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.