Remaking the University

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A blog on higher education and related issues.Chris Newfield
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This Week At The Regents (II): The Medical Centers and University Governance

Mér, 18/11/2015 - 16:54
As I mentioned in my post on the Budget, the Regents will be considering a proposal to alter the governing structure of the medical centers.  This proposal is a somewhat improved version of an earlier, and admittedly worse, plan that was presented at the Regents September Meeting.  The effects of these plans will be to give the Executive Vice-President--Health greater authority, to increase the ability of the medical centers to influence the Regents more directly, and to grant greater autonomy to the health care system more generally.  In both its substance and its creation it points to serious problems in UC's internal governance.

First as to substance.  The proposal will expand both the size and the authority of the Regent's Committee on Health Services.  It would be continue to have six Regental members but would now include the Executive Vice President--Health, two Chancellors from campuses with medical centers, four outside "experts" effectively chosen by the Executive Vice-President--Health, and one faculty member from a medical center to represent the Academic Senate.  These eight new individuals would be non-voting members.  The Committee would have increased autonomy regarding transactions up to certain limits (5) including those relating to compensation. (1)  The Committee's opinion would be required on capital projects that could affect the Health System. (4)

Now as I said, this proposal is an improved version of a proposal first floated at the September Regents Meeting.  In that earlier proposal, the Executive Vice-President--Health and the two Chancellors would have been voting members.  In addition, they would have been granted "primary responsibility" for UC Health capital projects.  (5).  This set up raised the possibility, given the size of the committee and quorum rules, that the Executive Vice President--Health and the two Chancellors might establish a committee policy because only two Regents were in attendance.  Nor was there any proposal for faculty input.  In the end, Regents at the September meeting did voice skepticism about these proposals and the Academic Senate strongly opposed the plan.  The result is the modified version we have now.

Still, there is no reason to throw laurels.  For one thing, one point stressed by the Academic Senate and not addressed in the revisions is the all but complete disregard for either the teaching or the research components of the UC Medical Centers which are, after all, university medical centers.  This plan pushes those concerns aside for an emphasis on the business of health care.  But unless one can include in strategic planning the teaching and research elements of the UC Medical Centers it is unclear what the medical centers are doing as part of the University.  Medical faculty I have spoken with are deeply uncomfortable with this aspect of the new plan.

There is one perhaps even deeper issue here.  The proposed changes are based in a Rand Study begun in the middle of March 2015, completed in June 2015 and based on review of some of the analytical literature, interviews with UC and UC Health Care Administrators as well as some administrators from other academic medical centers and publicly accessible UC documents.  (2-3) The study's authors acknowledge that due to "the short timeline of the effort, a detailed analysis of the AMCs’ finances and operations was beyond the scope of this project." (3) The heart of the report is really about the problems of communication and lines of authority within UC Health Care.  Yet on the basis of a rushed report that was unable to do a detailed analysis of how the system actually worked and raised all sorts of internal issues, UCOP is proposing to increase the authority and autonomy of the medical centers.  I can understand why the medical center administrators would want greater authority and autonomy but is this any way to make policy? What about the impact on the campuses and the University as a whole?

The end result, then, is that thanks to push back from some Regents and the Senate a poorly constructed and rushed policy has been replaced by a modestly improved proposal.  But the proposal is still based on the shaky foundations of the Rand research and the claims of the Medical Center administrators.  Once again, the Senate has been put into a position of trying to improve a policy proposal that should not have been made in the first place.   Instead, the serious issues that face the Medical Centers in the new world of the ACA should have been carefully studied--studied by the many faculty experts on health care that are at UC.  Unfortunately, like too many other issues in the recent past, UCOP did not identify a problem and engage with the faculty in a shared search for possible solutions.  Instead it presented a proposal and left the Faculty to smooth out the edges.  The Senate remains on the defensive and well thought-out solutions remain over the horizon.

Categorías: Universidade

This Week at the Regents: The Budget

Mar, 17/11/2015 - 00:00
This week's Regents meeting's Agenda is chock full of important items.  In particular, UCOP is presenting the 2016-2017 budget proposal along with a three-year "sustainability" plan, a proposal to improve the finances of UCRP through internal borrowing, and a proposal to centralize the management of the Health Care system. Unfortunately, the lessons from this week's Regents' agenda is that despite UCOP's efforts to tout its agreement with Governor Brown, last year's tuition gambit has done little to change the fundamentally underfunded situation of the University.  Nor is there any indication that either the Regents or UCOP are prepared to break from long-standing patterns of strategy in order to begin to ensure a UC focused on its educational mission and on increasing the quality of its offerings.


UCOP's proposed budget is a work up of the deal that President Napolitano and Governor Brown negotiated by sidelining both the Legislature and the Academic Senate.   Chris and I have already commented on the deal itself so let me simply point to some of the more important elements.  The proposed Budget for 2016-2017 assumes another 4% increase in base funding, $96 million in one-time funding in exchange for changes in UC's retirement system, $25 million for enrolling an additional 5000 California residents, $25 million for deferred maintenance, and an additional $68.7 million in new Non-Resident Tuition (NRT) revenue.  It continues to make the annual promises about the fantastic savings that UCOP is gaining through various technological and management initiatives. In all, UCOP reports a total 2015-16 revenue of $28.3 billion of which core funds constitute $7.3 billion.  In 2016-2017 they are budgeting for an increased core revenue of $481.3 million.

Along with the proposed budget UCOP is submitting what it calls a three year "Financial Stability Plan."  The plan restates the Brown-Napolitano deal that calls for continued 4% annual base budget increases through 2018-2019 and fulfillment of the Governor's promise of $436 million over 3 years (although the Legislature has only promised the first $96 million) in exchange for reducing retirement benefits substantially for future employees.  It includes the proposed $25 million that the Legislature has offered for an additional 5,000 California resident students in 2016-17, and offers to enroll an additional 2500 more in 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 (hopefully in exchange for additional funding). It increases the NRT by 8%, the student services fee 5% annually, and proposes tuition increases tied to inflation beginning in 2017-2018.

A first point, which Chris has made many times, is that the 4% increases, while better than the extreme cuts of the late Schwarzenegger and early Brown administrations, are too small to overcome the longer-term under-funding of the University that goes back 15 years.  To make matters worse, both the Budget and the Financial Stability Plan each bake in increasing burdens on campuses and their students, faculty, and staff.  The $25 million promised for the upcoming year's 5000 additional resident students is approximately half of what both UC and the LAO agree is the marginal cost of an additional student (8). The new underfunded students will force campuses to shift funds from other efforts to pay for these costs (costs that will draw on core funds).

In order to help pay for these students, UC campuses will continue to increase the number of non-resident students, although they say at a slower pace (due to political pressures), so that there will be an additional 1200 non-resident students next year and the latter will be paying an 8% tuition increase.  UCOP apparently believes that the State will continue to pay $25 million each year to help support the initial 5000.  This seems a reasonable assumption in the short term, though it is a long-term problem if it is not included in an expanded base allocation.   If the additional 5000 are also inadequately funded, UC will have added 10,000 resident students over 3 years without providing campuses with the resources needed to properly educate and support these students.

UCOP insists that they are determined to lower the faculty-student ratio throughout the system.  But does anyone really foresee an increase in faculty numbers that could do that even as student numbers jump--6200 new students in 2016-2017 plus at least an additional 2500 additional residents in each of the following two years?  For those campuses with significant NRT, at least some of those funds will need to go to supporting the new enrollments.  For the other half of the UC system without significant NRT,  those enrollments likely will eat up a chunk of the monies they will receive from rebenching and the additional 4% in base state funding.  This plan may be sustainable in the sense that the campuses and students will still be here at its conclusion.  But it doesn't suggest that UCOP's stated commitments to increasing quality and improving campus facilities can be met.

