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.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The University and Immigration Policy--The Word from the AAU and Full Text of the Presidential Executive Order--“Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States.”

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2017)

Universities have increasingly relied on foreign students.  There are a number of reasons beyond the obvious and important reason of financial need. Besides providing a substantial and sometimes premium priced income flow to universities, foreign students (and faculty) serve to more deeply connect the university to knowledge dissemination and production flows globally and to network  opportunity for students on a global basis.  In many ways, foreign students now serve as a key element in enhancing the competitiveness of American labor and its industry.  That competitiveness is not enhanced merely by the possibilities of creaming inherent in the current system encouraging mutually advantageous cross border educational opportunities, though these can be substantial.  More importantly is the way in which the presence of such foreign students and faculty substantially enhance the breadth of education for U.S: students. And, equally important, the presence of robust populations of foreign students and scholars  provides the United States an unparalleled opportunity to enhance its own image globally, to develop friends (many of whom may some day ascend to positions of power in their respective nations), and to develop global empathy for American culture and values--social, political, religious and economic. Foreign students and scholars can have a similar effect on American students, broadening their understanding of the world and making them better able to appreciate and navigate it many complexities. In all these respects, the encouragement of foreign students and scholars sits near the center of the teaching and research mission of mo0st universities.  

It is thus with great interest, and some dismay, that universities have been following the recently announced Executive Order issued by the 45th President on January 27, 2017. Entitled  “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States” it has not yet been posted to the White House website but is available through many national news outlets (here, here, here, and here). The Executive Order (unnumbered yet) may be downloaded here. A critical annotation may be accessed HERE and another HERE.

The text of the Executive Order is long and its scope is quite broad and potentially far reaching.  It appears, beyond its most inflammatory provisions, to set the stage for substantial modification of the U.S. immigration laws--loosely understood as all of the administrative and legal apparatus managing the entry and exit of foreign nationals within the territory of the Republic for such purposes (including but not limited to immigration) as the Republic finds useful to itself. This in itself will be a contentious and potentially destabilizing conversation.

It is not directly focused on foreign students and scholars, though its breadth assures that all of them will be affected directly or indirectly.  It has proven controversial and generated substantial popular agitation and response. See here, here, here and here.  One court has sought to issue a nationwide ban on part of its enforcement(see here)--something may may prove harder to enforce than to declare (see here). What is clear is that the Executive Order has brought the issue of immigration generally and the governmental approaches to its management, already quite contentious, very much into the open--though it is unlikely to result either in consensus or stable resolution in the near term. See here, here, here and here.

Universities have responded as well.  See here, here, here here, here, and here. Some remain silent (see, e.g., here). And indeed, the Executive Order has begun to cause some disruption in the stable and growing relationships between universities, its students and scholars from abroad. See here, here, here, here here, and here. The Association of American Universities (AAU), a powerful university organization has also issued a statement, to which universities as a group are likely to adhere. In all cases, the response has been temperate--a recognition of the possibility that changes in entry policy might be negotiated as well as the recognition that the value of appropriately open borders is essential for the national self interest in its political, economic, social and educational projects.

The full text of the Executive Order follows, along with the Statement of the Association of American Universities (AAU).

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Presentation on Shared Governance at John's Hopkins University



I was delighted to have been invited by the Johns Hopkins School of Education to deliver some remarks on the state of shared governance and the trajectories of the way forward. My thanks to Professor Christina Harnett, for organizing the event.

The PowerPoints of that presentation may be accessed HERE. Reflections on that conversation will be posted soon.

