the needs of publishers, the protection of faculty rights to their work which represents a substantial amount of their working time and efforts. It builds on earlier work of the Committee and ought to be seriously considered as a benign step toward more vigorous access to knowledge for those who the university, and its academics, ought to serve.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

On the Uneasy Relationship Between Learning Outcomes Assessments, Shared Governance and Academic Freedom--A View from Beneath the Administrative Apparatus at Penn State

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2015)

Learning outcomes assessment has become a very popular concept among those who seek to assert a measure of control over the university and its "product" (understood as students well equipped for insertion into appropriate segments of labor markets usually as a function of the position of the university within the prestige hierarchies in education). (See here). Sectors with a particular interest in asserting such control include political elites (for any number of reasons, judgment of these "reasons" and "justifications" is beyond the scope of this post), governmental ministries and the functionaries set to that task (usually in the form of some sort of governmental accreditation or standardization sub ministry), organizations of professionals seeking to preserve the integrity of the professions over which they assert power to set qualifications therefor (particularly the medical, legal and other professions), and of course university administrators who might see in the business of assessment a means of broadening cultures of control of the learning factories that are being constructed from out of universities in the early 21st century.

And, of course, it may be useful to faculty as well--perhaps as a means of communal self discipline, of personal improvement, as a means of retaining coherence in courses of study.  Yet, within the context in which it has arisen, faculty have been the most reluctant stakeholders to embrace this approach to the management of the business of education. Timothy Reese Cain, an associate professor at the University of Georgia’s Institute of Higher Education and a senior scholar at the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment has recently produced an Occasional Paper worth considering. Timothy Reese Cain, Assessment and Academic Freedom: In Concert, Not Conflict (National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment Occasional Paper No. 22 Nov. 2014).  He argues that it is possible to construct systems of learning outcomes assessment that complement rather than threaten the now century old cultures of shared governance, tenure and academic freedom that are the hallmark of elite American universities.

This post considers in a very preliminary way his recommendations and their relation to efforts to construct systems of what ought to be a typical example of its type among research I universities--the  learning outcomes assessment structures at Penn State. I will approach the later as if I were an uninformed outsider considering only information publicly available.  Even this preliminary assessment suggests that if assessment becomes, in part, a system of evaluation not of courses or of programs but of faculty, then the fears about the use of assessment to end run both shared governance and academic freedom may well be realized

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

More on Salary Data: The AAUP 2014-2015 Annual Faculty Compensation Survey

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Bacier 2015)

I have been writing about faculty compensation and the underlying ideologies and management strategies (conscious and unconscious) for the presentation of "facts" (harvesting of data) and the extraction of inferences from the data (here, here, and here).  I have also suggested how these exercises do as much to veil "data" and avoid "inference" as it aid in their development and exposure (for a more theoretical discussion HERE).

Now comes the AAUP with its 2014-2015 Annual Faculty Compensation Survey.  This should be added to the constellation of data already harvested and from which inferences may be drawn. 

The AAUP press release with links follows.

Monday, April 6, 2015

In Aid of More Robust Labor Markets: From the Chronicle of Higher Education--An Interactive Salary Tool

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2015)

Open, fair, robust markets are the essence to fair allocations of resources and a fair distribution of the gains of productivity for the contribution of each of the factors of production to the production of enterprise wealth. That is the policy the underlies nearly a century of market regulation in the United States and more recently globally. Transparency is indispensable to open and robust markets.

EXCEPT with respect to labor markets. Labor markets tend to be segmented, and regimes of secrecy are meant ostensibly to protect privacy but in reality protect the power of labor market managers to avoid labor market distortions in the service of other objectives. This is particularly true with respect to labor markets as reflected in faculty salaries. With respect to those the opposite of conventional sound economic policy appears to apply--concerns for worker solidarity as well as privacy veil salary information.  But that delicacy also inhibits robust markets in pay (which might or might not be a good thing) and more importantly shifts power over the construction and operation of salary markets from market interactions between administration and labor to the regulatory capacities of administrators. 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Faculty Assessment--From "Man is the Measure of All things" to "The MEASURE is Man"

 (Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2015)

In many universities the Spring term signals the start of assessment season, that time when administrative superiors review and assess their faculty inferiors (from the point of view of administrative chains of command).  That assessment, increasingly has come to be understood as necessarily based on objective measures. That move has given comfort to both assessor and assessed, though for quite distinct reasons.

The objectification of the assessable individual is itself an inevitable product of the embrace by universities worldwide of a self conception increasingly described in terms of production, of learning factories (see here, here, here and here). Universities produce "things" (tangible and intangible) that can be measured, the production of which can be assigned with a fair degree of specification to various factors deployed in the production of these "things." These production lines can be structured for identification and assessment at the macro level (producing graduates for successful insertion in wage labor markets; alumni for post graduation giving; successful participants in government for access to centers of political and societal power, etc.). Yet they are also useful at the micro level (creating structured objectives to assess both instruction (maximizing content for achieving macro objective goals)), and the success in implanting those objectives into their recipients (the student)).

This post considers some of the elements and consequences of this move toward a bifurcation fo assessment along the lines of a factory model and its effects on the shape of productivity within the university.