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Saturday, July 21, 2018

Saturday, July 21, 2018
by Lizzie Swann
Faculty of English
University of Cambridge

At the end of the last workshop, Alison Wood asked us each to share a thought we had about the field. I started my comments with a disclaimer which I want to both repeat and expand on here: as a researcher of early modern literature, with a particular interest in knowledge and embodiment in sixteenth and seventeenth century England, and no particular training or expertise in Critical University Studies, my ideas on the topic are going to be both unformed and probably uninformed. (So I might be about to make some grand, polemical statements about what CUS does and doesn’t do that I would be happy to see disproved!) This isn’t just the case for me, of course – CUS is a field in formation, and one which operates at the margins of a number of different disciplines – perhaps most obviously, education and sociology, and to a lesser extent philosophy and politics, literature and history.

My interest in CUS, then, began as something quite separate to my work as a literary scholar – someone who spends most of their days reading and thinking about Shakespearean drama, or sixteenth-century sermons. Instead, it came from a somewhat self-interested desire to know more about how universities – which I expect to be my professional home for the next 30 years or so – function, about what kind of conditions of work I might expect, and about the different roles I might take on. It also came from a desire to understand how higher education is perceived outside the academy itself, and how I might best justify the work that I do to people who are suspicious of it – people like the taxi driver who, on hearing what I do for a living, asked in confrontational tones, ‘what’s the point of that, then?’

Recently, though, I’ve begun to wonder if I’ve been mistaken in seeing my research on early modern literature and history on the one hand, and my interest in critical university studies on the other, as separable and distinct – and whether this error, if that’s what it is, reflects a broader fallacy within Critical University Studies itself. In particular, it seems to me that CUS has tended to focus on broad social, economic, political, and institutional forces at the expense of sustained engagement with the individual and specific.

Another way to put this is to say that it treats ‘the university’ as an institutional entity that is separable from the specifics of the work that takes place there – CUS seems to presume that an individual’s conditions of work have little or no bearing on the content of that work. So whether you’re working in a permanent position, or a short-term, teaching-intensive fellowship, may have a bearing on whether or not you manage to finish that article on, say, the dissemination of Romanesque architecture in early medieval Europe  – but it will have little bearing on the content or argument of that article.

To me, this seems implausible - surely an individual’s conditions of work, and their feelings and thoughts about those conditions, will influence the kind of research they do, and therefore the kinds of knowledge they produce? In my own case, I’m sure that my current position as an Early Career Researcher on an interdisciplinary collaborative project in the humanities has influenced, consciously or unconsciously, the work I do. Much of my current research, for instance, focuses on identifying points of contact, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, between the different modes of knowing that we have come to associate with ‘the humanities’ and ‘the sciences’. My interest in this topic is, inevitably, driven by lots of different factors – but not least amongst them, I think, is that it provides a way to reflect, indirectly, on the hierarchical disciplinary structure of the twenty-first century university, and on my place (as someone who works in the ‘soft’ humanities rather than the ‘hard’ sciences) within that structure. In other words: I wonder if my desire to understand the historical commonalities between the humanities and the sciences is driven, in part, by an ancillary desire to recuperate some status for the humanities today, in a period when their value and worth can seem uncertain.

This is, of course, a personal example.  But I think there’s a broader question here about how the entity of the twenty-first century university – the subject of critical university studies – shapes the kinds of knowledge we pursue and produce within the parameters of our specific disciplines.

Another less personal example might be the pan-disciplinary surge of interest in materiality within the humanities and social sciences across the course of the last couple of decades. At risk of sweeping generalization, this material turn has been characterized by its affinities with a whole range of theoretical and critical ‘isms’ – most obviously constructivism, feminism, Marxism, and posthumanism – and consequently by its investment in breaking down subject / object binaries. To take just one somewhat arbitrary example from my own field: Will Fisher has argued for the fluidity of sexual and gender identities in the early modern period by exploring how clothing and prosthetic objects were used to ‘stage’ such identities: sexual identity is not an irreducible psychic core, but a contingent material construct.

I happen to find Fisher’s work persuasive. What hasn’t received enough attention, though, is the relation that this kind of research, and the ‘material turn’ more generally, bears to broader social, political, and economic shifts over the course of the last few decades – most pertinently here, the much-decried neo-liberalisation of the university. The literary critic David Hawkes, for example – a staunch, old-school cultural materialist – has argued that the trouble with work in this vein is that it is usually combined with, as he puts it, ‘at least a nominal opposition to the economic system [namely commodity capitalism] whose most conspicuous ideological effects are, precisely, the objectification of the subject and the subjectification of objects.’ In other words: despite its radical, emancipatory rhetoric, the ‘material turn’ actually engages in precisely the kind of commodity fetishism that characterises neoliberalism, collapsing the social and spiritual into the material and economic.

This is not the place to discuss whether Hawkes is right or wrong about this. It’s worth emphasising, though, that I have no desire to remove individual agency from the equation – I don’t want to suggest a deterministic model whereby individual scholars’ intellectual and theoretical passions and preoccupations are purely a consequence of broader forces. For a start, people’s choices of research topics and arguments are undoubtedly driven by very personal factors, too – by life events, by instinctive affinities and interests, by emotion and curiosity. But I do think the question of how specific research projects relate to the social, political, and economic conditions of their production demands much more consideration that it’s yet received, either within the specific disciplines themselves, or within Critical University Studies.

The flipside of this, of course, is that in thinking more closely about how broad socio-economic forces within the university shape the knowledge that is produced there, we might also come to see how research in a range of disciplines can have significant implications for our understanding of the purpose and functioning of the contemporary university. Christopher Newfield’s work provides one exemplar here – in his book Unmaking the Public University, Newfield has traced links between the prominence of Foucault in literary cultural studies, and the market decline of related disciplines. In attributing change to systems rather than individuals or groups, Newfield suggests, an American (mis)reading of Foucault supported a culture of political apathy within literary cultural studies, whereby attempts to intervene in and shape the market were seem as naïve or futile.

This kind of syncretic thinking, however, is still relatively rare – and some of the onus for developing it should come not just from scholars who identify as Critical University Studies specialists, but also from those with a more traditional disciplinary identity. So perhaps part of the task of CUS is to encourage people working within traditional disciplinary parameters to reflect more on the relationship between the content of their work, and the conditions of that work. To hypothesize: a firmly historical project on the development of more accurate ways of measuring time in the wake of the industrial revolution, and the consequences of this for workforces, for example, clearly has the potential to cast new light on the ethos of competitive overwork that characterises twenty-first century academia.

For others, though, the links might be less explicit. Something I’ve been pondering as I’ve been writing this is an issue that has come up a few times in our various discussions – namely, the paradoxical position of Critical University Studies as a field which critiques the very institutions it also inhabits and, in part, helps to constitute.  This paradoxical position was, for instance, very much in evidence when Alison had to the reschedule the last workshop due to the UCU strikes – in this case, withdrawing our labour for the university entailed deferring our critique of the university. With the strikers, scholars who work in the field of Critical University Studies are often fueled by political outrage, and are deeply invested in effecting change – we are critical. But on the other hand, we’re trying to perform this transformative work from within, and with the support of, universities as they currently are, with all their flaws – the very universities that our lives and livelihoods are so bound up on. So in a way, it can feel like we’re chipping away at the ground beneath our feet, or trying to see through the walls of a building that surrounds us.

