Thursday, December 23, 2010

Faculty unionize, get kicked out of governance

Faculty at Bowling State unionized this fall. In retaliation, the administration has eliminated numerous faculty committees and faculty evaluations of deans, directors and chairs. The administration also eliminated the faculty's role in determining financial exigency, a necessary step in dismissing tenured professors. The powers of the Undergraduate Council, which previously had to approve reorganizations, were diminished so that it may only advise the administration. According to the president,

the changes to the charter were merely an acknowledgment that the union is now the “exclusive representative” of the full-time faculty for all matters related to wages, working conditions and grievances. That necessarily means that Faculty Senate committees shouldn’t be in the business of addressing those issues, she said. “It was to draw a sharper distinction between management responsibilities and faculty responsibilities,” Cartwright said. “Nothing has changed in the charter with respect to the faculty’s governance responsibilities for academic matters.”

The actions clearly express the administration's hostility to faculty unionization. Many faculty are up in arms about the weakening of faculty governance institutions, and the elimination of the faculty role in declaring financial exigency and reconfiguring programs is disturbing. But most faculty governance institutions are purely consultative. Their elimination merely lays bare the power relations of the university. Now the administration does not even pretend that the faculty have a say in how the university is governed.

Rankings based on educational quality

Interesting post by Bob Samuels on the Changing Universities blog. Basically, he argues that the academic arms race has done nothing to improve the quality of education but has resulted in the flushing of tons of money down the toilet on star professors and administrators, fancy buildings, etc. in a mad attempt to place highly in the rankings. If universities were ranked on a real assessment of educational quality, they would invest more money into instruction. He's not advocating standardized tests but rather an evaluation system that generates comparable data on the quality of instruction (unclear what that would be though from this post). (Samuels has a forthcoming book, The Tuition Trap: Why Costs Go Up and Quality Goes Down at American Universities.)

East-West adjuncts victory

Last summer, East-West University denied contract renewal to five adjunct faculty members involved in a union drive...the faculty filed a complaint with the NLRB, and the University surrendered, signing an agreement to provide back pay and new job protections to the faculty members and to post notices that the administration will not retaliate against adjuncts that support a union drive. (The University admitted no fault in the agreement and denied that the nonrenewals were retaliatory.) Another union drive will begin in January. Avanti!

Incentive pay for online teaching

The model developed at the University of Kentucky will probably spread as more and more universities turn to online courses to generate revenue. Rather than force faculty to teach online courses, the university will pay faculty who adapt a course $5,000 and share tuition revenues with the colleges and departments that offer them. It's a better system than at MNSCU, which was basically to force departments to increase enrollments (by going online) or face cuts. And it sounds like it's better than what the U does--I'm hearing that departments get nada for the online courses that they offer. But it could also lead departments to push online courses for revenue purposes without considering the (negative) pedagogical consequences. This scheme also looks ripe for the classic administrator bait and switch--provide incentives for departments and faculty to do something and then once the resources are committed, remove the incentive and recentralize any revenue generated. (Or just raise the cost pool charges...again!)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The death of universities

Check out Terry Eagleton's provocative essay in the Guardian.

On the humanities:

The quickest way of devaluing these subjects – short of disposing of them altogether – is to reduce them to an agreeable bonus. Real men study law and engineering, while ideas and values are for sissies. The humanities should constitute the core of any university worth the name. The study of history and philosophy, accompanied by some acquaintance with art and literature, should be for lawyers and engineers as well as for those who study in arts faculties. If the humanities are not under such dire threat in the United States, it is, among other things, because they are seen as being an integral part of higher education as such.

(I guess we have something to be thankful for--could be worse!)

He has some harsh words for academia...wish he'd had more space to develop this point (i.e. what is at the root of academia becoming the servant of the status quo?):

What we have witnessed in our own time is the death of universities as centres of critique. Since Margaret Thatcher, the role of academia has been to service the status quo, not challenge it in the name of justice, tradition, imagination, human welfare, the free play of the mind or alternative visions of the future. We will not change this simply by increasing state funding of the humanities as opposed to slashing it to nothing. We will change it by insisting that a critical reflection on human values and principles should be central to everything that goes on in universities, not just to the study of Rembrandt or Rimbaud.

And the final paragraph:

Might not too much investment in teaching Shelley mean falling behind our economic competitors? But there is no university without humane inquiry, which means that universities and advanced capitalism are fundamentally incompatible. And the political implications of that run far deeper than the question of student fees.

In other words, saving the university requires...a revolution! I'm unsure that I'd go this far, but I'd agree that capitalism in its neoliberal mode is incompatible with the survival of the university. But as Karl Polanyi has argued, markets gone wild invite counter-movements that constrain markets. We have a lot of work to do to convince the public that universities are worth saving and that doing so requires shielding them from market forces.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Athletic bloat

ESPN weighs in again, criticizing the madness in college sports. Gregg Easterbrook observes that only 14 Football Bowl Subdivision programs earn a profit and that no athletic department, not even powerhouses like Alabama and Auburn, have athletic departments that pay their own way. The median subsidy is a shocking $1o million. In 2008-9, colleges charged students $795 million to support athletics...and they are sneaky about it, burying the cost in fees.

On booster funds:

Booster funds not only fail to make collegiate sports self-sustaining, they may harm the colleges overall -- since many alumni and boosters who might donate to the general endowment or the scholarship campaign of Maryland or Miami or Wisconsin donate instead to the booster organizations. Over the years, billionaire T. Boone Pickens has donated nearly $500 million to Oklahoma State, his alma mater -- but most of the money has gone to athletics, not academics. The donation that UNC-Charlotte requires, in addition to the PSL fee? It goes to the booster fund, not to academics. At many colleges and universities, athletic programs cannibalize donations that might have gone to education.

So why do sports programs need huge subsidies? One reason: big bucks for coaches!

Big-deal college sports programs need subsidies in part because coaches of FBS and FCS football and Division I men's basketball teams are overpaid. There are nearly 100 big-sports college coaches earning at least $2 million annually, most at public universities. More than 200 assistant football coaches in the college ranks earn at least $250,000 annually, with Monte Kiffin of USC, the defensive coordinator, earning $1.5 million plus lavish perks. When Pete Carroll was head coach of USC, he was paid $4 million annually -- and in return, left the school's football program a flaming wreckage. Forbes estimates that Nick Saban is paid $4 million at Alabama.

Another reason...overstaffing:

In an era when budget stress is causing classes to be cut and core academic missions to be scaled back, many collegiate athletic departments are the most overstaffed organizations this side of a Monty Python sketch. Because sports is viewed as sacrosanct, the athletic department can get away with having far more people than needed -- then sending the bill to average students and to taxpayers. Ohio State lists 458 people in its athletic department. Included are the athletic director (who's also a vice president of the university), four people with the title senior associate athletic director, 12 associate athletic directors, an associate vice president, a "senior associate legal counsel for athletics" and plus a nine-person NCAA compliance office. NCAA rules are complex, to be sure, but does Ohio State really needs nine people who do nothing but push NCAA paperwork? The Ohio State NCAA compliance staff is lean and mean compared to the football staff, which includes 13 football coaches, a director of football operations, three associate directors of football operations, a "director of football performance" and three football-only trainers.

How do these numbers compare to academic departments at the school? There are 192 faculty members in Ohio State's English department, with a support staff of about 50. Thus the Ohio State athletic department has roughly twice as many people as the Ohio State English department. Sports receive more staffing than English though nearly all Ohio State students at some juncture take a course through the English department, while few participate in NCAA athletics. And sports receive more staffing than English, though there is a widespread feeling that many Americans are inadequately educated in subjects such as English, while not one single person in the entire United States believes there isn't enough emphasis on sports.

