Saturday, August 20, 2016

Central Planning and the University: What is So Bad About Administrative Management of Knowledge Production and Dissemination?

(Pix source here)

I have been studying the approaches of Marxist Leninist societies--businesses and governments--especially in the way in which institutions founded on Leninist principles with Marxist objectives relate to markets.  The traditional view of  such systems viewed markets with suspicion and sought to substitute an objectives based central planning apparatus--driven by a well trained and motivated bureaucracy--for the choice and efficiency structures of the market.  The idea was that better choices would be made and more efficient use of productive forces could be sustained.  But at its foundation was the Leninist notion that market driven choices were inherently ideologically tainted against which a bureaucracy of planners was necessary to avoid the errors of popular choice in the service of the construction (or preservation ) of a Marxist society.

That approach was transformed in the decades since the breakup of the old Soviet Union. Over the last 40 years two distinct approaches have arisen.  The more traditional Central Planning Marxist-Leninism continues to embrace at its core an anti-markets principle and the object of the state is to remake individuals to better suit the needs of central planning.  The other, Markets Marxism, increasingly embraces markets and markets based mechanisms as a means of social, economic and political progress compatible with the state's long term objectives.  In that case markets are the means used to achieve objects, as opposed to the traditional Marxism in which the objective was to avoid the market. (Discussed HERE).

Yet, one might ask, why would a site focused on university governance have any interest in Leninism and market ideologies? Because, it seems, universities in the West (and large western multinational enterprises) appear in the early 21st century to be the heirs and most vigorous centers of anti-market, central planning ideologies in both their operation and in the institutional cultures that they advance. The result, of course, is highly ironic where these institutions are meant to serve as the knowledge production foundation of political-economies founded on both principles of representative democracy and of markets.  But irony is the stuff of dinner parties.  There is real effect as well--internal central  planning in the knowledge production and dissemination industry substantially determines who decides what one learns, how on studies and what knowledge is produced. The power over those decisions has been shifting from individuals and from the stakeholders within the university, to bureaucracies asserting managerial controls through the exercise of administrative discretion. In centrally planned economies, the result is usually a substantial loss of productivity, a shifting of the focus of productive capability, and the loss of innovation.   Have American universities now adopted cultures of central planning or Markets Marxism as the basis for their operations? 

Monday, July 18, 2016

Just Because it is Legal Doesn't Make it Right--The Extension of University Control of Employee "Outside Business Activity"

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2016)

The evolution of the legal rules constraining the terms  through which labor may be purchased in the West had seen a long evolution--from villeinage and indenture (slavery for some) to service in the form of the sale of labor to a master who is empowered by law to manage and control the person whose services have been purchased.  That employment relation, that relationship between master and servant is hierarchical and personal in a way that the relationship between investor and enterprise is not--capital is invested but not purchased and performs no service beyond offering the value obtained and a forbearance of repayment for a time certain. Echoes of the the more comprehensive notions of service, and of the role of the servant, remain visible today in the scope of discretionary authority the law permits to a "master" to regulate the non working lives of employees to the extent it might interfere with its business and operations--as those are conceived by the employer. For at will employees, of course, the legal master-servant relation is to permit the master (though technically both have the power) to terminate employment for any reason--and in the master's case, to condition employment on a host of criteria, subject only to the constraints of other law, contract, or at the extreme, constitutional limitations. 

The master-servant relationship exits within the university as well.  For faculty, however, the operation of the master-servant relation has been constrained both by contract and by the scope of the interpretation of the twin principles of academic freedom and shared governance.  These have sometimes proven to be strong protection in the absence of statute or policy.  Other times, their protection has been somewhat less powerful.  Beyond the legal constraints lie a powerful policy conversation that has been shaping the societal consensus relating to the propriety of the exaction of conditions for work that touch on the non working life of the employee. These have tended to push toward a growing societal disapproval of the assertion of employer power reaching into the private lives of employees. At the same time, universities across the United States have sought to expand the boundaries of the definition--and thus the protection--of their interests in the intellectual prowess represented by the individuals whose services they have purchased for the provision of customary teaching, research and service duties.  Where once universities were principally concerned about the protection of its interests in the face of patents and related innovation and the opening of businesses by mostly scientists and engineers seeking to exploit ideas nurtured through the university, and to constrain the scope of professional practice by its lawyers, architects, musicians, etc., now the university seeks to control well beyond these simple and direct activities.  It is at the intersection of these two opposing societal movements that university policy relating to the control of faculty outside business activity meet.

