Tag Archives: The Corporate University

Comments on Academic Freedom at the University of British Columbia

Comments on Academic Freedom at the University of British Columbia
Delivered at “Breakfast with the Dean” panel April 21, 2016

E. Wayne Ross, PhD
Faculty of Education
University of British Columbia

First of all I would like to thank Dean Blye Frank for inviting me to participate on this panel and thanks to all of you for coming out this morning to participate in a discussion on academic freedom.

On the surface, it’s easy to be pro-academic freedom, kind of like being for mom and apple pie. But, academic freedom is a contested issue in universities (and schools, but that is a very different matter).

The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT), describes a number of major academic freedom cases in Canada ranging from the University of Manitoba blocking a documentary film that reports findings of research on genetically modified crops; to irregularities that lead to the suspension of David F. Noble’s appointment to an endowed chair at Simon Fraser University; to Mary Bryson, the Faculty’s senior associate dean, and her battle with UBC over intellectual property rights. The arbitration decision in the Bryson case is described by CAUT as “landmark in the struggle to insure that faculty, not administrators, determine the content of courses.”[1]

In recent years there has been international attention given to the academic freedom cases of Professors Norman G. Finkelstein and Steven Salaita, who lost jobs as a result of social justice scholarship and activism, in particular, criticisms of Israel’s policies toward Palestinians living under occupation.

Threats to academic freedom are real and have a long history in Canadian postsecondary education and beyond.

CAUT defines academic freedom, in part, as including:

the right, without restriction by prescribed doctrine, to freedom to teach and discuss; freedom to carry out research and disseminate and publish the results thereof; freedom to produce and perform creative works; … freedom to express one’s opinion about the institution, its administration, and the system in which one works; … Academic freedom always entails freedom from institutional censorship.

Academic freedom does not require neutrality on the part of the individual. Academic freedom makes intellectual discourse, critique, and commitment possible.

Academic staff must not be hindered or impeded in exercising their civil rights as individuals including the right to contribute to social change through free expression of opinion on matters of public interest. Academic staff must not suffer any institutional penalties because of the exercise of such rights. [2]

In short academic freedom is essential to the mission of the university.

Dean Frank asked the members of this` panel to focus on issues of academic freedom in light of the current search to fill the new UBC position of Senior Advisor to the Provosts on Academic Freedom.

My first thought was that if we have provosts who need advisors on academic freedom, maybe they shouldn’t be provosts, really. But, perhaps I’m being too glib, even for a short breakfast talk.

Of course the creation of this new advisory position is the result of controversy created by the former chair of the UBC Board of Governors, John Montalbano, when he interfered with the academic freedom of Sauder School Professor Jennifer Berdahl, after she blogged about UBC President Arvind Gupta’s “resignation” after 13 months in office.[3]

Oh, wait a minute. Let me correct myself, like many of UBC’s self-investigation exercises the external report on the Berdahl case, written by former justice Lynn Smith, did not find fault with any individual university administrators.

“No individual intended to interfere with Dr. Berdahl’s academic freedom, or made a direct attempt to do so… However, sometimes several relatively small mistakes can lead to a failure of the larger system.”

Despite whatever good intentions might lurk behind the creation of the new academic freedom advisor position – and I do believe that its existence is primarily a public relations effort – at best this position is a band-aid on a life-threatening wound and at worse it is yet another diversion – a manifestation of an ideological stance that is widely held in society and practically hegemonic in universities—liberal neutrality. I’ll briefly address both of these circumstances.

Corporatization of the University (The life-threatening wound)

The corporate takeover of education at the K-12 and postsecondary levels, facilitated is by governments that might best be described as executive committees of the rich.

The trouble begins when the framework for understanding the nature and aims of education and scholarship is as a tool vital for economic success. As Thomas Docherty argues in his book Universities at War, the university has become a servant of the national and provincial economies in the context of globalization. Its driving principles of private and personal enrichment are understood as necessary conditions of progress and modernity.

Docherty sees this circumstances as a radical impoverishment of the university’s capacities to extend human possibilities and freedoms, to seek earnestly for social justice, and to participate in the endless need for the extension of democracy. Docherty argues that we must take sides in this matter because market fundamentalists are on the march and the war is being fought not just for scholars but also for a more democratic, more just, more emancipatory way of life.

The Problem of “Liberal neutrality”

In her article “Why I’m Not a Liberal,” Robin Marie Averback argues that

“In the liberal imagination, education and accommodation are self-evident solutions, since the problem can neither be understood as a matter of brute power struggles nor as a product of structural inequality fundamental to the functioning of entire institutions … You can’t choose a side when liberalism insists there are no sides at all.”[4]

This notion, helps to explain how the Smith Report on the Berdahl academic freedom case creates a victim without a victimizer. This is a pattern played out in numerous instances at UBC in recently. See, for example, the reports on:

  • the privacy breach related to documents on the Arvind Gupta imbroglio[5]
  • Commerce Undergraduate Society Frosh Week “rape chants”[6]
  • UBC handling of sexual assault complaints[7]

Averback reminds us of the picture book version of social justice that we often see on walls of community centres,

“In this picture book version of social justice struggle, no one ever opposes freedom’s forward march. All the oppressed need to do is rise up and assert themselves; the world they are fighting for is realized simply by the act of self-declaration.”