The Budget and Sustainability plan together lock in continued under-funding, increased burdens on campuses, faculty, and students, and further erosion of shared governance at UC.  At its best it is predicated on a set of promises from Governor Brown.  I needn't remind people how well previous compacts with Governor's have held up over time.


A second aspect of the Budget, one of special importance to both faculty and staff, is the proposed reorganization of the retirement system.  In her negotiations with the Governor, President Napolitano agreed to create a new tier for those hired on or after July 1, 2016.  These employees would have a pensionable salary limit (i.e. the amount of annual salary that can be considered in calculating the size of a person's pension) based on the state's PEPRA limits rather than the previous, and much higher social security cap.  In return, the Legislature agreed to release $96 million once these changes have been made, and the Governor has promised additional funds up to the $436 million I mentioned above.  The Legislature has made no commitment to the last two years of the Governor's promise. (For good accounting of these developments there are various posts on this site and by Dan Mitchell on the UCLA Faculty Association Blog).

I have no doubt that there was, and is, political pressure on this from Sacramento.  But to get some sense of the extent of UCOP's concessions on this score it might be helpful to turn to another item on the Regents Agenda--a proposal to borrow money over the next three years from the University's Short Term Investment Pool (STIP) to help pay down the legally defined unfunded liability of UCRP. (As Bob Samuels pointed out long ago, this legal liability is based on the requirement that UCRP has enough money on hand to pay out pensions if everyone retired immediately).  This short term funding is something that the Senate has been pushing for several years, though campuses, perhaps especially those with medical centers, have been resistant.

In very basic terms, the proposal will allow the University to borrow from its own funds to help pay into UCRP, thereby helping to keep the University's annual contribution to UCRP at a steady state and to shorten the time until the unfunded liability has been paid.  Strikingly, UCOP is proposing to borrow $1,463,400,000--or put another way nearly three times the amount of money that the Governor is promising in exchange for a dramatic reduction in the worth of UC benefits.  As UCOP continues to emphasize, perhaps in the hopes of muting opposition, this new plan will not affect anyone employed before July 1, 2016.  But it will affect new generations of UC employees and lead to a significant reduction in overall compensation.  Although theoretically some of this loss could be made up in salary and other forms of compensation,  those forms of compensation do not have the same tax benefits as do pensions. More importantly, they increase retirement risk.  Nor is it clear why anyone should think that state funding for salaries will increase in the future at a rate that will cover the lost compensation value for future employees.

There is presently a Task Force charged with determining what the new pension tier will look like and with coming up with strategies to minimize the reduction in benefits to future employees (since it is unlikely that they can be eliminated).  The Task Force is expected to present its conclusions to President Napolitano next month and there will be a limited period for comment early next year.  But as Dan Mitchell has repeatedly pointed out (e.g., here, here, and here), the proposal for STIP funding includes a statement that "New employees will have the opportunity to choose a fully defined contribution plan as a retirement option, as an alternative to the PEPRA-capped defined benefit plan." (3)  This statement is included despite the fact that even the University's own FAQ on the question insist that no decision has been made as to whether to have a purely defined Defined Contribution Plan (h/t Michael Buroway).

So we have a cut in retirement benefits negotiated outside of the regular shared governance plan, a special Task Force, set up by the President to determine the shape of those cuts, official information on the Task Force site saying that no decision has been made about a defined contribution plan, and an item on the Regents Agenda suggesting that that decision has been made even though the Task Force has not finished its discussions.  This situation exists despite the fact that several years ago, after extensive study, the University recognized that a Defined Contribution Plan was less able to serve either the needs of individuals or the needs of the institution as a whole.  Nor does the amended language of the Budget Bill (section 85) require the University to start a Defined Contribution Plan. This decision by UCOP to overturn the carefully established retirement consensus builds upon other indications that UCOP is perfectly happy to sideline shared governance when it is convenient for them.


There is one other item, or rather the absence of one other item, in the Budget proposal that is significant.  In its Budget Summary (pg. 29) UCOP notes a series of accountability measures required by the State. Interestingly, I could find no mention in the documents (please let me know if I missed it) of another set of legal obligations that are important for the budget.  Those are from section 84 that requires the University to provide much more detailed transparency about its administrative structure--especially concerning the Managers and Senior Professionals Group (MSP) and to rethink its proclaimed market comparisons for the Senior Management Group.  I mention this not because I want to demonize the people in either group but because it is difficult to see how a truly sustainable future can be created for the University that does not seriously rethink its administrative structure, starting with a better understanding of the relation between administration and the educational core.

If UC truly wishes to create a sustainable future for itself, it will need to create a more decentralized administrative structure, one more attuned to the actual teaching, learning, and research that goes on in the everyday life of the institution.   That sort of transformation might have resulted from the UCOF process a few years ago--but it didn't.  It is clear that it will not emerge from UCOP.  But it is needed more than ever.
Categorías: Universidade

The Weak vs. the Wrong, and An Emerging Alternative for Faculty Governance

Xov, 05/11/2015 - 17:55
We're many years now into the New Normal for public universities.  We've known for a while that this means permanent budgetary austerity.  We get regular quantifications of the continuing funding problem. Another one, from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, calculates that appropriations fell 20 percent per full-time student from 2008-13, and 26 percent for public research universities.   

Michael and I have had to use this space to make a couple of further points.  One is that the New Normal directly damages faculty and student welfare.  You can see more material on this in a talk that Michael and I gave at UC Berkeley last fall. It tied budgetary austerity to the the decline in faculty welfare--and to weakening faculty governance, which I'll be discussing here.

The other point we've argued  is that senior public university managers and boards have accepted New Normal austerity in practice.  This year, after much stormy drama in Oakland and Sacramento, and a declaration of victory from President Janet Napolitano, UC's state budget increments remained a quarter of UCOP's previously-stated need (see Alternative C in the chart).  

In addition, the past couple of years have clarified the kind of executive governance that the New Normal assumes.  An early example was the June 2012 Board firing-rehiring of the president of the University of Virginia.  Since then, the heads of university systems and/or flagship campuses in California, Illinois, Wisconsin, Texas, Iowa and North Carolina have attracted national attention because they do not bridge the professional-managerial divide but represent the managerial side.   The managerial side has a theory of governance I'll outline, because both faculty and students need to figure out a better response to it.
The theory rests on venerable autocratic practice in private universities, many founded by wealthy magnates who assumed they would be governed like their corporations.  Top-down presidentialism and governing board sovereignty were also adopted by 19th century public universities. They have been reinforced by a movement led by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, which was originally co-founded by Lynne Cheney. ACTA's theory of governance is that the brand and the agenda of a university must be owned by its board of trustees, who are the most--really the only--responsible agents in academia.  

