Category Archives: Faculty/Senate Matters

Grade Distribution Discussion

Dear Senators:

I read with great interest appendix O from the Undergraduate Studies Committee on Grade Distributions.

After noticing that grade distributions tended to play an uneven role in faculty promotions across various campuses and colleges, I began to study the issue more closely. I’m hopeful that our Senate might take some time to further discuss and emphasize the following lines in the report:

“With respect to the role of grades in performance reviews, it is important to note that authors such as Millet (2016) caution against solely using grades as a metric to evaluate faculty members as this may have unintended consequences; for example, instructors may, in an attempt to improve their grading reliability scores, use GPAs to assign grades in a course.”

If instructors take seriously the guidance given to them by senate documents and significant administrators, they would find themselves facing what Gregory Bateson termed a psychological “double bind” (1956). They receive two contradictory messages from authority figures and find themselves unable to accommodate both without extreme measures. As Bateson, supported by R.D. Laing, explained, these impossible to reconcile standards produce environments that make it extremely difficult for those entrapped in them to maintain mental health and productivity.

I have begun working on an essay to analyze the impact of efforts to externally influence individual instructors’ grade distributions. It is very much a work in progress that I would prefer to further vet before sharing. It seems, however, that the issues are set to be discussed this month, so I’ll (with hesitation, given that I wish it were stronger!) present it now: http://sites.psu.edu/rclmiles/2016/09/13/editorial-grade-deflation-a-different-problem-not-the-solution/

In short, we really need to come up with some better solutions to the problem of grade inflation than expecting administrators to press their faculty into giving lower grades.

Senator Mary Miles

Professor Emeritus of Accounting

Support Graham Spanier
I was seriously appalled when former PSU executives Gary Schultz and Tim Curley pled guilty to charges of child endangerment after long-time denials. This threw former President Graham Spanier under the bus and caused irreparable harm to the University.
To provide background, there were two shower incidents on campus by Sandusky with preteen boys. The 1998 shower was reported to Penn State police, thoroughly investigated and reported to all relevant parties. This boy told Licensed Psychologist Alycia Chambers that Jerry played a squeeze your guts game where Sandusky yanked him tightly to his body. No legal action was taken, but the then DA and his computer later strangely disappeared.
In the 2001 incident, Mike McQueary happened by when Sandusky and his guest were showering. Mike could not see them, but heard slapping sounds and assumed possible sex. After Mike made noises, the boy peeked at him but showed no signs of distress. Shaken, Mike went to his parents’ home for advice. Family friend Dr. Jonathon Dranov was called. A mandated reporter, Dr. Dranov explained and questioned Mike extensively. He concluded that reporting to child welfare was not needed, but suggested that Mike report his information to Paterno, who properly passed it on.
Seven years later Lock Haven high school student Aaron Fisher with his mother reported his abuse by Sandusky to their local child welfare office. Sandusky was convicted of sexual abuse on June 22, 2012. Wrongdoing by PSU executives seems inconceivable to me. The Spanier jury was horribly mistaken. The University Senate should indicate its support for Dr. Spanier by endorsement of the above or a new resolution.
(Originally created for Centre Daily Times)

Why We Should Support Faculty Affairs Advisory and Consultative Report on Titles

Dear Faculty Senate Friends and Colleagues,

For those of you I haven’t yet met in person, I’ve served on Senate for almost ten years and Chaired multiple committees. It has been a great pleasure to work with all of you. Right now, I Chair our Liberal Arts Caucus and am in the Departments of English and History. I come from a Penn State family (Dad – also a Faculty Senator — and brother are both alumni and faculty). I graduated in ’94 (BA) and ‘97 (MA), then completed my PhD at Cornell before returning here to pursue an incredibly rewarding career off the tenure track. The vote on the Advisory Consultative Report from Faculty Affairs regarding Titles is probably the most important event that I have witnessed at Faculty Senate. I’m eager and anxious for a positive outcome. Please contact me, mcm114@psu.edu, should you have any desire to discuss these issues further.

Many of you have tenured positions. I admire you. You remind me of my professors. They were my heroes. Whether bringing the past to life for a college sophomore to mentoring an apprentice through pedagogical development, research, and endless exposure to the great theories and discoveries that shaped our discipline in the past and point us towards future avenues of investigation, they inspired and encouraged me. I wanted to do what they did and, for the most part, I do! They did all of this while creating pioneering works of research and scholarship, processes that made them even stronger teachers.

