Category Archives: Education

Is this blog “property”?

Is this blog “property”?  If so, whose? And who controls the answers to these questions (and the consequences thereto attached)?

Once upon a time (let’s say about three months ago), I thought the answers obvious enough: “in America,” this blog is “mine.” It is expression which I could transform it into property if I decided to commercialize it and/or sell it.  It all had to do with “freedom of expression” and particularly “academic freedom,” privileges granted by the Constitution to individuals.

And then I was taught about “work for hire laws.”  As summarized in a work for hire document written at the request of a corporation developing a “policy on intellectual property” (note the word “property,” not “knowledge”) the law says:

Under the Copyright Law, the copyright to a work created by a person in the course of his or her employment is Work for Hire, which belongs to the employer rather than to the individual creator.

I remembered reading something about this around issues of whistle blowing in large corporations, but never thought much about it, assuming that this was other people’s problems.

I was wrong.  The paragraph continue:

The law provides, therefore, that works created by faculty members in the course of their teaching and research, and works created by staff members in the course of their jobs, are the property of the College.

Note the “therefore.”  This blog is the property of the College, by law.

But not to worry:

It is traditional at this College and other colleges and universities, however, for books, articles and other scholarly writings by a faculty member to be deemed the property of the author, who is considered to be entitled to determine how the works are to be disseminated and to keep any income they produce. This tradition reflects the College’s commitment to encourage members of the community to write and to publish what they wish. In recognition of that longstanding practice, the College disclaims ownership of Traditional Works of Scholarship.

Over the past several weeks I have pushed and prodded the people involved in writing and re-writing all this, that is in transforming ideas into potentially authoritative texts for which they are being paid but which will never be considered “theirs” (deans, lawyers, other staff).  In the process (besides making myself somewhat obnoxious—and I apologize for unnecessary outbursts!) I got to think further about an issue I could not quite figure out.  Over the past years, many on the faculty have complained about the movement of the College towards a “corporate model.”  Two years ago, the controversy swirled about the College’s President sitting on the board of directors of a Large Multi-National Corporation.  But I was not quite sure whether this was a complaint about individuals or about something broader.

What is, interactionally, the “corporate model”–leaving aside the values, beliefs, interests, etc. of individuals who may benefit from it, or who may resist it?

One answer lies in taking seriously what I was told again and again when I objected: “Herve! This is the law! There is no choice here!”  the College is a corporation, no different from Apple or Google (in another generation one might have written “no different from General Motors”)! You are an employee!”  And I was reminded that all my emails (all that I receive from colleagues, students, etc.) are archived at the College (actually, they are physically on Google servers) and may be read at the discretion to the College.

The corporate model, then, has to do with the reality (non-negotiable) that my personal life, as employee, is largely at the discretion of the College.  Technically, in recent anthropological jargon, the College is a Latourian agent who (to quote from above) “deems,” “considers,” “encourages,” “disclaims.”  The College (speech) acts.  All this is controlled, allowed and enforced by “the law of the land,” that is by the College’s Sovereign who grants Corporations certain privileges.  That is, the Law does not require that my blog be deemed property of the Corporation.  The Corporation may disclaim.  But the Corporation is now the Active Subject that speaks through internal policies, sub-regulations, etc.  The Sovereign (State, nation, people) has stepped back.  A preamble may state that a “policy” regulates rights:

This copyright policy retains and reasserts the rights of faculty members for books, monographs, articles, and similar works as delineated in the policy statement.

Politics (the protection of expression and academic freedom) has been devolved to policy.  State actors yield to corporate management.  We are more fully than I thought in the world of the “Non Governmental Agency” (and, of course, the word “agent” has to be taken in all its many meanings) with its specific properties (affordances).  This world has been coopting broader and broader areas of everyday intervention around world.  For example, in my world, what used to be considered major decisions about, for example, the control of public schooling has been devolved to various corporate bodies with various, more or less delineated, right to participate, authority to regulate and mete sanctions.  I wrote about this when the teacher education programs at TC had to yield to NCATE (and produce a lot of “work-for-hire” intellectual property) (Varenne 2007).  I was fascinated by report from Steven Brill in the New York Times about the web that has been entangling the aftermaths of the No Child Left Behind Act.  The report was about the wonderfully awfully named “Race to Top” program.

So, one might answer the questions about property, ownership, and control of my expression, with a quip: the Benevolent Billionaire Barons of the 21st century!  This, of course is too simple as it does not specify the mechanisms that makes this blog “deemed” my own by Teachers College (and I thank the Corporation for its generosity).

