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Monday, January 21, 2019

Monday, January 21, 2019
By Vineeta Singh, Lemon Project Postdoctoral Fellow, Omohundro Institute, College of William & Mary.

This is the second in a series of talks from the MLA panel, "Race and Critical University Studies." The first was "Insurgent Genealogies."

In 2015, the University of Virginia’s “President’s Commission on Slavery and the University” established a multi-institution consortium of “Universities Studying Slavery,” (USS) to allow historians to collaborate on research and share best practices for attempts at reconciling institutional histories and institutional values.

In the last three years, the consortium has grown to include 38 universities in the U.S., Canada, and Britain. It is primarily an historical rather than literary or even interdisciplinary intellectual community.  It is located squarely in the South, where the institutional reluctance and incapacity to address the already hypervisible histories of slavery and white supremacy more broadly have molded a very different “crisis consensus” than at the University of California and similar schools. Because of these divergent evolutions, USS work gives Critical University Studies other ways of approaching the presentism, exceptionalism, and focus on amelioration that CUS work is frequently charged with. 

After finishing an Ethnic Studies dissertation studying the history of U.S. higher education as it reflects and intensifies the conditions of racial capitalism, I recently began a postdoctoral fellowship with The Lemon Project: A Journey of Reconciliation. This is the College of William & Mary’s initiative to study the university’s history with racial violence and to “rectify wrongs perpetrated against African Americans by William & Mary through action or inaction.” In learning with the Lemon team and other members of the USS Consortium, I have come to regard the practical and creative work of students, scholars, and activists working with such initiatives as a model for how to do a critical study of American higher education. The work is allowing us to address the color line as a central driving force in the history of U.S. higher education. It looks toward an immanent reconcilability of studies of race, racism, and racial capitalism in higher education with “critical studies about the casualization of academic labor, the privatization of the public university, and the uncertain future of U.S. higher education,” as Heather Steffen put it in the proposal for this panel.

The conflict between the study of CUS and of race might be boiled down to the hope, on the one hand, that the public research university is fundamentally a progressive good, whose expanding reach has or will index the growth of values consonant with social justice, potentially including the dismantling of white supremacy, heteropatriarchy etc.; and, on the other hand, the conviction that since the U.S. nation-state is a guarantor of white supremacist capitalism, its system of higher education, functions like all state apparatuses is a house where “only the most narrow parameters of change are possible and allowable.”

In my research and in my work with the Lemon Project I have joined a generation of Black Studies, Ethnic Studies, and American Studies scholars and historians who are attempting to work through this disconnect. Like the first generation of identity knowledge workers who brought identity knowledges into some kind of institutional relationship with the academy, our labors represent a kind of reconciliation--not the end of an antagonism, but its continuation by other means. Creating new, uncomfortable, and generative proximites, this reconciliation work has less to do with the affective labor of creating friendly relations and more to do with the institutional work of creating a shared political community for the perpetrators andi targets of crimes against humanity. Or better yet, for knowledge producers, it is akin to the accounting practice of ensuring that two sets of records are in agreement.

In general, universities have tried to reckon with their racist pasts through enrollment, historical study, memorialization, and of course reconciliation. Among the most inspiring successes are enrollment initiatives tailored for black students.  For example, Rutgers and Georgetown are seeking to build recruitment relationships with descendant communities.  Rutgers University’s Scarlet and Black Project’s historical study puts anti-black and settler violences squarely in the center of university history rather than, as in the past, seeing them as appendages or amendments to a history of great white men and families. 

Some universities are also engaged in countercommemoration, in which they rename campus landmarks after the enslaved laborers who built them, or after black historical figures associated with campus space. This helps black students and other students of color see themselves not just as descendants of the disfranchised but as inheritors of radical traditions of resistance and study.

Notably, the Brown [University] Steering Committee was a direct result of a reparations debate. The same year Ruth Simmons became Brown’s president, conservative author David Horowitz published a full-page ad in student newspapers across the country including the Brown Daily Herald titled “Ten Ideas Why Reparations for Slavery is a Bad Idea—and Racist Too.” When the paper’s editors refused to print a retraction or relinquish the money the paper received for the ad (as student activists recommended), protestors “stole an entire day’s press run of the paper” (pages 58- 59). The steering committee’s final report notes that the “stolen” papers were actually returned, but also that the story of the “theft” appeared in newspapers across the country, casting the university as a poor defendant of “the free exchange of ideas” (ibid.) The following year, when a class-action lawsuit was brought against a cohort of private corporations built on profits from the slave trade, including FleetBoston bank, founded by the same family of brothers who endowed Brown University, and when think pieces like Harvard Law professor Charles Ogletree’s New York Times essay warned institutions like Brown, Yale, and Harvard to brace for a series of similar suits, Brown’s president Simmons convened the steering committee, in their words,“not [to] determine whether or how Brown might pay monetary reparations, nor… to forge a consensus on the reparations question. Its object, rather, was ‘to provide factual information and critical perspectives to deepen understanding’ and enrich debate on an issue that had aroused great public passion but little constructive public dialogue.” 

The most visible of this work, however, is the focus on eliciting an official university apology—ostensibly, although evidently not always, as a prelude to a commitment to material investments; administratively, of course, the investment is in rehabilitating the image of the institution.

Although the USS consortium’s name implies a focus on the pre-1865 period, in practice its associated initiatives have used the hypervisibility of the slavery conversation to bring attention to racial formation, racial capitalism, and racialized violence more broadly.

The initiatives frequently cite Saidiya Hartman’s formulation of the afterlives of African chattel slavery to trigger a momentary removal of the veils of commodity fetishism and fiduciary responsibility, the justification used by, for instance, Jesuit priests selling 272 enslaved Americans to keep Georgetown University’s doors open in 1838.  They ask, as the Working Group on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation at Georgetown does, how this historical “lack of moral imagination—the inability to see black human beings as deserving of equal dignity” persists in the present and in planning for the future.

By addressing the long history of the U.S. university as a crucial site in the creation and consolidation of American racial capitalism, such work overcomes the bias alleged to be at the heart of current CUS work. Partnering and collaborating with USS schools and scholars would help CUS practitioners do the same.

In doing so, Lemon-style initiatives also move against the tendency to treat the university as an exceptional site. The undergraduate class syllabi such initiatives inform connect the university’s slaveholding to its role in fomenting and maintaining Jim Crow segregation laws and norms off campus.

At William & Mary, student activists have further connected these conversations to the university’s ongoing use of prison labor. Their work underscores the continuity between African chattel slavery and contemporary mass incarceration and residential, educational, and occupational segregation, as well as workers’ rights and health inequity, as much on campus as off. In leveraging a crisis to create a coalition, such initiatives, mostly born of student, faculty, and community organizing, are another iteration of the kind of coalitional labor that has historically animated the fields of Ethnic Studies, Black Studies, Latinx, and Gender Studies. And they are a coalition that easily makes common cause with CUS’s wider concerns.

Amelioration, the desire to manage the effects of a crisis, rather than confronting its root causes, is important to the institutions sanctioning such initiatives. As they try to tidy up unsightly and embarrassing student protests into at least surveilable, if not exactly manageable initiatives, the frequent use of the appellation “project” (instead of center or institute) in their titles indexes an uneasy triangular relationship among an administration’s desire to be absolved of past wrongdoings, historians’ attempts to “narrow the range of permissible lies” an institution can tell about its own past, and the institution’s inability to reckon with the scale of the oppression in which it has been complicit (page 173).

