Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The Abusive University Administrator--Unfettered Discretion in the University and What the "Census Case" May Teach Us About Abuse

(Pix source HERE)

Those of you who follow my academic blog, Law at the End of the Day, have seen recent posting of PowerPoints through which I tried to synthesize the essence of the sub-systems that together make up the U.S. legal system.  In the process I have tried to capture for foreign lawyers the essence of the core values of American ideologies (of fairness and other baseline political principles), which are inscribed in quite different ways in the law.

One of the areas that struck my students as most curious was that of the ideologies and practice around administrative regulation.  The idea of discretion as a legal tool (outside of dictatorships and Marxist Leninist States) seemed curious. They might have treated those as political acts rather than the application of law. More curious still was the way that only recently, the Supreme Court reinforced a set of core principles through which the courts would review and if necessary overturn discretionary decisionmaking that appears to be arbitrary, capricious, or a hidden pretense.  They found it interesting to see the way that such principled constraints on exercises of discretion, even when undertaken by officials holding the highest appointed offices, could bve used to undermine important policy choices made at the highest levels of state. 

The case, of course, was the "Census Question" case: Department of Commerce v. New York, U.S. Supreme Court No. 18-966 Slip op. (Decided June 27, 2019). The PowerPoints may be accessed here.  And

What struck me more as I sought to lecture through this a as matter of public law--was the way that such constraints might well exposes the laww-less-ness of private administrators, and especially those in the academy.  Not to say that they are born bad; but merely to suggest, as the Supreme Court has just done in relation to the Secretary of Commerce, that no mere instrumentality of the administrative apparatus--public or private--ought to exist within an environment in which the core principles of fairness built into American law appear absent. 

This post considers the great principles of checks on administrative discretion and the principles underlying them (hopefully written simply and not for lawyers).  It then poses the question: to what extent do the great role models of the American Republic; to what extent to those institutions which put themselves out as the forms of social, political, and economic organization that embraces wholeheartedly the core values of this nation; to what extent to the people in control of that apparatus feel the weight of responsibility for their discretionary decisionmaking reinforced by principles and outside robust checks? 

I pose a null hypothesis--university administrators have no real constraints on the exercise of their discretion within the university that is effective, reliable, fair, or readily available to those against whom discretion is exercised. "The null hypothesis, H0 is the commonly accepted fact; it is the opposite of the alternate hypothesis. Researchers work to reject, nullify or disprove the null hypothesis. Researchers come up with an alternate hypothesis, one that they think explains a phenomenon, and then work to reject the null hypothesis." (See here). I would dearly love to see that null hypothesis disproven--and not by incantation from above. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

The Power of Charity and the University--A Pleasured Patron and Obliging Nomenklatura Model of University Governance

I had observing the quite emotional battle at the University of Tulsa that appears to pit the old ideals of a university against the realities of universities as businesses. That battle is raging across American academia and touches all aspects of its operation.  I have noted its particular effects in the way that universities consume their graduate students and student athletes (See, e.g., Consequences of the Growing Divide Between the Ideal of the University and its Reality: Thoughts on the Unionization of Student Labor (Graduate Students and Athletes) in this Age of the Learning Factory). Universities cling to the ancient ideals long after it has faded from living memory because its consumers and sponsors find value in the ideal detached from whatever reality is then offered by way of "application." That universities engage in this behavior ought not to surprise, especially as these institutions have been urged to adopt the outlooks and ideologies--the practices--of those businesses into which they mean to project their graduates. Like a "White Christmas" in Miami, the ideal can be consciously embraced even as the reality around it makes even the pretense of attainment laughable. 

The real issue has now shifted from even this ridiculous attempt to market the past as present to a more important one--if the university is no longer to be itself, the question becomes what ought it to be.  There have been two models competing for status as orthodox institutional form. The first s the model of the for profit business corporation. That model is appealing if only because it s ends are all bent to making money--and money is what university administrators are now trained to chase--if only for the best things that it can buy for those from whom fees and tuition (and donations later) are extracted.  The problem is that the university does not resemble a business enterprise culturally or in its operation. While it produces things (degrees,for example) it is better understood as managing people toward objectives and then placing them. The model, then, is one that is more like an administrative agency in a state bureaucracy, than of a business in a purely (of course there is no such thing as pure anything anymore) markets based environment.

The successful university administrator is one that is both fungible and anonymous.  They are cogs in a bureaucratic machine the logic of which must be furthered.They are risk averse and exercise their discretion to minimize risk and manage compliance with those rules and cultures that conform to benchmark.  They become a closed circle in which innovation is the ability to better mimic everyone else (that everyone, of course is hierarchically arranged as universities adhere to a caste culture every bit as rigid as those of ancient societies). With university administrators as a modern Western version of the old nomenklaturas, then it appears that the model most compatible with a university that no longer can afford to be itself(the old ideal),must be that of the charitable foundation. It follows that charitable foundations--institutionalized patrons, would also dominate their stakeholding classes and serve not just as a source of imitation but as the institution most likely to have influence over university administrative (and ultimately substantive) cultures.  One has seen the effects of this in other contexts (e.g., here, and here).  But the control of the ethos of a university is indeed something quite new and remarkable. Thus it is not the corporatization of the university that ought to be feared--it is the conversion of the university into a foundation overseen by a private sector regulatory apparatus in which the core administrative values of ability, risk aversion, compliance and conformity to orthodox views and institutional objectives, narrowly drawn, become the lodestars of academic culture. 

Jacob Howland has stepped into this battlefield with a great deal of vigor and much to say.  His focus ison the University of Tulsa as the great exemplar of change--and in his view not for the better. His passionate original essay, Storm Clouds Over Tulsa, was published in City Journal and appeared 17 April 2019.  It was reproduced along with my own brief comments  here (A Report From the Front Lines of the Transformation of the American University: Jacob Howland, "Storm Clouds Over Tulsa"). is reproduced (without the embedded pictures) below. 

Professor Howland continues his archeology of the university necropolis.  His current essay, Corporate Wolves in Academic Sheepskins, or, a Billionaire’s Raid on the University of Tulsa, published June 18 in The Nation magazine, delves deeper into the case study that is the University of Tulsa.  Whether one agrees or not, the story he tells must be necessarily considered.  It follows below.