The Sandy Hooks debacle sent shock waves throughout the American education system and by extension, compelled other forward thinking nations to review their respective educational systems. In unison, the community around the Sandy Hooks Elementary School, the nation and the international community at large rallied behind the victims of the tragic events. However, one academician in particular shocked the world, the nation and more so, the victims of the fatal shootings (Jaschik, 2015). An associate professor, James Tracy tenured with the Florida Atlantic University’s School of Communication and Media Studies related the events to some conspiracy theory. Parents of one of the school killings victims, Noah Pozner, came out strongly to oppose the intimidation, harassment and criminal activity fueled by Tracy’s allegations of some conspiracy theory (Jaschik, 2015). As such, victims of the school shooting incident sought to compel the higher education in which James Tracey was tenured to fire him for his conspiracy theory claims and the resultant damage on victims therein. The issue concerns hire education governance which will be the central theme of this paper. This paper seeks to analyze the Sandy hooks Elementary School shooting incident and Tracy’s conspiracy theory concerning the anguish such perceptions caused anguish to the victims of the debacle.
Facts of the Case Study
An article published in the Inside Higher Ed website titled University Moves to Fire Sandy Hooks Denier, highlighted the variety of issues that affect the society’s perception of the country’s higher education system of governance (Jaschik, 2015). The article provides two opposing notions on the course of action that the Florida Atlantic University took on James Tracy. The university explained that it was in the process of dismissing the associate professor. Such revelations were founded on the information that his conspiracy theories on the Sandy Hooks incident were detrimental to the institution of higher education’s faculty to which Tracy was tenured (Jaschik, 2015); (Montgomery & Kaufman, 2003). The institution, however, fell short on explaining the real reasons as to why it was to take such action on the said instructor.
Jaschik (2015) sheds light into the intricate details as to why the Florida Atlantic University took to opting to dismiss the academician. Tracy had endeavored to point out that the Sandy Hooks fatalities were part of a conspiracy theory aimed at instituting tougher gun control legislation within the US. The parents of an actual victim took to publishing an essay as to why the institution should have sought to dismiss James Tracy. Their main argument was that Tracy had previously indicated in his conspiracy theory oriented blogs that he was affiliated to the Florida Atlantic University (Jaschik, 2015). The institution took to cautioning the associate professor against linking his personal endeavors with the institution. As such, the university sought to have James Tracy incorporate a disclaimer that categorically stated that his views were independent of the institution’s views on the issue at hand.
James Tracy continued having massive media coverage to his unconventional perception of the school shootings and his repeated allegations that they were all part of some conspiracy theory. As much as he incorporated the disclaimer in his blog posts, Veronique and Lenny Pozner, parents of a six year old victim of the shootings pointed out that he was already well known of his links with the university hence the need to have him dismissed (Jaschik, 2015). Indeed, the victim’s parents point out that as much as he disassociated the school from his defamatory blogs against the victimized community, his actions are tantamount to extracurricular misconduct. Thus, such conduct has had adverse effect on the institution of higher education and may continue to do so should James Tracy not desist from such actions (Montgomery & Kaufman, 2003).
The university, however pointed that James Tracy could file an appeal after his dismissal from the institution should he feel aggrieved by such action against him (Jaschik, 2015). This definitely turned the situation in favor of James Tracy while dismissing the views of the victimized members of the Sandy Hooks School community (Jaschik, 2015). As such, James Tracy is said to have pointed out that he was simply exercising his freedom of free speech and that extensive research supports his allegations.
