Sunday, November 22, 2020

Wilson China Fellowships



This month, the Wilson-China Fellowship is recruiting its second class of scholars, and I'm writing again to ask if you could send the below information to any colleagues you think would have interest. 


The only requirements are that they be a U.S. citizen and that they received a PhD after January 1, 2009. They do not need to be China-focused scholars necessarily, but only have an interest in conducting research on aspects of China's rise and its impact on the world and/or the United States. The first class included research on energy issues, information and technology, as well as traditional geopolitical and security issues.


As a brief description, the aim of this fellowship is to produce new and original pieces of research that improve understanding of the role that China is playing in the Indo-Pacific, its relations with its neighbors and the United States, and its impact on peace and security issues. Additionally, the Fellowship seeks to build bridges between traditional academia and the policy world, and to support a new generation of American scholarship on China. A brochure is follows.


Thursday, November 12, 2020

Call for Papers: AAUP Journal of Academic Freedom



Journal of Academic Freedom

The AAUP Journal of Academic Freedom publishes scholarship on academic freedom and on its relation to shared governance, tenure, and collective bargaining. Scholarship on academic freedom is typically scattered across a wide range of disciplines. The Journal provides a central place to track the developing international discussion about academic freedom and its collateral issues. Essays range from historical studies to analyses of contemporary conflicts, from accounts of individual faculty experiences to institutional histories.

The Journal is published online annually, and is supported by funding from the AAUP Foundation. We release a call for papers each fall.

JAF has put out a "Call for Papers"  for its next volume, scheduled for publication in fall 2021. The Journal of Academic Freedom will consider any original article on the topic of academic freedom,

See the latest call for papers. Which also follows below


Wednesday, October 21, 2020

The COVID-19 Crisis: Fall 2020 Issue of AAUP's ACademe Magazine


I am delighted to share the articles in the Fall 2020 issue of Academe which describes itself as taking "stock of the crisis that has transformed our lives and the way we work. It features a series of reflections on faculty life during the pandemic as well as articles that look ahead to the near- and long-term challenges of the COVID-19 crisis in higher education."

Links to the articles and essays follow.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

The Transfiguration of University Faculty Senates in the Shadow of Pandemic


 Pix: Catacomb of Saints Marcellinus and Peter on the Via Labicana.

University Faculty Senates in the United States continue to struggle to define their role within universities that increasingly function like large public administrative agencies. This emerging "university new era" governance framework is grounded in the professionalization of an administrator class and the de-professionalization of faculty. That shift has had profound effects both on the governance of the university as an institution, and on the way in which the role of faculty is understood as workers on sometimes enormous (and in some cases enormously wealthy) learning latifundia (some might suggest modern and more benign forms of knowledge encomienda).

Where once faculty were more centered within the governance of the university (and certainly within its colleges and departments), now de-profesisonalized, they are run like administrative agencies by bevies of (former) faculty eager to rise within the administrative state that the university has become. University administrations have become engorged with assistant, associate and special case deans; they have become the sum of departments that now manage virtually every aspect of academic life (1) as an aid to, (2) for the convenience of, and (3) because of the need for specialized administrative skills and attention in connection with, the processing of students through degree programs and the management of faculty. The later, no longer capable of self management because we have now come to believe they lack the skills. . . and certainly the time given their teaching and research obligations in frenetic competition in peer prestige markets on which their internal and external status depends), become objects of management.

And yet, like the institutions of Republican Rome after the establishment of the the Principate (and then the Dominate after the crisis of the 3rd century AD), the university's ancient institutions of shared governance, and the muscle memory of the rituals of an earlier age remain long after their effectiveness has passed into oblivion. Like the Roman Senate during the Principate (after the victory of Augustus Ceasar) University Faculty Senates assumed a consultative and consensus producing role in the years after the start of this century.  Penn State provided a good example of this general evolution, one in which the institutions of the Senate were respected even as its authority was being evacuated in favor of better managed administrative led special committees in which the real business of "shared" (and well managed) governance was being undertaken. 

But the COVID-19 pandemic may well have produced the crisis that may precipitate fairly rapid change along the trajectories described above.  That is, in the shadow of COVID-19 and its threat to the income and function of the university,  the pace and character of changes in the relationship between (de professionalized) faculty and (a rising corps of professional) administrators may move shared governance from the more benign forms of a Principate to those of a crisis entrenched and  much more bureaucratized and hierarchical Dominate.

