Saturday, February 17, 2018

Disciplining Orthodoxy in the Neo Liberal Academy: What Amy Wax and George Ciccariello-Maher Can Teach Us About the State of the Market-Place of Ideas in the Academy

(Pix  Larry Catá Backer 2018)

I recent Wall Street Journal essay authored by Professor Amy Wax noted
There is a lot of abstract talk these days on American college campuses about free speech and the values of free inquiry, with lip service paid to expansive notions of free expression and the marketplace of ideas. What I’ve learned . . . is that most of this talk is not worth much. It is only when people are confronted with speech they don’t like that we see whether these abstractions are real to them. (What Can’t Be Debated on Campus)
Professor Wax, of course, was writing about what she had learned in the wake of the publication of an essay she authored with Professor Larry Alexander (“Paying the Price for the Breakdown of the Country’s Bourgeois Culture”) which also lamented the state of affairs in academia that this aftermath reveals. This essay resonated with an earlier piece of reporting about the resignation of Professor Ciccariello-Maher from Drexel University,  noting that "Staying at Drexel in the eye of this storm has become detrimental to my own writing, speaking, and organizing." (here).

This got me thinking more generally about the way that academics are embedded in the production of knowledge and in their role as guardians of authority and legitimacy in . It is always interesting to see how the marketplace of ideas is being managed by its guardians.  It is even more interesting to see exposed its disciplinary character where orthodoxies clash for dominance within the idea factories that the university appears to have become. More interesting still has been the way that the academy has overtaken the Church and other norm producing institutions as the priesthood for those basic principles (not the premises underlying them to be sure--those are rarely debated) for the orderly management of the institutions of state, of society and of good order and proper thinking.    

As Professors Wax and Ciccariello-Maher might have inadvertently noted, Philadelphia, once the cradle of the core principles on which this Republic was founded centuries ago, may once again appear to serve as cradle, this time of a "New Era" ideological order, one which, ironically enough, is grounded on the alignment of core global market principles with the development and management of idea sets deemed suitable for mass consumption by ordinary people and authoritative enough for use in justifying economic, political, social and religious activity buy those in control of such institutions. One gets a sense of this new markets based working style for speech by considering the course of academic factional fighting involving quite distinct ideological-political academic camps.

Brief thoughts on this theme follows. The object is not to weigh in on the value or merits of whatever ideas have been causing contrioversy (and job related troubles) for faculty. There are more than enough of my colleagues eager for that job.  Rather the object is to think a little more deeply about the structures of managing knowledge and the communities that produce this commodity that appear to be giving form to and providing the rules of engagement for this important sector of production. One has already seen some of the realignments in the field of political speech by institutions (e.g., here).  One now sees emerging the bones of the new rules of production in the academic sector.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Flora Sapio: "Thoughts on the Globalized University and the Logic of the Nation-State as an Ideal Form"
(By Laurentius de Voltolina - The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH., Public Domain,

In The Globalization of University Education and Interference in the Domestic Social and Political Orders of States: Considering Chinese and Australian Approaches, I explored some of the political ramifications  in China and Australia relating in large measure to the management and use of higher education and the projection of ideologies of knowledge and to control of interpretation abroad. Some reference was made to Chinese efforts and to Australia's National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference (Bill 2017). I suggested the way that these sorts of engagements "move quickly, then, from a "thing" (knowledge and learning) to values, interpretation, management and ideology.  We move from the collection and deployment of data bits to (1) power (who determines what may be learned; and what is taboo),  and (2) form (what may be learned; the form does this knowledge take)."

Flora Sapio has been kind enough to offer further reflections on the themes raised.  Her essay, Scattered Thoughts on the Globalized University and the Logic of the Nation-State as an Ideal Form, follows below.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

The Globalization of University Education and Interference in the Domestic Social and Political Orders of States: Considering Chinese and Australian Approaches
(By Laurentius de Voltolina - The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH., Public Domain,

Globalization happily came to the university with the establishment of strong globalist principles at the end of the 20th Century. But the "Globalization Revolution" (like the Marxist Revolution that preceded it by a century) did not immediately result in the withering away of the state. That has produced a contradiction and a controversy, generally for the advancement of a coherent global system of norms and more specifically for the evolution of education. The contradiction arises because global values might at times conflict with traditional and national customs, norms and ways of seeing (explaining) the world in a context in which the state must effectively contradict itself in the training of its youth. The controversy arises from the use of the avenues of globalized education as an avenue for the extraterritorial projection of the education vision/mission of a state outbound into other states. Thus education globalization can serve to develop its own values consonant with the developing of norms, mores and outlooks at the international public and private spheres, it can be used to displace, challenge or develop national and traditional ways of understanding and explaining the world on which national societies are ordered, and it serves as a means to project national values outward.  Each has manifested itself simultaneously in the operation of university education systems globally. 