Many of these issues have been dealt with relatively uniformly by contemporary large research universities across the United States.  This post considers one hypothetical example of this effort in that light and the Commentary of Professor Hypothetical in light of that effort.  It is a hypothetical example only; but it presents issues that touch on such efforts across the nation.  As a generic model it will be presented as the efforts of Public University (PU), a land grant University in the State of Republic,  in the development of a Labor Policy (LRX) that seeks to manage employee business activities in the context of a new model. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

On the Management of Scandal in the Modern University; Some Lessons and Insights for Times of Crisis

Scandals and litigation can have a substantial effect on the operations of the modern university. The long running efforts of Penn State University to meet and mitigate the effects of the prosecution of a former athletic employee for various acts of gross sexual misconduct provides the model template for the early 21st century large university.As such, the lessons that ought to be drawn should be of importance to university administrators and shared governance partners throughout the nation.

There are a number of lessons that can be drawn:
1. Such disruptions can be long lasting. It is difficult to reduce the "life span" of such events, and the risk of substantial mistakes increases the more strenuously administrators seek to shorten this life span through retrospectively short sighted decisions.

2. Information about events of national and public concern are nearly impossible to control. The harder the university works to control the flow and manufacture of information for distribution internally or externally, the more likely that it will have detrimental effects on moral and on the position of the university. Individuals and organizations, including state officials are likely to draw negative inferences from especially ham handed efforts to control either information flows or discussion.

3. Preserving the illusion of control tends to create unintended consequences.  It is an illusion to believe that scandals of this sort can be managed or controlled, especially by groups of senior administrators who do not have (given institutional cultures and the logic of their positions) a means of grasping rank and file sentiment.  The harder the effort to stage manage thought, to socialize employees, or to limit expression, the more likely that division between senior administrators and rank and file will grow, and that mutual trust will dissipate.  Ordinarily this is of little moment--but the consequences will be felt not in the context of the scandal but in virtually every other administrative program--from benefits reform to conflicts of interest and consulting initiatives. Trust, once lost, is hard to recover
4. The university's failure to account transparently for its expenses and objectives in meeting the scandal will also contribute to a reduction of trust  That reduction will focus on faculty and staff--who will view university efforts at cost reduction aimed solely at them much more suspiciously in the face of multiple millions of dollars spent to manage and deal with scandal related accountability issues.  To them, such cost reductions appears to amount to a cram down of the expenses of the scandal form the university to faculty and staff.  In effect, taken as a whole, university cost cutting in the face of a scandal tends to be understood as a faculty-staff subsidy of the costs of the scandal, a cost that appears to be passed through from the (rich) university to the (much less financially endowed) faculty and staff.

5.  That failure of transparency might well affect outside stakeholders as well--from the state in its budgeting processes, to alumni and local leaders who might also begin to worry about trust issues and the nature of their relation to the institution. 

6.  There are always unanticipated surprises in the course of resolving major scandals. In the effort to produce accountability new and sometimes quite burdensome information may come to light that might well complicate efforts at scandal crisis resolution.  

All university administrators must begin to better plan for and meet the likelihood of major crisis.  This is a difficult task, and one for which the university community itself must be prepared to be forgiving and patient as events unfold. Still, there is a need to better prepare for protecting the university community and the functioning of the university as it seeks to deal--ethically, transparently and forthrightly--with scandal.  That requires programs for both vigorous defense of false accusation and humble and forthright acceptance of responsibility.  Indeed, Penn State's Values would appear to mandate these as the basic principles of the university's own operations. And in any case they ought to serve as a baseline against which administrator decision making and conduct generally ought to be judged.

