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.