How might we better understand, or perhaps even dissolve, this apparent conflict? Perhaps one way to do this is to think of it as a product of what the historians of science Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison have identified as the post-Romantic valorization of objectivity, which takes a subject’s involvement in the object of knowledge as a barrier to, rather than enabling condition of knowledge. Understanding – through the work of scholars such as Daston and Galison – the ways in which our categories of knowledge are themselves contingent historical constructs might then help us see our entanglement in the institutions that we want to critique not as a drawback, but as an opportunity.

To conclude then, the two questions I’ve asked in this short paper are: firstly, how do specific, substantive intellectual and methodological features within scholarship reflect, contest, or contribute to the political and economic conditions that shape them? And secondly, conversely, how might specific, substantive research, within a range of disciplines and on a range of topics, help to shape and recreate both Critical University Studies, and the institutions that it is concerned with?
I don’t have any definitive answers to these questions – but I hope they’ll be productive for discussion.


Posted by Chris Newfield | Comments: 0

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Tuesday, July 3, 2018
By Elin Danielsen Huckerby 
University of Cambridge

In January of this year, a new UK based Researcher Network for Critical University Studies held its inaugural workshop at Cambridge's Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH). Convened by Dr Alison Wood, the network aims to develop researchers' capacity in the field of CUS, to work to better understand how universities can serve the public good, and how to enact changes that will enable that service. 

The project arose from a recognition that expertise in this field is needed more than ever as universities, their environments, and their commitments become more complex – and as those complexities demand explicit pragmatic visions of what universities are and do. It also comes from a recognition of the fact that engaging in CUS, as a relatively new, cross-disciplinary and trans-sector field, poses challenges for early career scholars--that getting funding, and building visibility and viability can be particularly difficult.

In the past six months we have had the privilege of working with Professor Helen Small (Oxford), Professor David Berry (Sussex), Professor John Wood (ATTRACT, Emeritus Imperial), and Professor Chris Newfield, whom you know, who recently joined us for a two-day workshop and a public symposium on Academic Citizenship (20th-22nd of June).
***
How do you go about making (and making space for) a new academic field? The support of Cambridge’s CRASSH and of the British Academy cannot be overstated. Nor can the value of Alison Wood’s steady leadership and mindful attention to outcomes and actions. But simply bringing people together around even a loosely defined shared purpose can make an important difference. Everyone has been sharing their expertise, actively seeking the expertise of others, and worked to create new expertise. Through small group or roundtable debates, visualisations, brainstorming sessions, and paper-feedback discussions, we have covered much ground since January. 

Many of the themes that have emerged will be familiar to followers of this blog: Criticality itself, the balance between deconstructing and reconstructing, and the very idea of "the University.” We also asked the questions of what our object of research and critique is.  Is it the university itself? The forces shaping it? The discourses about it? Themes like representation, equality, diversity, within CUS and within higher education (HE) – themes of outsiders, insiders, boundary definitions and exclusionary powers. We weighed considerations of policy, of organizational pragmatism, and the limits of both; the civic value of universities, and related concepts of inheritance, curation and preservation; and universities as significant spatial forces, geographical, architectural, social, intellectual. They are spaces for awakening, disruption, dissent, and conformity. 

Other of our topics might be less obvious, like thinking through whether we could, in fact, do without such an institution entirely. And some issues have been large but vital: wisdom, truth, usefulness, and the challenges of developing accounts of these that will work to help us better understand what universities do, and how they are fit for purpose.”  Again and again our network has returned to the people involved in universities– to students, faculty, administrators, managers, and to their positions, jobs, hierarchies, security and precarity. We have asked "who is the university?" and: who are "we" in this discussion of CUS?

Throughout our deliberations, we have been acutely aware of the tension arising from being part of the institution we want to examine critically.  Such self-reflexivity has distinct drawbacks and issues, but it can also be an advantage, and connecting researchers working in a number of institutions brings an (auto)ethnographic and experiential knowledge to bear, as well as first-hand knowledge of the internal workings of various institutional forms. We have also worried about what happens when you institutionalise a critical field, while simultaneously drawing inspiration from related network/discipline/movement models like Critical Legal Studies, Critical Race Theory, and Feminist Theory. 

The greatest need for us at this stage has become the need for a language and shared vocabulary, particularly for cultivating research beyond direct higher education scholarship. We have been asking: What is the social and cultural mission of the university, and of the humanities? What is a useful vocabulary for engaging with this? We might need, say, a taxonomy of contemporary University types, but also a way of talking that might articulate a more compelling vision of the University to those outside academia. And while our discussions have covered a range of topics and problems, the matter of what to do has continually been a part of them. How can we affect change? How can we slowly and steadily, with deliberation and care, construct a research field that supports such efforts? How can we make sure our results shape those efforts? How can we influence policymakers? Our own institutions? What will our first practical steps be? The issue that has dominated our exchanges this June has been where do we go from here?
* * *
I am new to this world: to academia; to the world of funding bodies, grants, fees; to research, to teaching, to being one of those who are the university. But while I’m our group’s most junior member, I can claim some experience outside academia: I came to this after a degree in computer science and years in the corporate IT world. I speak managerial fluently. 

When I left my job to do an MA in comparative literature, one of the questions my colleagues repeatedly put to me was why I would stop doing something useful to do such a useless thing? As I am Norwegian, and Norway’s higher education is publicly funded, this query was often followed by: and why should we pay for it? There and then my interest in the questions at the core of CUS was kindled. While I yet lack expertise in these matters, perhaps what I can offer is a couple of thoughts from the perspective of a newcomer.
***
 "Being an academic" is to many to adopt an identity where work and passion, personality and research interests, hours on and off the clock, cannot be kept apart. During our June workshop, Feng Su talked to us about his work on the idea of a scholar teacher: The scholar teacher places the student’s learning at the heart of their scholarship activities, and sees the transformation of students into competent and constructive citizens as a primary goal for higher education. Implicit is a shift from an individualistic "star researcher" self to a less self-centred sense of academic identity, one more expansive and relational. But what happens when we become scholar-teacher-activists, not just intent on shaping individuals within the boundaries of an institution, but intent on redrawing its lines? 

This last construction would make most of my former colleagues baulk. We might want to point to exemplary models like CLS or we might emphasise that even theoretical physicists are situated, human-language using subjects – but I doubt this would carry much weight. Outside of academia and its immediate circles of conversation (and often, also, inside), researchers are supposed to be as "objective" as possible: Provide data, discuss, possibly indicate a use. But actively work to ensure one side wins?
***
Perhaps this looks particularly suspect in a fellesskapssamfunn, a collectively minded society like Norway, where free higher ed is seen as a public good alongside free healthcare. Since everyone contributes to its funding through taxation, everyone gets to have an opinion. And it is great that all of us can feel a sense of ownership of our universities.  However - if you then "take sides" on a matter that is, also and inherently, a political issue, you might be suspected of no longer being a proper representative; not merely a biased scientist, but a partial public official.