Analysis and Application of Course Material to Case Study
Primary Role of the University
The American society in particular, has grown in leaps and bounds with regard to economic, political, social and even cultural development as well as prosperity (Emmeche, 2014). Much of these developments are attributed to individual interests, though much more can be accredited to the development of American universities from the times of colonial colleges to present day higher education institutions (Emmeche, 2014). It is important to point out that for a very long time, the productivity and innovative outcomes of the American institutions of higher education have been unrivalled in the entire world. As such, numerous students from all regions in the world cross American borders with the sole aim of benefitting from the academic endeavors associated with these institutions (Emmeche, 2014. Indeed, America’s continued prosperity, capital resources, investment in academic endeavors, research as well as progressive development have fueled the prevalence of such opportunities (Emmeche, 2014); (Altbach, Gumport & Berdahl, 2011). The institutions of higher education with American borders thus continue to pride in their high quality of educational services, integrity and degrees of freedom accorded to groups and individuals herein to follow self-interests. As such, American institutions of higher education allow members to interrelate freely with no fright of recrimination, to dissent openly and endeavor in non-routine activities requiring innovation, and creativity as well as express unique viewpoints (Emmeche, 2014). Such freedoms within American colleges and universities are also associated with the high quality of academic outcomes witnessed therein.
As is evident in the James Tracy case, it is apparent to some knowledgeable academic observers that some of these institutions are slowly but gradually losing sight of their original purpose thus undermining the country’s unmatched historical productivity (Emmeche, 2014). The personal endeavors of James Tracy project a situation where research is ideologically trivialized. In as much as he is an instructor to three higher education courses; American Media Society, Society, Tech; Public Opinion Modernity; and Culture of Conspiracy (Jaschik, 2015). His exploits have had an adverse effect on the repute of the Florida Atlantic University and the aggrieved members of the American society thus undermining the core role of higher education institutions. His sanctity of conscience can thus be questioned.
The outcome whereby the FAU deemed it fit for James Tracy to have the option of appealing against his dismissal exhibits a situation that may tend to further compromise the American higher education credibility and integrity (Emmeche, 2014). Some academicians opine that some overly idealistic as well as high-minded faculty staffs seem to have fostered the formation of intellectual cartels with protectionist notions. The downside of such outcomes includes the outright rewarding mediocrity, conformity, and complacency to group standards instead of nurturing the development of critical thought, innovation and truth telling (Emmeche, 2014). As such, higher education sole aim is towards enabling understanding human society and the world in general in an effort to further enable society to interact with diverse environments in well informed and through intellectually responsible means.
The Four Core University Models
According to Plante & Collier (1989) universities and other institutions of higher education have been established for very diverse purposes. Some have been formed to preserve ancient faiths, to agitate new faiths, train skilled workforces, appraise professional standards, multiply the limits of knowledge, and even offer education to the young. Taking upon institutions of higher education as social institutions with reference to Max Weber’s sociological explanation of the state, universities are defined by purposes and ends. Relative to the four university models as postulated by Plante & Collier, each one of them is simply an ideological construct embodying definite ideal set and ordered on a fitting internal authority principle (1989); (Altbach, Gumport & Berdahl, 2011). As such, these four models can be best perceived as ideal types and not actual model. The description of such ideal types of universities enables scholars to relate some prevalent connections appearing between specific perceptions of university education, entrance requirements, social conditions and roles that universities naturally follow.
Relative to the topic under discussion in this paper, there is the inherent aim to understand and furthermore, clarify the realities of university education. This is to accurately shed light on conflicting ideals which tend to be intertwined into unfamiliar institutional combinations (Plante & Collier, 1989). The four ideal types of universities are as scholarship sanctuary, as a professional training camp, as a contemporary social service station and as the assembly lines for the establishment of the modern man. The initial type closely related to a university’s history, the second one is an image of its current character while the third appertains to the future direction of the institution (Plante & Collier, 1989). The final model as basically an anti-model such that it’s a radical re-evaluation of the university (Plante & Collier, 1989).
Given that James Tracy’s attempts to dispel the events that occurred in the Sandy Hooks Elementary School and further misconduct with references to the normalcy of conscience among affected community member, he portrays FAU as the fourth model. As such, FAU while taking actions to compel Tracy to disassociate his blog posts with the institution and the subsequent option of an appeal after being fired reveal the complex nature of the higher education institution (Miller & Nadler, 2009); (Montgomery & Kaufman, 2003). Therefore as Plante & Collier provide, the FAU can be considered as a multiversity such that, there is a relatively high degree of incoherence (1989). Such incoherence is evidenced by its novel and expanding programs against the traditionally established activities. As such, the FAU, though its actions tends to consider James Tracy’s credentials as highly sought after and scarce expertise (Plante & Collier, 1989). As such, the FAU as a multiversity may fail to exhibit any economic sense in its treatments of societal vindications against the associate professor but consider his exploits profitable from the social perspective. As such, the FAU as a multiversity has presented itself as a social service station (Plante & Collier, 1989).
