Tuesday, April 18, 2017

How Faculty Undermine Shared Governance--A Set of Perverse Lessons





I have been writing about the way that change sin the institutional mission and cultures of universities has produced greater fissures between faculties and their managers (Deans, chancellors, etc.) and the way that manifests in a set of perverse "lessons" (How Not to be a Dean--A Set of Perverse Lessons).

Yet faculty are not innocent bystanders in these great transformations and the resulting reshaping of academic governance cultures. Indeed, in some sense, faculty may themselves be the most important drivers of changes that increasingly see them shut out of governance except in episodic and well controlled ways. They are their own worst enemies when it comes to the protection of shared governance--and their cultivation of cultural bad behaviors will contribute greatly to the passing of shared governance int he coming decades.
Faculty, like academic middle managers increasingly find themselves in a bind. But unlike the bind that traps academic middle managers--torn between the academic culture of the professorate and the corporate cultures of senior management--faculty are torn between two quite distinct trends that produce bad behavior. On the one hand, faculty see themselves increasingly threatened on a personal level where advancement is viewed as a zero sum gain within a faculty (that is a faculty member can rise only by an equal downward movement by one or more colleagues). That sets up hyper competitive cultures that erode both cooperation and civility. Second, faculty collectively see themselves threatened by productivity cultures grounded in assessment. To the extent that "stars" drive baselines for productivity, it becomes collectively rationale to enforce (informally) a set of norms that compel all faculty to produce toward the average. These contradictions in academic culture for personal and collective action, in turn, require the cultivation of sensibilities that draw faculty into increasingly adversarial relationships with each other, but also necessarily into more opportunistically servile relationships with middle managers.

Like their middle managers, most faculties navigate this contradiction in time honored fashion. They develop a rhetorics of solidarity among themselves seek personal advantage in a culture that one cannot win without another losing. These contradictions, of course, are heightened in a "mixed" faculty, with tenured and fixed tern faculty sharing governance responsibilities. As a consequence, the modern university is witnessing an interesting trend--fracture among the faculty where cultures of "you eat what you kill" are increasingly cultivated, and growing solidarity among managers who increasingly share a distinct but coherent culture and its quite distinct approach to the management of the production of students through a transnational web of knowledge dissemination and production.

What contradiction produces, of course, is another trend--as faculty solidarity dissipates, so too does effective participation on shared governance. The incentives grow for individual faculty members to sacrifice shared obligation in the protection of individual interest--not against administration but against their own colleagues. And to the extent that collective action is still feasible, the trend produces both inertia and conservatism--a drive toward the average that then shifts innovation (and effective governance) from faculty to the administrators.

In that context, it may be necessary to begin to think about the ways that these fissures show up in the techniques of faculty (self and shared) governance. This post considers some of the most interesting and telling examples of the perhaps inevitable bad behaviors that faculty might fall into as incentives induce behaviors that ultimately contribute to the transformation of faculty from an active participant in the operation of the university to a passive factor in the production of exploitable value to the university. It is put together as a set of lessons for the young faculty member on the emerging rules of navigating faculty interaction in governance, the effects of which are likely to be the opposite of what is intended.

Let folly reign again!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

AAUP Releases its "2016-17 Faculty Compensation Survey"



Universities, and faculty organizations like the American Association of University Professors and the Society of American Law Teachers (SALT), have published variations of faculty salary surveys for some time now.   I have been writing about faculty compensation and the underlying ideologies and management strategies (conscious and unconscious) for the presentation of "facts" (harvesting of data) and the extraction of inferences from the data (here, here, and here).  I have also suggested how these exercises do as much to veil "data" and avoid "inference" as it aid in their development and exposure (for a more theoretical discussion HERE).
These are meant to serve a useful purpose--as an important contribution to informational transparency.  This transparency, in turn is meant to paint a picture of the state of faculty earning that can be used, as an authoritative data set, to further  positions and negotiating strategies,  of university administrators, faculty, legislators and the like.  It is also a valuable mechanism for managing public opinion about the state of the university and the privilege (or lack thereof) of a key university stakeholder.

