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Scrutiny and Standards for Branch Campuses

April 9, 2009

The growing trend of North American colleges creating branches abroad threatens to erode the quality of higher education and to undercut the rights of faculty members, according to a statement issued Wednesday by the American Association of University Professors and the Canadian Association of University Teachers.

"The pace of overseas expansion also threatens to affect the character of higher education in the United States and Canada. The sheer number of faculty employed in foreign operations is increasing, and most are contingent employees on temporary contracts. Because foreign programs and campuses are usually less costly, colleges and universities may make decisions favoring their development over more expensive U.S.- and Canadian-based equivalents staffed by tenure-track faculty," the statement says. "Continued pursuit of this path will accelerate the casualization of the academic workforce, taking its toll on the quality of instruction as well as adversely affecting faculty rights."

The statement asserts that "vigilance" will be required of faculties in the United States and Canada and that they should insist, through collective bargaining where possible, on the right to set missions and curriculums for these campuses, and to have a say on whether projects are started and how they are run. The general theme of the statement is that the standards and procedures used by campuses in the United States should be followed when American colleges create foreign branches. Generally, the American institutions setting up branches have pledged to follow normal academic procedures, with significant faculty roles in decision-making. But for a variety of reasons, campuses abroad are significantly different -- with more complicated hiring issues, lack of years of precedents on how things are done, and -- in some cases -- host countries for which democracy and academic freedom are relatively new ideas or haven't full taken hold.

The AAUP and the CAUT take care in their statement to note that there are many positive aspects about the international ties of North American colleges. But the statement rejects a business-style approach to promoting higher education abroad. "The expansion of higher education opportunities is a welcome feature of today’s more internationally integrated world. Not surprisingly, these international initiatives are proving attractive both to private investors and to colleges and universities," the statement says. "Advocates of private investment now refer routinely to a multitrillion-dollar global market in educational services, and efforts to open up this lucrative market further are driving bilateral or multilateral trade agreements and negotiations. As a result, globalization has become one of the principal means of privatizing and commercializing higher education."

Further, the statement says that "education should not be a commodity, bought and sold in the international marketplace and subject to the rules of competitive trade that govern a deregulated global economy. Participating in the movement for international education can rest on laudable educational grounds. But those grounds will be jeopardized if hard-earned standards and protections are weakened rather than exported."

Citing numerous international statements on standards for higher education and employment, the statement suggests colleges have particular responsibilities to employees abroad -- including non-faculty employees -- to ensure fair treatment and wages.

Colleges are also urged to consider the political and judicial realities of the countries where they are creating branches. "[A]s the U.S. and Canadian presence in higher education grows in countries marked by authoritarian rule, basic principles of academic freedom, collegial governance, and nondiscrimination are less likely to be observed. In a host environment where free speech is constrained, if not proscribed, faculty will censor themselves, and the cause of authentic liberal education, to the extent it can exist in such situations, will suffer," says the statement by the two faculty groups.

The growth of branch campuses has for some time alarmed some faculty members, while many others have not focused on the issue. Generally, institutions setting them up have been quick to say that costs are being covered -- and that there is potential for the branch to help the home campus.

How colleges will respond to the AAUP's goals is unclear. At last year's meeting of the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources, officials from universities with branch campuses said that plans to staff them with faculty members from the home campus were hard to carry out. Many professors lack the interest or skills to move to the other side of the world. As a result, colleges described how they were trying to attract talent -- generally paying on different pay scales, but not necessarily offering tenure.

A spokesman for Northwestern University, which just started a journalism program in Qatar, said that a majority of faculty this year are tenured or tenure-track from Evanston. But on the question of treatment of non-faculty employees, he said that the Qatar Foundation is building the facilities, and so that while Northwestern would monitor the situation, the university is not in charge of that part of the project.

Richard Toscan is vice provost for international affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University, which has been in Qatar since 1998. Toscan said that of 38 faculty members in Qatar, about 3 are tenured or tenure-track from Richmond. The rest were hired for Qatar, and while they have various forms of job security based on how long they have taught, they do not have tenure. Toscan said, however, that they have "everything but," including faculty committees based on the main campus doing hiring, setting standards for the curriculum and so forth.

Toscan said that one idea under consideration is to offer tenure that would apply to Qatar but not the university's main campus. Why not offer full tenure? Toscan said that even though the program in Qatar is doing well, there are no sure things about the future. "I think these are campuses that are fully funded by the Qatar Foundation. It's one thing to guarantee state of Virginia funding, but I don't think we're as confident we can be to guarantee lifetime employment in Qatar."

Philip G. Altbach, director of the Center for International Higher Education, at Boston College, praised the two professors' groups for issuing the statement. He said that their joint position "raises some important questions -- especially about faculty teaching in those institutions." A central problem, he said is that "none of those institutions with branch campuses want to make permanent commitments to teaching staff."

 

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