At UBC everybody seems to be for academic freedom. It’s like a picture book version of academic freedom. But in the all-administrative university – a phrase coined by Benjamin Ginsberg in his book The Fall of the Faculty – the response of the administration to an academic freedom crisis is the creation of yet another administrative position, aimed at educating and accommodating.

This reminds me of a comment someone made in the context of the recent UBC Board of Governors debacle(s) and the compromised Presidential Search Committee, “UBC doesn’t need a new driver, because the problem is with the car.”

Here are some academic freedom issues that the new position will like never come close to addressing:

  • Intellectual property rights;
  • Corporate influence on campus academic programs and research.[8]
  • Faculty loss of control over academic programs (such as the teacher education program in our faculty)
  • Respectful workplace statements that become instruments that encourage bullying and mobbing of faculty with dissenting points of view or who merely ask questions that make people uncomfortable;
  • Middle managers, like those in Sauder, who intervene like their corporate counterparts to threaten the rank and file on issues of solidarity and criticism of management (e.g., the recent UBCFA no confidence vote);
  • People like those faculty members who have warned UBC Professor Jonathan Ichikawa (sponsor of the UBCFA no-confidence vote in the Board of Governors) that his activism would negatively affect his advancement at the university;
  • Students/faculty self-funding themselves;
  • Administrative efforts to “right-size” academic programs;
  • Tenure and promotion committees that forego evaluative reading of faculty scholarship and instead focus on impact factors or the amount of external dollars won in competitions.

When no one is understood as protecting a position of power (liberal neutrality) how do we combat these threats to academic freedom? I don’t think the answer is by appointing an advisor to the provost.

Questions for discussion:

To what degree are the new policies for academic speech inscribed in academic work, regardless of where it’s done? As the academic workplace is increasingly displaced and distributed, are academic policies displaced and distributed as well? Observed at work, monitored at home and tracked in between—these are not so much choices as the cold reality of 21st century academic work.[9]

BC Premier Christy Clark has warned provincial postsecondary institutions that they must do a better job of producing graduates who meet the needs of the private sector (2014 Throne Speech). What happens to academic freedom when universities are cast as servants to the provincial or national “economic success?”


[1] CAUT, Major Academic Freedom Cases: http://www.caut.ca/issues-and-campaigns/academic-freedom/academic-freedom-cases

[2] See full CAUT statement on academic freedom here: https://www.caut.ca/about-us/caut-policy/lists/caut-policy-statements/policy-statement-on-academic-freedom – sthash.0grFSra5.dpuf

[3] http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/ubc-chair-john-montalbano-resigns-after-report-finds-academic-freedom-not-protected-1.3272776

[4] https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/07/why-im-not-a-liberal/

[5] http://universitycounsel.ubc.ca/files/2016/03/D-Loukidelis-Report-on-UBC-FOI-Processes-final-7-Mar-16.pdf

[6] http://president.ubc.ca/files/2013/09/Fact-Finding-Report-copy.pdf

[7] http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ubc-sexual-assaults-complaints-expulsion-1.3328368

[8] See government appointments to UBC Board and U of Calgary/Enbridge relationship: http://www.cbc.ca/beta/news/canada/calgary/caut-ucalgary-uofc-dru-marshall-david-robinson-1.3531851

[9] See Petrina, Ross, & Mathison (2015). Threat convergence: The new academic work, bullying, mobbing and freedom. Workplace: A Journal for Academic Labor, 24, 58-69. Retrieved from http://ices.library.ubc.ca/index.php/workplace/article/view/186137/185332

UBC Faculty Association and student society call for external review of Board of Governors; Momentum gathers among faculty for UBCBoG no-confidence vote

With UBC’s crisis of administration and legitimacy growing worse, the Faculty Association has re-issued its call for an external review of the Board of Governors and its operations. Clearly, there are failures of governance and shadow systems of decision-making from the ranks of middle management to the top of the Board. The FAUBC announced today:

As the collective voice of faculty, charged with representing faculty interests and perspectives relevant to unfolding events at UBC, the Faculty Association, through its Executive, feels compelled at this time to raise a number of serious concerns. It has become clear that the University of British Columbia is in the midst of a governance crisis.

The events of the past year or so, as information about them slowly leaks out, demonstrate a failure of governance that threatens the integrity and credibility of the University. This is a singular moment in the 100-year history of UBC, the solution to which requires strong actions on the part of the Board of Governors.

