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Sunday, September 29, 2019

Sunday, September 29, 2019
After UC president Janet Napolitano announced her resignation, effective August 2020, the prospect of searching awoke a quotient of dread. "The Regents will pick," one Senate elder told me.  "They won't listen to us. They don't care what we think."  The idea here is that a small group of uber-regents will pop out another person whose remoteness from educational functions and faculty they will deem a virtue.  This has become a national trend: secretive searches that look for a chief executive who will preside over the university rather than develop it from within, and reflect the interests of the governing board ahead of those of the university's multiple constituencies.  Examples include presidential searches in South Carolina and Colorado this past spring.  The conflict is also present at UC (see this post for national as well as local background). 

But the UC Regents do have a formal search process.  Called Regents Policy 7101, it requires a number of steps.

The first is that the Board Chair forms a Special Committee comprised of six Regents and other ex officio members (paragraph 1).  The membership of the new Special Committee is posted here.

The Chair of the Special Committee then "consults with the full Board of Regents at the beginning of the search for the purpose of reviewing the relevancy of the criteria to be considered and approved by the Board of Regents and discussing potential candidates (paragraph 4). During the search, "all Regents will be invited to all meetings with all constituencies."  The Regents then make the final appointment, although Policy 7101 does not specify whether the full Board votes or how that vote proceeds.

The important features here are (1) the Board retains exclusive decision rights over the selection of the president and (2) every member of the Board has equal access to the meetings that constitute the search.  The Policy protects the rights of regents whom the Chair does not appoint to the Special Committee--the process is not to be controlled by the Board Chair's Special Committee or a small group of allied Regents--and affirms the Board's sovereignty over the search.

But there is also (3): in between the beginning and the end of the Policy comes a potentially huge and dynamic systemwide consultation process conjured in luxuriant description.

B. The Chair of the Special Committee will invite the Academic Council to appoint an Academic Advisory Committee, composed of not more than thirteen members, including the Chair of the Academic Council and at least one representative of each of the ten campuses, to assist the Special Committee in screening candidates.
C. The Special Committee will consult broadly with constituent groups of the University, including the Academic Advisory Committee appointed by the Academic Council, Chancellors, Laboratory Directors, Vice Presidents, students, staff, and alumni. To facilitate consultation, there shall be appointed advisory committees, each with no more than twelve members, of students, staff, and alumni. The student advisory committee shall be appointed by the Presidents of the graduate and undergraduate student associations and shall include at least one student from each campus. The staff advisory committee shall be appointed by the Chair of the Council of UC Staff Assemblies and shall include at least one staff member from each campus. The alumni advisory committee shall be appointed by the President of the Alumni Associations of the University of California and shall include at least one alumna or alumnus from each campus. Such consultation will be for the purpose of (1) reviewing the relevancy of the criteria approved by the Board of Regents and (2) presenting the nominee or nominees to members of the groups at the conclusion of the search.
In classic UC style, the executive decision making body has parallel advisory groups that allows the appearance of consultation but which it can also ignore.  Hence the pessimism of some Senate elders. On the other hand, the advisory committees have a power of self-constitution and also activity.  The only stated rule is a cap on the number of members. The named advisory committees are:
  • Academic Advisory Committee
  • Student Advisory Committee
  • Staff Advisory Committee
  • Alumni Advisory Committee
The Policy puts no limitations on the activities of the committees.  How do these Advisory Committees (ACs) actually influence the Special Committee and the overall Board?

The standard theory is prestige: find the most prominent or trusted insider from each campus and create what management theorist Clayton Christensen likes to call a "heavyweight team."  In the case of the Academic Advisory Committee (AcAC), prestige theory assumes that the regents recognize academic (or senate service-based) prestige and would honor it by adapting their views.  Each heavyweight would be recognized as speaking authoritatively for the (leadership of the) particular campus.

Here's the problem: I know of no evidence that the last three presidential searches have worked this way; the evidence I do have suggests the opposite.  Business culture does not respect academic culture, the class gaps between professors and most regents are too wide, and the key feature of Christensen's heavyweights--decision rights--is stripped from the ACs. 

If this isn't enough to undermine AC leverage, there's also the structural weakness of the committee.  With the AcAC, each campus gets one person to represent its ladder faculty; this committee has a maximum of 13 people for a systemwide ladder faculty of over 11,000 (pdf p 94).   This faculty is divided among 10 campuses, between campuses and medical centers, across all the disciplines, which have diverse needs, and across racial groups, which also have diverse needs.  The idea of one person representing hundreds or thousands of their colleagues makes no epistemological (or political) sense.  It is also a recipe for an incoherent voice coming out of the AcAC, which Senate handpicking of membership can ease only at the price of lost diversity of views.

But the UC advisory committees could affect the presidential search, by using their committees to prompt campus discussions about the presidential search in the context of the immediate future of UC.  All of the Advisory Committees could set up a series of events in which they talk with their constituents on each of 10 campuses.  They listen to hopes and fears, gather ideas about leadership needs, hash them over, and then transmit the resulting comments, recommendations, or demands to the Special Committee.  One faculty member suggested a "UC Day" in which town halls happen across the UC system at the same time. The ACs would have to identify a deadline that would fall before the Special Committee's long-listing and short-listing of candidates such that it (and the Board overall) could fully consider the input.  Each committee could do its work in about 6 weeks--2 campus visits a week (if not all done at once), plus a week to debate, formulate, and forward recommendations.  The scope of the issue is limited and the reports should be short.

Another benefit of using the ACs as a public fulcrum: town halls and other public events would be newsworthy.  Whatever they think of professors, unions, and students, governing boards do care about institutional reputation, media coverage, and what they hear back from VIPs as a result of that.  They also care about the public debates and collective movements that shape public opinion and apply political pressure.  A recent example is the issue of food insecurity and student homelessness.  For years, the Board were told UC financial aid took care of low-income students and they took no action to mitigate student poverty.  Then, sometime after Bernie Sanders put free college on the political map in late 2015, the media started covering student hunger and homelessness.  The UC Regents responded by forming a Special Committee on Basic Needs in late 2018.  The actual results have a long way to go, but the point is that governing boards do respond to public discourse, eventually, academic discourses included.

In short, though UC governance has a top-down 19th century structure, the Regents are most likely listen to faculty, students, alums, and staff under three conditions: their Advisory Committees (A) represent a real constituency brought together by a consultation process that (B) speaks publicly about its views of the University in a way that (C) publicly (re)frames the University's needs for its next president.  The idea is to create an interest, a buzz, an excitement, a university-wide discussion over what we do and don't need, and, more importantly, to construct a constituency which then builds discourses that have an institutional and political existence.  There are no guarantees, but the wager is that the state's media would cover a process in which a university system holds a discussion about its current goals and consequent leadership needs on all ten campuses.   The process would upgrade the level of public discussion about California higher ed both inside and outside the University.

This process would also help locate potential presidents with one vital skill, which is gathering exactly this kind of information from their own institutional grassroots.  This might seem irrelevant to the president's main job of political lobbying, but it is not. Recent history shows that a president without deep knowledge of the university's daily life simply cannot make the statewide case for the University's public benefit and fiscal needs.  UC's advisory committees could set an example of the creation of this kind of profound, inspiring knowledge that the University needs in its next president. 

I do hope the current Academic Senate leadership, Chair Kum-Kum Bhavnani and Vice Chair Mary Gauvain, rapidly set up a systemwide faculty fact-finding and deliberative process via the Academic Advisory Committee, details TBD. UC needs a new president with deep understanding of the University's issues, people, and potential, and the ability to learn directly from them.

Photo credit

Posted by Chris Newfield | Comments: 2

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Wednesday, September 18, 2019
If you work at the University of California, your Office of the President has committed you to producing 200,000 additional degrees by 2030, on top of the one million degrees already expected.  This post is a plea to the hundreds of thousands of faculty, staff, and students who will implement this 20 percent increase.  It's a plea to analyze the material conditions this increase requires, and to work actively for the right ones.

Can this expansion really happen without creating degree-mill conditions, and making life even harder for more vulnerable students?  What new resources will it take to make 1.2 million degrees a great thing for students, for the state, and for UC research?  Materials for this week's Board of Regents meetings offer some clues.

The stakes are high because of the high cost of making unfulfillable promises about core social needs (health, education, housing, work).  Health care is Exhibit A: former Obama administration officials (like the Crooked Media crew) say they all saw the Affordable Care Act as a big step towards what many of them wanted but couldn't yet get from Congress, which was Medicare for All.  But the ACA's compromised design created widespread user disappointments.  These weakened political support both for the ACA and for Medicare for All, making it harder to protect the first and get the second.  Obama officials also spent a lot of time denying that they even wanted Medicare for All ("single payer" as it was often called), since they were afraid of the charges of socialized medicine that they of course got anyway, so they buried their core framing principle (call it equal access to a human right free of market allocation by ability to pay).  People did fight to keep their government backstop on health premiums, but ten years later Medicare for All is still a ways out of reach.

