Remaking the University

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A blog on higher education and related issues.Chris Newfieldhttp://www.blogger.com/profile/01078395415386100872noreply@blogger.comBlogger758125
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After the Freeze: UC Privatization Since 2012

Ven, 17/10/2014 - 17:35
by Amanda Armstrong, Rhetoric Department, UC Berkeley.  5th of 5 talks from The Operation of the Machine panel, UC Berkeley October 1, introduced by Prof. Colleen Lye.  Cross-posted from Reclaim UC
Photo: Outside the office of UC Berkeley's Vice Chancellor for Real Estate, October 1, 2014 
I’m going to be talking today about the operation of the UC machine then, versus its operation now. But notthen as in 1965. More like then as in 2009.
I still have vivid memories from fall 2009—a semester when students, workers, and professors built assemblies, walked out of classes, and took direct actions to challenge austerity measures being imposed by the newly-appointed UC President, Mark Yudof. These austerity measures included a 32% tuition increase, furloughs for faculty and staff, and layoffs of over 2,000 service workers across the UC system.
At one of the first walkout planning meetings I attended that fall, people were talking about something called the “Meister report,” which I later learned was named after its author, UC Santa Cruz Professor Bob Meister. The Report talked about how UC administrators were able to take out low-interest construction bonds because they essentially pledged to Moody’s and other rating agencies that they would raise student tuition if necessary to pay back the bonds.
The Meister Report challenged the official story of the 2009 tuition hikes, which claimed that the hikes were necessary given the state’s defunding of public education. The report suggested that, in hiking tuition so drastically, UC administrators weren’t only making up for state defunding – they were also showing bond rating agencies that they had the political will and capacity to deliver steep fee hikes if necessary. And they were protecting their ability to carry on with construction projects, even if this meant trimming funds for basic instruction and saddling students with more debt.
In this way, the Meister Report opened up questions about how and in whose interests UC administrators were managing the money they did have, and about why so many construction projects were moving forward even at a moment of financial crisis. 2009 was thus defined by the politicization both of UC real estate development and of rising student debt levels; it was also a period of significant political mobilization. Even so, we did not succeed in stopping the fee hikes, or otherwise reversing austerity on a large scale. There were some minor victories though: at Berkeley, some of the demands of those who occupied Wheeler Hall on November 20thwere realized. The University renewed its essentially no-cost lease to the Rochdale co-op, and a number of custodial workers who had been laid off were rehired.
The larger political victory came in 2011 and 2012. Facing another round of steep fee hikes, students linked their organizing against privatization to the larger occupy movement. We set up encampments on the campuses, and, after acts of police violence, held massive strikes at Berkeley and Davis. The movement broadened through the spring, with people in all sectors of education marching to the capitol building in Sacramento and occupying it, in order to build support for progressive taxation and for the refunding of public education and social services. Ultimately, a ballot initiative for progressive taxation passed and, with guarantees of more state funding, the regents agreed to freeze in-state tuition for at least four years.
Since the political victory of 2012, some things have changed. In the aftermath of the in-state tuition freeze, the priorities and practices of UC administrators have mutated somewhat, which, I want to suggest, presents an altered political context, and some ambiguities, for those of us interested in challenging University privatization. To begin to get a sense of this new terrain, we can look at recent bond rating reports and UC financial documents.
This year, two rating agencies, Moodys and Fitch, downgraded the UC’s bond rating. In explaining their decision, Moodys noted that, while “The university's debt doubled over the last eight years,…. Political and public scrutiny of the rising cost of higher education will constrain UC's ability to grow net tuition revenue.” They continued: “The university's relatively low cost compared to other market leading universities and expansive geographic draw of students help offset these pressures.” In other words, UC administrators aren’t politically able to raise enough tuition revenue to offset their debts, but at least they can make money on out-of-state tuition, and maybe sometime soon they’ll be able to raise in-state tuition as well.
These bond rating reports, in addition to vindicating Bob Meister’s analysis from 2009, help clarify and explain a couple strategies recently undertaken by UC administrators—strategies that are spelled out fairly explicitly in UC’s financial documentsFirst: In the absence of a political context conducive to across-the-board tuition hikes, administrators have nevertheless tried to increase tuition and fee revenues by admitting more out of state students and by increasing other costs students have to pay (including for housing and healthcare). And Second: In an attempt to decrease their debt levels, administrators have begun to aggressively promote the privatization of development. Instead of generally taking on debt to construct buildings themselves, they are now often working to rent out university-owned land to developers who are willing to build, and in some cases manage, dorms, labs, and other facilities.
In what follows, I will discuss these two administrative strategies, as well as some of their possible political implications.  
First, on UC administrators’ recent attempts to salvage tuition and fee income. This really varies by campus, and I’m going to focus mostly on Berkeley. Following the crisis of 2009, Berkeley administrators started actively recruiting out of state and international students, who paid more in tuition. In the last couple years, as the cost of out-of-state tuition has risen to almost three times that of in-state tuition, administrators continued to admit progressively more out-of-state students. Last year, a third of new admits came from outside of California.
Like other public universities, Berkeley has started “leveraging” student aid to compete to enroll higher-income, out-of-state students. The new Middle Class Access Plan, the cutoff for which was just raised to include those from families making up to $150,000, leverages relatively small grants in exchange for the higher return of out-of-state tuition revenues. Berkeley has also selectively increased housing costs since 2012, raising rents dramatically on the most desirable housing options, while keeping other rents relatively flat. This follows a period of dramatic rent hikes; between 2001 and 2011, room and board rates nearly doubled. Finally, as part of the restructuring of SHIP in 2013, Berkeley raised healthcare premiums by thirteen percent for undergraduates and twenty percent for graduate students—a cost increase that mostly falls on grad students in professional schools, whose tuition rates have also continued to increase.    
Thinking politically about this situation, it’s worth saying initially that a politics organized around the principles of racial justice, class equality, and affordable public education remain critical. Since 2009, the admission and enrollment rates of black students have declined even further than in the immediate aftermath of Proposition 209. Over this period, the class composition of the student body has also been shifting; there are relatively fewer low-income students but significantly more from the highest income brackets. Since 2001, the costs borne by all students have continued to rise, even for those receiving the maximum support from Pell Grants and the Blue and Gold plan. For these and other reasons, it’s critical that we continue to target the race and class exclusions that are only becoming more entrenched in the admissions process.
But I think we also should be thoughtful about how politically to address the fact that the bulk of new tuitionand fee revenues has been coming from out-of-state and international students, who now make up a greater percentage of the student body and have the potential to take on a greater role—as either protagonists or antagonists—of any student movement against privatization that might reemerge. Perhaps advocating for across the board rent and tuition reductions, including for out-of-state tuition, would be a generally compelling way to address affordability issues, which would push back as well against UC administrators’ post-2012 strategy for increasing tuition and fee revenues.            The second post-2012 administrative strategy concerns the privatization of development. In June 2012, right around the time the Regents announced that they would freeze in-state tuition if Proposition 30 passed, Berkeley housing administrators announced that, in order to limit their construction-related debt, they would begin seeking out private developers to build new dorms. This kind of privatization of dorm construction had been happening for some time at Irvine and Davis. And Berkeley had done something similar with the Blum Center, as well as in partnering with BP to fund the construction of the Energy Biosciences Institute building on Hearst and Oxford.
Just in the last couple of years though, the privatization of construction has significantly intensified across the UC system. The UC Office of the President recently posted on their website documents outlining the various partnerships, or rent agreements, the campuses are looking to make with private developers. At Berkeley, housing administrators announced that the Martinez commons would be the final dorm funded and built in-house, and they recently leased Bowles Hall to a private entity interested in redeveloping the building. They are working now on finding a developer interested in building and managing a new dorm on Ellsworth and Channing. The Berkeley rent stabilization board has expressed concern that such privately developed and managed dorms could further drive up student rents, especially when other privately-run dorms, such as the newly-constructed Metropolitan on Dana and Durant, charge rents higher than the cost of room and board. Construction workers’ unions have also raised concerns about the fact that, unlike building projects on campus, these development projects won’t be bound by state prevailing wage laws, and so could involve more dangerous and exploitative building practices.
UC Berkeley administrators have also been working to make arrangements with private firms for the development of portions of the Gill Tract, in Albany. So far, the efforts of Occupy the Farm have stalled this development, and have put on the agenda the conversion of the Gill tract into space for community-based farming, research, and education.
Berkeley administrators, including the newly appointed Vice Chancellor of real estate Robert Lalanne, are also working on coordinating a massive development project on 109 acres of land owned by the University in Richmond Bay. They are saying this project will involve private construction and management of some of the research facilities, and recently published an “Infrastructure Master Plan,” outlining ways for private companies to buy space and influence at the Richmond Bay campus. 
A coalition of labor and community groups has issued a number of demands around this development project including the payment of prevailing wages to construction workers, the promise that all service workers employed in the facilities will be represented by AFSCME, the opening up of space for community-based and community-driven research, that those profiting from the project help fund affordable housing in Richmond, and that formerly incarcerated people be hired for some of the construction and other work set to occur. These are demands that students and workers on campus can help amplify. And in general, I think it’s imperative that we respond to UC’s efforts to privatize construction by building relations of solidarity with local communities and making the case for a kind of public knowledge making.
I can imagine some ambiguities and difficulties that might accompany such a project, aside from just the myriad practical challenges of coalition building and of building power sufficient to interrupt administrative agendas. It might also be hard to know when to oppose new development outright and when to try and direct it to less damaging, more accessible and public-oriented ends. And there’s a question as well about federal research money, which is public in one sense but is often linked to military or other state interests. In a power-point presentation last spring, Robert Lalanne, the Vice Chancellor of real estate, noted that drone development and testing is part of the research agenda for Richmond Bay. Given the entailments of much federal research, how can we envision and struggle for a kind of public knowledge making that is resolutely anti-militarist?
Any renewed movement against university privatization will need to work through these ambiguities and difficulties. But if the last six years have shown us anything, it’s that concerted action on the part of students, workers, and instructors can fundamentally shift the operations of the university, and can block the worst effects of university privatization, if not reverse this process outright. So there is reason to try, and to hope.
Categorías: Universidade

On Sympathy and Professionalism

Mar, 14/10/2014 - 17:35
Chris here: This was too long for the comments section so I've posted it.

First, faculty attitudes themselves: The most systematic research shows that a majority are moderate liberals, that leftists are a very small minority.  See reporting on Gross & Simmons here and here (showing faculty centrism, rejection of political influence over hiring across the political spectrum, and the anti-"PC" views of a majority of faculty "stars").  These studies were conducted by investigators who went out of their way to find evidence of radicalism and PC views.  They found moderation, professionalism, and increasing conservatism as one rises in status and influence. (I also work through studies endorsed by David Horowitz and others in a late chapter and appendix of Unmaking the Public University.) This and similar research has been around for years.  It shows a relatively small number of self-identified conservatives on faculties, and moderates outnumbering liberals.  It does not show a professoriate that is unrepresentative of the electorate when you poll electoral views on particular issues.  I don't know party registration of UC faculty, but since Republican registration in CA is now at 28% , it's at least possible that UC is more Republican than the state of California. 

Second, there's the question of whether party affiliation or inferred ideological commitments affect professional performance in either instruction or research.   One of the insights of the "human sciences" over the past fifty years involves the ways that personal identity and social positioning affect perception and the structuring of knowledge itself.  So for human beings the answer for *indirect* influence of outlook on behavior including professional behavior is always yes.  This is one reason why professions exist, along with their cumbersome methodologies that are difficult for outsiders to understand or appreciate--protocols of various kinds are put in place to manage perceptions, insure regularity, create reproducibility, etc. 

The most important examples are not in the humanities but in clinical testing, where human subjects are in life-or-death situations.  There, "double blind" protocols among many other safeguards are put in place to control for the effects of human intention.  Something similar happens in non- academic professions like policing.  It would be wrong to assume that the party affiliation of police officers controls their professional conduct.  You can read on this blog a criticism of what I regard as the overpolicing of this past year's Deltopia event without finding speculation about officers’ ideological bias or dismissing the existence of their professionalism, which they both have in abundance and which affects their behavior.  In the humanities, various forms of peer review make the same kind of effort.  

Some non-academics have gotten in the habit of dismissing all of this with a wave of the hand as itself a kind of ideology, but that is because of lack of experience with the reality of these generally unforgiving methodologies, which are never applied in everyday conversation or to media discourse, little of which would survive the kind of tests to which academic publishing and teaching are subject. 
  
In short, there is really no evidence that faculty are unable to subject their own views to professional controls in their research or teaching, and, inflammatory exceptions aside, plenty of evidence that they do exactly this in the classroom--teaching by connecting conclusions to evidence, looking at evidence from various angles, making sure the evidence is relatively complete, and teaching students how to follow these procedures on their own.  There's quite a bit more to say about academic procedure and why it is so superior to American political discourse in our era, but I will let it go there. 

Third, there's the issue of whether citizens can ethically subject public agencies to party affiliation tests and opt out if they perceive, on an individual basis, an imbalance.  The answer is no. Police, fire, health, education, road maintenance units could potentially be subject to checks of one's party cards, but the Soviet-like nature of this gesture is obvious and I'm always surprised when conservatives go down the road of making a condition of proper funding (or of reversal of previous cuts in the case of higher ed) their preferred ideological balance on staff.  I assume that police officers are as a group more conservative politically than I am. I would never dream of making funding judgments about them on that basis, or think that it's ok for them to have their pensions cut or have inferior equipment because they don't vote like me.  Whether the issue is public safety or educational quality, the issue is the professionalism of staff, insured by peer review and qualified, procedurally explicit, systematic judgments, not their political beliefs.

Finally, the hostility of some members of the Santa Barbara community toward their local university is nothing sort of tragic.  It overfocuses on isolated (and often sensationalized incidents), and it ignores the fact that UCSB is the backbone of the middle-class economy for the overall county, both in terms of salaries and benefits and in terms of student expenditures in the local economy.  Some Santa Barbarans complain all the way to the bank, as they cash rent checks in the amount of $800-1000 per month per bed, with no interest in how the absence of cultural amenities or of even a basic friendly attitude towards students outside of their designated I.V. / Lower State playgrounds affects their behavior, their education, and their well-being.  Could we contain our older-and-wealthier disapproval of the younger-and-poorer long enough to actually help them get a proper start in the world, or simply to try to understand their concerns?  Will later Californians remember Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz as making active contributions to the future of the state or as dragging their feet the whole way? The most probable answer makes me sad. 
Categorías: Universidade

Free Speech and Free UC

Dom, 12/10/2014 - 19:54
by Chris Newfield, UC Santa Barbara

4th of 5 talks from The Operation of the Machine panel, UC Berkeley October 1, introduced by Prof. Colleen Lye

Members of the FSM had to fight for free speech on campus, as we still must. But they did not have to fight for a free university.  They already had one. They succeeded at winning specific free speech protections.  The free university, they took for granted. 

For UC students in 2009 and 2011, Free UC was a nostalgic memory, like 78-RPM records and episodes of Marcus Welby, MD. They had to fight to block massive tuition hikes.  They succeeded too—not in blocking those hikes, but in raising the political cost of hikes so high that UC & CSU tuition has been frozen for the past several years. 

The University isn’t really that happy about this.  They’ve used tuition hikes to top up revenues for decades now.  Faculty aren’t really that happy about it either.  Some of us oppose high tuition on the grounds that it damages access and the public functions of the university. But most faculty have given up on their senior managers’ ability to get correct public funding from the state.   Most see high tuition, coupled with what’s called high financial aid, as inevitable, fated, predestined, and necessary to restoring UC quality.

In this context, when you oppose continued tuition increases, you are told that you are being selfish and shortsighted, and that maybe you don’t understand the generosity of UC financial aid.   

You are told that low tuition is a subsidy to the rich. You don’t want to subsidize wealthy students, do you?

You are told that low tuition hurts the poor, because they have to subsidize students with their taxes.  You don’t want to hurt the poor, do you?

You are told that low tuition is a political “non-starter.”  You don't want to waste your time on lost causes, or tilt at windmills like Don Quixote, do you?

You are told that low tuition would undermine the high financial aid levels that have protected poor students from unaffordable fees, and that are now expanding to the middle class.  You don’t want to hurt aid for low-income students, I’m sure.

You are told that low tuition would undercut improvements in teaching and learning—that educational quality depends on high tuition, and on more non-resident students paying even higher tuition than residents.  You don’t want to lock in “limited learning” at Berkeley or anywhere else, I know.

So it looks like current tuition levels are a bare minimum, and that pretty soon they’re going to have to go even higher—we’re realists, and we agree that college graduates get the benefits of their degree so should pay most or all the cost.  Don’t we? 