Yet the persistence of the scholars tasked with these efforts of memory, repentance, reconciliation, healing, and redress, speaks to their personal and collective investments in making possible another university. They also provide an intellectual community for people like Professor Hilary Green, an historian working at the University of Alabama, who single-handedly researched, designed, and implemented an alternate campus tour highlighting the presence of enslaved laborers and craftsmen on campus. Green has personally given her Hallowed Grounds tour to over three thousand visitors and students, and last year, along with earning tenure, received funds to hire student workers to expand its reach.

Green’s work is, frankly, a personal inspiration, and a model of the kind of reconciliation I envision for students of CUS and racial capitalism: it begins with a confrontational practice that forces students and visitors to recognize the racial violence embedded in the campus landscape.  Rather than waiting for institutional or disciplinary approval, Green has been reconciling the institution’s accounts with local common senses about the predatory relationship between the academy and communities of color. She is now also able to use university resources to further her transformative work.

This is also a core tenet of the interdisciplinary identity knowledge formations: to refuse the positioning of racial violence as an aberration in the history of the United States or of capitalism, and to place it at the center of these narratives. One effect is that the narratives have to re-articulate their own objects.  Another is that the rest of the campus so-called community builds “racial stamina”—the capacity to engage in meaningful dialogue about systemic racism.

In situating racial violence as a constitutive element of institutional histories, such projects keep the campus in a generative state of crisis.  This creates the possibility to answer the call for imaginative scholarly coalitional work..  I’m thinking in particular of Roderick Ferguson’s The Reorder of Things, which shifts our focus away from grand revolutionary narratives (or even the heroic model of grant-writing templates) and towards “the small things” that can enact critical forms of community—forms that make minoritized subjects agents rather than silent objects of knowledge.
Posted by Chris Newfield | Comments: 8

Monday, January 14, 2019

Monday, January 14, 2019
by Danica Savonick, Asst Professor of English, SUNY Courtland

Chris here: this is the first in a series of papers delivered at an MLA Convention panel called "Race and Critical University Studies," organized by Heather Steffen and me and held on 5 January 2019.  Prof. Savonick gets at a key motive behind the panel when she says below, "Critical university studies puts a name on something that activists, intellectuals, and scholars of African American studies, women’s studies, and ethnic studies have been doing for decades and even centuries." We are interested in helping CUS contribute to the continuation and extension of these critiques and practices.

 My remarks today are drawn from my current manuscript project, Insurgent Knowledge, which analyzes the literary and pedagogical praxis of Audre Lorde, June Jordan, Toni Cade Bambara, and Adrienne Rich. I’ll give a brief overview of the project and highlight one key example, then suggest some ways that this work might help us think about this panel’s question: how can critical university studies approach issues of race, racism, and racial capitalism in higher education?

While Lorde, Jordan, Bambara, and Rich are most often studied for their literature, my project positions them as theorists of feminist and antiracist pedagogy. In 1968, at the height of the Women’s Movement, the Civil Rights Movement, Black Power, and protests against the Vietnam War (and the same year that Paulo Freire was writing Pedagogy of the Oppressed) these authors were teaching down the hall from one another at Harlem’s City College, in the Search for Education, Elevation, and Knowledge (SEEK) educational opportunity program and later during Open Admissions. Like the majority of educators today, they were not teaching wealthy or even middle-class students at elite universities with ample resources. Rather, they were teaching working class students of color in the nation’s first state-mandated educational opportunity program.

As educators, these authors drew on their poetic sensibilities to develop student-centered, collaborative, and consciousness-raising pedagogies that transformed their classrooms into sites of social change. They challenged students to make crucial decisions about the structure of their courses; to conduct original local research on poverty, housing, food, and education; to write and publish literature and to become teachers in their classrooms and leaders in their communities. These pedagogies were designed to navigate and contest the privatization of knowledge and power that has come to dominate educational practice, and I hope this research will help us to continue that work today.

Given this panel’s focus on race, I want to say a little more to contexualize their educational activism amidst the racial politics surrounding CUNY in the late 1960s. Since its inception, City College has been understood as a barometer for educational democracy in the U.S. While the school had a historical mandate to educate “the children of the whole people” and had long boasted of being the “Harvard of the Proletariat,” it was not until 1965 that the SEEK program was established to address the fact that the college’s student body did not reflect the diversity of the surrounding Black and Puerto Rican Harlem community. SEEK recruited “economically and educationally disadvantaged” students and prepared them to matriculate at City College through remedial coursework.

Five years later, the college implemented a far more controversial Open Admissions policy, which expanded SEEK’s commitment to equity and access throughout the CUNY system. As Roderick Ferguson shows, the initiative was met with vehement opposition and the widespread racist belief that this influx of students of color would dilute the quality of education. Mainstream media and journalism pathologized these students as “deprived, disadvantaged, former or current drug addicts, unwed mothers, ghetto residents, fatherless[ds3],” “untrained monkeys, and lions caged in a zoo[ds4].” [CJN5][ds6]And much of this dehumanizing rhetoric came from within the CUNY professoriate, especially in the humanities. Open Admissions, according to the chair of the City College English Department, is “how you kill a college.”

At a time when faculty were accusing these democratizing initiatives of killing higher education and lowering academic standards, a number of eminent writers were lining up at the door to teach in these classrooms. These teacher-poets, along with figures like Addison Gayle, Barbara Christian, David Henderson, and Mina Shaughnessy, understood that many of these students came from underfunded schools that were left out of the city’s Progressive era education reforms. They understood that students’ unpreparedness was the product of racist institutions, discrimination, underemployment, and poverty, and not individual deficiencies. Together they
formed an insurrectionary pedagogical milieu committed to the success of working class students, first-generation students, and students of color.

At this point, I am overwhelmed by the number of stories I want to tell you. I want to tell you how Bambara was tasked with teaching a remedial summer writing course that would prepare students to assimilate into the existing curriculum, but instead she challenged them to design their own course and equipped them with the tools to reinvent the university. I want to tell you about how Lorde assigned daily journals and collaborative projects to teach students to locate their lives in relation to long histories of institutional injustice. I want to tell you about Rich’s insistence that her university did not need a new, highly exclusive MFA program but desperately needed to offer a master’s in creative teaching in order to address the nation’s devastating conditions of educational inequality.

But in the interest of time, I will focus on just one example: the praxis of publishing student writing. While these anthologies may be familiar to scholars of African American literature and women’s studies, today, I want to focus on the little-discussed fact that all of these relatively well known anthologies included student writing.  
In fact, much of the writing in these collections emerged from the courses Jordan, Lorde, and Bambara taught at Tougaloo College, City College, Rutgers Livingston, and in less formal spaces, like weekend writing workshops. Instead of submitting writing solely to be read by the instructor, they organized their courses around the production of texts that could circulate in the world beyond the classroom.

For example, The Voice of the Children is a poetry collection authored entirely by students in Jordan’s weekend writing workshops and published in 1970.
In this collection, the young authors, ranging in age from twelve to fourteen, address the offensive and inaccurate stereotypes of illiterate “ghetto” children of color that were circulating in mainstream media in the late 1960s. Journalists regularly described these children as “silent creatures…[who] didn’t know the names of things, didn’t know that things had names, didn’t even know their own names.”

And yet, in just the first few pages of The Voice of the Children the young authors respond to prompts such as “what would you do if you were president?” with trenchant critiques of ghetto stereotypes, settler colonialism, U.S. imperialism, and patriarchy, made all the more powerful when we consider that their average age was thirteen. In the opening prose poem, fourteen-year-old Vanessa Howard theorizes the power of stereotypes to reduce the complexity of individuals:
Nine out of ten times when a person hears the word ‘ghetto’ they think of Black people first of all...Ghetto has become a definition meaning Black, garbage, slum areas... I think they put all Black people in a box marked ‘ghetto’ which leaves them having no identity.  They should let Black people be seen for themselves, not as one reflection on all.
By teaching her students that they were authors with important things to say, Jordan directly challenged the ways mainstream media pathologized working class students of color as deprived, disadvantaged, unruly bodies in need of discipline.