Regardless of cultural context, we might have to worry about how we might come across as less "rational", less objective, and thus, to some, less trustworthy, than the camp that says "market forces are a force of nature, and we're only making observations." While we were gathered in Cambridge, the Norwegian Conservative/populist-neoliberal coalition government appointed a committee for the evaluation of new governance models for our universities, particularly what they call "The Enterprise Model" (foretaksmodellen). Adopting this model would separate universities from the state and reconstruct them as distinct, independent legal entities. This is being done under the (familiar) guise of supposedly ensuring greater academic freedom. Academics and unions have been outspoken against it, which led the minister for HE, Iselin Nybø, to say that she was "disappointed" in the immediate univocal reaction from academia – that she expected "more room for debate" and "more from this sector in particular." The minister was asking for academics to be less opinionated, or at least aim for "neutral" middle-ground. She lamented how "irrelevant" notions, like the prospect of this move leading to the introduction of tuition fees down the lane, or the idea that it was ideologically motivated, kept being dragged into the discussion of this one, separate, merely managerial-technical issue. Many of my former colleagues and non-academic acquaintances saw her as the voice of reason. 

Actively and visibly taking a stand will be used against us.  But "neutrality" always plays into the hands of whichever forces are pushing most strongly – and makes the stronger position stronger. Silence lets dominating voices continue to speak, and merely “offering information” lets others make the decisions. Creating a pretence of "objectivity" is not an option.
***
Getting people to stop using one vocabulary and start using another, to leave an old set of ideas behind and begin to realise new, is, as Richard Rorty often pointed out, not a matter of offering arguments against the vocabulary we want to replace, but of making the vocabulary we favor look more attractive. His recommended method was to "redescribe lots and lots of things in new ways, until we have created a pattern of linguistic behaviour which will tempt the rising generation to adopt it, thereby causing them to look for appropriate new forms of nonlinguistic behaviour" (Contingency, irony, and solidarity, xvi). In our June workshop, Chris urged us to use big words, to dare to articulate a vision, a bold purpose for the University – even if now, compared to sensible suggestions formulated in our current familiar (managerial) vocabulary, it might sound utopian, slightly embarrassing, and certainly opinionated. This should include advocating the right scholars, experts in their fields, have to have strong, informed and justified opinions – also for researchers in University Studies, and also on matters of policy. And it seems to me to me to be exactly what we need to do next.
Posted by Chris Newfield | Comments: 0

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Wednesday, June 13, 2018
It's a good time to take stock of renewed scandal at USC. One month into the new round, the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights has announced a "Title IX directed, systemic investigation into the University of Southern California’s (USC) handling of reports of sexual harassment against former employee Dr. George Tyndall."   Opportunistic though it may be (see Catherine Lhamon's comment), the new DOE investigation points again to a structural management problem at the University.

I'm going to bracket the profound gender trouble that propels the kind of abuse at issue and look at the role of an ongoing epistemic crisis in administrative practice.

On May 16th, the Los Angeles Times broke the story of a coverup of an allegedly predatory campus gynecologist, Dr. George Tyndall, with this headline: "A USC doctor was accused of bad behavior with young women for years.  The university continued letting him treat students."   The investigation dug back decades: "the complaints began in the 1990s, when co-workers alleged he was improperly photographing students' genitals." "Some of the most serious allegations against Tyndall involve claims of inappropriate remarks about patients' bodies and his use of fingers at the start of pelvic exams."  The story stayed on The Times front page most days of the month since, as more details emerged, as 20 former students sued USC, as 400 former patients called a complaint hot line, and as the LAPD opened a criminal investigation.  The case has audible echoes of that of convicted Michigan State abuser Dr. Larry Nassar.  (Tyndall denies all charges and defends his practice.)

USC president C.L Max Nikias lasted ten days after the story broke.  He was pushed out in part because his administration, in 2016, had arranged a private payout and retirement for Tyndall instead of a full investigation.  The case was concealed in spite of Nikias having affirmed that
Bringing unacceptable behavior out of the shadows and into the light is the first step in eradicating it.  Change is imperative. And we stand united on this front.
It's a good principle, but it isn't one Nikias actually followed.

My bleak mood about this case reflected first to how little protection such statements have afforded Tyndall's alleged victims over 27 years.  I grew up with USC--my father had two SC degrees, and many friends and children of friends have attended, including two generations of women who could have been Tyndall's patients.  I was thrilled when USC recommitted to central Los Angeles in the early 1990s and built programs reflecting a commitment to addressing systematically the country's sociocultural condition. Many of the most interesting scholars in the study of culture and society worked there--until they got fed up and left.  I know firsthand that USC overflows with intelligence.  I feel badly for how the scandal and its non-resolution is affecting thousands of dedicated faculty and staff, particularly the whistleblowers and reformers who had been trying to fix things from the inside.

But what needs to be fixed at USC? And who would will be doing the fixing?

The changes so far are preliminaries.  The USC Board of Trustees has
  • removed an apparent enabler (Max Nikias).
  • changed board leadership (mall magnate Rick Caruso has replaced gas magnate John Mork, who was close to Nikias). 
  • hired an elite L.A. law firm to conduct an outside investigation (LA.'s O’Melveny & Myers). 
These things needed to happen, but they aren't reform. They're housekeeping. The University will also need to
  • cooperate fully with the LAPD criminal investigation and Department of Education inquiry  (and not try to overshadow them with the O'Melveny inquiry).
  • support all of the potential victims who may come forward rather than trying to set a cap or limit on victims or worse, try to discredit them.
These things seem possible and even likely.

Then there's two other things that aren't yet in the wind. USC will need to
  • change its administrative culture.
  • refocus the elite university mission.
The last pair of changes are nearly impossible for universities like USC.  I'm going to talk about one of these--changing administrative culture.

***
The most interesting commentary has been addressing this issue.  One of the LA Times articles suggested that repeated complaints from clinic nurses were not acted on by supervisors, who nonetheless may have passed them up the chain, only to have them ignored higher up--until the Tyndall story went public, when the higher ups chopped off some heads further down.

In a piece called "Why do colleges keep failing to prevent abuse," the former president of the University of Puget Sound, Susan Resneck Pierce, wrote that presidents must create a wholesale institutional expectation to be informed of inappropriate behavior.
In cases where presidents know about misbehavior but don’t act, she said, fears of bad publicity often drive inaction. But she noted that in many cases, “The cover-up creates more negative publicity than actually acting on an original allegation would have done.”
Pierce thus asks administrators to prefer the truth--no matter how ugly-- to the carefully cultivated image of an enlightened and efficient university that they have devoted their careers to building.  The first feature of a better management culture is to define risk management as cultivating the truth rather than concealing it.

How would that happen?  As USC professor Tania Modeleski asked, "Will there be any meaningful change as long as powerful men overlook the harm done to students and instead privately attempt to shore up the current power structure?"

