Saturday, December 23, 2017

Word Violence and the Weaponization of Narrative-A view From Cuba on the Violernce of Words and the Control of Narrative; Thoughts on "Ni 'gusanos' ni disidentes: respuesta a una publicación católica cubana"

(Pix credit: By Michael Linnenbach - first upload in de wikipedia on 09:58, 16. Feb 2005 by Michael Linnenbach, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Americans have their foibles; especially those that emerge from out of the Academy.  But this is not one of them.  I am speaking of the eruption (again) of national discussion about the use of words and their presentation before audiences (willing or not)--the encouragement of free speech and the suppression of words and speakers in the name of the protection of the innocent from the violence of words.

As I have noted elsewhere, it is not words that are at the center of the controversy--it is the narratives to which these words may be deployed ("The University in the Age of the Learning Factory: Dueling narratives in the culture war around higher education,"). This becomes clearer when one stops for a moment indulging a hyper focus on the national discussion within a peculiar segment of American society and considers the issue in a different national and political context.

This short essay considers the current battles over the control of the narratives to which words are deploys, suppressed and managed--but from the context of Cuba, a nation where one might take state control of those battles for granted but within which even there, the state appears merely as one of several actors  in the battle for control of the way orthodoxy is constructed and protected through the deployment of words. My purpose here is neither to take a position on the opinions of others (on every side of this issue here and elsewhere) but merely to note the difficulty of speaking to these issues outside of politics. Perhaps there is no "higher law" of free speech--there is merely the recognition that the ideology of speech is itself an expression of the orthodoxies that ideology is meant to protect.

An additionla  POSTSCRIPT, a March 2018 letter from Jaime Leygonier directed to the Father Superior of the Jesuit Order in Cuba on the same themee  (Carta 2da. a Superior Jesuitas de Cuba: Sancione subordinado libelista según Derecho Canónico)

Thursday, December 14, 2017

From Academy to Enterprise; the Transformation of the University, the View From the U.K.: Ben R Martin, "What’s happening to our universities?"

(Pix © 2017 Larry Catá Backer)

For years now I have been speaking to the corporatization of the American university.  I have suggested the way that this shifting of the American university model has begun to shape the educational mission as well (e.g.,Made to Market Education and Professionalization in University Education).  The university has become a creature of its compliance officials--and as a consequence has sought to inhibit risk taking (e.g.. The Riskless University and the Bureaucratization of Knowledge: From "Indiana Jones" to Central Planning; What is the University?: De-Centering Education in an Age of Risk and Regulatory Management). And it uses the cover of the market to make decisions that substantially change the character of the institution (Economic Determinism and the University--Considering Voluntary "Early Retirement Packages" to Tenured Faculty).

The move toward hierarchy and the autonomy of an administrator class increasingly remote from the production and dissemination of knowledge has changed the nature of shared governance ( "Now THIS is Shared Governance"; "NOW this is shared Governance"; "Now this IS Shared Governance": Embedding Faculty Within the Bureaucratic Machinery of Authoritarian Regimes; Presentation at the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) 2013 Annual Meeting: Shared Governance Under Stress).  It has produced incentives toward the de-professionalization of the professoriate (Irony and Incoherence in the "Professionalization" of University Education; ). But de-professionalization and the construction  of autonomous and remote administrator cultures make the basic character of enterprise culture easier to realize--the substitution of centralized planning for shared governance, and the shift in the driving force of university organization from the faculty to the financial officers of the university (Central Planning and the University: What is So Bad About Administrative Management of Knowledge Production and Dissemination?).

And, of course, with the move toward a corporate model comes the natural consequences. First there is a tendency to expand the disciplinary authority of administrators and based on an obedience model (The Disciplinary University Factory--Faculty Discipline and De-Professionalization as Officials move to Expand Faculty "Misconduct" and Its Control).  Second, there is a move toward the limitation of access to information (Limiting Access to Faculty Organization Archives and Records--When Administrative Gatekeepers Abuse Their Authority and Undermine Shared Governance);Outcome Measures, Transparency and the Failure of Universities to Cultivate Effective Service Missions). Related to this is the development of a host of techniques designed to undermine governance even as they appear to enhance it (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"). 

Looming over these changes is the phenomenon of the unionization of the student--the inevitable consequence of the transformation of the university:
 In these contexts, unionization seems inevitable: for the graduate student seeking to protect the integrity of her study objectives against exploitation; for the adjunct and contract faculty member seeking to compensate for precarious working conditions in markets where instructors are fungible commodities; and for the student athlete seeking to reduce exploitation and capture some of the value added to the university through sports. Graduate student unionization might well be only a harbinger of the changes in labor relations that senior administrators have effectively brought on themselves. Indeed, the new narrative was built, brick by brick, by a generation or more of administrators whose choices were justified at virtually every step on the basis of the “market,” the “regulator,” the “alumni,” and so on. That the reaction among graduate students and faculty have neither come sooner nor been more aggressively pursued speaks to the extraordinary staying power of the idealized master narrative of the university even in the face of changing realities. (The University in the Age of the Learning Factory: Dueling narratives in the culture war around higher education," Academe (American Association of University Professors (Nov/Dec 2017)))
Similar changes appear to be coming to universities in the U.K. as well. Ben R. Martin has written a marvelous essay considering the challenges that face U.K. universities:  "What’s happening to our universities?", SPRU Working Paper Series (SWPS), 2016-03: 1-26. ISSN 2057-6668. The article appears in Prometheus: Critical Studies in Innovation Volume 34, 2016 - Issue 1

The article is worth a careful read.  The Abstract and introduction follow. The article generated some interesting discussion also well worth reading. Links to those articles also follow.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Two Exciting PhD Opportunities at Alliance Manchester Business School UK

I am happy to pass along two exciting opportunities for students interested in a business and human rights focused PhD. Both are offered through the University of Manchester, Alliance Manchester Business School. These provide the chance to work with some of the most innovative researchers and forward looking institutions around. 