But now these three trends are beginning to have political effects.  This post briefly considers the glimmerings of those effects in China, and then considers the way that Australia is now contemplating regulation grounded in the protection of its sovereignty against foreign manipulation. These suggest the contradictions between a growing sentiment at international levels that education is an essential tool for managing the substantial interplay between the construction of law-based legitimacy and the control and management of the substance, and mechanisms for the development, of social and cultural norms (2017 Report of the Special Rapporteur (A/72/523), ¶ 92), the use by states of education to perpetuate their own customs, traditions and values, and the use of globalization by states to project their national values abroad through education projects. 

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Compliance and the Cult of Personality in University Administration: Administrators and the "Army of Survivors" of Athletic Sex Scandals

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2018)

Once again the institution of the university--that newly refurbished battleship of compliance headed by heroic bands of well paid administrators  whose offices, so well larded with officials of all sorts of descriptions charged with the constant and comprehensive surveillance of university personnel and activities (other than those, perhaps, of the administrator class)--finds itself embroiled in scandal.  I am not speaking of the consequences of that scandal--in this case of the man who abused numerous young women who trusted him and who is now facing a lifetime in prison.  Rather I am speaking to the scandal of the university itself as the great exemplar of the compliance institution par excellence. I am speaking to the failure--again--of what has been sold to the public by university boards of trustees, by the political classes, and by  fat layers of well paid non-academic administrator "experts," as a university cultures built on compliance and deep surveillance, of monitoring and reporting, led by  "herioic" university presidents sitting astride their all-seeing mechanisms of control, of reporting, of surveillance, of socialization, and of record keeping.  

The model of administration that the political, economic, and intellectual classes have fashioned of the university over this past generation has resulted in the monstrosities that one sees emerging across the nation.  Bloated institutions that are more machine than human centered institutions, it is not clear exactly what it is that these factories are meant to produce other than stability, good order, and the manufacture of a product that can be consumed as it is produced.  And this new ordering is fueled by the cultivation of a cult of personality around university leadership and their managers; as if by virtue of their high salaries and august positions within hierarchically arranged employment relationships, they embody the university itself. The construct is simple and straightforward: (1) a high salaried leader (or sometimes leadership) who become the incarnation of the university--their heroic leaders whose vision, drive and charisma give life to the institution and lead it to new heights; (2) an aristocratic bureaucracy detached from from the operational hierarchies of production, whose role is to protect the institution and its leaders and to discipline the productive forces of the university through risk reduction compliance regimes; (3) a legitimating structure of "rule of law" regulations that actually legalize systems of administrative discretion against abuses of which there is little remedy.  This model is the most efficient way of coordinating the institution of the university with that of enterprises and the state to produce a useful interlocking governance mechanism.  

That combination of cult of personality around "leaders" and an institutional framework grounded in compliance as a bureaucratic organism has proven to be quite useful in managing the smaller irritations of institutional life--at great expense and against the increasingly fungible bottom layers of the academic employment pool.  It has not, however, proven particularly useful when deployed against itself--when it is tested against its greatest challenge--to monitor, report and contain reprehensible behavior at the highest levels.  Time and again, it now seems, over the last decade certainly, the most elaborate machinery elites create to enforce and socialize compliance with consensus norms can do little to protect us against the depredations of the elites themselves. It is not for nothing that the worst scandals of the last decade have tended to involve people at the higher levels of the machinery designed to contain their excesses and bad conduct.  And yet universities built on cults of personality and on aristocratic bureaucracy will inevitably fail to meet the objectives these elaborate and expensive institutional machines were meant to manage.   

Harsh words but to some extent well deserved. They are not targeted at a particular institution or a particular individual. Rather they reflect thoughts about general social and institutional movements throughout academia that show up along a broad spectrum of related behaviors  in many institutions. That prompts the hope that it may be time to consider dispassionately the model so dear to those with money and the power to shape the institution of the university.  That this will be done is unlikely, but that it ought to be attempted--and by without conflict of interest, is a hope that is worth retaining.  What we will get is more of the same.  The elite will sacrifice a President (the downside of cults of personality) and put up another along the same model--after a wrenching period of formal self examination that will produce even more aristocratic bureaucracy and precious little effective protection against the people now more empowered than ever to protect us against themselves. Reporting on a recent event that prompted these very general thoughts follows. 

