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Tag: "academia"

Academic Integrity and Union Busting at the University of Oregon

[ 64 ] December 6, 2014 |

As I discussed awhile ago, the teaching assistants at my alma mater, the University of Oregon, were discussing going on strike over the university’s refusal to provide them paid sick leave. In response, the university threw academic integrity out the window and threatened to allow students to have their current grade be the grade for the course and encouraged professors to give scantron finals. Well, the TAs did go on strike and the university has moved forward with its plans. For one, the university is threatening TAs (or GTFFs as they are called in Eugene) on foreign visas with deportation if they strike. That’s a pretty low blow.

The faculty union has come out in support of their TAs. Here is its statement:

Today, the University of Oregon administration escalated its tactics against the striking graduate employees that will have profoundly negative implications for undergraduates.

The College of Arts and Sciences decreed unilaterally that final examinations and end-of-term assignments will be optional in graduate-assisted courses taught in the Departments of Linguistics, Philosophy, and Ethnic Studies.

If the GTFF strike continues after Dec. 12, the Associate Dean for Humanities in the College of Arts and Sciences will assign all grades in the affected courses, based on only a portion of the graded assignments and tests listed in course syllabi. In the Department of Philosophy, the department head and all graduate instructors have been removed as instructors of record. More departments may suffer a similar fate.

This course of action threatens to damage the mentorship between teachers and students, relations of trust among colleagues, and between the university community and the administration. It also interferes with the ability of teachers to do what they do best: to educate students. This harms students who hoped to improve their grades with end-of-term writing assignments and final examinations.

The apparent goal of this attack is to break the GTFF and not, as the administration insists, to maintain “academic continuity.”

Every effort by faculty members and the university senate to deal with the problem of assigning grades during the strike in a manner that upholds the professional integrity of teachers and the expectations set out in course syllabi has been rejected.

Furthermore, because the administration has declared final examinations to be optional, grades will not have the same value for all students.

Such callous disregard for academic freedom and the welfare of students forces faculty and students between a rock and a hard place. Rather than work with faculty to create meaningful options for grades to be delayed, the administration has chosen to compromise the integrity of undergraduate education at the University of Oregon.

I have a bit more information. I was forwarded an e-mail from the Associate Dean of Humanities, Judith Baskin. At the request of the person who sent it, I have redacted the course name this e-mail applies to. It reads as follows:

Dear Students,

I am responsible for ensuring that you receive a timely grade for
the work you have done in [COURSE NAME].

On the Academic Affairs website
( [1]) the Provost has advised
that students in courses taught or supported by GTFs may be given the
option to forgo the final assignment/exam and take their current grade
in the course.

Please be advised that should the GTFF strike continue to Dec. 12, I
will enter the grade you achieved in [COURSE NAME] up to December 1 as
your approximate grade for Fall term. This grade will be based on the
grading information given to me by your Instructor. If you wish you
may accept this grade as your final grade. In that case, you need
not complete any further work for this course and the grade I entered
will not be altered.

* If this is your preference please send me an email to that effect
( by date XXXX. Be sure to include your name,
student number, and the course number and name; you may include your
understanding of what the final grade would be. I regret that,
given the large number of courses with which I am working, I cannot
give you the grade I will be entering at this time but I assure you
that it will be based on the information your Instructor supplied for
work competed as of Dec. 1.


* OR


* You have the option to complete the final exam / assignment as
described on your course syllabus and/or by your Instructor. You may
submit that work either to the Department of [BLANK] or electronically (if this was your Instructor’s
preference) by the date and time assigned by your Instructor. At such
time as your work is graded, the approximate grade will be replaced by
a grade based on all your course work, including the final
assignment/exam. If you have any questions, please feel to email me
( or contact me via Blackboard.

Judith R. Baskin, Philip H. Knight Professor of Humanities

Associate Dean for Humanities, College of Arts and Sciences

So there you have it. “You may include your understanding of what the final grade may be.” Great! Tell me you are getting an A and then I don’t have to bother looking it up. And why even bother taking a final? Just go celebrate the Ducks’ victory at Rennie’s! (a local bar) Now this is some academic integritude!