We have called publicly for an external review of the Board and its operations. At this point, we re-issue this call. Such a review is essential to restore public trust in the Board. To accomplish this, the leadership for such a review must have the support of the University community – of faculty, students, staff, and alumni….

Some current members of the Board, including the Chancellor of UBC, have been shown in recent, now public, documents to have been involved in activities around the resignation of Dr. Gupta that appear to contravene standard and expected Board practices. Improper conduct of Board business is a serious matter. The former Chair of the Board, John Montalbano, has resigned. What onus of response falls on these other Board members, given these revelations?

UBCFA has posed specific questions about UBC Board practices, which include:

  1. In the leaked documents from last week, we have seen several examples of secret meetings without any subsequent public documentation of these meetings. Does the Board’s current practice of holding some full Board and committee meetings without published meeting dates, agendas, and motions passed (and hence of decisions taken) meet the expectations for accountability and transparency for BC public bodies, and the obligations placed on the Board under the law?
  2. Has the Board been properly constituting and documenting all of its committees and their work? For example, a previously unknown ad hoc committee appears to have been created to manage the Board’s interactions with Dr. Gupta in the time leading to his resignation. Where is the documentation for the motions that created this committee? What processes were used, and what records kept of these processes? How many other such committees are there? Why is it necessary to keep the existence of any committee secret? Do all Board members know about each of the ad hoc committees? Is the Board operating in a way that meets all of its obligations under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) and the general guidelines for public bodies? Is it lawful for secret committees to take actions that are not publicly recorded and not available for public scrutiny?
  3. Two related concerns pertain to patterns of email business conducted by Board members. First, why are all Board members not using a UBC email address for all of their Board work? Second, how does that Board ensure that the work of the Board is properly recorded and archived? For example, the University’s response to one of the Faculty Association’s Freedom of Information requests for the Chancellor’s email correspondence around a critical event claims that Mr. Gordon had no emails that were captured by this request. However, other individuals covered under this same request provided several email chains relating to the event that included multiple emails to and from Mr. Gordon. Why were Mr. Gordon’s emails, which were clearly about University business, not provided by Mr. Gordon as the law provides? How are Mr. Gordon’s emails about university business thus archived? More generally, do the email processes of the Board meet all legal obligations applicable to the Board and to UBC as a public institution?

In addition to the UBCFA’s open letter to the UBC Board, momentum is gathering among faculty for a no-confidence vote on UBC Board. A rank and file group of university faculty members are currently mounting petition for a resolution to be presented to the UBC Faculty Association Executive Committee:

Whereas the UBC Board of Governors is required by law to act in the best interests of the University (BC University Act 19.2);

and whereas it has come to light that the Board has held secret, unannounced meetings of the Board, leaving no documentation of its activities;

and whereas Board members have formed secret ad hoc committees in which governance activities have been pursued without oversight and contrary to policy and procedural norms;

and whereas these committees and the Board have taken decisions or engaged in actions—such as declaring no confidence in the President with no formal review or input from faculty, declaring full confidence in the Chair after his role in interfering with a faculty member’s academic freedom, interpreting fiduciary duty to the university as pertaining to donors rather than its faculty, students, and staff—that are not obviously in the best interests of the University;

and whereas the Board has declined to explain such actions to the University community;

and whereas, consequently, we faculty members in good standing at UBC find that we cannot know—indeed, we have strong reason to doubt—that the Board has been operating in accordance with its legal obligations to the people of British Columbia;

therefore be it resolved that the Executive of the UBC Faculty Association, as soon as possible, bring a motion to its membership expressing no confidence in the UBC Board of Governors.

The UBC Alma Mater Society also publicly called for a review. The AMS urges the Board to enact the following changes:

  • That the incoming Chair of the Board of Governors instigate an external review process into governance practices;
  • That the Board of Governors delay approving any candidate proposed by the Presidential Search Committee until such time as the suggested external review is complete and incorporated.

UBC’s 100th year is turning into a year of memorial events, but it’s not the planned  superficial PR.

More bucks than brains: James Ramey and the ruination of the University of Louisville


What was he thinking? - University of Louisville president posed for photo in sombrero, poncho at the his 2015 Halloween party

University of Louisville president James Ramsey  posed for photo in sombrero, poncho at the his 2015 Halloween party

In the late 1990s, Kentucky’s legislature initiated a program to upgrade and reform the state’s postsecondary education system, it was called “Bucks for Brains.” (The state’s promotional tagline at the time was “Open for Business.”)

I was recruited to the University of Louisville in 2001 and spent two-and-a-half years on the faculty there as a department chair and distinguished university scholar, which gave me an up close and personal experience with a university administration that’s, as they say where my family’s from, sigogglin.

John W. Shumaker, a classics scholar, was UofL president when I arrived and he proved to be an incredible fund raiser, increasing the university’s endowment from under $200 million to $550 million.

