• Home
  • About Us
  • Guest Posts

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Sunday, May 7, 2017

The UCOP Audit and University Governance

As expected, the State Auditor's report on UCOP has triggered a huge political uproar. The charges of secret reserves, out of control personnel policies, special benefits for executives, and UCOP interference into the audit process have been explosive to say the least.  There have been two legislative committee meetings that addressed it, numerous statements from politicians about its implications for UC, and editorials and op-eds expressing justifiable outrage about UCOP secrecy and management practices. Predictably enough, some legislators have called into question UC's constitutional autonomy.  Despite, or perhaps because of, efforts by UCOP and the Regents to explain away some of the problems, the damage to the University's reputation has been considerable.  This report is going to haunt the University for a good while.

Amidst all of the heated disagreement, however, there has been one fundamental, and fundamentally wrong, point at which all of the arguing parties appear to agree:  that the answer to the problems the audit revealed can and should be solved from the top down.  Wherever you turn in the discussion (whether in the auditor's suggestion that the legislature pass a separate budget for UCOP and establish an outside overseer, or President's Napolitano's assurance that she had established an internal UCOP working group to improve things, or Regent Lozano's insistence that the Regents were hard at work in ensuring their "governance" of the institution as well as hiring an outside consultant to help with UCOP reforms), the common element in all of the proposals is that the answer is to be found in a closed loop of decision makers shuttling between Oakland and Sacramento (with the occasional nod to the campus chancellors).

In fact, the most striking aspect of the auditor's report and UCOP's response was the almost total absence of any acknowledgement of faculty or staff knowledge or perspectives.  Where were the formal responses of Senate Committees in the report?  How exactly is the auditor to know if the programs that UCOP oversees are productive if they don't get unfiltered responses from the people who are providing the education and front-line services to students, are engaging in research, and are attempting to convey that research to the public?

Moving forward, the Regents have decided to hire an outside consultant to review UCOP's plans for reforms.  This suggests that the University has no business or public policy schools with faculty who are experts in these issues.  If only the Senate had a knowledgeable committee on Budget and Planning or perhaps one on Research that could provide meaningful and ongoing oversight of practices that are supposed to enable the university's core functions. But apparently not.  Instead we are to witness UCOP organize an internal reorganization with some review by a paid outside contractor answerable to the Regents who have never demanded from UCOP either the clarity of presentation or the documentation that everyone now seems to agree is essential going forward.

To be fair, this problem is not limited to either UCOP or the Regents.  Although arguably an effect of the Yudof administration and the wrong turn taken by the University Commission on the Future, the proliferation of task forces, the sidelining of formal Senate oversight, the general decay of shared governance, and the centralization of management and authority is deeply embedded on campuses as well.  Task forces not only serve to tilt authority in the direction of management but also eliminate the production of institutional memory and documentation that are, or at least should be, one offshoot of standing Senate committees.  Of course, that institutional faculty memory will only matter if faculty themselves are willing to take the time and effort to press for their viewpoints to be heard and to have influence.  As one Anonymous argued in a comment on Chris' last post, it is up to faculty to begin to take the time to work with staff to clarify and understand university budgeting from the departments on up.  This knowledge will not solve all of our problems.  But given what we know from the audit and its responses, reform cannot depend on top-down initiatives.

I recognize that all of these things may seem to be lost causes; too many of us have accepted the new rules of the game. While we complain, we do not see any possibility of change.  To make matters more difficult, secrecy tends to protect specific rather than general interests.  But more is at stake than simply a desire for faculty voice.  The contemporary managed university does not have the internal democracy nor the free flow of information and institutional knowledge it needs to meet its purposes.

In his comment on Chris' last post, Bob Samuels noted that some of the changes to the audit responses made the online education program look better.  But UC's online venture is a  classic example of managerially imposed and rushed changes made in the nature of a supposed market driven necessity.  I'm sure we have all heard managers complain about how faculty do not want to change fast enough; perhaps they might consider that a rush to bad judgment marginalizes the deeper thinking that makes failure less likely.  If the University really wants to think about how to educate and create knowledge more effectively for the twenty-first century,  they would do well to recognize that in universities knowledge flows upward.

The recent experience at UC Riverside is only one example of the crises that can result from a managerial failure to learn from faculty and front line staff.   There the administration sidelined faculty input in the early stages of its planned expansion, rushed to hire despite faculty concerns, didn't think about the necessary lab and classroom space its new hires needed and marginalized departments.  In the end, the Riverside Senate had to step in and salvage the situation.  If there had been genuine consultation the situation would have been avoided in the first place rather than being redone later.  This situation was not the result of evil or self-serving administrators but rather of the collapse of the practices of shared governance and the recognition that institutions require a structured way to absorb the multiple perspectives that exceed the managerial groups.  But that is not an idea one would find in the closed managerial circuit between the State Auditor, UCOP, the Regents, the California Legislature, or, most likely, local campus administrators.

Of course, these problems are not limited to UC.  As indicated by the ongoing revolt of the faculty (including a resolution of the university's faculty senate) over Purdue University's secretly negotiated agreement with Kaplan's online education business, the willingness of university administrators to seek deals without proper consultation and without due public debate is widespread.  Nor is this limited to public universities (indeed private universities are probably worse). Yale and Columbia (neither of which have robust traditions of faculty governance) have sought to mobilize a seemingly endless array of technicalities to keep their graduate student workers from collective bargaining. Vanderbilt University has recently sought to prevent the unionization of their NTT faculty by claiming that they are managerial (a position rejected by the NLRB) and suggesting that their unionization would break down traditions of shared governance (although few NTT are included in that).

These may at first glance appear to be distant from the controversies about UCOP.  But they all point to the same issue: the refusal of top managers to recognize that the cost of achieving their expanded flexibility is the increasing inability of universities to take advantage of the practical knowledge held by faculty and staff.  There is, of course, a perspective of system and of the whole that must be part of any decision-making process.  But it is only one such perspective.  And if that perspective is, as has happened, increasingly sundered from the perspectives of the faculty and staff, then we will see more and more examples of universities cut off from their purposes and surrendering to demands to serve other interests than their own.



4 comments:

Mike said...

Isn't it about time the UC faculty thought more seriously about organizing? Administrators will continue to ignore you unless you have an independent voice, one which shores up faculty governance and gives you a seat at the table. You think you are academic entrepreneurs, but UCOP and the Regents treats you like employees.

Evelynne D said...

The fox guarding the henhouse mentality has been going on for years. Please contact me at evelynneleedrinker@gmail.com for further details.

Best Homework Helpers said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Asliraf Ammar said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Join the Conversation

Note: Firefox is occasionally incompatible with our comments section. We apologize for the inconvenience.