Now factor in the size of Ohio State's student body compared to the football roster. All those coaches and mysterious "associate directors of football operations" mean that in football, Ohio State has a 1-to-5 ratio of staff to students: while in English, the staff-to-student ratio is 1-to-280. Divide the latter by the former. In staffing terms, Ohio State treats football as 56 times more important than it does English.

He notes, by the way, that such overstaffing plagues not only big athletic schools but even the University of California at Berkeley. "In staffing terms, Cal treats football as 74 times more important than English." And the featherbedding continues in spite of the cuts that academic units are taking across the nation. Perhaps an enterprising Daily reporter will investigate the bloat in our athletics program...and don't forget to look into all the new facilities that are being built!

Call for a national union of adjuncts

In a recent opinion piece in Inside Higher Ed, Keith Hoeller calls for the formation of a national adjunct union. He argues that existing faculty unions usually prioritize the concerns of tenured faculty over that of adjuncts and that the ultimate goal of a national union of adjuncts should be to abolish the two-track system and to complete equality for adjuncts. Existing organizations are dominated by tenure stream faculty. He asks:

Imagine if the civil rights movement had been led by white people, or the women's movement had been led by men, or the gay movement had been led by heterosexuals. Of course any social movement for the oppressed needs allies, but where would these movements be today if their primary leaders had not come from the oppressed class?

He adds:

There can be no solidarity in any union that adopts and supports a two-tiered system. Virtually all faculty unions in the U.S. have bargained — and continue to bargain — entirely separate and completely unequal contracts for their tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty. For decades the teachers unions have been following the practices of the Sheriff of Nottingham instead of Robin Hood...the three faculty unions have numerous chapters where adjunct faculty are in the same unions with the tenured faculty who serve as their direct supervisors. Everyone knows that people are loath to bite the hand that feeds them, even more so when that hand is protected by tenure. In their 100 years of existence, the NEA, AFT, and AAUP have failed to negotiate meaningful job security for nearly all of their adjuncts. Their monomaniacal devotion to tenure as an all-or-nothing idea has caused them to fail to seriously develop other forms of job security for adjuncts. Even now, in the midst of the Great Recession, with the wholesale massacre of thousands of adjunct faculty, the three unions are focused on protecting and increasing the number of tenured faculty.

It should be obvious why all three national faculty unions want adjuncts in the same unions, and why they fear an independent adjunct union. As long as adjuncts are in the same unions as the full-timers, they will be powerless and easy to control. The unions will not have to compete with them at the bargaining table. And union leaders know all too well that the adjuncts — who have no job security and are completely dependent on the full-time faculty — will not be willing or able to organize enough brave souls to take over the unions. The adjuncts will continue to beg the full-timers to represent them and to push their agenda for them.

Harsh words, but there's more than a grain of truth to them. Another advantage to forming an all adjunct union is that it could conceivably organize adjuncts across multiple campuses and collectively force colleges and universities in a geographic territory to offer better pay, benefits, and working conditions. Given that adjuncts often hold jobs at multiple institutions, organizing on just one campus doesn't do them much good. I value tenure and think that it's worth defending, but the new faculty majority is adjuncts, not tenured faculty. Universities and colleges across the nation will use the latest budget crunch to replace more tenured faculty with adjuncts. We need a solidaristic organizing model to confront this challenge, one that is based on the empowerment of all faculty, not a siege model that defends the benefits of the ever shrinking tenured faculty but leaves the adjuncts to work like slaves in order to maintain the benefits that tenured faculty enjoy. What would such a model look like?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

FRPE's letter supporting call for independent panel to investigate Markingson suicide

Dear Board of Regents Members:

We write in support of the call made by faculty members affiliated with the university’s Center for Bioethics for the Board of Regents to establish an independent panel of experts to investigate the suicide of Dan Markingson. We are particularly concerned that possible ethical violations at the University of Minnesota may have contributed to his death.

Dan Markingson committed suicide on May 8, 2004, while in a psychiatric study at the University of Minnesota, sponsored by the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca. Articles in the St. Paul Pioneer Press and Mother Jones suggest that ethical violations contributed to Mr. Markingson’s death. These violations may have included the following:

1. The recruitment of a mentally ill subject into a research study while he was under an involuntary commitment order

2. Financial conflicts of interest on the part of the university researchers conducting the study

3. A payment structure which included financial incentives to recruit and retain subjects rather than provide them with standard therapy

4. A study design aimed at generating positive results for AstraZeneca rather than investigating a genuine scientific question

5. The failure of university researchers to address concerns of Mr. Markingson’s mother, who warned that Mr. Markingson was suicidal and who attempted for months to have him removed from the study

6. The development of a specialized unit in Fairview Hospital designed to identify severely mentally ill subjects for recruitment into research studies

7. A failure of the institutional oversight system for protecting human subjects of research.

These are all serious charges. If true, they suggest systemic problems in the way that clinical research is conducted and overseen at the university. Moreover, they erode confidence in research at the University of Minnesota, both within and beyond its medical school. It is essential that patients participating in research studies at the University of Minnesota, the university community at large, and the wider public, be confident that the university is doing everything it can to protect research subjects from harm.

We believe that an inquiry by an independent panel of experts in research ethics and the conduct of medical research is both warranted and necessary in order for the university to respond adequately to Dan Markingson’s death and take measures to ensure that research conducted here does not again result in a like tragedy. Transparency and accountability in conduct should be the touchstones of a public university.


Bruce Braun, Department of Geography

Gil Rodman, Department of Communication Studies

Karen-Sue Taussig, Department of Anthropology

Antonio Vazquez-Arroyo, Department of Political Science

for Faculty for the Renewal of Public Education (FRPE).

Monday, December 6, 2010

Dan Markingson and conflicts of interest at the U

A group of faculty affiliated with the U's Center for Bioethics has asked the Board of Regents to appoint an independent body of impartial experts to investigate the death of Dan Markingson, who died while participating in a clinical trial at the U. Seems like these folks think that the U's new conflict of interest policy isn't up to snuff. Read more about this tragic death in Carl Elliott's Mother Jones article, as well as here and here.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Student protests in the UK

Michael Meranze has a great post up on the Remaking the University blog about the student protests in the UK. Looking forward to part II...

Also see NYT coverage...The students aren't just protesting about fee hikes but also about the structure of future increases and their impact on the curriculum: "Under the latest proposals tuition fees, now capped at £3,290, or $5,150, a year, would be allowed to rise as high as £9,000. Universities, which currently have their teaching budgets financed largely by the government, would see 80 percent of that subsidy removed — the only exceptions being courses in science, technology, medicine, nursing and “strategically important languages.”" In other words, students who want to study useless things like the humanities and social sciences would have to pay more...or universities, unable to sustain these programs with sharply reduced government funding might have to cut them entirely.

Hang onto your sabbatical!

CLA's sabbatical policy stinks--sure, you can take one if you're willing to get hit with a 50% cut in pay. (Small liberal arts colleges have better programs than CLA--it's disgraceful that an R1 institution does not guarantee one semester of sabbatical at full pay.) But at least it seems that this stingy policy will not be cut further...although the sabbatical supplements may well be. In Iowa, legislators are threatening to take sabbaticals away from faculty in its institutions of higher education. Apparently they think that the state can save big bucks by preventing faculty from take a semester or year of "vacation." However, as John Curtis of the AAUP observed, the potential savings are tiny while the loss is huge: "the whole purpose of sabbatical allow faculty members to do research, to engage in understanding new developments in their discipline and then to bring all of that back to their teaching." Faculty Senate President Edwin Dove noted that in 2009, University of Iowa professors wrote 26 books, published 147 research articles, created and updated nearly 100 classes, and submitted 50 grant applications during their sabbaticals. Eliminating sabbaticals, he said, "seems to me to be an unwise thing to do." UI professor of communication sciences and disorders Karla McGregor added that sabbaticals are essential to our intellectual growth: "If you don't have a chance to study and stretch yourself in new ways, you are not bringing those new ideas back to the students, back to the university, back to the state of Iowa."