PhD Scholarship: “Modern-day Slavery: Accountability in Supply Chains and Procurement Processes The University of Manchester - Alliance Manchester Business School

 PhD Scholarship: “How Multinationals Manage Human Rights The University of Manchester

Information about both follows below.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Final Report: Independent Review of the 2017 Protest Events in Charlottesville Virginia

There has been a lot of coverage about the recent disturbances around Charlottesville, the home of the University of Virginia.  These disturbances had a fatal result--both as to loss of innocent life and as to our innocence in this contemporary age. 
In 2017, a series of events in Charlottesville made this community a flashpoint in a larger American discussion about race, history, and the challenges of free speech. When our City Council voted to remove two statues of generals who fought for the confederacy during the Civil War, the action triggered a series of events that brought hatred, violence, and despair to our community. Three people lost their lives, and numerous other lives were dramatically and unalterably changed by what happened in our community. (Nunton & Williams, Final Report: Independent Review of the 2017 Protest Events in Charlottesville Virginia (Nov. 2017))
Indeed, as has been much of the case this century in this Republic, we continue to reap the seeds sown  since the time that international ascendancy won through war thrust this Republic into a political-cultural space our capacity for which  was uncertain. 

This Post includes the Preface and Executive Summary of the Final Report: Independent Review of the 2017 Protest Events in Charlottesville Virginia (Nov. 2017) (including its recommendations). Its conclusions I leave to readers. It is posted to this blog because of its importance to the way in which the Academy may well have to face its own approaches to the management of discourse in a context which, like that of the larger political arena, must balance robust principles of open discourse (even with respect to ideas abhorrent to contemporary majorities) while maintaining the peace and safety of the spaces under the care of the institution. This Report has less to say about the views of the protagonists and more to the the larger issues of preserving enough order in the discursive spaces of our Republic to protect discourse and the core premises of the Republic--until, at least such time as its people choose a different way of approaching each.  And that later point, is of course, very much on the table today, in politics and in the academy.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

The Battle Over Graduate Student Labor

I am pleased to cross post a short blog essay I wrote for Academe Blog, the blog of Academe Magazine.

The post, entitled The Battle Over Graduate Student Labor, was originally posted HERE, and can also be found below.   

The full article to which it related may be found HERE

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Call for Papers: AAUP Journal of Academic Freedom Fall 2018

I am happy to pass along a Call for Papers issued by the AAUP's Journal of Academic Freedom. The Call for Papers with links follows.The Journal seeks "original, scholarly articles exploring current mobilizations of the term free speech and their connections to existing practices and concepts of constitutionally protected speech and academic freedom."

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Just Published: The University in the Age of the Learning Factory: Dueling narratives in the culture war around higher education," which appeared in Academe (American Association of University Professors (Nov/Dec 2017))

I am happy to report the publication of my essay, "The University in the Age of the Learning Factory: Dueling narratives in the culture war around higher education," which appeared in Academe (the magazine of the American Association of University Professors) in its November/December issue. In it I suggest that the ideal of the university and its reality are in conflict, and everything from the future of graduate student unionization to the place of the university in American society is at stake.

The full text of the essay  follows along with  pix of the hard copy. It may be downloaded HERE.

Other features in the issue include the following:
10 THE UNIVERSITY IN THE AGE OF THE LEARNING FACTORY: Dueling narratives in the culture war around higher education. BY LARRY CATÁ BACKER


18 FOSTERING STUDENT ACTIVISM ON CAMPUS: Success must be measured by more than immediate results. BY RACHEL WATSON


27 CREATING A CIVIL CLASSROOM IN AN ERA OF INCIVILITY: Resources for teaching in a politically charged environment. BY LYNN C. LEWIS

Rewriting the Faculty Handbook: Tales from the Trenches (online only)
A revision process proves the value of transparent engagement.
By Rebecca S. Linger and Ericka P. Zimmerman

Experiential Learning: Some Reservations (online only)
A skeptical perspective on forays into the "real world."
By John Fawell

Monday, November 13, 2017

Call for Papers: Meridional. Revista Chilena de Estudios Latinoamericanos calls for contributions to its issue “Brazil and Cultural Studies”, for their 11th volume (October 2018).

Please find attached a call for submissions to Vol 11 of the Revista Chilena de Estudios Latinoamericanos on behalf of Dr. Mónica González García (Profesora Asociada, Instituto de Literatura y Ciencias del Lenguaje, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso, Chile). 
Volume 11 of this publication will focus on Brazil from two complementary perspectives: 1) the analysis of Brazilian reality from a Cultural Studies point of view, examining how interdisciplinary approaches have characterized Brazilian culture in its diversity; and 2) the practice of Cultural Studies in Brazil so as to elucidate disciplinary, political and ethical issues at the local, continental and global level.
A revista Meridional dedicará o número 11 a tematizar o Brasil segundo duas perspectivas complementárias: 1) a análise da realidade brasileira sob o olhar dos Estudos Culturais, examinando como sua aproximação interdisciplinar teoriza a diversidade da cultura brasileira; e 2) o exercício dos Estudos Culturais no Brasil com o objetivo de desentranhar problemáticas disciplinares, políticas e éticas de caráter local, continental e global.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Opaque Academic Unit--Little Practices that Undermine Faculty Participation in Managing their Own Academic Programs--the Strategic Use of Room Assignments

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2017)

I have been writing about the larger issues that are shaping the relationships between faculty and administration at the university.  I have noted that these changes reflect larger fundamental changes about the nature of the university and its role in society, as well as respecting the nature and character of the role in education of individuals that produce knowledge (research) and that disseminate it (teaching). In that context I have suggested the way that administration and faculty have become culturally and socially distinct classes within the university; that each of these classes no longer relates to each other as connected by any shared values or mission; and the way that both have increasingly turned inward for the construction of their values, their approach to relations with "others" and with respect to their socialization within their respective communities. 

