A cautionary note

Now that this blog is attracting outside eyes, a few words of warning. In the following paradoxical formulations, there is plenty to be found to offend everyone. In trying to go beyond the forced choice, and other false dichotomies, three themes have emerged: (1) the need for a new politics, one that transcends 'left' and 'right' (as presently so conceived), which are now only variants of neo-liberalism; (2) a widening of focus, from merely 'higher' to include 'lower', realizing that the great Gleichschaltung of P-20 represents a co-ordinated 'reform' effort that threatens all education; and (3) a perhaps pointless attempt (dialectically) to revive "common sense" and "tradition" as the non-ideological foundation of our praxis, and to shun futurists, reformers, transformers, transmen, good-deed-doers, 'lovers of mankind', and the (inevitable) prophets of apocalyptic doom. We all deserve better.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Son of post scriptum

Rather than inhabit a magical world of unicorns, lollipops, and rainbows, it might befit some to consider certain brute facts about our situation (and the world we actually inhabit). These are the facts (and NOT my pathetic interpretations):

  1. The "faculty trustee" (hereafter, FT) has no job description. There are no words whatsoever devoted to his position and tasks (beyond his election and term of office). Among those non-existent words are NOT to be found "shall represent the best interests of the faculty from whence he is elected." Nationally (or internationally), there is no consensus about -- and, hence, no tradition of practice to refer to concerning -- the status and function of FTs: there is only disarray and dispute (although much better models and procedures are available).
  2. The FT is a creature of law and, subsequently, neutered by law. The FT does not appear in the Handbook and is not part of "shared governance" (which is so broken on this campus as to be a laughable farce anyway). The FT is an honorary member of the Faculty Senate and may sit on the Executive Committee (should he choose to endure that highly peculiar form of torture); however, he has no special prerogatives with, insight on, or access to the administration or his fellow Trustees.
  3. Given 1. and 2., the FT has no enumerated powers and no work to do: he has no vote and no ability to, for instance, initiate motions or insert agenda items. He receives scant information beyond that available in the materials made available to the public and is explicitly prohibited from knowing the true story, being prevented from even hearing about Executive Sessions of the BOT by, say, an edited summary. He merely attends about 5 public meetings, 1 "retreat", and those committees meetings he can make (which are simply dress rehearsals for the public meetings).
  4. BOTs are not legislatures and, therefore, are no deliberative body: there is very little discussion (and no debate whatsoever) concerning issues up for vote. The "power bloc" of these BOTs are informed in advance about how they are to vote (or otherwise proceed) by Presidents. Indeed, wily CEOs use these boards simply as a front group for their own internal agenda: consensus (such as it is) is indeed "manufactured" through a variety of techniques (including misleading and simplistic Power Point presentations). The same people say the same things over and over and over again.
  5. Given 1., 2., and 3., the FT is no agent and serves a purely ceremonial function (should he, for example, be deluded into participating in voice votes). He never consents and only rarely advises: he is an informal advisor and that only insofar as "advice" is sought. When this latter "advice" is sought, it is never in a situation that would allow reflection, discussion or deliberation: it is invariably off-the-cuff and of the form "What would the faculty think of that?" (and what would they "think" indeed!). Inevitably, the FT speaks only of and for himself.
  6. Given all of the above, if the FT tries to "act," he will improvise, probably bungle, and, thereby, invite the active contempt, scorn, and censure of his fellow "Trustees," who themselves know little to nothing about higher education, being instead "players" on a very regional stage: they are, after all, just political appointees of the sitting Governor to whom they are beholden (if of the same party) or somehow connected (if of the opposing party). They, like the Governor, are mostly concerned about themselves and their own future; should they be well-intentioned and try to "do good," disaster will swiftly ensue.

Consequently, the only course of action is to elect someone presentable and affable (but no boob or cheerleader), who has nothing better to do with their time and who would enjoy being carried and directed by a current neither of his design nor making. He must "float" effortlessly (and never swim against the tide). He has no bully pulpit and no moral force in a milieu that promotes "success" and despises true culture.

We have real problems to address: the "faculty trustee" is, I humbly submit, not to be numbered among those top issues, however. If someone wonders "What do you know about it?", I should respond: "I tried and I failed."

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Post scriptum

"Just the facts, ma'am."

Unfortunately, the following is a mixture of facts and suggestions for (better) practice. This blog is closed but a timely afterword must now be added. I speak only of and for myself (and mostly to myself, as well). But some have inquired. And so, I shall respond.