An analogy in higher ed is the effect of overcrowding on undergraduate satisfaction.   The University of California has been producing extra degrees by taking extra students, half or more without state payment, off and on for 15 years.  For the recent history, see the very useful Regents' item F11, Display 1. You might think this would earn UC budget chips it could cash in for state general funds later, but there's no evidence that this has ever happened. If anything, taking unfunded students teaches the state UC can make do with less money per student, and perhaps even zero.  This is a bad precedent for the extra 200,000 students to come.

UC campuses see overcrowding as a tacit and necessary revenue strategy: even those students who don't bring state money still pay tuition.  Item F11 notes statistical costs: "the number of students per ladder-rank and equivalent faculty member, which has grown from fewer than 25 in 2004-05 to more than 28 in 2017-18" (p 5).  Student to core staff ratios have also risen, from 11.5 in 2007-08 to 15.6 students per staff member ten years later.  Ratios of students to frontline staff are in my experience grossly higher. 15.6 may reflect the number of RAs whose payroll is handled by a research center budget officer.  A departmental academic advisor's ratio may be 200:1, 500:1 or 1200:1.

The "user" cost appears in survey data.
Compared to 2006,
  • students are much less likely to strongly agree with the statement,  "Knowing what I know now, I would still choose to enroll at my UC campus";
  • a declining percentage of students are able to get into their first-choice major; and
  • students are less likely to know at least one professor well enough to ask for a letter of recommendation.
Whoever wrote Item F11 chose fundamental issues very well.  To what extent does UC enrollment depend on ignorance of UC realities?  Choosing a major is a cornerstone of the U.S. higher ed system: how many UC students are forced into a second or third choice? (Do read Zach Bleemer on the cost of being forced out of a first choice major.)  Finally, and rudely, is contact time with professors so much greater at public universities than at online services?  UC compares itself to private university peers in terms of research quality and faculty salaries. These three items are key private college strengths that UC has for many years been unable to match.  

What new funding is UC requesting to redress these issues? It's the standard modest proposal: tuition increases beaten back to the rate of inflation (there's a cohort-based tuition plan that's getting student attention).  A 3-4 percentish increase in state funds.  Throw in some non-resident tuition increases and some other little stuff.  Given current baselines in state funds and tuition revenues (page 14),  that would mean annual combined increases in chunks of $300 million, one chunk per normal year.

Here's a picture of the background:

Instructional expenditures are 80 percent of what they were in 2000-01 (actually less than that, because capital costs, bond interest, and pension contributions now come out of state general funds; averages are also much higher than undergrads will experience in most majors; but never mind that here).  This is true even though net tuition has doubled in that time (and tripled since 1990).  The state has also doubled the share of tuition that it picks up through Cal Grants, which is a political sore point.  Everybody's unhappy enough with the status quo to fail to give the university their strong support.

What would make people happy? Let's ballpark this.  Say average spending of 2000-01 levels would allow hiring more faculty and staff, easing restrictions on student access to faculty and to first-choice majors and upgrading the overall learning experience. We'd need another $5000 per student, all of it from the state to avoid tuition increases.  On 230,000 or so undergraduates, that means around $1.1 billion on top of inflation-covering increases we get right now.   If you did it in one year to avoid various complications, that would be a one-year increase of about 30 percent in general funding, or ten times the typical increase of recent years.

And if we need to produce 200,000 extra degrees, that's an additional 20,000 per year each year.  Funding another 20,000 students at the full cost of $25,000 means another $500 million on top of our $1.1 billion.   These are crude, round numbers, but they are in the ballpark of the real costs of doing the better quality at the bigger scale to which UCOP has in fact committed us.

It's hard for us to imagine the state stepping up like this.  That thought turns the gaze to tuition, which was the regents' answer (7-10 percent annual tuition increases were in the 2005 Compact with the state) until Jerry Brown shut it down.  It's hard not to go to tuition when it's the solution built into the  political and economic ideology of America.  But the UCOP materials show why tuition hikes can't happen either.

Here's a graphic from the Special Committee on Basic Needs. It shows total cost of attending a UC as a bit over $35,000 a year, broken down by sources of funding.
A lot of grant money is being spent, and yet the dire truth is the dark grey band hovering over every income level.  Every student, including the poorest, has to come up with close to $10,000 of $35,000 of total cost.  If your family makes $25,000 a year, you get a Cal Grant, a Pell Grant, and a UC Grant, and you still need to borrow or earn $10,000.  This is a key reason why the "high tuition/ high aid" model isn't sustainable. (See Stage 5 in The Great Mistake for details, or this post, written back when the claim that "high aid" induced shortfalls for poor students caused angry cognitive dissonance).

It's a key reason why UC's business model has created conditions for student non-success.   Students cover the $10,000 (plus also, in many or most cases, much of the Expected Family Contribution), by working too much, living in bad housing or no housing, and not eating enough. One of my colleagues reports that at UC Santa Barbara, a relatively affluent UC, 48 percent of our undergraduates and 31 percent of our graduate students are food insecure.

Student work helps add to time to degree, which conflicts with UCOP's degree plans.  Hunger and homelessness conflict with fundamental ethical principles and also with degree plans.   All three can be fixed with money: buying out the "student work and loan" portion for all undergrads would cost over $2 billion.  Doing it for the nearly half of UC undergrads that are Pell eligible would cost over $1 billion.

Unfortunately the Basic Needs recommendations (page 5-7) are about everything except money. They won't make any real difference.  The Berkeley Faculty Association has called out the most clueless--the "financial wellness programs" under the recommendation for "Improving Financial Literacy."  To suggest that low- or middle-income students can't easily find another $10,000 because they don't understand credit card interest is absurd and offensive.  If you are interested in that sort of thing, read the Basic Needs minutes for July 16th.  There's a lot of fuss starting on page 8 about the funding for the study of the issue and for some programs: the total seems to be about $15 million.  It's less than 0.5 percent of UC tuition revenues, which suggests an equally minuscule commitment to material solutions to the problem.

I know my tenure-track colleagues have mostly given up on the state.  Most of us have hunkered down until tuition hikes and non-resident students start flowing again.  We are more involved than ever in local revenue prospects like fundraising and special fee master's programs (or SSPs/SSDPs).  I don't think it's ethical to give up--we are already too complicit with the suffering of too many students. I also don't think it's feasible to give up--ten years after the financial crisis we still have no fiscal exit. It's not unlike health care, where staying in half-way ACA limbo forces our friends and neighbors to come up with $10,000 or $20,000 a month to alleviate immediate misery. None of this is necessary.  Fixing UC, CSU and the CCs would cost $66 per median taxpayer per year.  It's a choice between suffering and spending our common money.

UPDATE (September 21) The Regents Finance and Strategies Committee discussion on September 18th included this chart (at around 2'14").  UCOP's David Alcocer nicely explains to Regent Lark  that the figures are cumulative and reflect permanent revenues.  The way to get $20 million in permanent revenues is through an endowment 20 times that large (that yields 5% returns per year), is with a $400 million endowment.  I'd hasten to add what the regents are expected to infer--that fundraising is a very hard and inefficient way to generate large permanent revenue streams. 

I esp "chunks" of additional money per year to be $300 million (state and tuition), but it's closer to $250 million here.

Also worth pondering is Regent Cohen's remarks at 2'24" that rejects UCOP's data showing per-student funding has fallen.  He first says Cal Grant money was left out, and when he's corrected on that, he doesn't like picking 2000-01 as a baseline, claiming that was unsustainable.  He also claims that the lower per-student spending is the effect of "efficiencies," which are being disregarded by this slide.  Cohen was Jerry Brown's director of finance, and seems to believe that no cuts were made to educational operations because all reductions were efficiencies.   He of course offers no evidence for this, and there isn't any. The UCOP representatives don't correct this, and it may be that this disastrous misreading of UC campus budgeting isn't unique to him on the board.

Cohen's interpretation is one that the Senate should correct head-on, based on its deep experience with what has actually happened on the campuses over the past ten years, to say nothing of the effects of previous cut cycles.

New Mexico pioneers free college
Previously on Newsom and UC budgets
Photo credit

Posted by Chris Newfield | Comments: 1

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Saturday, September 7, 2019
The rule of infrastructure is that no one thinks about it until it breaks.  This week, I was at the annual conference of the International Society for Scientometrics and Informetrics when I bumped into an example of how the massive flow of bibliometric data can suddenly erupt into the middle of a university's life.">Washington University in St. Louis (WashU) has a new chancellor.  He hired a consulting firm to interview and survey the university community about its hopes, priorities, views of WashU's culture, and desired cuts.  The firm found a combination of hope and "restlessness," which the report summarized like this: members of the WashU community
want to see a unifying theme and shared priorities among the various units of the university. Naturally, stakeholders want to see WashU rise in global rankings and increase its prestige, but they want to see the institution accomplish this in a way that is distinctively WashU. They are passionate about WashU claiming its own niche. Striving to be “the Ivy of the Midwest” is not inspiring and lacks creativity. Students feel the university is hesitant to do things until peer institutions make similar moves.
"As always, the university needs to become more unique and yet more unified, and to stop following others while better following the rankings.

