• Home
  • About Us
  • Guest Posts
  • Share Your UC Care Story

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Tuesday, February 24, 2015
By Lenora Hanson, Elsa Noterman, and Eleni Schirmer University of Wisconsin, Madison

Chris here: many states are now maintaining higher ed austerity or carrying on cuts in the teeth of the economy's recovery. Louisiana is one extreme example, and Wisconsin recently became another.  Budget deficits alone don't explain Wisconsin's cuts, as UW-Milwaukee professor Richard Grusin has pointed out in his analyses, so the next question is what does explain it? Further, what is the role of public university systems' top brass in creating the current climate?  This essay considers the latter question in the Wisconsin case.

*  *  *
The University of Wisconsin System administration and the campus chancellors have sent a clear message to the state Capitol that the proposed 13 percent cuts to the System are too big. Though this vocal opposition differs from that of previous UW administrators, as Republicans legislators have eagerly pointed out, the budget cuts come attached to a proposal which both past and present UW administrators have actively sought -- the transformation of the UW System into a public authority.

Despite inveighing against the magnitude of the cuts presented in the proposed 2015-2017 budget, system administrators have long campaigned for "public authority" status. They recognize the cuts as a “DEAL” with the state in exchange for what they call the ‘flexibilities’ of the public authority model.  This desire explains why no UW System Chancellor has, to our knowledge, demanded that cuts to higher education be outright rejected. System President Ray Cross characterizes this as a deal for one simple reason: UW system budget cuts are an exchange for public authority status. As President Cross mentioned in the email he sent to system-wide chancellors before news of the cuts became public, the part of the budget that would make the university a public authority was an opportunity to be seized -- “something we might not get a shot at for another 20-30 years.” 

Why does the administration see this as an opportunity that must be seized? Because this deal positions the university to act like a corporate entity, equipped with the financial technologies to compete for market resources and top-paying ‘customers’ -- in the form of wealthy out-of-state students -- to fund its activities, rather than relying on highly regulated state investment while maintaining historic public access.  Though recent remarks by administrators attempt to distinguish the budget cuts from the public authority status, the System administration has been preparing to accept cuts in order to gain autonomy.

What Is a Public Authority?

What exactly is public authority? As administrators regularly remind us, and as evident from the language of the budget itself, the details and specifics are still largely unknown. Indeed, as one graduate student incisively asked of Vice-Chancellor of Finance and Administration, Darrell Bazzell, at a recent budget forum, “If we don’t know what exactly the public authority model contains, why do we want it?” While Wisconsin statutes do not provide a single definition or model of ‘public authority,’ the Governor’s state budget does assert that the public authority will increase the university administration’s ‘flexibility’ in each of these key areas:
(a) ability to set tuition rates unilaterally; (b) authority to set employee compensation and establish a personnel system; (c) control over managing all aspects, except bid letting, of construction projects funded with program revenues; (d) ability to conduct all aspects of construction projects funded with gifts and grants; (e) management of procurement and purchasing contracts; and (f) jurisdiction to negotiate student reciprocity agreements with Minnesota on behalf of the state.
In more direct language, the public authority will provide (1) the power to expand tuition revenue; (2) to have greater control over construction projects (both in development and issuing bonds); and (3) to have more control over employee compensation and the personnel system. The language above is not, as frequently described by the administration, a matter of gaining “flexibilities,” but rather, we suggest, of “hyper-extending” the already significant burdens on UW workers and students. It is these hyper-extensions that are the priorities of system administrators, who are part of a new administrative class attempting to increase access to tuition and student loans, which subsidize new construction projects, at the same time it reduces labor costs through outsourcing, attacks labor unions, and increases managerial power.
     
We can get a good sense of what “public authority” might look like at UW-Madison only by cobbling together statements made by UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank at recent forums on our campus. Those statements suggest that while the System administration is somehow convinced that a public authority model will make the System more financially efficient and competitive, they know next to nothing about its impact on governance and diversity on our campuses. To wit, Chancellor Blank has noted that while Diversity Programs are important, they would not remain untouched by the cuts-for-public-authority exchange. And although UW System President Ray Cross originally framed the pursuit of public authority as a protection of shared governance in emails to system chancellors, Chancellor Blank has instead, perhaps more honestly, made the ambiguous statement that, “I very much hope there will be no effect whatsoever on shared governance.” Chancellor Blank’s statement is likely more honest, we suggest, because the public authority could change shared governance by moving things like shared governance, tenure, guaranteed support for underrepresented and minority students, and other items out of state statute and into the Board of Regents' jurisdiction.

We of course know that the members of the Board of Regents are neither democratically elected nor representative of individual campuses; rather, they are appointed by the Governor to serve seven-year terms, and will preside over the entire System. Should the Governor’s Board of Regents choose to write the above items into policy for the System they could do so, but as Blank’s wavering statement acknowledges, we currently have no real sense of how those items will be rewritten, if at all. Nor would UW systems workers or students have any ability to impose democratic accountability or recourse upon the appointed Regents.

While the UW administration verbally supports protections for students and workers, this does not necessarily ensure material support, especially in a context of declining resources. When fielding questions about protection for programs that sustain underrepresented and minority students after the transition to Board of Regents control, Vice-Chancellor Bazzell flatly stated that UW-Madison has a strong recent track record of support for diversity programming. Yet recent evidence shows that, especially after the 2011 budget cuts, admission for students of color, first generation college students, and Wisconsin residents declined, while high-paying international students and students of alumni rose.

We can also look at the example of the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinic (UWHC), which -- previously a state-funded entity -- became managed by a hospital authority though the 1995 biennial budget, meaning that it would no longer receive state support and have to fund its daily operations through its generated revenues. One of the most significant effects of the UW Hospital’s shift to public authority status was its loss of collective bargaining for its employees. This pattern repeated when the UW System administration refused to include the option for faculty to unionize in the current public authority proposal.

Exchanging Cuts for Flexibilities: A System Tradition

UW-Madison administration has been silent on the explicit connections that exist between the budget and the public authority, and have rejected any suggestion that they are willing to take one for the other. For example, Vice Chancellor Bazzell recently argued that trying to understand the budget cuts in relation to the public authority is a “false construction.”

