Monday, February 29, 2016

Diversity Statements in the Academy--The View From Penn State

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2016)

Diversity statements have become an important element in the governance of the university.  In the absence of a societal or legal consensus on norms and values, these statements represent a means of developing a coherent normative or values structure within which the expectations of conduct can be managed in the university. Not all universities have such statements, several prefer Action Plans, Strategic Plans, or incorporation within general university policy (Illinois, Washington). Others have adopted Diversity Statements through their regents (Michigan), or faculty organizations (Indiana) or within their units (Maryland, Northwestern, Minnesota), or from campus units (Minnesota-Duluth) or in administrative units (Rutgers) or in reaction to incidents (Rutgers) or more informally as statements from high officials (Chicago, Nebraska, Michigan State).  Still some universities have begun to frame structure their efforts through or in connection with such statements (e.g., Purdue, Maryland, Iowa, (within their Strategic Plan), Virginia, here, and here)

But the values inherent in Diversity statements have been maturing as well.  Their current expression tells us much about the values structures of universities in the context of its approach to inter-group relations within the university community.  It is worth considering, then, just what values are embedded in the concept of "diversity" and the manner in which it is to be embedded in university culture--and its governance structures.  

Penn State, a large multi-campus research university has just announced its adoption of a university diversity statement--Penn State Statement on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusive Excellence.  This post considers the Diversity Statement in its context and for what it may tell us about the future of such statements within university culture in the United States. What emerges is that, and consistent with approaches at other comparable universities, diversity at Penn State has moved from a focus on historically based racial and ethnic marginalization to a much broader application of the concept.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Backer and Haddad, "Philanthropy and the Character of the Public University" in Facilitating Higher Education Growth Through Fundraising and Philanthropy (Henry C.Alpin, Jr.m Jennie Lavine, Stromy Stark and Adam Hocker, eds., IGI, 2016)

Happy to announce the publication of "Philanthropy and the Character of the Public Research University: The Intersections of Private Giving, Institutional Autonomy, and Shared Governance", which appears in Facilitating Higher Education Growth Through Fundraising and Philanthropy 28-58 (Henry C.Alpin, Jr.m Jennie Lavine, Stromy Stark and Adam Hocker, eds., IGI, 2016).  It was a pleasure working on this with my co-author and former student Nabih Haddad.

The chapter examines the influence of philanthropy on the increasingly contested governance space of the public research university, and against the backdrop of academic integrity and shared governance.  It is done so by situating the analysis specifically on the relationship among  The Charles G. Koch Foundation, Florida State University, and the FSU economics department.   

The abstract follows. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Loyalty, Obedience, and Cults of Personality in University Administration: Should a Tenured Faculty Member be Terminated Because She is Not Loyal to the Person of the President Even if She Serves the Institution?

It is a commonplace that most enterprises--economic, religious, social or educational--demand a certain basic level of loyalty from their employees.  This "loyalty" is of a substantially different kind than that demanded of directors--who owe a duty to act only in the best interests of the enterprise in their decision making.  As the great scholar of American corporations, Philip Blumberg, noted as long ago as1971, the American corporation has come to be understood as much as a social institution as economic one (e.g. here).  In a similar respect, the American university has also come to be understood as a social institution (with obligations to society and especially its wage labor markets) as an institution with the objective of creating and disseminating knowledge.  

Within that context duties of loyalty and obedience have featured more prominently in the discourse and expectations of institutions, especially of their employees.   But as recent events suggest, this move  has revealed an important issue that must be addressed--and addressed in accordance with American values.  That issue touches on the objects of loyalty and obedience: is an employee expected to serve the institution or is she expected to serve the whim of individuals who happen to serve an office within that institution?

This post considers the issue of employee loyalty, and the erroneous effort by university senior administrators to conflate loyalty to their persons with loyalty to the institution.  It suggests that such a conflation is both erroneous (and a breach of basic academic freedom rules when the issue of loyalty is not accompanied by disobedience) and opens a university board of trustees to charges of breaches of its own fiduciary duty.