These are the thoughts that came to mind as, along with other members of the Penn State University Community, I  received this message from the Chair of its University Faculty Senate:

Faculty Senate Newsletter

September 29, 2020


The University Faculty Senate will meet remotely on Tuesday, September 29, 2020, at 1:00 p.m. via ZOOM (link below). 


The Faculty Senate remains deeply committed to representing our faculty and student body during these challenging times. Numerous questions and concerns were raised at our recent plenary meeting on September 15, 2020 that could not be fully addressed due to time constraints. Events have continued to evolve, and we would benefit from continued and open conversation with all members of our community. In that spirit, the meeting will begin with an extensive Forensic to support a conversation about how we can best continue to meet our shared mission of teaching, research, creative activity, service and outreach for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania across our campuses.   

The Senate will consider One Forensic Report entitled: The State of Penn State.


Faculty Senate meetings are held via ZOOM. Please refer to the University Faculty Senate website for ZOOM connection instructions.


Members of the University community are welcome to attend this meeting.  Any member of the University community not a member of the Senate may request the privilege of the floor on any item of business already before the Senate.  Such a request must be made to the Chair, through the Executive Director, at least five calendar days before the meeting at which the individual wishes to speak. The Senate Agenda will be posted on the Senate website one week prior to each meeting and the Senate Record (minutes) will be posted approximately three weeks following each meeting. 

For information on submitting major, minor, option, or course proposals, view the Guide to Curricular Procedures. View The Senate Curriculum Report.


 Beth Seymour
Chair, University Faculty Senate

The message, and the meeting to come, may well illustrate more the changing face of faculty involvement in governance, than it might produce any sort of consensus or action that will have real effect on the way n which the university is governed in this emerging era.  It expresses not just a concern, but also an attempt, to preserve what is left of faculty authority against its erosion in the face of the imperatives of the consequences of crisis that may go to the viability of the ancient institution in contemporary times. It suggests as well, the forms of the rear guard actions that may well characterize the forms of retreat from authority that ay characterize the next several years in the new era of the university and its workers.  The form of the university faculty senate will certainly remain with us for some time to time.  What one makes of it, though, remains an import and open question.

The Senate Forensic document along with the "University Faculty Senate Resolution on Return to Work" follow below.


Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Leonard M. Baynes: Remembering Ruth Bader Ginsburg

 Librado Romero / New York Times


Ruth Bader Ginsburg touched many of our lives.  For some the connection was personal, for others as a consequence of her leadership in the academy and then as a judge and then justice.  Many have written about those connections. I was most touched by that written by my classmate and now dean of the University of Houston Law Center, Leonard M. Baynes.  Professor Ginsburg and Professor Kellis Parker, were and remain, as Dean Baynes notes, godsends for many of us. They remain so.

 With his permission I have re-posted his beautiful tribute and remembrance.


Tuesday, September 15, 2020

COVID and the University from the American Association of University Professors

What’s New with Academe?
This month’s newsletter offers a preview of selected articles from our forthcoming fall issue on the COVID-19 crisis in higher education. Follow the links below or visit to read a new series of reflections on faculty life during the pandemic and other highlights from Academe and the Academe Blog.
Links to the articles follow below.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Measures for the Appointment and Management of Foreign Teachers (Draft for Solicitation of Comments) [外籍教师聘任和管理办法(征求意见稿)]

Pix Credit: Precarious times for foreign teachers in China.

The Ministry of Education of the People's Republic of China has distributed for comment (征求意见稿)  Measures for the Appointment and Management of Foreign Teachers [外籍教师聘任和管理办法]. Much of the legislation covers the usual issues in the usual fashion. With respect to these there are issues of efficiency and the connection between objectives and the administrative methods chosen to meet these objectives.  But these issues are little different from those facing an administrative apparatus anywhere. And the legislation represents the end of a process already well underway in 2019 (e.g., Precarious times for foreign teachers in China ("Another reason that authorities are cracking down on foreign teachers is ideological. China has long been wary of foreign influences in education, and in December 2016, Chinese President Xi Jinping reminded education leaders that, “Adherence to the Party’s leadership is essential to the development of higher education in the country”, emphasising the need to “build universities into strongholds that adhere to Party leadership”.")).

