Friday, October 21, 2016

Faculty Governance (Capture) or Student Welfare

[At my school there is an interesting dialogue about faculty governance. It includes many issues: Do we have faculty governance? Have we ever had it? If we had it, did it serve the interests of students] There were a number of exchanges and, with permission, I am uploading this one by an anonymous faculty member.]

As you can see from the various mailings, I am at odds on the faculty governance issue with
 Linda, Jake, and, I expect, a majority of the rest of the faculty. Linda and Jake are two of the
 people on the faculty I respect the most and so I believe this really is a disagreement about 
principle and not anyone’s pet project.

The heart of the argument by Jake and Linda at one level is that faculty governance works 
and has worked well in the past. At another level I read their argument to be that faculty 
governance is an end in itself that must be protected even if we do not like the outcome. 
For example, we would not end our democracy even if Trump were elected. (OK, actually
 I would.)

My view is quite different and it is that type of governance that best advances the goals 
of the law school – which I take to be the welfare of students and other shareholders but 
not faculty except as a means to an end –is the one to adopt. And that might change
 depending on the dean and the ability of the faculty to internalize the goals of the 
institution. This disagreement is about as fundamental as it gets.

I firmly believe faculty governance at the law school has failed as a means of improving
 the lives of students and stakeholders as much as possible. Probably the turning point
 on this for me came 12 years ago. Jon, in his last year, I think, appointed a programs 
review committee. During deliberations I heard from more than one person on the
 committee that some proponents of various programs, centers, etc., would not 
cooperate in presenting full information about their programs. The committee spent
 a year or longer reviewing every program except I think CGR and Tax that
 were off-limits. Bob then stepped into the deanship and the hard work of the
 committee came to naught.  It is possible that one of the numerous programs was 
eliminated and it was no coincidence that it had but one proponent. When Bob pulled 
the plug on the programs review it was clearly an instance of faculty governance. 
Since then I do not have enough fingers and toes (and I have all of them) to count 
the number of times in casual conversation a program, speaker series, center,
 concentration, course has come up and the second line of discussion, after the issue
 is broached, is “but Jack, Jane, Stu, Bill, Cosmo, will be unhappy.” That has become
 our form of faculty governance – if enough well-like peopled will be upset, we do 
not do it.  Rarely do I hear discussions that focus on what is best for others.  
 For faculty governance to work faculty have to  internalize the goals of the institution over self interest. I believe a majority of faculty here do this. They are actually able to vote in a counter-preferential way for something that may make them personally worse off. A critical mass though, does not do that. Instead the question is how does this affect me, will my center be eliminated, will I still get to teach my pet course, can I still select my speakers, will I still be able to spend summers of Vermont, will I still have the title of director, will this encroach on my research time, will I have to grade even more papers, will I have class more than 3 days a week, etc. I do not know what size that group needs to be to distort the process but I believe we exceed it. And with our history of door-to-door gossip, exaggerations, and egging each other on, that group has disproportionate power. I cannot identify the group because it can shift and likely includes me at times. It is difficult to escape the powerful influence of self-interest.

To me, working faculty governance means adopting a veil of ignorance perspective in a Rawlsian sense. As you know, behind the veil you do not know how the decision will affect you personally. Behind our veil we would only know one thing – our decisions can positively or negatively affect students and stakeholders. And, I would add we should assume that all those stakeholders are our children or loved ones for whom we want the best possible outcome.

In any case, would anyone in his or her right mind allow a group dominated by over-affirmed, elitist, children of privilege to govern anything that touched on the lives of real working people without some assurance that their values were aligned with those most directly affected?  


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Chronicle Comes to Florida

OK, this is really important. I mean What the Fuck. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education my dean uses profanities. We cannot tolerate this shit! Actually, to tell the truth, I can tolerate it and I want more.

 Today I did  read with some interest the long article in the Chronicle of Higher Education about UF Law. I'd provide a link but the article is in the premium section and you need a subscription. I actually do not have one but got a copy anyway.

According to the article, the Dean here yells at people and frankly I am really pissed off about that. What do you have to do around here to get yelled at? I have tried and it's beginning to look like a conspiracy to keep me from getting my fair share of yelled-at-ness. Is it because I am male?

Speaking of conspiracies as I was just in the last line, according to the article, the Dean has the Associate Deans spying on faculty. I've checked my office for bugs and other Jack Bauer devices. Nothing. Not a damn thing! What do you have to do around here to be spied on. I am beginning to feel that I am not getting my fair share on spied-on-ness.

No respect at all!

According to one person the reporter spoke to, the dean is "degrading" us. Now I could be catty and say "no, maybe you finally got the grade you deserved" but I am not saying that. Forget you read that.  I do not care to be degraded but I wonder if she could go over my paper and tell me what I did wrong so I could do better the next time (and, by the way, if you could raise my grade, that would be OK too.)

But there is even more bad news, according to one colleague, with a very short memory, this is the "most distressing" he has ever seen. Wow, I guess he fell asleep during the last administration during which everyone was respected, got their grade raised, and the ship was sinking with all hands aboard. (and which led to the highest bar failure rate anyone can remember.)

How about this one.  Allegedly, someone said it was like the Dean came into "your house" and moved everything around. First, since when did a law school belong to the faculty? Second, what if the house is falling apart?

