Friday, November 26, 2010

Whither the Search Committees?

So one of the less exciting aspects of being in the professorate is serving on committees. I would venture a guess that most faculty have an internal ranking system of committees that they would prefer to serve on. Committees that address curricular issues or faculty personnel matters are likely more desirable than serving on the budget committee. However, committee work is critical to the life of a high functioning university. The meetings may be tedious, the charges ambiguous, the resources needed unavailable and faculty owe the institution they serve the depth and breadth of their intellectual capacity to address the non-classroom or non-research issues facing the institution. It is part of our evaluation process. The service we provide to our departments, colleges, university and community is important. It isn’t glamorous and clearly not anything faculty should be saved from. Yet, I am mystified by the recent death of search committees since the installation of the new regime. Several new administrators have been hired in an interim capacity only to seemingly be made permanent after six months or so. It was my understanding that searches are to be conducted for positions of dean and above.
At the University of Illinois at Chicago, for example, the Office of Access & Equity oversees both academic and non-academic personnel matters. The office has published online a Search Manual to aid in the process of recruiting, interviewing and recommending highly qualified applicants. UIC, as a Research 1 institution, is subject to federal guidelines on the use of search committees. Of course there are situations that do not warrant the formation and use of such committees and those circumstances are explicated in the Search Manual. For academic positions of Dean and above, search committees are required and for administrative positions, Director and above, search committees are required. A search of the CSU website yielded ten results on the term “search committee” with seven of those results being related to the most recent presidential search process.
The examination of that process begs the question of “where have the search committees gone?” If there were no expectation or necessity of a search why appoint someone as the Interim in the first place? I sought an answer to this question by submitting a Freedom of Information Act request. I was curious if faculty had been appointed to search committees so I requested, “Letters of presidential appointment of those search committees constituted between July 1, 2009 and November 15, 2010.”
Interestingly I was denied by the university the information related to the appointment of search committees. This was a very curious and troubling development for an administration that does not seem to have gained any traction in the past year in addressing fundamental issues. The near riot during the financial aid disbursement, the imposition of a Senior Thesis without evidence of its need or efficacy or consultation with the faculty, the “right sizing” initiative, the departure of a nationally renowned scholar under questionable circumstances, micro-management in the selection of academic department chairs without regard to faculty wishes, lower enrollment and no demonstrated commitment to fund raising all indicate an administration struggling to understand how doctoral degree granting institutions function and differ greatly from junior colleges. Abandoning a vital quality control process like a search committee is another indicator of an administration determined to rule by fiat in the guise of populism with no interest in principle or practice of shared governance. Denying faculty an opportunity to serve on search committees is tantamount to declaring the university to be a fiefdom to be ruled at the pleasure of the president. What is this regime afraid of in ending the search committee process? It should understand that flawed processes lead to flawed outcomes? It is clearly flawed not involving the university in university business. I understand the reluctance to include faculty. Faculty may ask hard questions, challenge applicants, demand high standards, overlook personal acquaintance as a hiring criteria. No administrator I know would want to be second guessed this way by faculty in a hiring process. But as the UIC Search Manual states:
A search committee, though not always necessary, will in most cases strengthen the pursuit of high-quality and diverse appointees. Good search committees will seek out and attract first-rate applicants. For positions of campus-wide significance, a properly balanced search committee can ensure that various constituencies are represented in
Developing search strategies
Participating in recruitment activities
Screening candidates
Search committees are always advisory, since ultimate responsibility for hiring rests with the key administrator. Crucial to the success of any search is a serious commitment to the time and effort required on the part of the search committee members, its chair, and the unit served. Also an important goal of the search committee is to make good faith efforts to identify appropriate women and minority as well as majority candidates, not to be satisfied merely with "what comes in over the transom." The end of such an approach, however, is almost always worth the efforts.”
Since the regime has apparently done away with search committees, ostensibly because of their anachronistic nature, might the university consider doing away with the archaic process of deans having hiring authority in academic departments or of the president selecting department chairs. Let the faculty members of the departments decide who they want to work with and spend substantial parts of their careers with. In the spirit of cost saving or time saving or building a better mobile mouse trap let’s end these arcane decision making processes across the board.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