But in reality, all five of these statements are wrong.  The right answers point not simply to freezing tuition, which is one cause UC free speech was used for, but to rolling tuition back.  

We can dispense quickly with first two statements—that Free UC subsidizes the rich by charging them far less than they could afford, and is a burden to the poor, by forcing them to subsidize students at Berkeley where they can’t go.  The way to deal with these is through progressive taxation at the state level.  For a family making between $300,000 and $400,000 a year, there could be a higher ed surcharge of $1700.18.  Someone making $17,000 a year would pay an additional $5.13—or nothing, if there were a threshold. I’ll explain those strange numbers in a minute.  For now, the main point is that the tax system can equalize burdens for all public institutions according to ability to pay.  That’s the basic idea of progressive taxation.

The third truthy statement is that low or no tuition is a political non-starter.  The truthiness part is that it is non-starter only for a portion of the political and business class, who have no interest in paying more taxes themselves to lower college costs for the masses of California students.  Regent Blum thinks low-tuition is a non-starter.  Regent Gould thinks low tuition is a non-starter. Columnist Dan Walters thinks low-tuition is a non-starter. Former President Yudof thought low tuition was a non-starter. Former Chancellor Birgeneau thought low tuition was a non-starter. On the other hand, in polls Californians think low tuition is a great idea. They think the tuition is too damn high--they’ve been saying this since the early 1990s. They think somebody should pay more taxes, and recently 40% said they should pay more taxes themselves.  The need for high tuition is a social construction, a fabrication, an artifact of a passing era, a conventional belief.  It can be changed. Changing beliefs is a purpose of free speech, of thought itself, of movements of the kind that have brought us together today.

But, they say, Free UC is a nice idea but we just don’t have the money.  Actually, we do! The Council of UC Faculty Associations did the math, and showed to get tuition back down to 2000-01 levels $5300 in today’s dollars), and state funding back up to spend 20001 amounts per student, would cost to the median individual California taxpayer , each year, a total of $50.  Restoring full quality and affordability for the state’s 1.6 million public college and university students would cost the state median taxpayer about the same as a holiday bottle of single malt scotch.  That would get us halfway back to a Free UC

So Free UC wouldn’t help the rich, and wouldn’t hurt the poor, and wouldn’t cost too much. We’re on the fourth defense of high tuition.  What about all that high financial aid—the Blue and Gold Plan, the Middle Class Scholarships, Cal Grants plus Pell Grants, Berkeley’s own programs--that have inoculated low-income students from high tuition? Well actually, they haven’t. 

As you know all too well, students must cover not only tuition but also the full “cost of attendance,” which includes rent, food, clothes, books, and similar everyday expenses.  On-Campus cost of attendance is over $33,000.   High overall costs make a huge difference in who gets to complete.  

High tuition means that degree completion depends on ability to pay, which depends on family income--and debt capacity.




Source: Tom Mortenson, PostSecondonary Education Opportunity 2010.

Nationally, 71% of the top quartile completes their degree. 10% of the bottom quartile completes their degree.  Note too that as you move from the top to the next income quartile (which starts at around $90,000 for a family and ends at somewhat above $50,000), attainment falls by half.  

What does the High tuition /high aid model do to fix this?  Does it give grants to low-income students so they don’t have to borrow? No. It gives them grants to cover a portion of their total costs of attendance. And then they have to borrow to cover the rest of their costs. Here's what that looks like broken down by income. 


Average Cumulative Debt by Parent Income Band: 2011-12 UCB Graduating Cohort


Poor students borrow about as much as rich ones.  Even more dramatically, they borrow a much higher share of their family income –over 60% in the lower brackets.  

(The situation is worse than it appears:  this chart folds non-borrowers into the averages, and it excludes parental borrowing through the PLUS and similar programs e.g. Figure 1-7).

UC Berkeley expends significant money and effort to mitigate the damage to affordability of the high tuition model, and yet after all that work it keeps borrowing to pretty close to the national average. 

Median Debt Levels of 2007-08 Bachelor's Degree Recipients by Income Level 

Source: College Board, Trends in College Pricing

High tuition does not fight inequality—it feeds inequality. High tuitionn does this by keeping college proportionately more expensive for low-income students—who are disproportionately students of color.  Since college is relatively more expensive for them, they are less likely to finish college.  High tuition is not worth keeping for its high financial aid.  The aid system is a debt system. It makes inequality worse.

Finally, wouldn’t low tuition undercut improvements in teaching and learning?  No again. The university’s limited spending on learning is what limits learning—we spend less than half of “core funds” on instruction (Display II-3).   Instruction is the one thing that public officials clearly understand the value of paying for. As tuition takes over paying for instruction, politicians have ever less incentive to rebuild public funding, or help UC keep enough places for California students.  

Other private sources expect their funds to stay with targeted projects.   This is true of philanthropy, where up to 99% of funds raised are restricted to special activities.  It is true of research funding, which must be spent on particular research—and which overall loses money for the university, requiring additional subsidies from internal university sources. It is true of instruction, where the state is now subtracting from the General Fund the costs of the Middle Class Scholarship program. University costs go up as the university tries to replace lost public funding, and little of that helps instruction.

In the fifty years since Berkeley students fought for free speech, all students have been steadily losing “free university.”  Every financial aid fix has been tried, every bank has devised a student loan program, every scam and for-profit rip-off has been deployed.  One result is the world’s highest cost of higher education.  Another result is the destructive explosion of student debt.  A third is decades of stagnating degree attainment.  We have in fact spent most of the last five decades privatizing public universities.  The results of the experiment are in.  Privatization has failed to deliver low costs, or low fees, or low debt, or more degrees for low-income students, or high quality.  Privatization in the form of high tuition has undermined the public purposes of public universities. 

Now we have reached a turning point. UC student protests froze tuition, and Gov Brown, the original austerity Democrat, is now enforcing this. Tuition freezes without funding increases aren’t sustainable.  The next step is to rebuild public funding.  It won’t work to say the university needs more money in the abstract, that we’ve been trying to save and have done our best.  What will work is laying out the student outcomes of recovered public funding.  

This is what the current no-tuition movement is about. It’s about inclusive, general, taxpayer based, whole-society-contributing public funding of the overall enterprise, and accountable to the overall public.   Public universities uncover and develop the individual brilliance of regular smart people, those millions whose large but previously underdeveloped talents transformed the economy and the society in the past, and whose talents, on a mass scale, are needed to transform it again. 

Now is not the time to scale back mass Bildung and return it to the ivory towers of our elite private universities that do excellent work in miniature.   We need the thousand-foot mural art of public universities.  This is going to require getting people to pay taxes for higher education again—an extra 50 bucks!  The real goal should be free public university—Free UC.  We need to use our free speech to call for that.


Categorías: Universidade

Free Speech is not for Feeling Safe

Xov, 09/10/2014 - 19:50
by Wendy Brown, Political Science, UC Berkeley

3rd of 5 talks from The Operation of the Machine panel, UC Berkeley October 1, introduced by Prof. Colleen Lye

I want to make two brief points this afternoon, one about freedom and one about speech. 

If forced to compress into a few sentences the contours of student freedom and its limits in public universities 50 years ago and now, those sentences might go this way:

Then:  Because developing the next generation of Californians as educated individuals, citizens and contributing members of society was widely valued as a public good, the university offered a free, high quality education to qualifying (mostly white) middle class and working class students.  Faculty (also mostly white and male) had significant power over large domains of university policy-- they determined what was to be learned and how, what counted as an educated person worthy of a degree, and much more.  But the university administration not only prohibited student political expression, it codified a panoply of restrictions as it sought to be a zone clear of politics, unmarried sex, illegal substances and, implicitly, non-whites.  Thus “the gears of the machine”—from racial exclusion to speech restrictions—were tangible controls that cast students as rightless children being prepared for educated participation in society, economy and politics.

That was Then.  And Now?  UC doors are open to anyone with the wherewithal, parental pressure or supplemental support structures to deliver the test scores, grades, and profile to compete for admission (or who have singular athletic ability, or are well-off non-residents). No longer a public good or publicly supported, UC is construed as a place to invest in oneself as human capital, and according to a set of calculations about what will appreciate or diminish this capital.  Courses are increasingly on offer like Walmart goods, and respond heavily to consumer demand.  And faculty power has receded to a few small corners of the plantation—students feel it most in the form of access to classes and grades.  In the domain of student political, social and sexual expression, just about anything is permitted.  

However, the burden is on each of you to invest your time and effort strategically, not only to gain high return on your expensive investment but to develop the little speck of human capital that is you and that is yours alone to develop.  

This burden is so great and so impossible to put down for anything —an alluring music class or other exciting course outside your major, let alone a political cause, or dwelling for uncounted hours with an idea, a question, a compelling bit of text. Thus, if there are few repressive rules or overt restrictions on what you can do or say, the conversion of the university from a public good to a private investment made by you and your family radically changes the coordinates of unfreedom faced by students today.  How much can you afford to think, learn, want or do that does not comport with enhancing your future value to employers, grad or professional schools?  What freedom to speak, protest or organize against injustice can you exercise that would not be suicidal for the human capital you are enjoined to develop here, into which you have invested family life savings or taken on debt, and which has become the supervening if not sole purpose of a university education? 
Thus, today, the gears of the machine don’t clang and grind out there:  they are are soft, quiet, and deep inside us.  And throwing our bodies on them in resistance requires a complex contortion and commitment.

Ok, that was freedom.  Now speech, where I will also mark just one of many major differences between then and now, or between what we might call the repressive liberal era and the putatively emancipated neoliberal era.  This one pertains to the ways that the neoliberal assault on public things—a public sphere, public goods, public life--has led both university administrators and would-be activists into a certain confusion about free speech as a distinctly political right, one born from political struggle and secured historically for political life.  We have seen a bit of this confusion in recent months when “civility” or “respectful listening” have been mistakenly declared an inherent entailment of free speech or academic freedom. Certainly civility and respectful listening may be expected at a dinner table, a university classroom or a department meeting—it would be good if they prevailed more routinely.  But they have nothing to do with the exercise of free speech in public, where (barring threats, harassment, or dangerous incitements), anyone may say anything…and no one must listen or listen well. 

A far more treacherous instance of contemporary confusion about our political rights comes from the Supreme Court in recent years.  From Citizens United to Hobby Lobby, the Court majority has been busily granting political freedoms—of speech, of religious belief-- to corporations who may now use their enormous wealth and power to overwhelm the last standing icon of democracy, elections, and withhold medical insurance for Constitutionally guaranteed reproductive rights.

This confusion, from high places, of whom and what our political rights are for, and what they do and don’t entail, would take hours to analyze properly.  But I want to consider one especially troubling version of it on college campuses today, one that we can do something about.  This is the effort to regulate public speech to protect certain vulnerable groups from offense, hatred, being retraumatized.  

This protection racket begin, alas, a couple of decades ago with well-intentioned feminist and anti-racist efforts to outlaw hateful or offensive speech and images.  But this tool, which aimed to shield the historically hated or subordinated from being hit again in the present, has not remained in the hands of the Left.  Indeed, while it’s animating the contemporary “trigger warning” madness (a discussion for another day) it has also become one of the more potent instruments of illiberal American ultra-Zionism today.  It is what dignifies the fallacious argument that publicly criticizing Israel on campus creates an unsafe or offensive climate for Jewish students.  

So what begin as a concern with subordinating or hateful speech has been appropriated to silence protest against power.  Of course any political argument can be flipped—Californians know this best from the legislation that ended affirmative action, which, you’ll recall, was called The Civil Rights Initiative.  But there’s something more troubling here, which is the confusion of the public sphere with therapeutic spaces or homes.  The domain of free public speech is not one of emotional safety or reassurance, and what you might hear in Sproul Plaza or up at this podium might be disturbing, uncomfortable, enraging, even offensive.  

Public speech is one of the most powerful weapons ordinary human beings have, and even the most civilly uttered sentences can disturb or terrify.  Certainly the speeches of Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King Jr., or Malcolm X made neither white people nor many blacks feel safe.  Certainly the revolutionary slogan, “liberty, equality, fraternity” did not reassure either the French aristocracy or its minions in mid-18th century Paris.  Do you think Wall St Bankers felt safe when they walked past thousands of Occupy protestors decrying the obscene wealth, destruction of democracy, and carnage of public goods for which they were being held responsible?  Do you think closeted homosexuals felt safe when the Stonewall rebellion broke out? Do you think men who have pushed, drunk or drugged women into unwanted sex feel safe as women on campuses everywhere are finally speaking out against the commonplace of sexual assault?  Or that civil servants, police and other hired guns of regimes across the Middle East felt safe when citizens amassed in public squares to denounce them during the Arab spring?  Emotional safety is not what the public sphere and political speech promise.  It’s for cultivating at home if you are lucky enough to have one.  It is what you seek among friends and intimates where you expect your vulnerability to be taken into account. 

A university education, too, ought to call you to think, question, doubt.   It ought to incite you to question everything you assume, think you know or care about, not because those assumptions or cares will be jettisoned.  Rather, because, as those wild-eyed radicals Immanuel Kant and John Stuart Mill insisted, there is no possibility of knowing what’s right, justified, valuable or true unless you question deeply and relentlessly…unless you’re willing to consider whether your attachment to an idea or principle is really just a teddy bear you cling to, a comforting familiar.  The public sphere and a university classroom are not for hanging onto your teddy bears.  Your bears have their place, back in your room where you’re safe and restored.   But when we demand—from the Right OR the Left-- that universities be cleansed of what is disturbing, upsetting, enraging, “offensive” or triggering, we are complicit both with the neoliberal destruction of university as a place of being undone, transformed, awakened (rather than a place to get job training) AND with neoliberalism’s destruction of public spaces and the distinctive meaning of political rights, (rights that some in this room fought to bring onto campus 50 years ago).  

Let’s demand something far more important, which is to be provoked and challenged, every day and down to our very toes in what remains of this extraordinary institution.  Let’s have the courage to stand for that, and to be willing to withstand it.  
Categorías: Universidade