And indeed the two sets f provisions that are the most interesting for foreigners are those relating to the legalization of the policy of Part leadership over education. These merit sustained consideration.  The first is Article 5:
Article 5 (Specific Obligations) Foreign teachers shall abide by Chinese laws and regulations, abide by Chinese public order and good customs and professional ethics of teachers, and abide by the principle of separation of education from religion. The educational and teaching activities and contents implemented shall conform to China's educational policies and basic teaching principles. It is required that China’s national sovereignty, security, honor, and social public interests must not be harmed. [第五条 (特定义务)外籍教师应当遵守中国法律法规,遵守中国的公序良俗和教师职业道德,遵守教育与宗教相分离的原则,所实施的教育教学活动和内容应当符合中国的教育方针和教学基本要求,不得损害中国的国家主权、安全、荣誉和社会公共利益。]
The second are Articles 27-32 (Chapter 4 Supervision and Responsibility [第四章 监督与责任]).  Articles 27 and 28 establish an administrative structure for the supervision of the obligations imposed by law on relevant national and local governments. Article 27 requires the establishment of deep cooperation between the science and technology depart and the education departments of the State Council.  The Science and Technology Department is charged with sharing a list of foreign teachers, and the education department is required to deliver to the science and technology department lists of foreign teachers prohibited from employment "in real time." Article 28 charges the education administrative department of the local people’s government, the administrative department of science and technology, the entry-exit management agency of the public security organ, and other relevant departments shall strengthen the daily supervision of the employment of foreign teachers by educational institutions with the daily supervision (日常监管) of foreign teachers for violations of law relating to their hiring and work. 

Articles 29-32  then establish the parameters by which the Chinese Social Credit system is extended to foreign teachers in China. Article 29 requires that assessments relating to the foreign teacher's compliance with law, ethics, and quality of teaching be included in a national foreign teacher comprehensive information service platform.  Good social credit scores will ensure that regulatory hurdles relating to employment will be convenient. Article 30 then lists four key areas of activities that will reduce social credit scoring: (1) Serious academic misconduct; (2) Engaging in paid work in violation of regulations outside the appointed educational institution; (3) Dismissed in violation of the rules and regulations of the employment agency; and (4) Resigning without authorization after the appointment period has not expired [(一)有严重学术不端行为的;(二)在受聘任的教育机构以外违规从事有偿工作的;(三)违反聘任机构规章制度,被解聘的;(四)聘任期未满,擅自离职的。]. Lastly Article 31 lists those actions or activities that will result in dismissal of appointment. The resulting Social Credit score will require that such individuals be placed on a black list, which will make it impossible for educational institutions to hire them [教育机构不得聘任有前款情形的外籍人员担任外籍教师。]. The ten include:  
(1) Words and deeds that damage China's national sovereignty, security, honor, and public interests;
(2) Being held criminally responsible;
(3) Obstructing the implementation of the education policy;
(4) Violating public security management such as taking drugs;
(5) Sexual assault or abuse of minors;
(6) Engaging in religious education or preaching illegally;
(7) Engaging in cult activities;
(8) Sexual harassment of students or other serious violations of China's public order and good customs, teachers' professional ethics and codes of conduct;
(9) Providing false certification information in the process of applying to teach in China;
(10) The total number of untrustworthy records specified in Article 30 of these Measures exceeds 3. [(一)有损害中国国家主权、安全、荣誉和社会公共利益的言行的;(二)被追究刑事责任的;(三)妨碍教育方针贯彻落实的;(四)有吸食毒品等违反治安管理行为的;(五)有性侵害、虐待未成年人行为的;(六)非法从事宗教教育或者传教的;(七)从事邪教活动的;(八)有性骚扰学生或者其他严重违反中国的公序良俗和教师职业道德、行为准则的;(九)在申请来华任教过程中提供虚假证明信息的;(十)本办法第三十条规定的失信记录累计超过3条的。].
 Lastly, Article 32 provides that educational institutions that fail either to ensure the proper operation of the social credit system (by facilitating negative activity) or hire a blacklisted foreign teacher will "be handled by the public security organs of the local people’s government at or above the county level."
For foreign faculty from liberal democratic states, the changes require a conscious sensitivity both to supervision, and to the measurement of conduct by reference to values and markers that are not the same as in many of their home states.  This is particularly true with respect to "(1) Words and deeds that damage China's national sovereignty, security, honor, and public interests" [(一)有损害中国国家主权、安全、荣誉和社会公共利益的言行的] and "(3) Obstructing the implementation of the education policy" [(三)违反聘任机构规章制度,被解聘的] if only because they may no way of understanding where the conduct boundaries or expectations are.  In those cases, it will likely fall to educational institutions to closely supervise and guide foreigner teachers in the conduct of their classes. It is also likely that educational institutions that contribute foreign faculty to the black lists will likely find their own social credit scores dangerous lowered, and in the worst cases, may find themselves on a black list as well (likely, at a minimum, prohibited from hiring any foreigners).