When I think of the Dean at Florida and her actions so far I think of the saying, "It's not a revolution if you ask permission." I wonder why the sample of people who talked to the reporter (many of whom remained anonymous just as they do when spreading gossip  office to office as opposed to the Chronicle) think they were entitled to give or withhold permission.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Allocative and Distributive Effects of Shared Governance

Just had to leave a faculty meeting on shared governance of which, according to some, we have too little. I, as usual, disagree and think we have too much. In the shared governance peak of my law school we  had all kinds of odd programs that seem more designed to please individual faculty than to actually advance the interests of shareholders -- students, taxpayers, the public. Makes you think twice about shared governance and it makes me think about copyright law.

As most people know, the Copyright Act is long. The goal of copyright is to encourage creative efforts. If you took the Act, about 1/20 of it, at most, has anything to do with encouraging people to be creative. The other 19/20 of it are about who gets the dough when they are. The difference in economic circles is between allocative outcomes and distributive ones. Allocative means increasing general welfare (or the size of the pie) and distributive means cutting up the pie even if it means a smaller pie.

What does this have to do with discussions of shared governance -- everything. A faculty may meet to decide whether to hire someone. Mr. Allocative might think "will this person make the school better for the students and others." Mr. Distributive might think "Does that candidate agree with me politically and will she want to teach something I teach." Or suppose it is a new foreign program in the South of France. Mr. Allocative would think, "is this the best learning experience we can offer for the money." Mr. Distributive, on the other hand, could think, "I'd really like to teach in France in the summer" or "If I vote no on this, Phil (sponsor of the France program) will never vote to approve my spring break program in London."

Now suppose you have a faculty of 60. Some are Allocative -- they want to increase the quality of the School in the best possible sense -- and some are Distributive -- constantly making sure they get as much of the pie as possible. If the are all Allocative, shared governance make sense. If the are all Distributive, shared governance means reliving (or living for the first time) something out of the Lord of the Flies.

Unfortunately, it is not that easy. Suppose the split is 80% allocative and 20% distributive. This may sound like a good place for shared governance but like I said it's not that easy. If it is a tough issue and splits the allocatives close to evenly, the distributives will determine the outcome. Luckily, many decisions are not that close and with only 20% distributive things may work out. This just begs the issue, though. Where is the tipping point? What proportion of a faculty can be distributive minded and still be entrusted with the obligations of shared governance?

Monday, October 10, 2016

Pigs in Blankets, Trumpian Truths, Wanted Truths, and Law Faculties

What are Trumpian Truths? These days I hide from CNN and Presidential debate but even I know what Trumpian Truths are. They are misrepresentations (lies, exaggerations, etc.) that people believe because they want to even though if put to some sort of life and death test they would admit that they do not really believe it. So, let's say Donald says "HRC is responsible for 9/11." Some people, desperate to hate HRC, believe it or act like it is true. In acting like it is true they repeat it and it becomes real. Unfortunately, people used to believe anything that was in print. Now some people believe anything that is spoken as long as they want to believe it. And, yes, here I am again on my rant against faculty gossip and the gossipers.

Sometimes a Trumpian Truth is wrapped in a layer of deniability, something like a pig in an blanket. Call this a Trumpian Truth with a Side of Deniability. It would go something like this: "I recently learned that Hillary was responsible for 9/11" or "Many people are upset about HRC's involvement in 9/11." So, the repeater cozies up to a lie and veers off at the last minute. They may or may not have heard exactly what they repeated. As listener you cannot say he or she has lied or, in fact, that anyone has lied. Maybe the originator said, "Well at least we are pretty sure Hillary had nothing to do with 9/11" which then becomes "I heard we cannot be sure Hillary was not involved in 9/11" which then becomes "Hillary might have been involved in 9/11" and ends up at "I've heard that Hillary took part in the planning of 9/11." And, of course, the haters act as though it is the truth because they want it to be the truth.

Yes, now you recognize it as very close to gossip and how gossip is invited and consumed by those who want to believe. Some time ago I saw this in terms of homophobia. The pig in this case was "Jake is homophobic" but once wrapped in its blanket it became "I was told Jake was homophobic." So the speaker knows not to go full Trump because that would mean accountability. Plus, maybe someone did say Jake was homophobic or they at least they heard Jake was homophobic or they thought it was possible Jake was homophobic. In fact, we could all be homophobic so I guess you have now heard that we cannot rule out, dear reader, that you are indeed homophobic. How does it feel?  Ah yes, law school gossip. It has more legs than a conjoined caterpiller.

 In some case, the pig is not only in a blanket but coated with a crust so you have double deniability. How about this one for a starter "If accurately portrayed, I believe an informed observer would deem these measures to be of academic character and to constitute a downgrading of the . . .  program within the college" Yes, I am not kidding, a very worried person and litigious I suspect (but do not know) because who else would be careful enough to invoke double deniability. Does not know the facts but heard them! Evidently no effort to verify them. Does not necessarily think this but maybe someone would! So, what the hell, I'll tell you what someone else might think about something that might have happened.  

[By the way, while I am at it, "if it is true that Jeff  was seen wearing women's clothing a reasonable person [not me God forbid] might think Jeff is transgender."] 

Why say anything at all if you do not know the facts and can only speculate about what someone would think? Herein lies the Trumpian connection. Law faculty members do not lie outright, nor did this one. but they will throw some bait out  there so those that want to believe have something to point to as the basis for wanted beliefs.  To me they are no better than Donald himself, maybe worse. Donald, at least, has balls.