More on that another day.

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Anthropologies of the dangerous (?)

[my current thinking about the title and rationale for an event the Joint Program in Applied Anthropology at Teachers College, Columbia University is planning for the Fall 2014]

There may be some truth to the romantic image of the anthropologist (archaeologist?) as daredevil pursuing dubious knowledge, motivated by obscure interests.   Why else would any scholar, or apprentice scholar, insist on visiting far away mountains or islands (or other scary neighborhoods nearer at hand), if it wasn’t because some knowledge about humanity and its possible futures cannot be gained from the comfort of one’s armchair (or even hard seat in the library)?  Boas, Rivers, Malinowski, Mead and countless others left the comfort of home on the conviction, we continue to share, that the knowledge they, and we, seek can only be gained by placing ourselves in dangerous places—not only when the danger may spring from wild beasts, poisonous plants, or not necessarily friendly peoples, but when it springs from sovereign authorities.  “Powers-that-be,” from governments to organizations controlled by governments to private foundations or universities more or less controlled by corporations and the more or less benevolent rich and powerful, may open routes to new locales no Indiana Jones could otherwise reach.  But they also control what can be made public, how and when.  They can be dangerous to one’s career, or coopt it, all the more so that the proposed knowledge challenges this or that common sense.  We also need to understand these dangers, theoretically and practically.

Anthropological knowledge can be dangerous and there is an argument for keeping it in protected environments away from polities that would use it to nefarious ends.  But at least some anthropologists always intended, and continue to intend, for their work to enter the political, no matters the dangers.  From Boas onwards, anthropologists have written specifically against what made so much sense that it could drive political action at the largest of scales, justify action, or mask the other motivations that can move people to act.  But many anthropologists have also gone far beyond what has been called, for much of my middle professional life, “deconstruction” (or “cultural critique”).  They have also wanted to help.  Emblematic is Ruth Benedict’s work for the American government in World War II.  This was actually but one aspect of the work of other anthropologists of the time as they founded the Society for Applied Anthropology.  W. Lloyd Warner was involved, as well as Conrad Arensberg, Allison Davis, Eliot Chapple, not to mention Margaret Mead.  That call to help took many form including Sol Tax’s “Action Anthropology” that was also a critical response to what “Applied Anthropology” was becoming (Bennett 1996).   It led to the creation of the Council on Anthropology and Education that provided an institutional framework for entering conversations about the evolution of schooling policies.  And it led to the inauguration of the “Joint Program in Applied Anthropology” at Columbia University as one of the responses of the Columbia department to students’ call for “relevance.”  The history of what an editorial in Current Anthropology called “going public with anthropology” (1996) is long and we must ground our own call in this history.

The desire to help may also have led to Oscar Lewis’ decision to enter the fray of the contentious fields that constituted policy relevance in the 1960s as he wrote, fatefully, about “the culture of poverty.”  This may have been a high point in the public acknowledgment of anthropology as having something to say outside of academia.  It may also have been the low point that soured many of those who, as students, may have called for relevance in 1968 and then later argued for a withdrawn casuistic irony that may not even be dangerous—as Shweder’s knew when he noted that Clifford Geertz was applauded, in the safety of our association, for “challenging … received assumptions” (1991: 72).

Many anthropologists, of course, picked up the task of responding to Lewis and, they continue to hope, to the polities that keep returning to what moved Lewis, often with specific attacks on anthropological critiques.  Indeed much of the more vibrant anthropologies of the turn of the 21st century have addressed matters that are directly dangerous in political term: abortion, pre-natal care and the new technologies of life and death, motherhood, disability, world diseases, drug use, the mining of natural resources, the production of scientific expertise, to mention but a few notable achievements.  Not only do they challenge assumptions or beliefs from the top of the battlements, but they also enter the fray as they trace in detail how this or that policy, regulation, routine practice, etc. enables or disables this or that possibilities for building personal lives.

Obviously, the danger now is not in the imagined travails of journeys off the beaten tracks.  The dangers lies much closer to home, like the research anthropologists now conduct.  Whether we continue to use labels like “applied anthropology,” revive others like “action anthropology,” create new labels (“public anthropology,” “engaged anthropology,” “anthropology of trouble,” etc.), the fact remains that many of us will not remain in ivory towers.  We will face the dangers that must be faced to elaborate the knowledge our ancestors, grand-parents, siblings and (dare I say?) children have been seeking and continue to seek.  We now need to move a long conversation forward.