During the summer that the University of Illinois was rescinding Steven Salaita's job, ACTA issued a report called Governance for a New Era.  Its premise was that the unprecedented criticism directed at the country's higher ed system required much firmer leadership from the top.  
Trustees should take a more active role in reviewing and benchmarking the work of faculty and administrators and monitoring outcomes. Too many have seen their role narrowly defined as boosters, cheerleaders, and donors. They should ask the questions that need to be asked and exercise due diligence. They must not be intermittent or passive fiduciaries of a billion dollar industry critical to the preparation of America’s next leaders.Shared governance—which demands an inclusive decision-making process—cannot and must not be an excuse for board inaction at a time when America’s pre-eminent role in higher education is threatened.ACTA claims that only trustees see the big picture.  "That is why trustees must have the last word when it comes to guarding the central values of American higher education--academic excellence and academic freedom."  Faculty may opine about their own freedoms, as the University of Wisconsin-Madison Senate recently did in writing restored tenure rights. But the scope of these freedoms, in ACTA theory, should be at the sole discretion of executive boards.   
In the ACTA new-era governance model, UIUC's then-Chancellor Phyllis Wise was not violating shared governance by firing Prof. Salaita, but fulfilling it.  A hundred years ago, the autocratic executive was already Veblen's nightmare, and autocracy's statutory bases largely remain in place.  (See the UC Regents' Standing Order 100 for presidential powers, which cover most management powers that there are, including control of a faculty member's ability to communicate with a regent).  Specific instances of board authority have been contested, as in the 2014 Kansas twitter controversy that Michael analyzed in the LARB, and in the Salaita lawsuit that was largely validated in its first court test.  But the theory of board power is not being challenged as such.
As they go about their business of maintaining the university's brand, boards are asked to remember that universities are failing (this was a core thesis of the Spellings Report), that faculty as the traditional core are responsible for those failures, and that faculty will therefore accuse boards of damaging academics in order to deflect blame.   That's what faculty always say when their interests aren't being put first, ACTA teaches, so faculty complaints can (and must) be ignored.  Thus it was a kind of badge of honor for the Iowa board to defy the faculty view that semi-retired businessman Bruce Harreld was unqualified to lead the University of Iowa.  The key ACTA innovation is teaching trustees to claim professional authority in serving as the sole voice of their university, which must also be able to override faculty in speaking in the name of students.  (Hence Chancellor Wise's claim to be protecting them in de-hiring Prof. Salaita). 

As though on cue (h/t Ragman), Regina M. Millner, President of the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents, writes in Trusteeship Magazine, "The important role of governing boards in setting the agenda cannot be overlooked or underestimated." Part of that role, Ms. Millner makes clear, is accepting fiscal austerity as a driver of positive change.  
In Wisconsin, deep cuts in general-fund support for the University of Wisconsin (UW) System have prompted us to reconsider how we can better align our resources to meet the needs and interests of the state and its people. It involves not just doing more with less, but fundamental changes to our planning, procedures, and programs.Ms. Millner isn't only not sorry about the politically-imposed cuts to the UW system.  She treats austerity as way to override planning, procedures, and programs that in normal times were controlled by academics.  Again, this direct intervention is, in ACTAworld, what boards are supposed to do.
Executive board rule obviously contradicts basic democratic political theory and the related understandings of political rights. Of course American corporations are not democracies, and over the course of a century and a half they have established a legal framework that supports the various forms of dictatorial or military-style command that we take for granted. "Workplace democracy" remains anathema and at-will firing remains a sign of the U.S.'s proudly anti-democratic workplace--proudly in the sense that our business culture equates suppressing democracy with suppressing inefficiency.  

And yet universities have historically injected the rights of professional expertise (though not of democratic citizenship) into command-and-control corporate management practice.  Universities have always represented a third mode of governance that is neither political democracy nor corporate despotism.  It is into this ambiguous zone of limited, ambiguous, academic self-governance--limited like the wi-fi signal that only covers your living room--that ACTA and subtler entities intervene, the better to assimilate university governance to the corporate model.  
The claim that university management is increasingly and deliberately unilateral would have been heretical to most faculty a few years ago.  Few executives and board members echo ACTA directly, and most top-down interventions seem driven by external crises. But recent events have shifted faculty perceptions.   

One example is the University of Wisconsin.  When Gov. Scott Walker and his legislative allies bundled budget cuts to the elimination of tenure from state statute, UW system president Ray Cross and Madison chancellor Rebecca Blank seemed to be caught between the pols and their faculty, in the classic bridge position. (For background, see Michael's overview or my IHE piece).  But over the months of negotiation, many faculty members began to feel that President Cross was trading stronger tenure away--and that perhaps Chancellor Blank was backing him against her own faculty.  Many concluded that senior managers' defenses of professorial status were fronting for expansions of their authority.

The issue blew up again two weeks ago, following the publication of an October 22 email from Chancellor Blank in which she stated that President Cross was not in fact backing the right of faculty to write new campus-based tenure protections.  The press coverage (local here and here and IHE here) and faculty analyses concluded that Board members and top officials were indeed going to impose weaker state standards on faculty rather than support faculty's professional claims.  Good faculty analyses include Prof. Nick Fleischer's "UW Tenure: the End" and Prof. Nancy Kendall's Open Letter to the UW Madison Faculty.   I'll come back to the Kendall letter below.

Another example comes from California, where the generally deferential UC Academic Senate objected this summer to President Janet Napolitano's disregard for Senate consultation.  On August 25, 2015, outgoing Senate chair Mary Gilly wrote to "highlight four notable instances from this past year in which we believe the Senate was insufficiently consulted on issues where its advice would have made a positive difference."   Two of these involved the Office of the President starting academic programs without running the plans by their academics.  The third was the "drastically lowered cap" in the defined benefit portion of the UC Retirement Plan, again imposed "without any Senate consultation." The fourth was UCOP conveying to the Regents a June 2015 Rand Health Report on UC Health System governance without any Senate comment.  

Chair Gilly concluded with the hope that non-consultation was not UCOP's preference but was thrust upon it by "difficult negotiations with the State government."  But her letter appears to have been prompted by a more severe comment from the University Committee on Planning and Budget (UCPB), in which the chair of that committee, L. Gary Leal, noted that "the November budget was actively withheld from UCPB until the day before it was presented to the Regents" (emphasis in original).  He listed a series of fundamental budget conditions, including the addition of 5000 students at a discounted general fund rate of $5000 per head, that were never discussed with the faculty.  "Even for the 3% salary increment," he adds, "where we (and other Senate committees) had very strong recommendations, the actions were quite different and the rationale was not explained or discussed either ahead of time or after the fact."

Replacing actual with merely formal shared governance isn't only a matter of bad organizational theory, for it has negative real effects. One has been UCOP's creation of a task force to change the UC Retirement Plan via the cap on eligible salary noted above and a new Defined Contribution plan (DCP), the latter in direct opposition to the recommendation of the last full review of the pension plan in 2010.  The lack of open discussion about the sources, motives, and goals of these changes has sown confusion and suspicion even among insiders to the process. One writes,
I have been asking UCOP for a copy of the agreement between UC and the governor [that supposedly requires the DCP], and no one can produce it.  No one can also say what its status is or how it relates to the state budget, but campuses are making decisions on 3-year degrees, transfer students, and online education on the deal that, as far as I can tell, no one has ever seen. I had to convince two members of the pension task force that the DCP alternative is not in the state budget.  So UC wanted it in the deal, it did not make it into the deal, and now UCOP is saying it is coming from the state or the governor.When a few people order major changes to an institution with 450,000 students and staff without consultation, deliberation, or even written documents, it's a textbook case of oligarchy.  We need to be able to use such words, even as ACTA and the broader management culture define oligarchy as progress.

The traditional Senate response is to invoke consultation protocols and declare their value.  Prof. Leal does this well, noting that "UCPB has, in the past, been an important source of knowledgeable advice to the University administration." Having been there for most of the 2000s, I can confirm that this is completely true: UCPB got key issues right well before UCOP did, particularly the secular trend of declining public funding and the urgent need to explain it to the public. In a cooperative spirit, Chair Gilly ended by writing, "we look forward to improving communication between UCOP and the Senate and on devising better methods for responding to timelines that are external to UC."

In reality, the problem is not that the Senate can't communicate or respond quickly.  Faculty members write grants, teach classes, and give speeches on strict deadlines that we continuously meet.  Communicating to deadline is a core faculty competence.  Admin denies this ability only as a pretext for withholding information and avoiding discussion.  The Senate's appeal to UCOP conscience underplays the extent to which non-consultation is a deliberate strategy.

A non-traditional faculty response appears in the letter by UW-Madison Professor Nancy Kendall that I mentioned earlier. She starts by noting that a group of faculty and staff were right when admin was wrong, particularly on the point "that Act 55 would not simply move existing tenure policy from state legislation into Board of Regents policy." 