More Thoughts on Universities, and the Importance of Faculty Unions

A few weeks ago, a previous post challenged CSU faculty to think about what a university is and the contradictions created by the so-called "business model" or "corporate model" that has become increasingly dominant at universities in the U.S., including at CSU. Many of you may be familiar with the situation at SUNY-Albany, where the president there recently announced that the departments of French, Italian, Classics, Russian and Theater Arts were being eliminated. Since this announcement, numerous faculty from across the US have denounced the actions of the SUNY-Albany president, but one recent example of such a denunciation struck me as quite telling.

In a letter written to the SUNY-Albany president, biologist Gregory A Petsko pointed out that it is precisely the dominance of the business model and its incompatibility with universities that is at the root of this recent attempt to eliminate these departments. I will just quote one small part of his letter that outlines this: "As for the argument that the humanities don't pay their own way, well, I guess that's true, but it seems to me that there's a fallacy in assuming that a university should be run like a business. I'm not saying it shouldn't be managed prudently, but the notion that every part of it needs to be self-supporting is simply at variance with what a university is all about. You seem to value entrepreneurial programs and practical subjects that might generate intellectual property more than you do 'old-fashioned' courses of study. But universities aren't just about discovering and capitalizing on new knowledge; they are also about preserving knowledge from being lost over time, and that requires a financial investment. There is good reason for it: what seems to be archaic today can become vital in the future." I encourage you to read the entire letter, which I have linked above.

At the same time as this attempt to eliminate departments and programs as "cost savings measures," we have been reminded again of the importance of faculty unions in helping to prevent such draconian tactics. At Florida State University, an arbitrator has ruled in favor of faculty members who filed a grievance through their union, requiring FSU to rescind the firings of these faculty members. You can read about this decision in The Chronicle of Higher Education and in Inside Higher Ed.

These events are worth reflecting on as we think about the ideas that we were challenged to think about in the previous post on this blog. It was a call to action, and perhaps we need to think about what kinds of action we can take to engage the CSU campus in a wide-ranging dialog that looks both inside CSU and at universities across the world. What is a university? What kind of university do faculty & students want CSU to be?

Thursday, November 18, 2010


So one of our responsibilities as faculty is to recognize each other, especially colleagues in other disciplines. Our long serving colleague in the College of Health Sciences, Elizabeth Wittbrodt, merits special notice. Professor Wittbrodt has served on faculty here since 1987. She has taught thousands of students in her 23 years here. She is a multiple Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers award winner. Not only is she an exemplary teaching faculty, her professional service includes appointment as an Accreditor in the American Occupational Therapy Association,and as an Appeals Board member in the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education. From 2006 until 2010 Elizabeth served as President of the Illinois Occupational Therapy Association. She received the Honorary Award of Merit for her work in reshaping Occupational Therapy in the State of Illinois. The only previous award winner, Artice Harmon, created the OT program at Chicago State in 1980. In her two decades of service Elizabeth has mentored junior colleagues and both graduate and undergraduate students. I am sure your Dean is as appreciative of your accomplishments and service as I am and will take time to recognize you publicly for your work. Congratulations Elizabeth and thank you for your service to this university!
If you have a faculty colleague you wish to recognize let me know and we will publicly acknowledge them.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

CSU in the News, that is, Courthouse News this time

Oh yeah, I just remembered this month we all have to take the ILL State "ethics" exam...

