SOME FACULTY CONCERNS

by Wilfred Kaplan

This article reviews three recent Faculty Perspectives published in the University Record: "Professors' Grading Protected by Free Speech" by Keith Yohn, April 1, 2002; "Malfeasance in Academe and its Danger for Democracy" by C.  W.  Kauffman, April 7, 2003; "Administrative Accountability" by A.  Galip Ulsoy, January 13, 2004.  The three are related and all treat issues of major concern to AAUP.

Yohn discusses administrative interference with grading of students in courses.  He quotes opinions of the U.  S.  Supreme Court and other courts upholding the professor's right to assign grades without pressure of any kind from administrators.  He describes a lawsuit which he filed in response to such administrative action in the case of two doctoral students in the Dental School.  Most astonishing is the response of a district court to his complaint: "...I had not been prevented from expressing the two students' grades.  U-M administrators had merely declined to record our grades and had substituted higher ones in their place." As Yohn points out, allowing such manipulation of grades would undermine the professor's role in grading.  It is most disturbing that the court's view was that of the U-M administration.  It would be appropriate for our AAUP chapter and Senate Assembly to demand that the policy described be repudiated by the present U-M administration.  If the administration refuses and insists on the right to replace grades by others for whatever reason, then professors would have little motivation to assign grades in the first place!  Yohn refers to the issue as one of freedom of speech.  For AAUP it is one of academic freedom, since freedom to carry on instruction, including grading, is at the center of AAUP's 1940 statement on academic freedom.

In the particular case considered, manipulation of the grades has serious consequences: it allows certification of professional competence in dentistry for persons not deemed  competent by their instructors.  Patients of these persons could suffer poor treatment.  The principle involved here is not a typical one of AAUP, but it surely involves the fundamental obligation of professors and administrators to society.   

Kauffman presents a sweeping indictment of administrative behavior at the University, comparing it to the wave of misbehavior by corporate executives.  He asserts that there have been many incidents of serious administrative error tolerated by superiors.  When faculty members are victims of such error, their complaints are ignored.  In many cases funding is an issue and administrative policy is governed by the goal of protecting funding, even when injustice is being done.  The grievance process has proved to be of little benefit to faculty  victims.  Recourse to outside agencies such as the courts has also had little success.  A legal battle pits the lone professor against the powerful legal staff of the University and costs alone crush the complaining professor.  In fact, by complaining the professor becomes a whistleblower and may face devastating retaliation; Kauffman reports that that is precisely what happened to him.

As a past Executive Director of our AAUP chapter, I can testify that Kauffman's charges are justified.  In fact, when Lee Bollinger became University President, another chapter officer, Thomas E.  Moore, and I went to see him, spending an hour to tell of our concern about administrative abuses and the policy of always protecting the administrator against complaints of a faculty member.  Unfortunately, our meeting led to no change in that policy.    One case always rankles in my memory.  A brilliant young researcher X came to the University for research and teaching and was assigned to a research project.  The project director then abused X in many ways, in particular, by trying to take over the program initiated by X.  X inquired about filing a grievance and was told by an administrator that this would lead to retaliation.  Then X decided to leave the University, obtaining a fine position at another institution.  I was present at a meeting with a highly placed administrator about the separation.  This administrator showed no interest whatever in the abuses; since then this administrator has received two remarkable promotions within academia.  Shortly after leaving the University, X was given a very prestigious award.

Ulsoy proposes a simple solution to the problems pointed out by Kauffman: that the University institute a process of routine independent reviews of all administrators, based on anonymous reports of appropriate staff and faculty members.  He points out that such formal evaluations are common in industry and that the National Science Foundation conducts them through the Office of the Inspector General and thereby is able to ensure administrative integrity.  He finds the present program of periodic surveys of faculty opinion about deans to be inadequate for the purpose and, in any case, other key administrators are not evaluated.   By contrast, students and faculty members are thoroughly reviewed in connection with course grades and salary, promotion and tenure.

As evidence of the need for such reviews, Ulsoy cites the incidence of low scores on the deans' evaluations and many critical letters sent in by faculty members.  He states that these are generally ignored.  He also tells of a group of faculty members who approached the administration with a proposal for such reviews and were discouraged from pursuing the idea.  He recalls that reviews of schools and colleges were promised by the new University President and that such a review is scheduled for this term, but it is not clear exactly how it will be conducted and whether it will achieve the goals of the formal review he is advocating.

Several years ago our AAUP chapter executive committee proposed adoption of a code of ethics by faculty members and administrators.  It was hoped that frequent reference to such a code would improve the conduct of all University personnel.  The idea was brought to SACUA for possible implementation, with no results thus far.    This simple measure would not yield the benefits of Ulsoy's review process, but it could produce a marked improvement in behavior by establishing a higher standard for administrative operations at the University.


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