Private = harassment / public = fair comment

The following news item was circulated this morning in the Academica Top 10:

CapilanoU removes instructor’s sculpture from campus, alleging harassment

Capilano University has removed from campus a sculpture that it says is “intended to belittle and humiliate” its President, Kris Bulcroft. However, the CapilanoU instructor who created the statue says that his work is being held hostage. George Rammell created the 2-metre caricature of Bulcroft draped in the American flag and holding her poodle to protest cuts to several programs at the institution. He says the sculpture, entitled Blathering on in Krisendom, is satire “in the tradition of the way the British satirized Margaret Thatcher.” But Jane Shackell, Board Chair at CapilanoU, said in a statement that “the effigy has been used in a manner amounting to workplace harassment of an individual employee.” Rammell had installed his sculpture at the university’s studio art gallery before it was removed. The administration has offered to return the sculpture to Rammell on the condition it “not be returned to campus.” Globe and Mail | Georgia Straight | North Shore News

I do not know anything about this situation other than what is included here, but one thing stands out: the university president, certainly on her own campus, is a public figure. As such, satiric references to her are fair comment. “Harassment of an individual employee” does not come into it. She’s the president, she made unpopular decisions, the community responds. Take it on the chin, President Bulcroft, and move on.

[I wonder if Rammell takes commissions?]

bc-sculpture14nw2

When it looked like job action was likely,

a sister president at another institution warned me against using humour in any communications for the duration. I have honoured this, as they say, more in the breech. And my colleague was correct: I should have held my tongue, run out into the woods at midnight and whispered my bon mots to the stars if I had to. Latest example: some enterprising students hung their own flag on an official university flagpole:

AUNBT

This is, of course, marvellous, and I immediately tweeted the image. From the response, you would have thought someone had burnt the university flag rather than merely shared the pole. Of course feelings are running high. So let me say here, categorically, that I was not chortling as I tweeted; I was deadly serious.

This action on the part of the apparently ninja-quick students is a central symbol of the struggle to wrest some control back and save the academic mission of our university from the corrosive managerialism that impedes the teaching and research functions of our institution. That little hand-lettered pillow-case of a flag represents an alternate voice among the traditional symbols of power. It puts students into a picture from which they were notably absent. It stands for the multiplicity of voices that ideally make up any vibrant community, and certainly a healthy university community. It represents the cheekiness and daring of the next generation, and bravo to them. It is a visible political action, planned and executed with grace rather than confrontation. It dares to stand up among the solid, recognized symbols of government and nation and  shout, “we’re here too!”

Yes I tweeted it and I would retweet it. Unsmilingly of course.

In case there is anyone here

who is not a regular reader of AUNBT.ca — which would be weird, but people contain multitudes — we have started a new page over there to focus on program prioritization. I know, it doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue, does it? But that is the buzz phrase so there it is. “Program prioritization” is the rationalization of university programs and departments. It is widespread, it employs lots of expensive consultants, administrators love it because it uses simple metrics and many Powerpoint slides, and it is truly horrifying. On the plus side, as an issue it is extremely galvanizing to anyone who gives a fig about education. Interesting critiques are being produced and people are drawing together to defend universities as public institutions. Read Jon’s overview, follow some of the links, then meet me back here to strategize about what to do. Once this pesky bargaining round is resolved, I mean.

Various links

to stories I’d like to post so I can close all those browser pages:

“Students who are anxious about finishing their degree, and avoiding debt, sometimes see the breadth requirements as getting in their way,” said Nicholas Dirks, chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley.

The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC), whose members are university presidents and whose chair is UM President David Barnard, defines academic freedom narrowly as only “the rights of the teacher to teach and of the student to learn” and “the right to freely communicate knowledge and the results of research and scholarship.” In other words, the employers see academic freedom as a very restrictive set of rights that refer only to teaching and research, but do not include professors’ right to comment on the administration of their own institutions or even to pursue their own research agendas.

University faculty, by contrast, overwhelmingly regard academic freedom more broadly, as the right to pursue research of their own choosing, to speak openly about their research and to criticize their own institution when it threatens to restrict those choices or demand that research be tailored to meet corporate or other external objectives. Faculty members consider themselves professionals like doctors or lawyers, experts in their fields who are better qualified than their employers to make certain decisions including, when necessary, to identify problems with the university.