Speaking for myself and only myself (I know my non-tenure-track colleagues may have accomplished much more than I have), I hope tenured professors benefit from their hard work in their salaries, offices, and opportunities for distinguished and named titles. They took huge risks by starting the tenure track and worked hard. I made different choices and, if I’m honest with myself, some mistakes that I regret (again speaking only for myself and not for my non-tenure track colleagues). I did not discipline myself to hone in on high-tier publishing. I was unwilling to accept the uncertainties involved in a seven year “up or out” deal. I take full personal responsibility for that.

I, however, do research too. I wrote a dissertation, I publish articles and present at conferences. I create, develop, and teach courses at the university for college students in our classrooms, on-line, and in study abroad programs. I “profess” the knowledge, expertise, and lessons that my professors professed to me. For over fifteen years, I’ve been doing the job that the clear majority of educated secondary students and adults understand to be that of a “professor”. Unfortunately, my various proper titles lead to confusion: some extended family, friends, and students think I am a permanent teaching assistant or substitute teacher.

This simple change — having a title that suggests I have a “real” job — would add immeasurably to my life at no cost to others. The distinction between tenure track and non-tenure track faculty will remain crystal clear — no worries there! The university will not be “hiding” the fact that so many faculty are not tenured. If anything, title changes will provide units with MORE reminders and opportunities to articulate the precise differences between tenure-track and non — the emphasis on publication and the more precise, rigorous hiring process, for example. We will all continue to PROTECT TENURE as much as possible. Efforts to improve conditions for non-tenure track faculty will, as well, continue unabated.

Colleagues who already have access to robust titles off the tenure track will now be able to share this wonderful opportunity with their most vulnerable faculty friends and peers. The Medical School will run its own system, the Law School will identify its own terminal degrees, Smeal can continue to call its FT faculty “clinical”. Everywhere there will be opportunities to engage the new system in spirit and intent. If you do not have a terminal degree, you will still have access to professorial titles. A report such as this is VERY unlikely to come around again. This is our absolute best chance to see professorial titles in our lifetimes.

Part-time and FT2 faculty will not be forgotten. Anything that elevates the FT group generally is desirable for all of us. Now, the need to address concerns regarding benefits, raises, and promotions for part-time faculty can ascend to the top of the list.

I do not ask you to support this report, though, because it would make me happy. It would, of course, fill me with joy beyond measure, gratitude, and relief to finally be counted among my peers in the larger faculty as a functioning university professor. More importantly, however, I implore you to support our students, the whole faculty body, and the entire university by voting yes.

This proposal to set non-tenure track faculty titles is all about building a stronger Penn State faculty overall. For years, some units have hired non-tenure faculty ad hoc, on whims, and with minimal thought. Now non-tenure track faculty are a faculty majority, comprising many talented individuals, yet the group as a whole is an unorganized hodgepodge of random hires and titles.

If Departments and Colleges realize that their non-tenure track faculty will be represented on their websites as “Associate Professors of Teaching or Research”, for example (though distinguished from tenure-track faculty), they might begin paying attention to those faculty members’ areas of expertise and to future hires. With professorial titles for non-tenure track faculty, Penn State will attract the highest level of talented applicants (this has been irrefutably demonstrated by both the Smeal College of Business and the Medical School). Then we can use actual strategy to put together a coherent, dynamic, qualified non-tenure track faculty that complements the tenure track pool.

Of course, current Penn State non-tenure Faculty will benefit from being able to refer to themselves as “Associate Professors of Teaching”, for example, in their dealings with students, publishers, and grant offices. Even more importantly, though, it will behoove Penn State to attract ever increasing strength in all faculty areas and build the best possible faculty body that combines both tenure track and non-tenure track professors. No potential drawbacks outweigh this opportunity for exponential growth in excellence.

Thus, I beseech you from the depths of my heart and for all of the emotional reasons to vote yes. PLEASE, PLEASE consider it. Even more so, I urge you to follow so many of our peer institutions who have recognized that professorial titles foster a stronger, more stable, and more strategically cohesive faculty body of tenure-track and non, working in harmony.

Vote yes for yourselves, for your students, for the glory and — if you are so inclined — for me and others like me. Set us free from the daily stigma of being segregated from our tenure-track friends and peers and bearing the marker of that lower status in our very names, our labels. THIS MAY BE OUR VERY LAST CHANCE. Please, please don’t let it slip away.