Bennett, John 1996. “Applied and Action Anthropology: Ideological and Conceptual Aspects.” Current Anthropology, Vol. 37, No. 1, Supplement: Special Issue: Anthropology in Public  pp.  S23-S53

Shweder, Richard 1991. Thinking through cultures: Expeditions in cultural psychology.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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on college education, snake oil, and Silicon Valley

My readers and students know my skepticism about the financial, or human capital, “value” of college education (December 12th, 2012; April 18th, 2013).  And they know I quote a lot of “anecdotal evidence,” including from my immediate family.

My point of departure often was a column by Thomas Friedman of the New York Times who echoed academic arguments, often from economists, about this very value.  This of course has been powerfully amplified by national politicians, cheered by universities dependent on student loan guarantees.

So it may interesting to wonder about the possibility that the conversation about college is entering a new phase.

For Friedman is now being educated by Google and he is wondering about what Google is doing might lead:

LAST June, in an interview with Adam Bryant of The Times, Laszlo Bock, the senior vice president of people operations for Google — i.e., the guy in charge of hiring for one of the world’s most successful companies — noted that Google had determined that “G.P.A.’s are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless. … We found that they don’t predict anything.” He also noted that the “proportion of people without any college education at Google has increased over time” — now as high as 14 percent on some teams. At a time when many people are asking, “How’s my kid gonna get a job?” I thought it would be useful to visit Google and hear how Bock would answer. (How to Get a Job at Google, Part 2: April 19 2014)

Continue reading on college education, snake oil, and Silicon Valley

Sorting out how the Powers-that-Be yield their power by watching local wardens

Those who follow this blog may remember that I had to contribute my two bits to a discussion about “promoting diversity” in our department, programs, teaching, etc. (February 25, 2014).  I may also heave mentioned a while back that I was charged to write an “Assessment of Learning Outcomes” report for the programs in anthropology.

Note the passive voice in “I had to…,” “I was charged.”  I started the diversity entry with a reference to the “Powers that Be” (PtBs).  Those, of course, are Latourian black boxes.  But that is not saying much, yet.  Actually, the particular acts that triggered my own activity where made by various individuals (deans, department chairs, etc.) who were very specifically told to tell me that I no choice but to perform the tasks whether as faculty member (for the diversity thing) or a program coordinator (for the assessment thing).  Still, none of these individuals originated the requirement that I do “it.”  As they all said, apologetically often, is that they were “passing on” the requirement from higher (? The right metaphor?) up.

This could be a call to “follow the network” of particular people told to ask other particular people to do the specific things (and they are very specific indeed).  I tried to do something like that once (2007).  It could also be a call to reveal the “bricolage” (to put it as blandly as possible) that “Those Who are Told” (TWaTs [?!]) must engage in to produce what the PtBs will accept as good enough for the current purposes.  Jill Koyama (2010) did some of this in relation to administrators, teachers, and parents, in the local worlds NCLB produced.
Continue reading Sorting out how the Powers-that-Be yield their power by watching local wardens

what is to constitute that a conversation is “about promoting diversity”?

Powers-that-be have asked our department to produce a “Diversity Report” on our practices “promoting diversity.”

Not that there is anything wrong about that—though we may not have produced such a report without of formal request from the Powers.  The Powers also told us that earlier reports were not adequate.  We were asked to discuss our practices and propose changes in these practices over the next two years.  This post is one of my statements in this discussion.  Students and colleagues are welcome to comment, in the spirit of transparency.

Famously, discussions about “diversity” are difficult (Lin 2007; Pollock 2004, 2008).  At some point in the discussion someone will ask: what “counts” as diversity: LGBT status? Disability status?   Others may whisper: Religion? Age?  National origin? Nationality? One of our colleague in the College once argued that, as the only Skinnerian behavior modification person on the faculty, he, a white male, might be the most “diverse” person there.

There is a “gotcha” side to expanding what is to count (what should be quantified) as diversity.  There is a powerful political consensus here that is not to be trifled with, and questions about expanding the categories are soon set aside.