There is a well-known alternative to management as marketing controlled from the top: open deliberation grounded in shared governance. The prominent USC education professor William Tierney spelled it out (in a piece that should be read in full):
President Nikias relied on a small circle of confidants and, as his troubles rose, the circle grew smaller. The university's Board of Trustees, mostly captains of industry, seemed awed by his fundraising ability. . . .  
The Academic Senate sat passively by as problems unfolded. When The Times uncovered alleged misconduct on the part of medical school dean Dr. Carmen Puliafito, Nikias declined to accept individual responsibility. He ordered an independent investigation, but the report was provided only to executive committee of the Board of Trustees. The Academic Senate registered no public complaint. . . 
A dramatic increase in non-tenured professors at USC has made the faculty hesitant to confront the administration, lest their jobs be put at risk. The result is fewer checks and balances on the office of president. In 2015, the trustees gave Nikias a $1.5-million bonus. The Academic Senate registered no public protest at such an outlandish handout. . . .
This is the tragedy at USC: Instead of cultivating an environment of reflection and reasoned debate, the university sprinted toward growth. Those of us who disagreed with the president were first ignored and then banished. We were viewed as a distraction from the school's goal of ever-greater international prominence. And the trustees and the faculty essentially acquiesced.
To repair the storm damage at USC, we need a Board of Trustees that provides consistent oversight and does not see itself as the handmaiden to the president. We need an Academic Senate that ensures that the faculty is an equal partner in decision-making. We need a president who can set a world record in running a marathon without forgetting what winning the race truly means. And we need the entire academic community to recognize how important a climate of thoughtful, reasoned dialogue is for our university. 
Of course I agree completely. Universities are by definition the natural homes of an "environment of reflection and reasoned debate."  And yet, in practice, they mostly aren't.  Senior managers have the power to ignore faculty input, and when it offers ideas they don't like, they often do.  This is particularly uncomfortable when the faculty member is right--as Tierney, a nationally renowned expert on higher ed, most likely was.

More generally, USC leaders seem in practice not to respect the insight and knowledge of frontline workers.  They no doubt do in the abstract, but not when someone higher up has other concerns.

This disregard included the clinic employees who over decades complained about Tyndall's behavior time and again.  I've heard many tenured USC faculty members say the same thing--expertise and experience don't count when they contradict the official ethos.  Management there seems to have operated through an epistemic authority that they deny to the rest of the university.

Decades ago, feminist epistemologists analyzed the way that prevailing professional practices systematically ignored knowledge specific to womens' standpoint and experience, and/or kept women from having critical mass in discussions, and/or rejected their cognitive capabilities or practices as not worth taking as seriously as their own. (A good online introduction is here; and see Epistemic Injustice.)  On its face, a textbook example would be the repeated sidelining of the USC clinic's nurses' concerns about Tyndall's gynecological practice.  Critical ethnic studies, postcolonial studies, and other disciplines have made similar arguments: epistemic privilege generates epistemic injustice, which manifests itself as, among other things, epistemic disrespect toward positions that aren't part of the official program.  This occurs even where the authority in question expresses personal regard for the individuals who are being ignored.

Epistemic disrespect nearly cost Nikias his job before, in 2017, in the wake of an investigation captured in The Times July headline, "An overdose, a young companion, drug-fueled parties: The secret life of a USC med school dean."  In that case, Nikias moved the dean in question, Carmen Puliafito, out of his executive position while hanging on to his services and also not exposing his apparently criminal conduct to donors. "After he stepped down as dean, USC kept Puliafito on the medical school faculty, and he continues [as of July 2017] to accept new patients at campus eye clinics."  The Times discovered that Puliafito's colleagues had complained about drunkenness and verbal abuse, but had never gotten any relief.

In that case, Nikias was found to be engaged in active avoidance of the facts. He was aware that the Times was investigating Puliafito by March 2016, because the paper repeatedly contacted him about it.
It remains unclear when top USC officials first learned about the allegations involving Puliafito. But The Times made repeated inquiries over the last 15 months about Puliafito, in some cases describing information reporters had gathered about the dean. USC's leaders never responded to the inquiries. Numerous phone calls were not returned, emails went unanswered and a letter seeking an interview with USC President C.L. Max Nikias to discuss Puliafito was returned to The Times by courier, unopened. 
The USC president had to be hunted down by the press--several times--before he admitted serious wrongdoing (see a "timeline of his troubled tenure").

Puliafito has been back in the news recently, trying to hang on to his medical license by blaming his former prostitute-girlfriend for seducing and addicting him.  In the process, a former vice dean of the medical school testified that he'd informed USC Provost Michael Quick about rumors that "Puliafito was partying in hotels with people of 'questionable reputation'" in early 2016.

It appears that Nikias displayed willful blindness towards Puliafito's conduct and at least condoned a coverup, even as the story was being rooted out with enormous time and effort by reporters. It may emerge that he did the same with Tyndall.

Nikias's conduct is not categorically different from Tyndall's, who--best case scenario--offended even if he did not actually abuse many of his thousands of patients, and who never thought "oh, this isn't going over well" and stopped with the sexualized remarks or sexual-seeming manipulations--or was made to stop.  The alleged offenses consist of abusing usually very young women in their most vulnerable moment under cover of professional authority and in the name of individual care.  This involves a deep negation of consent that, in tandem with the sexualization of medical treatment, compromises the personhood of the victim and of her agency. It  is the opposite of what universities stand for. And yet in spite of the longstanding seriousness of staff concerns, senior managers, in The Times' account, acted only when one of the clinic's nurses, who had become impatient with the clinic management's inaction, reported Tyndall to the campus rape crisis center.

These appear to be examples of epistemic privilege enabling wrongdoing and a subsequent coverup.

***
We should also recognize that epistemic privilege puts self-governance at risk. Higher education has largely governed itself for a century and a half, partly on the theoretical grounds that professional  skills can be developed and monitored only by other professionals.  Higher ed has fought off direct federal control of colleges and universities of the type now wreaking havoc in Great Britain, using a self-regulation system of accreditation and related mechanisms.  As Heather Steffen reminded our research group this week, the tradition of self-regulation enabled universities to fend off the effort to apply No Child Left Behind-type learning assessment to colleges in the wake of the Spellings Report.

Nearly all of us support the general principle, but the self-regulation has actually to take place.  At USC it did not. Nikias and Quick had a medical school dean with substance-abuse problems who neither took corrective action himself nor received correction from other administrators.  They did not remove (or help) him until exposure forced their hand.  The same thing allegedly occurred with Tyndall.  In failing to fix their own problems, Nikias et al. not only eroded USC's reputation--they also eroded the justification for academic freedom for all universities, which is the integrity of the self-governance procedures of learned societies.

Finally, what about the reform potential of Rick Caruso and the USC Board of Trustees?

We have some evidence that the Board still lacks interest in shared governance or in Tierney's "environment of reflection." On May 18th, the Times reported that USC had acknowledged receiving 200 complaints about Tyndall going back to the early 2000s.   On May 21st, 6 former USC students sued the University, alleging that Tyndall had "sexually victimized them under the pretext of medical care and that USC failed to address complaints from clinic staff about the doctor's behavior."  On May 22nd, the Board of Trustees received a letter from 200 faculty calling on Nikias to resign. USC faculty also launched a change.org petition entitled, "Remove President Nikias: Protect USC Student Safety."  That day, the response of the then-Chair of the USC Board of Trustees was to express "full confidence in President Nikias’ leadership, ethics, and values.