The consequences of these transformative changes affect all aspects of university operations. Among the most important of these consequences for faculty are those that contribute to the relentless and systematic de-profesisonalization of faculty's role in the university.  It is already accepted that de-professionalization has effectively expelled faculty from meaningful engagement in the operation of the institution of the university, responsibilities that were long ago ceded in whole or in part  to (mostly non-academic) administrators, who tend "the the institutional machine."

Though I spend a lot of time considering the broad stroke activities of administrations as they seek to change the university, the great changes to the university are not usually brought about through grand gestures. It is in the little actions, the ministerial details, the small rules that, in the aggregate, the largest and most profound changes are insinuated within the institution. Starting with this post form time to time I will highlight briefly emerging practices that effectively erode faculty engagement in their own work and turn them from active partners to passive receptacles.

One emerging practice is worthy of note: Strategic Room assignments. Administrative officials usually are delegated the task of room assignments. At one level this task appears entirely ministerial. Yet consider again what happens when faculty are excluded form any  involvement, or when the process of room assignments can be used to usurp faculty involvement in academic programs.  When used strategically or carelessly, room assignment practices can effectively function like enrollment limits--without the need to ask faculty whether they desire an enrollment limit, and if so what might be their target number.  Indeed, no conversation need to had. Its strategic use is revealed when faculty seek to change rooms to accommodate larger enrollments and are effectively stonewalled by officials. Efficiency and administrative convenience in this instance can override any need to align room allocations with needs. More interesting is that it hijacks the possibility of any academic discussion about programs and what enrollment figures suggest by converting the issue into a mere administrative puzzle.  This transformation of issues that have significant academic components into ministerial tasks effectively strips faculty of any involvement in program assessment and limits the ability of faculty to affirmatively control their class sizes. What makes this practice effective is when it is combined with other little practices that involve exercises of administrative discretion. An example: the faculty member that complains about the use of room assignments to shrink her class may get a room change (or not), but might also find herself assigned to very early morning or very late afternoon (Friday) classes for a few semester thereafter.  Causation will be impossible to prove and justification pre-manufactured strong enough to survive internal grievance mechanisms (because of the increasingly broad scope of discretion allocated even to lower level officials).

If you have knowledge or experience with additional practices please pass them on and I will post anonymously.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Disciplinary University Factory--Faculty Discipline and De-Professionalization as Officials move to Expand Faculty "Misconduct" and Its Control

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2017)

Faculty discipline is much in the air these days.  Like unruly toddlers in need of management and correction (by others who have unilaterally assigned themselves the role of  "adults in the room"), faculty appear to have lost all sense of decorum, of self control and of a sense of humility in the face of the superior knowledge and power of those who have been placed above them in the hierarchy of university administrative structures. Not only might this be offensive to the administrator classes that increasingly view themselves as a class apart--and above--the masses of (presumably) fungible teaching and research staff, but it disturbs the good order of an institution that increasingly indulges the myth that knowledge is a commodity that can be neatly packaged and inserted into students like a vaccine through an antiseptic process of dissemination that ensures the optimum extraction of funds from students and its retention by the "institution." 

What makes the current crop of misconduct and discipline provisions more interesting--and substantially more threatening to the good order of academic freedom (and tenure) are several trends that have become more evident in the last decade.  These touch on movements toward vesting administrators with an increasing large scope of discretion in managing behaviors without any mechanism for protecting against abuse of discretion, the use of broadly worded policies as a screen behind which faculty activity could be determined to be disruptive,  the construction of an accusatory system that imposes substantial burdens on faculty, and the bifurcaiton of obligation that would see faculty burdened with ethical and behavior responsibilities for which administrators are exempt. 

The first is the trend toward the adoption of codes and policies (ethics policies, core values, etc.) that, though they might have started as statements of broadly worded aspirational objectives have now become mandatory  conditions of employment (and the basis of discipline) for faculty.  The problem with this trend is that most of these statements are worded so broadly that they are virtually impossible to apply without interpretive guidance, or perversely, create substantial areas of permissible exercise of discretion by administrators with no real mechanism for controlling abuse of discretion.  This trajectory indeed amplifies the related trend to increasingly vest administrators with broader areas of discretionary decision making in which there is virtually no mechanism for protection against abuse of discretion (e.g.,b Abuse of Discretion at the University: A Construction Built One Act at a Time). 

The second is the trend toward the use of civility as a means of controlling not merely behavior but the production and dissemination of knowledge.  That is, the use of broadly worded obligation to maintain "respectful workplaces and educational environment" as a means to permit administrators, with impunity, to discipline virtually any conduct or research initiative.  There is perversity here, of course.  These conduct codes and movement toward civility and respect were imposed as aspirational goals for very good reason.  And reasonably applied to quite specific conduct they can serve an important purpose.  But that is the problem;  administrators much more concerned about the scope of their discretionary authority than with the resolution of specific problem for which rules and principles may be brought to bear have tended to indulge in broad principle with no real constraining language.   There is generally nothing in the disciplinary codes that offer any sort of burden on administrators to show that their actions do not adversely affect or target expressions of academic freedom, nor are there any mechanism that otherwise constrain discretion (that, in any case can always be cleverly at times reshaped to suggest meritorious grounds other than irritation about what it is that a faculty members teaches or her research).     