A more disrupting argument is made by those who argue that discussions of “diversity” masks the political imperatives that let to affirmative action policies in favor ed federally labeled “minorities” (Guinier 2003) as well as the transfer of the definition of what is to count, and how, from national polities (and the courts) to local polities with little accountability except to themselves (and their public relation departments).  This line of argumentation will also be set aside, but not without some discomfort,

In any event, the reports of the past few years (some of which I wrote as department chair) have mostly emphasized the counting of faculty and students from protected federal categories.  I insisted a few years ago that dissertation topics might be another index of our efforts at “promoting diversity.”  This allowed me to talk about a research concern with “disability” that does not fit neatly in any effort to quantify diversity.

However, as I made the point about dissertations, I wondered whether I was being innovative or sarcastic.  In the long history of affirmative action, as I understand it (and this is not my academic field), the issue mostly concerned issues of membership and blocks on membership.  Reporting on numbers of “minorities” in a polity could then be used as shorthand evidence that blocks still existed, or had been removed.  In recent years however there has been much debate on whether removing formal blocks is enough.

This brings me to my own activity as an academic anthropologist and university professor.  I know I am expected by many to reflect on how my activities might block this or that diverse person—and not only when I sit on an admissions committee, or grade papers.  I must wonder how some of my claims to diversity may advantage me, or how I should keep others among my claims in various closets.  I might wonder on the powers that make some of my claims advantageous, and others dangerous—to myself and others.  I might wonder how a diversity trait is differentiated from another (how many skin colors? Where is the boundary between “light” and “dark” skins? How many genders? Etc.).  I might wonder whether all this is good (bad?) to think, or to eat…

Actually, of course, I teach courses about all this—in relation to education, family, technology, education.  The anthropologists among my readers will have recognized the quote in the last sentence (Lévi-Strauss 1963 [1962]: 89).  Arguably, anthropology is the social science founded on the recognition that the ongoing production of diversity is fundamental to humanity.  One might wonder whether Simone de Beauvoir or Betty Friedan would have been possible without Margaret Mead (1949)—or whether Mead, and the institutionalization of anthropology, is part of the same movement with de Beauvoir and Friedan against earlier evolutionary and biological understandings, and the politics derived from them.

My question for today: is an academic discussion of the production of diversity in its poetic and political contexts the discussion that “we” should have about our diversity practices and how they might evolve in the coming years?


Guinier, Lani. “Admissions Rituals as Political Acts: Guardians at the Gates of Our Democratic Ideals.” Harvard Law Review, 117, 1, 1-491. 2003

on expert ignorance

A visit from Gus Andrews is always refreshing and invigorating as we explore some of the intellectual links in our mutual networks.  So, last Wednesday, February 12, we talked, among other things, about the efforts of the organization where she works (she will have to provide the link…) to convince people around the world to use encryption to communicate in ways that, perhaps, governments and other cannot listen in.  One of the problem is that it is hard to identify who are these people and, when members of plausible audiences are identified, convince them that this encryption is the solution to a problem many do not know they have.  Some already use VPN (whatever that is, and however it works–it will advertise my ignorance here) and tell representatives of the institution that this works well enough for their purposes.

Now, this is a classic problem in adult education when potential teachees cannot be caught and wittingly or not, transformed into students whose knowledge can then be assessed.  It is of course also a problem in the mandatory public education of children and young adults in schools and colleges.  But there it is more a matter of sub-rosa resistance.  Adults may listen to experts and accept being taught by them but expertise, as such, is rarely enough.  One can coerce adults to take mandated courses in various forms of what used to be called “re-education” (safe driving, sexual harassment, etc.) but state coercion can only go so far.  There actually is an academic field of “adult education” in schools of education where courses with titles like “How adults learn are” taught.  I am not specifically in that field but, of course, most of what I, along with many my students of the past decade or more (including Gus Andrews, of course), have been concerned with.

Mostly, though, we have been concerned with collective self-education when adults seek new knowledge and devise new ways to gain it.  This is what Jacotot’s students did when they taught themselves French by reading a French-Flemish version of Fenelon’s Telemaque.  What Gus’s institution is trying to accomplish is more akin to what experts upon experts keep trying to accomplish when they tell whoever will listen that one should not smoke, eat more vegetables, devise stronger passwords, etc…

The questions that came to my mind later in the day of Gus’ visit concerned the experts’ ignorance about a whole range of issues:

  •   From the exact location of the people to teach: how are “we” to find them? Where should we look?
  • to the extent to people prior knowledge and or experience with the experts’ expertise;
  • to the exact nature of the ignorance the experts’ teaching might alleviate;
  • And so on and so forth.