Courthouse News Service
Tuesday, November 09, 2010Last Update: 9:52 AM PT

Attorney Says Chicago State Fired Him For Refusing to Cover for New President

CHICAGO (CN) - Chicago State University fired its senior legal counsel for responding to FOIA requests about the controversial hiring of a new president, the attorney claims in Cook County Court. James Crowley claims the new president, Wayne Watson, threatened his job and ordered him to restrict the flow of information to Tribune reporters and a faculty member, who had requested it, and fired him when he refused to do so.
The chairman of the board of trustees hired Watson, then-chancellor of the City Colleges, which set off public controversy, according to the complaint. "As a result, the Board of Trustees hired a presidential search firm, The Hollins Group, to conduct a search for a new university president. In addition, a University Search Committee was formed to assist in the hiring process.
"In 2009, the University Search Committee resigned in protest over the selection of Watson. Watson's hiring resulted in protests from students, faculty and administrators. As a result, the media covered Watson's hiring and the protests, and this generated numerous requests for information regarding his hiring."
Watson was hired to begin on July 1, 2009, and retired from the City Colleges on June 30, 2009, the complaint states. But the State University Retirement System required that he wait for 90 days before beginning his new job, "as a requirement for receipt of a retirement benefit," so his start date was pushed back to Oct. 1.
Then came allegations in the media that Watson actually began working - "and whether he sent contracts to his friends" - months before October.
Allegations included that he made "renovations and moving into the residence of the university president, held meetings and made decisions in the capacity as university president regarding the operation of CSU," Crowley says in his complaint.
Crowley says Watson claimed that he was "volunteering" before his start date, though he "was paid a full year's salary for a nine-month period of employment."
A university faculty member and two Chicago Tribune reporters demanded information on whether Watson was living in the presidential residence, "was using the president's staff, thereby being a non-state employee having state employees work for him, was making decisions on behalf of the state and spending state dollars," according to the complaint.
Crowley says that the media and private groups wanted to know "whether Watson was really working and not 'volunteering,' whether he violated SURS rules and state contracting laws, and whether he sent contracts to his friends."
Crowley says that in August 2009, in the midst of gathering the documents, he was called into the president's office.
Crowley says Watson tried to persuade him that "only two pages consisting of the moving company bill were responsive," though Crowley insisted that "numerous additional pages related to the residence should be tendered in order to be in compliance with the FOIA request."
Watson then grabbed his wrist and told him, "If you read this my way, you are my friend. If you read it the other way, you are my enemy," the complaint states.
"Plaintiff Crowley understood this statement to be a threat."
Crowley claims that during that, meeting Watson told him to contact the Hartman Group, Direct Mail Solutions and FLW - companies that had contracts with the university - and discuss the information that he intended to release.
On Sept. 1, 2009, Crowley met with the Illinois Attorney General's Office and turned over copies of the requested materials, related documents and some of the contracts. He also "detailed his concerns and fears of retaliation," he says.
Crowley says he had had reservations about the contracts, and that ultimately the work was not performed as expected.
Crowley says that in January this year he confronted the school's general counsel, Patrick Cage, after discovering that the contracts had been altered after he had approved them.
On Jan. 26 this year, just days before SURS scheduled a hearing for Watson, it "sent follow-up FOIA requests to Patrick Cage requesting copies of the FOIA requests made to CSU and responses which had been prepared by Crowley and noting that Cage had failed to timely respond to prior requests for the materials," the complaint states. "Crowley released all documents responsive to the FOIA request as required by law," according to the complaint.
As a result, Crowley says, he was placed on one-week leave and then Watson fired him via letter, disregarding the university's termination procedures.
Crowley demands reinstatement, back pay and costs from CSU and Watson, and damages from Watson "sufficient to prevent his future violation of 5 ILCS 430/15-5 et seq.," (the Illinois State Official and Employees Act and the Illinois Whistleblower Act).
His lead counsel is Anthony Pinelli.

Friday, November 5, 2010

What is the University? A Call to Dialogue and Action

The last two decades have witnessed a revolution in higher education. A couple hundred years of tradition has been under attack and the University has been transformed from a place of free thought and inquiry into a corporation. As graduate students in the 1990s we began to witness this hostile takeover as bastions of critical thought and free inquiry such as area studies, Ethnic Studies and Women’s Studies came under attack by right wing business interests. These areas of the social sciences and humanities asked questions about power, inequality and social systems. They found that the social structures in our society, the political system, economic system, patriarchy and homophobia undermined claims to freedom and equality made by subordinated peoples. Many used the information gained from such inquiry to press for social change and social justice. The successes led to a series of backlashes from ‘traditional’ seats of power. “Family Values,” Christian conservatism, Dinesh D’Souza, Linda Chavez, the Promise Keepers, English-Only Campaigns and the like were marshaled by conservatives to realign the power they felt they had lost.