I read these anthologies as the enactment of a social justice pedagogy developed by these teacher-poets. In contrast to the top-down construction of traditional anthologies, which are typically produced for but not by students in the classroom, Jordan, Lorde, and Bambara acted on a conviction that authorship — the power to move people through language — is widely distributed despite racist and patriarchal institutions that privilege the voices of a narrow, white male elite. The authors they worked with were low-income, women with families to support, people of color, and often students (some as young as 9) and the editorial labor that went into these collections ranged from convincing publishers that these authors had something important to say to convincing the authors themselves.

As educator-editors, they put in countless uncompensated hours corresponding with publishers, negotiating contracts, and organizing publicity events. They did so because they understood the multifaceted impact these anthologies could make in people’s lives. These publications helped students understand the power of their voices and share survival strategies across the partitioning walls of classrooms and institutions. They addressed the racism of both the literary publishing industry and academia and called out to collectives of readers who had previously been ignored by publishers.

These anthologies were part of a grassroots movement for pedagogical, cultural, and social change that emerged not from top-down decisions by school boards, but led by writers and teachers embedded in city classrooms, who witnessed the pernicious gaps among existing curricula, the abundance of Black poetry, and the experiences of students’ lives. In doing so, they drew on a long history of Black self-publishing, which was central to both the Harlem Renaissance and the Black Arts Movement. And it was from these experiences of trying to publish their and their students’ writing that Kitchen Table: Woman of Color Press was born.

Publishing student writing would become a central component of Jordan’s pedagogy for years to come, most notably in her Poetry for the People program at U.C. Berkeley in the 1990s, where she trained hundreds of students to write, publish, and perform their poetry and to become educators who would go out into community centers, homeless shelters, K-12 schools, and churches to teach others to write and publish poetry. Taking advantage of campus resources, Jordan insisted in students’ involvement not just in the co-creation of their classroom, but in the publication process: editing, proofing, binding, budgeting, distribution, and marketing. Reflecting on a course that concluded with a collaboratively-authored anthology, Jordan notes that “the class was producing its own literature: A literature reflecting the ideas and dreams and memories of the actual young Americans at work” (“Merit Review”).

But anthologies are just one example of the collaborative, project-based, multimodal and public pedagogy developed by these teacher-poets. Rather than dictating the forms their final projects should take, Bambara often asked students to find or invent a form that would best tell the story of their learning and share these lessons with a public audience beyond the classroom. “Do not write term papers for me,” Bambara told students, “Make sure they are useful for somebody else as well,” suggesting forms such as a collaborative annotated bibliography, performance art, a short story (for radio or TV), a magazine, puppet theater, a street theater performance, a slide show, or a picture book.

The one requirement was that it “can be shared with others.” Some examples of Jordan’s collaborative projects include a “Wrath Rally” and letter writing campaign against poverty in Biafra, organized by students in her Upward Bound Class, dramatic radio productions on children’s welfare and racial justice in South Central Los Angeles, and A Revolutionary Blueprint, a collection of reading lists, syllabi, poetry, and activities that turned the lessons of Poetry for the People into a “how to guide” for others interested in democratizing poetry. Through these assignments, these teacher-poets taught students that their voices, stories, and actions mattered for social change; in short, that each student, in Jordan’s words, “has much to teach America."

As educators, we are accustomed to thinking about how our courses can be useful to students, but these teacher-poets urge us to consider how classrooms can also become useful to the world beyond its walls. Through this pedagogy, they taught students an activist way of being in the world, in which we do not sit idly by, but confront our complicity in, and therefore our abilities to address, problems in society. They believed that everyone has something to contribute to the production of a more just, equitable, and pleasurable world, and that classrooms were one site for discovering what that might entail. Often, this took the form of getting better poems and better books into the hands of readers who needed them. Through these assignments, they showed students their collective social power that neoliberal institutions cover over: how our learning, knowledge, writing, research, and art provide opportunities to fight for change.

In a moment when conservative politicians like Ronald Reagan were demonizing activist students and calling art education an “intellectual luxury,” these teacher-poets were part of a groundswell pedagogical movement of educators who understood an education in language as a crucial skill for navigating and transforming the world. Best articulated by Audre Lorde, the study of language and literature —  in community college, Open Admissions, and remedial writing classrooms; in community centers; in weekend workshops; and around the kitchen table —  was never understood as a “luxury,” but as a way of improving “the quality of light by which we scrutinize our lives” (36[CJN7][ds8]), a necessary undertaking for those rendered vulnerable by the social order.

What emerges from this genealogy is a humanistic praxis that is continually responsive to material conditions of inequality, what I am calling “the indispensable humanities.” The indispensable humanities interrogate how resources are unevenly distributed along embodied axes of race, class, gender, and sexuality, and the roles that language, literature, education, and culture play in perpetuating and altering these conditions.

By way of a conclusion, I want to offer some provisional hypotheses/answers to this panel’s question.

1. Critical university studies puts a name on something that activists, intellectuals, and scholars of African American studies, women’s studies, and ethnic studies have been doing for decades and even centuries. And so, a worthwhile project for critical university studies might be to locate our work within an insurgent genealogy that includes not only these-teacher poets but also figures like W.E.B. DuBois, Anna Julia Cooper, Fanny Jackson Coppin, Mary Church Terrell, Septima Clark, Ericka Huggins, and Barbara Christian. In doing so, we might better understand our contemporary moment as the product of much longer and ongoing struggles for educational justice.
 2. Recent work in critical university studies has built on the legacy of these figures, analyzing how higher education often reproduces the conditions of inequality it claims to challenge, especially through longstanding violence against people of color. While these teacher-poets were, in Moten and Harney’s terms, “in but not of” the university, they also acknowledged how higher education remains one of the most viable paths towards the modest comforts of a middle-class life, especially for students from working-class backgrounds, and how absconding can be too risky for those without an economic security net. Instead, they used their knowledge of their complicity within unjust institutions to hold institutions accountable, redistribute educational resources, and make them more responsive to diverse communities.

3. With my research, I aim to position these teacher-poets as leaders of pedagogical, institutional, and social change, whose work points to the importance of fighting on all of these different fronts: from the page, to the classroom, to the streets. In our current moment, one in which racism operates more insidiously (for instance, as Sara Ahmed shows, through the proliferation of diversity discourses), I’m interested in how these educators taught students both to navigate conditions of structural inequality and to imagine and build better alternatives. In particular, their work reminds us that many contemporary student-centered pedagogies emerged in relation to the critiques of power issued by the feminist, antiracist, and anti-imperial social movements of the late 1960s. Their work demonstrates how our pedagogies can contribute to larger struggles for social justice, even from within conservative, hostile, neoliberal institutions (what Alexis Pauline Gumbs calls “counter-poetic” pedagogy). My aim is not necessarily to say that contemporary educators should do these exact things (although I’ve had a lot of fun trying) but to make available different ways of thinking about our classrooms as sites of social change, especially in relation to Black Lives Matter, the #MeToo movement, and other movements for social justice.

And so I’ll leave you with June Jordan’s question: “how will the American university teach otherwise?”

Posted by Chris Newfield | Comments: 5

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Thursday, January 10, 2019
On the face of it the answer is yes.  New governor Newsom has proposed 6.9 percent and 8.0 percent increases for the University of California and Cal State systems respectively.  This is more than double the typical Jerry Brown increase in a normal year.

