Across the planet for the past two years, university management has been opportunistically putting the screws to faculty, staff and students with bogus claims that “the economy made us do it.” Professor of accounting and AAUP Secretary-Treasurer Howard Bunsis has made a second career of flying around North America debunking these hilariously dishonest claims, a reason Bunsis is one of my top picks for next AAUP prez.

One of the more sinister categories of administrator opportunism is program closure, and winner of 2010 Most Egregious Sleaze in that category has to be the UK’s Middlesex University, which in a burst of vocationalist enthusiasm closed an active, successful philosophy program. The department was by far the top research producer in the school, according to the national Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), and ranked thirteenth nationally among philosophy programs measured by the RAE.  (For purposes of thought provocation only, the irksome Philosophical Gourmet ranks the following at around 13th among public philosophy programs in the U.S.: IU-Bloomington, UC-Irvine, and UW-Madison, UC Boulder, and U Mass-Amherst.)

The excuse for this travesty? A temporary 2% shortfall in the percentage of income from the department. British universities are required to pay a 55% pimping-and-moneychangers’ share of their income to central administration. Supporters like John Protevi note that Middlesex will contribute 59% in 2010, but contributed only 53% in 2009–an amount that appears to be well within normal fluctuations, especially considering global financial turbulence. The grant monies pouring into Middlesex’s coffers due to the philosophers’ research amounts to several hundred thousand dollars annually.

The harms to the university’s reputation have been mounting quickly. Already Middlesex’s administration has been widely reviled during occupations and protests. Other institutions have quickly cherrypicked its top talent, petitions of protest have garnered a thousand signatures a day, and mass outrage has forced reversals of draconian suspensions of protesting faculty and students.

The Dollar Cost is High Too

This week gives us yet another example of the mounting dollar costs of the Al Haig (“I’m in charge here!)” school of administration. At Temple, a sleazy management team felt that “the economy” carte blanche to bully the nurses’ union into rolling back tuition benefits and giving up First Amendment rights in the workplace. Outraged staff walked out and management blew through $4 million a week on hotel rooms and airfare for scab labor in its doomed, month-long effort to show dominance.

A Pennsylvania compensation board just delivered the coup de grace, ruling that the administration had acted so high-handedly prior to the 4-week strike that its actions amounted to unilaterally changing the terms of employment–with the result that, for purposes of eligibility for unemployment compensation, the strike was to be treated as a lockout by the hospital… adding another $1.5 million to Temple’s bill.

Global Resistance Rising

Obviously, from the broader perspective of professionalism in the public service, of course one wants nurses, staff and faculty in a position to criticize the reckless incompetence of management. I mean, do you really want to be cared for by professionals whose speech is controlled by someone with an MBA?

Of course even from the narrowest administrative point of view this kind of high-spending thuggery is bad management.

In addition to the bad publicity, lost work time, and direct costs, this sort of humiliating failure thoroughly emboldens other unions, like the surging campaign to organize the 1,585 Temple faculty who are on contingent appointment.

It seems pretty clear that this kind of administrative bullying is generating a shock wave of global resistance, creating new opportunities to organize and make democratic change.

The day to watch this fall will be October 7th as, already, dozens of groups have committed to it as a global day of action.

More on that, and on the massive student occupation at the University of Puerto Rico, in my next post.

After that, I’ll have lots of exciting news from the AAUP annual gathering and national Council session, including new reports on how to fight administrator efforts to gag faculty (a la Garcetti), sharp reductions in dues for faculty serving contingently and graduate students, changes in election structure, and, from the committee I co-chair, a sneak peek at an important report on tenure and teaching-intensive faculty (over 80% of the faculty are teaching intensive).

I’ll also have follow-up on the iPad as e-reader story, focussing on early learning issues (or, How Apple the Money-Hungry Flash Grinch Deprives Children of Early Learning Opportunities in Favor of Mind-Numbing Game Apps.)






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