She elaborates this later: Chancellor Blank "told us Act 55 wouldn't fundamentally change tenure or shared governance. She was wrong.  She told us that UW-Madison would be able to make its own tenure policy, unencumbered by the System policies foisted on other campuses.  She was wrong." These statements are important both for establishing the factual record and for modeling faculty treating executives as equals rather than superiors, as members of the same community.

Prof. Kendall goes on to call out attacks on skeptics that labeled them as too extreme for reasonable faculty to work with. These attacks "need to be acknowledged and addressed--through public apologies where warranted, and through acknowledgment from those of us who have benefited from their efforts to educate us."  
Having highlighted the administration's mistakes, its presumption to stand above the critical community, its efforts to ostracize critics, and the need to reverse that ostracization, Prof. Kendall proposes faculty unity across campuses and status:We are part of a system, but we have not acted as such, believing ourselves to be insulated by our “special” status as the state’s flagship university. This is elitist, it is morally shameful, and it is political suicide. None of us is more deserving of tenure than our colleagues at every other campus in this system. That is and must be the core of the tenure argument: every faculty member needs tenure in order to be able to teach, conduct research, and communicate our ideas freely, without political or administrative pressure. When some faculty lose tenure, the moral basis for arguing for tenure is undermined. Indeed, instead of throwing faculty at other campuses under the bus, or arguing that tenure is only important to help retain “star” faculty on our campus, we should be working with colleagues across the state to expand tenure protections to employees who currently conduct teaching and research on our campuses without these protections.Prof. Kendall is calling for faculty solidarity--the clear prerequisite to meaningful influence--by articulating the ethical value of the freedom to teach, learn, and govern. This forms the basis of an alternative, education-centered vision of what the university should be. 

I share Prof. Kendall's organizational ethics (I've also argued for expanded tenure in the IHE piece linked above).  The related practical point is that she also offers more effective organizational behavior.  The critical self-governance exemplified by the letter cures boardroom blindness by immersing senior managers in the actual life of the institution. It supports the "learning organization's" proverbial "cross functional teams." It increases creativity by sharing data and expanding deliberation.  It makes criticism an asset rather than an excuse for shunning people.  It sees freedom and democracy as intrinsic to higher learning.   

Nancy Kendall's open letter seems confrontational, and it is.  But is also a better management theory than the hard-ACTA of its reports or the soft-ACTA of everyday senior managers, both of which hold universities back. 
Photo:  John D. Rockefeller and William Rainey Harper (respectively on right-hand side) at the University of Chicago, 1901
Categorías: Universidade

Veblen's Nightmare

Mar, 27/10/2015 - 00:25
The Chronicle Review gave the title "Professorial Anger, Then and Now" to my essay on Thorstein Veblen's The Higher Learning in America, which has now been republished by Johns Hopkins University Press with a helpful historical introduction by Richard F. Teichgraeber III.  The piece is behind a paywall, so I'll say a few things out here.

Most things about academia angered Veblen on some level, like this very title about professorial anger which would have told him he was being relegated by Know Nothings to the status of entitled jerk.  It's true that what Veblen did was frosty, relentless, sarcastic critique, not blood and fire.

My piece outlines Veblen's four main arguments about why "the conduct of universities by business men" actually wrecked higher learning.  His point wasn't only that business folk engaged universities in competition for student market share that squandered resources, or that they twisted academic governance into oligarchy, though he did go into detail on these two.  He made additional points.  One was that business consciousness could not because of the game it played ever grasp or support academic research, like never.   He wasn't saying business people were dumb or evil. To the contrary, they were smart and cunning at a market game that Veblen insisted obeyed an essentially different logic than did unrestricted thought. To quote myself:
The business outlook was equally suspicious of originality. Chasing one another to provide the latest research in vogue, university administrators didn’t ask whether they had something original or special to offer. Their search for revenue led them to imitation, duplication, and the expensive enlargement of what Thomas Kuhn would later dub "normal science." They saw it, in Veblen’s analysis, as "‘bad business’ to offer a better grade of goods than the market demanded, particularly to customers who do not know the difference" — like the families of American undergraduates, who would believe almost anything in the hope of giving their children an edge. Veblen’s warning was that business opposition to scholarly standards of quality was not accidental or occasional, but intrinsic to business thought as such. Even administrators who started out as faculty members ceased thinking like professors and conformed to business logic.In the essay I cover other dimensions of business thinking that Veblen saw as natural disqualifications.

I was equally interested in Veblen's detailed explanations of what academic reason actually is.  He worked quite hard to conjure forth the fragility and ephemeral nature of thought as it feels its way forward in the darkness. New ideas and surprising answers don't resemble research proposals or business plans for they emerge like movements in a dream.  He had quite a bit to say about the need to protect and serve thinking that was sufficiently unmanaged to produce real discovery and understanding in an economy that was trying to absorb everything into itself.

Prof. Teichgraeber writes about three decades of the "professor's literature of protest" that informed Veblen's critiques.  There was a professor's movement!  It had a result!--the founding of the American Association of University Professors almost exactly a hundred years ago.  The philosopher John Dewey presided. The AAUP's major issues--faculty freely communicating with governing boards, sharing influence over administrative hiring, controlling faculty hiring and grievance, and co-governing finances--are still up for grabs today.  During the post-World War II growth boom, universities enjoyed a kind of détente between faculty and administration, since most conflicts could be solved with program expansion and taking turns until all the players had a similar number of cards.  The allocation machine stopped working right: tenure track lines were converted to contingent jobs, which are now 2/3 of the higher-ed teaching workforce. A majority temporary faculty would have been incomprehensible to Veblen--if sadly typical of business's idea of a good efficiency.  This contingent-majority is now experiencing the intensification of senior management intervention into funding, governance, and education itself (Virginia, California, Oregon, Illinois, Louisiana, Wisconsin, North Carolina   . .). The post-war détente has come to an end.

Ironically this means that Veblen has more to say than ever.  End runs or overturning of faculty governace is being justified by Veblen's Nightmare--the apparently entrenched belief that business expresses universal reason that by rights presides over all human processes, including the making of knowledge itself.

To Veblen's Nightmare we can  add  Veblen's Vision, in which the scholars-scientists, recognizing that real research must be self-legitimating, finally write their own funding rules for the higher learning, and implement them.
Categorías: Universidade


Mér, 21/10/2015 - 22:04
As you may have noticed, recently university governing boards have been appointing Presidents and Chancellors under conditions of increasing secrecy and without wide consultation with faculty.  The University of Iowa is a recent case as is the University of North Carolina.  The following is a state from the University of North Carolina Faculty Assembly about the UNC Board of Governors' tendency to refuse to engage in shared governance.--Michael
The Leadership and Policy Statement of the University of North Carolina notes that the institution “operates under an arrangement of shared governance” that “honors the important traditional role of the faculty in the governance of the academy.” ( )
Regrettably, for the better part of a half decade, the UNC Board of Governors has repeatedly failed to follow its own stated principles of good governance. 
The UNC Faculty Assembly has faithfully advised the Board on best practices regarding admissions, tuition, financial aid, leadership appointment processes, curricular design, research and freedom of inquiry, and processes of peer review, yet the Board has repeatedly refused to acknowledge – let alone discuss – points of counsel they have been offered. Instead, they have frequently promulgated ill-advised policies and practices that have proven detrimental to the best interests of public higher education in this state.
The recent mismanagement of the Executive office of the University, from the firing of Thomas Ross, to the hiring of the new President, is but the most egregious in a long train of problematic governance actions.
The failure of the Board to seek the advice and counsel of the staff and faculty is both shortsighted and troubling. No student attends our campuses to be taught, no funding agency or organization provides grants of research support, and no business, governmental entity, or civic organization has come to our institutions seeking public service expertise, because of the teaching, research and service achievements of the Board of Governors or the President of the University. Yet the Board continues to act without the advice and counsel of the constituencies whose expertise they need to effectively govern the institution.
Over the years, the most effective and respected leaders of the University system and its respective campuses have argued that their success is contingent on the support of staff and faculty. We now appear to have entered an era when it is not support, but an ill-informed indifference, that defines how governing authorities in the University think of their relationship to those who carry out the core mission of public higher education. No institution of higher learning has ever achieved excellence and distinction without an active, engaged, and committed community of staff and faculty. It is then incumbent on the Board of Governors to now begin – as it always should have been -- cultivating effective shared governance if the University is to continue on the path of excellence and achievement.
The faculty will not prejudge the commitment of new President to the well-being of the University. But he or she must understand that the secretive character of this search, and his or her own indifference to consulting with staff and faculty when s/he was an active candidate for the position, will make it difficult to win the confidence and trust of the University community.