The tone of the overall budget is marked by its "California Dream" preface and references to "fresh starts and new beginnings" and various kinds of glory. Its tag line is "California for All."  Expenditures are up 4% over Brown's last budget, with health, education, and antipoverty programs doing well.  I don't have time to check, but I think the California higher education sector has not gotten an increase greater than the budget average since Gov. Gray Davis around 2000, or maybe George Deukmejian Jr. in the 1980s.

The change in tone is dramatic: Newsom is swinging for a pro-immigration Green New Deal mixed with Gov Pat Brown cum George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life.  I'll take it.  The Brown years were a drag and a grind. Let's blow the doors off and actually get somewhere.

The good news for UC's budget includes basic stuff like acknowledgement that UC's underfunded enrollment went up 19.2 percent from 2010 to 2017, and that additional students need additional money.  Brown liked unfunded enrollment, which got us results like this at UC Riverside.
Newsom's budget also identifies and then increases funding to address critical student issues: hunger and homelessness, undocumented status, mental health challenges, and inadequate advising, among others (49-50).    It also gives $138 million in one-time funding for deferred maintenance, which is more than UCOP's ask.   All this is good news.

But after years of underfunding, the budget also includes shortfalls and bad habits. I'll sort these into four clouds and two traps.

The clouds:
 First, here's the UC budget request for 2019-20 from the Regents meeting in November 2018. 

The state portion of the request (excluding one-time deferred maintenance) is $422.6 million.  Newsom's proposed $240 million is about 57 percent of that total.  (And Note that $40 million of the $240 million is earmarked for graduate medical education).  

Second, Newsom makes the increase contingent on no tuition increase.  I'm in favor--but with state funding to compensate.  Low, flat tuition was great during the boom years that ended during Jerry Brown's first terms in the 1970s. UC extended those higher "master plan" levels of funding by combining lower state funding growth with tuition increases.  This was the "Compact"formula of the mid-2000s under Arnold Schwarzenegger.  But it hasn't maintained quality during years or decades of 2-4 percent increases that just match inflation in the wake of large state cuts.

If UC is going to rely on public rather than private revenue increases, then these will need to be consistently large (in the 10, 12, 16 percent range).  (This overview post provides history and a rebuttal to the claim that UC got fat off tuition increases. Or see the first chart here for UCOP's use of those big numbers.)  Large state increases won't happen without a new public discourse about higher ed in California. That is, a financially healthy UC under flat-tuition Newsom depends on a  cultural shift toward public goods that is just getting started and could be reversed.

Third, Newsom continues Brown's tradition of funding other education retirement plans but not UC's.  As CUCFA's Executive Director Eric Hays points out,
 Newsom is also paying down $3 billion of PERS debt (that currently has $59 billion in unfunded liabilities) and $2.9 billion (over 3 years) of STRS debt (that currently has $104 billion in unfunded liability).  And the state will use Prop 98 money to fund an addition $3 billion (one year) payment into STRS on behalf of the school districts. But Newsom is notably not making a similar payment to help pay down UCRS debt (continuing the state's disparate treatment of UCRS).
This will means a further tens of millions per year out of UC operating funds and a big vulnerability in negotiations.

Fourth, buildings new and old:  the money for deferred maintenance is small relative to the problem, and also one-time.  And the state is not restarting funding for capital projects.  That produces charts like this, for UC Berkeley.

In 2010, the state stopped issuing General Obligation bonds whose proceeds went to UC to build infrastructure.  "Garamendi" Lease Revenue bonds were a kind of stopgap, in that bond repayments were to be made from indirect cost recovery and lease payments rather than from a campus's general funds.  In practice, the campus did cover quite a bit of these bonds from general funds, but in any case they are gone too. "AB 94 Funding" is a euphemism that refers to the legislation that allowed campuses to borrow and pay for buildings with their own money.   Houston, we have a problem. Teaching and research need buildings, and no general revenue source for them.  (No don't say donors!)

Enough of the clouds.  Let's look at the traps.

One is the reduction of higher education to workforce development.  I recently wrote a piece on the seven main fallacies of this vision of colleges and universities, and Newsom is bringing them to life.  One issue is that poor students and students of color are as entitled to personal development and deep learning as wealthy ones; shunting them into job training colleges is discriminatory.  Another is that workforce development favors simple over complex, immediate over long-term, and known over unknown capabilities. These biases lowers educational quality in relation to social needs.  

UCOP loves the workforce argument, and has hitched its funding to a promise to provide 200,000 additional bachelor's degrees to state businesses in the 2020s.  Newsom loves it even more, and has doubled down. Here's the preamble to the Higher Education budget text:   
Higher education is central to training and developing the skilled workforce needed for the state to meet its ever-changing workforce needs and is a core pathway for Californians to improve their upward economic mobility. If colleges and universities are to remain engines of economic mobility, they must evolve along with the state's changing student population. They must provide programs that train for the skills needed not only for today, but for the future economy.
Strengthening the relationship between higher education, workforce development programs and employers will be a key focus of the Administration. The Administration will work to promote affordability, access, and efficiency in higher education.
The three pillars of public higher ed are actually affordability, access, and quality.  That last is mass quality.  It involves quite a bit of equality: students at Cal State Northridge, UC Irvine, Occidental College, and Stanford University should get learning of quality similar enough to avoid caste sorting.

In contrast, efficiency is easiest to get with fewer courses, no prerequisites, easier grading, less instructor response, and more batch processing.  Efficiency is best achieved by lowering quality-- including in the areas of complicated sociocultural knowledge that are going to make the difference in the future.

Trap two: lowered expectations.  The Jerry Brown legacy in higher ed is regression to the mean.  California state systems that had been the models for everyone became more average. Of course the people in these systems fought against that, but we all had to "chose our battles" and we have given up on quite a bit.

Deferred maintenance is a crucial example.  UC is starting to get units of $100 million per year to deal with this.  But the actual need is $3.2 -$5 billion (page 5), and this is not new capital projects (which are about $3 billion a year) but just fixing the existing stuff.  At this rate, it will take between 30 and 50 years to make the repairs we need today.  When an example comes up--like 4 years without meaningful heat in my building at UCSB--people chuckle or shrug and move on.  The unacceptable slowly becomes acceptable, and the new normal is decline.

Newsom seems to hate decline and love ambition.   California higher ed should give it to him.
Posted by Chris Newfield | Comments: 3

Monday, December 31, 2018

Monday, December 31, 2018
2018 carried on with 2017, and on the big themes needs no separate higher ed news roundup.  We faced our POTUS of infinite need, who continued to obliterate attention to all issues other than himself, though there has been improvement in the containment structures. 

Since the issues are a disordered West, and a world not extending the mass capabilities required to defeat permanent war and climate chaos, that's not nearly good enough.

When people like Dave Berry looked, they did find a lot of post-2017 stuff in the world at large, but it wasn't encouraging.  Amazing things happened: American life expectancy fell.  But my topic here is some subtler improvements.  One change was that by lying at three times the rate of 2017, POTUS made his lying three times less efficient.

On higher ed, Robert Kelchen has a good 2018 top 10 list.  I also had a good one in 2016, when I identified 8 issues that in 2018 were still running rampant and not yet fully addressed.  Later, at the end of 2017, I was thinking mostly of the power of the public-good model in dealing with the Thomas fire.  The vast firefighting apparatus showed nonmarket public capabilities spreading benefits far and wide.  I'm still inspired by it. 

There were also some forms of emerging awareness in 2018.

Public Access to Public Knowledge.   The University of California is leading a fight for cheaper subscriptions to Elsevier's journals, which has become a contest with its overall business model.  (Lisa Krieger had a good overview in the Mercury-News.) Elsevier and its handful of peers generate 30-40% margins by getting publicly-funded research results for free, also getting the researchers' labor and expertise for free, changing those researchers a publication fee (in many cases even on the subscription model), and then charging their libraries for access to the knowledge created by their research. 