The report might have gone on to overcome these tensions by organizing its data into a set of proposals for novel research and teaching areas.  Maybe someone in the medical school suggested a cross-departmental initiative on racism as a socially-transmitted disease. Maybe the chairs of the Departments of Economics and of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies mentioned teaming up to reinvent public housing with the goal of freeing quality of life from asset ownership.  These kinds of ideas regularly occur on university campuses, but are rarely funded.

New proposals is not what the report has to offer. It generates lists of the broad subject areas that every university is also pursuing (pp 4-5). It embeds them in this finding:
The other bold call to action that emerged from a subset of interviewees is internally focused. This subset tended to include new faculty and staff . . . and Medical School faculty and senior staff (who perceive their [medical] campus enforces notably higher productivity standards). These interviewees are alarmed at what they perceive as the pervading culture among faculty on the Danforth Campus [the main university]. They hope the new administration has the courage to tackle faculty productivity and accountability. They are frustrated by perceived deficiencies in research productivity, scholarship expectations and teaching quality. A frequently cited statistic was the sub-100 ranking of WashU research funding if the Medical School is excluded. Those frustrated with the Danforth faculty feel department chairs don’t hold their faculty accountable. There is too much “complacency” and acceptance of “mediocrity.” “There is not a culture of excellence.” . . . Interviewees recognize that rooting out this issue will be controversial and fraught with risk. However, they believe it stands as the primary obstacle to elevating the Danforth Campus –and the university as a whole –to elite status. 
Abstracting key elements gets this story: One group has a pre-existing negative belief about another group.  They think the other group is inferior to them. They also believe that they are damaged by the other's inferiority.  They offer a single piece of evidence to justify this sense of superiority. They also say the other group's leaders are solely responsible for the problem.  They have theory of why: chairs apply insufficient discipline. They attribute the group's alleged inferiority to every member of that group. 

Stripped down like this, this part of the report is boilerplate bigotry.  Every intergroup hostility offers some self-evident "proof" of its validity.  In academia's current metrics culture, the numerical quality of an indicator supposedly cleanses it of prejudice.  Lower research expenditures is just a fact, like the numbers of wins and losses that create innocent rankings like baseball standings.  So, in our culture, the med school can look down on the Danforth Campus with impunity because it has an apparently objective number--relative quantities of research funding.

In reality, this is a junk metric.  I'll count some of the ways: 
  • the belief precedes the indicator, which is cherry-picked from what would be a massive set of possible indicators that inevitably tells a complicated story.  (A better consultant would have conducted actual institutional research, and would never have let surveyed opinions float free of a meaningful empirical base.) 
  • the indicator is bound to Theory X, the a priori view that even advanced professionals “need to be coerced, controlled, directed, and threatened with punishment to get them to put forward adequate effort" (we've discussed Theory X vs. Theory Y here and here). 
  • quantity is equated with quality. This doesn't work--unless there's a sophisticated hermeneutical project thatt goes with it.  It doesn't work with citation counts (which assume the best article is the one with the most citations from the most cited journals), and its use has been widely critiqued in the scientometric literature (just one example). Quantity-is-quality really doesn't work with money, when you equate the best fields with the most expensive ones. 
  • the metric is caused by a feature of the environment rather than solely by the source under study. The life sciences get about 57 percent of all federal research funding, and the lion's share of that runs through NIH rather than NSF, meaning through health sciences more than academic biology. Thus every university with a medical school gets the bulk of its R&D funding through that medical school; note medical campuses dominating R&D expenditure rankings, and see STEM powerhouse UC Berkeley place behind the University of Texas's cancer center. (Hangdog WashU is basically tied with Berkeley.)
  • the report arbitrarily assumes only one of multiple interpretations of the metric. An alternative interpretation here is (1) the data were not disaggregated to compare similar departments only, rather than comparing the apple of a medical school to the orange of a general campus (with departments of music, art history, political science, etc.)  Another is (2) the funding gap reflects the broader mission of arts and sciences departments, in which faculty are paid to spend most of their time on teaching, advising, and mentoring.  Another is (3) the funding gap reflects the absurd underfunding of most non-medical research, from environmental science to sociology.  That's just three of many.
  • the metric divides people or groups by replacing relationships with a hierarchy. 
  • This last one is a subtle but pervasive effect that we don't understand very well.  Rankings make the majority of a group feel badly that they are not at the top. How much damage does this do to research, if we reject Theory X and see research as a cooperative endeavor depending on circuits of intelligence?  Professions depend on a sense of complementarity among different types of people and expertise--she's really good running the regressions, he's really good with specifications of appropriate theory, etc. The process of "ordinalizing" difference, as the sociologist Marion Fourcade puts it, discredits or demotes one of the parties and can this spoil professional interaction.  Difference becomes inferiority.  In other words, when used like this, metrics weaken professional ties in an attempt to manage efficiency.

So if Washington University takes these med school claims literally as fact, and doesn't scramble to see them as expressions of a cultural divide that must be fixed, the faulty metric just killed their planning process.

Let's take a step back from WashU.  The passage I've cited does in fact violate core principles of  professional bibliometricists. They reject these kinds of "simple, objective" numbers and their use them as a case-closed argument.  Recent statements of principle all demand that numbers be used only in the context of qualitative professional judgment: see DORA, Metric Tide, Leiden, and the draft of the new Hong Kong manifesto. It's also wrong that STEM professional organizations are all on board with quantitative research performance managment. Referring to the basic rationale for bibliometrics, "that citation statistics are inherently more accurate because the substitute simple numbers for complex judgements"--it was the International Mathematicians Union that in 2008 called this view "unfounded" in the course of a sweeping critique of the statistical methods behind Journal Impact Factor, the h-index, and other popular performance indicators. These and others have been widely debated and at least partially discredited, as in this graphic from the Leiden Manifesto:

The Leiden and Hong Kong statements demand that those evaluated be able to "verify data and analysis."  This means that use, methods, goals, and results should be reviewable and also rejectable where flaws are found.  All bibliometricists insist that metrics not be taken from one discipline and applied to another, since meaningful patterns vary from field to field.  Most agree that arts and humanities fields are disserved by them. In the U.S., new expectations for open data and strictly contextualed use were created by the Rutgers University faculty review of the then-secret use of Academic Analytics.
The best practitioners know that the problems with metrics are deep. In a Nature article last May,  Paul Wouters, one of the authors of the Leiden manifesto, wrote with colleagues,
    Indicators, once adopted for any type of evaluation, have a tendency to warp practice5. Destructive ‘thinking with indicators’ (that is, choosing research questions that are likely to generate favourable metrics, rather than selecting topics for interest and importance) is becoming a driving force of research activities themselves. It discourages work that will not count towards that indicator. Incentives to optimize a single indicator can distort how research is planned, executed and communicated.
    In short, indicators founder over Goodheart's Law (308), which I paraphrase as, "a measure used as a target is no longer a good measure."  Thus the Leiden manifesto supports the (indeed interesting and valuable) information contained in numerical indicators while saying they should be subordinated to collective practices of judgment.
    Given widespread reform efforts, including his own, why, in May, did Wouters lead-author a call in Nature to fix bad journal metrics with still more metrics, this time measuring at least five sub-components of every article?  Why does Michael Power's dark 1990s prediction in The Audit Society still hold: failed audit creates more audit?  Why are comments like those in the WashU report so common, and so powerful in academic policy? Why is there a large academic market for services like Academic Analytics, which sells ranking dashboards to administrators precisely so they can skip the contextual detail that would make them valid? Why is the WashU use of one junk number so typical, normal, common, invalid, and silencing? What do we do given that we can't criticize one misuse at a time, particularly when there's so much interest in discrediting an opposition with them?