With Respect and Affection,
Mary Miles

Moving Beyond University Expropriation and Control of Faculty “Outside Business Activities” –a Proposal for a Rule that is Simple and Fair

In “Just Because it is Legal Doesn’t Make it Right–The Extension of University Control of Employee “Outside Business Activity”” I have been writing about the way that the most pernicious aspects of the master-servant relationship tolerated in U.S. law has been creeping into the relationship between the university and its faculty. Three distinct aspects were noted: (1) Many research 1 universities have begun to seek to claim for themselves not just the fruits of the labor they paid for in hiring staff, but also to control and exploit all faculty productive capacity even beyond contract term periods. (2) At the same time, the university has begun to see in their faculty an extension of their brand–the objectification of the human being who serve as faculty..in a way that reduces them to factors in the production of university reputation ONLY, and thus amenable to control by the university at all times as if they were other sorts of property. (3) Lastly, the university sees in the aggregated work activities of faculty an enormous source of data that could be better exploited and thus view rules regulation work beyond that compensated through university contracts as a valuable information asset to be harvested.

These trends have not occurred in a vacuum. There is no disputing that individuals have taken advantage of the porous nature of the teaching-university relationship. These include multiple simultaneous full time teaching producing, in the most egregious cases multiple simultaneous tenured appointments. Outside consulting during the academic year can become so excessive that it interferes with compensated expectations for research, teaching and service. Outside activity might conflict with the interests of the university directly (I take as more hysterical, strategic, and overblown university efforts to create prophylactic rules that extend conflict beyond direct and substantial conflicts between faculty activity and university interests).

It has been in that context that universities have sought to protect their legitimate interests–and investment–in their faculty. And usually that has produced badly drafted and overblown regulatory efforts, usually drafted by lawyers or administrators with little experience regulatory drafting but enthusiastic to extend university authority to the full reach of the law. The result has been characterized by overreaching that at times might suggest that the now popular university ethics rules do not apply to its own regulatory activities. Worse, these regulatory efforts tend to become complex baroque affairs to collapse into incoherence by weight of their own overwrought cleverness–none of which provides real substantive benefit to the university. Compare typical variations on the conflict of interest, conflict of commitment and outside teaching and consulting policies: University of Georgia; University of Washington; University of Texas; University of Utah; University of Maryland; and Purdue University.

That is regrettable. But fairly easy to fix IF (the university is willing to take a reasonable position and faculty are willing to engage in outside activities judiciously and in good faith. To that end a simple rule that is easy to understand and easy to implement, a rule that is easy to monitor and apply might be the most useful mechanism to balance the interests of university and faculty- That simple rule ought to be respectful of the faculty’s right to employ his own productive forces when he is not rendering service to the university, while protecting the university in its legitimate expectation that its employees will not shirk. The easiest approach is to provide a simple safe harbor rule for faculty consulting and teaching outside the university, one that is entirely focused on those time periods when the faculty member is employed by the university (usually under a 9 month contract), but relinquishes control when the university does not pay its faculty for services. At the same time, such a simple rule ought to be generous in permitting the university to harvest data about such activity–to the extent that such data is shared with those contributing information.

I have produced a model that is geared for Penn State but is easily applicable to other major research universities. It follows. Comments and reactions welcome. For a variation See Michigan State University. For an alternative consider Harvard’s Statement.

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http://lcbpsusenate.blogspot.com/2017/01/moving-beyond-university-expropriation.html

Killing Shared Governance From the Bottom Up–How Middle Level Administrators Kill University Shared Governance

“As you know, it was only because of my kindness and indulgence that I allowed you to accept a grant that afforded you a buy out of your courses last year. I should tell you that this really put me out; I had to go to the trouble of finding substitutes for you just so that you could do this research funded by the grant rather than teach. Reluctantly I also lose you because of your duties as an elected member of the University Faculty Governance Organization. There is nothing I can so about that. But I will insist that those duties are in addition to and should be undertaken only after you have complied with all of the service and committee work that I need to impose on you. That is your primary job. So you figure out how to fit in your University service; I have a unit to run. I still need you to fulfill your service responsibilities to this unit first, which include advising students, serving as a peer observer of teaching for faculty, and serving on unit committees as I assign you. And be sure to remember that your year end evaluation for me will be weighted heavily in favor of your unit service.”

For faculty elected to university service–especially university level faculty organizations–hypothetical emails like this are not unusual. And they effectively shut down effective service on university faculty organizations. And that, in turn, helps kill university shared governance. It is not destroyed by high level decisions based on principled objectives–shared governance is killed by the exercise of lower level administrative discretion by middle and lower level managers eager to protect their “resources” and to punish, through the exercise of that discretion, those of their “staff” who presume to provide service outside their unit.

