Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Academic Freedom and Proposed Policy 601


At the request of various people I have looked at the draft of Policy 601 that is being considered by the Faculty Senate and wrote the following.  I will appreciate your comments.


As it stands, the draft of Policy 601 creates an unwieldy structure to meet good, ethical ends that also violates academic freedom.  As a result, the policy should be rejected and thoroughly re-conceived before continuing forward.  

The valuable ends of this policy include establishing expectations of professional conduct and of recognizing the legitimacy of some pedagogical ends, such as course accommodations based on disability and religion. 

Nevertheless how it does so makes of those ends a problem such that in many cases it puts excessive detail as a proxy which then either does not meet the requirement or changes the nature of the classroom in ways that remove the freedom of the professor to make appropriate professional determinations of content and process.

I shall not enter into all that detail, though I can, in this note.  Instead let me enter this at an analytical level by noting that the policy’s introduction (1.1) contains a telling oxymoron.

It says: “The faculty and students at Utah Valley University have the right to expect a well-managed classroom environment  that is consistent with the mission of the University and the principles of academic freedom.”

That seems fine, until looked at closely.  The words “well-managed” seem to refer to a professional stance consistent with academic freedom to determine content, but instead subvert such.  

The key is in the wording that says not faculty, i.e. individual professors, but “the faculty”, i.e. a collective noun, a category.  This is a enormous shift and makes sense when looked at the notion of right. 

Ordinarily one would expect that faculty manage classrooms and so it would seem strange that the document says that faculty have the right to a “well-managed” classroom.  This is contradictory.  How can faculty have a right to that which they produce?

Instead the right to manage a classroom is shifted from them to an environment produced through policy. 

If such management is not a product of the professors but is something produced as an environment to which they are submitted, no matter if it is called a right, such is a violation of academic freedom, specifically the right of faculty as course content specialists to determine the content and pedagogy of the courses they teach.  

As many thinkers and pedagogues have pointed out, the process of a classroom is also content.  The idea of content can not be limited simply to the ideas of the discipline imparted, but also goes to the heart of process as pedagogy.  Such things vary from discipline to discipline and, necessarily from professor to professor. 

Furthermore, as written, once it has removed course process from content and from professors, the Policy gives the power of process to managers.  The meaning of “well-managed” seems to refer to policy, as in a kind of environment requiring the excessive detail of this draft, but it also opens it to persons who control management.   This is an unacceptable change in the nature of the professors and their relations to students (and administrators). 

Having said that, I think students should have expectations (not rights) of a professionally managed classroom and that faculty are expected to behave professionally.  I also think that students have a just expectation of course modifications for disabilities.  However, it must be noted that such are in inherent tension with the professional rights of professors as course managers.  That tension is unavoidable.

I find that image of tension as a useful one for thinking through the problems of religion.  

As stands, the policy is unworkable.  The thirty days, or so, required for a full vetting of a request for accommodation is almost a third of a semester in time.  In other words by the time a request has gone through the process a semester is substantially in over, and may indeed be over.  That negates the very possibility of an accommodation. 

Instead of what we have, I would prefer general language recognizing the rights of professors as course content specialists and the rights of students to hold fully their ethical and religious stands.

(I do not use the word belief because nor all religions have beliefs, other than as an abstraction from practice and such Protestant language, i.e. belief, would force them into sectarian mis-recognition.  One should also note that ethics and religions are by no means empirically the same.  This is a mis-placement of things that are different into a set.  It is a categorical error.)

Furthermore, I would prefer general language establishing understandings and expectations of how one might proceed and what one might take into account in the case of difference and conflict.  In other words, guides for moving into the tension and working through it, but not rigid procedures. 

What is in the document at present is unworkable. 

In conclusion, as it stands this policy establishes a violation of academic freedom and should not be implemented without substantial reworking. 



