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.