The Free Speech Movement and the Unfinished Work of Civil Rights at UC Berkeley

Mar, 07/10/2014 - 22:47
by Leigh Raiford, UC Berkeley
with thanks to Michael Cohen and Nzingha DugasPhoto credit: Harvey Richards
2nd of 5 talks from The Operation of the Machine panel, UC Berkeley October 1, introduced by Prof. Colleen Lye
Fifty years ago today, Jack Weinberg, a student activist, set up a table outside of Sproul Hall in direct defiance of the campus ban on political speech.  What followed is of course well-known: a campus police car drove into the middle of the plaza to arrest Weinberg, students surrounded the vehicle and occupied Sproul Plaza for the next 33 hours, Marios Savio climbed atop the car and gave a powerful speech….  And the Free Speech Movement was born.
What perhaps is not so well-known about this moment is that Jack Weinberg was the head of UC Berkeley’s CORE chapter.  CORE—the Congress of Racial Equality—was a frontline civil rights organization, that along with SNCC—the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee—had organized the massive black voter registration and education effort in Mississippi that year, known as Freedom Summer.  Weinberg, Savio, and numerous other campus activists had joined more than 800 other students from around the nation, mostly white, mostly Northern, and they lived, worked, and organized side by side with Southern African Americans against the Jim Crow system of racial apartheid.  These volunteers witnessed and experienced firsthand the violence and terror that maintained Jim Crow: the murder of four summer volunteers by Klansmen, the more than eighty people—including Savio—beaten by police as well as citizens, the hundreds arrested, and the bombing of scores of homes, businesses and churches.
When they returned to campus in the Fall of 1964, galvanized and also sobered by their experiences, they were eager to continue the struggle and to recruit others to join in the fight for racial justice.  But instead they found an administration that, in Savio’s words, was “out of touch.” 
Here [Berkeley and Cal campus] was one of the main outlets in the free part of the country…for recruiting people to go down there [to the South, and it seemed outrageous] that the University would presume to cut this off…because [the southern freedom struggle] was the most important thing going on in the country.  If the university could throttle politics on the campus, then in the spirit of “Which Side Are You On?’ they are saying… ‘we are on the same side as the state of Mississippi.’… It would be shameful not to stand up…
--stand up against UC’s ban on free speech and more specifically on what Savio biographer Robert Cohen has rightly labeled “the University’s attempt to disable the student arm of the civil rights movement" (pp 76-77).
I begin my comments here because I want to remind us that the legacy of the Free Speech Movement is the legacy of Freedom Summer; that the Free Speech Movement and Civil Rights are inseparable, and that the Free Speech Movement could not have happened without student commitment to issues of social justice beyond the campus.
So, Fifty years later, where are we now?  What is the legacy not just of free speech on campus, but of Civil Rights, integration and racial justice at UC Berkeley?
It is in an inescapable truth that since the passage of Proposition 209, the so-called California Civil Rights Initiative that ended affirmative action in the state, the University of California has failed the legacy of the Free Speech Movement.  Though we give lip service to diversity, more as a comforting image and corporate commodity, the messy work of a true diversity is no longer a priority at this university.  In the year after Prop 209’s passage, diversity at UC Berkeley completely collapsed, reducing the numbers of students of color by more than half in a single year.
For the last 18 years, the black student population has hovered at 3%, the Latino/Latina student population at about 11%, the Native American student population at about one half of one percent--in a state in which these groups make up 7%, 40% and 1.5% of the population respectively.  Eighteen yearsProp 209 is old enough to enter Cal’s freshman class.  What that means is that these numbers – evidence of an American legacy of racism and discrimination in education -- are seen no longer as constituting a Crisis.  But like the shocking rise of tuition, this situation has become the New Normal.  We can no longer delude ourselves into believing that the University has the will or commitment or imagination to honor the civil rights legacies of the Free Speech Movement, namely representation and integration.  It has, instead, fallen silent.
What are the ways in which we see this complacency manifest?
If we look to the 2014 UC Office of the President Campus Climate Report, we see that students of color, and African American students in particular, reported the lowest feelings of respect on campus.  This is something that those of us who work with students of color hear everyday and didn’t necessarily need a report to confirm. It is easy to see in terms of a persistently hostile racial climate, micro (and macro) aggressions both within and outside of the classroom, and general feelings of anti-blackness.  These include reported incidents of the hanging of nooses across from African American theme dorms and the racial profiling of students of color by campus police
The ongoing rise of tuition makes it difficult for all but the wealthiest and the very poor to attend UC, when we know that class divisions are very much articulated via racial divisions.
We also see the outsourcing of recruitment and retention work to the students themselves--work that the University itself is no longer willing or able to take on.
And we can also point to the fact that I am here, in part as a token, one of less than twenty black women faculty on a campus of more than 1400. 
But I want to speak specifically to two ways in which the campus’ failure to address the ongoing diversity crisis constitutes a violation of free speech.
That students of color constitute such a tiny minority on this campus squelches their freedom of speech at a most basic level. With such low numbers, students of color take on and bear an incredible burden of representation.
In most of the classrooms on this campus, students of color find themselves the only one of their kind in the room.  And when the subject of race comes up—you know, Ferguson, or immigration or President Obama for that matter—they are looked to, by professor and students alike, to act as expert and representative for their race, to stand in for their group, effectively to stand in for all those who have been excluded from campus.  This incredible burden of representation has the effect of silencing students of color, of further isolating and marginalizing them. 
Our new Executive Vice Chancellor Claude Steele has termed the associated fear “stereotype threat,” by which he means an anxiety that one will confirm or conform to all the degrading dehumanizing stereotypes held about one’s group.  A hundred years ago, WEB Du Boiscalled this problem “double consciousness,” the “sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of always measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks along with amused contempt and pity.” And yet, the Development Office continues to use the silent images of these marginalized students —to trade on and sell their difference—as part of the “Thanks to Berkeley” capital fundraising campaign on banners all over campus in numbers disproportionate to their actual demographic.
The second example I want to cite is in light of the Task Force on Academics and Athletics’ report released last week.  In conversations with student athletes, a number of them have told me and other faculty that they are instructed by coaches and other athletic staff “not to do anything” which might jeopardize their eligibility.  This includes participation in student protest or political activity.  Now of course there is no written policy, but former members of revenue-generating sports teams (football, basketball) as well as other (non-revenue, Olympic or intercollegiate) teams have for years expressed their feeling of being silenced.  For black student athletes and for the black student population on campus, this has deep impact.  The University cynically uses alternative admission standards for student athletes and then uses these increased numbers of black students to pad already dismal diversity numbers.  By placing unspoken restrictions on the free speech of student athletes as a tacit condition of their eligibility, the university effectively isolates these students from the larger black student body, further marginalizing an already diminished population.  The cost of playing Cal sports while black is silence.
I want to conclude by returning to Mario Savio and the legacy of the movement Savio spent the Spring of 1964 protesting discriminatory hiring practices in San Francisco hotels.  He spent the summer of 1964 living and organizing against racial injustice in the Deep South.  His was an identity formed in community, a coming to self through working alongside others for the betterment of society.  Savio’s legacy in part is one in which we are reminded that to be our best selves, to create the kind of University community we aspire to, we must speak up and make space for the least visible and most silenced members of our campus.  This includes following up on the progressive recommendations of the Task Force on Academics and Athletics, continuing to fight for tuition reduction, and advocating for a more racially diverse campus.  What we remember and celebrate here is Mario Savio standing on a cop car speaking eloquently about fighting the machine.  What we need to remember is that it was the Civil Rights Movement and the fight for racial justice that gave Savio his voice and his community.
Categorías: Universidade

The Operation of the Machine: UC Then and Now

Lun, 06/10/2014 - 13:50
By Colleen Lye, English Department, UC Berkeley, and Co-chair, Berkeley Faculty Association.

This fall marks the 50th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement (FSM) at UC Berkeley, a student movement that since Mario Savio’s death in 1996 has gained increasing institutional acknowledgement as part of the campus’s celebrated history.

 The 50thanniversary commemorations, however, got off to an unexpectedly rocky start with Chancellor Nicholas Dirks’s campus-wide message on civility. The free speech rights won by students in 1964 became the basis for time, place and manner regulations governing student conduct. It appeared to some that Chancellor Dirks’s comments suggested a misunderstanding of those rights, or a new policy reversal of them. With media attention already trained on campus because of the FSM anniversary, combined with the fact that the Salaita case at the University of Illinois had, over the course of the summer, turned “civility” into a hot-button word in a debate over faculty academic freedom, an avalanche of negative publicity required the Chancellor to quickly drain the force of his initial remarks in a follow-up message. In a meeting with the staff of The Daily Californian, which had run a critical forum on the Chancellor’s message on civility and his subsequent clarification, Dirks talked about how his own scholarship on colonial India had once analyzed the ways in which civility had been used by those in power to restrain the freedoms of the disempowered.
Breathing a sigh of relief, Berkeley faculty, staff and students returned to the business of commemorating the FSM, in light of which a large number of events have been planned for the fall. From the perspective of the Berkeley Faculty Association, FSM-50 represented an opportunity to take stock of the distance traveled since the time when the co-author of the Master Plan and the avatar of student free speech had once been primary antagonists in a drama that kicked off the Sixties as that period in which universities came to be conceived as a base from which to organize for broader social change. 
Is the increasing sympathy many feel for the position of Clark Kerr—as embattled liberal caught between a reactionary Sacramento and an insurgent student demand for their First Amendment right to express politically consequential speech on campus—indicative of the extent to which we are still fighting the battles of the Sixties but on ever weakening ground? Racial segregation is still with us, feminist reproductive rights are under siege, corporate power has seized extensive control of our democracy, preventing even modest government amelioration of growing economic inequality. The dismantling of the notion that higher education is a public good rather than a consumer choice, and the degradation of the link between democracy and education that follows from that, is something that our UC administrators—scrambling to patch public deficits by all available means on a short-term basis—seem unwilling or unable to combat.
Thus since 2009 it has fallen largely to UC students, staff unions and faculty to diagnose our structural situation from the standpoint of the public interest, with this blog serving as a primary outlet for expression. As part of this tradition, the Berkeley Faculty Association organized a teach-in entitled “The Operation of the Machine: UC Then and Now” on Oct 1, in commemoration of the day that thousands of students surrounded a police car on Sproul Plaza that held FSM activist Jack Weinberg, and refused to allow his arrest and removal. At our event last week, UC faculty and student speakers addressed a packed audience on some of the most crucial topics relating to the question of the changed relationship between freedom and the university since the 60s.
How does the heavy burden of tokenism placed upon the few African American students left at Berkeley since Prop. 209, and the fact that student athletes are constrained by their scholarships from participation in political protest, combine to rob underrepresented minority students especially of their freedom of speech? 

How is the conservative seizure of a therapeutic discourse of a safe campus climate functioning to regulate academic and campus debate in a way that fundamentally departs from an understanding of the university as a place of intellectual provocation and challenge? 

How is it that a free university education for Californians can seem so far-fetched when our current high fee/high aid model is contributing to relentlessly increasing student debt, and persists because of a lack of political will rather than an economic necessity? 

How is UC Berkeley’s increasing privatization of its real estate holdings likely to raise the cost of student housing and diminish campus community access to facilities and resources previously understood to belong to a university commons? 

Finally, what is to be done?
These questions and more were explored by Leigh Raiford, Wendy Brown, Chris Newfield, and Amanda Armstrong, whose talks will be published here starting tomorrow. 
Categorías: Universidade

William Deresiewicz and the Public University

Sáb, 27/09/2014 - 23:01
By Jennifer Ruth (Portland State University)
The conversation prompted by Excellent Sheep has turned into a referendum on “meritocracy.” Deresiewicz mercilessly takes meritocracy to task – “The meritocracy purports, like every ruling class, to act for the good of all,” he writes; “Its ethos is in fact, by definition, one of self-advancement: not duty or responsibility, not character or even leadership, but individual aggrandizement, a single-minded focus on the self and its success” (226). For Deresiewicz, meritocracy is the culprit behind the Reagan-era culture of “winner take all” that continues on today among our elites who are “brilliant, gifted, energetic, yes, but also anxious, greedy, bland, and risk-averse, with no courage and no vision ” (228-9). These political and business elites can’t wrap their heads around why they keep falling on their faces when they are so manifestly intelligent. Here’s Deresiewicz on Obama: “With his racial identity and relatively humble background, his election has been called the triumph of the meritocracy. The sad thing is that that's exactly what it was” (230). Obama is a failure because “he plays it safe, like every other product of the [meritocratic] system” (229).
Meritocracy’s defenders also do it no favors. Steven Pinker’s rebuttal to Deresiewicz’s New Republic piece “Don’t Send Your Kid to the Ivy League” starts off with a reasonable-sounding defense of the ethos of meritocracy as the prioritizing of ability and effort over various forms of inheritable privilege. By its end, however, Pinker’s piece has become a party in honor of standardized tests. Pinker believes that merit—defined as intelligence—can be measured objectively. The problem for him then is not that colleges follow a meritocratic admissions process but that, with their legacies and athletes and trombone players, their process is not nearly meritocratic enough.
Pinker doesn’t worry about wealth buying merit because he thinks it can’t. All those advantages the well-off give their children—from piano lessons to the best private schools to test-prep courses? They only budge their kids’ scores by a negligibly few percentage points, Pinker tells us. Ensconced at Harvard and annoyed that students prefer competing in lacrosse games to attending class, Pinker doesn’t seem to grasp the main issue. Isn’t the issue that entrenched inequality has destroyed any illusion that rewards are distributed meritocratically in American society? And, further, that if meritocracy did once act as a vehicle of redistribution, it acts to exacerbate inequality now?
Chris Hayes hammers this point home in The Twilight of the Elites: America after Meritocracy (2012). Hayes discusses the structural tension between equality of opportunity and equality of outcome. He argues that the generation that profited when we moved from an old boy patronage system to a meritocracy (or equality of opportunity) has pulled the ladder up behind them. Though the meritocratic culture once lead to greater equality of outcomes, in its second and third generations it has led to greater inequality of outcomes.
Each ruling class, it seems to me, is always in danger of devolving into a patronage system regardless of the nature of its original legitimation. The middle class Barbara Ehrenreich discussed in her 1989 classic Fear of Falling has been hollowed out but her analysis of a certain psychology applies to today’s elite. They do not want their children to have to experience a lower standard of living than they enjoy. The impulse to rationalize advantages and even game the system when people you care about are involved is irresistible for many. The fight against this—what Deresiewicz refers to as “self-overcoming”—is never-ending.
It’s not just parents with kids. I see it at the departmental level. People from relatively modest backgrounds who got into Stanford and Harvard and are now Professors of English or Cultural studies will push hard to hire friends or family. They not only don’t see a problem with this but they see themselves as doing something compassionate by championing the people they know over the people who are as yet words on a page. The ever-flawed striving for some modicum of objectivity—the holding at bay of connections and kinship—doesn’t come easily to any of us, no matter our personal trajectories. If we desire a fair society, though, we are doomed to repeatedly breaking up patronage systems—even patronage systems generated by meritocracies.
Hayes argues, however, that at this point simply breaking up patronage systems is not enough. We can only restore the equality of opportunity from which today’s elite benefitted by moving decisively in the direction of equality of outcome. This begins with redistributing wealth back to public education because, whatever it might be, a meritocratic society is certainly not one with such extreme and stubborn inequality that the vast majority of its 18 to 24 year olds are deprived opportunities for quality education, gratifying work, and socio-economic mobility.
Deresiewicz ultimately arrives at a similar conclusion:
If service workers can demand a $15 minimum wage, more than double the federal level, then those who care about higher education can insist on the elimination of tuition and fees at state institutions and their replacement by public funding furnished by taxes on the upper 10 percent. As with the minimum wage, the campaign can be conducted state by state, and it can and should involve a large coalition of interested groups: students, parents, and instructors, to start with. Total enrollment at American colleges and universities now stands at 20 million, on top of another million-plus on the faculty. That’s a formidable voting bloc, should it learn to exercise its power. Since the Occupy movement in 2011, it’s clear that the fight to reverse the tide of growing inequality has been joined. It’s time we joined it.
These words are from Deresiewicz’s essay “The Miseducation of America” in the Chronicle of Higher Education. The last pages of Excellent Sheep strike the same power-to-the-people note and, while I’m grateful that he concludes on such a note, it’s hard to avoid the feeling that he tacked on these pages after someone read the manuscript and asked: Okay, but what do you have to say about the nation’s students who really need help?
Deresiewicz justifies the attention he lavishes on the Ivy League cohort by pointing out that they become the elites who have outsized power over the fates of the rest of us. Fair enough. But until we restore funding to our public universities, it will be hard to resist the siren song of select schools. “The economist Caroline Hoxby has shown,” Pinker writes, “that selective universities spend twenty times more on student instruction, support, and facilities than less selective ones, while their students pay for a much smaller fraction of it, thanks to gifts to the college.” Betsy Hammond, The Oregonian’s higher education reporter, recently published a piece entitled “Are Oregon Universities Efficient at Producing Graduates?” Relaying the information provided in the the study "Trends in College Spending: 2001-2011" by the American Institutes of Research, Hammond reports that my institution, Portland State, “remains one of the most efficient public research universities in the nation, spending just $40,700 on education and related expenses for every graduate it produces.” Hammond’s use of the word “efficiency” has the bizarre effect of implying that the less a public university spends on its students, the more praise it deserves. The fact that state funding for Portland State Universitydecreased by 80% over the last two decades surely is a tragedy, not a case study in virtuous efficiency.
Is the problem the concept of meritocracy—a concept, after all, that demands that every effort be made to even the playing field before the games begin? Isn’t the problem that we’re no longer bothering to level the field by even so much as an inch?
Deresiewicz tells us that Ivy League students don’t hang out on the beautifully manicured campus lawns or brood over Rilke, because they have been trained to avoid activities that don’t further their careers. As the numbers above demonstrate, Portland State students do not have the same fertile environment to squander. Even if they did, most of them wouldn’t be able to take advantage of it since the vast majority of them work outside school. Many of them hold 30 to 40 hour a week jobs. They take these jobs to pay for their classes and yet the punishing work schedules turn their classes into just more obstacles on their weekly obstacle course.
Deresiewicz’s weakness for grand flourishes simplifies what’s at stake: “We’ve had meritocracy; it’s time for democracy,” he says as if we all know and agree upon what both “meritocracy” and “democracy” mean. But Deresiewicz is right about what he calls “the essential thing.” “The new dispensation must ensure--this is the essential thing—that privilege cannot be handed down;” he tells us; “The education system has to act to mitigate the class system, as it did in the middle decades of the twentieth century, not reproduce it.” If we want a society that plays more people than it benches, we have to win that campaign Deresiewicz talks about—the one to eliminate tuition and fees at state institutions and replace them by public funding derived from taxes on the upper 10 percent. Where and when is the campaign kick-off party?


Categorías: Universidade

Some Implications of the Regents' Proposed UC Ventures

Mér, 17/09/2014 - 15:17
My thinking about the formation of "UC Ventures" is influenced by the fact that today I am flying from London to Berlin to film some thin-film solar photovoltaic researchers and executives who have been living for years in the "valley of death" between important research results and commercial revenues. The photo is of the May, 2011 inauguration of the flagship building for Soltecture, one of the world's best thin-film PV companies that promised to bring zero-energy capabilities to old and new buildings a few years from then. When I stood in front of the building one year after this photo, it had closed, and the company was gone. 

