Friday, January 20, 2017

An Open Letter to a Hypothetical Vice President of Compliance--Faculty Productivity, Shadow Work and Policy Coherence in the Regulatory University

(Pix ©Larry Catá Backer 2017)

I have been speaking to issues of shadow work and the changing nature of expectations of faculty (e.g., here). I have suggested that ways that this affects faculty productivity by shifting focus form teaching, research and service to compliance and compliance related activities. This shifting can have a net zero effect only when faculty are implicitly asked to dig further into their private lives time to satisfy the increasing cravings of administrative bureaucracies within government and their mirror images within the university. At its limit, the growing movement toward compliance cultures without reducing teaching, service and research expectations creates both a burden and en effective and substantial reduction in the compensation of university personnel per hour of work extracted. That is hardly fair, though it may be legal. And ironically it may as well violate the ethics codes universities have been at pains to impose on faculties these last several years.

The movement toward compliance cultures is not malicious. It is a product a deep cultural changes that have created strong incentives to privatize public policy respecting cultural changes. And it expresses a strong change in social and political consensus respecting the role of the state (and institutions to which state policy objectives have been delegated) in using regulation, reporting and compliance as the means for managing and changing behaviors among the U.S. population. As a consequence, social behaviors are now constrained by a web of federal and state law, administrative regulations and university policy, and much of what constitutes compliance reflects discretionary administrative choices respecting the implementation of these webs of regulatory mandates.

This has strong implications for shared governance as well as the participation in the development and control of faculty productivity. The administrative regulations that tend to emerge from, through or in conjunction with  the compliance offices of universities tend to ooze out in ad hoc fashion and they tend to be justified in vague references to the need to comply with "applicable law or university policy". By that standard and in that process, there is no possibility of accountability and the scope of administrative discretion to justify anything by reference to their "right" to "interpret" value and unspecified standards has no constraint.  That is bad management for shared governance, but is is worse management for a university provost that has no ability to well manage her administrative units in an intelligent way.  

The first step toward coherent and constraint in compliance is  information.  This post includes an open letter that may be sent to an appropriate compliance officer with the purpose of gathering the sort of basic information necessary to begin a discussion about compliance in an intelligent way--both with respect to discretionary choices made and with respect to the consequences of compliance as faculty shadow work. The open letter follows.  Feel free to send to your own compliance office and report back on results. 

Dear Senior Compliance and Ethics Official
We have been aware of the work of your office for some time.  We acknowledge the importance of compliance and ethics as a central element university life.  We also understand the importance of its consequences for faculty work and productivity, and hence its central importance in shared governance. Of course we very much appreciate the efforts of your office.  And we are grateful that as a result of the work of your office we can be better assured that we are all safe.

In many of your messages transmitting new or changed compliance obligations you mention that the peculiar requirements of compliance related to this safety mission is rooted in federal, state and university requirements.  I was wondering if you might be able to break down your compliance efforts by these categories.  That is, could you  tell us which compliance requirements are sourced in federal law (including administrative regulation as you interpret them), which are sourced in state requirements and which are sourced in the university’s requirements, perhaps identified by the specific policies from which they are derived.  That would prove immensely helpful in understanding the work of your office and contribute greatly to the University strategic plan’s goal of transparency and disclosure.  I assume that this has already been done and that it is an easy matter to pass the information along.

I was also wondering if your office has compiled a full list of estimated time for compliance that is required by or administered through your office.  We all agree that such compliance is a necessary part of our work at the university but would like to have a better idea of the aggregate work time devoted to compliance in your estimate and the aggregate work time devoted to such compliance ever the course of a semester or year.  I am sure you have also already prepared these so that it too will not be hard to make available. 

I look forward to receiving this information.


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