All of this is well and good, and fair game, in the context of the politics of university administration, public policy development, and the operation of wage labor markets for university faculty labor talent.  Yet, data is a relational as well as an objective measure.  For policymakers, and especially for engagement, the choice of relational elements--the way data is packaged and the choice of data types to place in relationship to each other--will have a profound impact on the way on which the data is read and understood. More importantly, if done with some calculation, the careful presentation of relationships among data (including some excluding others) can be used to manage conclusions as well. This no doubt is usually inadvertent, but perhaps not always so. (HERE)
With that in mind it is worth considering the AAUP's recent release of its 2016-17 Faculty Compensation Survey.  It provides data that supports what is becoming too obvious to ignore as the fundamental character of the academy changes: (1) part time employment continues to grow as the profession builds a segmented workforce with growing blue collar and seasonal segments; (2) cost cutting on the labor force side appears to have the inverse effect on administrative salaries that continue to grow (also here); and (3) the state has lost its taste for funding education. Still, the AAUP does try to put the best face of the data.  But you can decide for yourself. In any case there is one great value to this data--the more obvious it becomes that faculty are reduced to a mere fungible labor force the stronger the case for unionization.  The irony is, of course, that it will be the administration of the university, and its embrace of the new logic of university operation that more than anyone will be responsible for this movement.

The press Release with links follows.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Without Comment: Judge Grants Mike McQueary's lawyers $1.7 million; had awarded McQueary nearly $5 million in November






(Pix credit HERE)


There is little need for comment here. . . . other than to remind people that sometimes the most important morality plays tend to unfold at the margins of larger events. And there is a great moral here, and perhaps substantial fodder for considering ethics over passion within university administrations, when large institutions facing events that pose substantial challenges.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

On the Front Lines in the War on Tenure: Wayne State and the Changing Dynamics of Tenure in Knowledge Factories



(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2017)

When universities loudly proclaim a desire to revoke tenure en masse, both the cat and the proclamation (as theatre covering motives and agendas) ought to be the subject of some consideration.  That was what came to mind as I read the recent quite public efforts of Wayne State University to shed a large number of its medical school faculty. "In a move rarely seen in academia, Wayne State University is trying to fire multiple faculty members depicted as abusing their tenure by doing as little work as possible" (here). Of course the rationale is absurd but in a way that reflects the disconnect between reality and administrators: had these faculty really done as little work as possible then it would not have been an abuse of tenure--the abuse comes when they work less than the minimum expected.  Of course the true of phrase might merely be bad writing. I suspect the writing is true, but the motives it exposes are not--that what it reveals is the effort to invert the standards of tenure to capture greater productivity to the university without any corresponding payment. 

This post considers the recent move by Wayne State to remove a large number of its tenured medical school faculty for non or under productivity in light of the two motives that may underlie both the move and the consequential weakening of tenure: (1) money and (2) labor flexibility.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Presentation: "Diversity in Legal Education: Considering the Hollow Spaces Between Speech and Action"





It was my great pleasure to participate on a great panel at Penn State Law recently. The panel, All in at Penn State Law: Addressing Diversity & Implicit Bias considered issues of diversity from a variety of distinct perspectives. It was organized by the Penn State Law Diversity Committee on March 16, 2017. The program was covered by Penn State's student newspaper, Daily Collegian (Katie Johnston, "Penn State Law hosts panel on diversity in legal education," The Daily Collegian March 16, 2017).

I spoke to issues of institutional implementation and accountability of diversity projects for law schools specifically and large research universities more generally. I started with a consideration of the 2010 ABA Report “Diversity in the Legal Profession: The Next Steps” especially as they relate to “Recommendations to Law Schools and the Academy (pp.17-25). This was used as a baseline for analysis. I then reflected on their consequences for Law Schools in light of the work of Penn State's Joint Diversity Awareness Task Force and their Reports of 2016 adopted by the Penn State University Faculty Senate in 2016.

The presentation PowerPoints may be accessed HERE.

The video of the presentation may be accessed HERE.

A summary of the presentation follows and may be downloaded HERE.

Monday, March 6, 2017

How Not to be a Dean--A Set of Perverse Lessons


Academic middle managers increasingly find themselves in a bind.  On the one hand they, unlike more senior administrators, tend to be drawn from the ranks of faculty (though nor necessarily of the faculty over which they have been given dominion) and have been socialized  deeply in academic faculty centered cultures.  On the other hand, the emerging cultures of administration--autonomous of and quite distinct from that of faculty centered cultures--require the cultivation of sensibilities that draw middle managers into an increasingly adversarial relationship with the factors in the production of unit wealth that faculty represent.  