The third is the trampling of procedural protections and fairness in the rush toward the imposition of a disciplinary state within the university.  There are a few key elements of this trend.  The first increases the burden on faculty to defend against disciplinary procedure.  The second is the move toward ensuring that officials performing executive functions within a department are also those charged with the roles of investigating and judging claims.  This touches on everything from exercising discretion in pursuing claims to a broad freedom to determine the extent and sufficiency of evidence and a fairly free hand in indulging in interpretation of "facts" without constraint. In the usual case, investigations can bring in the full administrative machinery of the university--from human resources to general counsel.  Faculty are merely informed and permitted to respond to whatever it is that is made available to them.  Once a decision is made faculty are lefty to the often slow moving and jurisdictionally constrained processes of Faculty Rights and Responsibility mechanisms.   In many of these codes as well there is a unilateral authority in administration to take interim measures--leaves of absences and the like, without any opportunity to challenge the measures.

The fourth is the tendency to use these "misconduct regimes" to (perhaps inadvertently; but does actual intent matter?) to further the de-professionalization of the professorate.  Misconduct codes can bring the discipline of the assembly line to the activity of teaching as well as to that of research.  We have begun to see its effects in assessment.  Assessment has been targeted for years on productivity rather than value.  Now it is also possible to turn to these codes to undermine faculty control of their teaching and their research.  Some of the now mandatory aspirational codes and policies can be used to challenge the propriety of  knowledge production and dissemination which is deemed to threaten , defame, insult or demean its targets, in which these allegations are subjectively driven and the acquiescence with which shifts power over knowledge from its producers to its consumers (and the administrators that add no real value to either).  These are issues that deserve deep and engaged discussion and consideration--yet there is never any--just administrative ukases over which the fig leaf of a few selected faculty may be placed. 

The fifth  follows from the fourth.  De-professionalization is particularly marked where disciplinary regimes in its substance or procedures) are made to apply to one class of employee with a specific waiver of their application to others.  Many disciplinary regimes apply only to faculty,.  They do not apply to administrators.  Where administrators are brought within disciplinary regimes, both the scope of coverage and the control of discipline  tends to be opaque.  There is no accountability. The signalling is clear--line workers require close supervision through the elaboration of disciplinary systems.  Managers are professionals--their conduct is embedded in principles of broad discretion.

The sixth, there is hardly ever any meaningful faculty engagement with the increasingly byzantine set of codes, rules, regulations, measures, directives, monitoring, surveillance, reporting, and expectations that now make up the universe of rules that may be deployed at the convenience of administrators to discipline offending faculty. The usual method of imposition involves determinations made within the inner sanctums of central administrative sub units--human resources, faculty affairs, etc.--that are generated from out of incessant benchmarking or derived from conclaves of administrators at those levels sharing their cultures and effectuating tighter cultural socialization among their members.  These are then formulated at those levels--or more likely the formulations are guided by those administrators as they manage the proceedings of "blue ribbon" committees (mostly of administrators with a dollop of selected faculty).  Once completed, the disciplinary rules are effectively unalterable. And in this state they are dutifully sent to the institutional voices of the faculty (its Senate of Faculty Organization) for "review" and "comment".  These reviews will be graciously received with accolades to the close cooperation of the "stakeholders" in this enterprise.  And the policy now rolled out as the work of faculty themselves.

And the seventh is perhaps the most pernicious.  Disciplinary standards might be effective enough and of value to the university when, after close engagement, they result in the development of a set of clearly understood objective standards.  But the move toward disciplinary codes is tied to a move toward the imposition of subjective standards as well.  The effect is to produce what are standards in form only. Here the university is in danger of moving away from fairness based governance to the sort of arbitrary "rule by people through law"regime that evokes something quite different: what, after all, might "respectful," or "civil,"mean. "“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that's all.”When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that's all.”"  (Lewis Carroll (Charles L. Dodgson), Through the Looking-Glass, chapter 6, p. 205 (1934)).

It in in the context of the moves toward an internal management system that is grounded in compliance and denunciation (e.g., University "Codes of Responsible Conduct"--Fashionable Gesture, Radical Imposition of Obligations to Mutual Spying, or Traps for the Unwary?) that it might be useful to read and consider the 2005 presentation by Donna R. Euben and Barbara Lee for the AAUP on  "Faculty Misconduct and Discipline (2005)"which follows below.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Round Table: On the Implications of the 19th Chinese Communist Party Congress 3 November 2017 With Global Access Via MediaSite

We will be hosting a Round Table on the Implications of the 19th Chinese Communist Party Congress this Friday, November 3, from 10 AM through Noon.  It is sponsored by Penn State Law, Penn State School of International Affairs, the Coalition for Peace & Ethics, and the Foundation for Law and International Affairs along with its Research Career Development Network of Law and International Affairs.
The Round Table brings together a group of scholars from the U.S., Europe and China.  The Round Table will be held at Pennsylvania State University, Katz Building Room 241.  For those unable to attend the Round Table will also be live streamed globally (accessible through Penn State's Mediasite: A recording of the Round Table will be posted after the event.
You are all welcome to attend and participate.  Remote access participants will be able to send their questions and comments online.  
More information, including Concept Note and Participant List may be accessed HERE
Relevant primary source materials in English and Chinese may be accessed HERE.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Thoughts on Lucía Marttínez Valdivia: "Professors Like Me Can't Stay Silent About this Extremist Movement on Campuses."

The culture wars (although better understood as political battles deploying culture as an instrument) that have brought the West to crisis, and imperiled the great Enlightenment project of liberal governance--and in the name of liberal governance or its successor stage--has been playing out with some ferocity on the campuses of Western universities. Perhaps it is just as well.  In the hands of students, ideas half absorbed and reconstituted to suit the times and objectives of the rising demographic cohort has been the staple of university education at least since the end of the Second World War.  It exploded famously in the 1960s among students, many of whom, are the targets of this next wave of student agitation.  

There is nothing particularly odd, then, about student agitation. Perhaps, it is the best way the university can gauge whether anyone has been paying attention in class.  More importantly, it might provide a good marker about just what it is that students with the will and skills to agitate, are absorbing. Yet beyond the violence, whether in 1968 in European Universities, or during the 1960s and thereafter in the United States and elsewhere, which, if the state has the countervailing will, is always subject to criminal process, there is the always more insidious effects of such agitation on the fundamental ordering norms of society. 