The big issue is that experts are not always (mostly?) not aware of their own ignorance about all these matters and are more likely to blame (or patronize) the people for the inability to listen to the expert and learn from them.  In medicine, this produces a whole literature on “patient resistance.  In field of adult education, it produces much discussion of the properties of adult and their learning.

We need to convince the world of experts, and particularly those who fund research, that they need to find out about their own ignorance and its consequences—particularly when what the experts have to offer is ostensibly valuable.

While reading Rancière’s Althusser’s Lesson

Last week, I read Rancière’s tract against Althusser (Althusser’s lesson [1974] 2011) and Karen Velasquez’s first full dissertation draft.  The first has almost mythical status in the scholarship on Rancière.  And I looked forward to the second for its promise (now about fulfilled) of giving us more of the kind of work we need to produce what Rancière started calling for in the late 1960’s and throughout his career as philosopher and polemicist.

What struck me most in Althusser’s Lesson is that it is a kind of time capsule of a time when, as a 20 year old, in May 1968, I looked in much bemusement at the antics of my fellow college students and their impenatrable marxiscist discourses.  Soon most of us went on vacation; I left for the University of Chicago; and I about forgot about “Mai ‘68″ as it faded into myth.  It took me a long time to realize how much of an event the two or three years that led to the riots, strikes and evaporation of whatever it had been, had been for many of the elite French intellectuals of the time.  As I kept reading “May ‘68 established that Sartre bested Lévi-Strauss in the debate the latter had waged in La pensée sauvage.”  What reading Rancière (very long after the events have receded) has given me is an opening on another debate that raged in the late 1960s and early 1970s among the Marxist intellectual elites between, to simplify following Rancière, those who wished to work through the Parti Communiste Francais as against the Maoist “gauchistes.”  As Rancière wishes us to see, this was a fight among the elite of the intellectural elites about another fight (that of the students and the workers of the time) about which this elite knew very little–given that all their practical knowledge was designed to produce … future readers of Marx in elite universities! (Reading Capital being, of course, the title of the book by Althusser to which Rancière contributed as a student).  This elite was produced by the series of famously difficult examinations that lead to admission to the Ecole Normale Supérieure.  The list of famous alumni (Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, Lévi-Strauss, Foucault, Bourdieu, etc.) is altogether astonishing: I do not think there is anything like it in the United States and perhaps the world.  How can one institution be so powerful?

The debate was also conducted in a particularly abstruse language which only advanced students in philosophy and Marxism could decipher.  Reading 1974 Rancière reminded me why I was so relieved and satisfied reading ethnography at the University of Chicago in September 1968.

What then struck me—and it is deeply buried—are Rancière calls to pay attention to what the workers and students were actually saying in the 1960s, in the sites and at the times of their struggles.  The whole weight of Rancière’s argument is brought to bear against Althusser’s stance that they could not possible know what produced their struggles, that their discourses revealed their misconceptions, and that only the “scientific” analysis that intellectual Marxists would conduct could reveal conditions and the appropriate discourses.  There, of course, is the Rancière who, later, uncovered Jacotot—and could finally write without tiresome disquisitions about bourgeois sociology (the worst insult he hurls at Althusser is that he was just another Durkheimian!).

Two quotes:

In Besancon, however, when Lip workers began to speak, what they put forward was a coherent discourse about their practices.  There were none of the words, cries of indignation or formulaic sentences that leftist practice cuts from the discourse of revolt and pastes onto the discourse of the spokesperson for the universal proletarian.  What they gave us, instead, was a veritable theory of what they were doing, a theory where the ideas of May 1968 joined hands with the syndicalist tradition, but also one where we recognized a new kind of ‘fusion’: that of the experience of the workers’ struggle with a Christian ideology that yearns, it seems, to be something other than ‘the sigh of the oppressed creature’. ([1974] 2011: 120-1)

‘When the prisoners begin to speak’, Foucault says, ‘they possessed an individual theory of prisons, the penal system, and justice.’  It will be pointed out, certainly, that prisoners are in a privileged position to theorize their condition. ([1974] 2011: 120)

{Note that the quote from Foucault conversation with Deleuze (1972) has a somewhat different tone from his discussion of the Panopticon in Discipline and Publish.}

Of course, I take the comments about the striking workers of the Lip clock factory as a call for detailed ethnographies of workers discourses in the sites of these discourses. Rancière, of course, never said that (that I know) and may have been skeptical of any activity that smacks of social scientism—including ethnography, I’d bet.  This is a frontier we need to explore.  This is where Karen Velasquez’s dissertation comes in.  As some of you know, it is about people from Latin America and Korea getting to work together in Queens restaurants.  What is wonderful about the work—and I do not want to steal her thunder—is her revealing, in detail, what Rancière assumed we would find: complex analyses of conditions, of what can be done about them and with them—in the here and now of various difficulties, in the short and perhaps even longer run.