Scientific publishing has become a classic example of privatization as as a mechanism for letting private entities pocket public subsidies, and, in this case, also limit or reduce the circulation of knowledge. The important features of this year's fight are, (1) the university openly pressing for public-good standards; and (2) its officials enlisting faculty in a common battle.  May both continue in 2019.

Thinking STEM and non-STEM graduates together as advanced knowledge workers.  We normally imagine the "crisis of the humanities" in contrast to the assumed well-being of science, but this is not the institutional case.

The single most shocking higher ed piece I read this year was called "Changing demographics of scientific careers."  The authors used a "survival model" to quantify the "half-life" of a scientific career in 3 selected fields.  I knew that scarcity of grants and tenure-track jobs was hurting younger STEM researchers, as an even more acute scarcity has done the same in the arts, humanities, and qualitative social sciences (SASH). But I didn't know about the academic attrition.
The time over which half of the cohort has left the field has shortened from 35 years in the 1960s to only 5 years in the 2010s. In addition, we find a rapid rise (from 25 to 60% since the 1960s) of a group of scientists who spend their entire career only as supporting authors without having led a publication.
Both of these changes are mindboggling. 
The authors explain this shift as an effect of "team science," in which large, complex research groups need large numbers specialists. Team science generates employment-- but not the lead authorship on which research careers depend.  That doesn't quite explain the finding, which a reduction of a disciplinary cohort's half life from 35 to 5 years.  

I realize most of those STEM researches get industry jobs--or are doing quant modeling in investment banks.  But they are nonetheless lost to basic scientific research.  I'm struck by the incredible waste of intellectual capability, in which half the people a field trains are gone in five years time.  I also note that like the humanities, STEM has developed a two-track faculty problem, in which PIs and permatemps get the same educations but work in separate and unequal careers.  Science postdocs aren't exactly "starving artists," but assuming these 3 fields aren't exceptions, STEM is now losing or degrading massive amounts of its own brainpower.  The same thing is happening with musicians, journalists, writers, actors, and other high-skill workers now constantly trying to do SASH brainwork in the face of precarity or marginality or poverty or both.  The better salaries in STEM industry shouldn't blind us to the thwarting of intellectual desire and contribution.

Academic employment needs to be fixed by government and industry.  Government needs to fund research positions, and industry needs to pay more taxes for long-term knowledge.  These 2018 findings could help both along along.

Public Value of Research. 2018 brought wider awareness of financial conflicts of interest in big money science, especially medical science (here's one NYT roundup).  Science has been victimized by the market ideology of the post-Reagan period, which posits that private market incentives always increase efficiency of outputs, including research outputs.  In reality, financial goals can distort, misdirect, suppress, or block research. 

In 2016, the Chroncle of Higher Education profiled Marc Edwards, a scientist who had offered independent analysis of water quality to Flint when a city manager had toxified Flint's drinking water to save money. The plot thickened in this followup piece, in which a war of FOIAs continues to raise public-good issues about research.
In 2018, we took a couple more steps into a wider policy discussion. It goes beyond the old time solution of disclosing and managing conflicts of interest to eliminating them. This would happen in part by 1) the increased public funding science whose results are 2) fed mainly into a public domain pipeline rather than licensed directly to the public sector.  There are plenty of new ideas out there (Gerald Barnett is one such fountainhead), and they need to be tried out this coming year. 

The return of arts and humanites (SASH).  In 2018, the Chronicle Review singlhandedly published all the "decline of the humanities" articles that were dreampt of in America.  The supply is now exhausted.  Boycott any retreads you see in 2019.
Peak liberal arts phobia appeared in the Wisconsin-Stevens Point model of turning humanities departments into service units for applied STEM and business majors.  Translating a solid regional university into a vocational center is political and budgetary suicide, as continuing UW austerity in 2019 will show.  More generally, more technical training won't solve any of the world's important problems.  Climate inaction, rising authoritarianism, military destruction, transphobia, starved public services, health care turmoil, toxic masculinity, opioid addiction, educational mediocrity, forever wars--every single challenge the planet faces requires combined technical and sociocultural knowledge.  Universities should watch Stevens Point's own goal and run in the opposite direction. 

Decolonizing the university.  In December, we ran two pieces on the university's colonial roots and impacts (Dylan Rodriguez; Anneeth Kaur Hundle and Ma Vang). What would actual decolonization look like?  

One literal definition would be the university version of giving valuable concessions back to their indigenous forbears--like returning the Yosemite concessions, now held by Aramark, to the descendants of Ahwanheechee Miwoks).  

Short of that, universities would systematically replace their overwhelmingly white senior management. I tend to focus on resources. Decolonization would mean that UC campuses like Merced and Riverside, which educate more underrepresented and/or disadvantaged students, would have more per-student resources, not less.  The same goes on a national level-- we would flip our upside-down funding model, in which the students most shortchanged in K-12 have the fewest higher ed resources, and the most lavishly educated through high school get places with the most.  

Decolonization also means fixing extreme funding inequalities between divisions and departments, in which fields like sociology and ethnic studies, which address vital social problems while serving higher shares of students of color, have a fraction of the resources awarded to others.  You can look forward to more research on this in the year to come.
Many thanks for reading this year, and happy 2019!

Posted by Chris Newfield | Comments: 3

Monday, December 17, 2018

Monday, December 17, 2018

Reflections on the 150th Anniversary Symposium of the University of California Academic Senate, Part I, by Anneeth Kaur Hundle (Asst. Prof. of Anthropology) and Ma Vang (Asst. Prof. of Ethnic Studies & History), UC Merced. Photo courtesy of Merced Prodigy

Arrival in Oakland

We felt anxious as we entered the cocktail reception that preceded the keynote and first panel of the symposium and celebration. Located in a large hall of the iconic Waterfront Hotel on Jack London Square in Oakland, we felt like out-of-town infiltrators, from the seemingly otherworldly UC Merced of the San Joaquin/Central Valley and rural California. We felt out of time and place in the almost entirely white space of senior UC Academic Senate leadership, and marked by our generational, racialized, gendered, and cultural differences.  To the right of the entrance was a bar, and most of the attendees had gathered around it, engaged in exuberant conversation as they sipped on cocktails and greeted each other like old pals. People turned to look at us with friendly smiles and also quizzical looks of non-recognition--they did not know who we were and what we might be doing there.

A little nervous but determined, we maneuvered through the crowded entrance to look for a seat. We spotted our fellow panelists and moderator already seated at a table, and upon their invitation, took our seats at the table. Exchanging glances wrought from friendship and solidarity, we thought a drink or two might be in order to make it through the night. We worked our way through the crowd back to the entrance and bar.

The feelings of nonbelonging lingered through the evening’s panel and those of the next day. To be clear, we also belonged at the symposium because we are UC faculty and, at the suggestion of one of our senior faculty mentors at UC Merced, were invited to present a talk for the 150th anniversary of the UC Academic Senate based on our perspectives as junior faculty at UC Merced. However, we also felt that we were token faculty of color in the exclusive space of senior Academic Senate leaders. We were not sure if our visible phenotypical presentation of “difference” as faculty from UC Merced was conflated with or would even erase our substantive, intellectual contributions about our experiences of UC Merced as a neoliberal university. Were we there as objects to represent diversity or were we there to speak as subjects of history about the UC system?
Thinking the “Twenty-First Century Neoliberal Research University”

Our talk at the anniversary symposium was based on a longer, collaborative paper that we co-wrote together, alongside UCM student contributions, which is now in press in the journal Critical Ethnic Studies and which provides an analysis of UC Merced as an exceptional university and institution in the UC system because of its origins, development, and expansion in the context of neoliberal conditionality specific to the Californian and U.S. context from the late 1980s onwards. Our mode of celebrating the 150th anniversary of the UC “multiversity” (to use former President of the UC Clark Kerr’s phrase) and the academic senate was to think about the UC’s mission to uphold public values, connect to larger civic issues and social problems, and envision a democratic polity. Importantly, we did not speak from administrative, or technocratic-managerial perspectives, but as professors and teachers who are deeply invested in the stated public mission of the UC, and who must provide our students with intellectual toolkits to understand their society and circumstances. Thus, our talk was positioned in relation to the everyday struggles of navigating UC Merced and the UC system as junior scholars and researchers, teachers, and mentors for minoritized/racialized and working class students.

