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Friday, June 22, 2012

Corporate Hacks Dominate at Mr. Jefferson’s University

The University of Virginia was thrown into a bit of an uproar in June 2012 after the university's president, Teresa Sullivan, “a 62-year-old eminent scholar of labor-force demography whose appointment drew national attention in 2010, was forced out during a closed-door session of the Board of Visitors in which no official vote was taken. The June 10 announcement that she would resign blindsided Sullivan and ignited wide outrage and protests,” according to the Associated Press. This controversy showcases the contemporary “corporatizing” tendency that has been taking place in university governance more generally. For non-academics to trump scholars on matters touching on academic policy is at the very least counter-productive (if not illogical). In this essay, I discuss Sullivan’s ouster at Virginia in order to advance the proposition that faculty senates rather than boards of corporate managers should have the final say on policy at colleges and universities. At public universities, only a legislature or president should be able to over-rule a faculty (assuming there is a very significant proportion of public funding).

Regarding the controversy at the University of Virginia, the Associated Press reported that, “(f)or her part, Rector Helen Dragas publicly disclosed Thursday more detailed reasoning behind Sullivan’s ouster.” She “did acknowledge that the board mishandled Sullivan’s removal, and apologized. ‘In my view we did the right thing, the wrong way,’ Dragas said.” Her “six-page statement said Sullivan wasn’t acting quickly enough to address financial pressures facing higher education, the role of online learning, changes in the health care environment, the increased student-faculty ratio, fundraising, and other strategic challenges. The university lacks long-range plans on several of those fronts, it added. ‘No matter how you feel about our actions, these challenges represent some very high hurdles that stand in the way of our university’s path to continued success in the coming decade, and they are going to remain front and center for the next board and the next president over the coming years,’ the statement said.”

 For her part, Sullivan countered by saying, “Sweeping action may be gratifying and may create the aura of strong leadership, but its unintended consequences may lead to costs that are too high to bear.” Moreover, “Corporate-style, top-down leadership does not work in a great university,” she said. “Sustained change with buy-in does work.” The subtext here is that scholars don’t behave like corporate managers. Running a college is more like herding cats than managing by memo. Not being scholars themselves, the board and its chair at Virginia missed this vital distinction. According to the New York Times, “(m)any public university presidents, past and present, said that those on the boards of the leading universities — typically business executives without much experience in academia — do not always understand the complexities of leading a large research university, and the degree to which a president can succeed only by persuading. ‘Everybody thinks university presidents are hierarchical and top-down,” said Donna E. Shalala, president of the University of Miami . . . ‘But we are not corporate chieftains, and we cannot rule from the sky. We are more like tugboat captains, trying to get our ships aligned and pulling them in the right direction.’ The great research universities, she said, have achieved their dominant position in the world through shared faculty governance, and leaving faculty both academic and research freedom.” Such freedom does not compute from a corporate mindset. Whereas military-style “orders” are commonplace in the business world, scholars bristle at the prospect of a colleague barking out commands. "In the end," according to the Times, "the fundamental disagreement at the University of Virginia concerned the approach to change that the president should take — either incremental, with buy-in from each of the constituencies, or more radical, imposed from the top." That is, the ways of academic clashed with an interlarded corporate approach.

Indeed, the board at Virginia came from a very different world than that of years in a doctoral program followed by still more years working toward tenure. "Political contributions to our governors have become more important factors in the selection of our board members," said John Casteen III, who served as President of UVA for the 20 years prior to Sullivan's appointment. According to the Huffington Post, The UVA Board of Visitors included “a real estate developer, a coal company magnate, a Wall Street professional, a top lawyer for General Electric, a nursing home executive, [and] a beer distribution entrepreneur.” Lest it be presumed that the lawyer (or a physician) could substitute for a scholar, neither the first degree in law nor the first degree in medicine constitutes a doctorate. 

Accordingly, the board's motivation may have been rather pedestrian, or corporate (think of Fuld at Lehman Bros or Coyne at Bear Stearns), without due respect for the academic values and traditions particularly dear to the scholars who teach at the university. The Huffington Post reports that emails between the Rector and Vice-Rector “indicate that much of their motivation to remove Sullivan stemmed from three media articles, rather than professional or academic literature. One, a New York Times column by David Brooks, lauded online courses, as did a Wall Street Journal editorial, and an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education.” In one email, the Vice Rector even suggests that providing a “modicum of candor” might be prudent. I smell a rat. 