Yet Vice-Chancellor Bazzell’s statement ignores clear connections to the previous, ill-fated proposal for a public authority. That 2011 proposal, known as the New Badger Partnership (NBP), aimed to give UW-Madison complete autonomy as a public authority, breaking it away from UW-System as a way to protect UW-Madison from further budget cuts. It was a product of secretive discussions between the Governor and then-Chancellor Carolyn “Biddy” Martin, and revealed a connection between university administrative lobbying and Republican-driven austerity measures. Yet, Vice-Chancellor Bazzell attempted to re-write that history in last week’s forum, suggesting that the 2011 NBP and public authority mission was externally imposed on UW by Gov. Walker, not, as was the actual case, co-fashioned by UW administrators and state legislators. Indeed, from what we have seen, not a single communication, either internal or external, even acknowledges that a previous public authority proposal existed.

Yet there are at least three good reasons to believe that the proposed 2015-2017 budget cuts and public authority are inseparable, and that administration’s struggle to gain the latter has been absent a concern that it would likely produce the former.

First, after the NBP failed in 2011, UW-Madison and other system schools happily accepted a block grant from the state, as opposed to General Program Revenue (GPR) enumerated by fund type, in order to get the chance to rewrite their own HR and personnel policies. Not incidentally, the block grant allocation also required modifying state statute 20.285 to deregulate previous restrictions on how tuition can and cannot be spent, and thus freed up the system in the use of that revenue stream. At the time, critics expressed concern that a block grant was one step in the direction of drastically limited or even ultimately non-existent state contributions, which is unfortunately what we are seeing this year.

Second, in 2012, the Task Force on Restructuring noted in a presentation to System leaders that, “WI was one of the highest regulated universities in the country” and recommended that the System gain greater control over things like building, procurement and compensation, all the while never expressing concern in documents that this might lead to crippling cuts. Much like the infamous Act 10, the redrafting of HR policies has weakened worker protections put in place by unions, such as seniority rules, and has created a merit pay system that campus unions have vocally opposed. Third, and most recently, departments and programs on UW-Madison’s campus were asked last year to run 2/4/6 percent budget reduction tests in anticipation of cuts that were never contested by the administration.

It thus appears that the UW-System administration has seen the cuts as an opportunity on which they could capitalize.  In the context of this ongoing university campaign, Gov. Walker's proposed exchange of "public authority" status for cuts is not the result of a genuine budget crisis but of years of the UW-System actively trading off cuts for piecemeal autonomy. This helps explain why the messaging coming out of UW-Madison is not that we cannot afford cuts at all, but that the current proposed cuts are simply too big to be absorbed immediately. In her first address to Faculty Senate,  UW-Madison Chancellor Blank implied as much when she stated that, “We cannot do [the cuts] in one year; it is not possible,” and that “I wouldn’t say this is an utter disaster for the university, but we have some serious changes to make in our operations and all of you are going to feel that in some way or another.”

Though we recognize that Chancellor Blank’s statements deviate from the talking points deployed by previous Chancellors and administration, intolerance for cuts has not been her position, as evidenced by her budget reduction test. By conducting this exercise, Chancellor Blank effectively trained the university’s workers to accept and prepare for cuts. In this sense, Chancellor Blank herself failed to organize campus and the broader UW community to fight back against cuts that are widely acknowledged as “self-inflicted” wounds produced by years of tax breaks for the wealthy. From an employee’s point of view, what exactly is “too much?” The Governor’s eight percent cuts or the ‘necessary’ six percent previously proposed by the administration?

A Policy of Silence

“Let me know of any way I can be helpful (which can include keeping my mouth shut---- Smile)
--email from Dennis Shields (Chancellor, UW Platteville) to Ray Cross (UW System President)

Perhaps even more troubling than the UW Administration’s ahistorical representation of the proposed budget cuts to the university is their attempt to insulate the biennial budget from politics at all. This has become most evident in the administration’s refusal to engage in questions about the budget that are “political” in nature -- namely about the actual causes and motivations of the supposed budget cuts. Though the university will engage in long-term discussions about the impacts of the cuts and how they will be distributed, students and faculty have regularly been told by UW administration representatives that the discussion of the origins of the cuts -- namely the state’s perplexing revenue system -- is prohibitively political.

For instance, at a recent forum for graduate students, Vice Chancellor Bazzell stated that he was not at all concerned about having a public university funded through sales tax -- a mercenarily regressive form of taxation -- if it allocated sufficient amounts of revenue. This shift in funding sources will present an aggressively anti-public investment source, whereby those in the state with the least resources will pay disproportionately more for a university that is increasingly unaffordable to them. The Administration’s flagrant disregard for the sources of its funding -- not simply the quantity -- present a chilling and short-sighted strategy of the university as a public institution.

The depoliticization of the proposed budget is also evident in the administration’s discouragement of protest as a form of political participation. On the fourth anniversary of the now-symbolic February 14 "I Heart UW" Rally that sparked the Wisconsin capitol Occupation in 20144, over 200 students, faculty, staff and community members below-freezing temperatures to protest Scott Walker's recent proposal to defund higher education.



But UW-Madison's Twitter page, which was busy issuing valentines to UW, gave no hint that active resistance was begin organized on its campus that day, despite its subsequent attention on the front page of the New York Times and in the Washington Post. This is perhaps because, as disclosed to members of the Teaching Assistants’ Association (TAA) Executive Board in a meeting last week and to the Milwaukee Graduate Assistants’ Association (MGAA) members in an email (see their video response), UW administrators are discouraging protests and rallies to the budget proposal. Indeed, UW Regent Margaret Farrow criticized the “emotional” nature of the protests, invoking language loaded with gendered and racialized norms about “acceptable” forms of dissent.

Thus, a troubling and largely unacknowledged outcome of the recent budget proposal has been the request for a respectability politics--a politics in which entire campuses shall support the administration’s position, and perform a consensus by acting like ‘good’ citizens and workers. In the context of the UW system's financial technologies, consensus is a disciplining project in that it demands compliance with an employer that is already assessing where to cut jobs. This disciplining surfaced in 2011, when the UW system gained the “flexibility” to develop a new HR or personnel system that then led to the suggestion that it adopt a “behavior-based selection process” as part of employee recruitment and assessment.  Respectability politics reinforces a system that is moving away from defending its employees' academic freedom toward hiring workers ready and willing to be managed without question.