How to Embarrass Yourself as a University Administration

[ 74 ] November 22, 2014 |

Graduate students at the University of Oregon are threatening to strike over the university not giving their demand of paid family leave. You can read the details of the bargaining in quite a bit of detail here. It is nearing the end of the quarter at UO, so the graduate students have as much power as they are going to have because all the grading needs to get done. So how did the university administration respond? Pretty much in the most embarrassing way possible, sending deans and directors this leaked memo concerning what to do if they had to give the finals without their TAs.

1. Consider whether the final exam can be reformatted so that it can be graded easily (e.g., Scantron or multiple-choice). Please note that the reformatted final exams should have an equal level of rigor as originally planned.

2. To provide proctor coverage for exams, please use the teaching function strategies above.

3. Provide students with the following options:

a. Forgo the final and take the grade they had going into the final

b. Take the final, but receive an “X” (missing grade) until such time that the finals can be graded

Give everyone Scantron exams! Now that’s education. Let’s not even get into the issue that students forced to take multiple choice exams do significantly worse because there is no partial credit (which is why it is basically impossible to fail a history course unless you don’t turn assignments in or never show up). In fact, let’s just forget about education entirely. Give the students their current grade without a final! Hire some scabs to serve as TAs! Make a mockery of your entire pedagogy!

Really, shouldn’t the University of Oregon just allow students to choose their own grade? That’s only fair way to deal with a labor conflict.

Job Interviews at Academic Conferences

[ 106 ] October 21, 2014 |

Forcing impoverished graduate students and adjunct faculty to travel to a random expensive city for 30 minute first round job interview is one of the least morally defensible parts of academia. Professional associations need to stop it.

[SL] Make sure to click through and read this as well. Even before the age of Skype this practice was absolutely indefensible; the application materials and perhaps a phone call are perfectly sufficient for a preliminary interview process. It’s just a bigger disgrace now.

Where “Incivility” = “Language that Makes University Administrators and Wealthy Donors Uncomfortable”

[ 52 ] September 9, 2014 |

The broad-based attack on “incivility” from academics continues. But of course “civility” can only be defined as language that makes the administrator class comfortable. Given that these administrators see themselves as equivalent to corporate CEOs, this also means they want the power to fire anyone who they deem “uncivil,” which means nothing more than “language that makes them or wealthy donors uncomfortable.” That the University of California chancellor used the 50th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement to make this claim is especially galling.

The Real Power of the University

[ 32 ] August 25, 2014 |

In the corporate university, money is what counts. Without public support, universities have become captured by the wealthy donors and corporations who fund them. This is a major contributor to the shunning of majors like German and Philosophy (and to a slightly lesser but still significant extent, History) that means advisers receiving word from high to encourage students not to sign up for those majors, cutting positions, even retrenching departments. To replace them, Supply Chain Management* and other majors that train people to be functionaries of 21st century capitalism without providing them any sort of broad-based liberal arts education or critical thinking.

As the corporations capture the universities, it’s hardly surprising then that the university would begin following the free speech patterns of the corporation, i.e., none for employees. See the case of one Salaita, Stephen:

While many of the emails are fairly similar, some stand out. For instance, there is an email from Travis Smith, senior director of development for the University of Illinois Foundation, to Wise, with copies to Molly Tracy, who is in charge of fund-raising for engineering programs, and Dan C. Peterson, vice chancellor for institutional advancement. The email forwards a letter complaining about the Salaita hire. The email from Smith says: “Dan, Molly, and I have just discussed this and believe you need to [redacted].” (The blacked out portion suggests a phrase is missing, not just a word or two.)

Later emails show Wise and her development team trying to set up a time to discuss the matter, although there is no indication of what was decided.

At least one email the chancellor received was from someone who identified himself as a major donor who said that he would stop giving if Salaita were hired. “Having been a multiple 6 figure donor to Illinois over the years I know our support is ending as we vehemently disagree with the approach this individual espouses. This is doubly unfortunate for the school as we have been blessed in our careers and have accumulated quite a balance sheet over my 35 year career,” the email says.

There is no indication that Wise based her decision on the fund-raising issues, only that these topics were raised in communications to her. A spokeswoman for Illinois said via email that the chancellor receives many suggestions about many issues. She said that she didn’t know if the chancellor met with foundation officials about Salaita but said that the rationale behind the chancellor’s decision was the one she discussed in the email to the campus.