Friday, January 20, 2017

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

(Pix ©Larry Catá Backer 2017)


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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Moving Beyond University Expropriation and Control of Faculty "Outside Business Activities" --a Proposal for a Rule that is Simple and Fair

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2016)


In Just Because it is Legal Doesn't Make it Right--The Extension of University Control of Employee "Outside Business Activity"  I considered the way that the most pernicious aspects of the master-servant relationship tolerated in U.S. law has been creeping into the relationship between the university and its faculty.  That creeping  has been embedded in increasingly exploitative "conflict of commitment" and "Management of Teaching Services" rules that universities have begun to use as a means of controlling the productive capacity of its employees even beyond the scope of their contract periods. Three distinct aspects were noted: (1) Many research 1 universities have begun to seek to claim for themselves not just the fruits of the labor they paid for in hiring staff, but also to control and exploit all faculty productive capacity even beyond contract term periods.  (2) At the same time, the university has begun to see in their faculty an extension of their brand--the objectification of the human being who serve as faculty..in a way that reduces them to factors in the production of university reputation ONLY, and thus amenable to control by the university at all times as if they were other sorts of property. (3) Lastly, the university sees in the aggregated work activities of faculty an enormous  source of data that could be better exploited and thus view  rules regulation work beyond that compensated through university contracts as a valuable information asset to be harvested. 

These trends have not occurred in a vacuum. There is no disputing that individuals have taken advantage of the porous nature of the teaching-university relationship. These include multiple simultaneous full time teaching producing, in the most egregious cases multiple simultaneous tenured appointments. Outside consulting during the academic year can become so excessive that it interferes with compensated expectations for research, teaching and service. Outside activity might conflict with the interests of the university directly (I take as more hysterical, strategic, and overblown university efforts to create prophylactic rules that extend conflict beyond direct and substantial conflicts between faculty activity and university interests).

It has been in that context that universities have sought to protect their legitimate interests--and investment--in their faculty. And usually that has produced badly drafted and overblown regulatory efforts, usually drafted by lawyers or administrators with little experience regulatory drafting but enthusiastic to extend university authority to the full reach of the law. The result has been characterized by overreaching that at times might suggest that the now popular university ethics rules do not apply to its own regulatory activities. Worse, these regulatory efforts tend to become complex baroque affairs to collapse into incoherence by weight of their own overwrought cleverness--none of which provides real substantive benefit to the university. Compare typical variations on the conflict of interest, conflict of commitment and outside teaching and consulting policies: University of Georgia; University of Washington; University of Texas; University of Utah; University of Maryland; and Purdue University.

That is regrettable. But fairly easy to fix IF (the university is willing to take a reasonable position and faculty are willing to engage in outside activities judiciously and in good faith. To that end a simple rule that is easy to understand and easy to implement, a rule that is easy to monitor and apply might be the most useful mechanism to balance the interests of university and faculty- That simple rule ought to be respectful of the faculty's right to employ his own productive forces when he is not rendering service to the university, while protecting the university in its legitimate expectation that its employees will not shirk. The easiest approach is to provide a simple safe harbor rule for faculty consulting and teaching outside the university, one that is entirely focused on those time periods when the faculty member is employed by the university (usually under a 9 month contract), but relinquishes control when the university does not pay its faculty for services. At the same time, such a simple rule ought to be generous in permitting the university to harvest data about such activity--to the extent that such data is shared with those contributing information.

I have produced a model that is geared for Penn State but is easily applicable to other major research universities.  It follows.  Comments and reactions welcome.  For a variation See Michigan State University.  For an alternative consider Harvard's Statement.


Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Killing Shared Governance From the Bottom Up--How Middle Level Administrators Kill University Shared Governance



(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2017)


"As you know, it was only because of my kindness and indulgence that I allowed you to accept a grant that afforded you a buy out of your courses last year. I should tell you that this really put me out; I had to go to the trouble of finding substitutes for you just so that you could do this research funded by the grant rather than teach. Reluctantly I also lose you because of your duties as an elected member of the University Faculty Governance Organization. There is nothing I can so about that. But I will insist that those duties are in addition to and should be undertaken only after you have complied with all of the service and committee work that I need to impose on you. That is your primary job. So you figure out how to fit in your University service; I have a unit to run. I still need you to fulfill your service responsibilities to this unit first, which include advising students, serving as a peer observer of teaching for faculty, and serving on unit committees as I assign you. And be sure to remember that your year end evaluation for me will be weighted heavily in favor of your unit service.

