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?