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http://lcbpsusenate.blogspot.com/2017/01/killing-shared-governance-from-bottom.html

Shadow Work in the University–Administrative Requirements as a Barrier to Productive Work at the University and a Suggested Response from Faculty at Cornell

Existing and new policies run the risk of a hidden cost – increasing the time required by faculty and/or staff for compliance. While this cost may be justified by the risk or benefit underlying the policy, the gradual accretion of these small burdens decreases the productivity of both faculty and staff and that makes it more difficult to pursue the academic mission. Moreover, without examining the time required for compliance, it is impossible to fully understand the cost-benefit of any existing or new policy. (Cornell, Stay Informed)

This is how Cornell University, through the efforts of its faculty and the cooperation of its administrators, has sought to frame the issue of bureaucratic creep that has marked at least one aspect of the transformation of post secondary education as an industry in the 21st century. It is a reminder that administrative creep emerges because of the increasing task for risk management and transparency to outside constituencies and public regulators. It evidences an overlooked manifestation of administrative creep within the risk management university–the rise of responsibilities to feed the administrative machinery with data necessary to fuel the functioning of the administrative apparatus. (The Riskless University and the Bureaucratization of Knowledge: From “Indiana Jones” to Central Planning). At Cornell is is references as “Overzealous Risk Management, which paralyzes research function” (Report, 2015, p. 2).

Cornell has done more than document the way that the burden of a growing administration with an engorged portfolio has increasingly fallen to faculty. There is a lesson here for many universities–and not just Research 1 institutions. The most important lesson is one that touches on shared governance in risk management:

These faculty and staff stakeholders should not be called in as advisors in the development of the procedure. Rather, they need to be an integral part of the development process, with the power to prevent the procedure from being implemented until the group as a whole has come to consensus that the proposed procedure is both necessary and as efficient as possible. (Report, 2015, p. 8-9)

This post includes links to the relevant documents produced at and about the efforts to meet the challenge of shadow work at Cornell.

Read more » http://lcbpsusenate.blogspot.com/2016/12/shadow-work-in-university.html

Limiting Access to Faculty Organization Archives and Records–When Administrative Gatekeepers Abuse Their Authority and Undermine Shared Governance

Universities are well known as great centers of knowledge production and dissemination. Faculty tend to be at the center of the production of both. But like other industries, administrators have increasingly assumed a larger role in the management of exploitation of knowledge production and dissemination by and through faculty to the greater glory of the institution. In the process there has been an increasingly large distance created between those who produce university wealth (faculty) and those who manage those productive forces and their product (the administrator) who produces no wealth.

Administrators produce a very different kind of knowledge than that produced by faculty. Administrators generate data from the productive work of others. And that data is then used either to (1) increase the productivity of wealth producers (appropriating the entirety of such increases in wealth per productive unit to the institution and their greater glory) or (2) ensure the separation of the means of production of knowledge-wealth (faculty) from its control (invested increasingly in an administrator class with no connection to knowledge production).

Within these new forms of production and control–the ownership of information, especially the ownership of information relating to the wealth production of the university becomes among its most valuable commodities. It is valuable especially in the sense that it represents the ownership fo the power to control the wealth generation by the university and to direct its form and expression. Information, then is power. Information, in this sense, is power.

This relationship between information, its control and power over an institution suggests bath the emerging hierarchical character of the university and the way that appropriation of control is used to reduce the role of knowledge producers to share in the governance of the university and in the control of their own knowledge production and dissemination. But this emerging relationship, as troubling as it may be int he context of shared governance, faculty de-professionalization, and the administrative control of a university becomes a tragedy when the same pattern is used by the administrators of a faculty organization against its own members.

This post speaks to the issue, increasingly problematic of administrators of faculty organizations from access to the archives of their own institutions.

read more here
http://lcbpsusenate.blogspot.com/2016/12/wrestling-weith-oneself-for-control-of.html

Reflections on Human Rights Day: The University, Its Human Rights Obligations, and the U.N. “Stand Up for Someone’s Rights! Campaign

On December 10, 1948, the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. To mark that anniversary, in 1950 the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 423 (V) (4 December 1950), inviting all States and interested organizations to observe 10 December of each year as Human Rights Day. To observe this celebration, President Obama proclaimed “December 10, 2016, as Human Rights Day and the week beginning December 10, 2016, as Human Rights Week. I call upon the people of the United States to mark these observances with appropriate ceremonies and activities.” (Presidential Proclamation 9 Dec. 2016).