    One clue emerged in a book I reviewed last year, Jerry Z. Mueller's The Tyranny of Metrics. Mueller is an historian, and an outsider to the evaluation and assessment practices he reviewed.  He decided to look at how indicators are used in a range of sectors -- medicine, K-12 education, the corporation, the military, etc.--and to ask whether there's evidence that metrics cause improvements of quality. Mueller generates a list of 11 problems with metrics that most practitioners would agree with.  Most importantly, while they emerged when metrics were used for audit and accountability, they were less of a problem when used by professionals within their own communities.  Here are a couple of paragraphs from that review:
    Muller’s only causal success story, in which metrics directly improve outcomes, is the Geisinger Health System, which uses metrics internally for improvement. There ‘the metrics of performance are neither imposed nor evaluated from above by administrators devoid of firsthand knowledge. They are based on collaboration and peer review’. He quotes the CEO at the time claiming, ‘Our new care pathways were effective because they were led by physicians, enabled by real‐time data‐based feedback, and primary focused on improving the quality of patient care’ (111). At Geisinger, physicians ‘who actually work in the service lines themselves chose which care processes to change’.
    If we extrapolate from this example, it appears that metrics causally improve performance only when they are (1) routed through professional (not managerial) expertise, as (2) applied by people directly involved in delivering the service, who are (3) guided by nonpecuniary motivation (to improve patient benefits rather than receive a salary bonus) and (4) possessed of enough autonomy to steer treatment with professional judgment.
    I'd be interested to know how the bibliometrics community would feel about limiting the use of metrics to internal information about performance with these four conditions.  Such a limit would certainly have helped the WashU case, since the metric of research expenditures could be discussed only within a community of common practice, and not applied by one (med school) group to another (Danforth Campus) in demanding accountability.

    Another historian, John Carson, gave a keynote address at the ISSI conference that discussed the historical relation between quantification and scientific racism, calling for "epistemic modesty" in our application of these techniques.  I agree.  Though I can't discuss it here, I also hope we can confront our atavistic association of quality with ranking, and of brilliance with a small elite.  The scale of the problems we face demands it.

    In the meantime, don't let someone use a metric you know is junk until it isn't.
Posted by Chris Newfield | Comments: 4

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Wednesday, August 21, 2019
The weakness of US democracy has been all over the mainstream media this summer.  For just one example, there's the title of Jamelle Bouie's essay on 1619/2019: "America holds onto an undemocratic assumption from its founding: that some people deserve more power than others."   On our beat, we have less catastrophic but still meaningful failures of American democratic practice: the governance of public universities, which are charged with creating democratic publics and racial justice, and which are governed autocratically nonetheless. 

The still fairly new governor, Gavin Newsom, has made some summer appointments in higher education. The first is new UC regent Janet Reilly (at left, with her husband, Clint Reilly), a sometime journalist and long-time participant in the San Francisco Democratic party.  She has a bachelor's degree and a masters in journalism, but no other stated contact with higher education. 

Board appointments have usually followed a rotten process, one we've noted before could be helped a lot just by following existing law.  This one doesn't either. Here is the official description of the appointee, in its entirety:
Janet Reilly, 55, of San Francisco, has been appointed to the University of California Board of Regents. Reilly has been co-founder and president of the Board of Directors for Clinic by the Bay since 2008. She was appointed by President Barack Obama to be director of The Presidio Trust from 2015 to 2018. Reilly was director of the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District from 2003 to 2015, where she was president of the Board of Directors from 2010 to 2012. She was executive producer and on-air television host of The Mix with Janet Reilly for NBC Bay Area – KNTV from 2014 to 2015, a trustee of the Golden Gate Transit Amalgamated Retirement and Health and Welfare Plans from 2010 to 2015 and director of public relations for Mervyn’s Department Stores from 1997 to 2001. Reilly was a district representative for Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan from 1993 to 1995 and an on-air television reporter and anchor for KGWN-TV from 1990 to 1992. She is an advisory board member of the Walt Disney Family Museum and the Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good at USF, and a board member of the Dignity Health Foundation and the local governing board of the Seton Medical Center. Reilly earned a Master of Science degree in journalism from the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism. This position requires Senate confirmation and there is no compensation. Reilly is a Democrat.
The epistemic problems with this statement start with Newsom not saying why he likes Reilly or why she's qualified.  He doesn't say why she should be of interest to the university, that is, what her educational interests are.  This would be less of a problem had she some university management or advocacy background that pops up in her career summary.  She doesn't.  Newsom doesn't present Reilly as a person of interest to an academic community, nor does he address that community, nor does he bother to try to persuade anyone in that community that this is a good appointment.  Apparently none of that matters. The choice becomes an assertion of his power of appointment. Reilly means that Newsome can appoint anyone he wants.  The methodology silently reasserts that regents don't belong to the university but preside over it.

So there's this first issue of executive appointments negating an epistemic system.  Regents arrive epistemically tied to the executive with no experiential or cognitive links to campuses, their activities, their people.  Most people bemoan "post-truth" America.  But post-truth is possible only in the absence of interpretative systems that have to be constituted by ongoing discussion and debate.  We don't have to get all Habermasian to make this basic point: the unilateral, unexplained, non-consultatory appointment negates the shared understandings that constitute both "truth" and learning--two things unversities particularly care about.

There's a second issue of managerial prerogative that sidelines professional knowledge--the epistemic community in the narrower sense. This decision process says that professional competence is irrelevant in the running of a university.  Right.  I love to fly in planes but that doesn't make me a pilot. My father was a doctor but you wouldn't let me operate on your hip.  I have a long-term amateur interest in quantum mechanics and some descendant theories, but no one would make me program manager at CERN.  And yet anyone with the right connections to the governor can run a university.

There's a third issue of political patronage.  Politicians aren't supposed to be able to hand out jobs as favors for political support--even when the pay is prestige without a salary. Lots a lot like that's what's happening, Janet Reilly is married to Clint Reilly, a commercial real estate developer in San Francisco and a former political consultant.  His political clients included Nancy Pelosi, Dianne Feinstein (he successfully defended her against a recall campaign in 1983), Barbara Boxer, Richard Riordan, Bill Honig and many more.  They are probusiness liberals of the Jerry Brown variety, and still control the state Democratic Party, and a good chunk of the party's  national posts. 

The Reillys operate at what old timey language would call the heart of San Francisco's Democratic power elite.  Their photographic history is that of wealthy socialites with interests in liberal charities.  In short, this looks very much like a patronage appointment for that part of the party's white establishment that wants to keep running minority-majority California.
The fourth issue is the neutralization of checks and balances. These are supposed to help U.S. democracy split the difference between executive autocracy and direct sovereignty.  California's Constitution Sec 9(e) lets the non-ex officio regents be appointed entirely by the governor rather than be at least partially elected or appointed by a range of officials.  On the other hand, it requires that the regents reflect the diversity of the state (Sec 9(d)), and that the governor convene a meeting of "an advisory committee" comprised by members of the public, a student, and a faculty member. It requires that the governor consult with this committee prior to the appointments.  Once the governor formally proposes a new member of the Board of Regents, the State Senate is supposed to accept or decline the appointment via its Standing Committee on Education. 

Neither the state nor the University implement this vetting process.  Thus the public lacks even this weak pro forma voice. Neither the public nor the hundreds of thousands of UC employees have any voice at all. As one group reported, "Despite our efforts to contact the Governor's office reminding them of Article 9, Section 9e, the Governor has just named Janet Reilly to serve as a Regent, without first holding an Article 9 Section 9e meeting." That's how these emails always sound. I can't find any record of State Senate review.  Meanwhile, UCOP listed her as a regent. 

Vetting matters!  Once the regent is appointed, even pro forma checks and balances are gone.  The Board of Regents has autocratic power over the University (Constitution Sec 9(f)) and Bylaw 22 are two places to start your reading).  The President is their executive agent, with similarly unqualified command and control over university policy and personnel. (Ten years ago, the Board gave President Yudof emergency powers virtually overnight, which he used to furlough university employees and which he could have used to close programs unilaterally.)  Faculty have two representatives to the Board of Regents, but they are not members of the Board and do not have a vote.  The Regents are immunized from any communication they do not seek themselves: the general public cannot contact them, but must contact the Board's Secretary.  Chancellors are required to attend regents' meetings but may not speak to regents unless spoken to.  Faculty may not communicate directly with regents, but must route messages through the Office of the President.  Public comment time at the Board meetings rabbalizes students and everyone else trying to get a word in. Most regents do not try to hide an indifference bordering on contempt during these sessions.  It's all rather medieval, isn't it?  Do not address thy sovereign lord unbidden!  Whatever we call it, this system creates cognitive bubbles of highly restricted information.  A further symptom of the closed and undemocratic nature of the system is that we all take it for granted.  Only CUCFA seems even to have noticed that no vetting has taken place.

I'm not saying Janet Reilly will be a bad regent: she has worked as a journalist and has remained a basically progressive Democratic party activist in spite of having not been successful in running for public office (in one case she was accused of policy plagiarism).  She  has a lot of experience being appointed to boards.  She's not less qualified than the standard collection of governor's office staffers, business consultants, small businesspeople, and Hollywood lawyers appointed by Jerry Brown.  But this gets us to a fifth issue: the cynical reason that assumes there's no bad substantive fallout from insular and autocratic procedure that we should get off our asses to avoid.