Thus my questions about UC Ventures start with whether it will actually help avoid the collapse--or non-start-- of socially valuable technologies for lack of patient, long-term, adequate financial support.   Will UC Ventures be a "patient investor" that sides unequivocally with the technology--and with the future public that will use it?  Will it offer something special to late-stage technology by entering when others have left?  Will it help original, early-stage research with long-term commitments? Is it fish or is it fowl, or some other, political species?

Here's a bit more background, since it is missing from the Regent's materials.  Venture capital funds  socially-valuable technologies when they are likely to make a lot of money.  They avoid them, no matter how green or clean, when they aren't.  Around 2007, Silicon Valley VC declared clean tech to be the next mega market that VC would chase as it had semiconductors, internet software, and the like: Tony Seba's Solar Trillions (2009) caught the tone.  But energy technology is slow to develop and very expensive to make, unlike router software and apps, and by the time Solyndra went bankrupt in 2011, the Valley had moved on from clean tech to greener financial pastures.  No hard feelings: their job is not to save the planet but to make trillions for their investors, and if solar won't do that, then goodbye solar.  Literally--most advanced solar PV R&D has moved to Asia, often with technology they bought for pennies on the euro or dollar in Western bankruptcies. You can read Vinod Khosla's clear warning here; another denizen of Sand Hill Road assured me face-to-face that the Valley would not invest in clean tech just to keep the manufacturing here.

Soltecture and other thin-film PV companies demonstrate an important fact about the relationship between business and technology, which is that they regularly diverge.  Today's "shareholder" capitalism is all about short-term maximization of returns on investment.   If commercializing a technology will do that then it shall be commercialized; if not, it won't, and the technology will be abandoned.  Businesses exist to make money. Tech development loses money--until the product is finished and sold.  We often ignore this divergence, in spite of frequent critiques from environmentalists, public health advocates, and many many others, not to mention the many business books that discuss the way that the normal pursuit of returns on investment (ROI) conflicts with the R&D that leads to the returns (e.g. Clayton Christensen's The Innovator's Solution, Geoffrey Moore's Crossing the Chasm, William Lazonick's Sustainable Prosperity in the New Economy).  In spite of my recent criticism of Prof. Christensen for his bias against sustainability, I have always appreciated his brutal honesty about what shareholders demand, which is continuous sales growth that increases share prices by exceeding growth expectations.  That does not describe the life of high-impact, high-risk, high-difficulty technologies of the very advanced kind that create the breakthroughs and environmental solutions that we all want.

For a long time, all Very Serious People as Krugman calls them thought venture capital (VC) was the universal solution to tech commercialization in all fields: where universities left off, and mature companies couldn't move quickly, VC would provide capital to get a company from development to delivery to a large commercial market, offering management, development, financing, and marketing expertise along the way.  But VC enters "downstream," for products that are close to commercialization.  They have short time horizons - 3-5 years at most. They expect large multiples of returns on their initial investments, in part to cover their loses on their many bets that fail, in part because their core business is to get very large returns.  

Even this quick sketch reveals the problem: the road from "bench to bedside," from basic academic research to reliable product, is long and winding.  Though you can cash out on a good app in 3 years max, the Internet underlying it took 30 years of growth in the dark, with no market prospects and thus only government funding as the patient investor.  Even if the development frame is short, the social value of a product may greatly exceeds its market value to any given firm.  So firms will underinvest, producing "market failure," which then requires the fix of government support or rich corporations with decades-long horizons, like Japan seems still to have, and like the US used to have when monopolies like AT&T supported some blue-sky research in places like Bell Labs. I am not saying anything original here: mainstream economists like Kenneth Arrow and Richard Nelson began to analyze market underinvestment in research in the 1950s.

But when we talk about technology transfer (TT) from universities to business, we seem to forget this core lesson that business and its private investors are not there to insure the development of technology.  Writers like Joseph "Creative Destruction" Schumpeter and later apostles of "disruptive innovation" have confused the issue by making it sound like they are:  the right entrepreneurial spirit yoked to a big capital stock would automatically benefit society even as it created new wealth. But the bankruptcy of good--and socially valuable--companies like Soltecture, Q-Cells, or even Solyndra are the counter evidence.  Their death flows directly from the withdrawal of capital by investors who decide they aren't going to get major returns in the near future.  They may still love the technology and the company and believe in its enormous future market and great benefit to humanity, but they need to reinvest their capital right now for a higher return--sorry, no hard feelings.  Analysts usually blame the victim--bad management, overrated technology, unlucky price movements.  (If you think this conventional wisdom explains the Solyndra bankruptcy, we have a forty-page refutation that I'll happily send you.) The reality is that VC, start-up companies, and big shareholder-oriented companies (see Lazonick) aren't set up to support the full research and development process, which is better measured in decades than years.  The reality is that financial metrics do not measure science progress or social promise, period.

Like other research universities, the University of California's special contribution to the knowledge ecosystem is basic research--"upstream," early-stage, blue sky, high-risk, wild and crazy, stupid or brilliant, waste or genius, nobody knows in advance.  Yes, I realize universities do lots of applied research, and I certainly agree that no simple line should be drawn between basic and applied, that "Pasteur's Quadrant" is where applied questions produce basic results, etc.  But American capitalism has a huge bias towards both applied and especially the nearly-commercial because that is where the money can be made.  The system has already flushed basic out of the corporate world, which still gets more than 2/3rd of federal R&D funding to do D, making the university's role in basic R more important than ever.  Bear in mind too that STEM research funding is less than it needs to be, and that universities are struggling mightily to support it by digging deeper into their internal funds

Enter UC Ventures. How does it define the problem that its existence could solve?   The problem is said to be not enough VC for faculty start-up companies, which are a common--but risky and fragile--step in the commercialization process.   A Regental Working Group on Technology Transfer concluded, "UC should establish a mechanism to invest in UC start-up companies, either through the establishment of or participation in a venture capital fund or funds."  The regents went with the first option, starting their own fund, staked with $250 million from the endowment they directly control, and managed by a "Team" that will be appointed by the Chief Investment Officer while staying independent of that office and of UC in general. No UC employee will serve on the start-up investment Team.  UC Ventures is thus to "support the University ecosystem by providing capital to UC Startups."

Among various details, two others are of special note. The fund will invest in start-ups meant to commercialize UC inventions, but since UC is defined as an "ecosystem," it  includes former UC employees, UC alumni, UC donors, and I imagine anyone who can be designated a "Friend of UC." In other words, current UC researchers will not necessarily have first crack at the fund, so this is not an investment firm devoted exclusively to advancing UC science and engineering.  

The second detail is ambiguity about fund's main role. If it is more a VC fund under the CIO, then the fund's main job is to increase returns for the UC endowment, which is the CIO's actual job.  Accordingly, UC Ventures ultimately reports to the CIO and not, say, to the University Provost, the Office of Technology Transfer, or the Office of Research.  A venture fund, in that context, must have an overwhelming bias for research with near-term commercial promise in the largest market possible, preferably one with low costs. This means that it will necessarily pass over more or less everything that we could call basic research, but also over most late-stage, applied research as well.  If UC Professor Pharma has a start up for a molecule whose patent may yield a high monopoly price in high-income countries, and UC Professor Publichealth has a novel treatment regime for inexpensive drug-delivery in low-income countries, the VC fund, following normal investor practice, must pick Professor Pharma.  Whenever science and markets are at odds, or society and markets are at odds, the VC firm must favor markets.  

Much high-tech business talk dodges the problem by saying that markets, technology, and society all line up sooner rather than later.   But saying it doesn't make it true. The Regents' document takes the same kind of shot (page 3):
Specifically, UC Ventures will aim to maximize financial returns while leveraging the University's unique research and knowledge base, as well as the wider University community, to gain access to attractive opportunities emerging from the University's ecosystem.  The OCIO will design UC Ventures to maximize alignment of interests, minimize costs, and provide a long-term investment horizon.  The OCIO believes there is a compelling opportunity to generate attractive rates of return by selectively investing in early-, mid-, and late-stage companies arising from the UC ecosystem.There's a tone here of UC Ventures as an especially patient investor, but UC research is one big input in what must be the CIO's strategy to "maximize financial returns."   For late stage R&D, I don't see what advantage UC Ventures will have in the crowded VC world other than having first look at UC product.  For early-stage research of the kind that is harder and harder to fund,  UC Ventures is irrelevant.  (It is, however, already a major PR coup, having gotten quite a bit of media attention of the kind that accepts the popular myth that investing for maximum returns is the same as helping science's public mission.) 

US science needs countercyclical investment, which puts money where other people won't because the work has value Mr. Market can't see. VC firms are cyclical: they do try to get in first, but not too soon, as they don't make money on inventions whose coolness is visible only to them. They need other investors piling in to pump equity values, consumer interest for future sales, and in general a certain obviousness to the value that is never the case in the early or sometimes even in a late phase.  To take Solyndra as an example, when their private investors pulled out in late summer 2011, the Department of Energy, acting cyclically, pulled its loan guarantees.  

What socially valuable research needs--e.g. research like Solyndra's cylindrical solar cells for the flat-roof vastness of the industrialized worlds--is an investor that says, "OK. you've missed every one of your cost milestones, your manufacturing process doesn't work like you said, and five years in, your tech is still crap.  But it's important crap.  And your job now is to make it uncrap, and finally make this whole thing work.  So you said five years? You lied, to us and to yourselves.  So what--R&D is always like that. If it only takes 10 years total you'll be lucky.  So here's five more years of loans, so you can fix your strategy, get more and different engineers, start talking to your customers, create a social buzz around turning Wal-Mart green, do something about your oversensitive equipment, and get back to work."

DOE should have said that. They didn't.  Would UC Ventures ever say that? Not if it's a VC fund.  So what exactly is the research point?

It would be cleaner, and probably more effective, to use some small part of the endowment to have a regular VC fund and not make a big deal out of it, and then use another part of the endowment, say $250 million, to fund fundamental research at UC across the disciplines--in STEM and non-STEM--particularly where the research is so interesting and strange that no one else will fund it.  The seed funding we most need is not for start-ups, where there's no shortage of VC capital sniffing over late-stage ideas, but for embryonic ideas that no outside sponsor will fund.  That wouldn't do as much for UC's corporate image, but it would do more than UC Ventures for knowledge and innovation.





Categorías: Universidade

The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois Votes Down the First Amendment (UPDATED)

Ven, 12/09/2014 - 01:58
As you have probably heard, the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois voted 8-1 against the appointment of Steven Salaita.  You can find a report here.

I don't have much to add at this point but others have offered commentaries and I am providing a few links.  If we find other links either to the Salaita Case or to the civility discussion we will add them.

Corey Robin comments here.

John Wilson comments on the arguments in favor of the administration's decision here.

You can find IHE Coverage of the Salaita vote here.

The Chronicle of Higher Education offers reports here and here.

The Good Enough Professor on civility and power is here.






Categorías: Universidade

The Order of Civility

Dom, 07/09/2014 - 17:25
On Friday, Chancellor Dirks of UC Berkeley released an open statement to his campus community that seeks to define the limits of appropriate debate at Berkeley.  Issued as the campus approaches the 50th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement, Chancellor Dirks' statement, with its evocation of civility, echoes the language recently used by the Chancellor of the University of Illinois, Urbana and the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois (especially its Chair Christopher Kennedy) concerning the refused appointment of Steven Salaita. It also mirrors language with the effort by the University of Kansas Board of Regents to regulate social media speech and the Penn State administration's new statement on civility,  

There are historical ironies here enough to make a satirist happy for years.  At Illinois, donors, alumni, and some conservative activists have argued that Professor Salaita should not be allowed to teach at Urbana to ensure that Jewish students are comfortable. They seem oblivious to the fact that it was alleged incivility of Jews that was used to justify the exclusion and marginalization of Jews at American colleges and universities in the 19th century and a sizable portion of the twentieth century.  To be sure, his critics are not calling for Salaita to be denied an appointment simply because he is a Palestinian-American; there is nothing so uncivil as that going on. But then Jews were excluded because of what their critics deemed their uncivil behavior. 

At Berkeley, Chancellor Dirks, in his efforts to set the limits of civility, appears not to see the ways that he repeats the 1960s demonization of the FSM (hardly praised in California in the early 1960s) as themselves barbarians at the gates of proper university discourse and debate.  Although each of these administrative statements have responded to specific local events, the repetitive invocation of "civil" and "civility" to set limits to acceptable speech bespeaks a broader and deeper challenge to intellectual freedom on college and university campuses.  Because it is forward looking it may be best to start by looking more closely at Chancellor Dirks' statement.


I
As with so many of these of these calls, Chancellor Dirks' aims to strike a tone of reasonable fairness and matter-of-fact common sense:


As we honor this turning point in our history, it is important that we recognize the broader social context required in order for free speech to thrive. For free speech to have meaning it must not just be tolerated, it must also be heard, listened to, engaged and debated.  Yet this is easier said than done, for the boundaries between protected and unprotected speech, between free speech and political advocacy, between the campus and the classroom, between debate and demagoguery, between freedom and responsibility, have never been fully settled.  As a consequence, when issues are inherently divisive, controversial and capable of arousing strong feelings, the commitment to free speech and expression can lead to division and divisiveness that undermine a community’s foundation. This fall, like every fall, there will be no shortage of issues to animate and engage us all. Our capacity to maintain that delicate balance between communal interests and free expression, between openness of thought and the requirements and disciplines of academic knowledge, will be tested anew.Specifically, we can only exercise our right to free speech insofar as we feel safe and respected in doing so, and this in turn requires that people treat each other with civility. Simply put, courteousness and respect in words and deeds are basic preconditions to any meaningful exchange of ideas. In this sense, free speech and civility are two sides of a single coin – the coin of open, democratic society.
As I read this, it was easy to nod at different points: yes, it is important to have ideas and problems "engaged and debated"; of course people should feel "safe" in presenting their ideas and positions; and of course the "boundaries" of many of the issues he raises "have never been fully settled."  But for me it is impossible to hold that moment for long.  Instead, what seems clear is the vagueness of the categories, the shift from the unsettled boundaries to the insistence on how one should debate, the paternalistic instruction in manners and the culminating gesture (further along in the letter) that "Insofar as we wish to honor the ideal of Free Speech, therefore, we should do so by exercising it graciously."  

And then I shuddered.

If Chancellor Dirks is right we would have to repudiate much of the intellectual traditions and practices he claims to be defending.  As the great English historian Edward Thompson put it in a review of Raymond Williams The Long Revolution:


Burke abused, Cobbett inveighed, Arnold was capable of malicious insinuation, Carlyle, Ruskin and D. H. Lawrence, in their middle years, listened to no one. This may be regretable: but I cannot see that the communication of anger, indignation, or even malice, is any less genuine.... And it is easy for the notion of “good faith” to refer, not only to the essential conventions of intellectual discourse, but also to carry overtones—through Newman and Arnold to the formal addresses of most ViceChancellors today—which are actively offensive.
Thompson's point--which he put without too much graciousness--is that the calls for civility are, in fact, not true to the intellectual traditions they claim to develop and respect. Whatever the immediate intentions of the chancellors, the emphasis on civility as essential to intellectual, and yes political, arguments render debate anodyne and could only be achieved by bowdlerizing many of the great intellectual interventions of the last few centuries.  

But the problem is broader than a misapprehension of the past.  The demand for civility effectively outlaws a range of intellectual, literary, and political forms: satire is not civil, caricature is not civil, hyperbole and aesthetic mockery are not civil nor is polemic. Ultimately the call for civility is a demand that you not express anger; and if it was enforced it would suggest that there is nothing to be angry about in the world.  The call for civility in discourse confuses the enforcement of administrative time, place, and manner restrictions with the genuine need to defend people from personal threat.  The result is that the administrative desire trumps all else.


II
These problems are expressed in two different ways in the Salaita case.

First, the justification that the Illinois administration and Board has provided concerns the incendiary and, for many, offensive nature of some of Professor Salaita's tweets.  Given that all the evidence I have seen shows that his tweets have no connection to his pedagogy or relationship with his students and his encouragement of them to think for themselves, there is no educational relevance to his twitter account.  It is, in part this confusion of venues that has led a remarkable number of professional organizations, from the American Anthropological Association to the American Historical Association through the American Comparative Literature Association to the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle Eastern Studies Association of America (to name only a few recent ones) to condemn the University administrations decision and its basis.  But the issue goes beyond this particular case.  As Natalie Zemon Davis pointed out--in her own letter to Chancellor Wise--twitter as a medium has its own rhythms and forms of engagement.  It is designed--when not simply providing for publicity or celebrity gossip--to be a form of provocation a call to alertness. Now, I don't tweet.  I don't particularly enjoy its form and I prefer longer-form modes of argument and elaboration.  But if you are going to evaluate statements in a particular medium then you must understand the rules of the medium.  If you don't then you risk following in the footsteps of those who condemned modernism as "decadent art."