Challenges to Governance Structures in Universities
A university’s organizational structure can be best describes as concentric circles in series such that they consists of a central circle with other secondary circles forming around it (Gayle, Tewarie & White Jr., 2011); (Montgomery & Kaufman, 2003). The central circle consist the institution’s presidents, faculties, trustee and senior administrators. The other preceding circles basically consisting of alumni, members of local communities, state governors, students, state legislators, higher education boards, accrediting institutions, the federal departments, as well as higher education bodies (Gayle, Tewarie & White Jr., 2011).
Based on the contemporary definition of governance, it involves authoritative decision making processes and the organizational structure on all issues of significance to stakeholders, whether internal or external (Gayle, Tewarie & White Jr., 2011). Concepts of management within this concept relate to the implementation on agreed upon management decisions while leadership relates to the processes as well as roles enabling individuals influence the decision making processes and subsequent implementation paradigms (Miller & Nadler, 2009).
The James Tracy issue thus purports to imply that the leadership at FAU can be considered as illusionary (Gayle, Tewarie &nWhite Jr., 2011). Such a description of the aforementioned leader arises from the two contrasting viewpoints on firing as well as offering James Tracy an opportunity to appeal the decisions to dismissing him from his tenure as associate professor. The leader at FAU may thus be pressured to reach such decisions based on relational dialogue or interpersonal influence (Kinicki & Williams, 2011); (Gayle, Tewarie & White Jr., 2011). Interpersonal influences arise when interconnected groups disagrees, argues, negotiates and plans up to such a point one individual becomes the only person of influence. Relational dialogue on the other hand, entails organizational situations where individuals work together, engage collaborative learning and dialogue to realize common objectives (Gayle, Tewarie & White Jr, 2011). Relational dialogue incorporates the appreciation of differential values, belief systems and beliefs (Miller & Nadler, 2009). As such, the decisions arrived at by the FAU leadership on the Tracy James matter seems to have first invoked interpersonal influences in reaching the decision to fire the associate professor. Conversely, relational dialogue resulted in offering him the opportunity to appeal against such a decision (Gayle, Tewarie & White Jr, 2011).
Concerning performance budgeting, the ability of faculties to exploit information technology in offering learning instruction and assessing student performance within and beyond classrooms cannot be accurately ascertained (Kinicki & Williams, 2011); (Gayle, Tewarie & White Jr, 2011). James Tracy’s ability to push forward his conspiracy theory agenda via information technology advances may in some circles be considered as an acceptable indicator of institutional progress towards what can be referred to as best practices. That is, with reference to the use of information technology (Gayle, Tewarie & White Jr, 2011). However, public perceptions tend to cause alarm among some quotas while receiving a surprisingly huge degree of interest with reference to a sensitive issue questioning the intent of state and federal governments.
It is important to note that James Tracy as an academician can be perceived as championing for the faculty for which he is a member. The courses he teaches which include American Media Society, Society, Tech; Public Opinion Modernity; and Culture of Conspiracy all invite controversy among the general public (Jaschik, 2015). As much as the Pozners pointed out that Tracy’s academic exploits could lead to the tarnishing of the institution’s image, one cannot ignore an integral facet of faculty development, support and encouragement from a faculty’s leadership (Plante & Collier, 1989); (Montgomery & Kaufman, 2003); (Kinicki & Williams, 2011). In fact, one can point a finger at the Pozner’s attempts to create obstacles towards faculty leadership development on the basis of Tracy’s purported soiling of the faculty’s self-image.
With this in mind, the main decision makers within specific academic domains should be continuously and consistently supported towards greater academic freedoms and tenure (Plante & Collier, 1989). More so, for administrators with an aim of incorporating faculty views in decision making should not be confused with regard to academia perspectives and the role of administrators. As such, the academic culture is one that underscores the fact that teaching should not be partial to students alone (Plante & Collier, 1989). It should also extend such instruction to others interested whether within or without the faculty and by extension, the university.