Some of the implications of these insights may be discerned by a reading of the surprising and continuing events revolving around the horrible Sandusky related scandals.  The first is a recent article from the Washington Post (Will Hobson and Cindy Boren, "New Court Documents Suggest Others at Penn State knew of Jerry Sandusky Abuse," Washington Post, July 12, 2016) which may be accessed HERE.  The second is a message from the University President. These are presented without comment in keeping with the request of the Penn State President set forth below.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Rearguard Actions--AAUP Censures Missouri (Columbia) and Takes Other Action at its Annual Meeting

On June 18, 2016 the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) took a number of actions relating to conduct by university officials. Among the most important, the AAUP voted to censure the University of Missouri (Columbia) and St Rose University of NY for violation standards of academic freedom and tenure.

This from its Press Release:
Censure and Sanction Actions

Washington, DC—Today, delegates to the 102nd Annual Meeting of the AAUP voted to place the College of Saint Rose in New York and the University of Missouri (Columbia) on the AAUP’s list of administrations censured for violating standards of academic freedom and tenure. The annual meeting also voted to remove from the censure list two institutions that had taken the necessary steps to address the AAUP’s outstanding concerns: Metropolitan Community College in Missouri and Grove City College in Pennsylvania. Grove City College had been on the censure list since 1963, longer than any other institution. However, the annual meeting did not approve a conditional removal of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign from its censure list.
I have written about the action against the University of Missouri (here) and the University of Illinois (here). The actions evidence the scope of the battleground that defines emerging relationships between university administration--increasingly bureaucratic, self referencing and remote from its faculty--and faculty, increasingly de-professionalized and torn between global movements in disciplinary interests and the market oriented programming of universities and their outside stakeholders. Where once the object was to flesh out and broaden the space within which the professional competence of faculty was recognized and the self regulation of faculty through their own communities of scholars in their fields was understood as the primary instrument of discipline, now the focus increasingly is on building walls to protect faculties who are no longer viewed as the superior authority with respect to the knowledge they produce or the structuring of its dissemination.  Administrators have sought to transfer authority for both knowledge production and the structure of its dissemination (coursers and majors) from disciplinary communities of scholars to markets for knowledge consumption (labor markets and the institutions that seek to develop and exploit knowledge and to make use of the students produced for consumption within labor markets). Though the language of university administration and the AAUP remains locked in that of the normative structures of the 1980s, the world in which these contests are undertaken have changed (e.g., here and here).

The Press Release follows along with links to the original investigating committee reports.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Challenging the Ordering of Markets for Academic Prestige: On the Business of Academic Conferences, Status Hierarchies and the Markets for Knowledge Production and Dissemination

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2013)

I have written before on the ways in which markets for academic prestige, and for sorting academics within informal "ranks", have become routinized and institutionalized over the last 30 or so years in their current form. In Ordering Markets for Academic Knowledge Goes Global: Pablo Lerner on "Foreign Influences and 'Law Reviews Rankings' in Israeli Legal Scholarship "I suggested methodologies for knowledge production valuation within institutions that sought to capture some of the intrinsic value of the thing produced, even when measured extrinsically.  The problem, of course, is the nature of the market for knowledge.
The production of knowledge, especially among academics, is not simply offered for consumption.  Like all consumables, it is judged and valued in the market within which it is offered.  And again, like other consumables, the judging of academic knowledge products has become standardized, and its assessment routinized in ways that  both make it easier to understand what one is buying and also makes it more likely that all products will resemble each other. 
One of the principle external consequences of this market for academic production, is that much of what is produced is predictably the same--and the market likes it that way.  Another is that producers are judged  (tenure and promotion) by their fidelity to the packaging (law review articles and books) and content standardization (its fidelity to the generally shared normative presumptions of the leading practitioners in the field) features of  knowledge commodities.  To that end, assessment structures are required not merely for the academic, but also for the secondary structures within which her status is itself assessed. (Cf. Backer, Larry Catá, Global Panopticism: States, Corporations and the Governance Effects of Monitoring Regimes. Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies, Vol. 15, 2007).
Along with others, I have suggested the consequences of rmeasurement--and asessment--within systems  constructed specifically to permit a continuous and self reinforcing system of hierarchy and protecting the privileges of "leading" groups within disciplines ("Defining, Measuring and Judging Scholarly Productivity: Working Toward a Rigorous and Flexible Approach," 52(3) Journal of Legal Education 52(3):317-341 (2002) (examining, in part, the way that discussion od scholaraship and its produciton is skewed by other issues, principally the objectification of scholarship goals)).