Our mode of celebrating the 150th anniversary of the UC Academic Senate began by stating student demands that were expressed at the 2016 celebration and groundbreaking of the UC Merced’s 2020 Project, the next phase of UCM’s campus expansion.

UPRISE (Uprising People Power to Resolve Issues of Space and Equity) is a graduate and undergraduate student coalition at UC Merced, largely led by queer women of color, that demanded the redistribution of university resources for student needs as well as the recognition of their humanity, dignity, and personhood on campus. The student coalition called for cultural and other student centers, increased funding for mental health services, better undergraduate student recruitment and retention, resources for the critical race and ethnic studies program, the diversification of the faculty, and the de-militarization of the campus.

Foregrounding campus structural inequality and the student activism of students of color in our lecture, we argued that UC Merced enacts neoliberal projects by retooling concepts and ideals central to historical and liberal-humanist visions of the University of California--projects such as “diversity,” “access,” “equity,” and “public”--to put them in line with neoliberal campus expansion initiatives. In mobilizing these concepts, rooted in a model of the UC informed by the 1960s-era Master Plan for Higher Education, we addressed how the work of late capitalist inequality is made invisible and normalized in the day to day workings of UC Merced.

We also addressed neoliberal processes as a relationship between late liberal capitalism and multicultural diversity discourses, suggesting that the university deploys “diversity speak” as a technology of governance and mode of managing difference and students’ substantive demands for racial and economic justice through what we define as top-down “neoliberal solidarity projects” (i.e. the celebration of “first-generation” identity etc.)

Finally, we explored the relational politics and practices among staff, faculty, and students of color to comprise what we describe as “nonaligned solidarities in formation”--solidarities that inform a set of strategies of both “playing along” and resisting the university’s neoliberal governance and management of its subjects. Such solidarities are often fractious, messy, and precarious, but they reveal a sense of community and belonging to UCM, as well as a bottom-up vision for a just university that functions to actually serves its students, faculty and staff of color, and communities of California’s Central Valley.

Our intention was to make visible our experiences, those of our students, and both the neoliberal development and governance of UC Merced to showcase the capitalist contradictions of the UC system (much of which is now majority students of color, and which features growing structural inequality) and to build a necessary link between the ongoing labor of the UC Academic Senate’s responsibility to supervise the academic mission of the system and the reality of faculty and student of color needs.

We did this knowing that we had yet to experience sitting on higher level, system-wide Academic Senate committees, and knowing full well that the Academic Senate’s mandate of democratic and decentralized governance exists to represent our needs and demands in lieu of being formally unionized faculty. Our discussion of UC Merced was not meant to parochialize or marginalize the campus as an anomaly, as many in the UC system continue to see it, but rather to suggest that our racialized and gendered experiences, alongside the extraction of our labor, speaks to a larger problem about the UC system as a “neoliberal multiversity.”

We hoped that those in attendance understood that our commitment to the new campus, and to a region of California where people from our own communities (Hmong and Punjabi Sikh) live, requires a serious critique of the contradictions of building a new university that celebrates tokenized and phenotypical diversity, yet does less to direct resources towards understanding the complexity of student personhoods and livelihoods in the region.

For instance, we are concerned about the market-driven instrumentality of educational priorities that result in the divestment of critical humanities education, critical race and ethnic studies, and globally-informed coursework, including language courses, that speak to the realities of student life stories and non-Western forms of knowledge. We wanted to stimulate serious conversations about how the dilemma of neoliberal development and governance at UCM is shaping the direction of the UC. Indeed, public discourse about UC Merced touts it as the “future of the University of California" based upon the high percentage, 53%, of Latinx students. (UC Berkeley and UCLA have 13% and 21% Latinx student populations respectively.) This is what we mean by "neoliberal diversity" logic" UCM’s development and expansion depends on the visible appearance of Brown and Black bodies on our campus, while its diversity discourses and ideologies undermine more substantive financial investment for the hiring of under-representative Latinx faculty and faculty who specialize in course-work relevant to Latinx students.

Thus, as public funds for higher education dwindle, we wonder, are UCM's struggles indeed the future of the University of California system? How would the Academic Senate address our concerns, and how could we work to re-invigorate the Senate with a new sense of urgency and creativity, working towards collective goals of securing public investment, defending the public mission of the UC system, and committing to hiring faculty of color to help educate the next generation of students of color in the UC system?

We presented our talk on the final panel of the day, and at that point, many important guests at the symposium, including UC system President Janet Napolitano and Provost Michael T. Brown, had already left. We had not pre-circulated our talk, and so the discussants on the panel provided commentary that was independent of the talk. Unfortunately, there was no additional time for a question and answer period, which limited intellectual engagement with the talk's ideas, beyond several questions that came from audience members after the symposium was over for the day.

Our overall sense was that we both visibly represented the abstract notion of “diversity” of the UC system, and also provided “raw material” or “data” about the day-to-day experiences of junior faculty and students of color at UCM. Thus the content of our talk, particularly its critical analysis of neoliberal diversity, was relegated to the margins of the intellectual conversations at the symposium, rather than helping to formulate the constitutive core of conversations by and about the Academic Senate.

In the end, it wasn’t that those in attendance did not understand the concerns we raised. It seemed that they valued our perspective of critical disruption and understood it to be a part of the historical tradition of the UC. Yet the critical substance of our talk was still co-opted into a celebratory narrative about the UC as an institution that values diversity and the public good. The logic of this narrative prioritized the ways in which the UC had successfully fulfilled its mission of administrative and managerial planning to establish and open UC Merced.

We don’t discount the opportunities that UCM has afforded us as tenure-track faculty in a highly precarious job market, or the important ways it has provided and expanded access to higher education for undergraduate students from California. However, we continue to worry about the quality of that educational access.  We are worried about high lecturer to tenure-track faculty ratios.  For example, in Fall 2018, the proportion of contingent to ladder-rank UCM faculty was 143 to 249,  meaning that over 1/3rd of the UCM faculty are off the tenure track.

We are worried too about over-worked faculty and staff, and the lack of additional tutoring and mentoring services for first-generation, poor and working students.  We are worried about insufficient numbers of critical humanities course offerings, and of faculty of color who can serve as mentors for the students who take them.  "Trickle-down economics” had revealed to us the ways in which ideological and increasingly fictive notions of the universalized public university and its liberal-humanistic imperatives mask late liberal capitalist university development and its negative ramifications for its racialized and gendered subjects.

In the end, we left the conference reeling from the burdensome weight of the universalist, liberal-humanist tradition of the University of California, established in 1868.  We will address this issue in a future post.
Posted by Chris Newfield | Comments: 1

Friday, November 30, 2018

Friday, November 30, 2018
Comments from the 150th Anniversary Symposium of the University of California Academic Senate, Oakland, California, October 27, 2018, 
by Dylan Rodríguez, Chair of the UC Riverside Academic Senate, Professor, Department of Media and Cultural Studies
[Photo: Gen. David Barrows, Armistice Day, 1926, courtesy of FoundSF.]