To be blunt, it appears that the UW administration actively seeks a form of management flexibility that requires silent employees whose jobs are consistently on the line.  The published email communications from system President Cross contained a message from Madison Chancellor Blank about UW-Madison’s University Committee
We'll see what pops out publicly by tomorrow morning. I have my faculty exec comm [sic] committed to letting negotiations move forward without public outcry, but I don't know if they contain certain elements of the faculty.
Chancellor Blank clearly favors a passive faculty even though this passivity helped convince Gov Walker and other state politicians that 13 percent state funding cuts could succeed.  To reinforce passivity, some now claim that the budget cuts derive not from the "public authority" proposal that originated with the UW-Madison administration and not with Gov. Walker, but from those who have been outspoken against Walker and UW administration's privatization efforts.

President Cross’ messaging to the Chancellors suggested that the deal is by no means settled. “Please know," he wrote,  "that any deal or potential agreement could fall through at any moment. But, this is an opportunity to assume the offensive and we are putting a plan in front of the Gov and the Ldrs [sic] – in concept.”  This comment should be taken as an important reminder that this “opportunity” is still, at least for now, a precarious fantasy that can move forward only through the  silence of those who will suffer the most from it.
Posted by Chris Newfield | Comments: 0

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Rose Aguilar had a segment of her show "Your Call" on KALW that focused on the UC Budget and the need for transparency. UCOP apparently decided was not to send someone to talk on public radio in San Francisco. But luckily Chris participated along with Dan Walters of the Sacramento Bee and Kevin Sabo of UCSA.

You can find the episode HERE


Posted by Michael Meranze | Comments: 7

Monday, January 26, 2015

Monday, January 26, 2015
As you may have heard, UC Care is suffering even more problems (or I should say people enrolled in UC Care are suffering more problems) as it heads into its second year.  On the one hand there are considerably higher premiums on many policies (you can see the new figures here and compare with your old payments).  But on the other, and even more significantly, UC Care continues to struggle to maintain Tier 1 service for all of the campuses.

On this issue, the most striking problem is the ongoing battle between Blue Shield and the Sutter Health system of hospitals.  The contract between Blue Shield and Sutter Health expired at the end of 2014 and conflicts between the two huge systems have prevented a new contract from being signed. UC is reporting that both sides have agreed, however, to a de facto extension of six months so that subscribers are not in any immediate danger of finding themselves without a health plan.  Both systems are seeking to portray themselves as defenders of patients (Sutter claims Blue Shield is trying to reduce payments while Blue Shield claims they are seeking to protect patients from imposed arbitration agreements and the potential of hiked premiums).  But of course each side is seeking to protect their own quite large revenues.

Although outside the control of UC, this crisis is reminiscent of the ongoing problems facing employees at UCSB.  As the UCSB Faculty Association has pointed out, UCSB still does not have Tier 1 access at the only full service hospital in their area.  If Blue Shield and Sutter Health cannot work the problem out, it is possible that the majority of the non-medical campuses will be left without access to their traditional range of health care options.

UC has provided some numbers to call at Blue Shield if you are having problems.  They can be found here.  It is also possible that other costs may go up during this dispute.


UPDATE:  Blue Cross and Sutter Health have agreed to a new 2 year contract.  You can find the press release HERE.
Posted by Michael Meranze | Comments: 0

Monday, January 12, 2015

Monday, January 12, 2015
Here's a quick update on my way back from Vancouver, where I attended the Modern Language Association meeting.  Jeff Williams and I had a panel featuring some of the issues in our Johns Hopkins University Press book series on Critical University Studies: Scott Jaschik at Inside Higher Ed covered it here.  Send us a book proposal!  Universities aren't going to recover or have the intellectual functions the world needs unless faculty get actively involved in their redesign. We're equally interested in historical work.

I also have a piece today at Inside Higher Ed on the weakening of the austerity logic that has been ruling public universities. Entitled, "The Higher Ed Austerity Deal is Falling Apart," it argues that three major (albeit unwilling) political partners are getting tired of accepting the "new normal" of never-enough-revenues at too-high tuition rates.  

I start by pointing out that 2015 promises more of the same, and then analyze the fractures that became visible at the November regents' meeting.  My premise is that austerity isn't a natural effect of the economy but the effect of a tacit political alliance among the major players that includes senior university managers, faculty, and students. The UC story will be familiar to blog readers;  the second half of the piece, less so.

At one point, I write, 
Although austerity theory still rules public colleges, three of its major players no longer project future benefit from following their scripted roles: cutting and squeezing (administration), political compliance (governing boards), and tolerance for higher tuition and debt (students). It has become clear to them that these austerity policies will never make things better. 
When I re-read the piece this morning on line, I stumbled at that second sentence. Do these folks really know that only one engine is getting fuel and that therefore the plane is losing altitude? On reflection I think yet again that the answer is yes.  UC admin has been talking about the structural deficit to the regents for several years, and the students who spoke out last fall now think the Democrats are using the tuition freeze to let themselves off the funding hook.  

The question is more what to do with this knowledge. The immediate answer is to spell out the research and the teaching that get disappeared by funding shortfalls.  

At the MLA, there was an obvious conflict between the brilliance of the work, which has intellectual scope and depth that are better than ever, and the resources to finish and disseminate the research, which are nearly nonexistent. Our panel respondent, for example, was a grad student who couldn't afford to travel to Vancouver and thus went missing.  Sponsors of extramurally-funded research often require conference travel and fund their requirement.  On this point the humanities are underwater, with predictable delays.  Younger MLA scholars have never in my view been doing richer, more ambitious work with more important public implications--and yet never have more incomplete support to get it finished.

Second, there's teaching.  I'm on the MLA's Delegate Assembly, and on Saturday, at the end of a six hour meeting with a sustained focus on academic freedom, the Association's officers asked for input from the floor about how to respond to Arizona State University's recent raising of teaching loads for its non-tenure track (NTT) writing instructors by 25 percent (to 5-5), with no increase in pay.  An ASU dean was in the audience to explain the administration's rationale, which was that all university faculty have a notional five-course load per term, and the tenure track faculty who teach two courses per term are getting three courses of credit for research and service.   All the admin was doing, he said, was regularizing a lot of NTT instructors while rationalizing their workloads. 