For those who view this as a good then, then the cultivation of violence and agitation can produce results, even if it requires the sacrifice of those students (and others) induced to serve as the shock troops of agitation. But individuals have always gladly served as the instruments of vanguard groups.  They are the collateral damage (and cause collateral damage among the "enemy") necessarily incurred to produce martyrs and the instability necessary to force the fundamental changes at the core of the vanguard's agenda. . . . unless of course societal forces can meet the threat and suppress it.  In the process the values protected might also suffer collaterally.   

And that is the great pity.  For in the process it is the university itself that will be destabilized.  That institution is already subject to the profound transformational pressure of serving more directly as the conduit for wage labor markets which has been challenging and supplanting the old narratives of the university (see, e.g., here) from those in control of its institutions and its finances.  Now, it seems, that its stakeholder students have sought to pressure the university from the other end--enforcing an orthodoxy that is as deadening as the corporatization and deprofessionalization trends from the managers. 

All of these people mean well--at least in their own minds  And each is fighting the good fight for a marvelous cause--at least as it appears to them.  But like Martin Luther faced with the unwillingness of the Jews to convert to Christianity in light of his reforms of the Christian faith (e.g., here), both these zealots (on either end of the destabilization and transformation agendas) have sought to enforce change among the unwilling and now seek to police their respective orthodoxies.  And oddly enough, student agitators and university managers appear to be each other's best allies against an autonomous and vigorous professional faculty.  That unspoken alliance--consisting of administrative acquiescence in agitation and aided by allies on the faculties--continues to erode the role of the faculty and reshape the university. In the face of that alliance, faculty, and those still committed to older notions of a free university, will find their cause much imperiled and unlikely to endure.

These are the thoughts that came to mind as I read Lucía Marttínez Valdivia: "Professors Like Me Can't Stay Silent About this Extremist Movement on Campuses," Washington Post 27 Oct. 2017. Her essay follows.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Flora Sapio: Reflections on "Internationalization and Engagement: How Foreign Students May be Reshaping What is Taught at Global Universities"
(By Laurentius de Voltolina - The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH., Public Domain,

In Internationalization and Engagement: How Foreign Students May be Reshaping What is Taught at Global Universities,  I offered reflections on recent well publicized controversy within Australian academic circles centering around the relationship between the knowledge offered in Australian universities and the narratives preferred by some of its principal end users--Chinese students enrolled in Australian universities. 
Most universities have yet to grapple with this issue of student participation and societal expectations respecting the way that "facts" are selected for presentation in an appropriate interpretive form. But Australian universities now appear at the forefront of the reshaping of the conversation about narrative. A series of recent clashes between foreign (mainly Chinese) students and Australian universities about the way that knowledge is produced and interpreted (for the student in a way that is insulting to China) suggests the emerging contours of international student engagement in what had been local contests over the ideology of narrative and the presentation of knowledge.
I posited the problem in terms of the university as a corporate actor within a competitive sector (knowledge dissemination). 
More brutally put: if universities fail to provide students (and their parents) what they think they want to learn, and in the way they think they want to learn it, then the university will lose both market share and its reputational rank will be threatened as students (and their parents' money) go elsewhere. How is this equation affected where the students are foreign and the pressure comes from foreign states?
My colleague, Flora Sapio has produced a marvelous reflection on that post, which she kindly agreed to share here.  The Essay, On the Ideal Models of the University: Reflections on "Internationalization and Engagement: How Foreign Students May be Reshaping What is Taught at Global Universities" follows below.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Great American Cultural Revolution in the University?: Statement by the Indiana University Bloomington Provost on the "Benton Murals"

(Woodburn Hall Indiana University;  Pix Credit)

Every civilization undergoes great periods of cultural revolution at some in point their history. These points of cultural revolution can either destroy or substantially change the civilization within which it is unleashed. In either case, the society--its law, politics, economics, culture and religion--emerges quite different at the end of the period of cultural revolution. Cultural revolution upends structures of privilege (the moral underpinning of the social and cultural order) and its hierarchies (its political manifestation). Cultural revolution transforms the core notions that serve as the glue that holds a civilization together, that provides its coherent netting of premises and outlooks from which its realities are shaped and its decisions are made to seem "right", "moral" "legitimate" and "fair"--all terms that derive their meaning from the core premises that cobble a civilization together as a self referencing and legitimacy enhancing whole.

Cultural Revolution tends to be marked by a trigger event. In the case of the Christianification of Rome (and its transition from ancient and pagan to medieval and Abrahamic) it might have been the suppression of paganism in the reign of Theodosius. The Protestant Reformation was another, as was the Iconoclasm of early Byzantium.  In each of those case, and there are others, art expressed the material incarnation of the transformation, and it was to the destruction or reshaping of art, and its meaning, that substantial attention was devoted by a society in the midst of often violent morphing (e.g., here, and here). These are cultural revolutions that are profound and that leave lasting marks on societies that cannot thereafter return to the status quo ante. They are to be distinguished from important but essentially political factional contests (no less violent in the short run) with no lasting effect.  Thus, for example, it is still too early to tell whether the so called Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (c. 1966-76) in China constituted a period of profound and permanent change or merely marked a period of intense and violent factional fighting around ideological markers.

Now appears to be a time of cultural revolution in the United States at least a century or more in the amking. Its symptoms tend to center on images as well--from the logos of athletic teams, to statues, to works of art. Every society tends to see itself in its symbolic (especially plastic) expression and it is in times of change that work that was "invisible" becomes increasingly intolerable to a society whose image of itself is in transition. Where that transition is hotly challenged, the direction and permanence of shifting approaches to specific symbolic expression can be quite volatile and sometimes violent. 

