Archive for April, 2008

Secrecy is Pervasive Throught Academia

April 14, 2008

Although supposedly dedicated to the search for truth, virtually every aspect of academic life in America today is shrouded in “obfuscating secrecy,” a distinguished university economist writes.

From the selection of trustees and presidents to faculty hiring, promotion, and the awarding of tenure, most university business “is carried on behind closed doors in defiance of open-meeting laws” and “hidden from public scrutiny,” writes David Whitten, professor of economics emeritus, retired, of Auburn University, Alabama.

Parents of applicants may be aware that admissions committees do not ordinarily share their reasons for selecting or rejecting them, but few recognize how pervasive secrecy in Academia may also affect them as taxpayers from learning about political favoritism, payoffs, and conflicts of interest.

“Because secrecy surrounds trustee selection, confirmation, and service, citizens and voters have to determine in ignorance whether elected officials are putting the best people in positions of authority over educational institutions,” Whitten writes in “The Long Term View,” (Volume 6) published by the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover.  Trustee selection, he writes, is based “on political considerations and financial contributions,” particularly on the boards of public universities to which governors often name individuals that have kicked in to finance their political campaigns. At private universities, trustees often are named not for their expertise but for their endowments.

“The appointment is a payoff, a tribute, a point of prestige often pointed to with pride by trustees who never darkened the doors of a college as a student,” Whitten writes, adding that “it is common” for trustees “to financially benefit from their connection with the institution.” As examples of universities whose trustees allegedly had benefited financially from their posts, Whitten cited the University of Tennessee, Alamo Community College of San Antonio, Tex., and his own Auburn University.

Universities routinely conceal the names of those they are considering for the presidency and newspapers such as The Cincinnati Post have had to sue to keep search committees (in this instance the University of Cincinnati) from meeting in secret in violation of open meeting laws, Whitten writes. Additionally, the Kansas City Star clashed with the University of Missouri over internal audit records and the University of Hawaii’s regents were sued by a professional journalism society over secrecy about the university president’s salary, disclosed to be $442,000. Whitten also cited like secrecy fights between Academia and the press involving the University of Minnesota and Indiana University.

Most of the work by academic boards of regency and trustees “is done behind closed doors unless there is someone to bring charges,” Whitten writes. He cited the example of a 1993 audit of Boston University by the State’s Attorney General into conflict of interest, questionable decisions about executive pay, and negligence “by establishing new governance and management policies.” Whitten said, “In a classic example of a trustee smoke screen, (Boston) university officials would not disclose details about the policy changes.”

Whitten goes on to say, “Faculty hiring and tenure and promotion decisions are confidential, so young men and women hired or denied a position, promoted or turned down, tenured or released do not know if their fate was sealed by their performance, politics, or circumstances over which they had no control.”

In hiring, faculty interviewers meet in secret and “the candidate is not likely to ever know what occurred at the meeting or in the vote, even if a job is offered and taken.”  And after three years on the job, the professor who has not made significant progress will be released, Whitten writes. “There may be a vote by the tenured faculty, but the reasons for the decision are not shared with the candidate.”

As for admissions, “When parents try to scout a path through the muddle of admissions policies, they find themselves rebuffed by the authorities, who have no interest in opening the process to scrutiny and thereby risking loss of their power of discretion,” Whitten writes.

Secrecy even exists in the very process of accrediting institutions of higher learning by associations that are public service corporations whose operations are “rarely a straightforward, open process with operating rules clearly stated.” Instead, Whitten continues, “Unwritten rules, developed and applied in secret, can be more important in a final accreditation decision than the stated ones.” He cited the example of the American Bar Association that accredits most law schools as an organization that allegedly demands “higher-than-market faculty salary levels and costly, unnecessary expenditures in virtually every other aspect of law schools, thereby forcing tuition and fees too high for most minorities, working class people, and graduates of less than elite colleges and universities.”

“Due to secrecy, nobody outside the small accrediting in-group can assess whether schools are being treated equally, whether there is unfairness among schools, and whether there is favoritism for schools with connections,” the economist points out. He notes that, by contrast, in England, Holland, and New Zealand, accreditation documents are public and available online, so that such vital judgments can be made.

The benefits of secrecy, Whitten concludes, are largely limited to a select few who take advantage of the information at their disposal but not available to others. “The costs are borne by society, taxpayers who are denied an unobstructed view of activities carried out in their name and at their expense, by scholars kept from making the most of their careers, and by students and their parents, with limited information, who are forced to make life-path decisions about where the students should attend college. And secrecy affects academic institutions themselves through an accreditation process that reinforces a cycle of confidentiality at the expense of society.” 

The Long Term View is published by the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover, Mass., a law school purposefully dedicated to the education of minorities, immigrants, and students from low- and middle-income families who would otherwise not have the opportunity to enter the legal profession. Views expressed by contributors are not necessarily those of MSL.  #

Law School Dean Asks for Tougher Punishment of White Collar Criminals and of National Leaders Who Make Illegal Wars

April 11, 2008

April 11, 2008

The U.S. will continue its downward spiral until it starts prosecuting and adequately punishing white collar criminals and political leaders for their crimes, a prominent law school dean writes.

It is necessary that “the people who lie, cheat, steal, rob the middle class, defy laws of war and American domestic law about war, be prosecuted, be put in the slammer, and go to the gallows, when and if found guilty of a crime,” writes Lawrence Velvel of the Massachusetts School of Law on his website “VelvelOnNationalAffairs.com”.

This country “has rewarded crooks with billions of dollars (but) has let the middle class go downhill (as they lose jobs too), rarely punishes, and even more rarely punishes severely, the white collar and political criminals who do these things….” Velvel wrote.