I. What is the Faculty Trustee?

In reality, the Faculty Trustee is nothing but an artefact of law (specifically CRS § 23-54-102). Subsection 4 of Section 3 indicates the nature and scope of the office:

(4) A full-time member of the teaching faculty at large of Metropolitan state college UNIVERSITY of Denver, elected by the faculty at large, shall fill the eleventh office as a member of the board of trustees. The term of said office shall be one year, beginning July 1, 2002, and beginning July 1 each year thereafter. The elected faculty member of the board of trustees shall be advisory, without the right to vote and without the right to attend executive sessions of the board of trustees, as provided by section 24-6-402, C.R.S.

Section 1.7 of the Trustees Policy Manual adds little, if any, substance to this existing language:

Section 1.7: Faculty Trustee

In accord with C.R.S. § 23-54-102(4)(2002), the teaching faculty of the College shall elect one of its eligible members to be the Faculty Trustee.

A. A Faculty Trustee shall be a full-time member of the teaching faculty of the College.

B. The Faculty Trustee shall be advisory, without the right to vote and without the right to attend executive sessions of the Board of Trustees.

C. The Faculty Trustee shall be elected for a term of one year beginning July 1.

D. The Faculty Trustee shall take and subscribe to the oath of office prescribed by the Constitution of this State before entering upon the duties of this office.

E. Any vacancy in this office shall be filled by election for the unexpired term.

II. What is the job of the Faculty Trustee?

Because it is completely unspecified, one can only make necessary reference to practices elsewhere. However, this evidence is not univocal and can scarcely serve as a sure guide. Those who have studied the issue note the response to the following prompt, as follows:

  • Faculty trustees have fiduciary responsibility for the institution as a whole. However, many people believe that it is difficult for them to act in this manner because their board colleagues assume that they will always serve the role of advocating for faculty positions. Did you experience such pressures from your faculty colleagues in your role as a trustee?

In response, 10.2% of the faculty trustees indicated that they viewed their role as representing the institution as a whole, and did not specify their role as being a faculty representative. In contrast, 41.7% of the trustees indicated they viewed their role as that of a faculty representative and did not specify the larger role of representing the institution as a whole. Another 22% of faculty trustees indicated that they played a dual role and were able to fulfill their fiduciary responsibility to the institution while also advocating for faculty colleagues.

However, the lack of a vote -- and even the nominal powers to insert agenda items -- means that it is actually quite difficult to conceive of the Faculty Trustee as an agent at all. The position is advisory and that only insofar as advice is sought (very unusual).

III. But doesn't the Faculty Trustee "represent" the faculty?

Not really. First, how could one individual represent all the various categories of faculty members? Even limiting it to the full-time faculty, how is this effectively managed? I suppose one could "poll" the full-time faculty in email but that presupposes a circumstance calling for a kind of faculty plebiscite (also, very unusual). But there is simply no precedent in law or history for this sort of endeavor. (Additionally, this is a very limited notion of representation anyway.)

IV. But surely there must be some means of communicating the faculty perspective?

Undoubtedly. But that very specific task is devolved by the Board to the President (see Section 1.2):

The Board of Trustees encourages a broad exchange of information and ideas. To facilitate the exchange of information and ideas, the Board of Trustees looks to the President of the College as its primary liaison with the College constituencies. To be effective in this role, the President must establish an open environment of communication with all members of the College community and establish avenues for consultation and recommendation by faculty, students, and staff regarding policy matters considered by the Board of Trustees.

The Board of Trustees delegates to the President, as the chief executive officer of the College, full authority and responsibility for administering the College within the policies and procedures established by the Board of Trustees. Within this delegation is the expectation that the President will elicit the participation and facilitate the fulfillment of the roles and responsibilities of the College’s campus constituencies in the College’s internal decision-making processes. It is through the initiative, participation, and effort of all the College’s constituencies that excellence is achieved [my emphases].

The fact that this has not been done is in no way attributable to the neutered Faculty Trustee: it just isn't his job.

V. Well, what do we do now?

We need more representation, not less. As the AAUP recommends:

Faculty representation on an institution’s gov­erning board and its committees should not be a substitute for regular, substantive communication between the faculty and the board, unmediated by members of the administration. Such communication is best accomplished through the establishment of a liaison or conference committee that consists only of faculty members and trustees and that meets to discuss items brought to its attention by trustees or faculty members. Institutions must be clear about the role of a conference committee in their gov­ernance structure in order to avoid overlapping jurisdiction of the conference committee with standing committees of the governing board, the administration, or the faculty.

In addition to a standing liaison committee, joint ad hoc committees are sometimes needed to address specific issues of mutual concern. The Statement on Government refers to the crucial joint responsibility of the faculty and governing board for the selection of the president: “Joint effort of a most critical kind must be taken when an institution chooses a new president. The selection of a chief administrative officer should follow upon a cooperative search by the governing board and the faculty, taking into consideration the opinions of others who are appropriately interested” [my emphases].