As this leadership transition unfolds, foremost among those confidence building principles must be a steadfast and unyielding dedication to seeking the best advice and counsel possible, and a readiness to stand against the debasement of institutional governance that has brought the future of the University into doubt.
22 October 2015
For the UNC system Faculty Assembly
Stephen T. Leonard, UNC-Chapel Hill, ChairGabriel Lugo, UNC-Wilmington, Chair-Elect


Story comes to the surface about University of North Carolina's plan to hold emergency meeting to talk with president finalist Margaret Spellings (10/15).  This meeting is scheduled for Friday, 10/16, seemingly in an effort to bypass a bill not yet signed, which "requires the search committee to bring forward three candidates to the full board for discussion."
Amidst a call for John Fennebresque’s resignation (10/16) we see positive and negative discussion regarding What a Margaret Spellings Presidency Might Mean for North Carolina (10/16), with critiques on her political involvement (10/20) and her past actions combating LGBT equality (10/21).
Faculty continue to criticize UNC president search process (10/21), noting that '"The failure of the Board to seek the advice and counsel of the staff and faculty is both shortsighted and troubling.'  Concern over this lack of shared governance is widespread (10/22), as is the realization that Spellings is surely in (10/22).

Compiled by Alysse Rathburn
Categorías: Universidade


Mér, 21/10/2015 - 22:04
As you may have noticed, recently university governing boards have been appointing Presidents and Chancellors under conditions of increasing secrecy and without wide consultation with faculty.  The University of Iowa is a recent case as is the University of North Carolina.  The following is a state from the University of North Carolina Faculty Assembly about the UNC Board of Governors' tendency to refuse to engage in shared governance.--Michael
The Leadership and Policy Statement of the University of North Carolina notes that the institution “operates under an arrangement of shared governance” that “honors the important traditional role of the faculty in the governance of the academy.” ( )
Regrettably, for the better part of a half decade, the UNC Board of Governors has repeatedly failed to follow its own stated principles of good governance. 
The UNC Faculty Assembly has faithfully advised the Board on best practices regarding admissions, tuition, financial aid, leadership appointment processes, curricular design, research and freedom of inquiry, and processes of peer review, yet the Board has repeatedly refused to acknowledge – let alone discuss – points of counsel they have been offered. Instead, they have frequently promulgated ill-advised policies and practices that have proven detrimental to the best interests of public higher education in this state.
The recent mismanagement of the Executive office of the University, from the firing of Thomas Ross, to the hiring of the new President, is but the most egregious in a long train of problematic governance actions.
The failure of the Board to seek the advice and counsel of the staff and faculty is both shortsighted and troubling. No student attends our campuses to be taught, no funding agency or organization provides grants of research support, and no business, governmental entity, or civic organization has come to our institutions seeking public service expertise, because of the teaching, research and service achievements of the Board of Governors or the President of the University. Yet the Board continues to act without the advice and counsel of the constituencies whose expertise they need to effectively govern the institution.
Over the years, the most effective and respected leaders of the University system and its respective campuses have argued that their success is contingent on the support of staff and faculty. We now appear to have entered an era when it is not support, but an ill-informed indifference, that defines how governing authorities in the University think of their relationship to those who carry out the core mission of public higher education. No institution of higher learning has ever achieved excellence and distinction without an active, engaged, and committed community of staff and faculty. It is then incumbent on the Board of Governors to now begin – as it always should have been -- cultivating effective shared governance if the University is to continue on the path of excellence and achievement.
The faculty will not prejudge the commitment of new President to the well-being of the University. But he or she must understand that the secretive character of this search, and his or her own indifference to consulting with staff and faculty when s/he was an active candidate for the position, will make it difficult to win the confidence and trust of the University community.

As this leadership transition unfolds, foremost among those confidence building principles must be a steadfast and unyielding dedication to seeking the best advice and counsel possible, and a readiness to stand against the debasement of institutional governance that has brought the future of the University into doubt.
22 October 2015
For the UNC system Faculty Assembly
Stephen T. Leonard, UNC-Chapel Hill, ChairGabriel Lugo, UNC-Wilmington, Chair-Elect
Categorías: Universidade

On the Side of the Powerful: The Impact Agenda and Sociology in Public

Dom, 18/10/2015 - 21:45
Chris here: Because U.S. academia is so decentralized and stratified, few new regimes have a national scope and can be hard to see coming.  The opposite is the case in the U.K., where the influence of Westminster can be felt at the same time on campuses across all four constituent countries, with the partial exception of Scotland.  External assessment increasingly defines and drives peer review in British universities.  In the hope of getting more U.S. academics thinking about the effects of external assessment. we're cross posting this piece from the UK's Sociological Review.  It offers a primer on the Research Excellence Framework and argues that it has had a negative impact on the depth and ambition of research in sociology--and by analogy, in other fields.

by Les Back, Professor of Sociology, Goldsmiths College London.

Twenty years ago public sociology was something you did in your spare time. Even writing for newspapers or magazines was thought of as an extra-curricula and extra mural pursuit. That all changed as a result of the debate stimulated by Michael Burawoy’s influential Presidential address to the American Sociological Association address in 2004 that called for a public sociology. Burawoy’s spirited appeal to revive sociology’s public mission licensed a wide range of productive arguments and unruly activities. I have always held the view that intellectual life is nothing if it is not addressed to a wider public.

More recently, and significantly in the UK, the emergence of the ‘impact agenda’ in British universities has forced academic researchers to evidence our influence on society and ultimately to justify our worth. In austere times universities are required to show that they are worth their salt. Indeed, this was legislated by the Treasury as part of the spending review in order to secure continued investment in university research. It is embarrassing to remember that some of us - at least initially - thought that ‘impact’ promised the possibility of institutional recognition for public sociology. Might the emphasis on relevance and engagement create a ‘public agora’ for sociological ideas of the kind described by Helga Nowotny and her colleagues?

Another President, this time of the British Sociological Association, had a very different view. John Holmwood warned in 2011 that it was “naïve” to think that the turn to impact would lead to an enhanced public sociology. Rather, he suggested in contrast that UK research would likely be “diverted into a pathway to mediocrity."  Surely not, I felt when I first read this piece: John, you are being overly pessimistic! How right he has been proved to be.

Academic research in the UK is evaluated and scored by periodic reviews of the research of every sociology department. This has taken different forms and the latest version is called the Research Excellence Framework. Sociologists are required to nominate four publication for review by a panel of senior academics within each field. Impact was institutionalized in the recent REF2014.  20% of the scores were measured through ‘impact case studies.’

