Saturday, November 12, 2005

File under: Oh, come on!

Check out this article from The Chronicle of Higher Education Anonymous left us as a comment below. If some chairs and DUGS wanted access to Blackboards of striking GAs for purposes of "continuity of instruction" that's one thing. It's not a rationale for adding two Deans to every GA's (and a bunch of faculty's) Blackboards. Were Sonntag and Kalb going to scab for all the GA-taught courses? I don't think so.

NYU Professors Blast Inclusion of Administrators on Course-Management Sites


Faculty members at New York University are accusing administrators of surreptitiously listing deans and directors of undergraduate studies as instructors on course-management sites, allowing those administrators to monitor course discussions and other activity.

Although the administrators' names were quickly removed after they were discovered, the incident has exacerbated an already fractious environment at the university, where a strike by graduate students has divided professors and administrators. Many faculty members who support the graduate students have refused to cross picket lines and are holding classes off the campus. Some of them accuse administrators of infiltrating the course-management sites specifically to monitor strike-related discussions.

But Richard Foley, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and Matthew S. Santirocco, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, explained to professors in a letter that administrators were added to management sites for courses in which graduate students were teaching to ensure "continuity of instruction" during the strike. The letter said that some departments had been consulted on the move, but acknowledged that "it would have been better if there had been complete consultation and advance notification."

The deans did not respond to calls from The Chronicle on Thursday.

John Beckman, a spokesman for the university, said that deans and directors of undergraduate studies should have been added only to classes in which graduate students were listed as primary instructors. Glitches and errors led to listings on the sites of professors, he said. He said that the university's action was "forthright" because some departments were consulted and because the names of administrators were plainly listed among course attendees.

But faculty members, who say they don't regularly look at the lists of course attendees, are outraged, calling the university's action Orwellian. A group of faculty members called Faculty Democracy, which supports the graduate-student union, sent a letter to John E. Sexton, president of the university, accusing the administration of "invasive intimidation."

"We consider this seizing of access to the communication between professors and their registered students to be an intensely unethical act, one that is in the deepest violation of academic freedom," the letter said.

"Nothing has convinced me that the graduate students need a union to protect them from NYU more than this demonstration of Big Brotherism," said Jeffrey T. Sammons, a professor of history, who likened the move to a declaration of war against the faculty. "It's just unreal."

Christine B. Harrington, a professor of politics and law and society, was the first to discover additional names on her class list, including those of Otto Sonntag and Richard Kalb, two associate deans of arts and sciences.

Ms. Harrington, a member of Faculty Democracy, said she was "stunned" and assumed right away that the oversight by the deans was somehow connected to the strike. "I thought, My God, it's gotten nasty," she said.

"I e-mailed other faculty and asked if that had happened to them, and swarms of e-mail just started coming in," she said. "It was fairly widespread in the College of Arts and Sciences and in the Tisch School," NYU's school of the performing arts.

Even faculty members who are directors of undergraduate studies had no idea that they would be listed on course-management sites of their colleagues and graduate students. Rebecca E. Karl, an associate professor of East Asian studies and history, said that she has been in a "perpetual state of outrage" since learning that her name was listed along with administrators on her colleagues' course-management sites.

"Fortunately, my colleagues are absolutely clear on where I stand on [the strike], and none of them suspect me of having infiltrated their sites," she said. She said that directors of undergraduate studies in foreign-language departments, which rely heavily on graduate-student teaching, were similarly shocked.

She dismissed the letter of explanation from Mr. Foley and Mr. Santirocco. "They consulted with departments that were going to echo back to them their own views, with one or two token exceptions" she said.

"They wish to box this into a problem of procedure," she said, "and it's not a problem of procedure but a problem of morality and ethics."


Blogger specter of marx said...

Agreed. It doesn't make sense for those at the top to add administrators (including deans???) to nearly all Blackboard sites. If the purpose *really* was to ensure the quality of undergrad edu, wouldn't it make more sense to survey depts/faculty to see which ones felt they *needed* access, and then implement the procedure on a case-by-case basis? Or, for goodness sakes, at least alert the faculty en masse that they're moving forward with a university-wide action???

NYU's non-transparency and unilateral, top-down decisions are what make this whole deal SKETCH SKETCH SKETCH! And despite their claims otherwise, this decision was indeed covert and unilateral. It's an utter affront to the faculty. Clearly, NYU pays only lip service to the value of academic freedom.

And what's with these system "glitches and errors?" Take note once *again* how NYU (like the Bush administration, might I add) uses incompetence as an excuse for its violation of the academic values we hold most fundamental: freedom and democracy.

11/12/2005 10:20 PM  

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