A couple of issues spring to mind.  First, university real estate.  Berkeley chancellor Carol Christ, among others, has advocated public-private partnerships in student and faculty housing.  Student housing has become a commercial property cash cow in the US and UK ever since companies figured out they could charge by the bed rather than the room (4 student room charges per two bedrooms, for example).  These ventures drive up student costs on the back end (and encourage universities to recapture by hiking board fees some of what they've lost from tuition freezes).  They are also part of the "multiple revenue streams" strategy year in year out is the gift that keeps on giving--the state an excuse not to put any more of their own money in.   Given her family business, could Janet Reilly rethink the university's privatization strategy? Is it likely she'll study revenue issues independently and come up with some new ideas?   I would guess not. That's a real loss, since the university desperately needs new strategies.

A second issue is the UCSF-Dignity controversy, in which UCSF proposed a much-expanded alliance with Catholic hospitals that proscribe gender reassignment surgery and most reproductive health services to women (our coverage is here). The systemwide Senate went to war on this, and the final report of the Nondiscrimation in Healthcare Task Force concluded that, "UC should avoid an entity such as a corporation, partnership, limited liability company, or joint venture, or other forms of close legal affiliation, with any external entity that exercises discriminatory policies in healthcare" -- like Dignity.  UCSF backed out of the proposed alliance, but a new task force is likely to try to legitimize the more local relationships UC campuses can have with religious providers who discriminate in this sense.  The issue is not over.  Next thing you know, Gov. Newsom makes as his first appointment to the Board of Regents a member of the Board of Directors of Dignity Health Foundation.  We have the same problem again:, how independent will Janet Reilly be in discussions of UC's health care policy as a public entity?

If you can stand one further example: Gavin Newsom's other summer creation was a new Council for Post-Secondary Education.  It is to
serve as an independent consultative resource to the Governor around the economic and social impact of higher education in the state. They will examine issues relating to future capacity, enrollment planning, community college transfers, general education and coordination at the state and regional levels, and make recommendations to the Governor for action.
This charge used to be filled by an old Master Plan body called the California Postsecondary Commission (CPEC).   It was a regular state agency, not a body of political appointees.  It had a permanent professional staff that collected and analyzed every kind of higher ed data for the state's three systems.  It kept statistics on boring, essential things like assignable square feet of instructional space per enrolled student and proportions of the physical plant that were behind in maintenance.  It made recommendations--in 2007, it said the state didn't need UC Irvine to build a law school--well, it lost that one. In 2011, Jerry Brown killed CPEC by line-item deleting its entire budget (of under $2 million), for reasons that neve made sense.  No one was giving Brown professional information about higher ed--and it showed.  CPEC apparently remains established in state law as an unbudgeted shell.  Newsom could have re-funded it, hired some professional staff, and gotten the data flowing again.

Instead, he's created a Council of appointees, consisting entirely of people who are already running California higher ed.  There is no checking and balancing or outside points of view.  Every single member is the chief executive of a college system or state educational agency, (Janet Napolitano, Timothy White, Eloy Ortiz Oakley, etc), or someone who works out of Newsom's office.  There isn't even a UC chancellor or Cal State president, much less a faculty member, an office manager, a scientist, a librarian, etc. (There are also no Republicans.)  It's another epistemic bubble getting filled with hot air and flown off to write another report about how to align UC Merced with the valley's jobs of the future, or toutiing Fresno's K-16 Pilot program.  There's no independent input and critique in the most banal sense.  These executive boards are antithetical to democracy and to the nature of education, which requires massively open and diverse inputs and complex mechanisms of analysis and synthesis.  Newsom acknowledges this in a backhanded way by adding that "the Governor has convened – and will continue to engage – higher education advocates and stakeholders to advise him." But he doesn't put any of them on his Council. He doesn't give it the staff and the informationthat would allow it to learn, reflect, have new ideas, and change its mind.

Higher ed is hurt when it mimics a  US culture with deep traditions of board packing and executive rule, and finds it thoughtlessly and selfishly continued by California governors and university managers.  Executive appointment power lowers both the intelligence and the credibility of universities.  It creates mental complacency and institutional mediocrity.  It could easily be replaced with actual democratic procedures.  We could have good regents--defined as ones with democratic legitimacy within the university, rooted in their direct epistemic connections with campuses, their local knowledge, their reciprocating discussion, their independent judgment regarding the university they rule.  I'd like to see UCOP and the Academic Senate work on this carefully over the next couple of years.
Posted by Chris Newfield | Comments: 2

Monday, August 12, 2019

Monday, August 12, 2019
by Jonathan Rees, Professor of History, Colorado State University, Pueblo

A few weeks ago, I heard from one of my former students who was upset that I had begun teaching online.  She’s a traditionalist, who didn’t appreciate it when I very politely suggested that she needs to get with the times.  “A robot will be teaching your classes in 10 years,” she told me.  Her underlying message here was that online teaching has to be robotic and automatically inferior to the face-to-face variety.  My immediate reaction was to wonder if replacing me with a robot was even possible.

You’d have to be living under a rock to be unacquainted with the idea that automation has become a job killing-machine, and that the situation will only get worse in the future as those killer robots get smarter.  Rather than recap all that literature here, I will simply point you to a good argument that Brian Merchant makes in Gizmodo. “A robot is not ‘coming for’, or ‘stealing’ or ‘killing’ or ‘threatening’ to take away your job,” he argues.  “Management is.”

That’s certainly true for any factory setting.  There is no economic requirement that every turn of a screw that can be automated must be automated.  However, the potential cost-savings of a robot arm doing that job is so great that countless factory owners have embraced automation.  As a scholar of industrialization, I’m very familiar with the ways in which managers once broke jobs down into their component parts.  This practice is widely associated with the turn-of-the-twentieth-century management consultant Frederick Taylor.  Once this division of labor is employed, it becomes possible to replace skilled workers with less-skilled, lower-paid workers – or these days – robots.

“We ought to resist the Taylorization of academia,” writes the popular and prolific academic Tweeter Raul Pacheco-Vega.  “The more time I spend actually concentrating in my work, just reflecting, reading, writing, analyzing data, I realize that we need time, we need space, we need the right conditions to undertake scholarly pursuits. In fact, I’m not convinced that some of the many tasks that professors perform on a daily basis can be automated.”  Of course, heartfelt pleas like this won’t stop academic managers who prioritize efficiency over educational quality from trying to implement their vision nonetheless.  But even if managers want to bring automation to college teaching, whether this goal is even possible deserves close consideration.

While it’s tempting for faculty to see the struggle between quality and efficiency as a clear cut example of good vs. evil, higher education has already benefited from a little automation when it gets properly employed.  For example, there’s an automated program on my campus that tells me or students what graduation requirements whatever student in my office still needs to complete.  Looking through all those requirements had once been the most time-consuming part of the advising process, and students often made mistakes when they tried to do this themselves.  This tool has immeasurably helped everyone involved, but the real problem with automation in a university setting is deciding exactly which parts of the higher education experience are improved by automation, and which ones are unacceptably degraded.

In his book Coders, Clive Thompson argues that the main inspiration for much of the technological innovation of recent years comes from computer programmers aiming to eliminate repetitive tasks.  Don’t want to send a hundred thank-you notes or go shopping for groceries?  Automate the process.  If the computer can’t do what you don’t want to do by itself, it’ll find somebody somewhere who is willing to do it for you.  What has changed in recent years is that Artificial Intelligence (AI) has become good enough that computers can now eliminate repetitive tasks that are actually rather complex.  Algorithms might not do the job quite as well as their human counterparts, but the people doing the automating may very well not care.  Still, here's the catch: faculty do so many different kinds of things that we would have to be replaced by at least several different machines of widely varying effectiveness - and possibly a whole army.

The Academic Division of Labor

When I say the word robot, what do you picture?  C-3PO?  Twiki from Battlestar Galactica?  The Cybermen from Doctor Who?  To borrow a distinction I picked up from a robotics engineer named Tim Enwall, these are multi-task robots who “can understand all languages, process any question, identify and manipulate any object, cover any terrain, etc.”  In fact, “No company in the world can come anywhere close to meeting these expectations right now nor any time soon.”

Robots today are mostly single-task creations, designed to perform one function like turn a screw or weld two pieces of metal together.  They may be guided by computers, but even the most powerful computers cannot master all the functions that a skilled human worker can perform easily.  This is especially true of skilled knowledge workers.  One of the problems with the automation debate is that many of the people who are trying to engage in it from the pro-worker side tend to conflate automation, artificial intelligence, and actual robots. 

Teaching is just one of the functions that modern professors perform.  In my case, my contract requires me to teach, conduct research and perform service.  Each one of these tasks can be broken down into a series of sub-tasks.  For example, lecturing, despite the ideas of the people behind Massive Open Online Courses (or MOOCs, as we used to say back in 2013), is only part of teaching and hardly the most difficult part of teaching at that.  The hard part is helping students process what they’re learning so that they can master its intricacies.  AI can ask follow up questions about whether you really know the Spanish word for “horse.”  Which machine will evaluate your student’s interpretation of Cervantes’ message at the center of Don Quixote? 