The next day, on May 23rd,  the L.A. Times reported that 300 women had called a USC hotline with a complaint about their treatment by Dr. Tyndall.  The Times also ran the story they had seen formal complaints about Tyndall dating from 1991 and 1995 (he started work at USC in 1989).  On May 25th, as Tyndall defended his practice in a letter to The Times, the paper reported that the number of legal filings against USC  had risen to 21. At a press conference about one of them, attorney Gloria Allred remarked, "this is only the beginning."  Nikias's announcement that he would resign came that same day.

In short, the USC Board backed Nikias against the faculty but dumped him 3 days later when they saw potential liability on the scale of Penn State via Sandusky or Michigan State via Nassar.

This isn't a shocking thing.  The actions of Boards of Trustees express truth as grounded in legal authority rather than educational expertise.  In this sense, Boards are by definition embodiments of epistemic privilege.  USC's Board has fired Nikias, but that may only maintain the epistemological inequality that caused the problem in the first place. If it's all Nikias's fault, then USC leadership can sustain their implicit model of management in which self-governance remains the property of senior officials.

Unfortunately, the Puliafito and Tyndall cases show that self-governance and top-down governance are at odds  Self-governance depends on the intelligence of the entire community, starting with people working with students and patients in the trenches. The kind of decisional oligarchy favored by most universities today guarantees epistemic privilege, and epistemic disrespect, and the inevitable blindness and error.

William Tierney is right to call for real shared governance in a "climate of thoughtful, reasoned dialogue." But that's not going to happen without a sustained battle for the kind of epistemic justice that universities are better at imagining for others than for themselves.


Posted by Chris Newfield | Comments: 4

Monday, May 21, 2018

Monday, May 21, 2018
Dear President Napolitano,

You have now been the president of the University of California for nearly five years. You are one of a handful of people who speak for the entirety of the university system. You are the head of a slightly larger group (two or three dozen?) that decides UC policy.  You also have direct access to the mass media to explain the needs and benefits of UC. 

You represent a university that consists of hundreds of thousands of students as well as about 150,000 staff and over 10,000 faculty. Many of us have given decades of our working lives to UC. We have deep experience of the institution and highly developed expertise in our subject areas.  And yet with few exceptions, we have no way of bringing this expertise to the wider public.  As a group, our views are as unknown to the state at the end of our thirty-to-forty-year careers as they were at the beginning.  

This places an enormous moral responsibility on you to represent hundreds of thousands of silent people correctly. It imposes an enormous intellectual responsibility as well.

As the representative of the university, your intellectual responsibility is of course to tell the truth: universities that replace truth with politics and marketing steadily lose public trust, as they should. By "truth," I don't mean a fixed obvious fact we can kick. I mean the current state-of-the-art on a topic, created by open methods, testing, and debate, and subject to further revision as better data and interpretations arise.  The job of universities is to determine the truth defined as an issue's state-of-the-art understanding, which in all areas continues to evolve.  This means that university administrations are in the position of having to keep up with the state-of-the-art in relevant fields as generated by their students, staff, and faculty. 

One field that administrations must keep up with is higher education studies.  As a scholar in some of its most pressing subfields, I sometimes feel that senior administrators are running away from research findings rather than embracing and acting on them. 

A case in point is university philanthropy.  Last week you met with CSU Chancellor Timothy White "to discuss the future of public higher education."  The Daily Cal coverage ended with this:
Napolitano also discussed the role of philanthropic financial contributions in the UC’s financial model. 
“We have very generous donors, and if we look at the trajectory of philanthropy in the UC, we see a pretty steep upward curve over the last 10 years or so,” Napolitano said at the conference. “The point of fact is that public funding at the level it was at is unlikely to be restored, and we’re going to need to continue that upward trajectory in terms of philanthropy to support the UC.” 
This tells the audience that private donors have been and will continue to compensate for the decline in public funding. It accepts that the public funding will stay inadequate, which demobilizes the 62 percent of California adults who "say the level of state funding for the public higher education system is not high enough."  It states that fundraising, which has been a central UC fixation for at least 25 years, can grow indefinitely, and increase its share of UC's budget.  

These venerable beliefs are not correct.  But they have remained in place over many years because we have never had an open, research-driven, fact-based debate about philanthropy in which the need to increase fundraising was not assumed in advance, and in which administrators review and then follow data-based research findings.

For example, UC's most recent report on private support finds that annual giving has doubled over the past twenty years (1). That is a good thing: philanthropy funds many important specific projects that would otherwise languish.  But research has shown something you no doubt also know: philanthropy growth is not relevant to the public funding shortfall.

The basic problem is scale.  In 2006, my Senate colleagues and I showed this in a report that was transmitted to President Dynes in 2006 and presented to the Board of Regents in 2007; those slides are here).  We noted that the University, which was already down $1.35 billion in general fund allocation from 2001, would need a $30 billion gift to replace this revenue stream.  Our internal joke was that fundraising could fix UC's general fund problem-- if UC nationalized Harvard's endowment.  We are right to be proud that UC's generous donors now give $2 billion or so to UC every year.  That generates $100 million a year at 5 percent interest, which is about 3 percent of UC's current general fund revenues.

Another UC report this year, which the Board of Regents read at their recent retreat, confirmed this conclusion.
Philanthropy to the UC system and its campuses has risen by 50 percent since 2000, and now totals more than $2 billion per year. Virtually all of these funds are restricted and are not available to support general operating costs. Even if philanthropy to UC were to double in the next 10 years, the increase would nominally offset only a quarter of the decline in state funding per student since 2000, and the additional (private-interested) activities required by the philanthropic funding would lead to an even smaller offset for educational (and public-interested research) activities. Fundraising may help with capital costs, but it is much less likely to be a significant income source for ongoing educational costs. (39)

This new report supports fundraising but not as a replacement for public funding.

I'll belabor a few other issues that reduce philanthropy's net returns to the University.  Fund-raising cost indices suggest that the overhead for raising a dollar is about 20 cents, so initial net is perhaps 80 percent of the gross figures we publish.  Many gifts leverage matching funds from the University, so the true net after costs is quite a bit less than that, or even negative (UCLA's Luskin Center received a generous donation of $40 million for a project with overall costs of $162 million).   There are other subtractions: the doubling of UC fundraising needs to cover nearly 30 percent more students with inflation lowering the take another 20 percent over that ten year period.   There are institutional burdens: the donor model has spawned hundreds of school, program, and department-level fundraising programs across the UC system, whose costs in time, money, and loss of resources for the educational core have not been calculated.  More indirectly, talking up private funding may encourage the state not to rebuild public funding to 21st century requirements.  (This is a feedback loop that, given years of inadequate annual general fund increases, UC officials should consider seriously.)  And this is not an exhaustive list of issues.

As a true believer in universities, I am always sorry to find so much fault with our belief in a cherished source of revenue. But we can thank our generous donors, encourage new ones, and tell them the truth that we need to fight like mad to rebuild the public funding base that makes their giving valuable. 