These horrors are unlikely ever to end until people like Lay, Ebbers, Kozlowski, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, etc., etc., “go to the slammer or, in the case of the criminal warmongers and torture mongers, go to the gallows,” Velvel wrote.

Velvel singled out among business criminals the late Ken Lay, head of the bankrupt Enron; Bernie Ebbers, former CEO of the bankrupt World.Com, found guilty of fraud and conspiracy; and Leo Kozlowski, former CEO of Tyco International, given an indeterminate prison sentence of eight to 25 years for stealing hundreds of millions of dollars from the manufacturing conglomerate.

“Unless and until this (prosecution) starts being done, and I stress the need for the gallows when the crime warrants it, we will never be without major crooks, without causers of major disasters, in big business, in government, in economics and in war,” Velvel wrote.

Velvel said those convicted should “be put in real slammers,” and “not in one of those federal hotel type slammers” that “we will in the long run keep getting more of the same. We will recoil from one disaster only to find ourselves facing a similar economic or warmongering disaster five or ten or twenty years from now.”

“As for the warmongering side,” he continued, “who, if he or she lived through Viet Nam, would have thunk it could happen again, yet Bush and Cheney and their fellow mental dwarfs saw to it that it did.”

Velvel went on to write that Illinois Senator Barack Obama “does seem the only presidential candidate likely to change much of the abhorrent in this country.  But a permanent shift away from the abhorrent — here no less than in countries which once were dire threats to a decent world but now seem at least as good democracies as we are, if not perhaps even better ones, Germany and Japan—will require prosecution and maximum punishment of those responsible for the criminal disasters.”

The law school dean’s comments, published last March 25, represent his personal views and not those of  Massachusetts School of Law(MSL). MSL is an independent, non-profit law school founded expressly for the purpose of providing a quality, affordable legal education to minorities, immigrants, and students from low-income backgrounds generally that could not otherwise afford to obtain a legal education.

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(Further information: Jeff Demers, Massachusetts School of Law at Andover (978) 681-0800 demers@mslaw.edu, or Sherwood Ross, Ross Associates, Miami, Florida (305) 205-8281 or sherwoodr1@yahoo.com .)

MERGERS OF CORPORATE GIANTS NOT LIKELY TO BENEFIT CONSUMERS

April 9, 2008

MERGERS OF CORPORATE GIANTS NOT LIKELY TO BENEFIT CONSUMERS

It is doubtful the merger of corporate giants enhances their creativity or benefits consumers, a distinguished authority on business regulation writes. “There is little if any evidence that increased corporate size in already-large national and international firms produces greater technological innovation,” writes Elizabeth Sanders, Professor of Government at Cornell University.

“To the contrary, it probably leads to less, given lower competitive pressures, and the starving of research in debt-burdened companies.” Sanders writes the annual value of corporate consolidations — led by telecommunications, banking, broadcasting, chemical, and pharmaceutical companies—jumped 100-fold between 1980 and 1999, reaching three trillion dollars in the latter year, with cross-border mergers making up one third of the total.

“After the dust has settled, thousands of employees fired, surplus executives generously pensioned off and a vast new debt accumulated, the merged giant usually performs less well than did its major components formerly, and the stock price goes down in recognition of less favorable prospects,” Sanders writes in an article titled “Antitrust and American Democracy,” published in The Long Term View, a journal of informed opinion published by the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover.

Fifty-one of the 100 largest economies in the world are not countries but global corporations, Sanders points out, and the top 200 corporations now account for over a quarter of the world’s economic activity. “Consolidation has unleashed behavior for which the term ‘robber baron’ seems too tame,” Sanders writes. “Many mergers appear designed more to create new opportunities for the enrichment of CEOs and favored stock purchasers (and to gratify testosterone-fueled empire building?) rather than to shuck off excess capacity, create new ‘synergies’ or reap economies of scale.” “We have seen the shocking results in 2001-2002, as giant after giant reveals financial chicanery that enriched the managerial elite while looting the company, to the severe disadvantage of workers, pensioners, stockholders, and communities.” Sanders writes of “a broad expectation among businesses and citizens that conspiracies in restraint of trade, and other methods of unfair competition, will be prosecuted.”

The author notes the major antitrust laws of the 20th century — the Clayton and Federal Trade Commission Acts of 1914, the 1950 Celler-Kefauver Act, and the 1976 Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act—all originated in and were passed by Democratic Congresses.” Under President Ronald Reagan, by contrast, “consumer welfare” was “conceptualized almost solely in terms of the price of goods and services, stripping away the broader democratic concerns that had once been at the center of antitrust philosophy.” With few cases worth prosecution, Sanders noted, antitrust staff and budgets under Reagan were slashed, so that Antitrust Division personnel in the Justice Department dropped to half the level under President Jimmy Carter, while “merger and monopoly case filings dropped to half the level of 1970, and only the most extreme horizontal mergers were now suspect; vertical and conglomerate mergers were of little or no concern.” Sanders said if there is to be any revival of antitrust activity it will have to come from state attorneys general acting in behalf of state residents or from the European Union. The world, however, needs a strong U.S. antitrust policy, Sanders writes, not only because the U.S. worked hard over more than a century to develop one but because it is urgently needed today. “It is time, not to abandon it(antitrust policy), but to share it, to reinforce the fledgling efforts of other nations to develop their own policies, and to cooperate in the development of a tough international policy against economic concentration and corporate bullying.”

The Massachusetts School of Law, Andover, is purposefully dedicated to the education of minorities, immigrants, and students from low- and middle-income backgrounds that would not otherwise be able to obtain a legal education. Views expressed in The Long Term View are not necessarily those of the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover.

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April 9, 2008

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