The assembly took a dim view of this and of the other pieces of the dean's explanation. Many people objected to the exploitation of faculty who are now expected to offer meaningful feedback to 125 writing students a term.  Others pointed out the unilateral nature of the decision, in which admin tells faculty what to do with no regard for faculty expertise.  

My concern is also with the administrative framing. This assumes that college writing instruction is a commodity, both in terms of the instructor who delivers it, who need not be paid even the median US wage for 125 students, and of the student who is trying to master a skill by responding to individual feedback on their work.  ASU has a sophisticated idea of public education that is active and process oriented (see the linked article above), and yet asks instructors to deliver it under high school working conditions.  Why does anyone think you can create skills at a college level with a high school teaching load and for less than a high-school teaching wage? Because it's convenient to think that, because it allows cross-subsidies to think that, but also because administrators--and faculty--haven't spelled out in educational detail why we can't. 

Faculty need not simply to reject the framework but to explain why it's wrong: why we don't and can't have five courses as a teaching baseline for college instruction, for starters. We need to explain what students are supposed to learn in a writing class, show the level and type of feedback that requires, and then explain the working conditions that make that possible, including the maximum number of students that one can have to grade a certain number of pages per term with the cognitively required feedback.

Yes I know: who thought we were going to have to do this kind of explaining just so we could do our jobs? But this is how it is, and has been since the 1980s. The good news is that it marks the way colleges and universities are a decisive social power, which is why they are being fought over so relentlessly.

I thought about this when I happened on an article yesterday about tactics.  "The immediate response is bound to be a defensive one: fight the cuts." Yes, I thought, admin is finally doing this, as some faculty have done for years, but the power of the austerity framework, as the author writes, "has exposed the limited character of a struggle which remains a defensive one." 

The author continues to say that the defensive struggle "will get us nowhere if it is posed simply as a return to a state of things before the deluge"--very true! And it "cannot succeed unless it contains an active and positive content--of a new kind."  This new content, he concludes, needs to be embedded not in temporary and opportunistic political associations, but in "real and durable historical alliances" that lead to a "genuinely popular democratic social force."  This will involve, however, the transformation of "all the forces which are to be pulled together in this way."  

As some of you have guessed, the author was Stuart Hall, the year was 1980, and the subject was "Thatcherism--a new stage?"  University austerity is Thatcherism, historically and conceptually, but as I argue in the IHE piece it is now applied by Democrats and Labour as well as a by Republicans and Conservatives.  Opposition has not succeeded for Hall's reasons, which are insufficiencies of imagination and organization. In other words, we anti-austerians are not beating our heads against an inevitable historical trend or economic destiny, but have some new work to do.

So send us a book proposal!
Posted by Chris Newfield | Comments: 0

Friday, January 9, 2015

Friday, January 9, 2015
Governor Brown released his 2015-2016 budget proposal today. As expected he demonstrated no willingness to back off in his opposition to tuition increases at UC and CSU or to attempt to buy them out.  Instead, he insisted that his own long-term proposals for Higher Education funding were correct and demanded more responsiveness from the segments.  We will be back with more in the near future but I wanted to point out some of the most significant points.

1. The Governor has kept to his plan to provide approximately 4% increases to both CSU and UC. (38)

2) But he has reaffirmed that this additional funding is contingent on the segments not raising tuition and, in the case of UC, not increasing non-state enrollment.  The language is as follows:

For UC:
General Fund Increase—An ongoing increase of $119.5 million General Fund
contingent upon the University keeping tuition at 2011‑12 levels in 2015‑16,
not increasing nonresident enrollment in 2015‑16, and taking action to control costs. 
For CSU:
General Fund Increase—An ongoing increase of $119.5 million General Fund.
This funding should obviate the need for CSU to increase student tuition and fees
and can be used by the University to meet its most pressing needs.  

3.  The Governor also makes clear his intention to take on the political fight with the segments (particularly with UC) over the nature and extent of state funding.  Unlike last year's budget proposal the Governor's office makes clear the extent to which increased tuition revenue has itself been underwritten by state funds (36-37).  This has been an issue waiting to blow up for several years now.  Apparently the Governor's office has decided that now is the time.

4. The Governor is also insisting that his proposed task force on costs be instituted immediately. (40-41).  As with most of the Governor's approaches to the University the possibility that quality may cost more rather than less money is ruled out from the start and there is little evidence that he expects academic value to enter into the discussion.  Again, here is the language:

To this end, at the Governor’s request, the UC Regents are expected to form a
committee, staffed by the Administration and the UC Office of the President, to reduce
the University’s cost structure. This committee will solicit advice from a broad range of
experts, review data and develop proposals that allow the University to deliver quality
education at a lower cost and obviate the need for increased tuition or increasing
out‑of‑state enrollment. Specifically, the committee will gather information and develop
proposals to decrease University cost drivers, enhance undergraduate access, improve time‑to‑degree and degree completion, review the role of research, and explore the use of technology to enhance education. The committee’s proposals will be considered by the full UC Board of Regents. These proposals, in conjunction with the University’s sustainability plan, will inform ongoing discussions on efficiencies and reforms to improve the cost structure, student access and outcomes at the University.

It should be understood that in this context "outcomes" does not refer to learning but to degrees or certificates.

5.  Most of these proposals were predictable.  There is one oddity worth noting in the Budget. In discussing State debts and liabilities the Governor includes UC Retirement.  His proposal does not, suggest that he is putting any funds towards helping with that issue.  But in treating UC Retirement as a State debt is he conceding the point that the State has obligations towards the UC Retirement system or is he attempting to pressure UC to move even further in reducing the benefits of the UC Retirement system by lumping it with other systems more immediately subject to political control? Only time will tell.

If you are only interested in the Higher Education section of the Budget you can now find it here.


Posted by Michael Meranze | Comments: 3

Monday, January 5, 2015

Monday, January 5, 2015
Governor Brown gave his 4th and final inaugural address today and said very little about higher education.  Instead, he focused attention on other issues: K-12 education, criminal justice, the environment, and his favorite issue of all--controlling spending.  It is certainly possible to see his lack of focus as a positive thing for the state's public colleges and universities.  His recent ideas have not been great, and relative neglect might lower the temperature to allow serious thinking on how to raise educational quality in the state's higher education institutions.