It is with this brief context in mind that one might appreciate the difficulties and context of a statement recently released by Lauren Robel, Executive Vice President and Provost and Val Nolan Professor of Law at the Indiana University-- Bloomington campus with reference to a mural painted by Thomas Hart Benton in 1933, the realities of which have now been subsumed by the great cultural and societal shifts (including shifts in the interpretation of meaning) in contemporary society.


That this had been a long time in coming does not change the importance of the tipping point that this year appears to portend.  The Provost's well crafted statement evidences the difficulties for institutions where the societies they serve are in transition (even if only partially and uncertainly so).  Those transitions, when expressed in engagement with symbolic expression--especially the arts--produce a communicative challenge as the cultural markers of meaning making in one age give way to anther set that invariably produces a different context within which the construction of meaning can be undertaken.  That conundrum is well evidenced in the  statement, as is its fragile solution. But more importantly, it acknowledges the strength and ultimately the legitimacy of that great cultural revolution and the passing of the prior stage of cultural meaning.  What is left, then, is little more than the preservation of artifacts that can be understood only by specialists--the specialty of museums and the university. In these circumstances, the preservation of the art (or other plastic expression) of a prior age in the face of the structures of meaning making (and cultural significance) in the next may prove an increasingly delicate task.

The statement is reproduced below without further comment. 

Friday, September 8, 2017

Internationalization and Engagement: How Foreign Students May be Reshaping What is Taught at Global Universities

The re-imaging of history and the ideology behind definitive narratives has been much in the news.  The Western taste for statue topping is merely an out sized manifestation of a more fundamental conversation going on about the nature of knowledge and its politics.  This is a particularly sensitive issue within the university.  Where once consensus about the ideology of narrative produced a robust set of assumptions and techniques for producing and disseminating knowledge, the current taste for pluralism and the politicization of knowledge as a valuable commodity of distinct communities has complicated both the production of knowledge and its dissemination in new ways.  In the absence of a new narrative orthodoxy, and for risk averse institutions--especially universities--that may mean assuming a passive position in the politics of knowledge. 

This instability now acquires transnational dimensions within globally committed universities, especially where they become dependent on the willingness of foreign students to matriculate and absorb their local curricula.  Indeed, the trend within global universities suggests that the traditional parochialism of universities--everywhere--may now be giving way to a more nuanced approach to knowledge narratives as foreign students become more influential participants in its construction. Universities with a global reputation may no longer be able to indulge mere naitonal conversaitons about the way that knowledge is understood and presented.  Increasingly, global universities will have to develop a more nuanced set of sensitivities to the way that knowledge is presented if they mean to keep and expand their stake in the business of global education. But that challenge affects not merely the way that "things" are taught to students (on the basis of the offense and clash of knowledge ideologies approaches). It will likely also affect the sort of societal censorship that shapes the scope within which academics feel safe in producing knowledge for the consumption of students (specifically) and society (in general to produce the data bits of reputation necessary to draw fee paying or high status students).  

More brutally put: if universities fail to provide students (and their parents) what they think they want to learn, and in the way they think they want to learn it, then the university will lose both market share and its reputational rank will be threatened as students (and their parents' money) go elsewhere. How is this equation affected where the students are foreign and the pressure comes from foreign states? This post considers the way these issues are now exploding on the academic scene in Australia. 

Sunday, September 3, 2017

AALS Statement of Good Practices on Gender Identity and Gender Expression

There has been much attention paid recently to issues around gender identity and gender expression in all aspects of social interactions.  The American Association of Law Schools has recently also sought to develop a position with respect to those issue sin law school operation. This post includes the AALS Statement of Good Practices on Gender Identity and Gender Expression.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Revoking PhDs: Questions But No Answers Around the Value of Transparency, Robust Research Communities, and the Construction of Culpability for Senior Researchers

It was reported that a "U of Arizona professor’s Ph.D. is withdrawn after her findings on violent video games are questioned. Some wonder why her mentor and co-author, a senior scholar, has not shared the blame." Colleen Flaherty, "Revoking a Doctorate," Inside Higher Education (September 1, 2017). Ms. Flaherty reports:
Ohio State University took the extraordinary step of revoking a graduate’s doctorate last week. Now her future at the University of Arizona, where she is an assistant professor of communication, is unclear. Jodi Whitaker’s problems started in 2015, after scholars in two countries noticed irregularities in the data in her 2012 paper on video games. The study in Communication Research, called “‘Boom, Headshot!’ Effect of Video Game Play and Controller Type on Firing Aim and Accuracy,” found that playing a violent video game improved real-life shooting skills. Initially, it was something of a boon for both Whitaker, then still a graduate student at Ohio State, and her co-author and dissertation committee chair, Brad J. Bushman, the Margaret Hall and Robert Randal Rinehart Chair of Mass Communication there. That’s because Bushman served on President Obama’s committee on gun violence and his research challenges what he calls myths about violence, including that violent media have a trivial effect on aggression.

But Patrick Markey, a professor of psychology at Villanova University -- whose own findings on video games clash with Bushman’s -- soon challenged the paper, as did Malte Elson, a postdoctoral researcher in educational psychology at Ruhr University Bochum in Germany. Together they alerted the Committee of Initial Inquiry at Ohio State to what they called irregularities in some of the variables of the data set. The values of questioned variables could not be confirmed because the original research records were unavailable, according to Communication Research, which in 2016 decided that a retraction was warranted.

Bushman was cleared of wrongdoing by Ohio State, but he agreed to the retraction. He also agreed to the retraction of another paper in which Whitaker was not involved -- one finding that watching violent cartoons inhibits children's learning -- earlier this year, as reported by Retraction Watch. Data on a second 2016 paper by Whitaker and Bushman (on which Bushman was the lead) also have been corrected; that study found that "catharsis beliefs" attract people to violent video games.