I'll wrap up with a question: why are public universities competing with privates on our weakest (and their strongest) ground?  The source of UC Berkeley or UC Irvine's comparative advantage has been strong public funding.  The source of Stanford's and Cal Tech's has been great private wealth. Why don't we try to advance on our own terms?

You no doubt carefully reviewed the New York Times's major college access study a year ago.  Called "Top Colleges Doing the Most for the American Dream,"  its authors devised a College Access Index that ranked colleges and universities "based on a combination of the number of lower-and middle-income students that a college enrolls and the price it charges these students."  

Here are the top 10 places, where UC put in an astonishingly good performance. 

These figures make intuitive sense-- except perhaps for those in the final column, endowment per student. They show that UC campuses are simply not in the big endowment game. UCLA, the wealthiest UC, has a per-student endowment that is 1/50th of Princeton's. Access champion UC Irvine's endowment is 1/116th that of neighboring Pomona College. And so on. These are the results of 25 years of consistent UC fundraising focus.  They are also normal: public universities top out at $250,000 and $220,000 per student (University of Virginia and the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor) and the list plunges rapidly into the 5 digits (UT-Austin's oil money gets it to $72,500).

We should have a broad university discussion of the evidence and conclusions to draw from it. In the meantime, these are my inferences from the research.  First, mass access to high quality public universities is distantly related to a large endowment.  Second, this mass quality is closely related to non-private sources of income, meaning state funding: rebuilding that must be job 1 for public university presidents. Third, we should pitch mass quality to potential donors as the general public good that leverages and transcends the special good their gifts do for particular people and programs. Fourth, we should brag about our small per-student endowments. They show we are working on a grand scale, producing value for the entire public that lies behind us.

Even without a full-scale investigation of UC philanthropy, you could reasonably revise future statements on this subject to read as follows:
“We have very generous donors, and if we look at the trajectory of philanthropy in the UC, we see a pretty steep upward curve over the last 10 years or so. The point of fact is that public funding must be rebuilt to support the full benefits of these gifts.  We’re going to need to continue that upward trajectory in terms of philanthropy.  But it cannot support the UC on its own. We must work at a massive scale to get the state the million additional degrees its needs.  We need the whole population to help us with that.
The cost to the median taxpayer would be low--but this is enough for now.

Loyally yours,

Chris Newfield
Posted by Chris Newfield | Comments: 2

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Tuesday, May 15, 2018
Political Science Commencement, UC Berkeley, May 14, 2018
by Wendy Brown

Tonight, your commencement speaker was supposed to be John Perez, three-term California Assemblyman from Los Angeles, speaker of the Assembly from 2010-14, Latino and the first openly gay Speaker in the Assembly’s history.  Perez played a leading role in raising California’s minimum wage, improving access to higher education for working and middle class students, shepherding bills supporting green technologies and urban development, promoting jobs for veterans, and subsidizing childcare and healthcare for the disadvantaged.   Before entering electoral politics, Perez was a labor organizer and political adviser for the grocery store workers union.  He also worked in LA on behalf of immigrants, tenants, HIV/AIDS groups, and coastline conservation.  Since 2014, Perez has been a UC Regent, where he has worked to cap tuition and improve access and matriculation by under-represented minorities.  Perez has dedicated his political life to the under-served, vulnerable, neglected or threatened….not simply anointing their wounds but seeking ways to empower them.

John Perez is not here tonight because the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Workers (AFSCME), the union representing 24,000 employees across the University of California system, reached an impasse in its negotiations with the university and called for a series of labor actions, including last week’s strike.  AFSCME seeks for its members a modest annual pay increase and is also resisting the University’s effort to raise the retirement age and increase health insurance costs while reducing retirement benefits for new workers.  The union is also trying to limit the practice of “contracting out”—replacing workers directly employed by UC with labor provisioned by companies offering lower wages and benefits.  So AFSCME is fighting to preserve a minimally decent form of life for those who sustain our campuses—cleaning it; tending its grounds and gardens; preparing and serving food; staffing the hospitals, labs and law schools.  AFSCME is fighting the steady disintegration of a social compact designed to ensure that full time workers can obtain life necessities, have relative job stability and a comfortable retirement.   It is fighting the University’s own embodiment of the steady intensification of income inequality in the US, as the gap between the highest and lowest paid UC employees has increased dramatically over the past decade.

AFSCME asked public servants invited to speak at Commencement ceremonies to support their labor action by withdrawing from the ceremonies.  Last week, Senator Kamala Harris withdrew from the campus-wide commencement.  John Perez withdrew from ours.  This is disappointing, of course.  You only have one college graduation and AFSCME messed with it.   I heard a few students grumbling about this and also about how stressful it was as the strike disrupted campus services during finals week.

But when these interruptions and inconveniences occur, when our dreams, ambitions and milestones are striated by cries for justice or earthly preservation, they pose a question we may want to move to the front of our impatient, anxious, wanting-everything-to-be-perfect minds:  “What kind of world do we want to live in?”  One in which the nightshift janitors cleaning classrooms for decades or health care workers bathing patients over at UCSF hospitals can pay rent, afford healthcare, send their kids to college and someday retire?  Or one in which the woman selling you snacks at Golden Bear is suddenly laid off when food service is outsourced to a company with lower wage minimums and worker benefits?  Do we want to live in a world in which eight men hold as much wealth as the nearly 4 billion people comprising the world’s poorest half?  In which the black infant mortality rate in the United States is more than twice that of whites, and more black men in their twenties are in prison than college?  A world in which one in twelve human beings on the planet now inhabits those ever-growing shanty towns built from the refuse of civilization and largely cut off from the basic features of civilization--work, education, sewers, potable water, protection from weather?  In which species extinction proceeds at an unprecedented rate and climate change has become a near rather than distant existential threat?  Or do we want to live in a world in which we redeem the promise that human beings can cultivate justice and a healthy planet, not only be driven by market imperatives or be tossed about by their vicissitudes.

What kind of world do we want to live in?  How can we burden you with this question, you who are just beginning your adult life?  You who did not make this world filled with so many troubles and terrors?  You whose own futures are beset with so much uncertainty, whose prospects for home ownership are scant, whose social security my generation threatens to devour?   How dare we ask you to think about world-making when what a college education guaranteed a mere generation ago—a stable income, comfortable housing, adequate health care and, with luck, interesting and meaningful work—has been replaced by competitive unpaid internships, contract employment, whole industries and professions upended over night, urban housing crises scattering even the middle class to the hinterlands and scandalously priced professional schools inviting decades of debt-servitude?  How, amidst your anxiety about surviving, let alone thriving, and after previous generations have made such a mess of things, could we task you with this?

It’s not fair but fairness isn’t quite the issue.  If you stay with the question of fairness, you will stay with a child’s view of what can be asked of you or what you can ask of yourself--the view from powerlessness and where the only expectation is that you play by common rules, set by others.  The question of what kind of world you want to live in is an adult question:  it has bearing when your life is in your own hands, when you have a little or a lot of power or latitude, when you decide every day what to support or decry, nourish or fight.  The question of what kind of world you want to live in asks you to become responsible to and for a world that you didn’t build, where the terms of entry are not fair and can be hard.