Unfortunately, what little he did say is not encouraging.  Here are his comments on higher education:
With respect to education beyond high school, California is blessed with a rich and diverse system. Its many elements serve a vast diversity of talents and interests. While excellence is their business, affordability and timely completion is their imperative. As I’ve said before, I will not make the students of California the default financiers of our colleges and universities. To meet our goals, everyone has to do their part: the state, the students and the professors. Each separate institution cannot be all things to all people, but the system in its breadth and diversity, through real cooperation among its segments, can well provide what Californians need and desire.
Several points stand out here: the displacement of "excellence" (admittedly a vacuous term) by "timely completion"; the implicit opposition to further tuition hikes coupled with a lack of real commitment to address the problem of tuition through state funding; and a belief in the inadequacy of the campus's efforts.  "To meet our goals, he said, "everyone has to do their part: the state, the students, and the professors." Since Gov. Brown has already indicated that he believes the state is doing enough and that students should not be asked to do more,  then what is left? The professors, who must be blocking timely completion and affordability by not teaching enough students and not going online enough. 

Here then is the problem with Brown's approach to higher education: in his mind the problem is not that students do not get enough time to work with faculty; it is that they get too much time. Instead of figuring out a way to fund an educational experience that enables deeper learning and higher skills he wants to speed up the process and make it more Amazon-like than it already is. As many have pointed out, higher education has been using adjuncting and massification to create teaching "efficiencies" for thirty years.  They have reduced degree productivity and quality, and cannot now suddenly increase them.

Dealing with a 1970s-model of educational efficiency will be one challenge for 2015.


Posted by Michael Meranze | Comments: 14

Friday, December 26, 2014

Friday, December 26, 2014
I'm sure 2014 in higher ed was different from 2013, but right off I can't think of how.  The nation continued its permanent public university austerity program, encouraged flimsy hopes for ed-tech rescues, conducted long political arguments over possible 2-percent revenue increases, fantasized about self-unbundling into flexi-modularity, and proclaimed indignant doubts about the educational value of going to college at all.  So what was new? Even my biggest stayed the same, which I called the "hardening of the downward definition of public higher education through budgetary means, with no public debate."  

Cheer up, I said to myself--it's the holidays! Santa Barbara's one day of winter rain has already come and gone. Some new things did happen in 2014 higher ed, and some of them were good.

1. The College Liberation Movement.  The splashy version came from some Ivy League humanist dissidents who described elite private universities as sorting machines for those reared to rule our newly post-middle class society.   There was the "excellent sheep" debate, started by William Deresiewicz's July article, "Don't Send Your Kid to the Ivy League" and carried on in his book, Excellent Sheep, sustained by attacks on him by Jim Sleeper among others, and brought in quieter form to the big screen by the film Ivory Tower.   

Dr. Deresiewicz drew a sharp line between what happens at places like Yale, described as training in "the analytic and rhetorical skills that are necessary for success in business and the professions," and actually learning how to think.  However one felt about the details, the discussion put the humanistic goal of personal development at the center of the college agenda.  It cut against the naïve vocationalism that has justified corporate reach-ins to core educational functions. It clarified that colleges must do what businesses cannot do, according to their own vision and expertise.

I have my quarrels with this Ivy humanism, starting with my dislike for the overdrawn contrast between liberal and practical arts.  I think that the systematic inculcation of deep skills are next on the to-do list of public universities.  But higher ed leaders have so completely lost confidence in the special powers of higher learning that they needed every kind of explanation of why teaching is not a business.  

2. A New Deal for Faculty Governance.  When the chancellor of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign announced that she was pocket vetoing the appointment of Steven Salaita to a professorship that had been approved by every campus agency, she awakened the closest thing to a national faculty outcry that the country had seen in years.  Prof. Salaita remains in limbo, and governance procedures have not been fixed.  But I don't know a single faculty member who isn't now aware of the fall of the faculty, having in 2014 seen faculty be overridden in a main area of authority.   The premature MOOC contracting of  2013 showed admin to be as ready to redesign the curriculum as it is to make all financial decisions on its own. Many faculty who weren't worried about MOOC-mediated governance got worried about the suspension of hiring protocols by senior managers under donor pressure.  

Other kinds of encroachments also got faculty attention.  The newly-hatched Board of Trustees for the University of Oregon planned to write the faculty senate out of the university's new constitution, with the effect of "relegat[ing] university stakeholders to supplicants." Faculty generated an imposing counterattack.  We learned all over again that faculty bodies, once awakened, have more than enough brains at their disposal to stop any train that "has already left the station."

3. Fixing Women's Student Experience.   Even the federal government got involved with the question of what campuses are or aren't doing about sexual assault.  It was impossible to ignore the issue of inadequate protection for victims while pondering  Columbia student Emma Sulkowicz's "carry that weight" thesis project, in which she has carried a mattress with her everywhere on campus until her alleged assailant is no longer at Columbia. (Thank you Gawker for telling us that the alleged assailant is a feminist.)  The Chronicle of Higher Education had a huge spread about "alcohol's hold on campus" ( as in "A River of Booze"), and what it lacked in news value (did you know that some college students drink too much??) it made up in expressing general worry that academics are getting lost in a labyrinth of peripheral activities. Concern about the welfare of women was strong enough to prompt coverage of a study showing that college women are raped less often than non-college women of the same age, which helped embed the campus problem in a wider national context.  Rolling Stone's partial retraction of its "bombshell article" about a alleged gang rape at a University of Virginia frat house did not produce a chorus of triumphant claims that sexual assault is a phony problem.  This year, colleges en masse started to confront women's continuing--if not escalating--physical and psychological insecurity, and the national coverage was a major reason.

4. Contingent Faculty Come in from the Cold.  In early 2013 I wasn't picturing the adjunct faculty group New Faculty Majority appearing before Congress to describe academia's faculty labor problems, but it happened in November of that year, and the momentum carried into 2014.  We're finally seeing proposed legislation requiring colleges to report on their use of part time and non-tenure track instructors.  Adjunct faculty also won an case about their free speech rights and had their status considered in a student debt forgiveness proposal.  They have in general, because of the work of Prof. Maisto and many others, become a major presence in discussions of the future of higher ed.  

