Saturday, November 1, 2014

Admin: We Don't Need No Stinkin' Due Process

By Professor Doom
     I very often hear in the news how tenure, the supposed “guaranteed job” is such a bad thing in higher education.  Tenure supposedly granted protection against loss of job, which the tenured faculty can only lose through a due process, outlined in written policy. 

    Tenured professors can be tough to fire, but they can be abused in a myriad of ways all the same.

     Don’t get me wrong, I see tenure as a serious problem in the public schools, but in higher education? Tenure is basically dead, as most college courses are now taught by minimally paid adjuncts anyway…tenured faculty, while not rare, are now uncommon, and are a dying breed.

     Even the ‘old guard’ that acquired tenure back when a good part of higher education was legitimate realize their job protection means nothing. A recent, long-running case at a school I know a little about really highlights what has happened in higher education.

      “Hammond High”

--how the locals refer to Southeastern Louisiana University, SLU, located in Hammond, Louisiana. Many less prestigious universities have names that more accurately describe them (my alma mater is called “Coppertone U.”).

      A tenured professor at SLU, while serving on a grants committee, realized that money was being assigned inappropriately. So, he filed a grievance, as per the written polices of the institution. The response from administration was, of course, bizarre, with admin saying that faculty wasn’t allowed to file grievances, despite what policy says.

 --heh, the poor guy thought admin would have to follow its own rules? They don’t need no stinkin’ rules. As far as administrators are concerned, words mean whatever they want them to mean, no more, no less. I wish I were joking.

      Eventually, Dr. Rushing was put in unpaid leave for nearly a year. No, he wasn’t abusing students, since admin doesn’t have a problem with that. No, he wasn’t refusing to teach courses, or in any way not do his job. He was put on unpaid leave because he was complaining about illegitimate practices at the institution.

     Ok, sure, tenure means you can’t be fired. But you can frivolously be put on leave without pay, and not allowed to come on campus or associate with students. Is it really hair-splitting to say that’s pretty much the same as being fired?

     “I don’t understand. I gave a test, but nobody did anything. Almost all the students passed back blank papers. Do I fail them all? What’s going on here?”

--A friend of mine started working at SLU near the turn of the century, and wrote me to ask for some teaching advice, based on what was happening to him at SLU. I didn’t have much to say, because at that time I was unaware there were whole universities operating like this. The next semester, when he was told that his job depended on passing 85% of his students, he sought work elsewhere. He’s doing fine now.

     Luckily, the professor had considerable savings, and was willing to fight. Fight a very long time:

This story gets worse….much worse….because it went on and on… over 10 years…as Dr Rushing will share his legal nightmare. So why go through so much trouble to deny this professor due process and freedom of speech and access to the court system?
Could it be, as Dr Rushing states, that evidence exists to prove that in January 2000 then University of Louisiana System President Bobby Jindal rejected grievances and requests for investigations sent by Dr Rushing; that Jindal returned the professor’s certified mail marked “refused”!

      Read that again: 10 years of legal battling. 10 years of wildly inappropriate, unprofessional behavior making it all but impossible to get a resolution. Seriously, refusing to accept certified mail during legal proceedings? That’s kinda ridiculous, considering all communication must be in writing.

      Have I come close to describing how *untouchable* administration is in higher education? I defy anyone to find an article detailing the well-justified firings and  “permanent leaves without pay” distributed to SLU’s administration for this sort of behavior.    Mr. Jindal is governor of Louisiana now, to give some idea of how much this scandal affected him.

    Me, looking at a document regarding about $50,000 of funds being inappropriately used: “I see the committee wrote that 2 + 3 + 2 + 4 = 5.5.  It’s actually more like 11. How did you guys get that number? I don’t see any indication you were supposed to divide by 2 or something.”

     Admin: “We were estimating.”

--I never did have success convincing admin about this, although many of my colleagues laughed long and hard over the mistake…for the first year, anyway, after which it became clear that due process would be denied no matter how politely the offended parties asked for it. Not everyone can fight for 10 years, after all. Do keep in mind these people claim ultimate responsibility over the education of our young adults.

      I’ve written before of the kangaroo court system that is used in higher education, and have been on both sides of it a few times. I’ve documented both extreme corruption, and extraordinary incompetence by these Ph.D.-holding plunderers of our future.

      Me: “I see why this procedure is being rejected. You’ve allocated resources to two different categories. The policy says categories are mutually exclusive."

      Admin: “So?”

      Me: “Mutually exclusive means you can’t put the same resources into two different categories. The policy even gives examples of violations, much like what has been done here.”

      Admin: “What do you mean?”

      Me: “Once you assign something to one category, you can’t assign it to something else. That’s why many of the numbers don’t make any sense. You’ve got a 33% overlap between these two categories here, for example.”

       Admin: “We interpreted ‘mutually exclusive’ to mean up to a 1/3 overlap, and this isn’t up for discussion.”

--- While greed and evil are certainly motivation for some administrators, I do acknowledge that sheer stupidity can explain some of their erratic behavior. The punishment I took for even trying to help was pretty extreme.

     While some say that Dr. Rushing is a success story, I disagree. Yes, he managed to overcome the brute strength and petulant pettiness of administrators…but he had to fight for 10 years, with every little basic consideration only provided after admin was legally forced to act with a modicum of decency.

     That’s what the “due process” from tenure means now: if you’re willing to fight for ten years, endure prolonged “leave without pay” and a host of other abuses, then, you too, can be a tenured professor with integrity in today’s higher education system.   

     Whoop de do. Please don’t expect tenured faculty to do much about the corruption of higher education…they don’t have the power, they don’t have the numbers. Seeing as the average age of tenured faculty is around 55, they don’t have the time for 10+ year court battles, either.