This question is never harder to heed than when it challenges your good fortune:   when you are faced with plans for a low-income housing development or rehab facility in your neighborhood, when improving schools or building a park or swimming pool for kids in another part of the city would take a tax bite out of your paycheck, when responding to needs of workers who sustain this university might mean caps on faculty and administrative salaries and even increases in student fees.  The question is also hard when it comes into your social world:  When the MeToo movement has left you, a man, reeling and confused about how to inhabit your masculinity, or how to talk with co-workers about troubling ways you may see them inhabiting theirs.  Or when Black Lives Matter has left you, a white person, stunned about how ordinary, how truly ordinary, is the phenomenon of white people calling cops on black people sitting on a bench, using Airbnb, dozing in a college lounge or having a business confab at Starbucks…but still you find it hard to interrupt your white friends complaining about how much Black people complain about racism.

“What kind of world do you want to live in?”   The hardest challenge this question delivers to those of us in groups with historical advantage comes when we have to dismantle that advantage. When seats at top law schools are scarce, when good jobs at non-profits are precious, when internships with politicians are gold, when academic positions are shrinking, when working for a great start-up or big tech company is a dream, it is hard to accept graciously and without rancor the importance of holding the doors open extra wide for those from historically excluded groups.  Why should you pay personally for the racism or sexism of the past?  This is when switching the question from “what is fair” to “what kind of world do you want to live in” is crucial and can be life-changing.   Do you want to live in a world where the top echelons of the top professions remain mostly white and male? Where women and people of color disproportionately fill the social and economic basement?  Where the administration and senior faculty of your university are mostly white and the cooks and janitors are mostly black and brown?   The point is not to shift the question from one about yourself to one about the world—it is not to replace selfishness with selflessness or become creatures of bottomless sacrifice.  Rather the point is to mix the questions of what you want to be and do with what you want this world to be, and let that mixture pave your way in the adult world.

I am not tasking you with addressing all the world’s problems or with dedicating all day every day to political activism.  Not even someone as justice-minded as John Perez does that. Nor is this a sermon about ethical living –reducing your carbon or injustice footprint, which is fine but not the issue here.   I am suggesting a way to frame some of your biggest and smallest decisions.  What do you support, with whom do you stand?   What do you oppose?  And what do you do when challenges come, unbidden, into your midst, as the AFSCME strike did when it broke into your final week on campus and your graduation?

Asking yourself “what kind of world do I want to live in” invites you to imagine utopias--in which there really is equal opportunity for all human beings to realize their dreams; in which there are no women abused, children trafficked, peoples colonized, species imperiled, mountain tops blown off and coastal waters drilled for dirty energy;  no slums, homelessness, wars, refugees or climate change, no racialized and gendered orders of regard and treatment.  But this question also invites you, in the ordinary thrum of life, to find the grace, and not only the grit, to greet every crossroad, and every surprise on the road, as an occasion to choose on behalf of the world you want live in.

The 24,000 AFSCME workers of UC intruded their struggle for justice into the celebration of your extraordinary achievement today.  Perhaps that intrusion is a gift to the Class of 2018—not tarnishing your moment but enriching it. As we applaud your hard work, congratulate you on your soaring accomplishment, and cheer on your brilliant and promising futures, let us affirm what is also here, marked by John Perez’s absence:  a call to make the kind of world you want to live in.   As we celebrate you tonight, rather than sidestepping or ignoring the union’s quest for a decent existence for all, I invite you to incorporate its spirit into yours.

Congratulations.  Go forth!

Posted by Chris Newfield | Comments: 0

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Saturday, May 12, 2018
Governor Brown released his May Revision of the California budget.  His higher education revisions suggest little beyond his continuing refusal to recognize the challenges of contemporary higher education and the social need for an expanded and deepened system of tertiary education.

Perhaps the most significant new element in the Governor's proposals is his announcement that, if either CSU or UC choose to raise tuition, the state will lower its general funding in the exact amount that the State must increase funding in Cal Grants to cover the raised tuition (7). As Dan Mitchell has pointed out, this does not mean that either UC or CSU will lose all the revenue from tuition increases.  They may therefore be tempted to raise tuition.  But it does mean that the Governor is setting the most important source of tuition aid for Californians against the general needs of improving the campuses.

As early as 2013 then Speaker John Pérez warned that UC could not expect the State to "buy out" proposed tuition increases and during the tuition freeze the state warned that it would lower base funding if the sectors increased tuition.  But the State did increase general fund revenues last year--even with tuition increases.  Now the governor is refusing to do that again and playing a game of explicitly setting off the financial needs of poorer students against the funding needs of improving education.  Not only has he offered a lower base increase (3% as opposed to the 4% that had been expected under his compact with President Napolitano) but he is now proposing that Cal Grant funding be treated as a trade-off for base funding.  He is thereby reinforcing Sacramento's insistence that spending on student financial aid be counted as part of the calculation of state funding for UC and CSU. 

There are some positive one-time allocations for deferred maintenance and selected programs at the two sectors.  But one time allocations are band-aids.  They do little to address the strain on faculty, staff and students caused by the increases in enrollments during the long decade of reduced state funding.  They do little to address the long-term capital needs of both CSU and UC.   The Governor has gone on record as insisting he doesn't "know what a legacy is."  That's just as well.  In higher education at least it isn't a pretty one.


Posted by Michael Meranze | Comments: 0

Friday, May 4, 2018

Friday, May 4, 2018
UC Service and Patient Care workers will be going on strike from Monday May 7 to Wednesday May 9.  AFSCME, the union representing these workers, has been negotiating with UC for over a year with little success and the University had imposed a settlement for the 2017-18 fiscal year.  As the union indicates here the University's latest offer includes pay raises between 2 and 3% (depending on your workplace) combined with a freezing of step increases for 5 years, a rise in health care costs, and a shift to less retirement support.  Given that inflation is now hovering around 2% this can hardly be considered the generous offer the University insists it is.  

To make matters worse, service and patient care workers are already among the lowest paid workers at UC.  As a recent AFSCME Study made clear inequality within UC has been increasing dramatically over the recent past.  UC's lowest paid workers already face difficulties making ends meet.  (26)  This general inequality is compounded by racial and gender inequities that run throughout the UC workforce.

Compounding the issue is UC's continued insistence on its right to sub-contract out its labor needs.  Despite all the fanfare a few years ago about UC's policy of paying $15 an hour to its workers, that promise does not extend consistently to sub-contractors.  As UC expands its use of sub-contractors the living conditions of its lowest paid workers worsens dramatically.  (26-27)

There are a variety of places you can go to find ways to support the strikers:

CA-AAUP has a statement HERE

AFSCME Strike Locations can be found HERE

AFSCME's statement on the negotiations can be found HERE

The AFSCME report on Inequality at UC can be found HERE


Posted by Michael Meranze | Comments: 1

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Sunday, April 15, 2018
In proposing mass closures of liberal arts majors, the administration at the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point has made the most serious case I've seen for the conversion of liberal arts fields into service courses for career-focused majors. This conversion is not a provincial offshoot in the evolution of U.S. higher education. It is also not just the force-fed Christmas goose of right-wing cultural politics. Instead, it is a rational response to what I've argued elsewhere is the default budget logic of bipartisan austerity politics. So how should people respond to the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point restructuring plan?