None of this, of course, ought to surprise. And in many cases the net result of the provisions will hardly be felt--other than with respect for the need to cultivate a greater sensitivity of the context in which teachers operate.  Still, even when teaching very young children, it will be necessary to be conscious that an offhand remark, or a reference to baseline principles and concepts that are cherished in a home country (and not really thought about as problematic) may be sensitive in the context in which it is heard.  It is the inadvertent act that poses the greatest threat. 

Of course, much of this would be ameliorated if it is possible t understand the analytics that will go into the social credit scoring for foreign teachers, and more importantly, the way that black lists are constructed, and the rules for getting off a black list.  None of that seems to be available currently. In a sense, then, the value of social credit in this case is to provide guidance necessary to adjust conduct.  Thus rather than produce regulatory guidance, authorities might be able to produce a guide to how scoring will be measured (the value of data and its identification) for purposes of Articles 30 and 31.

Moreover, in certain circumstances, the rules may provide substantial challenges for educational institutions and their foreign faculty.  This may be particularly true at the university and graduate levels in those areas that touch on professional education, business and some of the disciplines in the social sciences, especially where the issues touch on necessary aspects of globalization or are connected to foreign and comparative study.  It is likely that substantial regulation and soime waivers  and a waiver system will have to be greater in those respects--but the price will likely also be substantially greater supervision of those activities. As a result, it is possible that except for elite institutions, and those otherwise designated for that purpose, the scope and conduct of teaching by foreigners will change. At a minimum, national and local authorities would do well to provide more specific guidance to avoid a situation where the law itsef serves as a series of traps for the unwary (and those otherwise not guided by savvy educational sponsors).  Otherwise the result will be to reduce the presence and impact of foreign educators in China. In that respect it may be necessary to carefully consider the Communist Party Basic Line respecting "Reform and Opening Up" in the New Era (e.g., "The Party shall implement the strategy for  invigorating China through science and education")

The entire provision in the original Chinese along with a crude English translation follows. Interested individuals and entities  are encouraged to send their comments to the Ministry.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Diversity in Silence: A Look Back To Diversity Reform Now Forgotten at Penn State University

I have not commented on the recent, and potentially quite profoundly transformative, movements to center diversity generally, and the African American experience in particular, in the American University. Penn State University, like many other similarly situated university institutions, has now sought to intensely engage with the issues that have become once again passionately current in the United States.  On 10 June 2020, "Penn State President Eric Barron issued a statement . . . outlining steps the university will take to address instances of racism, bias, and religious intolerance within its community." (President Barron Outlines Penn State’s Actions Against Racism, Hate Speech).

Given the nature of events, and the very short time cohorts of students have an intense engagement with the university, for many this may seem new and long overdue.  For faculty, many of whom have been insulated from events increasingly shunted behind the closed doors of "leadership teams" and the closed cultures of emerging university bureaucratic practices, the extent of university efforts to confront issues of inclusion may well seem somewhat removed fro their lives--and certainly from the center of their shared governance experiences.  

For the ever growing administrative superstructure, and its increasingly distinct and remote operational ideologues, the issue of diversity has been treated as one of many on a large platter of issues , the importance of which might have been measured by the risk it poses.  The reason for that, of course, is that at the heart of emerging ideologies of university governance is the framing principle of risk avoidance, implemented through the application of the secondary principles of prevention, mitigation, and remedy. Every challenge to the university (that is to the stability of the governance of the institution, and the avoidance of threats as those are understood by university administrators) is understood only within the parameters of risk, and the riskiness of choices among prevention, mitigation, or remedial measures. Diversity issues--like campus drinking, the registration system, the allocation of student fees, and the smooth running of dormitories, parking spaces, and events--are conceptualized first as a normative challenge (goal) but one that must be assessed for the risk it poses and the value of adopting policies that focus on prevention, rather tan on mitigation and remedy.  It has been, in that sense, nothing special.

