“[T]ell me who controls the production of pins.”

BY JONATHAN REESred_push_pin

“To believe in ‘the greater good’ is to operate, necessarily, in a certain ethical suspension. Ask anyone committed to Marxist analysis how many angels on the head of a pin, and you will be asked in return to never mind the angels, tell me who controls the production of pins.”

– Joan Didion, “The Women’s Movement,” 1972

Readers of this blog probably remember Adams State University in Southern Colorado from their frightful treatment of Danny LeDonne. He was banned from campus for allegedly being a threat to public safety. He and the ACLU sued the university in response. Danny won a $100,000 settlement.

Very close readers of this blog might remember that I also told you about the problems which that school has had with their online program. They were placed on probation by their accreditor because of what ASU President Beverly McClure described at the time as “a very small percentage” of their Extended Studies courses. That led to an outside audit.

That outside audit is now posted online here, and it’s not pretty. At the very beginning of the section labeled “Findings and Relevant Recommendations,” the auditor explains that ASU’s Office of Extended Studies (OES) dated back to the days of correspondence courses. As technology improved, it became the place on campus where online courses were run. However:

…as departments and the university’s interest expanded and the University’s realization of the OES providing additional revenues drove the development of the current structure…the development of a quasi-independent unit of the University was set in motion.

Who was OES independent from? Their consultant cites separation from the university, but, of course, OES was still subject to control from ASU’s administrative structure. What is was really separate from was the traditional shared governance structure, which in theory allows the faculty as a whole to exercise oversight over educational activities of all kinds.  Unfortunately, it is much easier for faculty to exercise that control on campus than it is online. With the online program at ASU expanding independent from that structure, bad things happened.  For example:

Largely through the teaching of online classes via OES, many faculty course loads exceeded the four-course standard by twice or more each semester. Multiple methods for calculating faculty compensation were in place with some faculty being paid by the course and others being paid by student enrollment in the courses. Although this was not done randomly and certain situations dictated the method of compensation, the question of why these differences existed was not clear to this investigator.

As a result:

In examining institutional payroll for year-end total compensation over a 4-year period of time, it was found that many members of the faculty and some members of the staff received in excess of $100,000 in total compensation with several individuals in the $150,000 range in total compensation and some faculty members, including adjuncts, even higher. This compares to the average new assistant professor initial academic year (9 months) contract averaging under $50,000. The ability of individual faculty to take advantage of additional compensation activities through OES appears egregious and to have been facilitated by “rolling over” course teaching and other activities to the same individuals year after year within OES as the list of names of faculty at the top of the highest levels of compensation appears to be relatively stable year to year.

An online program that originated with the faculty as a whole and not with those few individuals willing to sacrifice educational integrity for the sake of greater compensation,would never have been structured this way. Because shared governance at Adams State University is badly broken, it took their accreditors to discover these kinds of systematic abuses and an outside consultant to explain the full extent of them to the ASU community.

Why should you care about this particular university’s problems? The lesson here is that shared governance may even be more important for schools experimenting with online programs than it is for schools that are mostly or entirely terrestrial.  Leave it to your administrators and their willing collaborators to create an online program for the sake of the greater good, and it is entirely possible that similar problems will happen at your school too.  This is not like arguing how many angels can fit on the head of a pin.  The ASU example demonstrates how this could affect you whether you choose to teach online or not.

In an extraordinary post from earlier today, Christopher Newfield of UC-Santa Barbara correctly noted:

Dean Hesse’s position is thus that enforcement of University instructional policy does not lie with the faculty alone, but requires administrative supervision.   This remains a departure from standard AAUP-based principles of faculty self-governance of instruction.  It is consistent with the trend toward shifting the supervision of instruction reflected in the MOOC wave of 2012-13, where officials signed contracts with little faculty knowledge or input, and with the trend toward removing faculty from the university’s reputation management that enabled acts like the Board firing of Professor Steven Saliata from the University of Illinois and of Asst. Professor Melissa Click from the University of Missouri.  While faculty reaction helped resolve the immediate UC Berkeley issue, faculty governance will be needed to reconstruct authority over curriculum in order to prevent such intrusions in the future.

In other words, they are trying to take over our pin factory. While I can certainly imagine some scenarios where I would be willing to share control over some aspects of pin production, give the administration complete control over education of any kind (whether online or not), and bad things will likely happen.

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