The secrecy of the board’s decision alone—without even a formal vote being taken (and given the failure of the Rector to adequately explain her “board’s” decision after the fact to the faculty senate meeting behind closed doors)—suggests that the real reason could have had more to do with personalities than policy. However, if “philosophical differences” were at issue as Sullivan suggests in her public statement after her firing, I submit that it is scholars rather than political donors from the business world and that of the professions who have the wherewithal to make judgments regarding academic matters, as in determining whether (and how much) to expand on-line courses. According to the New York Times, Dragas had been "especially concerned about pushing ahead in online learning." Sullivan warned that online education was no panacea — and indeed, was “surprisingly expensive, has limited revenue potential and unless carefully managed can undermine the quality of instruction.” Scholars such as Sullivan are in a much better position to judge the academic suitability of such courses than is a beer distributor, a business executive, or a physician.

Pedagogy as well as learning can take a real hit if technology is relied on too much, especially at the doctoral level where the in-person aspect of seminars has real academic value. To assess that value, one must have experienced it oneself, rather than merely read about it online. Regarding the for-profit colleges that offer “on-line doctorates,” I worry that the doctoral degree itself is being rarified rather than protected. I have met students in such programs who somehow claim to know all about the alternative that they are missing. Of course, they are perfectly able to dismiss its academic value without even a suspicion that they could be wrong about something they have never experienced. Such a mark of closed ignorance among “doctoral students” is itself a red flag concerning where “higher education” in America is headed. 

In the case of on-line courses, the application to freshman and sophomore lecture classes is one thing, whereas the application to doctoral seminars is quite another. My point is that scholars who have lectured in large lecture halls and taught small graduate seminars are in a unique position (i.e., superior to non-academics on a university's board) to discern this vital difference. That a beer distributor would sit in judgment over a professor's judgment on such a matter is a bit like wandering down the rabbit hole only to expect things to be the same. To a scholar, the presumptuous entitlement of such overarching ignorance can only be emetic, not to mention downright insulting.

Generally speaking with respect to the academic and corporate worlds, what is of value in academic terms does not necessarily translate into financial terms (or value). A visiting scholar at a university who does research, for example, is likely a “zero budget item” (i.e., not paid by the university), yet he or she is of high academic status by virtue of having earned a doctorate (and perhaps even published a book, by which I don't mean one filled with simplistic bullet-points and overly-complex organizational diagrams).

To a business practitioner or professional (i.e., a lawyer, CPA, or physician), such academic status sans salary does not translate, and thus is of no value. In fact, the value would be negative, given the presumed opportunity cost (i.e., the money that could otherwise be earned by being bored in a mindless corporate cubicle). Lets be clear: that something has no value in corporate or business terms does not mean that it has no value. Even if a society allows its business sector to set societal norms, the realm of knowledge (i.e., scientia) is not so pliable, at least in principle. Perhaps the same could be said of the religious realm. How much value in business terms can be attributed to the Kingdom of God, for instance?

Showing its true colors, the “corporate” board at the University of Virginia evinced an utter lack of respect for the university's scholars by refusing even to provide the faculty senate with an explanation with a “modicum of candor.” To reduce scholars to a modern employee-classification (which is a given at least at for-profit "universities") ignores the academic status of scholars in academia. That is, it ignores the qualitative differences that distinguish faculty, staff, and students at a college or university.

Some staff try to get around basic clusters (i.e., faculty, staff, and students) by referring to themselves as "academic staff." To be sure, librarians are not exactly kitchen help, but neither do librarians hold a doctoral degree (e.g., the DBA, Ph.D., D.Sci.M., J.S.D., or Ed.D.). Hence, even the very laudable (and valuable) librarians working in academic libraries cannot be counted as colleagues with the scholars.

At one large research university at least, a significant number of graduate students in doctoral programs in the liberal arts claim to be colleagues with their professors because those students teach too. They refer to the "undergrads" there as the students. "I'm not a student; I'm a graduate student" is the sort of illogical claim made as if with impunity by some of the more arrogant usurpers. Their teaching, by the way, is typically limited to discussion sections of their professors' lecture classes.