And yet, it would be a mistake to believe that there have not been efforts to change the way that senior officials approached the application of these governance parameters, even within the logic of what they perceive their operational function to be. 

One such effort to bring greater focus on diversity started in January 2013  under my leadership of the Penn State University Faculty Senate when at my invitation students addressed the Penn State University Faculty Senate about the issue. (Diversity Awareness Task Force: Statement to the University Faculty Senate January 29, 2013). Following that intervention a Joint Diversity Awareness Task Force was constituted including elements from the major stakeholders of the University. Its charge included:
· Bring a diverse group of administrators, faculty and students together to work collaboratively to engage in dialogue and provide recommendations to the University Faculty Senate and Administration to enhance diversity awareness in the University Community.
· Thoroughly investigate practices that will be most effective to increase diversity understanding among the student body.
· Provide recommendations to the Faculty Senate Committee charged with reforming the general education curriculum as a whole.
This post chronicles both the achievement of that remarkable committee over the course of several years--and the ultimate marginalization of its work--now so long forgotten that it is not even a memory within the administrative organs of the university, much less among its stakeholders. Those efforts are worth remembering if only as a cautionary take for the current group of individuals and institutional representatives now bent on a similar task. The principal lesson was one that I pointed out in 2014, even before the full set of Joint Diversity Awareness Task Force Reports was produced:
This response provides an excellent illustration of the approach to diversity at many institutions--engagement and oblivion.  This is all the more important because of it collateral result--Marginalization.  Even as the University devotes a tremendous amount of resources to its reconstruction of General Education, even as it focuses substantial public time to experiential learning and other important elements of a public education--the education and practice of diversity is buried and marginalized. . . . The expectations appear simple enough--provide a formally responsive forum for meeting, produce a report well received but avoid robust interconnection to the vital life of the university, and then move on with a sense of satisfaction of having engaged with diversity. (Diversity in Silence--The Joint Diversity Task Force Report at Penn State University Becomes Less Visible).
That chronicling was set out in a series of Reports produced by the JDATF over the course of several years.  Now long forgotten (and effectively inaccessible except by university faculty senators "For agendas or records prior to 2016-2017, please contact the Senate office. Faculty Senators may access Agendas and Records through the Senate Archives.") they are reproduced below.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Thoughts on Giorgio Agamben - Requiem per gli studenti (A Requiem for Students) and the Birth of the Hollowed Out Simulated University

Therefore the Lord, the God of hosts, the Lord, saith thus; Wailing shall be in all streets; and they shall say in all the highways, Alas! alas! and they shall call the husbandman to mourning, and such as are skilful of lamentation to wailing. . . Woe unto you that desire the day of the Lord! to what end is it for you? the day of the Lord is darkness, and not light. (Amos 5:16, 18)
Giogio Agamben has written an exquisite essay on the university in the wake of COVID-19; It is a lamentation, a wailing, a mourning for the darkness that has been called forth from the pandemic.  It is a provocative piece of impudence at a time when such things may be punished by social actors and risk averse institutions. "Therefore the prudent shall keep silence in that time; for it is an evil time." (Amos 5:13). Agamben has chosen to speak; it is not clear who is left to listen.  And yet the movement toward the reconstruction of the university as simulacra--the way that it parallels the movement toward the reconception of political space as a complex living analytics better understood through models than in flesh and blood--is worth pondering. The techno-populism that the university has become is likely the best simulation of the transformation of society that one can observe as the moment. What comes after pondering, and after observing in these times, is truly best left to silence.  

The essay, Requiem per gli studenti, follows (first published in Diario della crisi of the Instituto Italiano per gli Studi Filosofici 22 May 2020) along with my own brief reflections and a crude English translation. 