In my discipline, I have evolved into something of a heretic.  I no longer see the point of lecturing at all when the vast majority of information I can convey could simply be Googled up on demand whenever a student potentially needed it.  Granted the average Wikipedia page wouldn’t be as good as my lecture, but it would be good enough for most students’ purposes.  The same thing would be true of whatever automated MOOC lecture a student might watch.

Rather than lecture every day, I now try to teach history as a process – namely the research process.  Even in my online survey class, I guide students through source acquisition, evaluation and the writing process so that they can appreciate where history originates rather than simply memorize facts that might help them win on Jeopardy someday.  In all of my classes, a lot of those efforts involve digital tools that can help students contribute to the vast pool of historical knowledge rather than make believe that that pool of knowledge does not exist so that I can continue to run my class like history professors did during the late-twentieth century. 

In this day and age, every class on a university campus has to be about the Internet to some degree or another because the Internet permeates so many aspects of modern life.  To ignore that in your classroom is clear evidence that you are not equipping your students with all the knowledge they need to thrive after graduation.

In terms of faculty research, I know that computers can write something that passes for symphonies now, but they still can’t visit archives and go through boxes.  Scan every document in every archive in the world and you’ll still need humans to go through all those documents in order to craft some of them into a compelling narrative.  Of course, engineering and science research will never be automated because that’s where the money is.  Automation in this instance would be just another excuse to establish the “humanities in crisis” narrative that predates the Internet, let alone the possibility of faculty robots. 


The idea of automating service is a goal that both administrators and faculty could conceivably get behind.  After all, who likes going to meetings?  Let the robots decide the best way to keep the university’s lights on and let me go back to my research and teaching.  On the other hand, committee meetings are the place where the faculty most often exercise their role in shared governance – perhaps the most important thing about colleges and universities that separates them from other places of employment. 

In academia, despite a long tradition of faculty autonomy, the barrier between the professional and the personal has become increasingly hazy because of technology.  There are now countless examples of faculty who have gotten into trouble for things they have tweeted in their capacity as citizens which have gotten them in trouble to one degree or another in their professional capacities.  This threat to academic freedom has come about because of technology, and that same technology offers our employers an added incentive to replace us.  Service is one thing that on-campus professors do that separates them from remote faculty.  Automate that process and the migration to offsite labor will accelerate.

The situation is different for faculty who choose to perform any aspect of their duties through technologies that their employers don’t control.  I send most of my professional emails through Gmail rather than my university account.  Gmail is far more useful to me than the one my university provides on the basis of storage space alone.  As a program, I think it’s also organized more logically than the Microsoft product that I’m supposed to use.  In exchange for access to Gmail, I let Google mine the words they write so that they can show me better-targeted advertisements.  I get something good for no money, but in exchange I give up a little bit of my privacy.

In his book Winners Take All, Anand Giridharadas notes that Silicon Valley types refer to this kind of thinking as a “win/win” situation.  For that to be true, the victory of the consumer wouldn’t have to be complete.  If I don’t care at all about Google and its advertisers knowing the topic of my emails, then I’m certainly better off using Gmail than an inferior alternative.  There are advantages and disadvantages to exercising this kind of autonomy, but the right to make these decisions is a right worth fighting for because the faculty’s very existence might ultimately be at stake.

This is particularly true when you consider technology in a classroom setting.  It is extraordinarily convenient for faculty and students to have homework modules packaged with their online textbooks, but what happens if your administrations prefer to cut out the middleman and deal directly with publishers?  After all, it’s publishers, not faculty, who can easily tweak questions.  They’re the ones who keep the course data.  Any administration could conceivably contract directly with publishers who would use faculty advisors from different campuses in order to centralize the writing of both content and exams. Faculty would then become nothing but glorified teaching assistants. 

This worst case scenario here requires predicting the future, but there are nonetheless plenty of examples of faculty losing their traditional prerogatives to technology that I can cite now.  The most omnipresent is the very existence of the Learning Management System (or LMS).  Invented in the 1990s so that universities could cash in on the distance education craze quickly, it has now become a stalwart presence in online and face-to-face classes alike.  On the one hand, it is a convenient way to exhibit copyrighted material in password-protected spaces and to show students how they’re doing at any point in the class, but most of them are extraordinarily difficult for faculty to customize.  We, in turn, are forced to change the way we teach to reflect the platform our administrators contracted for rather than bend the Internet towards whatever way we want to teach.

Apply job selection software to an academic setting and it becomes possible for a university’s  Human Resources department to oversee the selection of tenure track faculty, a process that was once the near-exclusive province of the professoriate.  Automate a process at the heart of a faculty member’s job – like essay grading – and questioning why we need faculty at all becomes practically inevitable.  The problem with these win/win situations in higher education is that faculty seldom win in the long run.  Once we give up a prerogative to our administrations through the use of technology it is going to be increasingly hard for anyone, especially future faculty members, to ever get it back. 

A Hostile Takeover of the Virtual Classroom

None of this means that all forms of academic automation are evil by definition.  About twenty years ago, I learned how to use Microsoft Excel and have used it ever since – not for my research, but for my grades.  I’m not a math guy at all, so it once took hours for me to generate students grades even when I employed a calculator.  Now, after writing one simple function at the end of every class, I can produce grades for any class I teach in about twenty minutes.  The lesson here is that faculty have to be the ones to decide when to automate parts of their work and which parts of their work should be automated.  The benefits from faculty controlling the way that technology gets used in their classroom involve not just creating better classes, but in improving both the morale and effectiveness of students and professors alike.

The problem with using Excel to calculate grades is that students can’t see their marks at any moment during the semester.  Yet the fact that online gradebooks hadn’t been invented yet didn’t prevent me from knowing my grade over the course of the semester back when I was in college.  I took the formula on the class syllabus, plugged in the grades I’d gotten to whatever point of the semester we’d reached and (despite my limited math abilities) figured out my grade myself.  I think it’s a good thing that students can both save time and will likely check how they’re doing more often over the course of the semester, but the fact that administrators can also see what grade students are earning has huge potential drawbacks.

The most benign suggestion that I’ve heard is that faculty should use the Learning Management System more often so that data from our gradebooks can be used to promote student retention argument.  In the long run, this means using big data to study the problem across disciplines.  On a more basic level, if the university knows when students are doing poorly, then they can send out warnings automatically, long before I even notice there’s a problem.  What I resent here is the idea that I may have to move my entire class onto a computer program that defines both the way that I interact with my students online and the structure of the entire class in exchange for a few days of early warning time and the other potential benefits of big data. 

This is not a win/win situation.  It is a hostile takeover of the virtual classroom.  Faculty and their administrators could probably work out a way to use their Learning Management Systems to improve student retention without too much trouble, but only if they are all sitting at the same table.  The problem is that if faculty don’t even recognize that their prerogatives are being violated, they won't  ask for a seat at the table, and their voice will surely disappear before too long.

In their 2014 statement on “Academic Freedom and Electronic Communications,” the American Association of University Professors suggested, “Online teaching platforms and learning-management systems may permit faculty members to learn whether students in a class did their work and how long they spent on certain assignments. Conversely, however, a college or university administration could use these systems to determine whether faculty members were logging into the service “enough,” spending “adequate” time on certain activities, and the like.”  It is not a big leap from that point to suggest that the failure to meet the goals set by monitoring software could be used to justify the replacement of teachers with artificial intelligence.

The most dangerous aspect of introducing new technology into college classes of all kinds is that it might convince both edtech companies and many college administrations that they know how to teach better (which often just means “more efficiently”) than we do.  When the decision to employ education technology is made exclusively by management, a structural imperative tends to move that technology towards its most evil iteration.  The battle for the academic means of production is a battle over priorities.  If faculty accept automation on its face for the sake of our temporary convenience, or have no role in its implementation at all, then we will have no right to complain if or when the robot professors actually arrive.
Posted by Chris Newfield | Comments: 2

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Wednesday, July 10, 2019
American Society of Pediatrics
Dear President Bollinger, Dr. Halliday, and Dr. Redlener,

We, the undersigned members of the Columbia community, are disturbed to learn that the University has a contract with the Customs and Border Protection, the arm of the US Dept. of Homeland Security that is on the front line of this Administration’s policy of “zero tolerance” and detention of migrants and asylum seekers at the US-Mexico border.

The contract is with the Earth Institute’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness to develop for the CBP “a standardized, but basic health-screening tool to help determine whether a child might need urgent medical attention” and other medical protocols.