Of course, the UofL has long been the recipient of corporate largesse, especially from the Louisville’s corporate giants Brown-Forman (one of America’s largest spirits and wine companies); Brown & Williamson (which chemically enhanced the addictiveness of cigarettes, remember whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand? No? Well I’m sure you remember Russell Crowe playing Wigand the blockbuster movie The Insider); Papa John’s Pizza (UofL football Cardinals play in Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium); and Yum! Brands (“feeding the world” crap food via KFC, Pizza Hut, and, of course, Taco Bell, more on the Mexican connection later).

The Brown & Williamson Club at the University of Louisville's Papa John's Cardinal Stadium

The Brown & Williamson Club at the University of Louisville’s Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium

After Shumaker left to head up the University of Tennessee (where he resigned in disgrace after 3 years), he was replaced by James R. Ramsey, who had been Kentucky’s state budget director under Gov. Paul E. Patton (who became wealthy by exploiting Kentucky’s coal miners).

Patton’s major achievement as governor was overhauling postsecondary education in the Kentucky. But Patton’s political career was de-railed by duelling scandals: (1)  an extramarital affair and a sex-for-favors scandal; and (2) pardoning four of his political advisers who were indicted for violating Kentucky’s campaign finance laws and for allegedly abusing his patronage powers.

All of this is just everyday Kentucky politics, so Patton wasn’t distracted enough to forget he had to find a soft-landing for his budget director, thus Ramsey, with no university administration experience, became the 17th president of the University of Louisville.

Since Ramsey has been in office the UofL, in endowment has continued to grow and is now pushing the $1 billion mark, which is really the only logical explanation for why he hasn’t been bounced because Ramsey’s administration has more ethical lapses than Carter has liver pills, pretty much proving that the UofL has more bucks than brains.

Robert Felner: Former Dean, Convicted Felon

Felner arrived in Louisville with some spiffy credentials: PhD in psychology from Yale; former head of the department of psychology at the University of Illinois; a CV packed with pages upon pages listing his publications in top journals and, most importantly for the UofL administration, a staggering number of grants.

Despite several red flags about Felner’s candidacy for dean of UofL’s College of Education and Human Development, Ramsey and his long time provost, Shirley Willihnganz, couldn’t wait to get Felner on campus.

Ramsey was in such as rush to land Felner he and Willihnganz forgot to tell the interim dean (and other finalist for the position) they hired Felner, so he was left to discover the decision when Felner call his secretary and started giving her instructions. So much for that HR seminar!

Things in CEHD soon started to fall apart.

I resigned from my department chair position two weeks after Felner took over as dean and later moved to UBC.

Within a few years, there had been 30 grievances filed by faculty and students against Felner for a wide range of abusive managerial practices and a faculty vote of no-confidence in Felner’s leadership of the CEHD. Reasons given by faculty for the vote of non-confidence included:

Public humiliation of faculty, work place harassment, retaliation for voicing opinions, little or no governance, decisions that hurt College, unacceptable and unfair hiring practice; rude, offensive, unethical behavior by CEHD representatives; denial of support for research to those who differ in opinion; and extreme inequity of pay. (See CEHD meeting notes published here.)

Despite the abominable conditions in CEHD, UofL Provost Willihnganz and Ramsey both supported Felner publicly.

One year after the vote of no-confidence, Felner announced he was leaving the UofL to become president of the University of Wisconsin, Parkside.

The Chronicle of Higher Education described Felner as “riding high” a couple of years into his deanship at UofL, well-paid, and having secured a $700,000 grant from the US Department of Education. However, he “pressed his luck” during his last weeks in Louisville.

Even though only $96,000 remained in the account, he implored Louisville officials to approve a $200,000 subcontract with a nonprofit organization in Illinois that had already received $450,000 from the grant. Perhaps, he suggested, the university could draw on a special fund that had been established by the daughter of a former trustee.

The Illinois group, Mr. Felner said, had been surveying students and teachers in Kentucky. That survey would “let us give the feds something that should make them very happy about the efficiency and joint commitment of the university to doing a good job with an earmark, as I know we will want more from this agency,” he wrote in an e-mail message on June 18.

But on June 20, his last day as Dean of CEHD before he headed off to Wisconsin, those big black SUVs with government plates (like the ones you see on Criminal Minds) rolled into the CEHD parking lot. US Secret Service, US Postal Inspectors, and UofL Police questioned Felner and escorted him off campus, along with his computers and records.

There was a simultaneous raid on UW-Parkside to confiscate material Felner had shipped ahead of his arrival there.

In October 2008, a federal grand jury indicted Felner on nine counts of mail fraud, money laundering, and tax evasion. According to the indictment,

the Illinois nonprofit group, known as the National Center on Public Education and Prevention, was simply a shell that funneled money into the personal bank accounts of Mr. Felner and Thomas Schroeder, a former student of his and the group’s “executive director.” Prosecutors say the two men siphoned away not only the $694,000 earmarked grant, but also $1.7-million in payments from three urban school districts, money that ought to have gone to the legitimate public-education center that Mr. Felner had created in Rhode Island.