The impact case studies were required to narrate and evidence the detail of the impact that the underpinning research had on society and they either focused on individual staff members or clusters of academics. These impact case studies were scored by ‘practitioners’ working in applied areas that were added to the overall judgment of the REF panel. In case readers need to be reminded, HEFCE defined public value of impact along the following lines:
Impact includes, but is not limited to, an effect on, change or benefit to:• the activity, attitude, awareness, behaviour, capacity, opportunity, performance, policy, practice, process or understanding• of an audience, beneficiary, community, constituency, organisation or individuals• in any geographic location whether locally, regionally, nationally or internationally. 
Also, the number of impact case studies required for each unit of assessment varied according to the number of staff submitted for the assessment. Small submissions of up to 15 members of staff required just two case studies, while large submission of over 35 members of staff required five cases studies.

It seems clear that impact is here to stay. At present it is likely to increase to 25% of the grade for each unit of assessment in the next REF2020. A whole infrastructure is emerging to assess the assessment, where consultants act as ‘Impact Tsars’ and offer advice and software designers are developing digital tools to trace and matriculate the public imprint of our research endeavors.

The shame of the Research Excellence Framework is it secrecy: all the data on the process of the decision-making was destroyed. There is no mechanism for appealing or questioning these judgments. While the list of panel members is public, the specific reviewers are anonymous and therefore individual department's sociologists do not know who is judging them and whether or not they are qualified (see Derek Sayer's analysis). The level of feedback is insubstantial, while the results have profound consequences for each unit of assessment in terms of their income and academic reputation.

In large part the "impact agenda" has licensed an arrogant, self-crediting, boastful and narrow disciplinary version of sociology in public. This is impact through "big research stars" that are scripted – probably by the editors of the impact case studies rather than themselves – as impact "super heroes" advising cabinet ministers and giving evidence to parliamentary select committees. This version of public intervention is by definition narrowly concerned with evidencing its own claims. It is aligned with providing a kind of reformist “empirical intelligence” that nudges at the edges of policy and political influence. Reviewing the 96 REF2014 impact case for sociology, 80% of them can be categorised in this way.

That isn’t the whole story and 20% of those impact case studies entered showed radical ambition. What was inspiring in the best of the impact case studies is how they also point towards a different kind of model of public engagement by challenging campus sexism though collaboration with Students Unions or creating archives of political activism. In the most appealing and compelling cases, clusters of scholars worked together to try and shift the public agenda through evidence and critical enquiry that challenged conventional thinking be it around race and segregation or casual forms of class stigma and hatred. These examples offer an alternative way to think about how to hold to a public commitment within the current climate.

In 1967 Howard S Becker wrote an influential essay called ‘Whose Side Are We On?”. This essay is often understood simplistically as a sociological call to simply to align with the underdog. It is important to note that Becker’s argument is critical of sentimentality that also can be blinding while posing in colours of radicalism. Rather, Becker says it is not possible for a sociologists to stand outside the issue of value and values: “the question is not whether we should take sides, since we inevitably will, but rather whose side we are on."

For all of our radical affections and promises, a close look at the public portrayals of sociology in REF2014 show the ‘impact agenda’ to be tinkering with minor reforms. In the final analysis, this agenda puts us on the side of the political elite, Ministers of State, Job Centre Managers, Immigration Officers and the apparatchiks of prevailing government policy. Bluntly, it puts us on the side of the powerful.

Is that version of sociology worth its salt? Is this a compromise too far for the discipline? Some will say, “well this is ‘just a neo-liberal game” and this “isn’t all of sociology.” They are right. Not every sociologist in Britain has to write an impact case study--yet. They might also console themselves with the idea that this is just a language game: we need to play and not take it too seriously. I would suggest that these patterns amount to more than that. The ‘impact agenda’ is coming to constitute our self-understanding, guide our decisions around job appointments, and I would go further to suggest it limits the public ambition of our discourse. Remember that next time someone says: “I think that might make a really good impact case study.” This preoccupation is acting as a filter for our sociological attention.

It is a reminder to those of us who feel that sociology has or had radical potential that ‘the public’ is not necessarily populated by incipient transformative forces and potentials. Burawoy’s conception was limited by leftist assumptions regarding the radical potential of civil society. What we are seeing is something much closer to Antonio Gramsci’s characterization of ‘organic intellectuals’ who are tied to the interests of institutions and a narrow set of functions that are “organisational and connective”. Edward Said, commenting on Gramsci’s prescience, wrote that, as a result, “organic intellectuals are always on the move, on the make”. This is reminiscent of today’s “impact agenda” and the opportunistic way we have been steered to think about sociology in public, where the bottom line becomes “can I make this into a impact case study?” We are required – by our institutional commitments and responsibilities – to be on the move and on the make.

Today sociology’s radical ambition is being dwarfed by a conservative and timid version of the discipline. This is what we are seeing in the Research Excellence Framework, which itself produces an academic performance of self that is in keeping with its own definition of public value. There are other ways to think of public sociology that return us to Buroway’s intervention of more than a decade ago. His vision of sociology in public might be usefully supplemented with the educational ethos that is steeped in the tradition of extra-mural studies led by Richard Hoggart, Raymond Williams and Stuart Hall and out of which cultural studies emerged.  This was a communal vision of higher learning or what the Worker’s Education Association called a collective highway.

A sociology with and for the public, is, I would argue, one that is humble, collective, dialogic, inventive, artful and trans-disciplinary.  Here sociological ideas can offer a navigation device or a compass and a way of attending to what is before us but also to determine our direction of travel. That would be a future sociology worth its salt.  But it is not one supported by the REF assessment system.
Categorías: Universidade

Statement by CUCFA and AAUP on Regent Blum's Remarks

Sáb, 26/09/2015 - 17:49
The Council of University of California Faculty Associations and the American Association of University Professors write to protest the following remarks made by University of California Regent Richard Blum and then supported by Regent Hadi Makarechian during the discussion of a proposed Statement of Principles Against Intolerance at the Board of Regents meeting on September 17, 2015:

“I should add that over the weekend my wife, your senior Senator, and I talked about this issue at length. She wants to stay out of the conversation publicly but if we do not do the right thing she will engage publicly and is prepared to be critical of this university if we don’t have the kind of not only statement but penalties for those who commit what you can call them crimes, call them whatever you want. Students that do the things that have been cited here today probably ought to have a dismissal or a suspension from school. I don’t know how many of you feel strongly that way but my wife does and so do I.”

These remarks by Regent Blum explicitly invoke his wife, U.S. Senator from California Dianne Feinstein, and threaten negative political consequences for the University if the proposed Statement of Principles Against Intolerance is not revised so as to be agreeable to him and Senator Feinstein.  As such, they violate the spirit, if not the letter, of Article IX, Section 9 of the California Constitution, which declares that "The university shall be entirely independent of all political or sectarian influence and kept free therefrom in the appointment of its regents and in the administration of its affairs."

Whatever varied opinions we may hold on the proposed Statement of Principles or any other matter for University discussion, we should all join in rejecting any attempt by a Regent to influence University deliberations by calling on external political forces in this manner.

The complex and competing issues involved in developing a suitable Statement of Principles Against Intolerance are matters of discussion and intellectual inquiry within the University. The purpose of academic freedom is to protect such inquiry from external political interference, and it is the duty of the members of the Board of Regents to uphold academic freedom and to protect the university from external constraints on this freedom. So it is very troubling to hear a Regent make statements that directly undermine free inquiry and the independence of the University. It is particularly disconcerting in this case, because among the central issues are academic freedom and free speech.

We understand that individual Regents, in their private capacity, like many others in the community, may hold strong views on this and many other issues. However, in their official capacity, the Regents have the responsibility to uphold the rights of University administrators and faculty to determine internal University policies through established processes of shared governance free of external political pressure and threats from any source, including the Regents' own spouses, relatives and friends. We call upon the Regents, the President, and the Provost to provide explicit assurances that they will support and protect the independence and integrity of the continuing discussions of a possible Statement of Principles Against Intolerance.