Let us reconsider the full historical context of the University of California’s founding moment and the context in which it coined its motto, “Fiat Lux.”  A brief reflection on the UC’s political, geographic, and historical conditions of possibility may offer some vital complexity and depth to recent college- and university-based discourses on free speech and academic freedom, while raising deeper questions about the notions of “speech” and “freedom” in-and-of-themselves.

The founding of the University of California represents a particular confrontation between Western Euroamerican modernity and the high point of Manifest Destiny—a nation-building cultural, political, and military regime that is inseparable from the UC’s academic and juridical infrastructure.  During this extended period, the UC’s founding faculty and administrators were engaged in a variety of global colonial projects, which is to say racial colonial projects, including the US conquest and protracted colonial governance of the Philippines.

As a Ph.D. student at UC Berkeley, i spent a lot of time in a building named after David Barrows, President of the University of California from 1919-1923.  Barrows had an interest in California Indians, particularly the Cahuilla Tribe, the topic of his Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Chicago (where else?).  Before he became the UC president, Barrows played a pivotal role in the US colonization of the Philippines, during which the US military was engaged in a genocidal military campaign to liquidate and neutralize indigenous resistance to colonial occupation throughout the archipelago.  As people and ecologies were destroyed, burned, and displaced, Barrows accepted an appointment as Chief of the “Bureau of Non-Christian Tribes of the Philippine Islands.”  I imagine that if he were awakened from his mortal slumber, President Barrows might concede that the conditions of his own “academic freedom,” of his freedom to speak and his “freedom of speech,” were not only entangled in but constituted by his lifelong engagements with projects of colonial dominance, from the Cahuilla to the “non-Christian” Philippine tribes.  “Fiat Lux” indeed.

Across these and other historical political geographies of racial-colonial dominance, modern law, rights, and disciplinary academic knowledges affirm white life’s ascendancy over all other life.  This has been the historical, if generally tacit mission statement of the modern university, including the University of California.  War against other life, culture, ecology, and sociality is the genesis of law, rights, and university epistemologies in this instance, structuring the “civility” and the “freedom” that disciplines those who are on the historical margins of that civil society, the underside of the thing called Civilization.

In this sense, it is horrifically appropriate that so many of us engaged in the counter-knowledge productions of critical ethnic studies, queer studies, gender and feminist studies, and decolonial studies have encountered David Barrows’ bronze bust in that building at UC Berkeley.  His visage reminds us that the intellectual space and infrastructure to engage in such counter-knowledge production is the outcome of intense, rigorous, collective social movement that critically extends the entitlements of academic freedom while confronting the ways in which the institutional stability constructed around the edifices of academic freedom is actively policed.

Allow me to turn to the fact of policing in the second half of my reflections on this 150th anniversary.

A spectacle of police violence at UC Davis on November 18, 2011 catalyzed a national and international response, fixated on the vulnerable bodies of young white people engaged in an act of civil disobedience. (With all due respect to the people of color who were also in the line of fire at Davis, my contention is that their bodies were not the ones with which the national and international response was primarily concerned, nor was their vulnerability centrally responsible for inciting this global outrage in the first place.)  Largely displaced by the righteous outcry over the UC Davis police’s pepper spraying of students in November 2011 was a more massive and militarized display of police force/violence that occurred at my home campus of UC Riverside two months later, on January 19, 2012.

On this day, UCR students were shot with “less than lethal” police pellets during protests of tuition/fee increases at a meeting of the UC Regents.  (Here i will gently suggest that we modify our language to acknowledge that these actions might be more comprehensively described as “debt protests.”)  In anticipation of this student-led demonstration, police were mobilized from every UC campus other than Davis and Merced, supplemented by officers from the City of Riverside Police Department and the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.  Police helicopters periodically circled over the protest, while officers appeared to assume sniper positions at strategic high points on several campus buildings.  The climate was thick with police presence, and the pageantry of political intimidation represented a massive show of force against the students, faculty, staff, and ordinary people who populated the crowd.
Riot police confronting student protest at UC Regents meeting, UC Riverside, January 19, 2012 (photo courtesy of the author)

This police presence starkly contrasted with the protest’s well-disciplined adherence to tactics of “nonviolence.” (By way of definition, i do not consider loud chants, intense and vitriolic rhetorics of protest, militant refusal to disperse an alleged “unlawful assembly” or sit-down blockades to constitute “violence”; further, even if one wishes to perform the academic gymnastics of labeling such activities as forms of discursive, symbolic, existential, and/or immanent violence, they are not of a kind remotely comparable to the aforementioned marshaling of legitimated state violence.) For reasons i have explained elsewhere, we should not be surprised that UC Riverside’s scene of police repression—images of which were easily accessible via e-mail listservs, public YouTube videos, Facebook photos, and the like—did not attract remotely the kind of attention and righteous reaction as did the incident at UC Davis.

There is something structurally white supremacist about how expressions of outrage and institutional shaming over the UC Davis police spectacle seemed to be fueled by an overidentification with (historically white) university campuses as places of presumed innocence, wherein enrolled and employed (white) bodies are presumed to presume innocence.  On the other hand, UC Riverside students generally signify (and biographically reflect) the normalized policing and criminalization of Black, Native, and Brown people—young and old, urban and rural, transgender, queer, and straight.  Such bodies—such people—are incapable of extracting the consensus of liberal outrage surrounding (and ultimately protecting) the repressive university policing of white, able-bodied college youth.  Thus, while all campus policing is fundamentally “political,” only a select few of its most acute forms are addressed as such.

There is a punchline to this story that takes place in a former UCR Chancellor’s living room…

During this period, Chancellor Tim White periodically invited groups of department chairs to his residence for friendly dinners, during which he engaged us in conversation about things we felt were important to the campus.  During the dinner i attended, a fellow departmental chair and i raised concerns over the heavy handedness of the police response to the nonviolent, student-led action of January 19.  (Other chairs seemed either unaware of this matter or uninterested in raising such criticisms of police violence and administrative complicity.)  After eating, the fellow chair and i sat with Chancellor White on his living room couch.  He looked us both in the eye and, in a most calm and reassuring tone, expressed sympathy with our concerns and informed us that he had taken pains to instruct the police to shoot the student protestors “below the knees.”  My colleague and i took turns staring at each other and the floor.  Not long thereafter, i watched Chancellor White shed crocodile tears over the financial hardships of a Black woman undergraduate on an episode of the reality show “Undercover Boss.”

I offer these reflections to deprovincialize and radically contextualize the concepts and jurisprudence of free speech and academic freedom beyond the institutional mythologies of “Fiat Lux.”  Allow me to conclude with a set of overlapping questions that may offer some productive reframing of our ongoing discussions:

  • Who are the assumptive subjects of “free speech” and “academic freedom?” 
  • How are these notions of liberty (particularly as they are inseparable from the jurisprudential regime that produces them as such) structured in relations of gender, race, sexual, and colonial dominance in the long historical and recurrent-present tense?
  • How are free speech and academic freedom actually inhabited by people whose speech and thought are constituted in relations of dominance, such that the underlying humanist allegation at the core of both terms is (perhaps radically) demystified and disrupted?
  • What forms of policing are martialed through the politics of free speech and academic freedom? 