An example of this -- in action -- is St Olaf's Regents-Faculty Conference Committee, which at least has the prospect of actual representation of faculty issues (given its composition).

VI. What else do we need to know?

The Board meets rarely and is hardly deliberative: because so many issues need to be dealt with swiftly and efficiently, it is patently obvious -- to even the least astute observer -- that what deliberation there has been has already taken place elsewhere. Therefore, without the issues raised in the last two sections being addressed, there seems to be little prospect for an effective reliance on the person of the Faculty Trustee. Nor indeed, should more weight be brought to bear on this inert function: new models are now required.

I said every one of these things in the prior year but here they are again. Peace out.

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Road to Damascus [s]

“This has been a longstanding burr under the saddle of faculty, I know,” said Jordan. “I hope this puts this issue to rest once and for all.”

I wish the rhetorical arm of our administration would do a bit more work on sound bites. To call the violation of fundamental constitutional rights (including the right to due process in a hearing) a mere "annoyance" is to trivialize a very serious issue.

Nonetheless, this image, and its associated demand, are quite revealing, in their own regard. The faculty are portrayed as a hapless beast of burden, ridden by those who didn't feel the sting of the "burr" at all (being protected by their saddle). Poor beast, pale rider. The attached -- and, quite frankly, petulant -- demand is likewise exceedingly clear: "Be quiet! I want this (and all other such plaints) to go away now and forever." Unlikely.

Anyhow, I'm done. Finished with asinine administrators, fraudulent faculty, and tone-deaf, toadying trustees. Sayonara all. This blog -- a bill of indictment -- is closed but will stand as a testament [Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse] -- almost a thousand posts, on the record, so to speak.

But I'm not going away. Follow me on selected topics, after a well-deserved break, at these new venues:

Hmmph, Mrs. de Winter! Goodbye, my dear, and good luck.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Lessons of the Megalomaniac University President [s]

by Paul Campos

If you want a glimpse into what has gone wrong with higher education in America, look no further than the brilliant career of E. Gordon Gee, who as of July 1st will be the ex-president of the Ohio State University (and of Brown and Vanderbilt, as well as the flagship public universities of Colorado and West Virginia).

If he had been born at another time, Gee might have sold patent medicines or swampy real estate or a new political party. Instead, he spent the last three decades selling the ever-bigger business of American higher ed.

Gee had a talent for, in the jargon of our business schools, finding ways to monetize synergistic brand relationships in the context of a dynamic marketing environment. Translation: he raised a lot of money, mainly by doing things like jacking up tuition (Ohio residents now pay 150% more in real, inflation-adjusted dollars to attend OSU than they did when Gee first became president of the school in 1990), “privatizing” university parking, and getting well-heeled alumni to cough up ever-larger sums of cash, in the form of tax-deductible donations.

All this made him, in the eyes of politicians in state houses and on boards of regents, a great success. After all, if higher education is really just another business, then it ought to be evaluated in terms of revenues and earnings, and balance sheets, and profit and loss statements. When OSU hired Gee, it was also in full awareness of his propensity to spend lavishly to meet those business goals, as he did when he was a “star” chancellor at Vanderbilt.

One thing that rarely gets asked in the context of all this getting and spending is: what exactly is that money supposed to be for? In theory, of course, it’s for “education.” In practice, a whole lot of it goes directly into the pockets of a metastasizing cadre of university administrators, whose jobs, as nearly as I’ve been able to determine after being on a research university’s faculty for nearly a quarter century, consist of inventing justifications for their own existence, while harassing faculty to fill out evaluations of various kinds (In a particularly Kafkaesque twist, many of these evaluations are supposed to be of the administrators’ own job performance).

In Gee’s own case, the sums of money involved are disgusting. At the time he was apparently forced out after having made a few tactless jokes in a private meeting, Gee was getting paid about two million dollars per year. This does not include the $7.7 million that the university paid for Gee’s travel, housing and entertainment between 2007 and 2012 – a sum which included at least $895,000 for soirees at Gee’s university-provided mansion, more than a half million dollars for private jet travel, and “$64,000 on his trademark bow ties, bow tie cookies, O-H lapel pins and bow tie pins for university marketing.”

Ah yes, “marketing.”