We beg to differ with the rationale for this contract, that “the federal agencies responsible for apprehending and assuming custody of people crossing the borders illegally are beyond overwhelmed” and that “much-maligned (often unfairly) Border Patrol agents, with essentially no medical training whatsoever, are doing a thankless job.” (ibid)

The crisis at the border and in CBP detention facilities is entirely of this administration’s making. It is the desired outcome of a deliberate policy to inflict bodily and psychic harm on asylum seekers, adults and children alike, under the guise of “deterrence.” CBP continues to separate children and infants from their parents. It confiscates migrants’ clothing, toothbrushes, and medicines when they are placed in detention. Migrants have inadequate access to water and food. The camps are kept at 55 degrees and lights are kept on 24 hours a day. Migrants must sleep on concrete floors; many cannot even do this, as the cells are so crowded as to be standing-room only. According to some observers, the horrific conditions in these facilities meet the legal definition of torture.

Some may argue that it is possible to do a small good in the context of a large evil. Perhaps contributing professional services to the CBP to alleviate suffering is an appropriate response to this crisis. We do not believe it is possible to provide such services under the aegis of CBP because the administration in general, and CBP in particular, has created this crisis in the first place. Well-intentioned actions clash with the agency’s mandate to implement an inhumane policy and its toxic culture. Worse, such actions may legitimate the CBP, which has no interest in attending to the medical needs of migrants. Legal advocates (including Columbia law professor Elora Mukherjee) have gone to court to gain access for independent doctors and a public health expert at the CBP facilities along the border. Notably, John Sandler, the acting director of the CBP, who reportedly reached out to Columbia to develop a screening tool, resigned on June 25 amidst outcry over conditions in detention camps. DHS's inspector general report (July 2) corroborate findings of independent monitors.

There are many ways for us to positively assist migrants in this crisis. Columbia faculty and students have provided independent translation, legal, and medical services at the border and elsewhere for migrants and asylum seekers. Columbia Law School's immigration clinic and Medical School's asylum clinic are two institutional venues that have responded to the current crisis. But we believe the University should have nothing to do with Customs and Border Patrol. Contracting with CBP is at odds with Columbia’s ethics, which led the University to divest from private prison and detention contractors. Regardless of good intentions, the CBP contract is a stain on our conscience and reputation as an institution that upholds human rights and ethical practices. We cannot work for concentration camps. We demand that Columbia cancel its contract with the CBP.



  Mae Ngai
Faculty History


  Nara Milanich
Faculty History, Barnard


  Shamus Khan
Faculty Chair, Sociology


  Dhananjay Jagannathan
Faculty Department of Philosophy


  Anupama Rao
Faculty History, Barnard College and


  Michael Harris
Faculty Mathematics


  Karen Van Dyck
Faculty Classics Department


  Susan Bernofsky
Faculty School of the Arts


  Michael Thaddeus
Faculty Department of Mathematics


  Nico Baumbach
Faculty Associate Professor, Film/School
  of Arts


  Jane M Spinak
Faculty Columbia Law School


  Anooradha Iyer Siddiqi
Faculty Barnard College Department of


  Naor Ben-Yehoyada
Faculty Anthropology


  Shelly Silver
Faculty Visual Arts, School of the Arts


Faculty English and Comparative Literature


  Natasha Lightfoot
Faculty History


  Elsa Stamatopoulou
Faculty Institute for the Study of Human


  Francine Cournos, MD
Faculty Mailman School of Public Health


  Marianne Hirsch
Faculty English and Comparative Literature


  Gauri Viswanathan
Faculty English and Comparative Literature


  Jessica Collins
Faculty Philosophy


  J.C. Salyer
Faculty Department of Anthropology &
  Director of the Human Rights Program, Barnard


  Herb Sloan
Faculty Professor Emeritus, Department of
  History, Barnard


  Brent Hayes Edwards
Faculty Department of English and
  Comparative Literature


  Todd Gitlin
Faculty Journalism and Sociology


  Gil Anidjar
Faculty Religion / MESAAS


Faculty Dept. of Germanic Languages, ICLS


  Courtney Bender
Faculty Department of Religion


  Katharina Pistor
Faculty Law School


  Jack Halberstam
Faculty English and IRWGS


  Joseph Slaughter
Faculty English and Comparative
  Literatures, Institute for the Study of Human Rights


Faculty Barnard College


  Kristina Milnor
Faculty Department of Classics, Barnard


  Rosalind Morris
Faculty Department of Anthropology


  Vanessa Agard-Jones
Faculty Anthropology


  Reinhold Martin
Faculty Architecture


  Rhiannon Stephens
Faculty History, A&S


  Sheldon Pollock
Faculty MESAAS


  Lila Abu-Lughod
Faculty Anthropology and IRWGS, Columbia


  James Schamus
Faculty School of the Arts


  Janet Jakobsen
Faculty Women's, Gender and Sexuality
  Studies, Barnard College


  Deborah Paredez
Faculty School of the Arts Writing Program


  Claudia Breger
Faculty Germanic Lang and Lit


  Richard Pena
Faculty School of the Arts/Film


  Susan Riemer Sacks
Faculty Psychology Dept., Barnard College


  Eric Foner
Faculty History (emeritus)


  Sharon Schwartz
Faculty MSPH


  Nick Bartlett
Faculty Assistant Professor, AMEC, Barnard


  Martha Howell
Faculty Department of History


  Merlin Chowkwanyun
Faculty Sociomedical Sciences, Mailman
  School of Public Health


  Robert G. O'Meally
Faculty English Department, African
  American Studies Department, Center for Jazz Studies


  Nadia Abu El-Haj
Faculty Anthropology


  Najam Haider
Faculty Barnard College


  Christy Thornton
Alumni BC 02, SIPA 03, Assistant
  Professor Johns Hopkins


  Paige West
Faculty Claire Tow Professor of
  Anthropology; Director, Center for Study of Social Difference


  Ralph Ghoche
Faculty Department of Architecture,
  Barnard College


  Jean Howard
Faculty Arts and Sciences


  Branden W Joseph
Faculty Art HIstory


  Molly Murray
Faculty Department of English and
  Comparative Literature


  Manisha Sinha
Alumni University of Connecticut


  Helen Weng, PhD
Alumni CC '04


  Sybill Chen
Student History


  Angela Aidala
Faculty SMS/ MSPH


  Andrew Liu
Alumni GSAS, History


  Julian Brave NoiseCat
Alumni Columbia College


  Audra Simpson
Faculty Department of Anthropology


  Lydia H. Liu
Faculty East Asian Languages &
  Cultures/Institute for Comparative Literature & Society


  Marie Myung-Ok Lee
Faculty School of the Arts + Center for
  the Study of Race & Ethnicity (CSER)


  Carly Goodman, Ph.D.


  Armando Lozano
Alumni CC, LAW


  Patricia Dailey
Faculty English and Comp Lit


  Daniel Morales
Alumni History Department


  Tovah Klein, PhD
Faculty Director, Toddler Center, Barnard


  John C Stoner
Alumni History, University of Pittsburgh


  Glenn Adler
Alumni GSAS/Political Science


  Ellie Hisama
Faculty Department of Music


  Timothy Patrick McCarthy
Alumni PhD, History, IRAAS


  Anne Goodwin
Non-Columbia affiliate Affordable Power and Justice


  Katrine Jensen
Staff Council for European Studies


  Steven Sherman
Alumni Columbia College '86


  Farina Mir
Alumni GSAS 2002


Alumni School of international and public


  Michael Bernhard
Alumni PhD 1988, Ehrlich Professor of
  Political Science University of Florida


  Michael Pollak
Alumni GSAS Sociology


  Anna Danziger Halperin
Alumni GSAS '18


  Melissa Morris
Alumni GSAS


  Pablo Piccato
Faculty History


  Michelle Philpo-Denney
Non-Columbia affiliate Horrified U.S. Citizen


  Deborah Eisenberg
Faculty School of the Arts


  Margaret E. Keck
Alumni GSAS Political Science


  Ian Shin
Alumni GSAS '16


  leah dworkin
Alumni school of the arts


  Lisa Brunet, Ph.D.
Alumni GSAS


  Premilla Nadasen
Faculty History


  Alexander Alberro
Faculty Art History


  Kurt Mettenheim
Alumni Political Science - SIPA


  Emmanuelle Saada
Faculty Professor of French & Carnoy
  Family Program Chair of Contemporary Civilization


  Elizabeth Hutchinson
Faculty Art History and Archaeology


  Tom Kalin
Faculty Professor, Columbia University
  School of the Arts, Film


  Deborah Valenze
Faculty Barnard College


  Judith Byfield
Alumni GSAS (History) 1993


  Penny Von Eschen
Alumni William R. Kennan, Jr. Professor
  of American Studies /History, University of Virginia