Med schools only in it for the money

A recent survey of medical faculty reveals that a large proportion of them think that medical schools only care about faculty to the extent that they are revenue generating machines. While it is hardly a shocking revelation that med schools have a large appetite for revenue, the medical faculty's disgust with the situation is newsworthy. Over half disagreed with the statement that their own values are aligned with those of the institution. One reason we have not heard louder complaints from our colleagues in medical schools is that about a third them are afraid to speak critically. (Thanks to Periodic Table for bringing our attention to this study.)

Blowing the whistle on the arms race in athletics

You know spending on sports is getting out of control when ESPN writers blow the whistle. Jim Caple notes that die-hard fans of college athletics seldom donate to their alma mater's academic funds and that most athletics programs don't cover their costs. (Note: While success in athletics does bring in more donations to universities, these donations flow into athletics, not academics. See Weisbrod et al., Mission and Money (Cambridge 2008).) He laments the arms race in athletics, with ever escalating salaries for coaches and what seems to be the constant building of plush new facilities. His solution:

For every dollar spent on building or remodeling an athletic facility, the department must donate the same amount to the university's academics, either for the construction of needed buildings or for tuition subsidies. Every dollar spent on a revenue coach's contract must be matched by a fund for faculty, preferably for the low-paid graduate assistants who do most of the actual teaching at large schools. For every dollar a shoe or apparel company pays the athletic department to wear its product, it must pay the academic department.

How about it, prez-elect Kaler?

More big bonuses for administrators

MNSCU is not alone in awarding big bonuses to administrators. At Duke, the chancellor of the health system received a bonus of almost $1 million. Total bonuses for highly paid administrators total $7-8m. Some clever students have drawn attention to the hypocrisy of asking everyone else to cut back while the administrators roll in the dough by holding a bake sale for billionaires and a toast for billionaires. As Margaret Soltan observes on her excellent blog, University Diaries, "At a time of real fiscal distress, Duke remains foursquare in its defense of its executive reward system. Its executives themselves are equally remarkable for their fidelity, through thick and thin, to the principle of unlimited personal enrichment."

Friday, December 3, 2010

Overpaid and underworked...I don't think so!

William Reville, a professor of biochemistry at University College Cork in Ireland, has vented his anger about the public's perception of academic workloads and salaries. He does a nice job of exploding some common myths about academic labor. I anticipate that the workload survey will show that academics at the U also routinely work 50+ hour weeks, and that most of us on 9-month salaries spend the bulk of the summer doing unpaid work--writing those papers and chapters that we could not concentrate on during the semester due to our teaching and service responsibilities, updating our courses, and reading the backlog of recently-published scholarship pertinent to our research.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Restructuring at UCLA

Bob Samuels has an interesting post up on the Changing Universities blog about the key components of the restructuring plan at UCLA. Some of it will sound familiar to well-informed people at the U. There's not much for students to like in the plan, leading Samuels to conclude: "Currently, undergraduate students subsidize virtually everything universities do, and it is time for schools to recognize this by making sure that vital undergraduate programs are supported."

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Kaler on Midday

Kaler appeared on Midday on November 24. For those who attended the public forum, there's not much new in the interview, but he fielded a lot of questions, so definitely worth a listen.

Big bucks for the new prez

At the public forum a couple of weeks ago, Dr. Kaler announced that he would endeavor to shift money from administration to instruction. His first act as president-to-be, accepting a salary of $610K, does not bode well for accomplishing this goal. At a time of belt-tightening at the U, he could have sent a positive signal by putting his money where his mouth is, thereby earning the respect and admiration of many students, staff, and faculty. (Note: this amounts to an increase of more than $150K over President Bruininks's salary, and he is one of the highest-paid public university presidents in the nation.) Students interviewed by KSTP were astonished. Apparently the reporter couldn't find any faculty willing to comment. Kaler defended the salary, calling it "appropriate" for the job.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Video from Kaler's visit... now up on the U's website. You can view the public forum and the interview with the Regents.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

More coverage of Kaler

From the Pioneer Press, MPR's On Campus blog, the STRIB, MPR's Minn Econ blog, and MPR's Tim Post. Today's public forum was well attended.

Protests at UC Regents meeting

Things got ugly today...lots of footage of campus cops pepper spraying students.

A Faustian Bargain

A scientist smacks down the prez of SUNY-Albany. Petsko's letter is long, but since it is also bold, clever, and funny, worth taking the time to read.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

It's official...

...Stanley Fish is an idiot. He fully embraces the argument made by a couple of raving lunatics--economists/administrators from William & Mary--that new technologies in the classroom are to blame for skyrocketing tuition.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Some background on Kaler's tenure at SUNY/Stony Brook

Eric Kaler is the lone finalist for the presidential post at the University of Minnesota. Before we knew that Kaler was the candidate, FRPE prepared a list of questions, published in the Minnesota Post on Friday. Now that we know Kaler is the finalist, we think that it might be useful to have a bit of context about developments at Stony Brook during Kaler's tenure as Provost. We think that this information might prove useful in generating additional questions for Kaler at next week's public forum.

1. The Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act (PHEEIA): SUNY has low tuition rates and tuition is set by the state legislature. The state has on occasion raided SUNY to balance the state's budget. PHEEIA is an attempt to give SUNY more autonomy from the stage legislature. Campuses would set tuition and revenues generated by SUNY would remain in SUNY. Campuses could raise tuition 6-10% per year and could institute variable tuition across majors. PHEEIA would facilitate "public-private partnerships" by untying the hands of campus administrators to do things like lease land and form joint ventures without approval of the legislature (but subject to approval by a newly chartered State University Asset Maximization Review Board). PHEEIA was not passed by the the state legislature this year. The Faculty Senate passed a qualified resolution supporting PHEEIA, and undergraduate and graduate student organizations also supported it. The union, however, opposed PHEEIA, noting that it would result in the privatization of SUNY, reduce access, and result in educational apartheid (because poor students would attend campuses and degree programs with lower tuition--these would be the less prestigious campuses and programs with lower earning potential). "President Stanley, Chancellor Zimpher, and Provost Kaler have all been lobbying tirelessly in support of PHEEIA."

2. Closing of the Southampton campus: Stony Brook acquired the Southampton campus in 2005, purchasing it for $35m. Since then, $43m was invested in the campus. Facing drastic budget cuts, the new President of Stony Brook decided to close the campus earlier this year without consultation with students (and apparently faculty) and in violation of state education law. The rationale for closing the campus was that it was losing money. Critics of the campus closure dispute this claim, arguing that the main campus wanted to cannibalize Southampton's state allocation and use the scenic campus to pursue lucrative revenue generating opportunities with the private sector (in anticipation of the passage of PHEEIA). Kaler co-chairs the committee tasked with “re-purposing” the Southampton campus. Even assuming that the closure of the campus was necessary for budgetary purposes, the closure of the campus raises two troubling issues. The first is the lack of consultation with those affected by the closure and failure to follow state law. The second is flushing $78m down the toilet in five years. The purchase of Southampton occurred before Kaler arrived at Stony Brook, but it's scandalous that the University invested that much money only to walk away a few years later. It would be good to know what Kaler has learned from this fiasco, specifically: 1) what factors would he take into account in making decisions about major new investments that add to recurring costs (in times of very tight fiscal constraints in which major new investments may require cuts in existing programs), and 2) the role of members of the university community in making difficult decisions about restructuring.

3. The Office of the Provost webpage at Stony Brook provides very little information about his activities as Provost. The links for reports are broken and there aren't any statements that indicate his priorities or vision as Provost. (For example, there's nothing like Sullivan's "academic update" there--we made fun of this update, but the virtue of having these documents is that we have a record of what the Provost stands for.) In other words, based on Kaler's public statements and the available documentation on the Stony Brook website, it's hard to tease out what motivates him and what his vision for Minnesota might be. We urge people to make inquiries to colleagues at Stony Brook and to share useful information with us.

