Archive: Nov 2014

“There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy.”  ― Albert Camus

 “But in the end one needs more courage to live than to kill himself.”  ― Albert Camus

 “For if there is a sin against life, it consists perhaps not so much in despairing of life as in hoping for another life and in eluding the implacable grandeur of this life.”  ― Albert Camus

“…the habit of despair is worse than despair itself.”  ― Albert Camus

“I continue to believe that this world has no ultimate meaning. But I know that something in it has a meaning and that is man, because he is the only creature to insist on having one”  ― Albert Camus

“Find meaning. Distinguish melancholy from sadness. Go out for a walk. It doesn’t have to be a romantic walk in the park, spring at its most spectacular moment, flowers and smells and outstanding poetical imagery smoothly transferring you into another world. It doesn’t have to be a walk during which you’ll have multiple life epiphanies and discover meanings no other brain ever managed to encounter. Do not be afraid of spending quality time by yourself. Find meaning or don’t find meaning but ‘steal’ some time and give it freely and exclusively to your own self. Opt for privacy and solitude. That doesn’t make you antisocial or cause you to reject the rest of the world. But you need to breathe. And you need to be.” ― Albert Camus,




October 24, 2014

Tensions Between Faculty Members and Consultants Come to a Head in Minnesota

By Peter Schmidt

In the latest of several recent rebellions by faculty members around the nation against consultant-guided college-reorganization efforts, the two unions representing faculty members in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system have disavowed further involvement in an academic reorganization under way there.

Citing suspicions of administrative secrecy aroused by the system’s initially undisclosed hiring of McKinsey & Company, a prominent consulting firm, the leadership of the two unions voted unanimously on Thursday to tell the system’s chancellor, Steven J. Rosenstone, that the unions would no longer participate in the planning of Charting the Future, a systemwide reorganization effort.

A letter that the two unions’ presidents subsequently sent to Chancellor Rosenstone emphasizes that they have no objection to the proposed changes in the system, which were brought forth as part of an effort to improve access, affordability, and educational quality. Instead, the letter says, the unions continue to have “concerns about trust and transparency in the process” of planning the reorganization that, they have concluded, will not be resolved through their continued participation by holding two of up to 18 seats on each campus’s reorganization-planning teams.

“We are, therefore, declining to participate further in the Charting the Future process,” says the letter from Jim Grabowska, president of the Inter Faculty Organization, which represents faculty members at four-year universities, and Kevin Lindstrom, president of the Minnesota State College Faculty, which represents faculty members at two-year institutions.

The Minnesota flap is hardly the first in which the use of consultants by higher-education leaders has drawn faculty suspicions. McKinsey’s involvement attracted suspicions in an academic-reorganization effort at Columbia University two years ago, as reported in Capital, an online publication about New York politics.

Faculty members at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and the University of Texas at Austin complained about a lack of information in pushing back against an administrative-reorganization effort being guided by Accenture. Other consultants, such as Deloitte and Academic Strategy Partners, have similarly been criticized for their work at other colleges.

Transparency Concerns

In an email sent to the Minnesota system’s students, faculty, and staff on Thursday in response to rumors of the pending union vote, Mr. Rosenstone acknowledged that “some things could have been handled differently and some handled better” in the planning process. But he denied assertions that anyone had been denied adequate representation in the planning process, and said the process must continue, given its expected benefits.

“While the heads of the unions may have made the regrettable decision to walk away from the table, their seats will be there for them whenever they decide to return,” Mr. Rosenstone’s email said.

Although the union presidents’ letter to Mr. Rosenstone broadly protests their perception that they had not had enough voice in the planning process, much of it focuses on concerns stemming from the revelation last July that the system had given McKinsey at $2-million contract to help plan the effort. Later it was learned that McKinsey had been involved in the planning, on an unpaid basis, from its beginnings two years ago.

When union officials sought a copy of the contract given to McKinsey, the system provided them with a version that was heavily redacted at McKinsey’s request, saying the system needed to respect the firm’s desire to protect trade secrets. The system subsequently offered to let university officials see the full contract in private, on the condition it not be relayed elsewhere, but they refused to view it under such a restriction.

A McKinsey spokesman on Friday declined to comment, saying the firm had a longstanding policy of not commenting on its work with clients.

“McKinsey made the decision of what to redact, but then we had to support that,” Kim Olson, the system’s chief marketing and communications officer, said on Thursday. “They redacted their own trade secrets, and we did not fight that.”

In explaining the firm’s involvement in the effort, she said, “We have never done anything like this before, so we asked McKinsey for advice.” The firm’s recommendations, she said, did not deal with the substantive ideas to emerge from the planning process but with the structure of the process itself.

Outsiders’ Perspective

Jordan E. Kurland, associate general secretary of the American Association of University Professors, said his organization often heard from faculty members about outside consulting firms as threats to the shared governance of their institutions. The firms get accused of being “outside influences interfering, allegedly, with decisions by people involved with the institution,” and the backlash against their involvement is especially intense if administrators present decisions based on consultants’ advice as faits accomplis.