In January 2010, Felner pleaded guilty to nine Federal charges, including income tax evasion.

In May 2010, Felner was sentenced to 63 months in US Federal Prison for his role in defrauding defrauding the UofL and the University of Rhode Island, where he had been director of the School of Education, of $2.3 million of US Department of Education funds earmarked for No Child Left Behind Act research.

aka Robert Felner

10775-033 aka Robert Felner was released from US Prison in May 2014

For a a short course on the felonious Felner see the PageOneKentucky.com summary of events. For a full course on the Felonious Felner and the incompetence and ethical lapses of Ramsey’s UofL administration click here. (Shout out to Jake at PageOneKentucky for excellent investigative reporting on Felner and the UofL.)

For Workplace Blog coverage of Felner click here.

And here is a Louisville Courier-Journal profile of Felner that pretty much sums up the guy that Ramsey defended until he pleaded guilty: Robert Felner profile: Arrogant, outrageous, abusive and duplicitous.

Felner Footnotes: Indians, John Deasy, Non-Disclosure Agreements & Ramsey as the Frito Bandito

(1) When Felner announced his resignation, UofL president Ramsey wroted to Felner and said he was worried about “letting the Indians get back in control of the reservation.” That’s some serious respect for university faculty and the idea of shared governance, eh?

(2) Los Angeles school superintendent, John Deasy, has had his academic credentials called into question. Deasy was given a PhD by the University of Louisville after he was enrolled for four months and received a total of nine credits.

Deasy’s doctoral advisor was, surprise, Robert Felner! Deasy had previously awarded $375,000 in consulting contracts to Felner, while Deasy was Superintendent of Santa Monica schools.

Ramsey appointed a “blue-ribbon” panel to investigate Deasy’s degree. The panel found that getting a PhD in four months at the UofL was not cause for concern, thus plunging the UofL’s academic reputation down into the neighbourhood of fly-by-night for-profit “higher” education.

Deasy is now working in an unaccredited training program sponsored by educational de-formers the Broad Foundation, which teaches school leaders business methods and supports charter schools and closing public schools.

(3) Ramsey has been making double retirement payouts to UofL administrators for their silence.

Records show that the school paid a full year’s salary to outgoing vice presidents Michael Curtin ($252,350) and Larry Owsley ($248,255) and to assistant to the president Vivian Hibbs ($66,391) to induce them not to “disparage, demean or impugn the university or its senior leadership.”

In March 2014, UofL made a $346,000.00 settlement with university counsel Angela Kosawha:

The University of Louisville is paying another large settlement in connection with the retirement of a high-ranking official — this time, $346,844 to its top lawyer. University counsel Angela Koshewa is on a three-month leave of absence before she officially retires June 1. Documents obtained under the Kentucky Open Records Act show the university is paying Koshewa — who has questioned some expenditures and proposals backed by President James Ramsey and Dr. David Dunn, the executive vice president for Health Affairs — twice her final salary.

It costs a lot for Ramsey to cover up details of his administration’s incompetence and shenanigans, but remember there are lots of bucks at UofL.

(4) Provost Shirley Willihnganz stepped down as UofL provost earlier this year. The Louisville Courier-Journal reported that

Under her watch, however, university employees have stole, misspent or mishandled at least $7.6 million in schemes at the health science campus, the law school, the business school and the athletic department’s ticket office.

Willihnganz also was criticized for approving about $1 million in buyouts for former high-ranking employees, some of which included agreements not to disparage the university or its leaders.

She also was forced to apologize to CEHD faculty in 2008 for failing to take any common-sense action against Felner for his intimidation, harassment, humiliation and retaliation against faculty, staff, students and alumni.

Willihnganz said at the time that she tended to dismiss the early complaints against Felner — including a no-confidence vote by faculty — because he was a “high performer” and because the complaints came from professors and staff “entrenched in their ways and resistant to change.”

She later told faculty at a meeting that she was sorry. “Mostly what I think I want to say is people have been hurt and something very bad happened, and as provost I feel like I am ultimately responsible for that,” she said.

No duh! She actually is directly responsible for the Felner disaster (along with Ramsey), that’s probably why she feels that way. And speaking of resistance to change …

(5) This next item has nothing to do with Felner, except that his former boss and advocate, James Ramsey, is also the long time boss of UofL basketball coach Rick Pitino who admitted to having sex with a woman in a swanky Italian restaurant in Louisville. Apparently that’s not a problem with Ramsey and the UofL because Pitino said it wasn’t rape.

And, now Pitino is using hookers and strippers to recruit high school basketball players to come to the UofL. See Dave Zirin’s pieces on the latest Ramsey supervised scandal:

(6) And I almost forgot. Remember the Taco Bell/Mexican connection. This week Ramsey had a little halloween party at the UofL. Ramsey goes racist (again). Yes, he dressed up like the Frito Bandito.