Lest there be any confusion, graduate students are not colleagues with their professors. That this rather basic academic point is denied or ignored when convenient is just another indication that modern academia is under threat even from within its ranks. The fact that university governance boards increasingly rely on people from outside academia suggests that academic mores and standards will not be protected even from the encroaching decadence within universities.

Referring to Sullivan's firing, a program officer at the American Association of University Professors laid out the basic flaw that has been allowed to fester in university governance. "More and more boards come from non-academic backgrounds, and one consequence of that is a lack of appreciation for and understanding of the academic enterprise,” said Robert Kreiser. He told the Huffington Post that "the UVA debacle is only the most extreme example of an ongoing phenomenon in which those ‘who don't appreciate what higher education is about and who are more concerned about corporate interests and corporate considerations’ come to govern academia.” Both the hegemony of corporate interests (and values) in corporate governance and the tacit lack of respect in the business sector (and American society more generally) for the vocation of the scholar should be (but sadly are not) recognized as red flags. At the very least, the priority belies any interest in the higher education of generations to come (i.e., your children).

Therefore, we should return to the classical notion that a faculty of scholars ought to have the final say in the running of a college or university. At the very least, a version of the business judgment rule in corporate governance (wherein managerial judgment on business matters trumps stockholder votes) should apply to a faculty's academic judgment trumping decisions of a non-academic board (and even a legislature or president in the case of a public university).

The university as an institution has been around, at least in the West, since the High Middle Age. Aquinas, for example, taught at the university in Paris. Applying a corporate mindset (or governance structure) on top of such a seasoned institution is bound to cause problems. I would not blame the professors at the University of Virginia were they more than just a bit annoyed at being relegated on their own turf, or campus (which literally means “field” in Latin), by people in the "real world." This expression itself is highly insulting, as it conveys a judgment of utter dismissiveness regarding the world of academia. The message is that the pursuit of knowledge is in itself inherently irrelevant (e.g., of "the Ivory Tower"). Let’s be clear: wanting to get something useful out of a university does not necessarily involve respect for its sui generis (i.e., unique) ways and values. Furthermore, to filter knowledge according to its contemporary usefulness and display the results as if a poll on power-point slides vastly misconstrues even what knowledge is. To presume to govern the enterprise from such an “understanding” is at the very least audacious, not to mention disrespectful and even reckless.

It is time, in other words, to return academia to the men and women who know and respect it on its own terms (i.e., rather than trying to turn it into a different beast). This is the real lesson coming out of the tussle at Mr. Jefferson’s university, where truth, at least in pinciple, is to be pursued no matter where it leads. Business managers and even the folks in the professional caste do not have this faith. They are thus utterly unsuited in their presumptive entitlement to govern academia as if business trumps knowledge. In other words, there should be some check within academia on the infiltration of the subverted societal values. What's good for GM is not necessarily good for the classroom. 

Fides de scientia: Lux et Veritas must be nurtured, pursued, and protected as ends in themselves, rather than squandered for sordid lucre or subjected to petty politics.


Zach Carter and Jason Linkins, “Teresa Sullivan University of Virginia Ouster Led by Politcal DonorsLacking Academic Experience,” The Huffington Post, June 21, 2012.

Associated Press, “University of Virginia Board to Meet to Consider Reinstating President; RectorDefends Ouster,” The Washington Post, June 21, 2012. 

Tamar Lewin, "Public Universities See Familiar Fight at Virginia," The New York Times, June 25, 2012.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Saving the E.U.: Beyond the Squabbles

During the G-20 meeting in Mexico in June 2012, the E.U.’s financial mess was front and center. Francois Hollande wanted the European Central Bank to issue euro bonds and be able to loan directly to banks and to the European bailout funds. In general, he wanted the E.U.’s bank to operate more like the United States’ Federal Reserve—that is, as a lender of last resort (though the Fed could not issue debt to guarantee state debt). In response, Ms. Merkel contended that those proposals must come after more state sovereignty is shifted to the federal level. Shared debt can work only if there is shared decision-making over budgets, taxes and pensions, she said. As Joschka Fischer, a former German foreign minister and Green party stalwart, said, “You can’t mutualize the debt without mutualizing sovereignty; you can’t have the financial benefits of a state without having one.” And yet, the E.U. already had substantial (but not sufficient) governmental sovereignty.