Trying to make it a good day when things fall apart

I hope that everyone left the conference last Saturday as invigorated as I was.  It was worth all the efforts that went into from so many.

Two moments were particularly salient for me.

Early on, Michael Scroggins read a passage from Cremin that I have read many time but which struck me as if I heard if for the first time.  The passage closes the section of the “definition of education” in his Public education but it goes much further.  Cremin wrote:

”Everyday in every part of the world people set out to teach something to others or to study something themselves. . . They deserve a theory specifically addressed to their problems and purposes, one that will assist them to act intelligently, ever hopeful of the possibilities but fully aware of the limitations and risks that attend their efforts.”(1976:30)

I take this as further evidence that Cremin was indeed part of the movement that keeps renewing what anthropologists of education are doing.  He wrote this at about the time when Ray McDermott was watching Adam and heard him say “Anybody who wants to try to make it a good day today, say ‘Aye’” (Varenne & McDermott 1998: 39).  Adam did not have a good day that day, but he was “ever hopeful,” and McDermott has been looking for the theory of education that people like Adam deserve.

The other salient moment for me came during the last session when Jill Koyama talked about her research into things that fall apart—particularly policies by institutional actors (in Latour’s sense) that stresses other actors to the point that everyone involved will have very bad days.  For Adam, it had been enlightened researchers attempting to undermine the grounding of intelligence testing and, in the process, making a space for the enactment of “education as race” with winners and crying legitimate losers.

Cremin was an optimist.  Koyama presents herself, I’d say, as a pessimist.  McDermott insists that kids (teachers, assistant principals, etc.) “make sense.”

But both Cremin and Koyama, like McDermott and all those I recruit into the “movement,”  insist that we build theories that will “assist” (note the verb) people “act intelligently.”  McDermott may have written “act ‘sensibly’” reminding us of course that people always make sense even when (particularly when?) their conditions are made difficult.

So, things fall apart (why-ever).  As Garfinkel once put it “when you screw around, then you get instructed” (2002: 250). That is, if a cafeteria line falls apart then everyone starts working on telling everyone what they should do next so that they can make it a good day (and not have to repair what ought not to be broken so that, perhaps, more complicated matters can get repaired).  The cost of that repair work is what Garfinkel was not concerned with.  Nor was he quite concerned with the work of those who dis-order (why-ever again; intentions is not the issue).  Not with the possibility that re-orderings (through instruction, etc.) might also producing dis-orderings (resistance, etc.).

A theory of education that may help us assist people as they educate themselves, will have to take into account these matters too and many of the papers presented at the conference are a step in that direction (as well as a demonstration indeed that data-driven research cannot possibly shed lights on these matters!),

How, when, about what, and with whom, can faculty in a school of education govern?

(Part 2 of the blog posted on June 12, 2013)

In one way the questions are easily answered for Teachers College by a quick look at the statutes

The Faculty of Teachers College play a central role in determining the standards, the values, and the character of the institution. Members of the Faculty provide the instruction, conduct the research, and perform the professional services necessary to accomplish the purposes of the College. The Faculty, subject only to the control reserved by the Trustees, have ultimate authority to establish requirements for student admission, programs of instruction, and student academic progress, and to recommend the conferring of degrees and diplomas. The Faculty also make recommendations to the President and the Trustees concerning its own welfare. (My emphasis Governance and Organization of the College Section 3, page 2, retrieved June 17, 2013).

Note the capital ‘F’ in “Faculty,” the word “ultimate,” and the absence of any mention of an administrative structure in the relationship between “Faculty” and “Trustees.”  Note also the absence of any mention of Columbia University, New York State, or the Federal Government—all of whom are intimately involved in all these matters and significantly Faculty authority.  And note, of course, the absence of any mention of unauthorized power and, by implication, resistance, bricolage, etc.

But, as we, individual members of a Faculty, soon experience, the questions are not easily answered in the details of our everyday encounters with this or that regulation, or this or that possible future whether personal (e.g. new course) or collective (e.g. new program).  The following is some thoughts about my personal understanding of how these questions are answered at this moment in our history.  I am particularly interested at this moment on the subquestion “with whom do we govern?”  This a question about contexts of significance: who are the people who can make the most difference on matters we might want to legislate? Who is impacted, directly or indirectly?  In brief, what are the conditions and limits to the Faculty’s “ultimate authority” on requirements, programs, and student progress?  I sketch how this could be investigated through several examples, from the not so trivial to the imaginary.