As has been the recent practice, for this year the United Nations adopted a specific theme and initiated a campaign: “Stand Up For Someone’s Rights!” The Campaign is structured around the power of individual agency in protecting the human rights of others against individuals and institutions. The Campaign explains:

The time for this is now. “We the peoples” can take a stand for rights. And together, we can take a stand for more humanity. It starts with each of us. Step forward and defend the rights of a refugee or migrant, a person with disabilities, an LGBT person, a woman, a child, indigenous peoples, a minority group, or anyone else at risk of discrimination or violence. (Campaign website HERE).

My observations about the 2016 Human Rights Day observation in the context of this campaign can be accessed HERE.

While it is fairly common to think about human rights in terms of the normative rights embedded in and forming part of the autonomous human person, and perhaps also of the resulting obligations of institutional actors–states, enterprises, religious institutions, and others to protect them, one rarely thinks of the university in this regard. Yet universities, like other institutions, have duties and responsibilities to protect and respect human rights to the same extent as other institutions–and perhaps more so in cases where the university is itself an instrumentality of the state. To fail to embed human rights within university administration violates not just law but likely the ethical and corporate responsibility that many universities have loudly proclaimed for their own.

This post considers some of the consequences for universities of undertaking an appropriate level of responsibility for human rights in its operation. I have little illusion that universities will actually pay attention to their responsibility; like other corporate entities, they tend to respond either to the lash of law or to the preferences of the stakeholders on which they are most dependent (students as consumers of its services; employers as consumers of its product (students); and alumni as providers of resources to maintain reputation status). It is perhaps to them, then, that this point is directed.
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http://lcbpsusenate.blogspot.com/2016/12/reflections-on-human-rights-day.html

On Being Student Centered–More than the Periodic Aspirational Message is Needed

A modern reality: X’s mom died of heart disease when she was 16, her father is disabled, and she is his custodian. X cares for her sister’s kids when she needs to make extra money to put food on the table. Z’s mother died in a car accident when he was 12, with no life insurance, his sister is disabled and he is her care giver in their small apartment. This is all they can afford; to make ends meet and because of the medical equipment required for care, he sleeps on the couch……Today is a bad day; no transportation. X is lucky. She managed to borrow a car, no insurance though. X is picking up Z, her study buddy Z so they can both get to class. Without their mutual support, they would be unable to survive the stress of their personal and academic lives. Both X and Z look to their faculty for support but expect nothing from those who run the institution. If our administration had half of the chutzpah of these students…… I am lost here….

These are the circumstances of a significant enough portion of the students who seek the fulfillment of the hope that is at the very center of the promise of post secondary education in contemporary American colleges. How does an academic institution practice being the sort of student centered place that the typical institution trumpets from the lofty speeches of its administrators to the pages of its social media products? The answer, increasingly is that they may not.

This post considers the problem of being student centered for the contemporary American university and the growing chasm that separates administrative formalism of the concept (through rules and aspirational sentiments) as against its functional realization.

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http://lcbpsusenate.blogspot.com/2016/11/on-being-student-centered-more-than.html

On the U.S. Department of Education Final Program Review Determination Re Penn State’s Clery Act Compliance Before 2011 and Its Assessment of a $2.9 Million Fine

“This letter is to inform you that the U.S. Department of Education (Department) intends to fine the Pennsylvania State University (Penn State; the University) a total of $2,397,500 based on the violations of statutory and regulatory requirements outlined below.” So begins the official notification, with justification and explanation, of the largest fine assessed to date by the federal government against a university for violation of that cluster of statute and regulation usually shorthanded as the Clery Act. It is possible that the University will contest this fine, though it is hard to speculate on what grounds. That alone might be cause enough to think about the implications of this fine and its underlying causes, as American universities consider these ramifications for their own operations.

To some extent, the letter, and the action was not unexpected by the wider community in the United States. It was a long time coming–the investigation began almost five years before. What is especially interesting is both the odd logic of the letter and what it suggests, not about Penn State’s failures before 2011, but those of the government itself. Equally interesting, perhaps more so, is the determination of the university itself, in its heroic efforts to move forward, to seek to obliterate the past, one might think, as if it never happened. One can only end an analysis of action and reaction with a sense that the lessons learned may well have been the wrong ones–both for the United States, and for the university it has sought to make an object lesson to advance its own agendas.

The U.S. Government’s letter may be accessed HERE. https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/sites/default/files/fsawg/datacenter/cleryact/pennstate/PennStateFineLetter.pdf

My thoughts follow along with the statement of high University officials follows and for background, the story as reported by the Associated Press.

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http://lcbpsusenate.blogspot.com/2016/11/on-us-department-of-education-final.html