For faculty elected to university service--especially university level faculty organizations--hypothetical emails like this are not unusual.  And they effectively shut down effective service on university faculty organizations.  And that, in turn, helps kill university shared governance.  It is not destroyed by high level decisions based on principled objectives--shared governance is killed by the exercise of lower level administrative discretion by middle and lower level managers eager to protect their "resources" and to punish, through the exercise of that discretion, those of their "staff" who presume  to provide service outside their unit.  

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Shadow Work in the University--Administrative Requirements as a Barrier to Productive Work at the University and a Suggested Response from Faculty at Cornell

Existing and new policies run the risk of a hidden cost – increasing the time required by faculty and/or staff for compliance. While this cost may be justified by the risk or benefit underlying the policy, the gradual accretion of these small burdens decreases the productivity of both faculty and staff and that makes it more difficult to pursue the academic mission. Moreover, without examining the time required for compliance, it is impossible to fully understand the cost-benefit of any existing or new policy. (Cornell, Stay Informed)
This is how Cornell University, through the efforts of its faculty and the cooperation of its administrators, has sought to frame the issue of bureaucratic creep that has marked at least one aspect of the transformation of post secondary education as an industry in the 21st century. It is a reminder that administrative creep emerges because of the increasing task for risk management and transparency to outside constituencies and public regulators. It evidences an overlooked manifestation of administrative creep within the risk management university--the rise of responsibilities to feed the administrative machinery with data necessary to fuel the functioning of the administrative apparatus. (The Riskless University and the Bureaucratization of Knowledge: From "Indiana Jones" to Central Planning). At Cornell is is references as "Overzealous Risk Management, which paralyzes research function" (Report, 2015, p. 2).

Cornell has done more than document the way that the burden of a growing administration with an engorged portfolio has increasingly fallen to faculty.  There is a lesson here for many universities--and not just Research 1 institutions.  The most important lesson is one that touches on shared governance in risk management:
These faculty and staff stakeholders should not be called in as advisors in the development of the procedure. Rather, they need to be an integral part of the development process, with the power to prevent the procedure from being implemented until the group as a whole has come to consensus that the proposed procedure is both necessary and as efficient as possible. (Report, 2015, p. 8-9)
This post includes links to the relevant documents produced at and about the efforts to meet the challenge of shadow work at Cornell. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Limiting Access to Faculty Organization Archives and Records--When Administrative Gatekeepers Abuse Their Authority and Undermine Shared Governance

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2016)



Universities are well known as great centers of knowledge production and dissemination.  Faculty tend to be at the center of the production of both.  But like other industries, administrators have increasingly assumed a larger role in the management of exploitation of knowledge production and dissemination by and through faculty to the greater glory of the institution.  In the process there has been an increasingly large distance created between those who produce university wealth (faculty) and those who manage those productive forces and their product (the administrator) who produces no wealth. 

Administrators produce a very different kind of knowledge than that produced by faculty. Administrators generate data from the productive work of others.  And that data is then used either to (1) increase the productivity of wealth producers (appropriating the entirety of such increases in wealth per productive unit to the institution and their greater glory) or (2) ensure the separation of the means of production of knowledge-wealth (faculty) from its control  (invested increasingly in an administrator class with no connection to knowledge production). 

Within these new forms of production and control--the ownership of information, especially the ownership of information relating to the wealth production of the university becomes among its most valuable commodities. It is valuable especially in the sense that it represents the ownership fo the power to control the wealth generation by the university and to direct its form and expression.  Information, then is power.  Information, in this sense, is power. 