1) We, as assembled Faculty, could probably deal in a few months of debates and resolution with an irritant to a few employees in the Office of Doctoral Studies, doctoral students and their advisors: the “Statement of Total Program.”  If you think, while reading this, “what’s that?”, then you are either very new to Teachers College, or not dealing with many doctoral students.  If you ask “why,” then you risk a history lesson from the long-timers at the College who may remember that this was created in the 1970s to replace the year-long residence then required of all doctoral students.  As far as I know this is a matter under full Faculty control (though I suspect New York State and Columbia University would have to consulted).  But “they” did not do it sometimes in the past.  “We” do it, on an ongoing basis every time we deal with student puzzlement about this piece of paper that stands on their way to graduation.

2) Who controls what individuals teach?  Why should “new courses” be “approved,” by whom and on what grounds?  The FEC approval process would appear to be under Faculty control (leaving aside NYC authority over “credit hours” and the like).  Other Faculties, in other schools of education, appear to have a very different process.  Our own process has many side effects on individual faculty academic freedom that we must deal with whether we, as individuals, agree with the policy or not.

3) How much should we receive in return for our work?  Or, to put slightly differently, how much of a share of the College’s total income, can we claim? Is this a Faculty claim, or an individual faculty claim?  This issue is most salient when discussing salary (the “pool” vs. individual remuneration), or special rewards for special tasks (e.g. share of research funding, external work, etc.).  But it is also implicit in every discussion of administrative salaries and bonuses, tuition level, financial aid, capital campaigns, etc.  On these matters the Faculty has no authority, but it has significant power, both as Faculty and as individuals.  Given this power, it is in the very best interest of those en-trustee-ed to deal with these matters to play close attention.

4) Given the complexity of most of the questions immediately facing us, does it make sense for Teachers College, as a corporation, to be organized as one school though it may have several major goals.  Who has the power to lead? Who has the authority to make what kind of changes.

Item: In the late 1970s, a long debate enshrined a new self-description of Teachers College as “a school of education, psychology, and health profession.” The current self-description, as it appears on the introductory page for the College now says that it “is committed to a vision of education writ large, encompassing our four core areas of expertise: health, education, leadership and psychology” (“About TC” , retrieved on June 15, 2013).  I am not sure whether the old description is still used or in what contexts. I do not remember any debate about adding the word “leadership.”

Item: The multiplicity of titles our “deans” have had over the past 30 years suggest that it might be time to move to a multiple school structure with two or three deans reporting to a provost. The vectors of power and authority on such matters are quite murky, which may be why we rarely do more than hint that such conversations may be happening (note that there may be further movement on this than meets the eye, what with the appointment of Vice Deans and Deputy Provosts).  And yet, if the Faculty “establishes programs of instruction,” then, arguably, leadership about its organization, including its possible division, should come from this Faculty.

5) What is the scope of Teachers College?  What programs belong? And how is this related to the size of the faculty or the physical plant?  Is this a zero-sum game where new programs can only appear at the price of the end of other programs?  Must we do what we do with 155 faculty (+-10)?  Should we expand?  Should we build, or just repaint?

All these are matters for governors, and the governed to deliberate about and then act on.  Where do we, as both governor and governed, enter the deliberation and participate in the decision?  It is not quite enough to talk about “shared governance” without specifying “with whom” and on what grounds, formally and informally through networks of interest.

One solution I am experimenting with here, is blogging about it…

On applying anthropology to faculty governance in a school of education

[This was triggered by ongoing controversies at Teachers College regarding various decisions made by top administrators, responses by various people including students and faculty.  What can current anthropological analyses contribute to the recurrent calls for shared governance?  What can faculty govern?  How?  For those in the know, I will be mixing Weberian via Geertz, Foucauldian, and Latourian metaphors, along with others inspired by de Certau and Garfinkel]

One of the first thing I heard when I started graduate school in 1968, and associated with “America,” was that “government is best which governs least” and that “the government does not concern me much, and I shall bestow the fewest possible thoughts on it. It is not many moments that I live under a government, even in this world” (Thoreau, Civil disobedience).  And yet, if democracy is government “by the people,” then there is no democracy without work by this people who must be concerned with it and bestow at least some thoughts to it.  And yet …, around and around.