  An Kint
Alumni GSAS


  Monika Nalepa
Faculty Political Science, The University
  of Chicago


  Ana M Ochoa
Faculty Department of Music


  Rebecca Kobrin
Faculty History Department


  Graciela Montaldo
Faculty LAIC, Columbia


  Illan Gonen
Faculty MESAAS


  Brinkley Messick
Faculty Anthropology


  D. Max Moerman
Faculty Professor & Chair, Department
  of Asian & Middle Eastern Cultures, Barnard; CC '86


  Cailin Hong
Student History, GSAS


  Charry Karamanoukian
Faculty MESAAS


  Lien-Hang Nguyen
Faculty History


  Thai Jones
Staff RBML


Alumni GSAS Political Science


  Nan A Rothschild
Faculty Anthropology


  Steve Askin
Alumni Columbia Business School, MBA 1993


  Andor Skotnes
Faculty Former Acting and Assistant
  Director, Columbia Oral History Research Office


  Mark Von Hagen
Faculty History


  Mahmood Mamdani
Faculty Herbert Lehman Professor of
  Government and Professor of Anthropology


  Alice gorton
Student History, GSAS


  Stephanie McCurry
Faculty R Gordon Hoxie Professor of


  Sahar Bostock
Student History, GSAS


  Jane Leftwich Curry
Alumni Department of Political Science


  Celia E. Naylor
Faculty History and Africana Studies,
  Barnard College


  Alice Nash
Alumni History Ph.D.1997


  Joseph Howley
Faculty Department of Classics


  Mariana Katz
Student PhD Student, History Department


  J.T. Roane
Alumni GSAS


  Bailey yellen
Student GSAS


  Jennifer Wenzel
Faculty Dept. of English & Comparative
  Literature; MESAAS


  Mary Gordon
Faculty Barnard College


  Darcy Krasne
Faculty Classics Department


  Genesis Garfio
Alumni CC17


Alumni Mailman School of Public Health


  Jeffrey Fagan
Faculty Law School


  Jennifer Lee
Faculty Sociology


  Andrew Lipman
Faculty History, Barnard College


  Cora Cervantes
Alumni GS 16’


  Kendall Thomas
Faculty Law School


  Carol Mason
Faculty Zuckerman Institute


  Claudio Lomnitz
Faculty Anthropology


  Rebecca Vaadia
Student Neurobiology and Behavior program


  Matt Sandler
Staff Center for the Study of Ethnicity
  and Race


  Karina Pantoja
Alumni Columbia College


  Sayantani DasGupta
Faculty Graduate Program in Narrative


  Lucia Saldivar
Alumni Barnard College, Class of 2017


  Juan Gonzalez
Alumni CC


  Denise Frutos
Alumni Psychology


  Christia Mercer
Faculty Philosophy


  Lorenzo Bradford
Alumni Columbia College ‘17


  Silvia Bernardi
Faculty Psychiatry


  Karl Jacoby
Faculty History Department


  Daniela Rodriguez


  Alejandro P Desince
Alumni CC ‘18


  Elizabeth Castelli
Faculty Religion, Barnard College


  Romeo Guzman
Alumni History, PhD


  Amanda Hardin
Student History


  Elizabeth Heintges
Student Dept. of Classics


  Eder Gaona-Macedo
Alumni SIPA


  Eliza Zingesser
Faculty French


  Jennifer Scribner
Student Neurobiology & Behavior


  Jane E Turk
Alumni Communications, GSAS


  Dr. Benjamin Weiss
Alumni Columbia College '05


  Maria Victoria Murillo
Faculty GSAS & SIPA


Faculty Women’s, Gender and Sexuality
  Studies, Barnard College


  Rebecca E Karl
Alumni Professor, History Department, NYU


  Matthew Haugen
Staff Libraries


  Hong Deng Gao
Student History, Graduate School of Arts
  and Sciences


  Jenni Ingram
Alumni School of social work


  Jonathan Beller
Faculty Eng. & WGSS, Barnard College


  Evan Jewell
Alumni GSAS, Classical Studies


  Rebecca Arteaga
Alumni Columbia College


  Gabriel Solis
Student History PhD program


  Nabiha Nuruzzaman
Alumni Mailman School of Public Health


  Georgia A. Mickey
Alumni Business 1997, Arts & Sciences


  Harlan D. Chambers
Student Graduate School of Arts and
  Sciences, EALAC


  Nataly Shahaf
Student EALAC


  Shao-Hung Teng
Alumni Film and Media Studies MA


  Adrienne Minh-Châu Lê
Student GSAS History (PhD)


  Nancy Kricorian
Alumni School of the Arts


  Ansley T. Erickson
Faculty Teachers College and Department of


  Lisa Tiersten
Faculty Barnard College, History


  Cooper Lynn
Alumni Institute of Comparative


  Dorothea von Mücke
Faculty Gebhard Professor of German
  Language & Literature, Dept of Germanic Languages


  Daniel Friedrich
Faculty Teachers College, Dept. Of
  Curriculum and Teaching


  Rozena Raja
Student Teachers College


  Dinesh Rathakrishnan
Alumni Mailman School of Public Health


  Jennifer Lena
Faculty Teachers College


  Yasemin Akcaguner
Student GSAS History


  Sophie Schweiger
Student Department of Germanic Languages


  Helen Zhao
Student Philosophy, GSAS


  Rhonesha Blaché
Student Teachers College


  Zainab Bahrani
Faculty Art History and Archaeology


  Karen Seeley
Faculty Anthropology


  Carla Stockton
Alumni G.S. and School of the Arts


  Adam Kosto
Faculty History


  howard greenberg
Alumni school of the arts


  Vera A Nazarian
Alumni School of Arts and Science


  Robert Fuller
Student Teachers College


  Jordan Corson
Student Teachers College


  Jessica Reyna
Student Barnard College ‘16; Columbia
  School of Social Work ‘22


  Silja Weber
Faculty Germanic Languages


  Lynne Guillot
Alumni School of the Arts


  Neil Ziolkowski
Student Germanic Languages


  Marc Van De Mieroop
Faculty History department


  Shezza Abboushi Dallal
Alumni Barnard College


  Rober Jack Gross
Alumni Institute for Comparative
  Literature and Society


  Inderpal Grewal
Non-Columbia affiliate Yale University


  Ann Douglas
Faculty English and Comparative Literature


  Nick Juravich
Alumni Columbia GSAS (History)


  Wendy Chavkin
Faculty Mailman


  Mary Beth Terry
Faculty Epidemiology


  Rick Moody
Alumni School of the Arts


  Frank Guridy
Faculty History & African American
  African Diaspora Studies


Faculty Teachers College


  Jacqueline Siapno
Non-Columbia affiliate Independent Researcher and Former
  Acting First Lady, East Timor (Timor Leste)


  Rosana Koundakjian
Alumni GSAS ‘90


  Casey N. Blake
Faculty History and American Studies


  Dialika Sall
Student GSAS


  Vahe Habeshian
Alumni GS


  Rebecca Jordan-Young
Faculty WGSS, Barnard College


  Donna Medel
Alumni Columbia College


  Karen Ramirez
Alumni Columbia College


  Robert Tiburzi
Alumni College


  Bruce Robbins
Faculty English and Comparative Literature


  Ira Katznelson
Faculty Political Science and History


  María Fernanda Martínez
Alumni Columbia College


  Ayten Gundogdu
Faculty Political Science, Barnard College


  Victoria de Grazia
Faculty History Department


  Gregory Mann
Faculty History


  E. Mara Green
Faculty Anthropology


  Macayla Donegan
Student Neuroscience


  Mabel O. Wilson


  Meredith Gamer
Faculty Department of Art History and


Faculty MESAAS


  Christopher Hoffman
Student Graduate School of Arts and


  Jessica Bulman-Pozen
Faculty Law School


  Kadambari Baxi
Faculty Architecture, Barnard College


  Samantha Van Doran
Student Graduate School of Arts and


  Ivón Padilla-Rodríguez
Student History


  Bette Gordon
Faculty School of the Arts/Film


Faculty Psychology, Barnard College


  Jessica Collins
Faculty Associate Professor, Department of


  Gwendolyn Wright
Faculty Graduate School of Architecture,
  Planning and Preservation


  Madeleine Zelin
Faculty EALAC and History


  Mary Nolan
Alumni GSAS History


  Alan Stewart
Faculty English and Comparative Literature


  Kimi Traube
Alumni CC, SOA


  Kim Fader
Staff Epidemiology, Mailman School of
  Public Health


  Sonam Singh
Faculty Barnard College


Non-Columbia affiliate Ball State University


  Michael Perles
Alumni GSAPP, 2016


  Mohamed Kouta
Student GSAS


  Will Owen
Student GSAS


  Áine McLaughlin
Non-Columbia affiliate University of Maryland student


  Jonathan Slater
Student GSAS


  Stefan Andriopoulos
Faculty Germanic Languages


  Alexander Alberro
Faculty Art History


  Chloe Vaughn
Student Germanic Languages (GSAS)


  Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
Faculty University Professor, Columbia
Posted by Michael Meranze | Comments: 1