Friday, June 12, 2020

Shifting the Employment Paradigm in the Shadow of COVID-19: "Open Letter to the Penn State Administration Regarding Plans for the Fall and the Response to COVID-19"

Pix© Larry Catá Backer, Flop, Needlepoint Pillow, Kuntshaus Zurich, displayed at the Museum of the Ohio State University Columbus

Like most universities of its type, Penn State University has been facing a number of substantial challenges  during the course of the initial phases of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Like most universities, like moved its classes online since March 2020, and has effectively closed its physical facilities during the most dangerous period of transmission of the disease. It has also brought most of their students and faculty home and forbidden travel, especially foreign travel, for a long period to come. Like most universities, it is wrestling with the issue of an Autumn term, balancing the needs of safety with the realities of institutional finance (and collaterally, the preservation of the value of traditional face to face instruction and the solidarity achieved by a community of students coming together in shared space).

The closing of borders, the effect of the move to online teaching, the loss of revenue from operations over the summer and related to student services, and the fear of a drop in enrollment for the autumn term has many university high administrators worries.  Many university administration across the nation have been proactive in working through their worry. One of the most worrisome elements, it seems, is the cost of university operations.  And in the context where teaching and teaching services both account for a large portion of revenues and a sizeable portion of expense (without for the moment considering the drain on university resources of ever expanding compliance and other administrative bureaucracies) some high administrators have begun to target teaching resources as an area where pruning--predictive or anticipated pruning, may be undertaken with the greatest benefit to the fiscal integrity of the university (again without taking into account the revenue drain of its burgeoning bureaucracies).

It is in this context, as well, that Penn State University appears to have chosen to modify its relationship with its contract or fixed term faculty.  Having grown the percentage of fixed term faculty as against tenured or tenure line faculty for a generation, on the basis of all sorts of rationales, not the least of which was that fixed term faculty provide the university with flexibility in meeting and changing teaching demand more quickly and efficiently.  Of course, in the process fundamentally changed the character and protections of the teaching element of the university. 

Now the university appears to be seeking to deploy that power of flexibility proactively by changing a key contract term in the employment contracts of its fixed term faculty. More specifically, it has inserted sme language in their contracts: "This appointment can also be terminated on twelve weeks notice in the event of serious budget or enrollment challenges; all of which shall be determined by the university at its sole discretion." Even assuming that one might read some sort of rwasonablness or good faith constraints, the laguage effectively gives the university unfetterd authority to treat their contract faculty as disposable goods--disposable even before it might consider disposing of other things. Yet, the university would remind its fixed term employees, in the nature of the fixed term relationship.  Little solace to employees who until a few weeks ago conted their service, as well as their expectaiton of continuation, in years.

Simultaneously, the universty, like its peer institutions, has also been busy developing procedures, rules, and approaches to the operation of the institution for the Autumn term, none of which involved faculty to any substantial extent.  But that is hardly to be surprising.  The university, like virtually all others, has merely contributed it bit to a national trend that has reduced faculty shared governance to a vestigial form.  Faculty involvement has been bureaucratized--it is increasingly limited to ritualized post hoc consultation, and to the selection of favored symbolically representative faculty on administrative committees where the real governance of the university is undertaken. Within this new constellation of governance, the formal structures of the faculty have all but disappeared. But that has been something the direction of which has been well known even as those who warned of its trajectory were ignored and marginalized. 

Even the faculty now understands these realities.  And so faced with the tremendous challenge of university action with respect to which there has been little direct faculty input that is meaningful, and developed in a process notorious for its behind closed door development, a group of faculty has had to circulate a letter for mass signature as a means of conveying its own perspectives on anticipated actions by the university.  That letter-- Open Letter to the Penn State Administration Regarding Plans for the Fall and the Response to COVID-19--has been posted for signature.  And it has indeed garnered  a number of signatures. It is not clear where, in similar contexts across the nation, the formal faculty representative organization can play an effective role.

The letter, along with links to the original site where it is posted, follows as it appeared on 12 June 2020.  An active engagement with its contents is encouraged, as potentially the only sort of forum left to faculty increasingly cut out of a ritualized process of engagement tightly overseen by administrators  with the power to retaliate against expression they find 'threatening' or 'unpleasant.'