Attacks on progressive thought in the academy, economic conservatism of the Reagan years and repressive politics opened the door for the entreprenuerialization of the university. The university became a business enterprise. Those units that could pull in private monies through grants and donations (mostly from the business elite and conservative organizations) were privileged. Areas that relied less on the patronage of big business were deemed marginal to the new university. The Republican Revolution left gaps in university-funding and the less lucrative areas of the university were cut. Those areas of the university that could contribute to the development of military technology (engineering, computers, military science), pharmaceuticals, or business development (read: capitalist development) loaned their graduate students and professors to business and the military to innovate and were granted darling status on their campuses. Those areas which questioned capitalism, militarism, colonialism, sexism, etc. began to find it hard to survive.

At the same time, a new class was developing: the professional administrator. Members of this new class were trained in business principles and market thought processes. Administrators who had never stepped foot in front of a classroom nor trained in critical analysis and pedagogy were taught the language of business and ‘professionalism.’ The crisis of the university opened the doors of opportunity for the professional administrator to take over the university from the scholars and educators. The everyday running of the university was ripped from the hands of faculty and former faculty in administrative positions. The business model replaced the model of developing thoughtful, engaged citizens. The critical language of Foucault, Lorde, Marx, Spivak, Fanon, Anzaldua, Althusser, and Butler, among many others, was replaced by ‘best practices,’ ‘data mining,’ ‘customer service,’ ‘right-sizing,’ dress codes, productive efficiency, time and motion studies, time management, economic determinism and surveillance. Foucault’s panoptican reached the halls of the academy like never before.

We went from “express yourself!” to “pull your pants up!” in one generation. Everything including thought would be privatized, corporatized, surveilled and quantified. Everything has its price. For how much will we sell our university to the corporatists? For less than a six-figure salary?

This is a call to dialogue and action. We have witnessed the erosion of our campus from a university to a business. We are witnessing a hostile takeover; a slow death. The shenanigans of the Board of Trustees in the Spring of 2008 whereby the decision to name our own leaders was stolen from the faculty, students and staff of the university was the latest in a long line of maneuvers that has brought corporate think to the university. Faculty and staff see cuts and layoffs (‘right-sizing,’ the preferred euphemism of the professional administrative class), departments and programs are threatened with closing, staff is made to work harder for the same pay and then ordered to pay more just to park, decisions in areas of faculty expertise such as faculty hiring and appointing of chairs and deans are made by non-faculty entities and there is talk of ending tenure. Moreover, there is an attack on faculty and students. Everything that is wrong with the university according to corporate speak results from lazy and irresponsible students or incompetent faculty. Chairs and Deans have been asked to ramp up surveillance of faculty making sure we are in our classrooms during posted class times. Besides turning scholars into cops, such directives illustrate the professional administrative class’ low level of understanding of teaching and learning.

[Sidebar] What does informal dress have to do with learning? In the dozens of classes involving thousands of students that I have taught over nearly two decades learning has never been disrupted because a student dressed provocatively or poorly. Those who claim learning is hindered as a result of student dress should re-evaluate. Perhaps, it is only you who can not think when a student wears provocative clothes or is dressed down. For myself, I think best when I’m in my pajamas. This raises the questions: Whose university is this? Who should have the power to enact regulations over expression? Are we really ready for another lawsuit? What’s next? Standard American English-only? Bans on long fingernails and hair extensions? A finishing school?

Yet, all is not lost. As the business model proves anathema to the university mission, more and more of us realize the problems. It seems time that faculty, staff, and students understand the nature of the university and the roles we play in it. We require the development of a coherent, cohesive, faculty, student and staff vision through democratic dialogue and consensus-building (which are anathema to the anti-democratic, hierarchical, capitalist ethics and organization touted by the business model). Last Fall nearly 500 members of the campus participated in a teach-in to begin the process. Many important ideas and relationships were forged. Can we continue this productive dialogue? Can we engage each other in dialogue and action to save the university?