You can find more information at:

Categorías: Universidade

UCOP Begins Process to Reduce Pension Benefits for Employees (Updated with New Material)

Dom, 23/08/2015 - 17:35
As Dan Mitchell has been reminding us, UCOP has appointed a Task Force to implement the Regents agreement to reduce pension benefits for future employees.  As a result of the Committee of Two, UCOP has agreed to lower the amount of employee salary that can be counted towards UCRP to approximately $117,000.  They are proposing that some form of hybrid defined benefit/defined contribution plan be created to allow employees to save above that $117,000 limit.  UCOP is also proposing that an all-defined contribution (DC) plan be developed that would allow future employees to opt out from the defined benefit plan entirely.

UCOP insists that the "New retirement benefits options are being developed as a result of the budget agreement between UC and state leaders, which included nearly $500 million to help pay down UC’s unfunded pension liability." But there are several issues that need to be raised about this claim.

1.  UCOP refers to the nearly $500M that the University will receive from the state in exchange for pension modification.  But the University will have received only $96M upon the creation of the new pension tiers. I understand that the actual state budget promises only this one year of funding. Although President Napolitano and Governor Brown may have agreed on the larger number, there is no sign that the Legislature or its leadership have agreed.  What future budgets will look like is always unclear. UCOP, in effect, is proposing a serious reduction in pensions for future employees in exchange for less than a third of the money they now estimate they will have to spend to complete UCPATH.  Will their predictions for future state pension contributions be more accurate than their predictions on UCPATH?

2.  There is no evidence that either the Governor or the Legislature asked that UC create an option for a stand-alone DC plan. Sacramento's concern had to do with the limits on the salary on which benefits could be accrued, which is consistent with its hostility to high levels of UC executive compensation.   The notion that there needs to be a stand-alone DC plan appears to have emerged from UCOP or from some other source within UC.  President Napolitano's justification for this proposal seems to be that it is what has happened in the private sector so it should happen at UC.  But we should recognize that the shift in the private sector occurred not because of widely accepted actuarial proof that DC plans are better for employees but because they enabled businesses to shift the cost of retirement onto retirees. There was nothing natural or inevitable about it. It was not driven by a desire to stabilize or improve retirement security for employees.   

In addition, you'll recall that the University engaged in a serious debate about this question only a few years ago and decided to retain its long-term commitment to a DB plan.  Rather than appointing a task force to determine the best way to implement this new plan UCOP should engage in an open discussion about whether or not this is actually better for employees. There has not been, to my knowledge, any reason to think that the relative benefits of DB vs DC plans has changed in the last few years.  If anything, the weight of the argument suggests that DC plans are worse for employees and may in fact be worse for employers.  DC plans raise the fees on accounts, force employees to assume greater risk, and tie individual retirement fate even more closely to the stock market.  From the vantage point of employers, DC plans increase fees and reduce incentives for employees to stay. There is also--despite assurances to the contrary from UCOP--the danger of ultimately undermining the the DB plan by leaving it an "orphan" plan--moving funds needed to sustain it over the long term into other more volatile directions.

3.  Nearly two years ago, Colleen Lye and James Vernon documented the decline in the quality of UC faculty salaries and benefits.   The 2014 Mercer Remuneration Study confirmed these findings (see slides 33-34 for a summary).  UCOP's acceptance of the state's pension limits and even more so its eagerness to move away from a commitment to a DB plan simply accelerate this decline.  Although I think that there are reasons to cap accrual salary in exchange for sufficient state-funding on an ongoing basis, this is not the deal that UCOP has achieved. And the policy drift towards the Defined Contribution plan is an entirely different matter.  UCOP seems to be removing the conditions that promote loyalty to the institution and seeking to encourage faculty to consider UC a way-station rather than a home.  It is the self-destructiveness of existing conventional wisdom at its most short-sighted.

The faculty, and the Senate as part of the faculty, needs to insist that the Task Force be empowered to decide--after wide-ranging discussion and employee consent--whether a DC plan is good for the university and employees.  It should not be limited to deciding how to implement such a plan. 

In other words, the Task Force needs to maximize the interests of future employees and not simply implement the practices of the private sector.

UPDATE:  Dan Mitchell has now written a new post that very helpfully lays out the problems with "orphan" pension plans.
Categorías: Universidade

HIllary Clinton and Phyllis Wise: Signs of Better Things

Lun, 17/08/2015 - 22:06
The Democratic candidates public college plans are more interesting than most coverage has implied (brief comparisons are here). They are all variations of "Debt-Free College" proposals, to use candidate Martin O'Malley's term, structured in part as federal bailouts of state universities.  They are grossly underfunded, but they establish new principles and could launch a new political struggle for public eduction reconstruction.

My suspicions thawed as I read through them. It's hard to work in the sector and not be excited that maybe the federal government will save public universities from their states.  It's equally hard not to be excited about real reductions of student costs and student debt, which have led to U.S. attainment declines, the unjustifiable burdening of Millennials, and other assorted evils.  More pressure to fix debt was added by a shocking St. Louis Fed report whose findings were summarized by the NYT coverage as "Racial Wealth Gap Persists Despite Degrees."  The headline should have been, "Racial Wealth Gap Increased by Getting Degrees."  Gaze at this figure for a while (from the original report--as already explained by Shapiro & Oliver twenty years ago):

College not only doesn't end racial stratification--it increases it.

So what are the chances of a fix? Bad for now, but better later.

The Obama Administration has been laying some groundwork: it just announced a revised "pay as you earn" (Repaye) plan, under which "Monthly loan payments for participants in the repayment program will be capped at 10 percent of their discretionary income. Any loan balance remaining after 20 years of payments will be forgiven."  This will lead to big cuts in monthly payments for lower-income graduates--from $333 to $61 in the NYT article's example as well as de facto loan forgiveness.

The big new campaign announcement was the New College Compact, Hillary Clinton's battleship of a college plan that is trying to swamp Bernie Sanders' College for All sailboat with sheer tonnage of items addressed.

Mrs. Clinton's plan involves mostly breaks in interest payments on student loans (one-third of her total).  Another chunk would go to an "innovation fund" for developing some non-college learning infrastructure and better information and enforcement of existing loan regulations (it's a hodge podge).  Half of her new funds would go to grants to state colleges to offset tuition reductions, coupled with unspecified new quid pro quos about tuition and cost reduction.  Her total is $350 billion over 10 years.

Bernie Sanders's plan is not so different, except it focuses less on cracking down on bad actors in the sector and has an annual total of $70 billion, or twice Mrs. Clinton's.  There aren't yet a lot of details to sweat, though clearly Mr. Sanders's figure is much closer to the price tag that would make free public college a reality.  Mr. O'Malley lacks details but has the most heartfelt rhetoric.

There are a few general issues worth mentioning.

First, the political center on public colleges has moved.  It has moved left, away from letting "market forces" continue to pile up student costs and student debt.  Free community college has been endorsed by the US President.  Free 4 year college is now on its heels.  In almost no time, politicians like Mr. O'Malley have started to write, "today, our kids aren't getting the same bargain that my dad did" as the new common sense.  Bob Samuels has pointed out that a couple of years ago his book Why Public Higher Education Should Be Free made him a "lone, crazy voice in the wilderness."  Now "free" is a respectable part of the mainstream debate.

Second, we're witnessing not just a changing political balance but a paradigm shift. The Democratic college plans try to (1) lower debt payments by (2) reducing public college tuition so that less debt is incurred in the first place. They propose to do this by (3) giving federal money directly to state colleges to offset lost tuition income and (4) forcing state legislatures to stop cutting higher ed and even rebuild its funding. Jordan Weismann has a helpful summary of the new Democratic consensus.