But Whitaker, the 2012 paper’s lead author, was found responsible for the errors. And Ohio State’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously last week to revoke her doctorate, granted in 2013.
With the strong caveat that I am not privy to the evidence adduced nor to the proceedings, here are some initial thoughts on potentially important implications that may flow from this altogether sad events:

Friday, August 18, 2017

Efficacy Studies and the Education Sector

 In "A Primer on Effectiveness and Efficacy Trials" (Clinical and Translational Gastroenterology (2014) 5), Amit G Singal MD, MS, Peter D R Higgins MD, PhD and Akbar K Waljee MD, MS, explain:
Intervention studies can be placed on a continuum, with a progression from efficacy trials to effectiveness trials. Efficacy can be defined as the performance of an intervention under ideal and controlled circumstances, whereas effectiveness refers to its performance under ‘real-world’ conditions.1 However, the distinction between the two types of trial is a continuum rather than a dichotomy, as it is likely impossible to perform a pure efficacy study or pure effectiveness study. (source, see also here)
This method  appears to be on the horizon of those who influence the cultures of the education industry (here, here, here, and here). 

Goldie Blumenstyk has recently reported for the Chronicle of Higher Education about the release of papers from a first of its kind symposium on efficacy research hosted by the University of Virginia:

1. Colleges spend upward of $5 billion a year on educational-technology products, but often they lack data that could better inform the decisions they make on what to buy. Over the past year, several dozen academics, business executives, and policy wonks researched why “efficacy research” isn’t more of a factor in these decisions. Some of those findings were presented at a symposium in May, and now the full reports are available.

2. Efficacy research isn’t just missing in ed tech. It’s also all-too-absent when it comes to the burgeoning world of “alternative” educational credentials, at least according to a new report by Ithaka S+R, a nonprofit consulting organization, for the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Among other recommendations to policy makers, funders, and the higher-education community, the report recommends broadening quality-assurance processes so they can include educational programs not offered through traditional colleges as well as an investment in “a more comprehensive data system that captures longitudinal, student-record data on students’ experiences across the full array of postsecondary pathways, as well as information about providers and their programs and credentials.” In a world where some advocates are still pushing for more complete data on students in traditional higher-education settings, that could be a big ask. Or perhaps it will become one more argument in their favor. —

The links to the reports produced from the symposium and the press release follow. 

Saturday, August 12, 2017

From the Journal of Legal Education: Legal Academics Speak to Sexual Harassment, Academic Policies and Title IX

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2017)

In 2016, Georgetown Law, The Journal of Legal Education and the Georgetown Gender Justice Project hosted a conference on the subject of Sexual Assault and Academic Freedom on College Campuses. The Press Release Conference Note explained the scope of the Conference:
Universities occupy a hallowed position in American culture. But numerous studies showing high rates of sexual assault on college campuses, as well as several well-publicized incidents, have spurred not only a wave of concern about students' safety but also new and more rigorous policies for addressing these assaults in universities and colleges across the country. While the importance of protecting students from violence is unquestioned, these new policies call for consideration of issues such as the appropriate role of administrative decision-making, the role of governmental regulations, the need for academic freedom, and the rule of law generally. How can we best ensure an educational environment free from sexual violence but, at the same time, provide for academic freedom and fair processes? How might we best maintain academic freedom without making it a defensive shield against enforcing equal opportunity requirements within academic life? These and related questions will inform the symposium.
The Journal of Legal Education has now published articles from that conference in its Summer 2017 issue.  The articles, with links, follow.  The articles merit serious study and discussion:

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

From the AAUP: academic freedom and tenure investigative reports, a report on the independence of student media, updated policy statements on collective bargaining and collegiality

The Bulletin of the American Association of University Professors is published annually as the July–August issue of Academe. This year's Bulletin features academic freedom and tenure investigative reports, a report on the independence of student media, updated policy statements on collective bargaining and collegiality, and annual reports and other business documents.
Links follow.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Thoughts on Maranto and Woessner: "Why Conservative Fears of Campus Indoctrination Are Overblown"

(Pix source HERE)

There has been some attention paid to the challenges of being a conservative (however one defines that term) in the modern American academy (e.g., here and here). That attention has drawn the intersst of important political forces that have manged, yet again, to draw universities into the middle of contemporary political struggles, and likely for all the wrong reasons. Much has been written of, about or around the issue. Some of it is quite good, others mostly polemics meant to advance one agenda or another by frightening stakeholders with select references to data or other bits of "information" to suit. For a taste, see also Why Colleges’ Liberal Lean Is a Problem; Academe Is Overrun by Liberals. So What?; and The Academy’s Assault on Intellectual Diversity; Liberal Academia in Donald Trump’s World; and A Confession of Liberal Intolerance.  There is much more, of course, all easy to find via internet search engines. And they appear to have had some effect (e.g., here).

Robert Maranto and Matthew Woessner have just published an interesting contribution to the debate, "Why Conservative Fears of Campus Indoctrination Are Overblown," Chronicle of Higher Education (July 31, 2017). Robert Maranto is a political scientist and professor in the department of education reform at the University of Arkansas. My colleague Matthew Woessner is associate professor of political science at Penn State Harrisburg and co-author of The Still Divided Academy: How Competing Visions of Power, Politics, and Diversity Complicate the Mission of Higher Education (Rowman & Littlefield, 2011). Professor Woessner is currently serving as Chair of the Penn State University Faculty Senate, in which I serve this year as Parliamentarian.

The essay is well worth reading.  This post provides some brief thoughts on Maranto and Woessner's excellent essay.