Monday, June 1, 2020

The Elite University Administrator-Priest and Orthodox American Civic Religion: David Westbrook, "The Church of Harvard A Reading of President Bacow’s “What I Believe”"

From the end of the 19th century the American political vanguard (civilized Americans at the top of whatever then passed for hierarchies of power), like their Marxist-Leninist analogues, have been driven toward civic values as a means of civilizing the masses of migrants now grown powerful through the discovery of the power of disciplined voting. This informal but well organized vanguard group, our American aristocracy, continues to work diligently to develop an orthodox civic religion through which they could oversee the transformation of the American masses into something like the ideal American (the way that Marxist Leninist vanguards seek to develop the ideal worker, or the ideal socialist citizen). It was to be grounded in the articulation of authoritative meaning in the form of the core principles of the American nation. The application of its principles were to be protected (and interpreted) by an alliance of industrialists, financiers, elite lawyers and judges, high government officials, and the leaders of the leading universities. 

That alliance produced a powerful engine for meaning making, and the making of the American sense of itself well solidified in something like its present form just in time for the global unrest unleashed by the first post World War 2 generation eager to translate the principles of the American Republic so carefully developed  by these elites in ways better suited to their own desires.  This collective meaning making was to be enveloped in the language of the core principles of the American political economic model--democracy, stake holding, participation, inclusion, elections, and the like.

But this movement  also produced a substantial divide, the ruptures of which manifesting first in more benign form from the rebellion of Barry Goldwater to the election of Ronald Reagan, and then in its fully mature form with the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Still, the old aristocratic vanguard held together. Its priesthood remained deeply embedded within the societal institutions that drove and shaped cultural narrative. Now allied with sectors of the tech industry, the vanguard could more easily leverage its interventions, and use societal techniques to ensure the privileged position of the orthodoxy over the application of which they presided. To a large extent it is still true that failure to embrace the orthodox position can serve to effectively block any real chance for someone to rise with social, economic, religious and political hierarchies.But reactive forces ought not to be underestimated as rising cunter vanguards emerge.

Within the traditional vanguard united front, the university has always played a key role.  The university served, in substantial respect, as the magisterium of the American civic religion, and the professorate its priests.  That has changed since the 1960s.  The role of priest may still be undertaken by the professorate, but it is the high university official, the leading administrator, that has taken for herself the role of "higher" priest in the Church of Academic verities. And even as that has occurred, sites of resistance has also manifested, sites that seek to produce a counter narrative, one embraced  by a reforming faction, even within the university.

These are the themes that are superbly considered in David A. Westbrook marvelous essay.  Entitled "The Church of Harvard A Reading of President Bacow’s “What I Believe”" the essay first appeared in Medium on 31 May 2020.  The essay is very well worth reading for  its many insights into the complex interweaving of collective meaning making, the academy, its administrators, and the management of social narrative. 

Professor Westbrook has kindly permitted me to re-post his marvelous essay.  It follows below. The original may be accessed HERE.  His bio also follows.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

The Price of Complicity: From the AAUP--The State of the Profession Now Better Exposed

Gianni Pisani, Il guardiano della casa (1980) (Naples)

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has  distributed its 2020 Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession recaps the key findings from the AAUP’s 2019–20 Faculty Compensation Survey.  The Report expands on a general pessimism that has now become virtually impossible to ignore.  But more than that, it suggests the product of complicity.

For decades the American professorate (and their fellow travelers abroad) have rationalized the fundamental changes occurring in the academy. Among them, (1) the deprofessionalization of the faculty; (2) the rise of a professional administrator class that was first an aid and then the overlord of matters once left to the professional discretion of those involved in the production and dissemination of knowledge; (3) the change in the character of the institution arising from the general movement in American institutional culture towards risk avoidance and compliance mentalities which produced the sort of surveillance cultures necessarily overseen by an autonomous administrator class; (4) the commodification of education and its closer alignment with the needs of wage labor markets (and those with disproportionate influence over those markets); (5) the transformation of students into present values of income streams, and the provision of services into profit centers; (6) the rise of technology that transformed the way one valued the effectiveness (and objectives) of education; (7) the rise of educational servant classes (so-called contingent faculty) in a professorate already riddled with corrupting internal status hierarchies; (8) the reduction of knowledge production to quantifiable status markers which then drive a culture of producing knowledge to its markers (which can then be used to discipline production and manage academic freedom without the need to actually read and assess work); and (9) the move to online education the character of which is driven by administrative rather than faculty objectives and standards.