     Dr. Rushing was very, very, lucky. Most teachers in higher education aren’t paid nearly enough to be able to afford a lawyer, instead they’re paid enough to qualify for welfare. They’re in no position to afford being unpaid for a year, and -certainly not enough to afford to fight a decade-long battle for even basic rights.

     Tenure is not the problem in higher education today, not by a long shot.


  1. I beg to differ that tenure isn't a problem. It is. In theory, it's granted because one has met certain professional requirements and maybe it is in some cases. However, it's also used as a patronage reward, a prize won because one has the favour of one's colleagues and administrators. The result is that tenure tends to protect the inept, the incompetent, and the politically well-connected.

    I've heard that tenure may protect one from arbitrary dismissal, but it won't protect one from one's colleagues.

    I can verify that with first-hand experience. I had permanent status at the institution I taught at but that didn't prevent certain administrators from harassing and bullying me.

    1. Hey, I had "Permanent Status" at my previous school, too, and it protected me from none of the sleaziness of admin (and, I regretfully admit, some real scumbag "colleagues" who behaved that way to please admin. I got some satisfaction later when they were betrayed by admin, but I digress).

      I do concede that administration can certainly abuse tenure, and absolutely has in the past but, I maintain that the real issue there is administration abuse, not tenure per se.

      As long as tenured faculty represent a distinct minority in higher education, and administration can do whatever they want unless faculty wants to fight for 10 years for basic respect of any administrative agreement, I just can't see it as a problem.

      Once the major, serious, widespread issues of higher education are fixed (corrupt administration and bogus accreditation being the top of the list), I'll be more willing to address tenure as a problem (with "tenure review" every decade or so being something to seriously consider).

    2. It isn't just administrators who are corrupt. Staff associations/unions are equally as bad.

      During my time as an instructor at a technical college, I saw how our rights and privileges weren't just slowly eroded, they were frittered away by the negotiators. Most of the presidents simply rubber-stamped anything put before them by the institutional administrators.

      Only one staff association president took her job seriously and would have been willing to fight for an individual instructor. It was through her work that I found out what really went on during the attempts by my departmental administrators and the last dean to get rid of me. (Her predecessor was in on that conspiracy while her successor was yet another spineless marshmallow who did nothing for us.)

      Unfortunately, we were forbidden from striking by virtue of the legislation that established the place to begin with. As for the negotiators, there were persistent rumours that they made sure that while they were gambling away our rights and privileges, the next contract contained nice exit packages for them when they retired.

      With "friends" like that....

    3. I've kind of glossed over staff many a far as I'm concerned, these guys (outside of the necessary staff, like maintenance) are really just admin by another name. So, yeah, they're a problem, too, because they represent yet another big chunk of higher education that influences what's going on even though they really have no involvement in education.

  2. Um, 'tenure' is exactly the same thing as 'union' and the right wing hates unions and wants them dead and replaced with cheap (especially foreign) labor.

    Professors are workers every bit as a taxi driver or a police officer or an iron monger, etc. When unions were broken all over America, wages fell, security vanished, retirement worsened and jobs vanished.

    Fixing this means going back to FDR's day. Not Ronnie (free trade is fun!) Reagan's day.

    1. One of the problems with the tenure system is that it operates like a closed shop or an elite club. Those who have tenure often act like they're more concerned about who's eligible to have it and an have a seat on the gravy train than they are in rendering good and proper service. Often, they themselves wanted to be let in when they were working for it and then, after acquiring membership, promptly closed the door behind them lest the wrong sort be admitted.

      One can have the proper educational credentials and, maybe, relevant professional experience only to find out that those are insufficient as qualifications. One is expected to be a sycophant and lickspittle to the tenure committee; the final decision on whether one is invited to join the gods upon Mount Olympus rests with them.

      It reminds me of what happened while I was working on my Ph. D.

      My supervisor displayed a lacklustre attitude towards my research and did absolutely nothing except respond with platitudes to whatever I did. It turned out that he never liked my thesis project and, in fact, he didn't like me very much. He was deliberately negligent, probably hoping that I'd either quit grad school altogether (which I think he really wanted) or abandon my project and come begging to him to work on what he was interested in.

      It was as if he was doing whatever he thought was necessary to prevent me from getting my Ph. D.

      Meanwhile, he bent over backwards to assist his favourite grad student (who, I suspect, was probably also his mistress), especially after she shacked up with her boyfriend and became pregnant. He made all sorts of concessions for her after that couple got married and their daughter was born about 2 months later.

      I'm sure he was greatly disappointed that I finished my Ph. D. 2 years before his "girlfriend" did (especially when I submitted my thesis on time as his last-minute post-defence revisions came close to preventing me from going that). However, she got tenure last year at a university elsewhere in the country.

      Isn't academe wonderful?

  3. HAHA. Yes, that is how things are run.

    I left my advanced degree program when my advisor said to me, 'You know, you are making more money than me...doing construction work.'

    I bought my first Victorian house while in school and fixed it and sold it for profit and was making good money...ended up making money in NYC rehabbing brownstones.

    Glad I never finished. I really did want to be like my father and grandfather and be a professor instead.

  4. Bobby Jindal has a very long and sordid history as a political flack and bureaucratic demon. Greg Palast's book 'Vultures Picnic' exposes how Jindal as president of LSU shut down the university's highly regarded Hurricane Center when it became too critical of big oil companies that were dredging the Mississippi River delta, effectively creating the channel for the storm surge from Katrina that devastated New Orleans. Scientists at LSU were trying to warn the public of the danger and get some socially responsible policies in place, so Jindal shut them down and later reopened the center as a Big Oil friendly propaganda center. He's not just a bad administrator, he's a political crook.