Second, there is the imbalance in the relationship of the police and the policed.  The expressed concern at Illinois concerns the imagined possibility of Professor Salaita imposing political opinions upon his students or of making them feel unwelcome in his classes.  As I noted in my last post on the case this concern runs in the face of the actual evidence of his teaching.  But Chancellor Wise and the Board's concern for the closing off of debate seems remarkably narrow.  Who after all has the greater ability to curtail intellectual engagement: one lone tweeter or a University's management? This point is one made with great force in a statement by UIUC faculty from across the University's departments. Having described the background to Chancellor Wise's decision, the faculty point out that:


This makes it all the more troubling that the Chancellor and Board have described this decision as a victory for civility, academic excellence, and “robust debate.”  Their statements leave us to ponder how one upholds civility by overriding the decision-making of faculty members and deans without consultation or due process. How, we must ask, does one foster academic excellence by making academic decisions without the advice of scholars in the field?  Can it really be that debate is best served by secretive decision-making that silences dissent?  Recent reporting on this issue suggests that particular donors may have had an impact on this decision and that a task force will soon be charged to “develop a new process” for situations in which the chancellor “does not agree with a hiring decision.”  This seems to represent a radical departure from principles of shared governance which have been the bedrock of academic excellence on this campus.  
Civility in this context enables managerial intrusion into the academic review process and the dismissal of the measured evaluation of both faculty and academic administrators closest to the issue. Indeed, the evidence suggests that the drive to overturn the appointment came through back-door threats from donors to cease their contributions if Professor Salaita was allowed to take up his appointment. Secrecy and non-academic issues trumped the established protocols for making appointments.  All in the name of civility.

I understand (and indeed have argued in different contexts) that public universities have responsibilities to the public.  That is one reason for my opposition to the rapid expansion of out of state and international students at State universities.  

But it is a far cry from serving the needs of your state public and responding to the demands of selective donors who are using their financial power to demand intrusions into academic life.  Administrators can argue as much as they want that they are protecting the rich and open traditions of their institutions; but if they are even allowing the appearance--to say nothing of the reality--that decisions at a University can be sold to the highest bidder then they have failed their institutions badly.  To be sure, administrators are, and should be, part of the academic review process, but they must be administrators internal to the process and making decisions based on academic criteria.  When managers and boards seek to overturn an academic decision because of their fear of making donors and others unhappy, they are betraying the best traditions of the institutions they govern.  And they should be ashamed of themselves.

Sadly, I don't expect Christopher Kennedy to understand this point.  He is, after all, a person who can insist on the one hand that real discussion and debate requires "a lot more effort than having a shouting match or name calling," and on the other showed no reluctance to call James Kilgore a "domestic terrorist" for violent activities from nearly 40 years ago. Leaving aside the issue that the term "domestic terrorist" is an anachronism it is hard to see how calling Kilgore a "domestic terrorist" in the present is anything but "name calling" and as the Board of Trustees put it in their attempt to justify Chancellor Wise's actions in the Salaita case "disrespectful and demeaning speech that promotes malice."  In the annals of academic managerial self-contradiction this one ranks high.  And while I can understand why Chair Kennedy might not have wanted to vote in favor of granting emeritus status to William Ayers it is hard to see how he wouldn't have recused himself from the proceedings--if his desire was for an open and non-prejudiced debate.  But because he speaks from the position of authority no one is going to police or punish him at the University.  The arbitrariness of civility and its uses is, one might say, a truth self-evident.


III
But I would expect Chancellor Dirks to understand.  The Chancellor is, after all, a noted scholar of Indian history.  Among his different works is a consideration of the Warren Hastings impeachment trial.  In it he not only engages at length with Edmund Burke's evisceration of Hastings (and Burke was hardly one for avoiding insults in his speeches and writings as the "nabobs" and "swinish multitude" knew well) but also with the ways that, despite Burke's intentions, the trial enabled a long period of English colonial rule justified under the terms of liberal civility.  As the Chancellor must realize, in the long history of its use, the demand for civility is not a demand to enable open debate but a tool for excluding those who don't abide by your standards.

It is for this reason that Chancellor Dirks' statement is so dismaying.  Not only does his attempt to define the terms of acceptable discourse extend beyond social media and enter into all interactions on campus; not only does it seek to catch students and staff (the least powerful on a campus) into its net; not only is its vagueness and terms a drastic reduction of the moral courage of the moment it insists it wants to honor, but it is a terrible missed opportunity.

For the Chancellor is correct when he insisted that the Free Speech Movement "made the right to free expression of ideas a signature issue for our campus, and indeed for universities around the world."  To honor that, though, requires a call not for a crimped vision of civility but for open and reasoned debate.  Members of the university community don't need to be told to behave; instead, we need to demand of ourselves that we support our claims with evidence and coherence.  We don't need to pretend that all debates are friendly ones or that there are not real interests in conflict.   If universities in general, and Berkeley in particular, are going to model intellectual discourse and life for the country, it is not going to be imposing some rule of tone; it is going to be by demanding of people that they argue with reasons.  

This is the challenge facing many upper administrators: do they wish to take up the position of managers from above or speak from within the university and campus they inhabit?  It is a particularly acute challenge at a place like Berkeley.   For 2009 made it clear what a managerial response to open debate and protest would look like.   The attitude of the present administration is unclear--at least to me.

We have then a tale of two campuses.  On one, the language of civility has been employed to override the outcome of the academic process and to intrude into the independence of academic decisions.  It has provoked a firestorm of protest.  On the other, it is a fall of remembrance of protest.  50 years ago the claims of free speech confronted the force of the police.  In 2009, student and faculty efforts to preserve the public purpose of the University were met again with force.  What 2014 holds remains to be seen.
Categorías: Universidade

The New Brutalism in Higher Education

Xov, 04/09/2014 - 17:28
Marina Warner has a fascinating essay in the latest London Review of Books. Seeking to explain why she resigned from her position at the University of Essex, Warner describes a rapid collapse of the University's traditions of scholarly openness and institutional democracy under the pressure of the Coalition government's new funding model and (lack of) scholarly commitments. As she reveals, the tentacles of the new audit technocracy are infiltrating the University by means of the faculty review process.

Describing a meeting presided over by the Vice-Chancellor Anthony Forster, Warner describes a situation that may sound all too familiar:
At the meeting, Forster was galvanising the deputy vice-chancellor, and his leadership style was making a colleague’s chin wobble in her eagerness to meet his requests. Others round the table hung their heads, staring sullenly at their laptops. The Senate had just approved new criteria for promotion. Most of the candidates under review had written their submissions before the new criteria were drawn up, yet these were invoked as reasons for rejection. As in Kafka’s famous fable, the rules were being (re‑)made just for you and me. I had been led to think we were convened to discuss cases for promotion, but it seemed to me we were being asked to restructure by the back door. Why these particular individuals should be for the chop wasn’t clear from their records. Cuts, no doubt, were the underlying cause, though they weren’t discussed as such. At one point Forster remarked aloud but to nobody in particular: ‘These REF stars – they don’t earn their keep.’
In England, as you probably know, academics have been subject for many years to a two-step system of accountability.  Individuals have been asked to provide proof not only that they are producing things but of their impact on society and on their fields.  It has led to a Kafkaesque system of evaluation and surveillance (with manifold levels of arbitrary categories masquerading as hard, quantitatively defined accomplishments) to force individuals, departments, and higher education institutions to prove their worth.  Without certain scores you receive little or no research funding.

But with the Coalition government's attempts to force a new market structure on Higher Education (considered as a consumer good) there is a new level of managerial intrusion at work.  For the government has cut direct funding for Universities and raised student fees (and loans) while effectively forcing universities to try to recruit international students to make good the shortfalls in funding.  As Warner's story of her personnel meeting makes clear, the upshot of this is that while academics are still being subject to the system of research surveillance, or in this case subject to a new system that they had not been prepared for, the demands for scholarship were increasingly irrelevant for the funding of the university or for the allocation of resources within the university:


At that stage, everyone in the university was still obsessively focused on meeting the demands of this year’s REF. By the end of 2013, all the evidence had been gathered, and the inventory of our publications fought over, recast and finally sent off to be assessed by panels of peers. Everyone in academia had come to learn that the REF is the currency of value. A scholar whose works are left out of the tally is marked for assisted dying. So I thought Forster’s remark odd at the time, but let it go. It is now widely known – but I did not know it then – that the rankings of research, even if much improved, will bring universities less money this time round than last. So the tactics to bring in money are changing. Students, especially foreign students who pay higher fees, offer a glittering solution.
In this new system scholarly activity was only worthwhile as a symptom of consumer desirability.  In England, you still needed to manage your REF profile--but only while you did more and more teaching to more and more students.  And it is the managers, not the faculty, who decide if you are desirable enough.

Warner began her account by describing the visit of a friend from California who noticed that the library (from the 1960s) had been built in the style of the "new brutalism" (Think of most old UC or CSU buildings). But as Warner herself notes, "new brutalism in academia was taking on another meaning."  Although it has happened with ruthless ideological will in England, it is not an alien story to the US.  Indeed, what has happened over the last few years under David Cameron is really just a fast-forward version of what has been going on in the US more slowly and in less centralized fashion.  We are in the midst of our own new brutalism.  Although not as centrally directed we have been witnessing it for years: the recent intrusions by governing boards at the Universities of Illinois, Kansas, and Virginia; the shuttering of small language departments; the dramatic rise in tuition at public universities; increasing student/faculty ratios; ever growing reliance on adjuncts; cuts in Federal support for scholarly research; and our own, albeit less developed, auditing system.  In England, the transition occurred with such speed as to catch most people off-guard (despite the efforts of individuals like Stefan ColliniAndrew McGettigan, or the Campaign for the Public University).  But we have no excuse.This is the time to master the details to be able to oppose the systems being put into place on campuses across the country.

Categorías: Universidade

What's Wrong with College? Plenty. What's Wrong with Journalism About College? Everything.

Ven, 29/08/2014 - 22:10
I exaggerate a bit.  When the press covers for-profit diploma mills or exploding student debt, it is smart and skeptical.    When they cover college funding or ed-tech, it gets gullible and naive. 

Take a recent entry from the New York TimesBringing Tech Culture to the Staid College Quad.  First of all, what non-hibernating person thinks the college quad is staid?  A major Atlantic Monthly analysis of "The Dark Power of Fraternities" showed being on the quad endangers your health.  In staid Santa Barbara this year, some of my students were date-raped, stalked, framed by the local cops, and killed in a drive-by shooting.  The college quad sees protests about racism, abortion, foreign policy, police violence, and administrative misconduct.  The quad does teaching and research that is generally over the horizon of the average newsroom.  Staid is a patronizing and ridiculous word for today’s universities, which are fully immersed in their surrounding societies, while having also to stay ahead of them.

If the outdated stereotype is one problem with college coverage, falling for sales pitches is another.   Journalists seem now to believe that professional educators are a selfish special interest, while corporate marketers are impartial observers who offer the true picture.

The Staid Quad article is about the high cost of college textbooks.
In a report last year, the Government Accountability Office said the price of new textbooks rose 82 percent from 2002 to 2012, only slightly less than the 89 percent rise in tuition and fees, and far higher than the 28 percent rise in overall consumer prices. Very bad. Textbook prices are outrageous. Who gets to explain the problem? Dan Rosensweig, the chief executive of Chegg, an education services company. “Learning has been an inefficient market,” he says. This fits with the stereotype that teaching is inefficient and teachers like it that way, so they are just fine with overpriced texts. Chegg.com’s comparative shopping service is apparently the answer – improving price information will make textbooks a more efficient market and thereby lower prices.

Actually, no.  Students aren’t price gouged by universities or their generally sad, post-book “bookstores” that sell big gulp water bottles and school sweatshirts. Students aren’t price gouged by faculty, who have zero control over text pricing.  Students are price gouged by publishing monopolies, who set prices on a captive audience.  Academic publishers are gradually strangling university libraries to get 20-36% profit margins on scientific journals, where investigators review for free but pay to publish.  The same goes for textbooks.  You can't write a good article on excessive textbook prices unless you can say "exploitative economics of academic publishing," but that's what this ed-tech article does. Textbook prices have risen because for-profit educational services make as much money as they possibly can off students, and seek market positions that protect this pricing power. Sure enough, Chegg charges for tutoring and job placement services that universities currently provide their students for free. And yet we are supposed to think that Chegg-style for-profit services will cure cost problems that their sector has produced.

There have been free services at the public college near you, but not such good free services anymore, since the public colleges that serve the lower- and middle-income, socially-un-networked students who really need job placement have been subject to year after year, decade after decade of budget cuts.  These public colleges now spend in many cases ten to fifteen cents on the dollar Harvard spends on its students.  The California Community College system, with its wealth of first-generation and low-income students, has 2000 students per advisor.  So why don’t the CC's have more advisors.  Because they don't have the money. Why don't they have they money?  Now we're getting to the right question.

They don't have money because state politicians keep cutting their budgets.  This pushes us one more step.  Why these constant cuts to the state share of higher ed?  Well, there are strong competitors that weren't around 50 years ago, like Medicaid and the world's most overactive prison system.

But there is also the tax avoidance culture of the corporate America to which “educational services” companies belong. Think Apple, tax avoidance champion on 35% profit margins (important revelations here and here). Think Google, who furnished the engineer who started Udacity, the company dedicated to driving market inefficiencies out of teaching by replacing teachers with screens—until that turned out not actually to work.  Think the whole iEconomy, engaged in continuous tax arbitrage and thus social disinvesting around the world. Think effective corporate tax rates at 12.1%, 1/3rd the nominal rate, 1/3rd the rate you and I pay. Think Bechtel, UC's partner in national lab management, "one of the country’s largest engineering firms, [re]organized as [an] S-corporation to avoid corporate income taxes."  Think the growing gap between corporate profits and corporate tax returns, on the federal level, which is not so different from trends in the states, where corporate taxes are down to 5% of revenues (California).
Whether or not the products of the private alternatives to public universities actually work, the cuts continue, conveniently for Chegg et al., who can charge for services that used to be free in the public universities that tax arbitrage continues to destroy.

Should journalists have to talk tax code every time they praise ed tech? No. Should they ask whether the educational solutions of corporate marketers aren’t in fact the problem? Absolutely yes.

And what I am as a professor doing about the high price of textbooks. What I have always done: Order old editions that have lots of used copies around. Put copies on reserve in the library. Give desk copies away. Scan and post documents on protected websites. And of course overuse my departmental xerox machine--which we'll have money to replace around 2023.
Categorías: Universidade

Health Care: Here we go Again?

Mér, 27/08/2014 - 18:47
As you may know, there have been rumors of a significant rise in the co-payments that UC's health insurance plans require as part of coverage of "specialty drugs" that are often needed by the most endangered members of the workforce (people suffering from cancers, MS, HIV, liver ailments etc). In the aftermath of Union pressure and employee mobilization, Vice President Dwaine Duckett has announced that there will not be changes to the ways that "specialty drugs" will be treated by the different health care plans.

It is difficult to tell whether this was, in fact, a serious possibility that was pushed back by union activism or simply something floated in the course of discussions.  But it is a reminder that next year's UC health insurance options are in the process of being finalized and it is important for faculty and staff to keep their eyes open or contact their local HR offices about possible changes.

It is now a year since the debacle that was the roll-out and implementation of UC Care.  Although UCOP liked to emphasize the moderation of employee premium costs, it soon became clear that the shift to UC Care also shifted some costs onto employees for certain procedures, and that there was concern about new fees and reduced availability of physicians.  In fact, it was the example of UC Care that helped trigger the worry about the co-pays on specialty drugs. You may recall from analysis we posted last fall that one of the effects of UC Care was to raise the costs of specialty drugs dramatically.  In some cases individuals had to pay co-payments of up to 30% of the cost of drugs (although there were monthly and annual limits).  It is also the case that many employees doctors were no longer included in Tier 1 (thereby raising costs that way as well).

On top of this cost shifting there was the larger question of the reduced coverage offered to employees at non-medical center campuses.  The ultimate example of this, of course, was UCSB.  The only major hospital in the area Cottage Hospital refused Tier 1 coverage because of what UC was offering in payment. The only major clinic was pressured into a Tier 1 contract, but only for  one year.  It is unclear what, if any, Tier 1 coverage will be offered to UCSB this year.

Finally, people need to be aware that retiree health care for out of state retirees has been modified dramatically.  Since health care for employees looks like overhead to UCOP, further cuts are in the offing.