Writing in this space, Jennifer Ruth raised the issue of tenure-track faculty complicity in creating a disposable workforce, and named some necessary costs of reversing the trend.  2014 brought unprecedented public awareness of the overuse of contingent faculty and of the shame of their exploitation.  This has already meant increased interest in tenure-track -- non-tenure track (NTT) alliances.  This would improve NTT conditions and reduce the divisions within the faculty that have empowered administrations at faculty expense. Awareness of these possibilities is deeper than it was just a year ago.

 5. The Rise of Educational Quality.  In 2014, student debt hit the wall. The usual justifications of this destructive kludge of a funding strategy are yielding diminishing returns with students along with everyone else.  Adding to the pressure, "the debt is too damn high" was joined by another theme, "debt for what"? Students at the UC Regents meeting in November were eloquent on the subject of the shrinking educational benefits of attending UC that they traced directly to  budgetary "efficiencies" like giant lectures, mechanized grading, and near-zero rates of individual attention.  "We want classes.  We want professors," UC's student regent felt the need to explain to Governor Jerry Brown.   State funding will stay flat without a big push, and detailing the sources and costs of quality education could give state governments their first concrete--and politically charged--reason to reverse years of funding cuts.

I never tire of pointing out that the only reason for the existence of public universities is mass quality--mass access to top quality teaching and cutting-edge research--that puts regular folks on the level where they can genuinely match elites. It's not too soon for faculty to join students in putting the quality back in mass quality, while creating news kinds of quality to reflect on current conditions.  The success students had this year in holding off major politicians like Jerry Brown--and in getting cited in revenue arguments by governing boards--signaled to at least some faculty that it's time to step up. 

6.  Relinking Student Protests and Social Movements.  The biggest recent domestic news has been the protests of the non-indictment of police officers who had killed unarmed Black men, particularly in the cases of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO and Eric Garner in New York City.  The "Hands Up Don't Shoot" and "I Can't Breathe" protests overlapped with various campus struggles about funding, tuition, debt, diversity, free speech, campus policing, the morale of students of color, and other issues.  These intersecting protests linked the public university to the postwar period of its major development, when society could imagine colleges as offering knowledge for the satisfaction of broad social needs.  In contrast to the narrower mission of serving technology industries, which now seems to many, as the middle classes stagnate, to be just one more way to enrich the rich, the classic social movements increased both the social influence of the university and the quality of its knowledge.  1950s and 1960s voters rewarded universities for this pertinence before conservative elites punished them for it.  The university's golden age and the civil rights movement had different origins but symbiotic aspirations.  This year, parallels among student and non-student movements pointed towards a better common destiny.  

One thing about 2014 was the same as previous years.  I loved the basics of the job-- the research, the teaching, and the learning with colleagues and students. My UCSB students were wonderful. They came through bouts of overpolicing, a mass murder, and ever-mounting levels of background stress; they wrote great crime stories in the detective fiction lecture I just finished, and had all sorts of ideas for educational upgrades that will continue next year.  

In the meantime, many thanks from us for reading Remaking the University this year, and warm wishes for the rest of the holidays. 

Posted by Chris Newfield | Comments: 3

Monday, December 8, 2014

Monday, December 8, 2014
 by Matthew Dennis, Professor of History and Environmental Studies, University of Oregon

After a year of negotiations, the Graduate Teaching Fellowship Federation (GTFF) at the University of Oregon went on strike last week over the University's refusal to grant two weeks of automatically granted sick leave for illness or childbirth.  Kaitlin Mulhere has a good overview at "Inside Higher Ed." UO's faculty senate passed a resolution criticizing the administration's handling of the strike, focusing in part on admin's plan to bypass TA grading   in a way that would weaken academic standards "by administrative fiat."  The UO faculty senate is now investigating this issue. The grad strike coincides with a conflict between UO faculty and its Board of Trustees (pictured above) over faculty governance. The Board is planning to change 70 policies at its meeting this week, and some major changes in the UO Constitution have been proposed by the Board chair.  These and other issues are well-covered by the UO Matters blog, where their scanner processes official documents 24 hours a day.

UO professor Matt Dennis wrote an op-ed for the Eugene newspaper that lays out the issues. His letter to his students is below, in which he makes institutional issues part of his students' overall education.

Dear Students,

The Graduate Teaching Fellows union (GTFF) has declared its intention to go out on strike next week, on Tuesday December 2. I’m writing to you now to explain how this will affect History 201. The GTFF and the UO administration’s labor representatives have been in negotiations since last November (2013) and have hit an impasse. The GFTF has made a number of reasonable demands, which the administration seems unwilling to grant. As a result the GTFs have chosen to use the only real leverage they possess—to withhold their labor. Strikes are disruptive—that’s their point. We notice the critical contribution that the strikers—our GTFs—make to our educational lives, and we hope that the administration quickly realizes that as well and settles their conflict with the GTFF. It’s impossible to predict, however, how long the strike will continue.

Some will blame the GTFF for this disruption in undergraduate teaching, but the administration bears considerable blame for its unwillingness to compromise. They have likely spent more in their prolonged negotiations with the GTFF than it would have cost to fund the GTFF’s requested two-week sick leave policy. And it will cost much more to hire replacement workers to circumvent the strike. My personal opinion is that this approach is ill advised, counterproductive, irresponsible, and needlessly expensive. Though the central administration represents itself as “the university,” in fact the heart of the university is its students (undergraduate and graduate), faculty, and staff—most of whom have not had any say in the negotiations, even though we have the most at stake.

The administration seems willing to compromise the academic integrity of the university in the interest of “continuity.” I am not. It has recommended a number of “options” to work around the strike, including hiring others to grade your work, even suggesting advanced undergraduates, canceling exams and other assignments, transforming exams into multiple choice tests, or simply grading students on the work already performed. In History 201 this would entail abandoning the syllabus (my contract with you), and awarding final grades based on some 55 percent of the graded work completed so far. Because this course is designed to reach a large number of students—over 100—and because my other responsibilities already demand 100 percent of my time, I am not able to grade your work myself. But, on professional and moral grounds, I would not do so in any case. Your GTFs have done a terrific job, worked with you closely, and know you and are in a position to judiciously evaluate your performance. Under present circumstances I cannot do as well--as well as you deserve. Nor will I undermine their efforts to get a just contract. I will not work as a strikebreaker or “scab.”