I have noted at least four or more major changes in the University during my years here, that may provide some reasons for this lamentable decline of the U of S from a once-healthy, intellectually vibrant and employee-supportive post-secondary institution to its present toxic state: first, the alarming mushrooming of the number of administrators on campus, especially in recent years; secondly, and related to this, the subtle but increasing erosion of respect for faculty that has accompanied the emergence of this burgeoning group of bureaucrats, many of whom seem to know next to nothing about what faculty actually do; thirdly, the increasing focus on, and financial encouragement of, those branches of the University that train, rather than educate; and finally, the accompanying devaluation and resulting marginalization of the Humanities, Fine Arts, and even some of the Social Sciences.

More MOOC-talk

[F]ar from a radical innovation, MOOCs are simply the natural extension of trends that have been at the heart of the modern university for decades….
[N]early all of America’s colleges and universities have moved away from the cultures and intellectual traditions within which they were founded.
“We are concerned that there is an experiment being done on students and we don’t know the outcome but it could jeopardize their higher education,” said Eileen Landy, the elected secretary of United University Professions, the bargaining union for faculty at 30 of the State University of New York’s 64 campuses. She said union leaders were left in the dark until the deal was announced and said there could be collective bargaining implications of the new arrangements.
  • Outsourced Lectures Raise Concerns About Academic Freedom.” Steve Kolowich. The Chronicle of Higher Education (May 28, 2013): “[W]where state legislators and college administrators see an opportunity, some professors see a threat—if not to their jobs, then to their freedom to teach a course as they believe it should be taught.”

letter, published on Thursday in The Harvard Crimson, the student newspaper, and signed by 58 professors, asks Michael D. Smith, dean of the FAS, “to appoint a committee of arts and sciences faculty members “to draft a set of ethical and educational principles” that would govern their colleagues’ involvement in Harvard-branded MOOCs.”

  • Massive (But Not Open).” Ry Rivard. Inside Higher Ed (May 14, 2013): “The Georgia Institute of Technology plans to offer a $7,000 online master’s degree to 10,000 new students over the next three years without hiring much more than a handful of new instructors.”
  • Not Staying the Course.” Chris Parr. Times Higher Education (May 10, 2013): “The average completion rate for massive open online courses is less than 7 percent, according to data compiled by an Open University doctoral student as part of her own MOOC studies.”
Companies, colleges, and columnists gush about the utopian possibilities of technology. But digital life has a bleaker side, too. Over the weekend, a cross-disciplinary group of scholars convened [at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee’s Center for 21st Century Studies] to focus attention on the lesser-noticed consequences of innovation.

Alert readers may wonder why I seem so obsessed by MOOCs,

particularly as at UNB they are, as yet, only a twinkle in the eyes of one or two BoG members. And particularly as they seem to promise so much in terms of increased access to higher education.

To address the latter point: I think we would be very foolish to confuse the promise and potential of MOOCs with the probable reality. Potentially, they could presage a vast democratization in higher education and a revitalization of how we teach; in fact, however, they are an entrepreneurial venture promoted by people who want to “monetize” educational “assets.” Any long-term effects on higher education are irrelevant; never mind thinking about seven generations: some people can’t think seven minutes into the future. Implemented for the wrong reasons and handled badly, as they inevitably will be, MOOCs will be worse than just another boondoggle, because the whole MOOC hysteria, if it continues and enough decision-makers are convinced, has the potential to undermine our already teetering post-secondary system yet further: further casualization of academic labour, further polarization between elite and other institutions, shrinkage of access to campus-based education, job loss, degradation of academic research and dissemination of knowledge to “content provision”, division of “content generation” and “content provision”: and the list goes on.

All this is not to say that university instructors should shy away from the possibilities of new technologies. University instructors should not. Universities should, however, other than facilitating their employees’ use of such technologies. A perversely arcane position, I know, to claim that university ancillary functions should exist first and foremost to support the work of academic staff. I’m sure the reader can just imagine the incredulous smile on the face of their favourite administrator, should the latter chance to hear such a sentiment expressed. Keep that vision in your mind when you contemplate the possibilities for MOOCs. Or for anything else, for that matter. Cui bono? And, who holds the reins?