UofL President James Ramsey illustrating his knowledge of multiculturalism

UofL President James Ramsey says “Yo quiero Taco Bell.”

And you thought the HR training at UofL was bad, get that guy to the diversity office and cross your fingers that they’re better than the university’s accounting folks.

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Professors in Poverty

An average of 51% of faculty are adjunct or working on a part-time only basis. 31% of those adjuncts live near or below poverty levels and are forced to work multiple jobs just to make ends meet. Astonishingly, some make as little as $12,000 annually; meanwhile college presidents are making on average salary of over $400, 000. The corporate model is destroying the integrity of our academic institutions and has to stop. Help us fight for adjuncts and their right to a living wage by sharing this video.

Meet Dr. Wanda Evans-Brewer. She has been teaching for 20 years, has a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, and a PhD in Education. She is also living in poverty.

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Do private programs belong at public universities?

The University of Victoria has contracted with the Canadian telecom giant Telus to deliver a “customized” MBA program to Telus employees.

Telus executives will be teaching some of the courses; the instructors from UVic will apparently be teaching on contracts separate from their regular employment with the university. The details are sketchy because the agreement between the UVic and Telus is secret.

Here’s university’s press release on the new program, which is offered in the Sardul S. Gill Graduate School within UVic’s Peter B. Gustavson School of Business. The program gets started this month.

The program is the brain child of Telus’s “Chief Envisioner,” Dan Pontefract. Pontefract described the context and goals of the program in an Forbes magazine article this past August, “Going Back To School With A Corporate MBA Program.” (A Huffington Post version of the article appeared in September, “Why Corporations Should Launch Their Own MBA Programs“).

Victoria’s Times-Colonist and The Tyee have also run articles about the program.

Neither Telus nor UVic have (or plan to) release details of the financial agreement, as The Times-Colonist reports

As for the revenue, neither Telus nor UVic would divulge what Telus is paying. Klein noted all costs, including establishing the program and its infrastructure, tuition and overhead costs, were being covered by Telus and there is also a financial consideration that amounts to a profit for the school.

The program raises a raft of questions about academic governance, academic freedom, the vulnerability of public universities to corporate incursions as a result of budget slashing governments.

This program represent the next step in the ever evolving corporatization of the university, another neoliberal education policy that socializes costs and privatizes benefits.

I appeared on CBC Radio’s The 180 with Jim Brown (along with Pontefract) to discuss the UVic/Telus MBA program and the  corporatization of academe.

The 12 minute segment will be broadcast tomorrow (October 4, 2015), but you can stream the segment online now: Do private programs belong at public universities?

Why the UBC Leadership Crisis Matters Beyond the Ivory Tower

The ongoing drama at University of British Columbia may look like a tempest in a teapot, but the dispute among university governors, managers, and faculty has implications that reach beyond the ivory tower.

Two principles are at the heart of the crisis: transparency in governance and academic freedom.

The early August announcement that Arvind Gupta had suddenly and immediately resigned as president was startling, coming just 13 months after his term began. In March 2014, UBC Board Chair John Montalbano said “The opportunity to lead one of the world’s great universities attracted outstanding candidates, but Dr. Arvind Gupta clearly stood out as the best choice to lead this great university.”

What happened?

Well, Montalbano and the UBC Board are not saying. The Board justifies its silence by pointing to non-disclosure agreements, which they drafted and signed, as did Gupta.

Non-disclosure agreements protect secrets. The Board ruled out issues of competence, discipline, and health as reasons for Gupta’s departure. Which makes many wonder why no reasonable explanation has been offered.

Why shouldn’t we just accept the Board’s decision and move on? Because effective oversight of government and public institutions requires transparency, access to information, which helps to hold officials accountable and ensure public interests are served.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark, who is responsible for appointing a majority of the UBC Board, says “open government is about giving people a sense of confidence that government is working for them, not trying to do something to them.” And, that is exactly the point. Clandestine Board meetings – which are the norm at UBC – and refusal to fully disclose information lead people to believe that something is being done to them.

Mark Mac Lean, UBC Faculty Association president, has argued that in “the absence of an informed explanation” any non-disclosure provisions related to Gupta’s departure are “contrary to the public interest and contrary to the best practices expected of a major public institution.” If you support open and transparent government, I do not understand how you could disagree.

Two days after the Gupta announcement, Kris Olds, a UBC graduate and global higher education expert, wrote that a key lesson from recent university leadership crises is that an early lack of transparency and full communication heightens the risk of a major crisis erupting.

And just days later, as predicted, UBC was in damage-control while the crisis went from from bad to worse, with a faculty revolt and full blown public relations disaster.

A major complicating factor is the allegation that Board Chair Montalbano interfered with the academic freedom of Professor Jennifer Berdahl, attempting to silence her. A charge he has denied.