In the construction of each of these faculty has been complicit (in its ancient sense--from the Latin complicāre, “to fold together”).  Faculty become administrators, as assimilate into the logic of a culture that increasingly distinguishes itself from the faculty as both superior and managerial--that is faculty administrators take professionalization with them into administration and necessarily reduce its significance for those left behind.  But faculty has freely transferred administrative responsibility to others to make their lives easier, and to create more time for research and teaching (time made necessary in part because of the way that they have permitted administrators to develop accountability measures). Faculty have participated in the construction of compliance and accountability cultures without thinking about the way these operate as political elements of administration. Faculty have facilitated the commodification of education, both in terms of the production of knowledge and its dissemination; they have delegated not just administrative but also course and research work to "hired help" that then contributes to cultures of "high" and "low" learning, as well as the way one creates systems of valuing research (per unit of effort). Faculty has been led into leveraging operations that make them (per student) less necessary in part because of a willingness to accept the metrics of measuring student learning by those who now are more professionally capable then they were. And, indeed, the embrace of specific metrics by faculty have been instrumental in the transformation of its own character and the framework through which it is disciplined. More important, perhaps, has been the migration of the control and authentication of those metrics from faculty to administrators and to groups of autonomous "experts" (experts in the theories of metrics, in the simulacra of production and impact) from which these measures derive power now detached from those who produced the work judged. And so on.  

The results are becoming clearer in the wake of the pandemic.  The nature of the university has changed, as has its purpose.  The relationship between its stakeholders (students, faculty, administrators, and "staff") has changed in response to reflect both new power relationships and new expectations.  More fundamentally, the way that faculty are needed (in the production and dissemination of knowledge) to students or generally for the greater glory of the institutions who pay or fund them is also changing.  Increasingly faculty are useful for the production of facts that can be consumed by others.  They are even more useful for the construction and maintenance of simulated realities to be applied as directed by and for the benefit of others. Faculty, de-centered from the process of learning, now facilitate the transmission of knowledge that is as a general rule produced authoritatively by smaller and smaller of people. This is all reflected in the (re) organization of the university as an institution, and faculty, as a factor in the production of its welfare in relation to its key stakeholders--students, alumni, the state and labor markets.  This is a problem that is neither inherently American, nor only manifested within liberal democratic systems.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Announcing Publcation of the AAUP Journal Academe 106(2) (Spring 2020) "In Defense of Knowledge and Higher Education"

The spring 2020 issue of Academe, inspired by the AAUP’s statement In Defense of Knowledge and Higher Education, examines the complexities—conceptual, critical, structural, and political—of the production of knowledge. Joan W. Scott, professor emerita in the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study, served as the guest editor of this special issue of the magazine.
Follow the links in the table of contents below or read the entire issue at

Rebellion, Authority, and Knowledge
Disciplined thought and expertise are essential to the advancement of knowledge.
By Robert Post
The Big Secret in the Academy Is That Most Research Is Secret
The dangerous rift between open and classified research.By Kate Brown
Dialogue across Divides
The humanities can provide understanding across disciplines.By Joy Connolly
Academic Freedom as Democratization
Faculty must be involved in all aspects of university decision-making.By Christopher Newfield
Data Snapshot: Survey Data on Attitudes toward Faculty Freedom of Expression(online only)
How might political views influence attitudes toward academic freedom?
By Hans-Joerg Tiede

Snowflakes and Syllabi
Brian Hutler reviews What Snow­flakes Get Right by Ulrich Baer.
Understanding Students Who Are Parents
Jillian M. Duquaine-Watson reviews Back in School by A. Fiona Pearson.
Liberal Education Needs Integration, Not Unbundling
Rebecca Pope-Ruark reviews College Made Whole by Chris W. Gallagher.
Should Only the Strong Survive?
Lawrence Stelmach and Allison A. Buskirk-Cohen review Strategic Mergers in Higher Education by Ricardo Azziz, Guilbert C. Hentschke, Lloyd A. Jacobs, and Bonita C. Jacobs.
Rebalancing Power in the Gig Academy
Roger G. Baldwin reviews The Gig Academy by Adrianna Kezar, Tom DePaola, and Daniel T. Scott. 




The spring 2020 issue of Academe, inspired by the AAUP’s statement In Defense of Knowledge and Higher Education, examines the complexities—conceptual, critical, structural, and political—of the production of knowledge. Joan W. Scott, professor emerita in the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study, served as the guest editor of this special issue of the magazine.
Follow the links in the table of contents below or read the entire issue at