Where does that leave us in History 201? The exam you took last Tuesday, November 25 (20 percent of your grade) is not yet graded, but it should be evaluated, and your grade on it should be counted in the calculation of your final grade. As should your final exam. Next
week, during the strike, I will deliver my final two lectures in the course as scheduled. The
discussion section meetings taught normally by GTFs, scheduled for week 10, will be
cancelled. The final exam (25 percent of your grade) will occur as scheduled on Tuesday,
December 9 at 8:00 a.m. I will proctor the exam myself and collect your examination books,
but the exams will remain ungraded until the strike is settled and the GTFs are able to grade them. Thus, if the strike extends into finals week or beyond, you will not receive a grade in History 201. Under these circumstances, with so much of your work ungraded, I am unable to file any grades ethically, responsibly, or fairly.

It’s possible that a representative of the administration might decide that filing grades—even indiscriminate ones—is more important than insuring the integrity and justness of such grades. Communications from the administration have suggested that in some cases it might usurp the role of “instructor of record” and file grades themselves. Such a move would be arbitrary and capricious, and a fundamental violation of academic freedom, but it could occur nonetheless. I certainly hope that this does not happen, and that the strike is quickly settled, that the administration treats you equitably and with the respect you merit, and that this mishandling of negotiations with the GTFFs doesn’t damage the integrity and reputation of the University of Oregon we have worked so hard to sustain.

You may be concerned about how all this will affect your academic progress or financial aid. I am empathetic. These are important administrative matters, requiring administrative fixes in these extraordinary circumstances. I encourage you to contact the administration, which should be able to find workable administrative solutions that do not compromise the
academic integrity of the university. It’s their responsibility—and it’s in their interest as well as yours—to ensure your ongoing eligibility for financial aid.

I will see you all next week and answer any questions you have then. I hope in the meantime that you have a nice Thanksgiving holiday and that somehow the strike is averted.

best wishes,

Matthew Dennis,
Professor of History and Environmental Studies
History 201

***
Chris here: this is the strike resolution letter, posted at UO Matters

Posted by Chris Newfield | Comments: 8

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Wednesday, November 26, 2014
The November UC Regents meeting featured a battle of the paradigms between administrative and student accounts of student finances. 

UC Office of the President (UCOP) officials, led by Executive Vice President Nathan Brostrom, sustained their longstanding claim that generous UC financial aid protects all low-income and most middle-income students from tuition costs. The Berkeley campus issued a statement citing the main talking point:
California students from families with annual incomes under $80,000 will continue to have tuition and fees fully covered by financial aid, and the vast majority of California students from families earning less than $150,000 a year will see no increase.
Upping the volume on this message, the immediate past chancellor of UC Berkeley, Robert Birgeneau, claimed that this high financial aid depends on high tuition, so that "frozen tuition means ever-increasing debt for low-income students."

While senior managers focused on tuition, students focused on their total cost of attendance. This is what they have to pay overall while they are in school.  Grants can cover most or all of their tuition, and yet rent, food, transportation, health insurance, etc. run up the overall bill for attending UC.   Regular folks watching the livestream might wonder why the officials were so soothing while the students were so distraught.  But the officials and the students were talking about two different things.


(1)

Here’s a figure from a Legislative Analyst’s Office report that visualizes the experience gap in the regents’s boardroom.



For this student, from a family at around the median income, the University, federal and state programs cover all tuition and some expenses.  And in spite of fairly expensive aid, she is left that large blank space in the left-hand bar: nearly $10,000 to pay on her own. (Her total costs are lowballed here--as we'll see, they are closer to $35,000 at the coastal campuses).   

A bit of terminology will help:

"Student Responsibility" in the chart can also be called Self-Help Expectation, or Unmet Need, defined in a basic way as follows

Cost of Attendance (COA) minus Expected Family Contribution (EFC) = Financial Need

FInancial Need minus FInancial Aid Awarded = Unmet Need

The first thing to note is that a university can say to a student, "we cover your full tuition" and still leave her scrambling to fund a gap in her grants, here of between $9000 and $10,000 per year. She will have to fill this gap either with loans or work.

Second, there is an ambiguity in the terminology. You might assume "Financial Aid Award" means grants.  But in fact university financial aid offices "award" loans as well.  They can, in this way, reduce a student's Unmet Need to zero, but only by inducing the student to borrow and/or take on additional work.  They can also include parental borrowing in the closing of Unmet Need.

I will follow what I believe is UC practice is calling the mixture of loans and work the student's Self-Help Expectation.  This seems like a more rigorous definition of financial need that is unmet by grants, but this is apparently not how UC uses the term so I will avoid it. 

Next, where does the financial aid system expect her to get this money?

I've spent quite a bit of time with financial aid analyses, but like most UC faculty have not done concrete aid calculations for particular students.  I got some help from an employee of UCSB's financial aid office, who was nice enough to send me some examples and comments. This person created the examples below without disclosing the campus's financial aid "parameters," which are apparently confidential. All of these examples presume a family of 4 with one student in college and no assets, savings, or non-salary income. It also assumes the student does not have outside scholarships.


(2)

Here is the cost of attendance (COA) for UCSB.



Tuition is about one-third of total costs, which are close to $35,000 a year.  A student can save about $4000 by moving off-campus, putting off-campus COA at $31,000.  I will stick with the on-campus first-year student: how does she cover these costs?

Example 1: Total Family Income = $35,000.
Expected Family Contribution = $0

This is a low-income student.  Her financial aid award letter (assuming on-campus housing) will break down like this:

$12,192    Cal Grant  
$  5,730    Pell Grant
$  7,736    UCSB Grant
$  3,500     Subsidized loan
$  2,000     Unsubsidized loan
$  1,700     Perkins loan
$  2,000    Work study

The student's COA is $34,858. Her EFC is $0, so her Financial Need is also $34,858.  Her grant total is $25,658.  She is left with a Self-Help Expectation of $9200.  She can supply $2000 of that with a work-study job. She needs still to come up with $7200 on top of that. 

This award letter has her borrowing the entire $7200 from three sources. Four years of this borrowing gets her a debt of $28,800. (In practice, annual loan offerings vary and generally increase each year, so $7200+ $6500+ $7500 +$7500 yields $28,700 after four years.)  If she took a second job to avoid taking on half of the loan--by earning $3600 per year--and she worked two eight hour days per week at $10 / hr take-home pay, she would need to work 24 weeks a year while graduating with $14,400 in loans.  