This is the future. If you threaten the beliefs of the fundraisers, you are fired. If you shine a bad light on the university administrators seeking to move up the food chain to ever more lucrative positions, bye-bye. If you dissent from the left, I hope you enjoy the Daniel Payne method of survival on the street. Right now, Stephen Salaita has no job and no money. It’s a dark world out there right now for academics, as free speech and academic freedom decline to their lowest levels in at least 60 years.

* Or as I like to call it, How to Exploit Bangladeshis.

Salaita Update

[ 51 ] August 23, 2014 |

Sadly, the University of Illinois, after two meetings of the Board of Trustees, has decided to stick with the firing of Stephen Salaita for his anti-Israel war on Gaza positions as stated on Twitter. We’ve had several posts here about this case and as we’ve expressed, this is an outrageous attack on the free speech of academics. To fire professors for their speech is a throwback to the bad old days of the Red Scare when professors were fired for not supporting the U.S. effort in World War I. The corporatization of the university continues apace, where employees are canned for not holding to the official corporate political line or speaking their own mind in a way that might bring unwanted attention to the school, even though in the case of Salaita, it’s not like there was even a coordinated effort against him from right-wingers. Sadly, it was other pro-Israel academics like Cary Nelson who brought him down.

In the recent past, there have been real victories when universities have tried to crack down on free speech. The case against myself is one example. I fear this is the beginning of the rolling back of those victories.

Right now, the biggest thing you can do is sign the general academic petition to demand Salaita’s reinstatement and to boycott the University of Illinois until they do so. Corey Robin has been the biggest promoter of the cause and his blog also has links to all the field-specific petitions, useful because our readers come from so many academic fields. Regardless of what you think about Salaita’s statements on Gaza, I urge all you academics to sign this petition because you are next. Or I am next. Or someone you know is next. And each and every time it creates a McCarthy-like atmosphere on our campuses that reduces the intellectual experiences of our students and depresses the freedoms of us all.

Lessons of Salaita

[ 118 ] August 21, 2014 |

Why have we seen a recent crackdown on academic freedom and freedom of speech against academics, whether Stephen Salaita or myself? The answer is that administrators are scared of controversy. It reminds me of World War I, when U.S. entry and the following Red Scare led to the firing of many academics. We are reaching a point where academics are increasingly unable to take controversial positions at the peril of their employment. But one key difference between the two periods is that while the earlier attacks on academic freedom were coming from leading politicians and major power players, what has happened to Salaita is that he made upper University of Illinois administrators worried about how he would reflect upon them. Modern university administrations do not operate to serve students or education. They exist primarily to send administrators farther up the administrative totem pole, whether at the current institution or at another. How do you rise up that food chain? You cut funding for liberal arts and humanities. You reorient resources to big rethinkings of some part of the university you can put on your c.v., even though they will never be implemented. You convince rich donors to give money to build a nice building for the departments and programs you care about, like business. You move resources toward whatever is going to serve your personal future and away from the core mission of the university. You denigrate any majors that rich donors don’t see as valuable or that you can’t fundraise from. If you can, you even retrench faculty, sending 50 year old professors of German and Philosophy who have been at your school for 20 years onto the street.

What you don’t do is have employees say things that might attract attention. For a long time, people said we needed to run our colleges and universities like corporations. And now we are and people like Salaita have no room in the corporate university. Like corporations, the executive class serves itself, not the employees or the students/clients. What happened to me and what happened to Salaita are examples of that. In the linked piece above, I thought this was fairly heartbreaking:

I worry that a lot of academics will decide it’s the latter, and that the only safe path for them is to stay out of the limelight. I’ve seen scholars face this question before, and retreat in order to preserve their careers—a decision I cannot fault. A few weeks ago, for example, an untenured friend of mine noted a powerful link between current events and her field of expertise. She’s a brilliant scholar and great writer, so I encouraged her to write about it. It would have been a great essay, one easily pitched to major publications. It would have helped to shape our understanding of the world in which we live. It was also political in nature.