A Case of Tenure Denied
Joel Westheimer’s article titled Tenure Denied clearly highlights ways, in which the academia is in constant struggle with higher education administrators, academic freedoms and by extension legislation governing higher education (2003). It is, however, critical to point out that it is not common to witness situations discussed in this particle and more specifically concerning James Tracy’s case. As such, any knowledgeable individual and more importantly, academician or administrator can discern that the earlier proposal by the FAU to terminate the associate professor’s tenure was informed on the basis of economic sense. The fact that the Pozners’ highlighted that his conspiracy theory explanations concerning the Sandy Hooks debacle served to tarnish the institution’s image. However, the subsequent decision to allow for James Tracy the opportunity to challenge such a decision was indeed well meant in the eyes of the faculty and academia (Montgomery & Kaufman, 2003). Such a case can only be described as situation where James Tracy was being compelled to surrender his intellectual independence.
The article titled Conflicting Values and Cultures: The Managerial Threat to University Governance by William L. Waugh further highlights the discourse amongst academicians and higher education administrators (1998). As institutions of higher learning continuously look to appraising organizational structures to mirror corporate governance, there appears a blurry line. This blurry line tends to raise queries as to whether universities should be perceived as the assembly lines for the establishment of the modern man or aimed at realizing profits (Waugh, 1998). The resultant situation is managerial values often superseding the basics of academic values.
Recommendations for Practice
Based on the fact that James Tracy discussed sensitive issues on subjects to which he is an accomplished scholar tends to portray the limited perception on how the general public perceives higher education (Plante & Collier, 1989). James Tracy is indeed a scholar of subject courses which can be deemed as controversial by the public. He provides that his own perception on the subject at hand is based on extensive research. It therefore expected that such a field that is indeed alien to the Pozners’ will generate a negative reaction rather than intellectually look into the bigger picture on which Tracy’s research is based.
With this regard, the Pozners’ can be described as obstacles to the exploits of intellectualism as they base their arguments on personal grounds while James Tracy’s arguments are in pursuit of academic endeavors (Waugh, 1998). To limit such occurrences in future, the FAU should seek to incorporate a more decentralized organizational structure to allow for faculty and by extension, academics to exercised intellectual freedom.
Different Institutional Context (the University of Arkansas)
The University of Arkansas witnessed an incident where a professor and assistant professor were denied tenure (American Association of University Professors, 2000). The then president of this institution Wilfred L. Thompson reached the decision to negate tenure to Professor J. H. Lammers. The subject matter of the case involving Professor Lammers and the institution’s president is quite similar to that of James Tracy and the FAU. Professor Lammers headed the English Department at the University of Arkansas and apparently did not relate well with the new president. This led to a situation of bad blood between the two. As a result, Professor Lammers resulted to make public press conferences citing the institution’s president as compromising English Department’s academic integrity (AAUP, 2000). He confronted the President through the press in what he described as being within the principles of Academic integrity. The outcome led to his denial of tenure. Indeed, numerous committees set up to look into the matter decided that Professor Lammer was unprofessional in the way he handled work relations with the new president. In this particular context, the institution of higher education was right in denying Professor Lammers tenure of service.
This paper has presented a suitable vantage point that is suitable for assessing the prevalent conflicts in higher education occurring between academicians and administrators. Using the Sandy Hooks debacle and the James Trace case as a reference point, there are evidently clear disparities between the two organs which need each other towards ensuring the primary role of higher education systems is achieved. The paper has also highlighted the fact that the FAU with which James Tracy is tenured can be considered as the fourth type of ideal university model. The disparities have served to show that in most cases, the administrators tend to be inclined towards a higher education organizational structure that is best suited for corporate organizations. The pursuit of profits thus grinds against the pursuit for intellectual freedom. Higher education is thus a complex entity that should not be limited for economic gain but rather should be appraised to enable greater social and cultural development.
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