USC Academic Senate
A Letter from the President
In the wake of last year's attack on the World Trade Center, the federal government has shown increasing interest in many of the activities central to the academic mission. This new concern is affecting the student body via greater surveillance of international students from selected countries; as of January 2003, university administrations will be required to furnish federal authorities with considerable information on such student as a means of monitoring potential security threats. Feasibly, faculty may be asked in the future to keep closer records on student attendance and progress in order to comply with these new requirements. The closer scrutiny of visa issuance such policies presuppose may also in time affect overseas faculty from some countries.
But it is not solely the movement of overseas student s and faculty that is likely to be affected. As Eric Heikkila pointed out in his Senate white paper, summer 2002, knowledge itself has become a newly re-politicized issue. (Heikkila's paper, along with the other white papers written for the Senate in 2002, may be found on-line at http://www.usc.edu/acsen.) Alongside material concerns over who has access to potentially dangerous materials and technologies in academic as well as government and commercial laboratories, this heightened awareness is apparent in other controversial ways. Websites naming as unpatriotic pro-Islamicists or anti-Semites have begun to spring up. University administrators have reprimanded faculty for unpopular opinions. Elite law schools, USC's among them, have been forced to accept military recruiters or jeopardize university-wide federal funding, and though the enabling legislation was passed during the Clinton years, its implementation came only in the wake of the new security consciousness. Does any of this constitute a threat to academic freedom? Bill Tierney, in a provocative article in this issue of the Forum, thinks it does.
These difficult questions will surely be amongst those raised in USC's new strategic planning initiative, looking at the university's role and place in 21st century society. Another of the major issues that will face us is the relationship between information and knowledge, and hence - in the age of the internet - between knowledge and technology. This link is perhaps nowhere more pressing in academic settings than in the funding and scope of library and technology resources. In a recent issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education (August 9, 2002), research libraries in North American universities were ranked. The consonance between library holdings and external rankings of merit was striking. USC ranked 40th, suggesting that libraries remain a significant index of quality for tertiary research institutions. I would not suggest that quality and quantity should be simplistically equated, or that such rankings are always meaningful. Nonetheless the parallel between our overall ranking as an institution and the ranking of our library system by holdings struck me as not entirely without significance. There is a fundamental difference between books and electronic resources, and in an age of such distinctive inequality, even the rise of e-books fails to address the problem. For at USC we face, along with many other institutions, not only a library that has been consistently under-valued and under-funded, but huge inequities in technology resources. As a result, the provision of more and more electronic and on-line resources for research and teaching - marvelous though they are - fails to address the problem fully. Not all computers are created equal, and those who limp along on older technology often face difficulties in even accessing the treasure-trove of resources now available. The emphasis we have placed on the provision of internet resources can thus compound rather than solve the problem for many faculty, even while in some disciplines the provision of increasing access to on-line journals and the like has enriched our research capabilities. But if we are in danger of creating greater inequities in access, this will be a problem that can only exacerbate the existing weakness in our holdings. It is my hope that the plans drawn up by a committee under former Senate President Bill Dutton's sterling leadership in 2001-2002, now under discussion with a view to implementation, will consistently and respectfully address these issues. In the next issue of the Forum we will report on these activities.
We hope you will find articles of interest to you
in this issue. They include, among others, a discussion of non-tenure track
faculty, the problem of increasing diversity at USC, reasons for the upward
trend in the cost of health benefits, and new ways of handling student course
evaluations. We also include two articles which deal with the always-painful
issue of grievances and dismissals of faculty members. The Senate continues to
work hard not only on the issues discussed here, but on a host of issues of
importance to faculty well-being. If there are questions you would like us to
consider, we are always happy to hear from concerned faculty.