We have a number of old posts that you can check to refresh your memories of last year's UC Care roll-out and other changes.  Open enrollment is in two months so now is the time to raise issues or concerns with your local HR offices.

Employee Benefits Posts and Links

Remaking Posts:
Health Care Troubles and a Simple Solution (October 9, 2013)
The Plot Thickens on UC Care in Santa Barbara (October 10, 2013)
Some Further Questions About UC Care (October 12, 2013)
More on UC Care (October 15, 2013)
UCR Faculty Association Letter on UC Care in Riverside (November 17, 2013)
UCSB Health Care Update: The REst of Tier 1 is Yet to Come (November 23, 2013)
Obamacare and UC Care (December 9, 2013)
Union Logic of the Insurance Changes: the Case of Retiree Health Care (December 15, 2013)
UC Care Stories (March 14, 2014)
Further Troubles with UC Care (April 10, 2014)
Categorías: Universidade

The Latest on the Salaita Case at the University of Illinois

Sáb, 23/08/2014 - 18:44
As you probably know, at the beginning of August University of Illinois Chancellor Phyllis Wise decided to rescind an offer of a tenured position to Steven Salaita formerly of Virginia Tech.   Professor Salaita had been chosen by the American Indian Studies Program last October after, as far as I can tell, passing through all of the appropriate Academic vetting processes at U of I. The offer was, as all job offers are at U of I, conditional on approval by the Board of Trustees.  For some reason, the Illinois Board does not meet to make final approval until September, after most new faculty have started their jobs.  In the interim, under conditions that remain clouded in mystery, Chancellor Wise apparently became convinced that Professor Salaita's tweets on the Israeli-Palestine conflict made him unqualified to join the faculty and she chose not to submit his name to the Board of Trustees.

Chancellor Wise's latest statement on her decision can be found here.

There have already been responses to her statement.  I list three below:

John K. Wise has posted at the Academe Blog.

Peter Kirstein has a comment here.

Timothy Burke has a commentary here.

Whatever one's views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or the BDS movement (which are the underlying points of political controversy here) Chancellor Wise's statement only highlights the dangers facing academic freedom from administrative intervention into faculty judgment about the appropriate scholar to fill a position. Chancellor Wise insists that her decision "was not influenced in any way by [Professor Salaita's] positions on the conflict in the Middle East nor his criticism of Israel."  This claim is then followed not by any discussion about why Professor Salaita's offer should be withdrawn but by generalized commentary about showing respect in the classroom for people holding alternative positions and for alternative positions themselves. Her statement is so vague that, as John Wilson points out (linked above) it could apply to a biology professor who was disrespectful of creationism.  Or, I would add, if you were to take a different political position, should an administration be able to prevent an appointment of an anti-abortion tweeter because some of his or her teaching might upset pro-choice students?

What appears to be at stake here is criticism of Professor Salaita's tweets.  I have already commented in the Los Angeles Review of Books on the threats to academic freedom posed by administrations and Boards seeking to control people's statements as citizens on social media.  But this case sharpens the point.  As the blog Mondoweiss points out, Professor Salaita has a long teaching record which shows no evidence of the dangers that Chancellor Wise claims to fear, i.e. whatever one's opinion on his tweets there is no evidence that students feel unwelcome in expressing their thoughts or alternative views.   And if there is no connection between tweeting and his interaction with students in his classrooms then there is no relevance to the tweets.

The Board's defense of the Chancellor's decision displays an even more disturbing confusion. The Board insists that "we" (I think they intend the University but it could just be the Board) "must constantly reinforce our expectation of a university community that values civility as much as scholarship."  They apparently believe that this entails discourse that will not make students or others feel uncomfortable.  Now it is certainly right that colleges and universities ensure that professor's don't demean or abuse their students--and there are plenty of mechanisms to do that.  But to insist on some undefined standard of "civility" in debate and to claim that it is as important as scholarship is, frankly, absurd.  Part of a student's higher education is becoming uncomfortable as your accepted ideas are challenged, defended, and rethought.  The level of confusion here is enough to justify asking the Board to stay out of these decisions.

There are other deeper issues that need to be raised.  As far as I have been able to determine Professor Salaita's appointment went, as I said above, through all the normal academic channels.  But there is no evidence that, when Chancellor Wise developed concerns, she returned the file to the appropriate faculty organs to ask for clarification or extra materials.  Nor, apparently, was there any attempt to communicate with Professor Salaita.  In other words, what we have here is an administrative override of a considered faculty judgment based on unproven concerns that there might be some relationship between social media and the classroom.  Given that, it seems unreasonable for Chancellor Wise to insist that the decision was not politically motivated.

Nor is the claim, forwarded by some, that since Salaita was not already a member of the U of I faculty there is no academic freedom issue anything more than a red herring.  If academic freedom is to mean anything it must be a system.  For it to work nationally and internationally scholars cannot be worried that if they say or publish something a board or an administrator at a position they seek will block their appointment.  It is incumbent on faculty and on colleges and universities to honor academic freedom not only of their own members but of scholars at other institutions.

Finally, although administrators have the authority to set priorities and determine how faculty lines are distributed, the decision about the individual scholar chosen is primarily a faculty one and should not be imposed or denied by upper administrations separate from the faculty review process.  At the University of Illinois under its present Chair Christopher Kennedy the Board already intervened in two previous cases of individual faculty positions.  (See here and here)  Indeed, Chancellor Wise indicated that she did not forward Professor Salaita's appointment to the Board in part because she doubted it would be approved.  It is quite possible that she has been charged with doing their work for them.

Although this case is, of course, singular it reveals a more general pattern.  Boards and upper administration are pressing against the autonomy of the actual scholarly and curricular life of universities and colleges--something for decades has been organized and overseen by faculty.  The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) has recently insisted that Boards take an even greater role in university and college affairs and that shared governance "cannot and must not be an excuse for board inaction."  Instead they insist that

trustees must have the last word when it comes to guarding the central values of American higher education--academic excellence and academic freedom.  The preservation of academic freedom, freedom of expression, and the integrity of scholarship and teaching rightly falls under their purview.  While the occasions should be rare, they must be prepared to intervene when internal constituencies are unable or unwilling to institute urgently needed reforms.
I want to be clear here.  Despite the calls for academic freedom and expression, the central theme of the ACTA statement is that trustees are the only group that can view the institution and its relation with society whole. Therefore, more than narrow faculty or even preoccupied administrators, they must control the relationship between the university or college and the wider world.  Central to this relationship is reputation, only this is defined by ACTA as public acceptance rather than academic autonomy.  ACTA wants to professionalize Board service so as to limit the professional claims of faculty over their own areas.  Indeed, since faculty are so focused on their professional responsibilities, ACTA suggests, they are unable to see the big picture.  It is this logic that justifies the Board of Trustees at Illinois to support the Chancellor in overriding all of the normal faculty review processes.

The approach advocated by ACTA and enacted in the Salaita case threatens to undermine the academic autonomy that faculty have struggled for since the early twentieth-century. If faculty lose their autonomy, the autonomy of colleges and universities will be lost as well.

All those who want to prevent higher education from becoming even more of a sphere of reputational fear and institutional timidity need to push back against this vision as forcefully as they can.


Categorías: Universidade

NCAA In Turmoil

Sáb, 09/08/2014 - 23:05
This week has seen the thin veneer of amateurism removed from the image of the NCAA. Two separate decisions--one by the Association and one by a Federal Judge should make it clear that the NCAA is big business, that it depends on profiting off of its athletes while denying them fair recompense, and that its business model is fraught with legal and ethical problems.  It will take some time to see the effects of these decisions but some quick responses are offered below.

1) Yesterday Judge Claudia Wilken released a judgment in the legal case brought by Edward O'Bannon and others against the NCAA.  O'Bannon and his fellow plaintiffs argued that the NCAA acted unfairly by profiting from the use of their images and names without allowing them to share in the profits.  The NCAA argued in part that they prevented athletes from sharing in their profits because it was important for college athletics to remain "amateur" and that paying the athletes directly would undermine that image.  The Judge rejected that position and ruled that, in fact, the whole notion of "amateur" had changed over time and that there was no legitimate legal reason to prevent the athletes from gaining compensation for the NCAA's licensing of the athletes images.  You can read the entire decision here but the salient point is that the Judge insisted that athletes at Division 1 football and basketball programs should be allowed to share the profits, that their shares could be placed in trust during their time in school, and that the amount placed in the funds could be capped at no less that $5000 annually. One expert estimated that if NCAA Division 1 schools did cap at the minimum the amount would could be up to $300 Million dollars over a 4 year span.

2) The second important event was the decision by the NCAA to grant to the power sports conferences greater autonomy over their own actions and greater authority within the Association.  The power sports conferences had threatened to break away from the NCAA and in response the Association apparently agreed to stop pretending that it was a single entity and to allow those campuses with oversized athletic programs with oversized power to separate themselves from the athletic hoi polloi.  The decision opens the way for the richer conferences to offer more scholarships and larger scholarships.  They will also, after Judge Wilken's decision be in a better position to create the trusts to allow athletes their small piece of the licensing pie.  Although one can expect to see coaches salaries going up a lot more than the monies offered to athletes. Amateur athletics is big business after all.

Of course waiting in the wings of all of this ongoing question of whether student-athletes are employees and have the right to unionize.  That issue--raised by Northwestern football players--is a long way from being settled.  Perhaps, though, it might lead not only to fairer compensation for the athletes but also to coaches remember that student-athletes are supposed to be students and not setting up practice requirements in such a way that they have to regularly miss class.  What can I say...hope springs eternal.


Categorías: Universidade

How Can Public Research Universities Pay for Research?

Mar, 05/08/2014 - 13:26
Higher ed policy is suffering through a long siege  of intellectual gridlock.  The default result is what I've been calling permausterity, a chronic funding shortage for public colleges that now rests on a chronic lack of confidence in the job they're doing.  This has become a vicious cycle that feeds itself.  

Making matters worse, faculty responses are fragmented, when faculty respond at all.  Some of the most eloquent voices are increasingly disenchanted: William Deresiewicz got so much pushback for his recent piece, "Don't Send your Kid to the Ivy League," in part because he seemed to be saying that even our premier universities are turning America's most successful students into mercenary sheep.


(1) Why Can't College be Cheaper?
Dr. Deresiewicz's piece upset many supporters of the college ideal (e.g., Jim Sleeper), and one reason is that it seemed to lend credibility to this year's leading higher ed question: "is college worth it?" If Yale sucks too, why not give up on rebuilding funding and learning and get on with the inevitable consolidation of higher ed into two dozen university-corporations along the lines of the media industries and IT? The Apollo Group could provide the management, Coursera the online platform, Pearson VUE the assessment, and Harvard-MIT-Stanford the quality control.  Three percent of the college population could still go to prestige-brand research universities and liberal arts colleges, which is about the percentage that goes to them now.  Everyone else would, in this scenario, get converted over 10-15 years to varying combinations of blended learning and online-only. In spite of the MOOC ebb that began last summer, tech-based disruption and downsizing remain at the top of the national higher ed agenda.   

There are good disruptions that should be implemented, bottom-up, in universities, and also obvious reasons not to turn universities into digital learning corporations.  One of these reasons has to do with how people actually learn (as opposed to how they receive and replicate information packets). Some of the growth in student services is a market-driven "amenities race," but much of the growth comes from new structural support for better learning. Fixing the country's educational levels is going to require more and not less money for student services, more and not less funding for active learning, and more and not less payroll to hire permanent faculty.  Adjunct Nation has new allies in Congress, which will also support a deeper discussion of educational quality. We need post-contingent education (see, for example, Jennifer Ruth's recent posts (here and here).

Another large cost is research.  The country expects the vast majority of its basic research to come from universities.  And yet few policymakers and general voters understand who pays for research and how much it costs.  The traditional funders have been the federal and state governments, but states have been reneging on their side of the deal for years, leaving the feds in the lurch.  At the same time, the feds have been partners in this decline, having never explained to state policymakers, much less to voters, that they did not fund the full cost of research.  Admitting that research loses money has been taboo, since it conflicts with Washington's demand that science lead directly to economic growth.  States have cut funding in part because they didn't know they were in effect also cutting economically strategic STEM research.

But in the last few years things have been looking up.  Washington D.C. agencies are finally going public with their concern that we don't know how to pay the full costs of university research after all.


(2) Research Shortfalls are Real
In 2012, the National Science Board published Diminishing Funding and Rising Expectations: Trends and Challenges for Research Universities, and in the same year the National Research Council of the National Academies released Research Universities and the Future of America. Both criticized the states' wholesale retreat from public funding.  Both reports noted that universities are increasingly on the hook to pay for research from their own internal funds--even when the research has an outside sponsor. Institutional funds are now the "second largest source of funding for academic R&D, accounting for $11.2 billion of the $54.9 billion of academic spending on S&E [Science &Engineering] R&D in 2009" (NSB p 16).  The NRC report stated that "The institutional contribution to research has been growing faster than federal funding," which, they added, diverts money from necessities like instruction and maintenance (NRC p 125).

Then, this past June, the Council on Governmental Relations, a leading research university lobby, chimed in with the same message and more graphic detail.  Under the title, "Finances of Research Universities," its report offers a good primer on the differences between private and public university funding and then gets into some of the gory details of research costs.  If one of your summer resolutions is to tone up your skill with calculating F&A overhead on MTDC, then this is the report for you.

The big takeaways are that universities' internal funds are the fastest-growing source of research funding, and that universities' share is large.  The total university contribution has grown again since the NSB and NRC reports, from $11.2 billion to $13.7 billion per year.
Over the period from 1976 to 2012, the share of R&D expenditures assumed by colleges and universities has grown faster than any other category. Institutional Funds accounted for 21.6% of all R&D expenditures in 2012 (adjusting out the ARRA effect) as compared to 12.0% of all R&D expenditures in 1976—a growth factor of +80%.COGR provides a number of interesting tables, using in many cases data from the NSF's Higher Education Research and Development Survery, or HERD). Here is one:

Reseach and Development (R&D) Expenditures by Funding Source as a Percentage of All R&D Expenditures

State support for R&D is a third of what it was pre-Sputnik (1956) (although unadjusted totals continued to grow).  Federal support, though much more stable, is now heading back down towards its pre-Sputnik share. Over the same period, universities have doubled the size of their piece of research funding. Their share has doubled since the 1970s, in spite of excellent growth rates of federal research funding--or actually, because of this federal growth.  In 2011, a useful article in Nature pointed out a further problem, which can be seen in one of its figures: 

Public universities do twice the dollar amount of research that privates do, and yet spend twice the share of their own funds in subsidizing it (24% vs 12%).   Hence the title question, how can public research universities afford to do the research society does in fact want?

Back to the COGR report, which concludes with some bureaucratic fighting words:
The university subsidy is a legitimate issue and one that use be addressed honestly and constructively by all stakeholders.  [Forcing] universities to fund real, unreimbursed costs through non-federal revenue sources [makes them] potentially reduce investments in core missions and infrastructure. Ultimately, this impairs a university's ability to strategically plan and invest in its future research enterprise. (23)In other words, concealing true research costs hurts the overall university while also hurting research.

I'm happy that a high-level organization is now explicitly saying that unrecovered research costs "are a financial burden with severe implications for the future productivity of research universities" (19).  This is progress.


(3) How Much of the Research Shortfalls are Recoverable?
There's a big wrinkle we now need to consider.  What kind of research costs are universities covering through their Institutional Funds? 

Universities need to support extramural research with outlays for facilities and administration (F&A), whose reimbursements have been capped at 26% since 1991, though only for universities. They also need to build and renew overall infrastructure and pay for research that isn't supported by outside sponsors (which includes nearly all research in the arts, humanities and qualitative social sciences).  They must help start new labs, sometimes build new buildings for them, seed new projects that may attract outside funding at some future date, and provide bridge funding for faculty who are in-between grants but have labs to run and grad students to train.  A combination of these and other activities accounts for the $13.7 billion that universities spent of their own money on research in fiscal year 2012 (out of a total of nearly $66 billion).  (The NSF breaks down costs by university in this table.)

The NSF tries to figure out how much money goes to various research categories through the HERD survey mentioned above.  The COGR report cites its findings as follows:
Of the $13.7 billion, 56% ($7.7 billion) was in the form of direct funding for faculty or student research projects, 9% ($1.3 billion) was devoted to cost sharing, and almost 34% ($4.6 billion) represented unrecovered indirect costs. (2012 HERD Survey)In other words, somewhat over half of university research expenditures supports the research of their own faculty and students. A third goes to cover costs incurred by sponsored research that are not covered by the sponsors. Another tenth goes to cost sharing, which always involves sponsored projects. Summing up these figures, we might conclude that 44% of Institutional Funds subsidize extramural sponsors, while 56% cover internal research projects.  All of these costs are within the normal scope of research university activity--and, to get pious for a second, form part of its obligation to society.