Two items suggest that what appeared to be a stable environment for such markets may be coming to an end. One, in English from Duncan Green appearing on an LSE Blog,  Conference rage: How did something as truly awful as panel discussions become the default format? touches on the organization and hierarchies of the performances through which knowledge is disseminated to the academic community. . .and others. The second, in Spanish, an open letter from Roberto Breña, El Colegio de México, is in the form of an open letter to the leadership of the Latin American Studies Association on the deficiencies of the structures of contemporary conferences for academics in a recognized "field" of study. Part of both follow along with my brief comments.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

AAUP Investigative Report on the Dismissal of Professor Melissa Click From the University of Missouri--Of Process and Speech Acts in the University

(Colleen Flaherty, "A Firing With Consequences," Inside Higher Education, May 19, 2016).

The AAUP released its investigative report touching on the actions taken against Professor Melissa Click by the University of Missouri in the wake of the protests at the University of Missouri.  The decision is a very narrow one.  As reported in Inside Higher Education:
AAUP does not argue that Click’s actions toward two student journalists during an on-campus protest in the fall were protected by academic freedom. Rather, the association argues that in failing to adhere to established disciplinary procedures in her dismissal, the university compromised academic freedom for all. (Colleen Flaherty, "A Firing With Consequences," Inside Higher Education, May 19, 2016).

Brief comments follow along with the AAUP Press Release.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Challenging University Approaches to Sexual Assault: Time to Reassess University Approaches in Light of the the ALI's Rejection of Proposed Changes to its Model Penal Code?

(Pix © 2015 Larry Catá Backer)

The sexualization of conduct, and its management, has become an important element of the discourse of rights, and of human dignity in American society.  Such sexualization, and its punishment, extends from the most egregious conduct traditionally suppressed (rape) to conduct that in another era might have been annoying but hardly criminal (wedgies). It is viewed by some as a battleground for gender equality, and for others, as a means for using the state to effect substantial changes --and to harmonize norms respecting--a broad range of conduct that is deemed sexual and with respect to which there is substantial controversy in society. But as important, that discussion of sexualization is also tied to a number of related issues, from the legal effects of individual interactions, to the complexity and degree to which such conduct might be minutely regulated, to the standards of liability, and to the procedural protections of both parties in disputes touching on sexualized conduct. My thoughts may be found here

This post considers the effect that the recent actions by the elite American Law Institute--in rejecting changes to the criminal statute on Sexual Assault in its Model Penal Code--may have provided a basis for seriously reconsidering the conventional university constructions of sexual violence rules adopted uncritically and at the instance of the federal education bureaucracy. 

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Sexual Assault at the American Law Institute (ALI)--Intensified Controversy Over the Criminalization of Sexual Contact in the Proposed Revision of the Model Penal Code

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2015)

In 2012, the American Law Institute (in which I am a member), agreed to launch a revision of its famous and quite influential Model Penal Code to focus specifically on rising issues of "sexual assault and related offenses." The project It was acknowledged at the time that the issue of the decriminalization of certain conduct around sexual activity "deals with some of the most controversial matters on the current public agenda." (Richard L. Revesz, Director ALI in Forward ALI Model Penal Code: Sexual Assault and Related Offenses (Tent. Draft No. 2 (April 15, 20916). The project has been overseen by its reporter, Stephen J. Schulhofer and its associate reporter, Erin E. Murphy, both of NYU Law School. But it has been highly controversial as I reported last year (see, Sexual Assualt at the American Law Institute--Controversy Over the Criminalization of Sexual Contact in the Proposed Revision of the Model Penal Code).