Following the announcement of Gupta’s departure, Berdahl wrote that perhaps Gupta had “lost the masculinity contest among the leadership at UBC, as most women and minorities do at institutions dominated by white men.”

Some in the media have dismissed Berdahl’s analysis; made jokes about it.

Research on the gendered nature of work is no joke, but only a few insiders know whether this dynamic applies in Gupta’s case. Berdahl’s perspective isn’t constructed out of thin air, it is based on her experience of UBC as workplace and her academic expertise.

As the Montalbano Professor in Leadership Studies, Berdahl studies power, discrimination, harassment, and diversity. Her mandate is to promote diverse leadership. One of the research groups she leads focuses on work as a masculinity contest, an effort that is, ironically, funded by donations from Montalbano and his employer, Royal Bank of Canada.

So when the board chair – who also happens to be on the advisory board of your faculty, and a major donor to the university ­– calls to discuss your critical analysis of the decision he just announced, direct threats do not have to be made. The power imbalance makes it nearly impossible the conversation to be a collegial exchange.

Obviously, Berdahl was not cowed, but it’s fair to say that in similar situations many others would be. As a recent New York Times article puts it “when you’re in charge, your whisper may feel like a shout.”

Universities exist for the common good, not to further the interest of an individual or institution as a whole.

And, as the influential 1940 statement of American Association of University Professors argues, the common good depends upon the free search for truth and its free expression. These are principles that are clearly stated and even extended further in the policies of UBC.

Transparency in governance and academic freedom contribute in profound ways to the health of democracy and the common good.

Secrecy is an obstacle to good and open governance.

Actions that have the effect of intimidating or harassing (whether intended or not) undermine the ability of people to “freely work, live, examine, question, teach, learn, comment and criticize,” activities that the UBC Board of Governors state they are committed to maintaining at every level of the university.

It is time for the Board to start walking its talk, if they don’t they are damaging more than a university.

[This article was published August 27, 2015 in the Times Colonist (Victoria, BC).]

Reforming Academic Labor, Resisting Imposition, K12 and Higher Education (Workplace: A Journal for Academic Labor, No. 25)

New Workplace Issue #25

Reforming Academic Labor, Resisting Imposition, K12 and Higher Education

Workplace and Critical Education are published by the Institute for Critical Education Studies. Please consider participating as author or reviewer. Thank you.

U of L provost who hired notorious ed school dean Robert Felner steps down

Shirley Willihnganz, the University of Louisville provost who hired “notorious ed school dean” Robert Felner has stepped down from her $342,694 a year position and will return to the faculty after a sabbatical.

Willihnganz told the Louisville Courier-Journal that the “Felner episode” was the biggest regret of her 13 years as a top administrator at U of L.

Willihnganz hired Felner as dean of the U of L College of Education and Human Development in 2003. Felner’s deanship has been described by some as a “reign of terror” because of his abusive treatment of staff, faculty, students and alumni.

Despite dozens of grievances filed against Felner and a faculty vote of no-confidence, Willihnganz and her boss, university president James Ramsey, were dismissive of complaints and vigorously defended him. Ultimately, Willihnganz was “forced to apologize” to the faculty, saying “mostly what I think I want to say is people have been hurt and something very bad happened, and as provost I feel like I am ultimately responsible for that.”

In addition to his well documented abusive behavior, Felner was also engaged in criminal activity while working for the U of L and under Willihnganz’s supervision.

In 2010, Felner was sentenced 63 months in federal prison for a scheme that bilked $2.3 million of US Department of Education money from U of L and the University of Rhode Island.

On June 20, 2008, Federal investigators (Secret Service and US Postal Inspection Service) raided Felner’s office at the U of L College of Education and Human Development (and his new office at the University of Wisconsin, Parkside, where he was in the process of taking over as campus president) to seize documents and a computer.

Read more about the Felner saga and his journey from “high performer” (Willihnganz’s description) to infamous ex-con here.

Courier-Journal reporter Andrew Wolfson asked me to comment on Willihnganz response to Felner. The statement below was quoted, in part, in the C-J story.

Of course it’s hard to disagree that the hiring of Robert Felner as dean of CEHD was, in hind sight, a disastrous decision by the U of L administration and Dr. Willihnganz in particular, but it was not entirely unpredictable. As chair of the largest department in CEHD at the time, I vigorously opposed Felner’s hire and called for the administration to resist the “old boy” network within the college that backed him. The provost’s office failed to do its due diligence in the hiring, despite a plethora of signs that Felner was not a good choice for the university. At the time, I was aware that other universities had considered Felner for deanships, but excluded him based upon thorough investigations of his career. The fact that President Ramsey and Dr. Willihnganz remained in office after defending Felner’s abusive leadership style, and ultimately criminal behavior, says much about the lack of accountability for decision making at the U of L. The damage done to the university’s reputation has been significant and is not merely the result of Felner’s felonious activities and generally abusive treatment of staff and faculty, but can also be laid in some measure at the feet of Dr. Willihnganz and President Ramsey.