          France's Francois Hollande and Germany's Angela Merkel at the G20 Summit.      AP

The full essay is at Essays on the E.U. Political Economy, available at Amazon. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Egypt’s Generals: “Boundary Issues”

In a letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887, John Acton (1834-1902) wrote, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” This line could be applied to Egypt’s ruling generals both just before and after the presidential election in June 2012.
Days before the election—perhaps in anticipation of a victory by the opposition party—the generals and their allies in the court dissolved the legislature, which after the legislative election had been controlled by the opposition. As if this affront to democracy was not enough, the generals announced that they, rather than the opposition party’s presidential victor, who had received 51.7% of the vote, would appoint the president’s chief of staff. In a sense, this affront is more shocking than the generals' dissolution of the legislature or emasculation of the powers of the presidency because of the sheer presumptuousness in appointing someone else's chief of staff. That is generally recognized as an internal matter to a president.
The generals are like a roommate who thinks nothing of moving one’s personal toiletries in the bathroom (such things are generally known to be personal) or taking and eating one's food from the refrigerator. In other words, the generals had what can be called “boundary issues.” Days after the election, the Generals’ strategy was clear: “Say one thing and do another.” General Assar claimed in a news conference days after the election, “we will give the president of the republic his complete powers.” And yet, the New York Times reported soon thereafter that under the generals' plan, Morsi, the new president, would "assume an office stripped of almost all authority." For example, the new president would not have jurisdiction over the military or its budget, not to mention even his own chief of staff . The aggrandizing generals preserved “broad powers for themselves over matters including defense, national security and perhaps some broad economic issues,” according to Mona el-Ghobashy, an Egyptian political scientist.
What the Egyptians needed was a Teddy Roosevelt of sorts: a man of the bully pulpit who was not afraid to go up against the monopoly trusts of his day (which is why New York bosses had gotten him out of the governorship and into the "safe" (i.e., vacuous) vice presidency). Weeks after being elected, Morsi showed TR-like guts in recalling the parliament that the top generals had dissolved. “He has been waiting to make a decision to prove he is president of a republic,” Gamal Eid, a prominent human rights lawyer, observed.
Lest Morsi be accused of ignoring the ruling of an admittedly-politicized constitutional court, Eid adds that the president’s decree “abolishes an executive order, and it is not related to the constitutional court. It negates the decision of the military council.” He added, “If the choice is between the decree of an elected president and a military council with questionable legitimacy, then we choose the elected president.” Adding to its legitimacy vis à vis the court, Morsi’s decree came with a time limit: the Parliament could serve only until a new constitution could be completed, followed by fresh legislative elections within 60 days. Even though this caveat acknowledged the court’s demand for a new Parliament, the decree nonetheless instantly prompted the generals to call an "emergency meeting" to “discuss the situation.”
Morsi deserves considerable credit for doing what he could rightly have expected to result in opposition (and even an attack) from the generals’ council, whose continued authority was questionable at best, given the generals’ pledge on assuming power to dissolve their council upon the inauguration of the president. The entitlement presumed by the “emergency meeting” is itself pathological, as the response assumes a sort of default authority, which could only be artificial. At the very least, the response evinces an obsessive-compulsive sort of  “control issues.”
I would not blame Morsi one bit were he afraid of the generals as he stepped off the reservation. Regarding the generals’ psychology, to gut an office of power is an underhanded (not to mention selfish) way of not recognizing the democratic legitimacy of an election that does not go one’s way. That is to say, the childishness evinces a selfishness that does not play well with others. To presume the authority to appoint someone else's chief of staff is beyond bad table manners; it is low class and even passive aggressive. The move is essentially a coup by pen, even if it is tacitly backed up by the threat of guns. Apparently it is difficult for some to let go of power even as promised, especially when that power is absolute. I don't foresee the generals playing well with Morsi, as his democratic legitimacy means that their continued grasp on power was something considerably less than absolute, at least in terms of legitimacy.
The lesson for us as a species is perhaps the following: a people should be very careful in deciding who is to hold “the precious ring” even just temporarily, as a caretaker, for, as Lord Acton wrote, the allure of the ring is strangely much more nepharious than meets the eye. Furthermore, this case demonstrates just how important it is for a government to have a constitution. The competing claims of Morsi, the court, and the generals’ council could find no common basis without one. Put another way, how could the constitutional court have a basis of legitimacy in interpreting a constitution without one? Without a constitution, Morsi was free to negate the court’s usurpation. Even were a constitution extant, it would be beyond the reach of the judiciary to declare another branch null and void. Most crucially, a constitution maintains and protects the viability itself of the basic institutions of government—this is the basic constitutional function that is up for grabs in the absence of a constitution. 