But is this breakdown correct? The COGR report suggests it is by singling out the $4.6 billion as the main subsidy burden universities bear. It equates, in the report's terms, "to a staggering multi-million dollar obligation per university," and raises a "widespread concern as to the sustainability of the significant investments made by research universities" (19). COGR thus implies that only about one-third of universities' research outlays could be recovered by fixing reimbursement policy.

Other documents tell different tales.  The COGR report itself offers a case study (Chart 13, p 20) of a "Private Research University, Southeast."  This university spent $505 million on research but received $390 million in revenues, which required it to chip in $115 million of its own money.  So nearly 23% of this university's total research costs came from Institutional Funds.  The line-item breakdown of expenses lists University-Funded Research at $33 million, or  a bit over 28% of the Institutional Fund contribution.  This is half of the average for "direct funding for faculty or student research projects" in the HERD survey.  (It is also only 6.5% of this university's total R&D expenditure.)

To take a further case: when the University of California's Commission on the Future tried to get a handle on the university's costs, they summarized research losses like this:
In recent years, the University has received over $3.5 billion per year in extramurally-sponsored research grants, of which over $780 million per year is designated for indirect costs such as facilities support and research administration.  But the actual indirect costs of extramurally-funded research are estimated to be $1.5 billion. (page 111)UC was thus losing $720 million a year on a research gross of $3.5 billion. This meant that 20.6% of its R&D expenditures came from internal funds, which is very close to the national average.  But this statement suggests that sponsored research caused the entire shortfall.

So we have three stories about the extent to which research universities must spend more money than the public understands in order to cover costs on behalf of research sponsors. 
  1.  A third (or at most 44%) of Institutional Funds go to subsidizing costs of sponsored research, costs that the private sector would likely insist be paid in full.  About 56% goes to non-sponsored or "internal" research for faculty and students.
  2. Something like a quarter of Institutional Funds go to non-sponsored research.  That leaves three-quarters supporting extramurally sponsored research. 
  3. More or less all Institutional Funds go to filling in these shortfalls in sponsored research funding.
Which story is correct? I think the best answer at the moment is all of them, depending on the university. Wealthy private universities may well be close to (1), spending most of their internal funds on their own faculty's non-sponsored projects.   Less wealthy privates and some major public research universities may be close to (2). Both of these stories are about major research losses of somewhat different sizes.

The extreme case of (3), in which nearly all Institutional Funds subsidize sponsored research, may be right for the case for which it was developed, the University of California.

To check whether this could possibly be true, I offer some seat-of-the-pants numbers for one campus, UCLA.  It has formally recorded Institutional Funds expenditures from at least two sources, its Academic Senate Committee on Research, and the Office of the President's Research Grants Program Office (RGPO). The former, in the pre-cut year of 2007-08, dispensed about $2 million in travel and research support.  The latter, over a three-year period 2010-13, spent $44 million per year (  Annual Report page 25).  (I apologize for mixing years but here I'm just going for scale).  I'll assume that UCLA got about one-fifth of RGPO system resources based on its large size.  That means the campus spent $11 million of Institutional Funds through formal channels on faculty and student research projects in a period when it was grossing around $1 billion a year in extramural research funding.  In other words, UCLA spent 1.1% of its Institutional Funds on designated faculty research. 

This is obviously not the whole picture of internal research funding, but we don't have public information on the use of discretionary funds retained at various administrative levels--but also no reason to think a large percentage of this unknown figure goes to non-sponsored faculty research.  Throw in the fact that Committee on Research funds go to some extent to top up extramural grants. You can then see why the UC Commission report rounded up to the claim that essentially 100% of Institutional Funds go to paying for unreimbursed indirect costs of extramural research.

The implication of all of these stories, especially 2 and 3, is that public universities can pay for research, but, as we go forward, only if federal, state, and private funders stop asking them to subsidize a large chunk of indirect research costs.


(4) A Few Steps Towards Improvement
Regardless of which story is correct for a given university, they all point towards the following list of to-do's.

A. University administrations should say openly and often that research loses money. It must be publicly supported because it loses money.  The more fundamental the research, the greater its long-term social potential, the more likely it is to lose money for years if not decades. The Internet provides an easy example of this point. 

B. Point out that effectively freezing public funding to hundreds of research universities is undermining the country's research ecosystem.  Converting higher ed to online, in whole or in part, will wreck that ecosystem.

C. Act on these NSB, NRC, and COGR calls "to cover the full costs of research projects and other activities they procure from research universities in a consistent and transparent manner" (NRC Recommendation 6, p 122).  (It is already official University of California policy to charge sponsors enough to "cover all expenses, direct and indirect" (APM-020 Revised Regulation No. 4, II. 3)  Set up a multi-year plan for fixing at least the one-third of the problem that all agree is attributable to sponsors' underpaying of indirect research costs.

D. Sort through Stories 1-3 above. Get clean numbers, campus by campus, for "indirect indirect" costs--all the set-up costs that support extramural research rather than research that is ineligible for extramural funding. This will mean distinguishing clearly that research which, for historical and institutional reasons, depends wholly on Institutional Funds. It will also mean campus admins publishing those numbers to their communities, so that they can be understood and discussed.

E. Identify and quantify the needs of the large, complicated sphere of this (mostly) qualitative and/or truly experimental research that cannot receive external sponsorship. Explain why its ineligibility to receive external sponsorship follows from the historical shape of Western scientific, military, and industrial development rather than from a lack of merit or social value.  (This needs to be done for a society that doesn't generally understand market failure, spillover effects, or noncommercial social value.) Then make sure that this research has equal or superior claim to Institutional Funds.

Universities need finally to get ahead of the curve on research costs. If they don't, the "unbundling" pressures will only increase.
Categorías: Universidade

What Can We Do Now That Adjunct Sections are Written Into Universities’ Fiscal Survival Strategy?

Mar, 22/07/2014 - 17:27
Image for U of Oby Jennifer Ruth, English Department, Portland State University

This is the second of a two-part post.  “Why are Faculty Complicit in Creating a Disposable Workforce?” appeared last week.

We need rapidly to increase pressure on university administrators for change. I believe that administrators are slowly digesting the (academic and public relations) downsides of relying on instructors to whom the institution makes no real commitment, but at the same time they are under unprecedented budget pressures. Chris’s post on public austerity spelled out many of these pressures. We desperately need to build a coalition that unites university constituencies in efforts to increase state funding.

But the adjunct crisis is tricky in this context. It is hard for university leadership to translate the ethical and political disaster we’ve all created with contingent labor into any form of public appeal. Most obviously, administrators attempting to explain the deleterious consequences of adjunct reliance might be interpreted as insulting a significant percentage of their employees. It seems inescapable that at least this part of the fight to restore the public university is going to have to be assumed by the faculty, primarily at the level of departments. We can try to mitigate the degree to which the fight is an adversarial one pitting departments against central administrators, but some conflict is unavoidable.

In Part One, I argued that we should insist on the funds for full-time tenure-track positions by withholding the use of cheap adjunct sections. I spent most of my time discussing the inter-departmental psychological obstacles that must be overcome to pursue such a strategy.

Let’s say, though, that your department successfully makes it through the discussions needed to build consensus. You collectively have decided to dramatically reduce adjunct usage as part of a plan to rebuild decent positions. What happens then?

Here, in part two, I explore what such a recommendation could possibly mean given that adjunct usage is baked into university budgets. Were we to do this—i.e., tell everyone expecting adjunct sections that we are trying to get good positions by not putting these sections on our schedules and then do just that—just how big a bomb would be set off?

First, we should consider the scope of our universities’ economic dependence on adjuncts. I’m going to use my own university as my basis so please bear with some details regarding Portland State. State support for the university has dwindled to only 11% of the budget. Our endowment is negligible. Consequently, our revenue is driven almost entirely by tuition. Tuition has been raised repeatedly over the years and, for a number of good reasons, cannot be raised any higher for the foreseeable future.

The professoriate at PSU consists of three faculty groups: tenured and tenure-track, full-time non-tenure-track, and adjunct. If we set aside the (very important) issues of job security and academic freedom, we can consider TT and full-time NTT faculty to be comparably-treated groups in pay, benefits, and work expectations. (There will be objections to this characterization but relative to the third group of faculty – adjuncts –it certainly holds true.) We have seen considerable tensions in a full-time workforce birfurcated into those with access to tenure and those without. The term “2nd-class citizen” for NTT faculty is invoked regularly, which tends to crowd out the more fundamental problem--the existence of our “3rd class citizens.” True to the national stereotype, adjunct faculty are largely invisible within the PSU University community. Full-time NTT serve on Senate, interact regularly with their TT colleagues and administrators, and are represented alongside TT faculty in the union (PSU-AAUP). To the extent that adjuncts’ voices are heard, it is primarily through their union, which bargains separately. Finally, it’s worth noting that a higher percentage of PSU’s professoriate are full-time (TT or NTT faculty) relative to the national average (29% vs. the 20% the Delphi Project cites as typical[1]).

Adjunct faculty deliver roughly 30% of PSU’s student credit hours (SCH) while full-time (TT and NTT) faculty deliver 70%. A whopping 92% of every tuition dollar earned by an adjunct instructor is net revenue compared to 24% of each dollar for full-time faculty. This means that after deducting expenditures (salary, etc.), the percentage of university base revenue contributed by adjunct SCH is 42% compared to 58% by the full-time faculty SCH. Nearly half of the university’s budget is built on adjunct usage.

In other words, the adjuncting that was once rationalized as a stop-gap and ad hoc measure is now the lifeblood of the budget. Were there to be a coordinated effort across departments to stop offering adjunct contracts, the university would go into full-blown cardiac arrest. I understand why the comparisons of adjunct faculty to slaves strikes many of us as both inappropriate and offensive, but one can see from this information why the analogy is tempting. To economically sustain itself, the public university needs people to perform work that it cannot afford to compensate, at least not remotely adequately. It goes without saying that this situation is hardly unique to PSU, though our desirable urban setting in Portland, Oregon probably gives us an unusually large pool of qualified people to exploit.

In this context, what would happen were departments to resist adjunct usage by imposing what amounts to an adjunct strike (albeit one initiated by the professionally-salaried full-time faculty)?  Most likely, they would meet with enormous and frantic resistance. Chairs and directors who won’t sign adjunct contracts could be pressured or forced to step down. Rumors would fly that administrators plan to retaliate by finding ways to shut down participating departments and to deny their junior faculty tenure. Second only to the guilt you’d feel for abruptly turning your back on the talented adjuncts who taught for your department for many moons is the guilt you’d feel about the panicked students piling up in the main office because they couldn’t get the classes they need. Forced to take out more student loans to extend their time in school, they would feel swindled. What university admits students, they would rightly ask, and then makes it impossible for them to graduate?

Who would knowingly go down this road? And yet if we don’t start taking some steps in this direction, nothing will change. It is true that without radical intervention on anyone else’s part, adjunct organizing, where it is legal, will make adjunct usage more and more expensive. This might ultimately land us in a similar place, but how many years from now? We need more good jobs now and some pain in reform is unavoidable. We have been getting something for cheap that allowed us to do things we wanted. That most of these things were worthy, such as keeping students on track for graduation, is beside the point. With no sudden windfalls (from the state or federal government or from donors) on the horizon, we have to bust our way out of this predicament with the same pint-sized budgets that pushed us into it.

Here’s how I suggest we start: Have the discussion within your department. Learn your own university’s numbers and then your own department’s specific numbers. Explain to your Dean that you feel you can no longer in good conscience be complicit in the abuse of adjuncts. Simultaneously reassure him or her that you are prepared to do everything in your power to lessen the “damage” done to all the constituencies that in one way or another benefited from the adjunct abuse.

What is within your power to change will vary widely by department. How your department organized its labor thus far, the disciplinary protocols driving research expectations (and, thus, promotion and tenure), the service needs: all of these things and more will play a part in determining how much room you have to maneuver. The goal, though, is to offer up as much as you can in return for new lines. The idea is that you might have to absorb some of the work previously done by adjuncts but, in return, you will get new full-time lines and you will no longer be complicit in adjunct exploitation. Remind your Dean that you are only doing now what you always should have done and what you will have to do in the future. Remind him or her that if you wait, you will be making these changes on a union’s terms not on the university’s.

Some further steps: Assess the department’s past in relation to the growth in adjunct use. When did your department start the practice and why? Take a fresh look at existing circumstances. Are there faculty who went down to half-time but you never argued to restore the missing instruction in the form of a new hire? Are there people who once carried full courseloads but are now directors of programs or otherwise engaged but you never made up the loss (except by way of adjuncts)? Figure out how you got where you are and what the lost opportunities for new full-time hires were in the past. It is important to document this background.

Find all low-hanging fruit. Are there enough funds for sections that could be bundled into full-time positions before asking for new investment? Are there funds for “perks” (and, yes, I mean heretofore necessities like travel money) that could be redirected? Are there ways to avoid low-enrollment classes? Are you and your colleagues willing to resume advising and mentoring, making a professional advisor unnecessary (freeing a salary plus benefits that could go to a full-time instructional position)? Are there staff positions that could be economized?

Eliminate as many course releases for full-time faculty as possible so that it’s clear that whatever adjunct sections are left over are not there to benefit full-time faculty but are the result of real need. Putting up some of your “own” money is how you buy good will with, build trust with, and minimize the possibility of retaliation from administrators.

This is already more than anybody wants to hear so I’ll stop for now. Believe me, I get why nobody wants to hear any of this. Mounting this full-frontal assault in real life resulted in scorched earth among full-time departmental colleagues, some of whom were old friends. (Weirdly as I’ve discussed for this blog before, the earth was less scorched between the department and the university administration.) It also resulted in a few new tenure lines and a few saved national searches.

Given how far we’ve gone down Contingency Road, the way back is going to be more painful than anyone wants it to be. But the rewards make the effort necessary and worthwhile: less exploitation, better education, internal relations based on improved equity, and a larger contribution to the public good.

Categorías: Universidade

Confronting Our Permanent Public University Austerity

Ven, 18/07/2014 - 01:16
This post focuses on the University of California's budget situation, but it is broadly applicable to public colleges and universities across the country.   More evidence of the national pattern came in this week, with reports of Moody's negative outlook on higher education's finances.  The Chronicle of Higher Education's Don Troop provided highlights of Moody's view of the overall sector.  UC reflects the convergence of all but the fourth of these trends.


  1. Growth in tuition revenue remains stifled by affordability concerns, legislative ceilings on tuition levels, and steep competition for students.
  2. State financing of higher education will increase, on average, just 3 to 4 percent—not enough to meet the growth in expenses.
  3. Already stiff competition for sponsored-research dollars is getting stiffer, with success rates for proposals dropping from 19 percent in 2008 to below 15 percent last year.
  4. One in 10 public and private colleges is suffering “acute financial distress” because of falling revenues and weak operating performance.
  5. Public colleges will begin to feel the impact of underfunded pensions and health benefits for retirees.
  6. Most public colleges and many private ones will be unable to achieve a 3-percent annual growth rate in operating revenue, Moody’s benchmark for sustainable financing at a time of low inflation.
Moody's also slapped UC with a minor downgrade, from the second-best rating to the third.


1. Did Tuition Hikes Make Up for State Funding Cuts?
As the UC Regents discussed the budget this week, the headline figure for California higher ed is the five percent public funding increase over last year. This has convinced most people that UC and CSU are getting a good deal from the state.  I've heard the same from some faculty, who tell me that UC is on the mend, and that we should stick to our work and let the economy recover.  Sadly, I don't see this mending in the Regents' budget documents.  What I do see is a hardening of the downward definition of public higher education through budgetary means, with no public debate.

The overall state picture is the same today as it was in November, when I wrote an overview entitled "The Old State Funding Model is Dead."  It is still dead, and if you are rusty on our current budgetary framework, you might want to (re)read that summary of the state government's perspective on UC and glance at the chart of the past fifteen years of budget trends. 

In the coming year, UC will receive around $2.8 billion in general fund (GF) receipts, which is about $2.2 billion below where it would have been had its budget grown in step with state personal income after 2000-01 (I use UCOP figures here, page S-4).  That GF total now includes debt payments on UC's General Obligation (GO) bonds, which the state had formerly paid on its own, so operational GF receipts are more like $2.6 billion. This is exactly where GF funding was ten years ago--not counting for inflation or enrollment growth, which Jerry Brown has decided the state will no longer fund.  Proposed future state increases are too small to move the University much off this bottom.  