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

From the AAUP: Resources Against Targeted Online Harassment

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has recently considered the wave of activity touching on the social media and online interactions of faculty with other stakeholders both within the public sphere and in the university itself. 
Over the last year, targeted online harassment of faculty has emerged as a significant threat to academic freedom. Fueled by websites such as Professor Watchlist, Campus Reform, and College Fix, campaigns of threats and harassment are directed against faculty members for what they are reported to have said in the classroom or posted on social media. (here)
AAUP has developed materials that speak to this targeting of faculty by those who may disagree with faculty views,writings or other work.   To that end it has developed an online Case Letters from the AAUP:A look at four of the recent harassment cases where the AAUP has intervened to protect academic freedom.

This post includes links to AAUP resources for faculty who believe they may be the target of harassment set out in a press release from the AAUP, which follows.  Also below the AAUP's one page "What You Can Do About Online Targeted Harassment." The AAUP is also interested especially in assaults against faculty on the cntemporary political left.  Its latest edition of Academe includes several articles that provide useful insights whatever the political source of attack.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Shared Governance and the Managerial Character of Faculty in the Evolving University: Dueling Amicus Briefs From University of Southern California v. National Labor Relations Board, No. 17-1149 (D.C. Cir. 2017)

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2018)

University administrations have, quite correctly, sought to have it both ways.  On the one hand they continue to peddle the narrative of the idealized university of autonomous professionalized faculty deeply involved in the governance of the academic mission of the institution.  On the other hand they have increasingly moved to administer a very different reality where behind the slowly fading institutional veils of faculty involvement in governance has been created a factory environment in which the university serves increasingly as a means of preparing its tuition payers for insertion into increasingly well designated portions of the global wage labor markets.  For some elite universities the factory produces (and protects the status) of the highest level jobs at the pinnacles of the governmental and non governmental institutions of power. (For my discussion of this trend see, "The University in the Age of the Learning Factory: Dueling narratives in the culture war around higher education," here, and here)

To this end the character of utility of the faculty has changed dramatically.  And that transformation has especially evident for institutions that are been designated to serve the "lower" levels of the wage labor markets.  It has changed both the character of teaching, the connection between knowledge production and knowledge dissemination (in ways that will have long term impacts on both--the character of which has yet to be fully understood),  and has changed the way the university values faculty production. Tenured faculty are expensive--both in the allocation of their time,  and in the way that tend to be less flexible objects of production (in the sense that they cannot be easily moved from one form of production (e.g., German studies) to another (e.g. engineering) to suit value maximizing (to the university) change sin the demand for labor inputs (e.g. students). Contract faculty are eminently flexible in the sense that they might be kept forever if suitable but can also be shed when necessary.  Their time can be adjusted to suit the teaching research mix needs of the institution and while they can be easily disciplined if they annoy their managers (with the ultimate power to choose to not renew a contract).

These issues are not confined to the writings of an academic posting to a blog but has increasingly appeared at the center of litigation designed to acquire recognition in law for the vast changes in the realities of the relationship between emerging classes of faculty and university administrators. At issue is an effort for courts to reconsider the premise narrative of the university that lay at the foundation of the germinal cases (of a generation ago) which based a conclusion that faculty were managerial employees on an increasingly abandoned premise that the old shared governance system deeply and effectively embedded them within university governance.

A recent case worth noting is University of Southern California v. National Labor Relations Board, No. 17-1149 (D.C. Cir. 2017).  The case represents a challenge by the university to a decision of the National Labor Relations Board that determined that USC's contract faculty were not managerial employees.  This post includes the amicus brief of the American Association of University Professors in that case as well as the AAUP Press Release relating to the case which takes one side of the narrative argument (and points to the legal effects of the changes to the university since 1980).  It also includes the amicus brief of the American Council on Education, an industry group representing university administrations and their boards.

The most interesting parts of both arguments, produced by some of the finest advocates on both sides of the issue, is the way that the arguments highlight the extraordinary transformation of the both the notion of "shared governance" in the university and the context in which it can be exercised.  Both sides exclaims that the other "does not understand shared governance" (AAUP Brief pp. 11-28; ACE Brief pp. 18-27)--the reality is that both understand quite well--but the conclusions to be drawn are as highly contested as is the size of the conceptual divide between traditional and contemporary ways of understanding the university itself. Both sides seek to leverage that reality--the AAUP by suggesting that change has altered legal reality and the ACE by suggesting that the changes do not alter the underlying relationships among faculty and administration.