When she ran the idea by her dean, he said that while he supported her writing about public issues in theory, he wouldn’t necessarily support an opinion piece. He said faculty members must remember that their institution will be judged by statements they make in public. My friend took this as a sign that she risked not getting tenure if she took a controversial stance in public. She didn’t write the essay.

This is bad for my friend’s institution and bad for her. Her small college loses the opportunity to demonstrate the expertise of its faculty members in a responsible way. And she not only has an idea she can’t express, she loses the chance to be read by thousands of people, an experience that most academics never get.

Of course the dean told her not to write it. What if it reflected poorly on him? And because she is an assistant professor, she can’t buck him. Or I mean, she could but there’s a risk there. And so the public discourse is denied a valuable voice and the ability for academics to connect with the broader public–something administrators always say they want but which they really don’t unless it is the business faculty working with local corporations or some such thing–is cut off.

Good Job University of Miami

[ 38 ] July 14, 2014 |

The University of Miami for the win, if by win you mean destroying the planet:

One of the world’s rarest forests, a section of Miami-Dade County’s last intact tracts of endangered pine rockland, is getting a new resident: a Walmart.

About 88 acres of rockland, a globally imperiled habitat containing a menagerie of plants, animals and insects found no place else, was sold this month by the University of Miami to a Palm Beach County developer. To secure permission for the 158,000-square-foot box store, plus an LA Fitness center, Chik-fil-A and Chili’s restaurants and about 900 apartments, the university and the developer, Ram, agreed to set aside 40 acres for a preserve.

Ram also plans to develop 35 adjacent acres still owned by the university.

But with less than 2 percent of the vast savanna that once covered South Florida’s spiny ridge remaining, the deal has left environmentalists and biologists scratching their heads.

“You wonder how things end up being endangered? This is how. This is bad policy and bad enforcement. And shame on UM,” said attorney Dennis Olle, a board member of Tropical Audubon and the North American Butterfly Association, who wrote to Florida’s lead federal wildlife agent Friday demanding an investigation.

The university said in a statement that it is committed to protecting the forests — only about 2,900 acres of rockland are left outside Everglades National Park — and helped execute plans for the preserve, but would not respond to questions.

I mean, sure we are committed to saving the rockland in the sense that we will sell for the 1,000,000th Wal-Mart in this country and turn it into cash we can then concentrate in improving the salaries of our most administrators. That is what America is all about, destroying rare ecosystems to buy ivory backscratchers (unfairly illegal!) to not only our president and provost, but our deans as well. Thus, no questions.

Job Market Strategies

[ 22 ] March 13, 2014 |

For some of these women, this will probably be the most lucrative work their Ph.D. will ever get them.

UIC On Strike

[ 17 ] February 19, 2014 |

The University of Illinois-Chicago faculty have gone on strike in protest of the corporatization of the university that threatens what faculty do–our ability to teach and research, the stability of our jobs, and the defense of the values of the liberal arts education. Like other universities, UIC has moved resources from faculty to administration, gone to the well of adjunct labor to cover much teaching, and underpaid faculty members in an expensive city.

Hundreds of teachers, students and other supporters picketed the University of Illinois’ at Chicago campus Tuesday as part of a two-day strike called by UIC United Faculty, the union representing more than 1,100 tenured and nontenured faculty members.

The walkout, which featured teachers and their supporters picketing and distributing flyers in front of campus buildings for much of the day, is the first to take place at the university. Despite more than 60 bargaining sessions over 18 months—which were joined by a federal mediator in November—the administration and UICUF has not been able to come to an agreement.

“State universities have been turned into businesses, business corporations with a focus only on the bottom line,” said UICUF’s President Joe Persky. “This must change. A university must devote its resources to guaranteeing our student body a first class education every bit as good as Champaign-Urbana.”

Faculty at UIC are striking to demand an increase in wages for both tenured and nontenured professors, as well as multi-year contracts and “control of governance and curriculum.”

Control over governance and curriculum is an important issue. Faculty have traditionally had a significant say in how the university operates and the core values of the curriculum. That is disappearing rapidly as universities move to the same top-down corporate model that brought you the outsourcing of American jobs overseas, the Great Recession, and the creation of the New Gilded Age. Stands like the faculty at UIC are taking are necessary in order to defend the values that made American higher education the best in the world.