Gee also increased the size of the university’s senior staff by 30%, and raised their average salaries by 63%, to $539,390 in 2011. To get a sense of how out of control university administrator compensation has become, consider that a year before Gee began his first tenure as Ohio State’s president, the president of Harvard was paid $138,044 ($256,000 in 2012 dollars), and only eight university presidents in the entire nation made more than $200,000. Now, thanks to E. Gordon Gee and his ilk, there are literally dozens of administrators at the Ohio State University alone who would consider that sum an insult.

Universities are not businesses, and university presidents are not CEOs. These institutions exist for reasons other than to maximize their revenues and enrich their management class. That it is even necessary to point this out illustrates the extent to which we have allowed the mentality of what investment bankers call “the market” to invade every aspect of American culture.

De-con-struct-ed [s]

Multiculturalists are no less prone than other human beings to be hostile to out-groups. It's just that they are willing to accept almost anyone foreign, or otherwise identifiably different, into their in-group. The only out-groups they readily recognize are familiar, domestic ones, like the "other communities" that, according to Rae Binstock, "don't have to deal with the idea that lots of communities of different people have to coexist." It all goes back to oikophobia.

A more abstract form of this parochialism is the multiculturalists' frequent insistence that "only white people can be racist." In this view, racism is perhaps the greatest moral failing of which human beings are capable -- but nonwhites are absolved of moral responsibility for their racial prejudices.

But moral responsibility is the essence of humanity. It is what sets Homo sapiens apart from other animals. Assigning moral responsibility to whites while denying it to nonwhites is therefore a way of dehumanizing the latter. Multiculturalism turns out to be a disguised form of white supremacy.

In the fall, I'm moving to the Department of Nakh Studies
(to be located along the Ča Taqina Tača).

Stink [s]

I mean, plenty of people are calling for universities whose campuses are routinely trashed — literally and figuratively — by their sports programs to spin them off, to have a merely symbolic association with a local professional team that continues to carry the name of the university. That’s one way to go. But there are many more people, like Nocera, who seem to think that universities and big-time sports can be separated and yet reconciled, can have broken up and still live together under the same roof.

There are many reasons why this is impossible, prominent among them the simple dynamism of the phenomenon itself: Every year, unstoppably, scandals get more lurid, more expensive, more absolutely disgusting. Every year, coaches and players get more out of control, gain more power. Every year, the shreds of academic integrity these schools have managed to maintain shred yet more. Every year, more and more classes are cancelled to make way for games and for the dictates of the media conglomerates that now run the university show. Etc. Nocera’s column happens to be about university presidents destroyed by their athletic programs, but that’s only one of countless corruptions intrinsic to the decision to import professional sports — whose even more repulsive scandals (the latest being baseball boys and their steroids) Americans really seem to get off on — to universities. So you can put the smell over there, as it were, but it’s always going to work its way deep into your nostrils.

Wrong way.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Purge [s]

Not wanting to sexually harass my students, much less be labeled a sexual harasser by the Department of Education, I have decided to review my Intro to Lit syllabus and remove any reading assignments that might contain offensive material.

Not that any reasonable person would find those reading selections offensive. But the DOE has apparently decided that the “reasonable person” test no longer applies, and that any “unwelcome speech” qualifies as harassment. Since my lit students seem to find nearly everything I say unwelcome, that’s going to make teaching the course a little difficult.

Just not gonna do it.
The captain must go down with his ship.

Massage [s]

According to The Harvard Crimson's graduation issue, the Harvard Public Affairs and Communications (HPAC) office now employs 59 people — and that figure doesn't even include the communications staffs of Harvard's 12 schools. As Daniel Luzer points out at the Washington Monthly, Harvard's bureaucratic army of message-shapers is now about as large as its physics department. All these administrators need something to do, and, as we've written many times on this blog, superfluous administrators too often keep busy by limiting campus free speech and due process rights ...

This kind of message control was not always the modus operandi at Harvard. As Luzer points out, former Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis almost never had a communications officer present during interviews; "He would just, you know, communicate." During Lewis' 1995–2003 tenure, there were under 26 HPAC employees. With more and more administrators on campuses — Luzer reports that the number of college administrators nationwide has increased by an astounding 60 percent from 1993 to 2009 — clear and open communication plays second fiddle to other values.

I'm serious [s]

Seriousness and tax exemption – the two essentials of our universities – are closely aligned. If the first (the philosophical foundation) vanishes, the second (the financial foundation) will be imperiled. If any particular enterprise with university in its name loses its seriousness, as expressed in a scholarly atmosphere, a liberal arts curriculum, and the training of students for higher study and for jobs, state legislatures and citizens will begin to question the special forms of financial support (there are many besides tax exemption, of course; tax exemption is shorthand for them all) they are providing. Politicians will appropriate less and less money; alumni will offer fewer and fewer donations. Eventually, for the worst among our universities, students will stop applying, which is already happening at South Carolina State University and elsewhere.