Among recent developments, as reported by the Associated Press, employees of the University of Northern Iowa have expressed frustration over their inability to obtain information from Deloitte Consulting about its proposals for an administrative reorganization of that state’s public universities. And the AAUP is investigating whether Felician College, a Roman Catholic institution in New Jersey, violated the rights of faculty members laid off this year at the advice of Academic Strategy Partners.

Steven C. Ward, a professor of sociology at Western Connecticut State University and the author of Neoliberalism and the Global Restructuring of Knowledge and Education, argued on Friday that faculty members’ suspicions of private consulting firms’ involvement in college affairs are “very founded.”

Such firms “are brought in as leverage,” he said. “They give this appearance of objective outside advice to various boards, and those boards can use that advice to leverage the sort of change they are trying to accomplish.”

Generally, Mr. Ward said, such firms give advice based on their experience advising the management of businesses, with their emphasis on efficiency, productivity, and other concerns related to increasing profits. Often, he said, the outcome is big cuts in spending on personnel or programs that “are destroying what public universities should be about.”

“It is generic managerial advice applied to public institutions,” Mr. Ward said, “and you can make the case that public institutions should not be run that way.”

But Dan Hurley, director of state relations and policy analysis for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, argued on Friday that Minnesota’s state-colleges system, which belongs to his organization, should be applauded for turning to a national firm for advice on navigating the profoundly changing higher-education landscape. He said the $2-million that the system had paid to McKinsey almost certainly will amount to a small fraction of the system’s long-term spending on reorganization, and is likely to bring “a positive return on investment” if it helps the system chart the right course.


Too few academics read widely outside their discipline. In truth, they often read little outside their specialty. Sociologists are no exception. Ironically, it is the human condition, in its most expansive understanding, that grounds our work as sociologists. This list of novels, essays, plays, and poems are some of the works that have provided meaning for my intellectual journey. I promise that they are works of substance, and that they will challenge you as they have challenged me. This list, and others like it, make us more fully human, humanistic sociologists, so to speak. The list is not static; what I list today has changed since yesterday and, hopefully, it will be transformed by tomorrow. That should be the story of the life your own mind.

The Castle, Kafka

Gilead, Marilynne Robinson

The Plague, Camus

Rules for Radicals, Alinsky

Inferno, Dante

A Pen Warmed up in Hell, Twain

Fierce Attachments, Gornick

Invisible Man, Ellison

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Wolfe

The Death of Ivan Ilyich & Other Stories, Tolstoy (Pervear & Voloshonsky translation)

Baudelaire: Poems, Baudelaire

Tao Te Ching, Lao-tzu

Selection from the Essays, Montaigne

The White Album, Didion

Three Plays, Wilson

From Dictatorship to Democracy, Sharp

Moby Dick, Melville

The Communist Manifesto, Marx

The Hamlet, Faulkner

Tell Me a Riddle, Olsen

Julius Ceasar, Shakespeare

The Wisdom Books [of the Bible], Alter

Escape From Freedom, Fromm

All the King’s Men, Warren

Talking into the Ear of a Donkey, Bly

On Liberty, Mill

Cat’s Cradle, Vonnegut

Learning to Drive, Pollitt

Three Plays, Wilder

The Teachings of the Compassionate Buddha, Burtt

Plath: Poems, Plath

A Gathering of Old Men, Gaines

Angels in America, Kushner

The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery

Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell

Ecce Homo, Nietzsche

Fear and Loathing in Los Vegas, Thompson

Absalom, Absalom!, Faulkner

Hughes: Poems, Hughes

Three Plays, Chekhov

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, McCullers

Hunger of Memory, Rodriguez

The Long Haul, Horton

The Vintage Sacks. Sacks

Blood Meridan, McCarthy

Faust Part I, Goethe

Notes of a Native Son, Son Baldwin

My Antonia, Cather

The Heart of William James, Richardson

John Berryman Selected Poems, Berryman

Selected Stories of Anton Checkhov, Pervear & Voloshonsky translation

Waiting for Godot, Beckett

Open Letters, Havel

Rimbaud: Poems, Rimbaud

Borderlands, Anzaldua

The Courage to Teach, Palmer

Slaughterhouse Five, Vonnegut

Macbeth, Shakespeare

The Search for Meaning, Frankl

Six American Poets, Conarroe

Collected Works, O’Connor

Under the Glacier, Laxness

Howl, Ginsberg

Arthur Miller: Collected Plays 1944-1961, Kushner

The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck

Darkwater, Du Bois

Montaigne’s Essays

Black Feminist Thought, Hill Collins

Facing Unpleasant Facts, Orwell

Philip Larkin Poems, Amis

The Road, McCarthy

Socrates, Buddha, Confucius and Jesus, Jaspers

Crises of the Republic, Arendt

In Dubious Battle, Steinbeck

The Coast of Utopia, Stoppard

Frost: PoemsHollander

Drawing the Line Once Again, Goodman

Plainsong, Haruf

The Rebel, Camus

The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness, Niebuhr