Monday, June 19, 2017

Call for Papers: 42nd Annual Meeting of the Semiotic Society of America; 25-29 October 2015 Puebla, Mexico

I am happy to pass along a call for papers to what in the past has been a very exciting conference.  This year the 42nd Annual Meeting of the Semiotic Society of America will be held 25-29 October in Puebla, Mexico. I hope those interested int he subject will consider submitting a proposal.  The 2017 Conference program committee was chaired by a Penn State colleague, Deborah Eicher-Catt. The call for papers (in English and Spanish) follows. 

Sunday, June 18, 2017

AAUP Action on Censure: U of Illinois and Phillips Community College Removed from Censure List; Spalding U and Community College of Aurora Added

The AAUP has recently taken action on censure.   
Delegates to the 103rd annual meeting of the American Association of University Professors voted today to remove the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign and Phillips Community College of the University of Arkansas from the AAUP’s list of administrations censured for violating principles and standards of academic freedom. The vote recognized that both institutions had successfully amended problematic policies and addressed the conditions that had brought about the original censure. Delegates also voted to impose censure on Spalding University (Kentucky) and the Community College of Aurora (Colorado), based on investigations conducted this year that revealed serious departures from principles and standards of academic freedom at those institutions. (Here)

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Scholars and Educators for Open Travel to Cuba: A Letter to President Donald Trump

We are on the eve of an important and necessary event-  The Conference on Prosperity and Security promises an important engagement with Central America.
 Regional presidents, U.S. Cabinet members, the vice president and top Mexican officials will meet in Miami this week to take on some of the most vexing problems plaguing El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, the battered countries of Central America’s Northern Triangle.

Drug trafficking, gang violence and other criminality have taken their toll, resulting in 50,000 murders over the past three years in the Northern Triangle, and that insecurity — combined with widespread corruption and lack of economic opportunities and development — has contributed to a massive outflow of the countries’ residents. Most of them have ended up in the United States.

The Conference on Prosperity and Security, set for Thursday and Friday, is being convened by both the United States and Mexico, a country crisscrossed by drug trafficking, organized crime and people smuggling routes. (Fixing Central America is the focus of high-level Miami summit).

Read more here:
Even conservatives and exponents of the new "America First" initiative view this effort as important (See, e.g., here). Yet on the eve of an important Central American Summit, it appears that the 45th President intends to make public an announcement that has been rumored to be focused on undoing the opening up policies of the 44th President. 
If President Donald Trump outlines his new Cuba policy in Miami on Friday, it could upstage a Central American conference that is bringing regional presidents and Mexican and U.S. Cabinet members to town this week.

Among steps Trump is reportedly considering are limiting travel by Americans to the island and restricting American companies’ ability to do business with entities controlled by the Cuban military. Sen. Marco Rubio and Miami Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, the only two local Republican members of Congress who backed Trump, have been pushing the president to roll back the opening by then-President Barack Obama. (Trump’s announcement on Cuba could clash with Central American summit).

Read more here:

Read more here:
To the extent that is is the result of measured considerations of state and ultimately for the benefit of the people of the United States undertaken without undo harm to the people of Cuba, one can understand (if not agree) with the specific measures undertaken.  It would be a great pity, and a derogation of the obligation that our officials owe this Republic,  if instead the policy change would be based on a a need to "repay" political favors or to satisfy the sad vision of a part of the Cuban immigrant community that is, in its own way as stuck on December 31, 1958, as the Cuban regime may be stuck on January 1, 1959 (e.g., here). Indeed, members of the President's party also share a concern about reversing course on Cuba without good reason (e.g., here). And it is not clear how the shift in Cuba policy will impact our relations with other Latin American states--nor the extent to which this was considered.  One worries because, at least with respect to multilateral relations, the President has adopted a piecemeal approach that might increase the likelihood of failing to anticipate consequences of policies adopted in one state on others int he region--much less on internal constituencies (e.g., here and here). 

There are substantial implications should the 45th President indulge the impulse to undo policy (if only to distance himself from his predecessor--a no-principles basis for policy, to be sure, but one not uncommon even for beloved former Presidents of this Republic). One of the most important and immediate may be on the production of knowledge and academic exchange.  It is with that in mind that a group of scholars have written the President urging him to reconsider any possible consideration of the sport of policy roll back that might undo the opening up to Cuba in effect since 2015. The letter, Scholars and Educators for Open Travel to Cuba: A Letter to President Donald Trump, follows.  The letter has been republished by the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

When Universities Fail to Manage Abuse of Administrative Discretion the Courts Will Increasingly be Asked to Fill that Role

(Pix credit HERE)

I have been writing about the transformation of university governance from a rules based system to one in which rules are created to define increasingly broad ambit of administrative discretion (here, here, here, here, here, here, and here).  This widening of administrative discretion appears most pronounced at the middle tiers of university administration--at the level of university deans and unit chancellors. It appears to evidence two profoundly important trends.  The first is to shift effective governance power from faculty-dean collective governance models to a more hierarchical system in which middle manager deans reserve the authority to initiate and drive policy formation as well as implementation. The second is to change the character of accountability that manages to produce an expanding field of decisions that are effectively beyond the power of anyone (but perhaps the provost) to review. The result is a growing area of decision making authority in which deans may act with impunity. 