4. Administrator salaries: Kaler earned $347,395 in 2009. What is his stance about administrative bloat and high salaries for administrators? (The Prez at Stony Brook has a total compensation package of $650K.)

Some questions for Dr. Kaler

This week FRPE published a letter containing 10 questions for the presidential finalists in the Minnesota Post. Check it out here.

Friday, November 12, 2010

*The* finalist

As we anticipated, the Regents have named a single finalist for the presidential post at the University of Minnesota. The finalist is Eric W. Kaler, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Vice President for Brookhaven Affairs at Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, New York. The university community will therefore not have the opportunity to vet an array of candidates presenting distinct visions for our institution. A public forum will be held on Wednesday, November 17, 2010, 4:00 - 5:15 p.m, in Coffman Memorial Union Theater. Although it looks like a fait accompli, we encourage people to participate in the process. The Daily has a good story on the search and Kaler talked to MPR this afternoon. (He pledged his devotion to athletics and while backing away from the top three pipe dream, he voiced aspirations for Minnesota to rival Michigan, UVA, and UNC in the rankings.) You can also hear his thoughts about innovations in education here. Cuts at SUNY have been brutal, even deeper than at Minnesota. We're trying to find out more about Kaler...if you have colleagues at Stony Brook, please make inquiries and let us know what you find out.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Big bucks for MNSCU administrators

MNSCU is laying off people and freezing salaries but there's still enough dough to hand out over $400K in bonuses to administrators. Reality check?

FSU layoffs of tenured faculty rescinded by arbitrator

Two things worth noting in this story. First, the union contract forced arbitration. Second, the firing of non-tenured faculty was not rescinded. Also see Inside Higher Ed's coverage here.

Monday, October 25, 2010

An animated video is worth 1000 words

I laughed until I cried ... or maybe I cried until I laughed.

In any event, it's true, funny, and painful -- all at once.

Reclaiming governance at the U - FRPE's input to the FCC

Early this fall, the FCC sent out a message inviting faculty to inform them of issues we would like them to take up this academic year (e-mail from Gary Engstrand, Sept. 13, 2010). FRPE members met and discussed this question, and we have now drafted a document articulating three main issues that we would like the FCC to address. We welcome suggestions as well as additional signatories to this document, which we shall presently send to the FCC in reply to their invitation. We also urge everyone to communicate their own concerns to the FCC, which you may do by writing to Gary Engstrand.

Issues that FRPE would like the FCC to address

Several members of Faculty for the Renewal of Public Education had the opportunity to meet with the Faculty Consultative Committee during its retreat at the start of the academic year, and to present issues with which we are concerned. The principal subjects we discussed at that meeting were these: 1) how to improve faculty governance, 2) the need for budgetary transparency and clarity; 3) restoring intellectual values to the work, self-conception, and public purpose of the University. We appreciate the work that the FCC and other Senate committees have already begun to undertake on such matters, in particular the issues of budgetary transparency and administrative costs. With the present communication we wish to reiterate our concerns about faculty governance, while making a couple of specific suggestions for improvement, and to present other issues that have become pressing.

1. Structure, powers, and mechanisms of faculty governance.

We urge the FCC to examine the current system and consider how it may be improved. At present the great majority of the faculty neither participate in university-wide governance nor see it as worth their while to do so. There are many reasons for this, starting with the disincentive that service in governance carries little reward (sometimes even negative rewards). Effective engagement is moreover inhibited by structural problems, such as the dissociation of the Senate as a (putatively) deliberative body from the committees that do most of the actual deliberation, and the incoherent process whereby the membership of those committees is constituted (with the exception of the FCC). But the overriding reason is encapsulated in the premise on which Mark Rotenberg based his opinion that the Minnesota Open Meeting Law does not apply to the FCC, to wit: that the statute applies only to the governing body or committees thereof “that have the capacity to transact public business on the part of the public body by making final policy decisions,” and that (only) “the Board of Regents is the governing body of the University of Minnesota” (minutes of the FCC meeting, Sept. 16, 2010).

Why then should any faculty member bother to participate in governance, when we actually possess no governing power?

While, as a matter of legal fact, Rotenberg’s statement of the case is correct, a clearer declaration of the vacuity of faculty governance is hardly imaginable. The FCC and all other faculty bodies have, according to the general counsel, no role in governing the University and no capacity to make policy decisions. (Any decisions the faculty do make – outside the limited areas explicitly marked out for unimpeded faculty control – may be neutralized, vacated, or simply ignored by the administration and the Board of Regents.) In the FCC’s discussion with President Bruininks (also summarized in the Sept. 16 minutes), Professor Chomsky aptly distinguished consultation from decision-making and acknowledged, in effect, that faculty have a role in the former but not the latter.

Consultation is not governance. If faculty are to have a governing role, rather than merely an expectation of being consulted, then, in accord with the statute cited by Rotenberg, perhaps it is necessary to begin by redefining the Senate and its committees as committees of the Board of Regents. It would further be necessary to restructure the allocation of powers between faculty and administration, so that, rather than the faculty carrying out the administration’s decisions, the faculty make policy and the administration carries out the faculty’s decisions. To facilitate such transformation, faculty should be represented on the Board of Regents, as students are; accordingly, we suggest that the FCC consider advocating for the inclusion of (a) faculty member(s) on the Board of Regents.

Short of radically transforming faculty “governance” so that it would merit the name, there are simple changes to elements of current procedure that could readily be put into effect and would immediately make small but tangible improvements. For instance:

a. Require that ayes, nays, and abstentions be called for and counted whenever the Senate votes on any matter that has policy implications. Under current practice, voice votes are often taken unless a Senator requests a counted vote, and abstentions are often not called. Thus the Senate can be said to have “decided” something when only an insignificant minority of Senators said “aye,” a smaller minority said “nay,” and the majority, perhaps feeling insufficiently informed by the insufficient deliberation to which they were privy, said nothing at all. Yet such “decisions” are accorded the same validity as if the whole body had participated in making them.

b. The president of the University is granted the role of presiding over Senate meetings. This is an anomaly given that, regardless of faculty status, in his capacity as president the president functions as an administrator (with a P&A appointment) rather than as a member of the faculty. Pending revision of the article that grants the president this role (University Senate constitution, Articles III.3, IV.3), the president should be bound by the same constraints that apply to all other Senators: he must await a turn to speak and be limited to three minutes. Inasmuch as the president (like other officers, faculty members, or invited guests) may sometimes be granted a longer period of time to present a certain issue, after having presented it he must be deemed to have had his turn, whereupon all other Senators wishing to speak have priority over him until the time for discussion is up.

We believe that making even these minor procedural changes would be a meaningful first step toward restoring credibility to the Senate as a governance body and redressing the gross imbalance of power between the administration and the faculty.

2. Rights of P&A employees.

We urge the FCC to lead an effort to enhance and support the rights of academic professional and administrative employees (P&A staff). This becomes urgent in consequence of the administration’s imposition, last June, of a policy arrogating to itself the right to change the terms of P&A employees’ contracts unilaterally, and to cut or defer their pay, at any time it wishes to declare financial stringency. It has now been made clear to P&A employees that they are actually supposed to work during the days they are “furloughed” – even though the University will be closed on those dates – and if they do not plan to work (off campus) through the furlough days, they must use personal vacation days as work days instead. This abuse of a category of employees lacking either the security of tenure or bargaining rights is repugnant. While some employees with P&A appointments are well-paid administrators, most are low-paid members of staff, without whose work the University simply could not function.