If you look at the charts of both UC Berkeley borrowing and national borrowing in my post "Free Speech and a Free UC," you can see that this is a conservative estimate. The average debt burden for a student in this income range is about $3000 higher than this amount.

Example 2: Total Family Income = $70,000
Expected Family Contribution (EFC) = $7820

$12,192    Cal Grant  
$  5,730    Pell Grant
$  5,646    UCSB Grant
$ 3,500     Subsidized loan
$ 2,000     Unsubsidized loan
$ 1,700     Perkins loan
$  2,000    Work study
$11,520    Parent PLUS Loan

This student is no longer likely to receive a Pell but can still get a Cal Grant (which covers full tuition).  His COA is the same as the first student's, $34,858.  His family is supposed to kick in an EFC of $7820, so his Financial Need is $27,038 per year. His grant total is $17,838.   He has a Self-Help Expectation of $9200. Interestingly, this is the same expectation as low-income Student 1's. Student 2 is not eligible for work study.  His parents are eligible for PLUS loans, however, and together with his $5500 in loan eligibility, this financial aid award letter has the student and his family borrowing to cover both the EFC and his Unmet Need.  

Assuming his loan amounts increase and he accepts the maximum in each case, the total borrowing for Student 2 is $5500 + $6500 + $7500 + $7500.  Four years of that will leave the student with $27,000 in debt for a bachelor's degree.  He could avoid $6800 in loan debt by working the same 16 hour weeks during most of the school year, or avoid all of it with many more hours of summer work. He could also avoid $4000 in expenses each year by living off-campus.  But if he wants to spend work hours on studying, as critiques of reduced student study time like Academically Adrift are asking students to do (my LARB review offers background on this issue), he and his family together will have borrowed $27,000 + $46,080 for a joint total of $73,080 for his bachelor's degree.

Example 3: Total Family Income = $100,000
Expected Family Contribution = $19,760

$12,192    Cal Grant  
$  5,730    Pell Grant
$  5,898    UCSB Grant
$ 3,500     Subsidized loan
$ 2,000     Unsubsidized loan
$ 1,700     Perkins loan
$  2,000    Work study
$23,460   Parent PLUS Loan

This student's family income is more than 150% of median family income in California. She has a kind of "middle class scholarship" in the form of the UCSB grant. It runs slightly higher than that for the student with $70,000 in family income.  But she is eligible neither for the Pell nor the Cal Grant.  Her family EFC is $19,760, so she has a Financial Need of $15,098 per year.  Subtracting her Financial Aid Awarded ($5,898) from her Financial Need yields her a Self-Help Expectation of . . . $9200.  

As with Student 2, she can cover $5500 of that with her two loans, and cover the remaining $3700 with the balance of her parents' PLUS loan ($23,460 minus their EFC of $19,760 is exactly $3700).  Or her parents could take out a smaller loan and she could cover the balance by working a bit more than Student 1's 16 hours a week for 24 weeks a year.  

My source observes,
To make up a third of her need  [without borrowing], a student would need about 20 hours a week or more throughout the school year and that leaves very minimal time for academics and could also be a factor as to why students do not become involved in organizations or research on campus.  That in turn could affect their attendance in grad school or programs like EAP. It then becomes a question of "how much can I do in one day," and what gets left out is when a student has to work it almost always ends up affecting their educational goals. 
Whatever she decides, Student 3 will  graduate with $22,000 in loans after four years. Her parents will owe $93,840 on their PLUS loans, plus interest. 


(3)

This is how the situation appears to me:

The student's Self-Help Expectation is not an accident of an insufficient financial aid budget. It is built into all the calculations.  The parameters appear to be structured to generate this gap of $9200 for all students, including poor students.  While private colleges regularly "gap" at least their least desirable admits, say the bottom quarter, UC appears to gap all of its students. My source wrote, "I don't know the politics of the policies behind it. I just know financial aid offices are always leaving that 'gap' to be covered in loans or work."

Covering a Cost of Attendance that assumes a $9200 Self-Help Expectation requires plenty of work, or debt, or both.   That is true of low income students, as the aggregate data confirms. In other words, a full tuition scholarship is readily compatible with $15,000 in graduation debt. The "middle class scholarship," as implemented by a campus-based grant, produces $22,000 in debt in these calculations. 


Parents are taking on new levels of debt for their children.  A $100,000 family income might suggest resources to support college, and the PLUS loans promise to soak all of that up. Student 3's parents take on close to 100 percent of their annual income in loans for one child's public university B.A. degree.  A special program like UC Berkeley's Middle Class Access Plan (MCAP) would reduce Student 3's parents' debt by reducing the EFC from about 20 percent of annual income in that case to a maximum of 15 percent. That would bring their debt down to $77,840.  It would not affect the debt of the other two students.

Parental debt doesn't seem to be reducing student debt, but to be covering tuition increases for non-poor students. 

The portion of tuition increases not funded by student or parent debt is funded by the state or federal governments. Here's a figure that shows one reason why the state is so angry with UCOP.


Fifteen years of tuition increases has increased Cal Grant outlays to UC by close to a factor of 8.This encourages the state to reduce its general fund outlays for UC operations by the amount that it has to increase Cal Grant outlays. Gov. Brown has in fact already told the regents that Sacramento is putting money into student scholarships instead of making "a direct investment in the university."   (For further reading, see Katy Murphy's good overview of the issue). 

Health insurance costs seem very high for this generally young population. So does on-campus housing, which costs $4000 a year more than housing furnished by famously price-gouging Isla Vista landlords (a different cost estimate for off-campus housing is here). Student costs may be artificially increased if campuses are using on-campus housing as a profit center to generate cross-subsidies for other activities.

In short, in the clash between official reassurances and student anguish about tuition hikes, the students are right.  Covering Cost of Attendance has work, stress, and debt built into it. Putting the point more harshly, the high tuition / high financial aid system functions is a debt engine.  Frozen tuition means "ever-increasing debt," in Prof. Birgeneau's terms.  But so does increased tuition.  The current financial aid system is structured to translate both higher tuition and higher financial "aid" into higher debt.

Posted by Chris Newfield | Comments: 41