Monday, May 14, 2012

Professors blast UVU re-application as ‘purging policy’

Professors blast UVU re-application as ‘purging policy’ Higher ed • Administrators defend requiring adjuncts to re-apply for their posts each spring. By Brian Maffly The Salt Lake Tribune Published: May 14, 2012 09:14AM Updated: May 13, 2012 11:41PM Utah Valley University adjunct professors are pushing back against a requirement that they re-apply for their posts each spring, saying it disrespects the part-timers who do most of the teaching at the Orem campus. UVU officials have billed the requirement as a housekeeping measure that has little bearing on actual hiring decisions, which remain with department heads. But some professors — tenured and adjunct alike — are making no secret of their displeasure of what they call a “purging policy,” devised without faculty input. “Instead of recognizing our essential contribution, the university not only discriminates against us, it humiliates us,” wrote adjunct Edwin Firmage in a recent opinion piece published by UVU’s student newspaper. “Regardless of our expertise and experience, and mindless of actual contributions made by individuals to their departments over the years, the university treats us as mere at-will employees.” The first-year adjunct, who is the son of a University of Utah law professor by the same name, taught Latin and humanities last semester and hopes to keep teaching. He holds a master’s degree from Berkeley in Near Eastern studies and makes his living as an outdoor photographer. Firmage said he learned of the procedure only in February in a memo human resources officials circulated to adjuncts. The deadline to re-apply is Tuesday. The memo cited “federal requirements regarding fair hiring practices and labor standards” and a need to keep track of adjunct credentials. Ian Wilson, UVU’s vice president for academic affairs, said the re-application procedure arose because procedures for hiring adjuncts needed an overhaul. Positions had not been advertised, people had been hired haphazardly or on an ad hoc basis, and information on current adjuncts was out of date. “They don’t need to be re-interviewed,” Wilson said. “They aren’t in the same pool as new applicants. We aren’t trying to making life difficult.” Firmage’s bigger beef is over the flagrant disparity between full-time faculty and adjuncts in terms of pay, benefits and job security. He believes the new policy will only make the equity issue worse, leading to a “permanent academic underclass of wage slaves.” UVU adjuncts are paid a flat rate of $2,200 per three-hour section they teach. By university policy, adjuncts cannot teach 12 or more credit hours in a semester. A load that big would qualify the adjuncts as full-time employees entitled to benefits. Many adjuncts would like to teach more hours and their departments would like to have them, but the university cannot afford to treat them as full-time employees, Wilson said. Approximately 700 of UVU’s 1,260 instructors are part-timers. No Utah university relies more heavily on adjuncts. While Wilson acknowledged adjuncts are key to the university’s functioning, some faculty said the procedure will discourage the best from remaining at UVU. The most pointed criticism came from the campus chapter of the American Association of University Professors. “To require these additional administrative hurdles for [adjuncts] to continue working is a slap in the face to our colleagues whose pay is least proportionate to their level of education,” wrote Scott Abbott, then-chapter president, in an open letter to Wilson and President Matthew Holland. “The new rule requiring reapplication for all adjuncts will drive some people away, irritate and depress those who remain, and increase bureaucratic frictions. This, in turn, diminishes the one thing we really hope to do well: offer high quality university education.” A literary scholar, Abbott directs UVU’s integrated studies program and once led the humanities and philosophy department. Firmage fears annual re-application can be used to quietly rid the university of adjuncts who criticize administration, organize colleagues or otherwise become “a pain in the ass.” But if Firmage fears his activism is putting his adjunct position in peril, he isn’t showing it. “We have academic freedom here. That’s part of his job, to speak out. We would defend anyone who got in trouble,” Abbott said.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Disposable Professors

An interesting article about the use of contingent faculty:

The Business of Education and Other Lies: Ed Firmage in the UVU Review

The business of education and other lies

It’s axiomatic today that organizations are best run like a business. In reality, however, it’s because we’ve been running everything like a business that our civilization now faces a multitude of systemic, possibly fatal problems. Among these is the decline in the quality of education.

Last week, I wrote about the compensation gap that separates full-time from adjunct faculty at UVU. The gap is a manifestation of what writer Wendell Berry calls the “divide and conquer strategy of industry,” which destroys natural communities such as a faculty for the sake of short-term efficiency and profit.

This compensation gap is the result of the university’s borrowing its operating paradigm from business. Full-time faculty salaries, especially in science and technology, are thus directly linked to those in industry. The trouble with this practice is that unlike industry, universities are not, and should not be, profit centers, the so-called “University” of Phoenix notwithstanding. To keep up with salaries in the private sector, universities must therefore increase tuition and hold other salaries such as those of adjuncts to a minimum. Like all economies of scale, this is a false economy, for it hides the true cost of doing business, the cost that adjuncts feel when it comes time to pay THEIR bills.