Also, using Hull House as the strike headquarters should warm the heart of any historian.

Shorter Kristof: “I’m Too Lazy to Find the Hundreds of Professors Writing in Prominent Places, So Why Are Academics So Irrelevant?”

[ 63 ] February 16, 2014 |

I know Nic Kristof doesn’t put in any actual work to write his columns, but this is ridiculous.

Erik Voeten with the obvious rejoinder that, in fact, academics are pretty much everywhere in public policy.

[SL]: Corey Robin has much more. Professional disincentives notwithstanding, if you can’t find academics writing for a general audience about issues that interest you it’s almost certainly because you’re not looking.

A Question of Mission

[ 66 ] February 7, 2014 |

The Chronicle discusses a new report: “Labor Intensive or Labor Expensive: Changing Staffing and Compensation Patterns in Higher Education”, detailing the rise of professional administrative positions in American higher education. This confirms what anecdotal evidence has been strongly suggesting: administration positions (hence, costs) have increased, dramatically, between 2000 and 2012:

the number of full-time faculty and staff members per professional or managerial administrator has declined 40 percent.

And the kicker: You can’t blame faculty salaries for the rise in tuition. Faculty salaries were “essentially flat” from 2000 to 2012, the report says. And “we didn’t see the savings that we would have expected from the shift to part-time faculty,” said Donna M. Desrochers, an author of the report.

And, happily, there’s more:

Howard J. Bunsis, a professor of accounting at Eastern Michigan University and chair of the American Association of University Professors’ Collective Bargaining Congress, wasn’t surprised by the conclusions of the study.

“You see it on every campus—an increase in administration and a decrease in full-time faculty, and an increase in the use of part-time faculty,” he said. With that trend, along with rising tuition and falling state support, “you’re painting a pretty fair picture of higher ed,” he continued. “It’s not what it should be. What’s broken in higher ed is the priorities, and it’s been broken for a long time.”

We have the same anecdotal stories at my institution. In yet another shrewd move designed to ensure I never get promoted here, I’ve begun to inquire about obtaining detailed numbers on the distribution of costs at my university. The question is whether or not the administrative bloat suggested by anecdote is empirically accurate, and if so, when did it start (more or less) and to what degree. I’m honestly not sure what I will find (assuming that the data, which in theory are public record, are easily acquired). On the one hand, since 2008 the anecdotal growth in deputy vice chancellors of this and plastic professors of that, is strong. Yet, as I’ve argued in the past, the commercialization of the British higher ed sector is at least a generation more advanced than the United States. As the trend in administrative bloat in the US has been measurably underway since 2000 (and really back to 1990), I shouldn’t find a distinct paradigm shift here at my institution in the past five years, but rather the continuation of a relentless trend. Yet, we have had a distinct shift in tone, and stated mission, from the administration since 2008.

This gets to the core of the question: just what the hell is a university for? I’m old school when I argue that the core — arguably only — mission of a university is the creation and dissemination of knowledge. Higher education is a public good and should be treated as such. Everything else ought to flow from that: knowledge transfer to the private sector, public comment and participation (which we used to call “outward facing” academics; I’ve no idea what the buzzword du jour is now), transforming lives, delivering sustained innovation and international impact, and through partnerships and collaborations enhance social inclusion, economic prosperity, and environmental quality in the region (and beyond!).

One bit of anecdote that I can speak to is that while upper management may have increased here in the past few years, front line administrative roles have been reduced in one of the annual purges of jobs that we’ve endured. One of the many differences between American and British higher ed is the lack of trust and autonomy that academic staff enjoy: all of our grading goes through an internal process known as “second marking”, where every fail, every mark over a 70 (roughly translated as an A), and a sample of every mark band in between (40s, 50s, and 60s) gets re-graded by a colleague. This happens for each and every assignment in each and every class we teach. Then, we send a similar sample off to our external moderator, an academic from a different university, who re-checks all this work and writes a report. The lack of front line administrative support has reached the point now where we — academic staff — are expected to do the photocopying of the external’s sample ourselves. This might not seem like a lot of work, but it does add up, and it’s perhaps not the best allocation of resources for the university.

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