Now, it is possible to argue that Teachers College, for many of us, is the small town of most daily consequence.  It is the location of much of our daily work, it is where we may know most of the people and they know us.  It is the space where we meet the most specific of governmental regulations.  Outside, we are citizens, among hundreds of millions, of various nations and states; inside, we are caught with a few hundred people, in a locality altogether unique, deliberating very particular interests with which few “outside” would be concerned.

So, if Teachers College is treated as a small locality with its own political system, one could say, with Thoreau, that the best “governance” is governance that allows most of the citizens (employees) to devote the least amount of time to the production and products of government.  After all, most of us are not here to govern (administer) though we have to check governors (administrators) when they forget the goals of governance.  And yet, without active service by at least some, it is probably that, at not infrequent times, many of us will be obliged to give more time to the products of governance than we might wish.

But, of course, Teachers College is a corporation, not a town.  We are employees, not citizens.  Our administrators are not elected.  Financial resources flow from Teachers College to us, rather than the reverse.  We are not taxed; we sell services.  All of this commercial activity is tightly controlled by a web of laws and regulations, some enforced by various actual governments (from the IRS to IRBs, not to mention credit hours and Integrative Projects).  Other regulations are enforced contractually by other corporations, from Columbia University to insurance companies, etc.  I suspect that no one at TC knows the full extent of this web, and this is OK as long as one person knows her position on the network of entangling connections (including both descending and ascending positions), acts so that the controlling regulating agencies will acknowledge that what it requires done has been done, and then reports this acknowledgment to the proper persons who will then report it further, all the way to the president and Board of Trustees, not to mention faculty, etc., when needed (remember the many e-mails some of us received from Janice Robinson regarding the “On-Line Harassment Prevention Course”).

If Teachers College, as corporation, could be the well-oiled machine some expert in bureaucratic efficiency might imagine, then everything would be OK.  If the actual corporation was powerful enough to have become a panopticon, everything might be well also–though perhaps only as far as the performance of the required is concerned.

But, of course, Teachers College is neither machine nor panopticon.  It is a live “polity” (a word I prefer to “community” for reasons I explain elsewhere) that is also a network and web.  At every nodes there is fundamental uncertainty as to the exact shape of the cog one must fit into, as well as who is warden and who is inmate.  Everyone who is caught here must wonder whether the appointed task was indeed accomplished, or whether an accomplishment has been reported to the right person(s).  It is not only that the feedback channels are not well oiled, but that the feedback for the same event keeps changing.

For example, a brief case study:

There appears to have been two of triggering events to the Spring 2013 controversies: the(bonuses paid to some administrators in 2010/2011; and Susan Furhman’s association with Pearson.  I focus on the latter and particularly on the transformations in the effects it has had in the TC polity.  I personally learned about the association three or four years ago, and talked about my “discovery” to a few of our colleagues, none of them knew about it.  I did not anything more about it.  I assumed that “everybody (but a few at the periphery) knew—including our Executive Committee—and that it was OK with them.  I retreated to my pond (metaphorically, to build on Thoreau) and forgot about the matter.  Actually, as “all” (?) know, Furhman’s association dates from before she started as president.  Quite a few people did know about it, including the trustees who must have been convinced that it would be good for Teachers College to have one of ours as, actually, the sole voice from the world of “education” on the board of a company that self-describes as “the world’s leading education company, providing educational materials, technologies, assessments and related services to teachers and students of all ages” (retrieved from the Pearson web site “About us” and “Board of directors”  on June 6, 2013).  And then, suddenly, many, with Dianne Ravitch, are now saying that the association may be a conflict of interest—a major charge indeed.

Whether there is anything wrong or conflictual about Furhman’s association with Pearson will continue to be debated.  What I am arguing here is that, in the political life of any polity, the consequences of an accomplishment are never reliably fixed for good.  As time passes, the consequences of each event can change as new interpretants [in Peirce’s sense] assert themselves.  The process is not mechanical, and final outcomes cannot be predicted.  We cannot stop moving and the need to govern is ever renewed.

This is a fundamental process that neither the tightening of procedures or controls can abolish.  It is a process well documented by significant research and theory, particularly from the parts of the sciences with which cultural anthropology is most comfortably associated.  As faculty members discuss what we mean, practically, about “shared governance” understanding our contexts and their constraints is essential.

I will suggest some of what I think might be done, practically, in a later post.