Yet the case, and the arguments, would have been incomprehensible when the original legal rule was pronounced in 1980.  And the reason has little to do with the understanding of shared governance (and its "mis-understanding;" though that is what all sides hope to keep centered in the judicial proceedings. Rather, and something both sides might downplay, is not that shared governance has changed but that the character of faculty have changed--and that change ought to produce legal consequences (but it also produces substantial challenges to faculty solidarity). And indeed, it might be possible to understand the nature of changes to shared governance not merely as a function of changes in university administration, but also as a function of changes in the composition of faculty.  Faculty who are not protected by tenure and whose contract may be terminated by administrators are in a fundamentally different position with respect to governance than tenured faculty.  The Industry association seeks to make the best case for the continued application of the rule which can apply equally to tenure and non tenured faculty (the difference in the character of the employment relationship would not change the underlying normative principle supporting it); the AAUP argues that the underlying normative principle, as well as context, has now changed so dramatically that the original premise framework just does not work for this new class of faculty. Whatever happens, this will not be the last case in which university stakeholders will seek to bend the law to their own views of the reality of the university in this age of great changes. 

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Higher Education Trends for 2018: Relfections on " Saddle Up: 7 Trends Coming in 2018" Plus Six of My Own

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2018 ("The Chariot" Visconti Tarot))

It has become something of a ritual for  people to engage in prediction--what I call the oracular function of influence or drivers--in virtually all sectors of production, including the higher education industry.   Prediction serves a variety of functions--it draws attention to specific issues; it helps order these issues into hierarchies of importance; it helps to frame the narrative, that is the way in which such issues are understood and discussed; it provides a window on the issues that those in control of the affected institutions are worried about--it reveals institutional fears;  and of course it enhances position of those in the business of prediction within the webs of influence in the sectors in which they are embedded (or through which they are trying to make a living). 

Julie A. Peterson and Lisa M. Rudgers (co-founders of Peterson Rudgers Group, a consulting firm focused on higher education strategy, leadership and brand) recently considered a set of important trends in the higher education business for 2018--"Saddle Up: 7 Trends Coming in 2018," Inside Higher Education (2 Jan. 2018). This complemented their oracular efforts of 2017 (trends coming for 2017).  Their predictions are worth considering carefully. They hit the mark in several important ways: (1) identification of key issues that university officials will likely confront; (2) the way in which such official will likely approach the issues and their "resolution"; and (3) the narrative around the issues from out of which an understanding of how to think about these issues are developed.  Identification, response, narrative control are the three key elements that will define  the administrative "to do" list and control the orthodox way of understanding, thinking about and speaking to those issues. 

This post briefly considers the seven issue identified by Peterson and Rudgers and then offers additional trends that will have a high impact on the education business in 2018. 

Call for Papers: 14th Annual Conference of the European Society of International Law and ESIL Young Scholars Prize

I am happy to pass along the call for papers of the 14th Annual Conference of the European Society of International Law. It will be held in Manchester, United Kingdom, under the auspices of the Manchester International Law Centre (MILC). The conference begins on Thursday 13 September and ends on Saturday 15 September 2018.
Deadline for submission of abstracts – 31 January 2018
Deadline for submission of full papers – 15 July 2018
The conference begins on Thursday 13 September and ends on Saturday 15 September 2018
Deadline for submission of final papers (to be included in the ESIL SSRN series and/ or a future conference publication) – 1 November 2018
The  Conference Concept Note (Theme: International Law and Universality) follows along with information about the ESIL Young Scholar Prize and submission info and links. 

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Word Violence and the Weaponization of Narrative-A view From Cuba on the Violernce of Words and the Control of Narrative; Thoughts on "Ni “gusanos” ni disidentes: respuesta a una publicación católica cubana"

(Pix credit: By Michael Linnenbach - first upload in de wikipedia on 09:58, 16. Feb 2005 by Michael Linnenbach, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Americans have their foibles; especially those that emerge from out of the Academy.  But this is not one of them.  I am speaking of the eruption (again) of national discussion about the use of words and their presentation before audiences (willing or not)--the encouragement of free speech and the suppression of words and speakers in the name of the protection of the innocent from the violence of words.

As I have noted elsewhere, it is not words that are at the center of the controversy--it is the narratives to which these words may be deployed ("The University in the Age of the Learning Factory: Dueling narratives in the culture war around higher education,"). This becomes clearer when one stops for a moment indulging a hyper focus on the national discussion within a peculiar segment of American society and considers the issue in a different national and political context.

This short essay considers the current battles over the control of the narratives to which words are deploys, suppressed and managed--but from the context of Cuba, a nation where one might take state control of those battles for granted but within which even there, the state appears merely as one of several actors  in the battle for control of the way orthodoxy is constructed and protected through the deployment of words. My purpose here is neither to take a position on the opinions of others (on every side of this issue here and elsewhere) but merely to note the difficulty of speaking to these issues outside of politics. Perhaps there is no "higher law" of free speech--there is merely the recognition that the ideology of speech is itself an expression of the orthodoxies that ideology is meant to protect.