David Kirkpatrick, “After Victory, Egypt Islamists Seek to ChallengeMilitary,” The New York Times, June 18, 2012.

David Kirkpatrick, "Morsi Is Winner of Egyptian Presidency," The New York Times, June 24, 2012.

Hamza Hendawi, "Morsi Orders Dissolved Parliament Return, Defies Military Leaders," The Huffington Post, July 8, 2012.

Kareen Fahim and Mayy El Sheikh, “Egypt’s President Orders Return ofParliament,” The New York Times, July 8, 2012. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Greek Austerity Win at E.U.’s Loss?

According to one director of a public-debt consulting firm in the E.U., “In the realm of investor perceptions, Spain has crossed the Rubicon from solvency to insolvency.” A day after Europeans in the state of Greece had given a narrow victory to parties in favor of maintaining the austerity program there, investors’ concern regarding the viability of the euro pushed the yield on Spanish 10-year bonds as high as 7.2 percent—a level that Spain’s economy minister, Luis de Guindos, claimed is unsustainable in the long term.

The full essay is in Essays on the E.U. Political Economy, available at Amazon.

Monday, June 18, 2012

France’s Hollande: Standing Above His Party’s Legislative Victory

In the 2012 election of the E.U. state of France's legislative Assembly following the election of Francois Hollande to replace the deeply unpopular Sarkozy, “the Socialist Party won 280 seats and two allied parties won another 34, giving the parliamentary bloc 314 seats — considerably more than the 289 needed for a majority in the National Assembly. The Greens, who are part of the government, have another 17 seats, while the far left won 10. Former President Nicolas Sarkozy’s center-right Union for a Popular Movement won 194 seats and its allies another 35 seats, bring the total to 229 seats, a sharp drop from 304.” The typical analysis ensuing from this result concerned the added strength that Hollande would have in pushing the E.U. toward balancing austerity with stimulus spending. The Prime Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, said the government would work to fix public finances and reduce unemployment. “The goal is to shift Europe toward growth and protect the euro zone from speculation,” he said. “The task before us is immense.” At least the Socialist Party would not have to deal with other parties on the left that are less pro-E.U., as the Socialists had established an absolute majority in the state’s Assembly.  However, the Socialists did not have the three-fifths majority needed to make changes to the state constitution, such as shifting more governmental sovereignty to the E.U. (federal) level. At the time, the E.U. was at a precarious place in not having enough sovereignty to safeguard the euro.

Interestingly, during the evening of June 17th as the election results came in, Hollande stayed out of the media spotlight. It was the prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayraunt who spoke for the Socialist Party. He spoke along with the leaders of the other parties and several candidates (both winners and losers). Hollande’s absence was notable because it suggests that it might not be wise for a figurehead to be perceived as being too partisan; unlike party leaders in a legislative body, a governor or president represents the republic as a whole, and thus the public (rather than partisan) good. Hollande was smart to spend the evening preparing for (or travelling to) the G-20 meeting en Mexique le lendemain. Standing apart from the temptation to publically celebrate the victory of his party, he put himself in the future position of being able to credibly claim that agreeing to shift more sovereignty to the federal level is en l’intéressé de la France. In other words, resisting the temptation to engage in partisan displays can translate into political capital that a figurehead can use to facilitate a shift in the constitutional design of governance. Moves on this scale are fitting for a figurehead who is oriented to the big-picture rather than to trying to win on every issue.


Steven Erlanger, “Socialists’ Victory in France Buttresses Hollande’s Power,” The New York Times, June 17, 2012.