At a minimum, P&A employees should be accorded a binding vote on whether to take a pay cut, just as regular faculty are. While this employee group has its own representative body, the Council of Academic Professionals and Administrators, in the view of many P&A staff CAPA has proven utterly ineffective at protecting their interests. Under these circumstances it is incumbent on the regular faculty to advocate for our P&A colleagues’ right to fair treatment.

3. Inclusion of students in governance.

We urge the FCC to support a requirement that student representatives be included in the process of consultation and decision-making on all matters of policy that affect students, especially those policies that students participate in implementing. Members of the Minnesota Student Association have been advocating for such a requirement, citing a comparable Wisconsin statute as precedent. The token student representation on various task forces and committees (such as the so-called “blue-ribbon committees” charged with proposing ways to restructure colleges) is widely regarded as woefully inadequate. Students were excluded from consultation on the revised Conflict-of-Interest policy, although students will participate in its implementation. Recently, in the wake of yet another instance of the administration raising student fees in order to fund construction of recreational facilities, the MSA has passed a resolution that, if put into effect, would require the administration to obtain the assent of students before raising student fees to fund non-academic construction.

Granted that students do have representation in university governance through bodies such as the Student Senate, on many important issues that directly affect them – from raising their fees to restructuring graduate education – they may be consulted, but are denied a voice in decisions. To shut students out of effective participation in decision-making is a travesty of the democratic principles the University purports to uphold. Certainly Minnesota could do as well as Wisconsin in this regard.

Why we need the AAUP

A report in today's Inside Higher Ed describes how Bethune-Cookman University violated standards of academic freedom, due process, and the institution's own procedures in dismissing several faculty members, vividly demonstrates why we need the AAUP. The AAUP has produced a meticulous report on the dismissals.

The ostensible reasons for the dismissals vary, and include allegations of sexual harassment, failure to have an appropriate degree, and the need for the university to save money. The professors affected include some with tenure and some who had taught for many years without tenure. In theory, the various reasons cited by Bethune-Cookman could be legitimate reasons for a college to take action against faculty members, even those with tenure. But the AAUP investigation found two patterns across the various cases: a lack of due process and an apparent correlation between opposing the senior administration (in particular, the president, Trudie Kibbe Reed) and losing a job.

The AAUP also found that many of the accusations made by the administration were sketchy or false.

...the faculty members who lost their jobs due to financial difficulties were dismissed without the university declaring "financial exigency," typically a requirement for such dismissals...the association found that shortly after ending the employment of those professors, the university created new positions that were quite similar to the ones held by the professors, and didn't offer them their jobs back -- again suggesting a reason other than financial crisis for getting rid of these faculty members.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Biomed boom goes bust?

The CHE had two great pieces this week on issues affecting the sciences. As most of you know, the U has put a lot of skin in the game in expanding the biomedical sciences. The numbers they ran for the feasibility of the project depended heavily on the ability of faculty to secure grants to support their research and their salaries. These two articles question whether these assumptions are valid...and whether scientists spending all of their time writing grants is the best way to advance scientific research.

In Science by Proxy, Toby Carlson argues that "how scientists get money for their research stifles, rather than spurs, creativity." The failure rate for grants is so high that academic scientists spend most of their time writing proposals, leaving much of the thinking to be done by grad students and postdocs...ergo "science by proxy." Teaching? Who has time! It doesn't help, of course, that success in obtaining grants determines the fate for professors' salary, tenure, and promotion. Faculty are put in the wringer as funds for scientific research decline--more people chasing after less money. The administrators have put our science colleagues on the hamster wheel. "Professors are not spending their time wisely if they are using most of it to write failed proposals." Not to mention that the feds may not be promoting the most important or creative research agendas. His solution:

...funding agencies should collaborate with academic scientists by agreeing to award qualified faculty members a nominal sum of money each year­—say, $20,000, including some overhead for the university—plus one graduate student. The award would be based upon submission of a very short proposal justifying the research and citing papers published. Proposals requesting greater funds would still be submitted in a more lengthy form (subject to the current review process), but there would be less pressure on faculty members to constantly submit them. The total amount of money handed out would be far less than at present, and the time spent fruitlessly chasing funds with contrived research proposals would be reduced considerably. Scientists' productivity and creativity would increase, and the burden placed on reviewers and journal editors would decrease. Research would be initiated by working scientists rather than the agencies. In other words, bottom-up science.

Note: this practice would also help to control the unsustainable expansion of Big Science, which depends on leveraging grants to cover faculty salaries. Why not just hire people, pay them a decent salary, and have the grants be purely for research costs? Sure, we'd be smaller, but there'd be more academic and intellectual integrity to our endeavors, and they would also be more sustainable and avert escalating cross-subsidies from tuition-generating colleges.

In an essay that fits very nicely with Science by Proxy, Lior Shamir predicts that the bio-med bubble will burst. He notes that lead scientists are constantly on the hunt for more grants to sustain their work, since universities usually only cover their salaries and start-up costs for a limited period of time. "Such a system allows universities and research institutions to hire more scientists and expand their research at little cost to the institutions themselves, while enhancing their own reputations and academic prestige." The increase in applications for career development grants from the NIH is staggering--from 1,029 in 1997 to 3,340 in 2007. During the same period, the success rate plummeted from 51 percent to 31 percent. Unfortunately for our colleagues, the NIH budget has been flat since 2003, so it will only get worse, since in spite of budget constraints, universities have not lost their appetite for expansion in the sciences.

Shamir's solution:

...change the NIH's grant-making policy to require that a principal investigator's salary—or at least a substantial part of it—be paid for by the investigator's home institution. The National Science Foundation has already adopted such a policy, providing no more than two months' salary for a P.I. per year. Clearly, if adopted by the NIH, such a policy would reduce the number of positions offered by universities and research institutions, slow down the growth in the number of available P.I. positions, and further increase the pressure on the academic job market. But the upside is that universities and research institutions, if forced to bear the financial burden of hiring and paying investigators themselves, would plan their hiring strategies far more carefully.

Stanley Fish, Part II on the Humanities

Stanley Fish responds to the flood of comments that he received on his recent posting on the NYT that claimed that the humanities don't pay. This piece is better but he concedes too readily to administrator mumbo-jumbo. The comment below from Christopher Braider in Boulder, CO, states my views so well that I'll let him do the talking. The only thing that I would add is that in the last decade the number of faculty in Big Science at many R1 institutions has increased--administrators presumed that their salaries could be covered in part by large federal grants. But these grants are also drying up and becoming harder to get. So not only do the grants not cover all the costs--which exacerbates the cross-subsidy issue in times of declining state support as Chrisopher notes--federal grants are also becoming harder to get, making the venture capital model of expansion of Big Science all the more unsustainable.

While you've got the basic outline of the financial plight especially of public universities down right, you've still got the arithmetic wrong.

You are of course right that humanities departments don't bring in grant money the way the sciences do. And yet, as you concede, they have still traditionally made a profit since the overheads (including salaries, benefits, and plant and utility costs) are lower than the tuition revenue they generate. And if this was true before the current financial crisis arose, it remains true now since tuition continues to more than cover the costs. The financial situation in the humanities hasn't changed because it has never depended on either external grants (since they have never generated any) or state funding (not needed since tuition covers it all). I'd even go further and claim that the profits humanities departments have actually increased during the crisis. At institutions like my own here in Colorado, salaries have been frozen for two years now and, EXCEPT, typically, in the natural sciences, faculty positions left open by departures and retirements are generally left vacant. Yet tuition has sky-rocketed, with the result that the ratio between faculty costs and tuition revenue is even more favorable than it was before.

So what has really changed if it isn't the profit-loss calculation for the humanities? What has changed is that the catastrophic decline in state funding means that universities no longer have a way to cover the structural shortfalls created by Big Science. While science departments do indeed bring in extra-mural funding, that funding has NEVER sufficed to cover the cost. This has meant that the losses the sciences incur had to be made up with state money. Once state money dries up, that leaves only two options: rapidly rising tuition for ALL students, whatever their majors, and cannibalizing the rest of the institution to pay the bills the sciences run up.