This relationship between information, its control and power over an institution suggests bath the emerging hierarchical character of the university and the way that appropriation of control is used to reduce the role of knowledge producers to share in the governance of the university and in the control of their own knowledge production and dissemination. But this emerging relationship, as troubling as it may be int he context of shared governance, faculty de-professionalization, and the administrative control of a university becomes a tragedy when the same pattern is used by the administrators of a faculty organization against its own members

This post speaks to the issue, increasingly problematic of administrators of faculty organizations from access to the archives of their own institutions.  

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Reflections on Human Rights Day: The University, Its Human Rights Obligations, and the U.N. "Stand Up for Someone's Rights! Campaign


(Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, (United States) holding a Declaration of Human Rights Pix © U.N. Photo Library)


On December 10, 1948, the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. To mark that anniversary, in 1950 the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 423 (V) (4 December 1950), inviting all States and interested organizations to observe 10 December of each year as Human Rights Day. To observe this celebration, President Obama proclaimed "December 10, 2016, as Human Rights Day and the week beginning December 10, 2016, as Human Rights Week. I call upon the people of the United States to mark these observances with appropriate ceremonies and activities." (Presidential Proclamation 9 Dec. 2016).

As has been the recent practice, for this year the United Nations adopted a specific theme and initiated a campaign: "Stand Up For Someone's Rights!" The Campaign is structured around the power of individual agency in protecting the human rights of others against individuals and institutions. The Campaign explains:
The time for this is now. “We the peoples” can take a stand for rights. And together, we can take a stand for more humanity. It starts with each of us. Step forward and defend the rights of a refugee or migrant, a person with disabilities, an LGBT person, a woman, a child, indigenous peoples, a minority group, or anyone else at risk of discrimination or violence. (Campaign website HERE). 
My observations about the 2016 Human Rights Day observation in the context of this campaign can be accessed HERE.

While it is fairly common to think about human rights in terms of the normative rights embedded in and forming part of the autonomous human person, and perhaps also of the resulting obligations of institutional actors--states, enterprises, religious institutions, and others to protect them,  one rarely thinks of the university in this regard.  Yet universities, like other institutions, have duties and responsibilities to protect and respect human rights to the same extent as other institutions--and perhaps more so in cases where the university is itself an instrumentality of the state. To fail to embed human rights within university administration violates not just law but likely the ethical and corporate responsibility that many universities have loudly proclaimed for their own.

This post considers some of the consequences for universities of undertaking an appropriate level of responsibility for human rights in its operation.  I have little illusion that universities will actually pay attention to their responsibility; like other corporate entities, they tend to respond either to the lash of law or to the preferences of the stakeholders on which they are most dependent (students as consumers of its services; employers as consumers of its product (students); and alumni  as providers of resources to maintain reputation status).   It is perhaps to them, then, that this point is directed.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

On Being Student Centered--More than the Periodic Aspirational Message is Needed


(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2016)


X's mom died of heart disease when she was 16, her father is disabled, and she is his custodian. X cares for her sister's kids when she needs to make extra money to put food on the table. Z's mother died in a car accident when he was 12, with no life insurance, his sister is disabled and he is her care giver in their small apartment. This is all they can afford; to make ends meet and because of the medical equipment required for care, he sleeps on the couch......Today is a bad day; no transportation.  X is lucky.  She managed to borrow a car, no insurance though. X is picking up Z, her study buddy Z so they can both get to class. Without their mutual support, they would be unable to survive the stress of their personal and academic lives. Both X and Z look to their faculty for support but expect nothing from those who run the institution. If our administration had half of the chutzpah of these students...... I am lost here....
These are the circumstances of a significant enough portion of the students who seek the fulfillment of the hope that is at the very center of the promise of post secondary education in contemporary American colleges. How does an academic institution practice being the sort of student centered place that the typical institution trumpets  from the lofty speeches of its administrators to the pages of its social media products? The answer, increasingly is that they may not.

This post considers the problem of being student centered for the contemporary American university and the growing chasm that separates administrative formalism of the concept (through rules and aspirational sentiments) as against its functional realization.