The compensation gap, however, is but one symptom of the false industrial economy that now governs academics. Other symptoms are all around us. They include the outright purchase of academic talent and good will by industry.

At the University of Utah, for example, Energy Solutions, the nuclear waste company, recently bought $1 million of academic good will by endowing a chair in nuclear engineering. Administrators at the U. will probably disagree with my assessment of this gift as buying favor. They’ll respond that Energy Solutions is just doing the public-spirited thing by supporting a local school.

But the danger of such gifts, like those the Greeks gave to Troy, is that they usually come at the cost of our independence and indeed of our lives. The danger that Energy Solutions potentially poses to Utahns scarcely needs elaboration. Where in the local community will we find independent experts able to objectively evaluate such risks if not at our universities? How objective can such people be when they’re beholden to the firms they’re evaluating?

Are my concerns overblown? Let’s consider another case from the U. An acquaintance of mine is a senior faculty member in the engineering department. Until a few years ago, he was an outspoken critic of fossil fuels. Then one day his dean called him in and warned him to soften the criticism because it was putting corporate investment in the department at risk. The dean even had the temerity to call my friend’s wife, who is also an outspoken critic, and lecture her. Since that time, my friend has been noticeably absent from public debate about fossil fuels in Utah. Thankfully, his wife remains vocal. She does not draw a paycheck from the U.

Similar kinds of conflict of interest can be multiplied ad nauseam. But our universities are not paying heed to the ethical compromises they’re making. Indeed, universities are themselves actively commercializing their “intellectual property.” And faculty themselves often lead dual lives of “academic” research and private business building. Students are inevitably drawn into this dynamic as research assistants and as captive audiences in the classroom.

Even more worrying, though, is the way that this business-oriented approach has come to define the purpose of education in general. In the minds of most Americans today, education isn’t about the refinement of the mind or the shaping of character but about job training. Students leave the university narrowly prepared for their chosen career–a career that will likely change three or four times during their life–but unprepared for almost everything else. They’re especially unprepared to deal with the kinds of human issues for which corporate America has no time.

Yet it is these human issues that are the decisive problems of our time. Preventing catastrophic climate change, for example, is not principally a challenge of science or technology. We actually have the science and the technology to solve this problem. Our failure to do so is not the result of inadequate technical know-how but of inadequate imagination and will. It’s a failure of ethics and spirituality. It’s a failure of all those qualities of life that come under the rubric of the humanities, those increasingly marginalized subjects that people like me get paid a pittance to teach.

Industry has infected academics, perhaps fatally, with the culture of artificial cheapness and the lure of profits. With the lure of profits, industry buys our finest minds. In so doing, its ultimate act of “divide and conquer” is to separate us from our own best interests, for profit-making in modern America almost always comes at the cost of general well-being.

We’ve become blind to this fact thanks to another of industry’s insidious influences: specialization. In the compartmentalization of knowledge and action that now characterizes American university life, faculty and students can take refuge in the idea that the big problems that face us are outside their realm of expertise and therefore also outside their moral responsibility. Herein lies the greatest problem with running a university like a business: businesses answer principally to the bottom line. Their obligations to humanity are among the many externalized and quickly forgotten costs that are at the heart of our biggest problems. In reality, we have no environmental problems or educational problems or health care problems today; we have only ethical ones.

By Ed Firmage, Jr.
Guest Writer
Ed Firmage, Jr. teaches Latin and humanities at UVU. Trained in classics at Princeton, he holds an M.A. in ancient history from U. C. Berkeley, where he was a Mellon Fellow in the Humanities. From 1986-1988, he was a Rotary Foundation Scholar at Hebrew University, Jerusalem.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Ed Firmage's Essay "Wage Slaves in the Ivory Tower"

From the UVU Review, March 26, 2012

Wage slaves in the ivory tower

The glass ceiling for UVU’s adjunct faculty has been questioned. Illustration by John-Ross Boyce.
Some weeks ago, the UVU Review ran a story about the gap in pay for faculty men and women. According to the story, the average annual salary for male faculty at UVU is $73,000, while that for female faculty is $71,000. Clearly, despite official policy, sexual discrimination is alive at UVU.

