An overview of the things that I’ve been reading this morning. I’ve been focusing on this today because I think this section of the book is a little weak, despite it being one of the most important and interesting issues I cover.

  1. A useful essay reflecting on the David Guth case, in which a professor’s tweeted anti-NRA comments provoked widespread controversy and Kansas University implemented a draconian new social media policy that was later withdrawn
  2. An overview of the Steven Salaita case, in which an academics controversial tweets about Israel led the University of Illinois to rescind their job offer to him. Various important factors: donors complained, there was the accusation that his tweets were anti-semitic, the university fell back on ‘civility’ defence and cited the form taken by his tweets.
  3. An overview of the case, as well as first and second apology post by Martin Hirst, an Australian journalism professor whose profanity laden tweets were published on the Herald Sun website after a spat with a right-wing journalist and various others on Twitter.
  4. An interesting opinion and summary of the legal situation by the National Educational Association. Makes a nuanced case about the need for regulation to ensure online harassment doesn’t undermine the capacity of some to speak (particularly citing female scholars and harassment they can be subject to) while nonetheless ensuring that regulation of social media doesn’t erode academic freedom
  5. Brief but revealing piece of advise to department heads, stressing the necessity that they communicate institutional policies to academics within the department. As they put it, “All too often, university faculty assume that academic freedom means a blank check to do and say what they want with no restrictions, whether in class or elsewhere”. Succinctly summarises the problem as being an ‘increased potential for harm’ rather than anything legally distinct as far as communication goes. Offers useful advice that “Rants, grievances, and pent-up frustrations should not find their release on such public forums as provided by social networks”.
  6. An interesting essay by Daniel Nehring, which discusses recent  events at Warwick (Thomas Doherty, the Warwick Tone of Voice, questionable advice by SGH Martineau) and considers it in terms of more general trends concerning academic freedom. Speculates that draconian social media policies may lead us to pass a point of no return, at which stages the absence of academic freedom will be something that upcoming scholars are simply socialised into and don’t question
  7. An account in the THE by Carole McCartney, reader in law at Northumbria University, describing how she was reprimanded while working at the University of Leeds for posting tweets critical of Theresa May. She was eventually instructed to remove her affiliation from her Twitter profile, after a lengthy exchange of views with the university ‘web master’ (would like to know whether she means someone in IT services or someone in comms) who had initially claimed that the tweets were unacceptable because they were linked to the university. 
  8. The UCU statement on academic freedom reiterates the 1988 Education Reform Act’s establishment of “the legal right of academics in the UK ‘to question and test received wisdom and to put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions without placing themselves in jeopardy of losing their jobs or the privileges they may have'”. Highlights a wide range of factors (e.g. research assessment, anti-terrorism, managerialism) which contribute to a climate within which academic freedom is under threat. Stresses that “hindered or impeded in exercising their civil rights as citizens” and the role of “security of employment in the profession” as a crucial safeguard of academic freedom.
  9. An article by Henry Reichman, vice president of the AAUP, warning that “Some politicians and ­university leaders now act as though the principles of academic freedom should not be ­applied when it comes to ­social media”. Stresses the need for management to work with faculty to develop appropriate policies for governing social media: balancing the need to recognise necessary restrictions (citing the example of revealing confidential student information on social media) with the right of faculty to address the wider society. Finishes with claim that universities which fail to defend academic freedom harm themselves through doing so.
  10. Important article by Index for Censorship on international threats to academic freedom, from committees accusing Ukrainian academics of ‘separatist attitudes’ to draconian regulation of the minutiae of everyday academic life in Turkey. 
  11. Thomas Doherty puts brand management and ‘tone of voice guidelines’ (represented at Warwick, Manchester and Plymouth amongst others) in the context of security-driven erosion of academic freedom within the UK and around the world. As he puts it, “If one speaks in a tone that stands out from the brand – if one is independent of government at all – then, by definition, one is in danger of bringing the branded university into disrepute”. It occurs to me reading this that tone of voice needs to be read alongside civility and academic citizenship in terms of the emerging framework of regulation for academic freedom.
  12. Speaking in his second year of a tenure-track job, Eric Grollman questions the mentality that tenure will guarantee academic freedom. The particular focus here is on the Saida Grundy case, in which a college student who sought to launch a Conservative buzz feed style site, attacked the Professor who was due to start in a tenure track position at a different university. Her analysis of race and privilege led her to be accused of being a ‘bigot’. There’s an overview here. The college president expressed “concern and disappointment” about her tweets while defending her right to express these opinions. As Grollman puts it, it seems “Her work, public engagement, and perspective are all protected so long as it does not negatively affect the university”. Grollman makes a really useful distinction between (engaged) academic freedom and (disengaged) academic tolerance: the university begrudgingly performed the latter but made no attempt at the former.
  13. The Religious Studies professor Anthea Butler has created a Tumblr site documenting the abuse she receives online (HT Eric Grollman)

Bookmarking this so I can come back to it later. If I pursue this thread, Social Media For Academics is never going to get finished:

Reflecting their student populations, universities have long been bastions of oodles of consumer technology. We are awash in mobile phones, laptops, tablets, gaming consoles, and the like. If one combines mobile consumer technology with Big Data analytics, one gets a host of new possibilities ranging from new ways of providing students with basic support to new ways of getting students to learn what the faculty needs them to learn. If we can get the right information flowing through the minds of students, perhaps we can improve their success. We can potentially help transform the classroom from the 19th century to the 21st.