Simply put, if it’s impossible to detect more than a token amount of academic activity on a university campus – if the place is not serious – people are eventually going to withhold the designation university from that campus, and the money benefits that sustain it are also going to be withheld.

All Fall Down [s]

Usually, when you duplicate publish, the second paper is pulled (upon discovery).

These people lost both.

Missed [s]

Lower-Tier Schools are in Big Trouble

Joseph Urgo, the President of St. Mary's College of Maryland, has resigned after a major embarrassment: under his leadership the incoming freshman class is so small -- nearly a hundred student fewer than expected -- that the school faces a $3.5 million budget shortfall.

That shortfall comes after St. Mary's, a secular private college, greatly simplified its application and increased its acceptance rate from the year before. Miscalculation and incompetence may be at work here. But so is the predicament of the not so prestigious, not so famous small colleges.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, overall college enrollment among recent high school graduates fell in 2012 to 66.2%, a low not seen since 2006 ...

Abject Failure [s]

Donald Kagan on the challenges facing those still trying to provide a liberal education (we don't even try):

To me, however, the greatest shortcoming of most attempts at liberal education today, with their individualized, unfocused, and scattered curricula, is their failure to enhance the students’ understanding of their role as free citizens of a free society and the responsibilities it entails. Every successful civilization must possess a means for passing on its basic values to each generation. When it no longer does so, its days are numbered. The danger is particularly great in a society such as our own, the freest the world has known, whose special character is to encourage doubt and questioning even of its own values and assumptions. Such questioning has always been and still remains a distinctive, admirable, and salutary part of our education and way of life. So long as there was a shared belief in the personal and social morality taught by the Judeo-Christian tradition and so long as there was a belief in the excellence of the tradition and institutions of Western Civilization and of this nation, so long as these values were communicated in the schools, such questioning was also safe. Our tradition of free critical inquiry counteracted the tendency for received moral and civic teachings from becoming ethnocentric complacency and intolerance and prevented a proper patriotism from degenerating into arrogant chauvinism. When students came to college they found their values and prejudices challenged by the books they read, by their fellow-students from other places and backgrounds, and by their teachers.

I suggest to you that the situation is far different today. Whatever the formal religious attachments of our students may be, I find that a firm belief in the traditional values and the ability to understand and the willingness to defend them are rare. Still rarer is an informed understanding of the traditions and institutions of our western civilization and of our country and an appreciation of their special qualities and values. The admirable, even the uniquely good elements are taken for granted as if they were universally available, had always existed, and required no special effort to preserve. All shortcomings, however, are quickly noticed and harshly condemned. Our society is judged not against the experience of human societies in other times and places, but against the Kingdom of Heaven. There is great danger in this, because our society, no less than others now and in the past, requires the allegiance and devotion of its members if it is to defend itself and make progress toward a better life.

Traditional beliefs, however, are not replaced by a different set of values resting on different traditions. Instead, I find a kind of cultural void, an ignorance of the past, a sense of rootlessness, and aimlessness, as though not only the students but also the world was born yesterday, a feeling that they are attached to the society in which they live only incidentally and accidentally. Having little or no sense of the human experience through the ages, of what has been tried, of what has succeeded and what has failed, of what is the price of cherishing some values as opposed to others, or of how values relate to one another, they leap from acting as though anything is possible, without cost, to despairing that nothing is possible. They are inclined to see other people’s values as mere prejudices, one no better than another, while viewing their own as entirely valid, for they see themselves as autonomous entities entitled to be free from interference by society and from obligation to it.

Because of the cultural vacuum in their earlier education and because of the informal education they receive from the communications media, which both shape and reflect the larger society, today’s liberal arts students come to college, it seems to me, bearing a sort of relativism verging on nihilism, a kind of individualism that is really isolation from community. The education they receive in college these days, I believe, is more likely to reinforce this condition than to change it. In this way, too, it fails in its liberating function, in its responsibility to shape free men and women. Earlier generations who came to college with traditional beliefs rooted in the past had them challenged by hard questioning and the requirement to consider alternatives and were thereby unnerved, and thereby liberated, by the need to make reasoned choices. The students of today and tomorrow deserve the same opportunity. They, too, must be freed from the tyranny that comes from the accident of being born at a particular time in a particular place, but that liberation can only come from a return to the belief that we may have something to learn from the past. The challenge to the relativism, nihilism, and privatism of the present can best be presented by a careful and respectful examination of earlier ideas, ideas that have not been rejected by the current generation but are simply unknown to them.

Ave atque vale.