But women faculty have this consolation: sexual discrimination is not policy. There is a faculty group, however, that have no such consolation: UVU’s dedicated, talented and essential adjunct instructors, who constitute two-thirds of UVU’s teachers. In the case of adjuncts, the discrimination is on a scale that makes the school’s gender bias pale in comparison. And, it is deliberate and systematic.

Let’s take my own case. I presently teach two classes totaling seven credit hours. For this, I receive a monthly check for $1,200. If I were to double my teaching load–which university policy prevents me from doing–to four classes, the number expected of full-time faculty, I would get $2,400/month, or $28,800/year, 40% of what a tenure-track professor receives on average. But that is not the limit of the discrimination. My annualized $28,800 does not include benefits. I am prevented from working more than 12 credit hours specifically in order that I not become eligible for benefits. And I don’t even get full compensation for the hours I teach. Students in my Latin 1010 class get four credit hours for attending. I, their instructor, get only 3.3 for teaching them.

Without adjunct faculty, who teach most of the classes, this university could not operate. But instead of recognizing our essential contribution, the university not only discriminates against us, it humiliates us. A year ago, UVU instituted a policy of requiring adjunct faculty to reapply for their jobs every year. Regardless of our expertise and experience, and mindless of actual contributions made by individuals to their departments over the years, the university treats us as mere at-will employees.

A few years ago, the Salt Lake City Public Library hired a new director, who in similarly highhanded fashion required her employees to reapply for their jobs. People who had given years of service to the institution were now arbitrarily told that none of that work counted for anything. A new director, who had given nothing to the institution, would now decide whether they were qualified for their jobs. Thankfully, the library eventually recognized its mistake and fired the new director, but not before many good people had left the institution in disgust. UVU apparently believes it has nothing to learn from the library’s experience.

Unfortunately, what employees at the Salt Lake Public Library and UVU have experienced isn’t unique. It’s a kind of behavior all too familiar in corporate America, where our nation’s HR policies are cooked up. What’s surprising, though, is that such behavior should find support at an institution of higher learning, an institution that prides itself on being a model of open and ethical behavior, an institution that in fact purports to teach ethical behavior in several of its departments.

What UVU’s adjunct faculty policy does is to create a permanent academic underclass of wage slaves. This sort of behavior is, as I said, not uncommon. It’s found, for example, in America’s meat packing industry, where illegal migrant laborers are paid minimum wage to work in the most dangerous job in American industry. And, because they’re illegal, and hired BECAUSE they are illegal, these exploited workers know that they are there at the will of their exploiters.

Is this the sort of behavior for which UVU wants to be known? Are the Cargills and Tysons of the world the “comparables” that UVU wants for its indispensable adjunct faculty?

The university will respond that it has no choice, that it has only as much money to work with as it receives from the legislature. But, like all excuses for corporate misdeeds, this does not pass muster. The university DOES have a choice. It has a choice in how it apportions its allotment from the state. The university also has a choice in how it prioritizes money raised from private donors. Today, the university chooses to pay tenure track faculty two and half times as much as their adjunct counterparts. What’s clear from that choice is that fair compensation for adjunct faculty is NOT a priority.

And, of course, it is not just compensation that is in question. It is deliberate humiliation, as represented in the requirement that adjuncts reapply each year for their jobs. The university will perhaps say that this requirement helps insure that it has the best faculty it can get, or that reapplication insures fair access for everyone. But surely, if these are the true reasons, then new tenure-track hires should be subjected to the same yearly scrutiny, especially since these are the people who will occupy future tenured positions.

The disregard the university shows us adjuncts is further illustrated by the difficulty that we have in moving from part-time to full-time, tenure track positions, despite in some cases long service and demonstrated capacity.

The message of such policies is clear: adjunct faculty are not respected contributors in the eyes of the administration, whatever we are in the eyes of our colleagues. I wonder how the university would feel if we began taking this message to heart?

By Ed Firmage, Jr.
Guest Writer
Ed Firmage, Jrteaches Latin and humanities at UVU. Trained in classics at Princeton, he holds an M.A. in ancient history from U. C. Berkeley, where he was a Mellon Fellow in the Humanities. From 1986-1988, he was a Rotary Foundation Scholar at Hebrew University, Jerusalem.