The byproducts of all this data are the new insights that can drive decision making in new ways. When one adds into the mix advanced data visualization capabilities, one gets something different for university administrators and faculty: better and approachable insight into university operations and even the minds of the students. Higher education is at the cusp of gathering an unprecedented amount of information using affordable tools and techniques.

I included some material on this in a lecture on big data I did for the MA course I was convening this year. But it just struck me how enormously significant this is for digital scholarship: the more academics embrace social media in circumstances where managers seek to unleash a big data tsunami of change, the more they will be monitored as part of such initiatives.

From What about Me?: the struggle for identity in a market-based society by Paul Verhaeghe:

Enron, an American multinational, introduced this practice at the end of the previous century, dubbing it the ‘Rank and Yank appraisal system’. The individual performances of its staff members were continually monitored and contrasted. On the basis of the results, one-fifth of its employees were sacked each year, but not before they had first been publicly humiliated by having their name, photo, and failure posted on the company website. It wasn’t long before total paranoia reigned and almost everyone was falsifying their figures. The widespread fraud led to a court case and the bankruptcy of the corporation. Despite that failure and the criminal practices associated with it, the Enron model is still in wide use. HR managers at multinationals are expected to apply the 20/70/10 rule. Twenty out of every hundred employees are the high flyers, seventy provide the critical mass, and ten should be given the boot, even if sufficient profit and growth has been achieved. Five minutes of Googling the search terms ‘Rank and Yank’ and ‘20/70/10 rule’ throws up hundreds of hits of company documents praising this approach, invariably referring to Spencer’s ‘survival of the fittest’ and Dawkins’ ‘selfish gene’.

Within the span of a single generation, however, this situation changed dramatically, with the result that, nowadays, university staff, especially if they are young, feel that they have very little influence over their careers. Instead, they are compelled to dance to the music of an invisible administration. They work flat out, but don’t find their jobs satisfying. They no longer identify at all with the organisation, and solidarity among colleagues has largely disappeared. This is the academic version of the Rank and Yank system, and the consequences are the same: production continues to increase on paper; an atmosphere of personal frustration, envy, fear, and paranoia is created; and creativity is effectively stifled. Anything that doesn’t fit within rigid parameters doesn’t count anymore. Thinking out of the box — that precondition for innovation and discovery — has become impossible.

Paradoxically enough, this quality-monitoring system fosters fraud, just as in the case of Enron, ranging from the Stapel affair in the Netherlands to the fraud with PhDs at German universities. (Not so long ago, a Dutch professor of social psychology, Diederik Stapel, was an authority in his field, renowned for his extensive empirical research and numerous publications in top journals. But his career came to an abrupt end when it turned out that he had fabricated and manipulated data on a massive scale. Nearly every newspaper found an explanation for such practices in the enormous pressure to publish, and the hyper-intense competition for jobs and promotion. In Germany in August 2009, mass fraud with doctoral titles came to light, in which various universities and hundreds of professors were involved.)

My first thought when reading this was that this system hasn’t yet come to higher education and that it might still be avoided. However this evening I found myself thinking back to this case, in which David Browne, Senior Associate on the Employment Team for SGH Martineau, suggested that even “academically brilliant” staff who damage the brand through “outspoken opinion” should be disciplined in order to set an example for the rest. For ‘Rank and Yank’ in Higher Education, perhaps even the “high flyers”, those who are valuable to the institution, aren’t safe unless they conform to a narrow range of behaviour consistent with the ‘brand’.

There’s a valuable analysis by John Holmwood on the Campaign for the Public University site of ‘brand protection’ in UK higher education. It’s a response to this blog post which was subsequently deleted (thankfully there are screenshots):

In a recent blog, David Browne, Senior Associate on the Employment Team for SGH Martineau, Legal firm with clients in Higher Education argued that universities face the problem that ‘high performing’ academics can damage their ‘university’s brand’ by their ‘outspoken opinions or general insubordination’.

Read the full post here. The logic of ‘brand protection’, as well as the vested interests likely to expand the scope of its pursuit, seem fairly entrenched so I suspect this is an issue which will begin to reoccur frequently.