Most successful middle managers navigate this contradiction in time honored fashion.  They develop a rhetorics of solidarity with their staff while at the same time embrace the cultures of administration and its quite distinct approach to the management of the production of students through a transnational  web of knowledge dissemination and production.  However, as the cultures of administration and those of faculty increasingly diverge, and as faculty itself begins to fracture along worker class lines (tenured and nontenured full time staff, fixed term faculty, research or teaching faculty, adjuncts and graduate assistants) the natural solidarity of middle managers toward their colleagues will dissipate as well. 

In that context, it may be necessary to begin to think about the ways that this fissure between deans and faculties now shows up in managerial techniques.  This post considers some of the most interesting and telling examples of the perhaps inevitable break between faculty and those charged with their oversight.It is put together as  a set of lessons for the young manager on the emerging rules of managing faculty , the effects of which are likely to be the opposite of what is intended. 

Let folly reign!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Conundrums of Rank and Title at the University: Faculty Solidarity Versus Consumer Protection



(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2017)


Universities worldwide have long dealt with the core issue of how an institution may convey information respecting individual faculty members.  The information that is conveyed relates to (1) rank, (2) status, and (3) function.  The information is usually embedded within what is commonly called the rank and titling of faculty within the university. Information conveyed by titling is directed to the community of academics and also to critical stakeholders (students, outside funding agencies, and others). 

This post considers briefly the complexities of titling faculty, revealing of the underlying issues that tend to make any real sort of principled construction of a coherent structure for titling faculty  unlikely.   It suggests that current efforts to reform issues of rank and title may not be able to avoid conflicts between principles of consumer protection and those of equity and solidarity among faculty workers.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Abuse of Discretion at the University: A Construction Built One Act at a Time

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2017)


I have been writing about the transformation of the scope and functions of middle level administrators at the university--either public or private (here, here, here, here).  I have been suggesting that the symptom that is much in evidence--the emergence of cultures of soft retaliation, personally directed but not in violation of the rules under that empower administrative action--hides its cause, the rapidly expanding scope of administrative discretion within ever more complex regulatory structures (here, here, here, here, here).  As these regulatory structures move from rules based to principles based structure--from commands to conditions of service (here, here, here, here)--the administrator charged it is operation becomes the receptacle of an increasing amount of discretion.  This discretion may be exercised in the administration of a unit with impunity--that is it may be exercised within a broad, and increasingly unreviewable, discretion that falls well within the scope of the authority with which the administrator has come to be vested.

This emerging system of university governance, then, is founded on two great foundations.  The first is the legalization of conduct within the university.  All conduct is meant to be subject to rules and the rule systems are designed to be opaque.  Like the most arcane regulatory structures of the public administrative state, the volume of regulation within the university will be fractured (divided into a large number of distinct categories) and will be memorialized in a language increasingly open only to specialists.  In the public sphere that describes the relationship between lawyer, judge and law; within the university that describes the relationship between the administrator and the university's regulations. The second is the shift of authority for decision making and rule interpretation to a class of administrators through which the university may manage those who are necessary for its operation. This produces the construction of regulatory governance that vests interpretive discretion and the power to apply the rule solely in the hands of a hierarchically arranged administrative structure, in which each level is responsible only to itself and protected by a regulatory structure that is meant to protect the integrity of the system.

The resulting practices, perhaps some abusive, have not been well documented precisely because the framework within which they are committed have remained obscure.  Yet that documentation ought to be commenced, and the stories that suggest the mechanics and habits of discretion--its use and abuse within the university--ought to be told.  With this post I will try to give form to the many ways in which discretion may be exercised and abused.  I will leave it to the reader to determine the extent of abuse, but will call on others to share stories that may add to our construction of the actual operation of the discretionary administrative university of this century. All stories will be stripped of identifying information to serve as the faceless indictment of a practice that has until now been able to thrive in the shadows protected by an ignorance of the methodologies and tactics of the modern university.


Friday, February 24, 2017

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

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2017)

There is a sort of culture war that is entering into a decisive stage within the American University. That culture war is most clearly exposed in the contrasting narratives about the character of the university. The culture war is marked by a great contest over the master narrative that defines the way in which people understand the university within our culture.