The state has convinced itself that UC has made up for state funding cuts with huge tuition increases.  But as big as they are, they haven't replaced the cuts.  UC grossed $727 million in tuition in 2001-02 (Table 1, or about $1 billion in current dollars) and about $3.2 billion this year (same table), for a gain of nearly $2.2 billion in today's dollars, which seems at first to make up exactly for the GF cuts since 2000-01.  

But the net tuition gain is under $1.5 billion after financial aid is taken out, so we now have a net loss of $700 million.   Throw in enrollment growth of 55,000 students, which is the same as having added two additional UCSB campuses (and not just one hamstrung UC Merced).  UCOP continues to claim that they spend $19,590 per student, but let's say they only spend a third of that: we've just added $330,000,000 in additional operating costs and pushed the net loss in the GF-tuition swap to well over $1 billion per year.   In other words, tuition increases have only made up for something like half of the state cuts.  UCOP's claim, with somewhat different assumptions, that tuition increases have made up for about one third of the state funding cuts, is also plausible.  

Public universities, in short, did not have a "tuition option" for solvency even when they could raise tuition a lot--which they no longer can.


2. Austerity and Institutional Debt
The current public university path, if UC is an example, is a perverse combination of austerity and structural deficit. It is perverse because the only good thing ever alleged about austerity is that it pays down deficits, whereas this kind of public university austerity will not.  Perverse austerity is conventional wisdom in many lands, as Paul Krugman has tirelessly pointed out.  In Austerity: the History of a Dangerous Idea, Mark Blyth argued that austerity isn't about fixing its target institutions--like public colleges--but about hurting those institutions in order to help others--like banks.  UC austerity is about hurting UC -- or, more precisely, about defining it downward in part to lessen its budget claims.  

I'm making this point because another dangerous idea is for faculty, staff and students to sit back and let  projected economic growth fix the university.  It won't.  All Regents budget documents now contain sentences like this: 
Given the funding shortfall, campuses will need to weigh and balance among competing priorities with the understanding that there is not enough increased revenue to fund mandatory cost increases, let alone the other high-priority costs identified in the November budget plan.The is the equivalent of the older, tactful Surgeon General's warnings about smoking cigarettes: "this budget may be hazardous to campus health."

OK, this is not big news for those of us who've been following this for years.  But there's something poignantly revealing about the documents this month.  The state offers small bits of funding to UC here and there, mostly on a one-time basis, for specific projects, normally known as earmarks.  A particular one-time item, $50 million in supplemental funds based on higher-than-expected property tax receipts, was cancelled by the governor before the Regents had a chance to celebrate it.

Then there's the pension.  UC employee contributions have now risen to 8 percent of salary, and UC's employer share is going to 14 percent of payroll.  UC asked for the state to fund just next year's new increment on the employer contribution to the pension. This would be $64 million to cover the increase from 12 percent to 14 percent in 2014-15.  The state rejected even this fractional contribution.  

The state's point may be that the pension is UC's problem because the UC Regents created it, with their two-decade pension "holiday" in which neither employer nor employee made contributions.  But it's not like the state wants to force accountability by naming names and cleaning house: Gov. Brown recently reappointed several long-term regents who among other things were directly involved in this ongoing lack of basic fiduciary responsibility. I assume that the pension liability helps Sacramento keep the financial dunce cap on UC's head, forcing humility in its budget demands.

A major result of the university's political weakness and the resulting austerity is more institutional borrowing.   A normal sign of an improving economy is that institutions start paying down the debt they accumulated to get through a downturn.  That isn't happening here. UC needs to borrow to make its contribution to fully funding the UC Retirement Program (UCRP) by 2042.  It has been borrowing from its Short Term Interest Pool (STIP) for several years, and now wants to borrow another $700 million next year to make all of last year's (2013-14) planned payment.  Without getting into the weeds of this issue, I'd summarize UCOP as saying it still can't afford to return the pension, by 2042, to 95 percent of the level at which all liabilities are covered, without continuing to borrow. (Two weeds: UCOP is saying it can't afford "modified ARC" for that year on its own; and although the document claims faculty Senate endorsement, this plan appears to be less than the Senate's call for 100 percent liability coverage by 2042).  The pension is set to be significantly underfunded for most of the next thirty years. It will be a permanent political target and a burden UCOP will set against operating funds, with the likelihood of future liabilities incurred to pay down the pension liability.  

The sadder example of ongoing debt is the request for "external financing for the UCPath project." UC Path was UCOP's flagship solution to UC inefficiencies that were allegedly wasting taxpayers' money--in other words, new enterprise software for the systemwide consolidation of payroll and human resources functions.  This is boring, important back office stuff, hardly good material for a political campaign to show the state "UC means business," but that's what it became.  Rather than funding each campus's decades-old effort to upgrade its systems on its own, UCOP sought centralization, which predictably introduced new levels of cost, complexity, and inefficiency, since centralization is often not actually efficient.  

I had heard nothing good about UC Path from people trying to implement it on campuses, and have tried to ignore it, but this week it has resurfaced as a problem at the Regental level.  The project timeline has grown from 48 to 72 months, and its costs are said to be $220 million (it had spent $131 million by May 2014) . Worse, the repayment schedule has mushroomed from seven to twenty years. Annual payments are to be something like $25 million.  Campuses are to be taxed to pay for 2015-era systems until 2035, which is like taking out a twenty year mortgage to pay for your refrigerator, except that your fridge will be working better in 2035 than next year's PeopleSoft product.  Since the concurrent budget document  notes efficiency savings of $30 million per year (top of page 4), UCOP may be spending $220 million to save a net $5 million per year over a couple of decades--and going into debt to do it.  In the end, an efficiency measure has turned into a literal liability.


3.  How to Respond? 
Moving forward, I'm afraid that officials are going to have to get much better at admitting mistakes like UCPath, and then actually undoing them. I couldn't listen to the recording of the UCPath conversation, but Cloudminder made it sound like a lot of restrained finger-pointing with no solution in sight. Did anyone say, "well, this seemed like a good idea at the time, but it's not. Let's just cancel it, figure out where we went wrong, and come up with something better"?

A related issue is getting over the idea that technology will save us.  It won't. Technology is always a sociotechnical system, with people adding tacit knowledge, relationships, and much else that tech really can't replicate or replace.  Universities need de-bureaucratization, not more technologized bureaucracy.  They need organizational redesigns, including large scale simplification and task reduction.  That's where the real savings are, but it's not about pooling, herding, or firing people, but about first fixing the jobs that they're supposed to do.  Of course technology is part of the solution: it just can't decide organizational functions and purposes.

On the plus side, UC officials have gotten good at describing the funding shortage. In a recent op-ed, UC Berkeley's Vice-Chancellor for business and finance, John Wilton, bites the hand that feeds him micro-restorations:
Despite UC Berkeley’s [strong] performance, state funding has been cut more than half in real terms over the past decade. Consequently, “public” funding now accounts for only about 13 percent of our total operating budget. While this year’s state budget reflects a 5 percent increase, this results in a 0.6 percent increase in Berkeley’s total revenue. At this pace, it will take us until 2026 to reach the same level of state funding, in nominal dollars, we received in 2003.This kind budget memory is helpful.

Second, universities have been testing the message that cuts damage educational quality.  I don't see any other issue that will get the public to care about X percentage of cuts vs. X minus Y percentage of restoration by year Z.  The only meaning the numbers have is students missing the boat to the next society because public universities can't give them cutting-edge knowledge and cognitive skills.   Mark Yudof said as much at a Regents' retreat almost two years ago, where he stated that cuts have meant "a quiet but steady erosion of our academic quality at almost every level.” 

What we don't have but desperately need is a consistent public explanation of the educational quality problem, a clear articulation of the budgetary fix, and a mobilization of university communities, students' families, and the wider community. The time of change by political counternarrative has come and gone.  VC Wilton's ended his piece with a general exhortation: "We are in this together, and time is not on our side. We should all take up this cause now, before it is too late."  True. But were we to take up the cause, what would we actually do?   
Categorías: Universidade

Why are Faculty Complicit in Creating a Disposable Workforce?

Dom, 13/07/2014 - 17:40
by Jennifer Ruth, English Department, Portland State University

The Modern Language Association (MLA) is under fire for not fighting hard enough against the adjunctification of the professoriate. An excellent piece in Inside Higher Ed criticizes the recent MLA report on doctoral programs for accommodating when it should challenge the trends that destroy PhDs’ prospects. In blog posts and in The Chronicle for Higher Education, another group calls for the MLA to consider a 4:1 salary ratio: the highest-paid person (the Association’s executive director) should be compensated no more than four times the lowest-paid person in the profession (the adjunct). The intent here, Marc Bousquet writes, is to “goose” the MLA leadership into action by forcing it to glimpse its ample-salaried self standing in disturbing proximity to the anorexic adjunct.

Taking the MLA to task makes sense. One of our biggest professional organizations, why is it helpless to stem—much less reverse—deprofessionalization? It’s not that it doesn’t take the problem seriously. As the people rising to its defense in the comment threads observe, the MLA has formed committees and organized panels on the topic. It has issued important policy recommendations (a recommended floor for adjunct wages, for example). Indeed, it is confusing to know what to think when you move from one person’s righteous denunciation of the organization’s foot-dragging to someone else’s list of the worthy steps it has taken.

Whatever the MLA’s record, the urge to hold somebody accountable is a good one. I hope that it indicates that we are sick-unto-death of distracting abstractions. Who can stand to hear the phrase “systemic forces” again? “Market forces” is even worse. However brilliant and even accurate it might be, another David Harvey-inspired argument about the impact on the university of the post-1970 neoliberal transformation of the global economy won’t help us. If anything these analyses contribute to a feeling of fatalism in which we assume any actions we could take will just be swept into the neoliberal tidal wave. Over the last few years, for example, the term “structural adjustment” has begun to replace “crisis.” While the former term is surely more honest when referring to deprofessionalization—how long can something continue and still claim to be a crisis?—it’s also chillingly impersonal. At least “crisis” suggested emotion and emotion suggests people. And I have the strong and unhappy conviction that if we want to effect change, we have to hold flesh-and-blood people accountable for what’s happened and what continues to happen.

The urge to hold specific people accountable is one that people understandably suppress. Nobody wants to blame people she might actually know for what is obviously a complicated national problem. One solution to this queasiness has been the safe but largely impotent invocation of the nameless, faceless Administrator. I’ve been in too many conversations—perhaps you have, too?—in which hand-wringing leads to an appetite for blame and this leads to happy agreement that “administrators” are the source of all evil. We identify a common enemy in a group of people with whom we do not identify. This was my go-to conversational move when I was an assistant professor, but now that I’m tenured and even more so now that I’ve served as department chair, I can’t go down that well-worn discursive path without feeling ashamed of myself. My experiences at a state university relying on a high number of contingent faculty have taught me that nothing is likely to change until we take personal responsibility for what has happened to the profession.

I don’t know Rosemary Feal (MLA executive director) but I bet she thinks more about adjunctifaction than some people I do know. It’s not comfortable to say this but I know too many people who are skilled at not connecting the dots of their own actions to the profession-wide devastation they read about online or in magazines. Feal got it right when a few days before these recent controversies, she was quoted in an Atlantic.com article as saying that along with the help of trustees and accreditation agencies, this fight needs the support of middle administrators.

By “middle administrators,” I assume Feal has in mind people like the tenured faculty who start new minors with off-track labor, the directors growing programs out of thin air, the chairs who have to graduate majors on woefully strapped budgets, and the associate deans and deans who advise these afore-mentioned people that it is easier to get permission for an off-tenure than for a tenure-line appointment. These are the middle managers who have built our current academic labor system much more intimately than have the highly visible obscenely-paid presidents of tier-one universities.

The middleman “needs to choose not to be complicit in a system that abuses adjuncts,” Feal is quoted as saying. Yes, we need to choose not to be complicit. By “we,” I refer to all tenured faculty. Why do we have tenure if not for the freedom (or luxury) it affords to avoid acts that contradict our consciences? Tenure means we don’t have to fix lab results for the pharmaceutical companies who donate to our universities. It also means that we don’t have to write and sign contracts that make for widespread misery.

I think many people would agree with this. So why do we do it? Why is creating adjunct sections so tempting for people who know better? My department has done it for years. Hiring off the tenure track has enabled us to: 1) hire people with higher courseloads to meet student demand without undertaking the hard work of time-intensive searches (rather, a chair makes a phone call); 2) hire people with higher courseloads without asking how this might—or should—prompt us to rethink our more desirable conventional jobs bundling teaching, research, and service; 3) hire spouses not as spousal hires but into non-tenure track positions since they are easier to secure; 4) hire people for curricular areas we find alluring without committing to those areas in perpetuity; 5) grow niche programs on all-adjunct labor to boost our overall student-credit-hour numbers so that we have more capital to ask for tenure lines; 6) hire adjuncts to give full-time faculty course releases for research and other projects; 7) add new sections at the last minute when all the others fill up so that our students have the classes they need to graduate; 8) hire our graduate students in the hope that teaching experience will make them attractive for full-time jobs elsewhere; and, of course,  9) continue to run the full gamut of courses during budget crunches that we hope are short-term but that often become long-term. Some of these motivations are more understandable than others but all of them have made the world in which we now live.

I once talked to a chair of a different department who felt very guilty about her use of adjuncts. She brightened, though, when she told me that she was working on a plan to improve the situation. She had submitted a proposal to the dean for a full-time non-tenure-track position to both teach and manage the thirty-odd adjuncts she typically employs. This new person, she said, could improve the adjuncts’ lives by holding occasional social events and developing a helpful handbook. This woman is an excellent chairperson in many respects but I don’t understand why we don’t use the power of our privilege to stop running our programs on disposable appointments. Sure, it is a hell of a lot of work strategizing, re-arranging, coordinating with other bodies (such as Senate), cajoling, foot-stamping and stonewalling to insist that we grow responsibly – but it’s easier to sleep at night.

Actually, the truth is that I know perfectly well why we don’t do more about this problem: because when you tackle it, you don’t sleep better. You may even sleep worse. We do nothing in large part because the people who came before us or we ourselves have already done the damage. At first each contingent position was a canny solution, a short-term and apparently victimless strategy for weathering tough times. It is now our collective disaster that (flesh and blood) people depend on even the worst non-tenure-track positions. It turns out that bucking the system that is already in place is as hard on the conscience as maintaining it. Even if in the long run better jobs with access to tenure are created and this improves the university (and, in turn, society) by strengthening academic freedom, particular individuals likely will lose out. No matter how ingenious the circumstances designed to move us from a majority off-track to majority on-track workforce, no matter how irreproachably conscientious, there will be outcomes that feel unjust from someone’s perspective. This is by far the hardest part of making change. Since both options—bucking and not bucking—are painful, the path of least resistance (doing nothing) is the one we typically choose.

Hard, too, but in a different league from taking people’s jobs away, is that bucking the system wins one enemies because tenure-track faculty have come to benefit from the compromised labor system we deplore. It’s really nice, for example, to tell that treasured junior faculty member that you will hire an adjunct to cover her class so she can finish the publication she needs to achieve tenure. It’s really nice to learn that you can drop next term’s class to complete the book that’s been weighing you down for five years, the book that will change the world . . . or slightly reframe a small part of it for the five people who read it.

I can hear in that last sentence that my tone is turning sour. I am in danger of ranting about university plantations and caste systems, about lifeboaters and migrant workers, so I’ll stop. But you see what I’m getting at. I’d like us to help our middle managers to not be complicit with the deteriorating conditions of the profession. We might start by understanding that when we ask for releases from our chair (for whatever more or less excellent reason) we are often asking them to hire adjuncts. We also need to resist the temptation to ask for adjunct sections so that esteemed friends, perfectly qualified lovers, and prodigiously talented graduate students can earn a small income.

Let’s be even bolder by asking our directors and department chairs to stop hiring off the tenure track for any reason and by helping them use this strategy to demand new tenure-line positions. The first baby step towards getting good positions is refusing to create adjunct sections. Insist that your department wants to meet student demand but can only do so ethically and professionally with tenure-track positions.

You will be called naive. That’s to be expected. What’s harder is when people call you doctrinaire because you resist the creation of an adjunct section for, say, someone’s brilliant son or daughter when teaching one class is everything to this adult child at this moment in time but isn’t it, really, nothing—infinitesimal—in the grand scheme of adjunctification? Might you also inadvertently make it more difficult for your students to graduate? Might you have to spend many hours forging alliances with faculty across your university to put pressure on deans and your provost to create new tenure lines? Yes and yes. It could be worth all of this, nonetheless, because you could move from hand-wringing to turning the system around, job by job.

“Why are we complicit in creating a disposable workforce?” is part one of two parts. Moving from refusal to possibility is the subject of part two, which appears next week. How do we effect change when contingent labor is now written into our universities’ fiscal strategy for survival?

Categorías: Universidade