Monday, July 10, 2017

2017 Transnational Law Summer Institute Call for Applications: "Inequality: Reproduction, Alienation, Intervention"

It is my great pleasure to pass along this 2017 Transnational Law Summer Institute Call for Applications: "Inequality: Reproduction, Alienation, Intervention."  The theme deals with issues of widening economic inequality on the global plane, but also aims to foster broad-ranging inquiry confronting the production and reproduction of inequality in many settings and modes, with a focus on both the past and our present day.
The Summer Institute will be hosted at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia and take place 3-8 December 2017. It is co-hosted by The Dickson Poon School of Law, King’s College London, and UNSW Law School, UNSW Sydney, as is an interdisciplinary workshop on transnational law and global governance, scholarly publishing and networking, teaching and critical pedagogy. Judging from past TLSI events, this will be an excellent and profoundly engaging event. 
My complements to both institutions and especially to Fleur Johns, Professor, Associate Dean (Research), University of New South Wales and Peer Zumbansen, Transnational Law Institute Director, Professor, Dickson Poon School of Law, King's College London, for putting this together. 
The Call for Applications follows along with useful links.   HERE for further information and to apply. HERE for a video. HERE for the Program.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Valuing Labor in the Academy--Considering the Problem of Pricing the Production of Faculty and Administrative Outputs in the University and the Suggestion of an Alternative Approach

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2017)

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently published an article in which it described some ranges of compensation for the top executive officers of public universities (Dan Bauman, Executive Compensation at Public Colleges Rises by 5%, With Texas Leading the Way, Chronicle of Higher Education 27 June 2017).  To no one's surprise, the news was big. . . bigger . . . and more! Beyond the presidents of two Texas universities compensated in excess of $1 Million, the article noted 
The average pay of public-college leaders, including those who served partial years, was roughly $464,000 in 2016. Among presidents who served the whole year, average pay was slightly more than $521,000. Leaders who served full years at institutions surveyed in both 2015 and 2016 saw a pay increase of 5.2 percent. (Dan Bauman, Executive Compensation at Public Colleges Rises by 5%, With Texas Leading the Way,supra). 
Most of these stories--along with stories of high pay for "star" academics and less for everyone else is justified either because of the inescapable workings of wage labor markets or because of the unique characteristics of the job or the person filling it.

Yet all of these methods--and the focus of pay generally, tends to focus on the individual.  Indeed, the personality of labor appears always to be bound up in the individual.  That is quite distinct from other forms of factors in the production of university wealth.  For other input factors, the general tendency is to understand them as a function of productive force--that is the relative cost of the factor relative to the quantity and quality of the production to which it contributes.

This post considers the problem of the valuation of labor in the university and suggests a possible approach to a usable measure of the value of labor production that makes it easier to treat together the productive value of administrative and faculty production.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

In the Battle for Control of the Contested Spaces of Speech Within the Business of the Academy: The Trinity College AAUP Chapter Statement on the Suspension of Prof Williams

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2017)

As is well known by now, the contests over control of the "spaces" for "speech" have become much more heated over the course of the last several years. There have been any number of high profile (and by that I mean cases where national media have deemed the events of sufficient interest to report) events in which the social media statements of faculty, as well as the efforts of faculty to speak at academic institutions, have been the subject of agitation and threats.  The events have targeted people of all political views and appear to suggest the intensification of campaigns not just for control of the borderlands of "acceptable" speech but also to regulate not its contents (directly) but the consequences of its use.  To that end the conflation of the ideal of the university as a place for discourse of all sorts is increasingly bumping up against the realities of markets for educational services (and the business of education) with respect to which speech is part of the production of income for institutions. But also changing are the frameworks of academic speech culture that once served to discipline the scope and manner of faculty speech within a common culture of academic speech that has long been shattered  and whose shards increasingly sting their targets. Universities have responded to these increasingly conflicting demands in quite distinct ways (see, e.g., here, here, here, here).  The academy has finally come face to face with the end product of the revolution in academia that began in the second half of the 20th century to the three strands of academic life--the university as an institution, the ideal of the university and the role and place of faculty within both. 

The line drawing between speech, faculty speech cultures, and the business of education have become more risky as individuals (students, other faculty, administrators, and outsider stakeholders among others) have intensified the nature of their responses to speech.  Where once speech was countered by (more) speech, today the most effective (in terms of getting results including drawing media attention) now speech tends to be countered by physical acts and threats. The most powerful speakers today wrap themselves within the emotive and physical power of the mob and of the threat of the use of physical force. These trends ought to be greatly lamented.  And one ought to be troubled by the increasing propensity to back counterspeech with physical acts is likely to dramatically change the shape of the dynamics of discussion about the speech of academics (and others int he academy) in years to come. Yet, perhaps, as culture itself becomes a political objective, it might well be expected that the issues around speech of these sorts no longer are mere matters internal to the university but are now important aspects of larger political battles affecting society. And that also substantially changes both the context in which speech debates may be had.  This is not new--recall earlier periods of substantial political instability in the United States and elsewhere where academic speech became more sensitive as a political matter.  But historical resonance does not necessarily suggest either response or outcome in the peculiar contemporary context.  

One already gets a sense of this, as well as of the increasing irrelevance of traditional patterns of discussion of speech and speech rights within the academy in the latest manifestation of the new emerging pattern of the battle over speech and the power to control it. And it is not clear that the traditionally based responses of academics (see, e.g., Targeted Online Harassment of Faculty,”) are sufficient in the face of substantial changes in the nature and context in which these issues now arise.  Hank Reichman, posted on the AAUP's Academe Blog posted:
The following statement on the suspension of Professor Johnny Williams was issued by the Executive Committee of the Trinity College AAUP chapter. This morning Inside Higher Ed reports that “Williams said he was told by a dean that he was taking leave whether he wanted to or not, and that Trinity made its decision in ‘the best interest of the college, not for my family and me.’ It’s ‘not in the interest of safeguarding academic freedom and free speech,’ he added. ‘It is my hope the administration corrects its course’.’”
To read the statement click here and see below along with the brief statement of the University suspending Professor Williams.

For an update as of July 14, 2017--HERE.