Until this basic fact of life is faced for what it is, administrators will continue to do what your report of their standard defense of their policies leads them to: invest ever more money in big science (as, here in Colorado, they go on doing in absolute as well as relative terms) in the HOPE that the research dollars science brings in will somehow, someday catch up with the costs. The problem is that, even in the good times, they never caught up with the costs; and they're much less likely to do so now precisely because the general public funding situation is so bleak.

The result is this: what looks like hard-eyed realism is in fact fantasy, and all the more clearly so when administrators talk, as they do, of potential patents--the idea that molecular biologists, for example, will make some breakthrough in bio-technology that will in turn brings floods of money pouring in in the form of huge licensing fees. Nothing of the sort has ever happened, and certainly nothing on the scale necessary to recoup the giant losses sustained in providing the infrastructure big science needs.

Friday, October 22, 2010


FRPE focuses on higher ed issues, but this ruling on a K-12 teacher's curricular decisions is disturbing. It illustrates why academic freedom is important for all teachers. According to this ruling by the US Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit (Cincinnati), "Only the school board has ultimate responsibility for what goes on in the classroom, legitimately giving it a say over what teachers may (or may not) teach in the classroom." The teacher, Shellye Evans-Marshall, had raised controversy among some in the community (500 parents) by teaching Siddhartha , by Herman Hesse, and a unit on book censorship. Evans-Marshal allowed students to pick books from a list of works that were targets of censorship. The outraged parents called for "decency and excellence" in the classroom, and despite positive performance reviews prior to the controversy, her contract was not renewed in 2002. Her principal accused her of a bad attitude and demeanor and loathed her "use of material that is pushing the limits of community standards." (Gee, I thought that good teachers were supposed to challenge us to think!)
The suit proceeded to discovery until the school district defendants sought summary judgment last year. A federal district court granted the defendants' motion on the grounds that Evans-Marshall could not prove a link between the community outcry and the school board's decision not to renew her.

The decisive issue in the appeals court ruling was the Supreme Court's 2006 ruling (Garcetti v. Ceballos), which held that public employees do not have 1st Amendment protection for speech "pursuant to" their official duties.

"When a teacher teaches, the school system does not regulate that speech as much as it hires that speech," Sutton wrote, borrowing language from a 7th Circuit decision in a similar case. "Expression is a teacher's stock in trade, the commodity she sells to her employer in exchange for a salary. And if it is the school board that hires that speech, it can surely regulate the content of what is or is not expressed, what is expressed in other words on its behalf."

Molly P. strikes again on Troubled Waters

The reporter who broke the Troubled Waters story in the Daily Planet updates her analysis based on a review of the documents released last Friday. She finds evidence in the documents that fear of big ag's reaction influenced how the U responded to the documentary. Dean Levine of CFANS was so concerned that he circulated the film to donors and prominent figures associated with big ag in April. (!!!) The Daily Planet put up links to some docs that I haven't seen from other news sources, so if you're a Troubled Waters junkie, I recommend that you scrutinize them.

MSA passes resolution limiting fee increases

MSA tells the admin: students consent should be a prereq for increasing fees for construction unrelated to academics. The resolution is non-binding but sends an important message to Morrill Hall.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Internal emails on Troubled Waters...warning, it's ugly!

Some reporters and Land Stewardship Project staff spent Friday afternoon in a hot, stuffy room in Morrill Hall sifting through hundreds of university emails obtained through the LSP's Minnesota Data Practices Act request. What they found ain't pretty. And much of it is redacted. (Just imagine how much uglier it would be!) The take-home point: only an independent review can get to the bottom of this. A review headed by administrators or administration apologists (or perhaps more accurately, those with Stockholm Syndrome) will not get to the bottom of things.

(Probably) 9/5: appears to be an e-mail exchange between Associate Dean Gregory Cuomo (who appears to have been on the original review panel) and Rob Blair.

Cuomo: “Lastly, several of us have seen the final version of the upcoming TPT show “Troubled Waters.” From some of our perspectives, it presents an inflammatory view of agriculture. Peoples’ opinion of what is “balanced” varies. We are preparing for some potential responses. …”

Blair: "Interesting comment about “Troubled Waters.” I am curious to hear who is included in the “several of us” who are concerned about the content of the project and why. What elements of the film are inflammatory? Are there factual errors in the film? …"

9/6, 6:47pm Karen Himle to Dean Levine at CFANS
"I have serious concerns about this, beginning with the title. Other than the fact of drainage and downstream nitrogen-based water quality degradation--which is an accepted fact--the piece has virtually nothing to do with the Mississippi River. Rather, it seems to be an advocacy piece for organic farming combined with an anti-farm bill agenda. Mainstream production agriculture is totally absent. I have been told that it would take three times more tillable land worldwide to fulfill demand for food if everything became "organic." I'm sure that Thousand Acres Cattle Company loves the advertising--they make an outstanding product--but the price is very high when compared with traditional beef production practices. That fact doesn't make it into the piece, of course...And what about balance in the piece on non-agricultural/non-point source pollutants. There is about a nano-second devoted to municipal contributions to the problem...I would like to consider our options prior to that point as I anticipate a legitimately negative response to this from some sectors of our ag community."

9/6, 7:25pm Himle to Levine
"Ugh. This has nothing to do with Minnesota: A History of the Land. I doubt that Bob has even seen it and I doubt that he would be enthusiastic if he understood the bias. David Tilman is accurate of course on his limited point on this--but it doesn't support the positioning of this at all...I will be happy to bring this up to Bob as soon as tomorrow morning. What's your view of the scholarship/balance as I think that ultimately that will be the most compelling argument. I think we also have to change the advance billing of this as well as the title ASAP."

9/7, 3:34pm Susan Weller (Director, Bell Museum) to Levine
"Is Karen going to try to explain to Blandin, McKnight, and LCCMR too? Is she going to muzzle Tilman?"

9/7 Levine to Susan Weller
"Karen Himle viewed the documentary and called TPT to cancel it--the President is aware of this. Sorry to ruin your vacation."

9/7 Dean Bev Durgan (who was on the review list) to Karen Himle and Al Levine:
"I just spoke with Jeff Strock about the video. He has not seen the entire video — even though he asked to see the final version several times. He did try to provide input into the content (other than his section) but met a lot of resistance. He was very relieved to hear that the video was probably not going to be shown. He was not happy with the overall experience."

9/9 Susan Weller to Barbara Coffin (Coordinator, Bell Museum)
"… One of the factors that has contributed to my decision is that I have been told that one of your biggest supporters, President Bruininks, is now alarmed by the film’s content.… Another factor … is the lack of support among the Dean’s council for the film. They need to be on the frontline with politicians and other stakeholders. The fact that two take serious issues with the facts of the film is troubling. Associate Dean Jay Bell (tenure home: soil, water and climate) has now finally viewed the film and expressed concerns as well."

9/24 Barbara Coffin to Susan Weller
TPT still wants to air the original....

9/25 Himle to General Counsel Mark Rotenberg
Himle expresses frustration that Bell and CFANS are letting her take the fall. She said that Levine asked her to call him to discuss the film and that Weller had independently postponed the film on 9/8 or 9/9.

9/25 Barbara Coffin to Weller, Levine, and Lori Engstrom
Coffin reports that Bill Hanley of TPT says he must hear from the Regents before rescheduling. But also says need to hear from someone higher than Himle, e.g. the President or Provost, before airing the program.

9/27 Himle to Gail Klatt (cc: to Ann Cieslak)
Himle analyzes procedural problems and proposes ways to avert a repeat. At one point she states, "This problem should never have arrived on my desk." She's also pretty brutal with Bell leadership, saying that there is a pattern of poor management, and asks a semi-rhetorical question as to whether it's time for a change of leadership--Susan and Barb, watch out for your jobs!