On one side stands the narrative of the traditional ideal of the university, painstakingly fashioned over the course of the last century.  It is an ideology nurtured on the notion of the university as a place where knowledge is produced and disseminated  by and under the supervision of an autonomous  professional faculty in accordance with the inherent logic of the academic disciplines within which knowledge production is organized.  Within this narrative of the ideal university, students acquire experience through supervised teaching and research under the direction of faculty. Within this narrative, individuals are seen as students (e.g., here).  On the other stands the narrative of the university as its emerging operational reality--a corporatized institution for the production of candidates for efficient insertion into global or local labor markets at the least possible expense, and one in which the university's stakeholders are increasingly understood as factors in the production of product (the employees) and funds (alumni contributions after insertion and tuition on the promise of insertion into targeted labor markets. Within this functionally framed institutional narrative, students are seen as service workers, contributing to a reduction in the cost of disseminating and producing knowledge for the market.  Within this narrative, individuals are seen as workers (e.g., here).

The conflicts between universities and their graduate students are shaped by these two quite distinct narratives. 
Caroline A. Adelman, a spokeswoman for Columbia, said that “Columbia — along with many of our peer institutions — disagrees with this outcome because we believe the academic relationship students have with faculty members and departments as part of their studies is not the same as between employer and employee.” (here).
And universities have been aggressive in seeking to quash the unionization effort (see, e.g., here). Graduate students tend to take a different view.  At Columbia they note:
“What we’re fundamentally concerned about isn’t really money,” said Paul R. Katz, one of the Columbia graduate students involved in the organizing efforts. “It’s a question of power and democracy in a space in the academy that’s increasingly corporatized, hierarchical. That’s what we’re most concerned about.” (here).
At Penn State they note something similar in recent efforts to begin the process of unionization, where the focus is on engagement and working conditions, especially those touching on benefits (see, e.g., here). At the University of Pittsburgh graduate students and faculty have moved forward in parallel efforts (see, e.g., here). The narrative focuses on the corporate model of labor exploitation in the learning factory.
Speakers at the news conference, including some individuals hoping to join the bargaining units, cited issues including fairness, job security, transparency and workplace justice as key themes of the effort. “We deserve to be recognized for our indispensable roles,” said Hillary Lazar, 37, a graduate student employee and a teaching fellow in sociology. “The University continues to profit off our labor.” (here).

Similar disjunctions in narrative have produced efforts to unionize athletics as well (see, e.g., here), in which student athletes increasingly see themselves as factors in the production of university wealth while universities seek to cling to the ideal of the student athlete-scholar (e.g., here). The tensions has produced efforts to recognize the student aspects of their role but also the nature of their contribution to the "life" of the university (see, e.g., here).

This post reflects on the inevitability of these moves and their wider ramifications for the academy.  Starting with students and athletes, it is clear that the pattern is symptomatic of a larger change in the structures and logic of the academic enterprise that will likely produce some transformative changes,.  These are considered below.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

What is the University?: De-Centering Education in an Age of Risk and Regulatory Management


(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2017)


People constantly ask variations of the question--What is the University? --usually as a rhetorical throat clearing to put forward some sort of ideological position that advances a particular agenda in the service of quite specific objectives.  That is to be expected, of course. But it is not the subject of this post.

Rather, the more interesting answer to this question ought to start with a more fundamental set of questions: (1) what are the objectives of regulatory society? and (2) how has the university changed to resemble and amplify greater society.  Asked in this way, the answer becomes much more interesting than the ideology-by-other-means discussion that tends to put off everyone but their advocates. 

The answer to these questions might be gleaned by the resources that universities increasingly devote--not to knowledge production and dissemination--but to the regulatory control of their stakeholder populations (students, faculty, staff and others that affect the university and its operations) either  for its own account or as a pass through institution administering privatizing regulatory demands of superior public institutions (usually state and federal governments). A recent communication from the President of Penn State University perhaps nicely illustrates the trend--not because it stands out but for precisely the opposite reason, for the way in which it reflects standard practice among universities, for the way it applies consensus within higher education about the regulatory role of the university. Indeed one might expect this to serve as a standard generic letter of its kind issued in some variation by many similarly situated high officials. It is for that reason that the communication is most interesting.

This post considers the larger societal consequences of the changes suggested, as a general matter and in common with other universities, by that communication.  The object is neither to condemn or praise the tend--but rather to notice them and consider what they might say about the character and function of the university generally in early 21st century America. The communication is reproduced below and is followed by some brief thoughts.