This combination of elements is a very big deal. It would roll back our de facto federal voucher program for college students in which non-research federal money goes to students who turn it over to the school of their choice in the form of tuition.  Many or most states will fight this as they fought Obamacare, and for the same reason--expanding a public service they don't like with new federal money that requires a cost share from them.   There will be blood. But we have hit a milestone that might remind some people of the road to Medicare, which established the public-good principle for full health care coverage in retirement, which then made accomplishment the responsibility of public funding.

The third issue is that tuition increases for resident B.A. students are going to stay off the political table.  Of course in the short or even medium run, politicians won't actually replace tuition revenues with public funding increases. This is bad news for public U operating budgets, and this is no doubt why short-termers at public universities are preemptively denouncing free tuition. It's good news to people like me who want to see the case for the public funding become politically cheaper by making the case for constant tuition increases politically more expensive.  The intellectual and ethical arguments for the public side are there, and now their political price is coming down.

Fourth, the senior managers who try to drift near the political center are going to miss it, since it has moved.  That is what has been happening in California, where Janet Napolitano thought tuition increases had a few more years of political life than they actually did.  Time's almost up for non-resident tuition increases--there's maybe a year or two more before a major backlash against selling UC flagship seats to non-residents while redirecting residents to the campuses they didn't want.  The new center is under active construction and it would be good for the heads of systems to be part of this, which they won't be if they spend their time fighting it.

Fifth, the Democrat's means won't achieve their alleged ends.  The candidates still propose no-new-taxes positions.  They want to pay for the biggest change in university policy in a couple of generations with marginal revenues: the reduction of rich folks' income tax deductions (Mrs. Clinton); a Tobin tax on financial transactions (Mr. Sanders). Both are good ideas for general policy reasons.  Neither offers either sufficient money to buy off the states or the deeper principle that would build public support.

That deeper principle is the public-good value of having a very large number of unindebted people with bachelors degrees.  A related principle is that the most efficient way to pay for a public good is with general taxes. You want to increase a public good's consumption (e.g., vaccinations), not ration it with a market price system or carve the revenues up with banks and other providers in an orgy of profit-taking.  Everyone can understand this public-good argument if US politicians actually make the argument.  The Democrats lost their momentum 40 years ago when they stopped making it, and they won't recover politically until they do--and they may end up giving it to a resurgent third party instead.

So what does this encouraging shift in national politics have to do with Phyllis Wise, the recently resigned-fired-not fired-resigned chancellor of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign?  She emblemized old-school corporate management that will keep a federal fix away.

There has been plenty of coverage of the most recently turmoil in what has been a bad year for UI brass, culminating in Dr. Wise's resignation that became a firing that became a resignation again.  Corey Robin offers the definitive incredulous untangling of last week's events, in which Phyllis Wise resigned, had her resignation rejected by the Board so they could fire her, which led her to threaten them with further disclosure in an email that was followed by a second resignation letter, which this time was accepted. A sample of Prof. Robin's breakdown:
1. Salaita is hired but then is told, no, you’re not really hired, so that he can be fired. Wise is forced to resign, but then is told, no, you’re not really resigned, so that she can be fired. 2. Wise complains that not only is she the victim of a university administration that puts politics above principles and reneges on its contracts with its employees—all true, by the way—but that such actions are also “unprecedented."3. Suddenly, the UI Board of Trustees is concerned about contracts with its employees. . .. Suffice to say that no chicken has ever come so accurately home to roost.

But the deeper problem is the overall practice of management revealed by the initial firing of Steven Salaita and the subsequent lawsuit, discovery, email publication, and initial court decision affirming most of the Salaita counts. When the Board found out about Steven Salaita's angry tweets about Israel's Gaza attack last summer, they became completely obsessed with one of the 120 people who were being appointed as professors in the UI system--an associate professor from Virginia Tech that had been hired into a program I doubt any of them had ever heard of before.  So there was the lack of an ability to maintain perspective, to set priorities, to decide what is important to the long-term health of the University and what is a side show.

Here we have a fiduciary body that is prone to impulsive politicization. Next, there's the will to intervention from above. The Board of Trustees translated a passionate conviction held by a small, powerful group into an overturning of an elaborately collaborative campus decision, in this case the hiring protocol that had been completed with an offer tended to Prof. Salaita and his acceptance of it.  In its move to dismiss his lawsuit, the University claimed that they had never entered into a valid contract with Prof. Salaita, so no abusive intervention was made. In his thorough rejection of this claim, Judge Leinenweber describes various kinds of language that could have made clear the contract was contingent on the board, none of which was used, and then notes that appointment power had been delegated to deans.  "If the deans had no authority to make any binding offers, the University would have been confused as to why 120 professors showed up to work when no one with actual authority had offered them a job" (19).

Similar judgments had been offered by a wide range of UIUC and other faculty a year ago, when the Board still had a chance to calm down and let the hire proceed. They ignored all of these.  This second problem is the Board digging into an oppositional relation toward its own university community and internal processes, and the third is the routine insistence that "no mistakes were made."

There's a further set of bad management practices revealed in Chancellor Wise's emails about Prof. Salaita.  There's the compulsive secrecy about the content and basis of deliberations and decisions, which are then routinely whitewashed in press releases.  This has become so common that we hardly notice it anymore, but it means that the larger community lacks the information that would allow it to come to an informed judgment, which is supposed to be the whole point of universities.  It also sinks executive groups into the epistemological blindness of their closed circle, which becomes inbred under pressure.

In the Salaita case, senior officials had agreed that he had in fact been hired, was joining the UIUC faculty, and should be subjected to an unpleasant tongue-lashing from Chancellor Wise when he arrived.  They sometime between 7:25 am and 1:55 pm on July 24, 2014, they undecided this and shifted to blocking an appointment they now claimed had never been made.  There seems to have been pressure from heavyweight donors that the UIUC administration failed to deflect--another management issue of a lack of independence towards outside interests that are increasingly plutocratic.

The decision must have seemed like a good idea at the time, but it meant suppressing the history of the administration's view that he was hired, which they had held as recently as that morning.  It meant running with an unconvincing rationale for unhiring Prof. Salaita that subjected them to widespread scorn and the campus to a national boycott, and all for nothing, since their position has now been thrown out of court.  What had happened, to quote from another context, was that "the intelligence and the facts were being fixed around the policy." The academic world sensed this at the time, but could not prove it, and it was endlessly denied in the administration's public relations campaign that has now been shown to be founded on a lie.  This has had very bad consequences for Steven Salaita, but also for the University of Illinois.  Complex organizations thrive or decline by trust and goodwill, which underwrite their powers of collaboration.

The Wise Affair may seem like an anomaly or a day at the office in the rough and tumble of state politics.  So Dr. Wise was trading Steven Salaita for Board chair Christopher Kennedy's support for her College of Medicine proposal, in John K. Wilson's valuable reading of the email record: what did you expect?

My point is that we have to expect much better.  We have to build better academic governance at the state level or the federal bailout will either never happen, or never work.  To do this, we'll have to face the fact that the CEO model has failed for universities: to invoke Thorstein Veblen's critique of business reason, the CEO must above all make the sale, and making the sale often requires hiding the truth.

You may think public universities have been muddling through pretty well with this marketing approach most of the time.  I'm sorry to say that you would be wrong.  Exhibit A is a quarter-century of declining public funding. Exhibit B is a long list of administrative sins that legislatures trot out to refuse meaningful restorations.  Nothing is more likely to block federal solutions than state government's deep distrust of senior university leaders.

University of Illinois folk have made good reform suggestions (eg. Kirstin Wilcox, Michael Rothberg, Martin F. Manalansan IV and Ellen Moodie), all of which involve something we thought we had-- an open university, freestyle discussion, and bottom-up forms of planning. These moves towards active governance by faculty and staff are as important as the public funding policy changes.  We won't get close even to the funding reforms of Hillary Clinton's unless we can get past the management model of Phyllis Wise.
Categorías: Universidade