9/28 Himle to Ann Cieslak
"I was very direct with him [Bob Bruininks] about the complicity of Dean Levine and the Provost. And I urged him to provide safe haven to Susan Weller, as I believe that she was muted under pressure by the Provost and Levine. My most important overservation was the he say nothing until he understood his end game...Susan [Weller] is begging for help but has, I believe, and as I indicated last week, been threatened in some way by the Provost and/or Dean Levine...This is why I believe this to be true: REDACTED TEXT." Himle then proceeds to call "Troubled Waters" propaganda and to compare it to a Michael Moore documentary (as an insult, apparently...). She also expresses her admiration for Professor Cramer, who serves on the FCC. (You have to read this's ugly, very ugly...)

Undated, Himle to Bruininks
Himle tells Bruininks that the film does not focus on the Mississippi River. She times how much time is spent on various topics in the documentary, apparently as an effort to reveal the film's bias/lack of balance.

Uneasy feeling about the prez search

Many of you probably heard Clyde Allen, Chair of the Board of Regents, on MPR this week. He said that the search could play out two ways. The first is that there will be several great finalists brought to campus for public interviews. The second is that just one finalist "who is head and shoulders above everyone else" will be named. Uh-oh. Is history repeating itself?

It's probable that naming just one finalist is a way to get around the 2004 Minnesota Supreme Court ruling that required the U to divulge the names of all *finalists* in presidential searches. "It is in no way an attempt to get away from naming the finalists. It is simply a function of how strong the candidates are," said Allen. Methinks Regent Allen doth protest too much.

In response, FRPE member Eva von Dassow commented, "In order for everyone else to be confident that that one person truly is superior, it's necessary to hear from a range of candidates who differ from each other."

Of course, there are legitimate concerns about the need to maintain confidentiality, since many qualified people might not apply unless they can keep their current employers in the dark about their interest in the position at the U. However, given past experience, the Regents are asking us to trust them when they have not demonstrated to us that they are worthy of our trust. Having effectively gagged the search committee with threats of legal action if they divulge information about applicants, it seems likely that the fix is in. Publicly releasing the names of three to five top candidates, as MNSCU plans to do, is a reasonable compromise. However, given that the Regents ignored search committee recommendations last time, the U must disclose which finalists were nominated by the search committee.

How high will tuition go next year?

The U is about to fall off a cliff. The stimulus money will be gone next year. The state is asking the U to model cuts of 5-10-15%. What does this mean for tuition?

According to the minutes of the 9/21 meeting of the Senate Committee on Finance and Planning, students will see an increase of about $750 thanks to the elimination of the stimulus funds, which were used to cover tuition increases. So even without a formal tuition increase, students will pay more.

Julie Tonneson of the Office of Budget and Finance explained that the increase in the tuition rate depends on a) the base that is used (whether it be the adjusted base of $642.2m or the actual appropriation for FY11 of 591.1m) and b) the amount of the cut. If the cut is 15% of the $642.2m base, then students will see an increase of about 6%. But if the lower base of $591.1m is used, a 15% cut would require a increase in tuition of 11.8%.

Frankly, I was shocked by the uncritical acceptance by many speakers of the connection between cuts in state appropriations and tuition increases. Dean Finnegan said, "When the state disinvests, students pay more." But that is only partially true. Students pay more even when the state invests more. What struck me is how little discussion there was of how the administration's ambition to become one of the top-three public universities in the universe is implicated in the impulse to use students as ATMs. Perhaps if the administration stopped milking the tuition-generating colleges to fund its other priorities, they would not have to raise tuition so much.

Thankfully, Dean Parrente argued that the U cannot expect students to keep forking out more money for a lower quality educational experience: "What is extremely important as the university plans for the next biennium is that it makes clear what it is doing to enhance quality for students. That must be a main driver; the university cannot argue for tuition increases because the state is cutting funding. The tuition increases must be related to the quality of education."

Link to the full minutes here.

Pot calling the kettle...

Mark Bousquet has a great rant on his Chronicle blog. He argues that non-profit higher education has engaged in pretty much all of the unethical behavior that the for profits have engaged in. Best line: "No, fellow hypocrites. The for-profits didn’t teach us any of these sleazy innovations. We taught them."

The Crisis of the Humanities

In the NYT, Stanley Fish laments the shuttering of several departments in the humanities at SUNY-Albany. He argues that since the humanities don't cover their costs, other universities will soon follow, whether they like it or not. He may be right that other universities will follow in SUNY's footsteps, but it is false that the humanities don't pay. Many run in surplus and cross-subsidize the sciences. Still, he puts his finger on the important role that requirements play in generating enrollments in some programs, and efforts to reduce or restructure requirements could have consequences for programs with many students but few majors. There has been talk at the U about reducing requirements so that students can graduate faster. And one does not have to maintain all those language faculty (and P&A language instructors) if language requirements are dropped. Be on the watch for reduced requirements as the opening salvo in a battle to close or merge departments. Of course, at the U closing/merging departments does not allow for the termination of tenured faculty, since our tenure lines reside in the U, not the school or department. But P&A can be non-renewed, so the lowest hanging fruit is to reduce demand for those programs that rely on many P&As. Of course, these are probably also some of the programs running in surplus, thanks to the low pay of P&As. The only hope for CLA is to challenge the current budget model that sucks up a large share of our revenues in cost pools.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Eva von Dassow's comments at the October 7 rally

This university has a mission: it is to advance learning and the search for truth, and to share knowledge, understanding, and creativity with the community and the world. You came here to participate in this mission.

Students, when you applied for admission, you used test scores and GPAs to earn your place here – and most likely to earn a scholarship, too, since tuition and fees keep rising out of reach. You borrow money to help pay for courses that are worth certain numbers of credits, you earn more test scores and grades, you put your credit hours into the degree bank of one program or another, and once you’ve dropped enough of this currency into the education-vending machine, it gives you a degree. You hope that degree will purchase you gainful employment: a job that pays you enough to pay the debt the degree cost you. The value of your education is thus measured in numbers, dollars, and time.

The faculty who teach you are measured in the same terms: by the number of credit hours we teach, the numbers of students our courses enroll, the number of majors in our programs. We are also measured by the number of publications we produce, the number and amount of grants we win, even by formulas to calculate our monetary merit relative to each other. Our salaries are determined through market mechanisms whereby greater or lesser value is ascribed to different disciplines based on how much profit they may generate. The more we “produce” the more valuable we are, in dollars. Elsewhere in the educational system there are plans to evaluate and pay teachers on the basis of their students’ grades and test scores. This is accountability in the form of accounting: put the M&Ms in here, insert tuition, and you get the same M&Ms out here, and that is supposed to be good value for your educational dollar.

Where in this model lies the search for truth? Where are the principles of scientific inquiry, the ideals of scholarship, the foundations of a free society? Does this vending machine have a button for ideas? For understanding? For creativity?

’Fraid not, folks: money is the sole criterion of value here. Education’s not the thing, it’s capital that’s king – and that’s you, students! You’re the human capital the university must develop for the global economy! It’s not your learning potential but your earning potential that matters! Credits, courses, research, degrees, all are fungible quanta, expressed in the form of money. And time equals money, as we know – so get on the assembly line, human capital, and develop without delay! Four years to graduation, no more, ’cos if you stay here longer you’re occupying the place of another future debtor!

This vision of education and research is the soul of the administration’s “Strategic Positioning Initiative,” which strives to manipulate enrollment figures, graduation rates, faculty productivity, and ratios of majors to programs in the service of positioning the institution higher in numerical rankings. You’d think aiming to be one of the top three public research universities in the world would mean you get the best classes tuition can buy; no, it means the U pushes you through faster to raise its 4-year graduation rate. It hasn’t worked: we’re eleventh out of the Big 10 – and losing.