While both "free speech" and "academic freedom" suggest discourses of liberty, i would argue that they cannot be separated from the densely historical, gendered racial-colonial logics that persistently claim to secure such “freedom” and “liberty” against lurking threats from what W.E.B. DuBois famously called “the darker peoples of the world.”
Posted by Chris Newfield | Comments: 2

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Wednesday, November 21, 2018
We've gotten dosed this past week with some prime time smugness about how we don't need to do anything much to help higher education.  First was one of my favorite data journalists, David Leonhardt, rejecting loan forgiveness in the New York Times. He wrote,  "The fatal flaw of universal student-debt cancellation is that it’s not, in fact, progressive. It mostly benefits the upper middle class. 'Education debt,' as Sandy Baum and Victoria Lee of the Urban Institute have written, 'is disproportionately concentrated among the well-off.' The highest-earning quarter of the population holds about half of all student debt, according to Baum and Lee. Which means that universal student debt cancellation would be a giant welfare program for the bourgeoisie."

Actually by American standards student debt isn't very concentrated.   And Leonhardt misses some major problems with "manageable" student debt that forgiveness would fix.

I drafted the list of problems that Leonhardt misses (below), and then stopped to meet with a UCSB senior whom I didn't know.  We talked about a book in my Detective Fiction course, Black Widow Wardrobe, and this student's account of the book was really good.  At the end of her analysis of the ambiguity of a key Mexican national mythology the novel uses, I said, "that's a great summary of this issue, and," I half-joked, "it's something you could continue to work on when you go to grad school."

"I want to teach," she said, "nothing is more important to me.  I don't think I can go to grad school though. I don't have the grades."

"Why?" I asked, surprised.  She seemed to learn completely and to forget nothing. "What's your GPA?"

"In the English major I have about a 2.4."

"That's ridiculous," I said, "that's obviously not the right GPA for you."

"Well," she said,  "I'm off academic probation at least.  I've been on it four times.  I have to work a lot to stay in school.  I had some help from family my first year, but they couldn't keep it up and told me my education was mine to pay for now.  I work 12 hours a week minimum, and then when there's a break in midterms or finals I work 20.  My father also has a new baby and I spent weekends this term helping his wife, who couldn't get around. I'm first generation college--my father and mother only finished middle school and are so happy I'm at UCSB.  It's really important that I give back to them.  I need to take care of them."

"It's none of my business," I said, "but you also need to take care of yourself in school. You need to get through this with the grades and the learning that will help you go on."

"I'm excited about what I'm learning," she replied.

"Does your GPA bother you?"

"It bothers me a lot.  I think about it all the time."

"Then how can we help you to work less? You don't want to because it means loans?"

"Yes.   That's what the probation advisors said to me --take loans so you can work less.  But I can't have any debt.  I see the job market and it isn't reliable enough for me to be sure that I can pay it back."

This went on for a while, with me trying to figure out how to save her GPA from her justified fear of debt, with a family that can at most send her $20 a month for groceries.  I failed.

"Well you have to do well in my class," I said cheerily.

"I want to.  But I couldn't turn in the midterm paper-- I had to go home."

She'd worked a lower-points alternative out with the TA, but that means she's heading for something like a 3.0 or less for my class too, where she has obviously mastered the key concepts.  I offered to advise a senior thesis so if she does well I can write her a good letter for the next phase.  She's thinking about it.

In spite of constant wishful thinking, there's no escape from the fact that student debt--in this case its desperate avoidance--is a major cause of "limited learning" and narrowed future possibilities.

The #RealCollege movement has shone a spotlight on the fact that a third of US college students face food and housing security issues.  Organizations like Temple University's Hope Center are working to fix that.  So why are policymakers and journalists as informed as Leonhardt so complacent about the educational damage done by our financial aid system?

Here's my short list of the problems that Leonhardt omits.
  • Fear of debt causes undermatching, in which lower-income students go to cheaper--and poorer--colleges than they are qualified for.  This reduces their chances of graduation and probably their learning. 
  • Students manage future debt by working more than they should while studying.  As the case of my smart 2.4 GPA student illustrates, this is a structural source of the "limited learning" that Arum and Roksa documented in 2011 (which, it must always be said, was largely limited to  "vocational" fields).
  • Loan repayment pushes students toward disciplines with higher future salaries, whether they want to study them or will do well in them.  Moving someone who loves history into computer science is inefficient as well as undemocratic, and yet debt makes this more likely.
  • Much of this "reasonable" debt is held by low-income students who have no family resources to help pay it back.  (Low income students borrow on average as much as middle-class students do.)
There's so much stubborn inertness about student debt because of a philosophical mistake made as much by Democrats like Leonhardt as by Republicans:
  • Means-tested loan forgiveness contradicts the public-good status of education.  With means-testing, the baseline norm is for everyone to pay for college out of their own pocket.  This treats college as a private good.  Then, since most people can't pay for college on their own, various kinds of state and private charity kick in--which maintain the private-good status.  Means-testing makes everyone focus on the income effects of college--as does income contingent repayment in the UK. It makes them forget the nonmarket, indirect, and social benefits of higher ed.  This in turn completely changes the psychological experience and effects of college.  Democrats supposedly don't think everything is about money, and yet they've set up a financial aid system that is only about money.  This is the system Leonhardt supports.
These market-ruled aid programs continue the Clinton-era suppression of the value of public goods. In reality, goods like clean air, sanitation systems, mass transit, vaccination, and education should be distributed according to individual need and general benefit, not according to ability to pay.  With these goods price signals don't work.  They give an oversupply to rich people and an undersupply--or much lower quality--to the poor.  This is why the Clinton-Obama market model of health and education has lost so much support.

In addition, the market-driven allocation of high-quality college is a main reason why US attainment has fallen steadily over the last 4 decades from first to about sixteenth in the world. It is also why college racial inequality persists.

Most of us feel somewhat badly about this unjust, unequal allocation and try to patch it with our high-tuition-high aid system, stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey with loans (2:1 loans over grants vs. the reverse 30 years ago).  We know it doesn't provide equal outcomes by race or class, or actually equal opportunity (for roughly similar educational quality).  Rather than putting financial aid on a market system, we should have put it on a public good allocation system.  Having contributed to the market mistake, Democrats should now stand for the public good correction.

Market failure is what the democratic socialist wing of the Democrats understands, and what the Clinton-Pelosi wing does not--yet.  In practice it would mean that society would set a goal of all students graduating debt-free, and then buy out my smart 2.4 GPA student's 20 hours a week of work so she can actually learn as much as she can and have the record that reflects her capabilities.   Debt-free college is economics that sets socio-cultural goals rather than isolating itself from them--substantively equal access, and outcomes that reflect individual labor and preferences, not grossly unequal prior conditions.

The crisis of financial aid appeared in the biggest higher ed story this week--Michael Bloomberg's $1.8 billion gift for student financial aid.  Unfortunately, it all went to one university.  The recipient was his alma mater Johns Hopkins, and the money will do the useful thing of converting all loans to grants that need not be repaid--for Hopkins students.  It's the right idea, but obviously needs to be applied to the 99.93 percent of U.S. postsecondary students who don't go to Johns Hopkins.

I don't need to point out the problems here: many commentators blasted the elitism of this version of affordability, from Sara Goldrick-Rab to Dylan Matthews, who called the gift a tragedy.  My Twitter feed was strongly bearish.  I don't think senior administrators realize how these megagifts make the university sector seem entitled, greedy, and cut off from the lives of regular people trying to get a good education.  Why pay taxes for these billionaires' BFFs?  A clear warning sign should have been Malcolm Gladwell's trashing of a hedge fund billionaire's $400 million gift to Harvard in mid-2015--followed by his celebration of obscure giving that helps advance everyday students (and takedown of the Knight-Hennessey scholarships at Stanford).

Bloomberg was unable to avoid lecturing the nation on the need for everyone to support financial aid at public universities as he was not.  I prefer my governments actually egalitarian, my tax brackets steeply progressive, and my billionaires plutocratic.

Posted by Chris Newfield | Comments: 4