The Courier-Journal reports modest positive accomplishments during on Willihnganz’s years a provost, including increased graduate rates and slight improvements in the U of L’s standing in university reputational rankings.

But, these accomplishments pale in comparison to the Felner episode and a long series shameful debacles that have tarnished the reputation of Kentucky’s second largest research university. The C-J reports that,

Under [Willihnganz’s] watch … university employees have stole, misspent or mishandled at least $7.6 million in schemes at the health science campus, the law school, the business school and the athletic department’s ticket office.

Willihnganz also was criticized for approving about $1 million in buyouts for former high-ranking employees, some of which included agreements not to disparage the university or its leaders.

Academic Fraud?
As the chief academic officer of the U of L, Willihnganz allowed the university to bestow a PhD degree on one of Felner’s associates, John Deasy, after enrolling in the CEHD doctoral program for a total of four months and apparently never actually taking any courses.

As reported in the education newspaper Substance,

John Deasy earned his PhD directly under Felner, in a period of four months, earning nine UL credit hours.

Prior to coming to UL, Deasy had awarded Felner’s research company, the National Center on Public Education and Social Policy, a $375,000 grant from the Santa Monica district where Deasy was head.

Before he came to UL, Felner had been dean at the University of Rhode Island’s College of Education from 1996-2003. Deasy studied there in the same period, while Deasy was also a Rhode Island school superintendent.

According to a highly placed source, formerly at UL, Deasy’s dissertation’s title page carries the date, “May, 2003,” while it is signed off, “April 9, 2004.” He entered the program in January, 2004.

A UL investigation of the Deasy PhD did not condemn the practice. James Ramsey, UL president, who had turned a blind eye to Felner’s notorious corruption (the faculty gave Felner a “no confidence vote” in 2006, but he served at least two more years at UL with Ramsey’s full support), gave his nod to the “blue ribbon” investigation.

Deasy is apparently cut from the same cloth as his mentor, having recently resigned as superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, under a cloud of allegations regarding ethics violations in relation to a $1 billion contract to supply iPads to LAUSD students.

A federal grand jury is currently investigating Deasy’s iPad scheme, which involved Apple and Pearson, the latter one of the world’s largest education publishers.

Many in LA were quite pleased by Deasy’s resignation as district boss.

In the end, it can be argued that the mistakes made by the U of L administration in hiring and protecting Felner, allowed Deasy to obtain a questionable PhD, which surely helped him land the high-paying job as superintendent of the second largest school district in the United States.

As LAUSD’s “Deasy episode” unfolds in a federal jury investigation, it could be that Willihnganz’s legacy will include the “graduation” of two federal convicts from the U of L College of Education and Human Development.

Neoliberalism and the Degradation of Education (Alternate Routes, Vol. 26)

Alternate Routes V 26 cover

Alternate Routes: A Journal of Critical Social Research

VOL 26 (2015)


Edited by Carlo Fanelli, Bryan Evans

Contributors to this anthology trace how neoliberalism has impacted education. These effects range from the commercialization and quasi-privatization of pre-school to post-secondary education, to restrictions on democratic practice and research and teaching, to the casualization of labour and labour replacing technologies, and the descent of the university into the market which threatens academic freedom. The end result is a comprehensive and wide-ranging review of how neoliberalism has served to displace, if not destroy, the role of the university as a space for a broad range of perspectives. Neoliberalism stifes the university’s ability to incubate critical ideas and engage with the larger society. Entrepreneurship, however, is pursued as an ideological carrier serving to prepare students for a life of precarity just as the university itself is being penetrated and occupied by corporations. The result is an astonishing tale of transformation, de-democratization and a narrowing of vision and purpose.



Carlo Fanelli, Bryan Evans
Jamie Brownlee
Jeff Noonan, Mireille Coral
Paul Bocking
Simten Cosar, Hakan Ergul
Garry Potter
Eric Newstadt
Caitlin Hewitt-White
Mat Nelson, Lydia Dobson
Paul Orlowski
Teresa Marcias
Tanner Mirrless


Heather McLean
Henry Giroux
Christopher Bailey
Carl E. James
Jordy Cummings
Joel D. Harden
Jordy Cummings
Carlo Fanelli


Peter Brogan
Christine Pich
Jordan Fairbairn
J.Z. Garrod
Madalena Santos
Amanda Joy
Shannon T. Speed
Aaron Henry

J. L. Turk: Protecting Academic Integrity When Universities Collaborate with Industry

2013-2014 CHET Seminar Series (University of British Columbia)

“Protecting Academic Integrity When Universities Collaborate with Industry”
By James L. Turk, Executive Director, Canadian Association of University of Teachers

February 25, 2014