We the Faculty for the Renewal of Public Education have a different vision. Today’s mania for metrics converts all scholarly, creative, and scientific work into money while reducing students to indebted units of human capital. But education, knowledge, and inquiry are immeasurable goods: not commodities for purchase, but the inherent property of all who teach and learn. We strive to restore intellectual and ethical values to the academic enterprise, and to reclaim the university for the public.

Eva von Dassow, on behalf of Faculty for the Renewal of Public Education

Faculty fight back at Brown

Brown's provost tries to change tenure procedures...the faculty say NO. A few tidbits (the whole article is worth reading):

"I think it was a triumph for faculty self-governance. If there are changes to the tenure process, the Brown faculty wants to make them ourselves," said Susan Smulyan, a professor of American civilization.

The changes that were supposed to come up for a vote Tuesday are, to proponents, relatively minor. One proposal would have ended a tradition of informing tenure candidates of the outside reviewers being asked to evaluate them. Another would have increased the number of outside letters from a minimum of five to a minimum of eight (a figure commonly used already). Yet another would allow deans to add to the list of outside reviewers, in a break from the current policy of letting departments decide whom to ask. Faculty critics of the proposed changes have said all of these changes would, to various degrees, shift some of the power of tenure decisions away from departments and toward the administration.

The backdrop for the discussion -- and part of the reason many faculty have been dubious of the recommendations -- is that Brown was faulted in a recent accreditation report for having too high a tenure rate (70 percent), because many top research universities have significantly lower rates. Brown faculty members insist that they do a good job of advising those who will not receive tenure to leave before the final vote.

Further, Brown faculty critics of the changes say that they are proud of the emphasis on teaching in evaluations of faculty members and that they view the changes being proposed as raising the bar on research in a way that will force junior faculty members to focus their time clearly on writing or lab work -- and not on students.

One interesting note for UM professors--Brown doesn't have an elected faculty senate. Rather, they have meeting of all faculty--yes, all 700 non-medical instructors get to participate. The proposed changes to the tenure process have lured many faculty to the meetings--200-300

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

All out for October 7!

Tomorrow, October 7, is a national day of action to defend public education. As most of you know, the national day of action is a continuation of struggles in California. The first national day of action was March 4, and we had great turnout at the University of Minnesota. We hope that there will be even greater participation by students, staff, and faculty on October 7. The main event of the day is the noon rally on Northrop Mall. West Bankers will meet near the bridge at 11:45 to march over together. Join us! Bring your signs from March 4 (recycle!).

After the rally, a number of other great events are scheduled in the Twin Cities (and beyond):

- 2:00-4:00pm - a Disorientation Guide to the U of M’s History, (in Coffman Union, room 324) – speakers on the 1969 occupation of Morrill Hall that led to the creation of the Black Studies department, struggles for equal access including the fight to save General College, the AFSCME union's struggles for a more democratic and equitable U, and more – with free food, followed by discussion about how to create a better U of M.

- 5:00-6:00pm - Rally and March at MCTC plaza – speakers on issues facing students and teachers at MCTC and the MSCU system.

- 6:00-9:00pm - Free Concert to Defend Public Education -- in Loring Park -- featuring: Guante, Usual Suspects, Fresh Squeeze, Junkyard Empire, Poetic Assassins, surprise guests, speakers, free food, info tables, and more. Organized by the Public Education Justice Alliance MN (

- all day – Student Strike (and Dance Party) to Defend Public Education at Minnesota State University, Mankato (at Wigley Administration Building between Morris and the Student Union)

Reclaiming the University video

Did you miss the FRPE/EAC event, "Reclaiming the University: Fulfilling Our Promise to Students and the Public," on September 30? Luckily, a student volunteered to videotape the event and has posted the files on the web, both as streaming video and as a direct download.

Stop Using Students as ATMs

FRPE members Bruce Braun and Teri Caraway have a letter in today's Daily.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Hacking off the humanities

SUNY-Albany has announced plans to close several language departments and to terminate the faculty who work in them. Faculty assert that this was done without adequate consultation by the administration. Think you're safe? Think again.

Ten tenured faculty members in language programs were told Friday that they would have two years of employment in which to help current students finish their degrees, but that they would then be out of their jobs, according to several who were at the meeting. About 20 adjuncts and several others on the tenure track but not tenured are also at risk of losing their jobs, potentially even earlier, although details are not available.

"We were told [of the eliminations] without any hint" in advance of any concern about the programs, said Jean-François Brière, a professor of French studies and chair of the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures. Brière, who has taught at the university since 1979, said that even in the context of budget cuts this year, he was shocked. "No other university of the caliber and size" of Albany has done this, he said.

Do you teach at the U?

Share this video with your students. Hope to see all of you on the Mall on Thursday.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

More speech, not less ... but only sometimes

There's a lot I could say about last Thursday's University Senate meeting, and maybe I'll say more in a future post. But for now, I'll simply offer the following quick observations:

At one point during the meeting, President Bruininks responded to the Troubled Waters controversy by offering a passionate (if sometimes self-contradictory) defense of academic freedom, and by insisting that the proper response to controversy is always to allow more speech, rather than less. So far, so good -- though that's bracketing out Bruininks' convoluted claim that he didn't want to blame anyone for the mistakes that were made, except that he wanted to remind everyone that it was allegedly faculty (and not his staff) who insisted that the film be banned ... and that he was disappointed that the public conversation about the controversy was unjustifiably uncivil, even though he took the time to lay on the invective for all those people who had judged Karen Himle too harshly before all the evidence was in. (Okay, that's a lot to bracket out, but stay with me for a moment here.)

At a different point in the meeting, however, when the Senate was discussing a proposed Conflict of Interest policy (itself a convoluted issue, since the U desperately needs such a thing, though the one that was on the table merely pretends to address the problem, rather than actually laying down a clear set of principles and an enforcement policy with real teeth), the parliamentarian in the room declared that the allotted time for discussion had run out. Granting more time for discussion would require a two-thirds majority vote to enact a temporary suspension of the Senate rules. That motion to extend discussion by a mere 15 minutes fell two votes short. But President "more speech, not less" certainly didn't speak up in favor of extending the conversation.

In fact, at a later point in the session, when another (admittedly less pressing) agenda item also ran out of the allotted discussion time, Bruininks pre-empted a vote on the question of extending the conversation by asking the assembly, "Do you really want more of this?"

And if "this" refers to open discussion of matters pressing enough to be brought before the University Senate in the first place, then the presumptive answer should be Yes. If there are still voices that want to be heard, then we should err in favor of more speech, not less.

Of course, of "this" refers to the genial bullying of the current administration (which is presumably not what Bruininks meant, of course, though perhaps it should have been), then the obvious answer is an emphatic No.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

World-Class Greatness

Bill Gleason, associate professor of laboratory medicine and pathology at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, has recently published an essay about land-grant universities and the rankings game in the Chronicle of Higher Education. (Also see Bill's excellent blog, Periodic Table.)

Bill makes many astute observations in the essay. On the aspiration to rise in the rankings:

Attempting to game the rankings is a losing proposition for land-grant institutions because some of the factors that affect rankings are in direct opposition to the land-grant mission. Because high SAT scores and high-school rank often influence university rankings, many institutions try to recruit students from out of state to raise those numbers. What of the citizens of the state who are squeezed by such tactics?

On Minnesota's Strategic Propaganda (oops, Positioning!) Initiative to become one of the top three public universities in the WORLD by 2014:

There's something both hubristic and clueless about statements like those from my university. Does the administration believe that the public cannot see through the unreality of its intention to be one of the top three public universities in the world in four more years?

And on what the University of Minnesota should aspire to:

The University of Minnesota is, in other words, a tremendous resource for the state of Minnesota. Public education should be the great equalizer, and Minnesota and other land-grant institutions should return to their original land-grant priorities.