Impunity within an organization, of course, creates a legitimacy vacuum in the operation of an institution.  In the United States, at least for the moment, such structures without legitimate structures of accountability may expose themselves to the accountability structures of the state.  Generally that seepage of accountability out of the institution tends to wind up in the courts. And so, increasingly, one begins to observe a curious trend--the increasing willingness (necessity) of faculty (and eventually staff that is not unionized) to seek in the courts the protection (in the general law) of protection against abuse of discretion

This trend should be alarming.  It suggests institutional decay, at least with respect to the core structures of internal legitimacy, that once were more central to the operation of the university.  More specifically, as the university abandons effective remedial structures, individuals will seek remedies form more authoritative institutions. People may be excused for scoffing at the notion that impunity in administrative decision making (abandonment of effective remedy and failure to oversee administrative discretion based governance), and even at the very idea of the need for an effective abuse of discretion standard itself within structures of university rule systems.  They will be excused for finding implausible the suggestion that in the absence of effective university governance, its own stakeholders will seek "workarounds," and some sort of vindication, outside the structures of the university and its own administrative machinery. My sense, however, is that while initial efforts are likely to be rejected--the trend toward turning to the courts will only intensify as the transformation of the university becomes more pronounced (and as its structures become more hierarchical and impunity enhancing discretion based). 

The most telling evidence of these trends, and of the likelihood of the development of a judicially constructed standard for policing administrative abuse of discretion in the university, does not occur when these efforts are undertaken by faculty at lower ranked universities. It does start to have significant potential to affect the remedial structures of university governance when members of the university elite themselves begin to seek the protection of the courts. It is in this context that the lawsuit (filed March 23, 2017) against the Columbia University Law School (and its dean, Gillian Lester, Dean and Lucy G. Moses Professor of Law)  by one of its more prominent members (George P. Fletcher, Cardozo Professor of Jurisprudence).

This post includes some of the documents emerging from that lawsuit as well as a nice description of the issues recently posted by Paul L. Caron to his Tax Prof Blog.  The university's motion to dismiss the lawsuit provides an excellent gauge of the current position of "management," one that invokes incredulity at the notion of a faculty member running off to the courts in a fit of pique. But that incredulity, given the way the facts are described, ought not detract from a more dispassionate institutional analysis. Whether or not Professor Fletcher prevails, the case itself is another piece of evidence of the growing institutional failures of the emerging university discretionary governance model to adequately deal internally with the exercise and management of administrative discretion.  Professor Fletcher is likely not the last member of an elite institution to seek remedies where he can, and one day--sooner than institutions and their administrators may anticipate-- the courts will supply the remedial structures that universities increasingly fail to provide. 

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Internship Opportunities at Foundation for Law and International Affairs

I am happy to pass along an internship opportunity at the Foundation for Law and International Affairs (FLIA), with which I am associated
The Foundation for Law and International Affairs (FLIA) is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization mandated to promote academic and public discourse at the intersection of law and international affairs. The core vision of FLIA is to promote international cooperation and public dialogue through the development of new ideas and collaboration with various academic, governmental and civil actors. . . . Our mission is to facilitate international scholarly activities, conduct high quality, independent research and policy analysis, engage in public education and awareness-building programs, as well as amplify the voice of the rising generation.
The internship announcement follows.

Friday, April 28, 2017

"Insulting or Defaming Religion" and the University--A Story of Christus Ranae

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2016)

One of the more interesting trends in the management by universities of the spaces within which discourse and engagement is supposed to occur, are issues revolving around religion.  That management, of course, is always subject to whatever is fashionable among the managerial classes at the university and those they serve.  Yet universities also serve, when it suits, the ideals they are constantly invoking in their efforts to compete effectively in the market for student (as input commodities to generate revenue) and output markets (enterprises willing to hire the commodities produced. In the U.K. many universities appear to have moved the line of management from expression to the protection not just of sensibilities but of the integrity of the belief systems of religious institutions themselves. (See, e.g., here "London South Bank University's Code of Practice for Freedom of Speech, which warns students that one definition of an 'unlawful meeting' is one "at which there is a likelihood that the speaker(s) may… commit blasphemy"").  How might that be approached in the United States (e.g., here and here)?

This post provides a brief discussion that frames the issue and an example of the sort of mundane events that may trigger more profound discussion.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Call for Papers: Dickinson Law School--"Balancing the First Amendment With Diversity and Inclusion in Higher Education"

I am happy to pass along a call for papers to what looks like an exciting conference in the works at Penn State's Dickinson Law School.  Please consider attending and, better yet, submitting a proposal, whatever your views on the subject. The issues are current and quite contentious; the solutions will tend to shape the way we understand ourselves as a nation of people guided by fair  norms expressed through law.

The Conference concept note and proposal submission information follows:

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.