The controversy is well evidenced by the history of this project before the ALI. In 2013, a draft on procedural and evidentiary principles applicable to the sexual assault provisions (¶ 213 of the Model Penal Code) and on collateral consequences of conviction was presented to ALI for discussion but no vote. For the 2014 ALI meeting, a tentative draft containing substantive material for discussion and an evidentiary section (proposed revision ¶ 213.7) for approval was submitted but no vote was taken. Again, for the 2015 meeting a draft on substantive and evidentiary material was presented for discussion but no vote. For its 2016 meeting, the ALI is asked to consider for approval two key provisions: ¶ 213.0(3) (definition of consent) and ¶ 213.2 (sexual penetration without consent).

Both proposals have produced some significant opposition--both to the specifics, and generally to the approach taken on the spirit of the revisions of Section 213 in its entirety. This post briefly discusses the context in which this highly controversial project is going forward and includes (1) National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Memo Comments on Preliminary Draft No. 6, and (2) a two Memos (dated April 4, 2016 and May 12, 2016), signed by a number of ALI Members summarizing concerns about Draft No. 6 Revisions to the Sexual Assault Provisions of the Model penal Code.

This is a discussion that is quite relevant to the university.  It suggests that the federal government's efforts to legislate new forms of criminalization through its administrative powers under Title IX may indeed be subject to challenge.  It also suggests the extent to which the conversation about sexual mores--whether in the context of criminalizing behaviors or changing cultural norms--is far more complex that than the federal regulators would have it.  This suggests some caution for universities who seek governmental approval by all to quick compliance with standards that themselves may be controversial.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Consequences of Power/Responsibility Asymmetries: Administrative Power and Faculty Responsibility at the College of Saint Rose

As universities come under greater financial pressure, as the function and role of universities change, university administrations are showing themselves sometimes unequal to the task of responding to these challenges in an ethical and orderly way. 

It is easy to be a highly paid administrator during good times.  It is tempting to embrace the increasingly separate cultures of administrations during these good times.  The logic of administration at the contemporary university increasingly sees administrators as a privileges class with obligations to manage their resources, and the factors in the production of their "product".  These resource management cultures increasingly dehumanize and objectify labor--and especially the expert professional labor of faculty.

It comes as no surprise, then, that in the face of challenge, administrators seek to preserve their privileged position and to export their mismanagement--without any accountability for their decisions--onto the "factors" in the production of "product."  That process of redirecting responsibility is particularly ironic as it also serves as the culminating point of a process in which  administrations acquire all responsibility for decision making at the university but insist that all responsibility for the consequences of operation fall to the faculty.  The consequences are perverse: administration retains an increasing monopoly on decision making, but faculty increasingly bear the burden of accountability for these decisions.

It is this pattern--this perversity of accountability--that marks university administrative decision making in many institutions today.  It is in this light that one might consider the recent evaluation of the actions of administration in the College of Saint Rose in New York, which has been the object of an investigation by the Association of American University Professor (AAUP).  The press release and links to the report follow.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Diversity at Penn State: Reports of the Joint Diversity Awareness Task Force--Moving Forward Embedding Divesity Policy--Advisory/Consultative Report

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2016)

It has been my great honor to serve as the Chair of the Penn State University Joint Diversity Awareness Task Force (JDATF). JDATF was charged this past April by our Provost and the University Faculty Senate Chair to consider a number of important diversity initiatives at Penn State (Charge (PDF); Members). Our work over the academic year has produced four reports with recommendations for substantial changes in a number of areas.

Presented March 2016 for consideration by the PSU Faculty Senate April 2016:
1. US/IL Courses Survey--Recommendations (Legislative; and Advisory/Consultative)
2. Diversity Best Practices
3. Moving Forward Embedding Diversity Policy

Presented February 2016 and Approved by the PSU Faculty Senate March 2016
4. Moving Forward
Each of the next several posts will provide links and the text of the reports to be considered by the Penn State Faculty Senate on April 19. An "after action" report will follow Senate action on the 29th--action which I hope will be positive.

This post includes the Report, Moving Forward Embedding Diversity Policy, which was prepared by our Substantive Policy Recommendation  Sub-Committee.