By protesting, for starters: the campus saw another march against the cuts on April 12 (above, photo credit Stevens Point Journal), with the goal of stopping the current proposal and turning an administrative decision into a planning dialogue. Twenty-three professional organizations have also opposed the across-the-board elimination of liberal arts majors and called for reconsideration (see below).

Two other responses are also necessary. The first is doing what Stevens Point folks have already been doing--setting out a public good framework for a regional university (see Part 1 of this post). Another is to put the UWSP plan, Point Forward, in its political context, in which it fits with, without being dictated by, a longstanding Republican effort, first formulated in the Powell Memorandum (1971), to re-subordinate the university's practices of autonomous inquiry to workforce needs and business norms. As Valerie Strauss put it in the Washington Post,
The push away from liberal arts and toward workplace skills is championed by conservatives who see many four-year colleges and universities as politically correct institutions that graduate too many students without practical job skills — but with liberal political views.
And yet these three responses aren't enough: we also need a systematic analysis of whether the Point Forward plan makes sense and whether it has a good chance of working.

We have to start by recognizing that the UWSP administration more than half agrees with these first three reactions. It has itself called for campus participation in developing the plan. Its plan invokes the public good. It formally embraces the original Wisconsin Idea to pursue the truth for the benefit of the whole state and it rejects Republican-style vocationalism. This isn't a new position for them: soon after he became the chancellor of UWSP, Bernie Patterson blasted an earlier downsizing proposal from Scott Walker as "send[ing] UWSP back to the 19th century." So not only should we not read the UWSP administration as tools of Scott Walker and his Republican appointees: we should remember that austerity logic and vocationalism are also pursued by Democrats like Jerry Brown and Barack Obama. These are all reasons to take the plan seriously on its own terms. It has a good chance of being imitated.

For this post, I've reviewed not only the Point Forward plan but most of the posted video of campus debates, particularly provost Greg Summers' presentation to the campus on March 15 (with slides), as well as his reply to his critics in the Chronicle of Higher Education. I'm going to conclude that the plan is grounded in flawed assumptions and will likely make the campus's finances worse. The good news is that there is therefore plenty of room to improve the plan's conclusions as it is finalized in the coming months.



°°°°°

The plan is prompted by Gov. Scott Walker and his legislative allies, who had been turning the budget screws on Wisconsin higher ed for years when, in the last biennial budget, they took away another $250 million from the system over two years (while, coincidentally, giving the same amount to the Milwaukee Bucks for their new stadium). Stevens Point lost a higher share than any other campus in the system-- 25 percent of its state funds. Now the campus faces a $4.5 million structural deficit.

The sorrows of Stevens Point are deepened by prior struggles to make cuts work.
Within Academic Affairs over the years, we have tried nearly every . . . strategy [other than large program cuts], from improving the marketing, recruitment, and retention strategies of enrollment management to endlessly searching for cost-savings until efficiency became pervasive austerity. We have increased workloads, raised class sizes, reduced administrative spending, and nearly eliminated budgets for supplies, equipment, technology and facilities. We have restricted travel, sabbaticals, and other professional development, and declined for years to invest in salaries for our faculty and staff members. We have squeezed administrative support functions to a point where we are failing to provide badly needed services, especially in those areas on which we depend regardless of enrollment. In Information Technology alone, nine and a half positions have been lost in the past three years, a number that will likely grow further in the current restructuring—this at a time when the demands on their services and expertise are greater than ever.
This is awful. It is exactly what happens when irrational cuts are imposed on an institution, which is the steady degradation of everything. My heart goes out to all the folks who have been living with this for years.

Naturally, it's tempting to cut some things to save others.
In short, we have “lived without” across the entire Division of Academic Affairs, disadvantaging nearly all of our programs and services, and most importantly, undermining the education we provide our students. There is a limit to how long a university can thrive under these kinds of across-the-board austerity measures and remain a vital and thriving institution, and we have reached it. Restructuring our curriculum will not solve all these financial shortcomings by itself. Nevertheless, given our growing dependence on tuition and the current imbalance between expenditures and revenue, our only remaining alternative is to examine our curriculum, an operational area we have modestly adjusted in the past but never fundamentally restructured.
This is the moment of greatest danger. Having tried to get solvent and start growing again by adjusting non-core costs ("supplies, equipment, technology and facilities," then "travel, sabbaticals," etc.), desperate executives seek major savings in the educational core. I'd call this core, for regional universities, comprehensive, integrated instruction--not one or two unbundleable skill sets, like Java and Stata, but, for example, a combination of statistics, history, environmental studies, composition, and depth in at least one substantive field for a career goal of wildlife management. Given recent experience, the senior managers go after the core with a deep sense that there is no alternative (or TINA, as it was named in the Thatcher years).

Years before, UWSP management had identified the external environment as one that is hostile to their educational core. Hence the litany of cuts that have damaged it over the years--and their attempt to shield it as much as possible. Their implicit first planning choice was whether to let this hostile environment shape the restructuring, or to plan in defiance of this hostile environment. Though it appears paradoxical, a condition of austerity under which it seems like management has no choice at all is exactly the period when management must engage in the act of choosing. The act of choosing establishes that more than one framework or paradigm actually exists. In other words, it establishes for the campus that the TINA postulate is wrong.

UWSP did chose a paradigm-- the irreversible hostile environment. It appears in Greg Summers' cutest slide.



Summers et al. posited that what is happening to UWSP is like climate change--there's nothing a management team can do about declining funding, Wisconsin's shrinking youth population, or new entrants in the higher ed space. Summers referred to himself half-jokingly Chicken Little. Chicken Little says the sky is falling. He doesn't figure out how to keep the sky in place.

Holding up the sky sounds like a fool's errand. It isn't. It's always bad when the sky falls. There is always an alternative to accepting the conditions that created your decline in the first place. The alternative has to be created--in opposition to the hostile trends of austerity, loss of the youth population, and disruption that drives quality down. This would include, for example, (1) persistent confrontation with Ray Cross, the UW system president who has been lowering the public value of the whole UW system for years while allowing a minor deficit to knock this campus off course; (2) active recruitment of a higher percentage of a shrinking high school cohort into four-year public colleges, including Stevens Point; and (3) sharp differentiation of UWSP from certification programs and technical colleges by developing a comprehensive, integrated, diversity-friendly, and fulfilling curriculum.

The UWSP administration had a choice, and without public debate they choose the framework that would guide the planning: restructuring would be an adaptation to the hostile conditions of austerity, shrinkage, and downmarket disruptors. Their first planning assumption is

1. Adapt to a hostile environment.

This assumption guarantees that the plan would reflect austerity, shrinkage, and moves downmarket. Hence the plan's declaration:
[We confront this simple but vital question: Do we continue to offer the current number of majors, all of which will be chronically under-resourced and unable to serve students effectively, or do we reduce our program array so that the majors we offer, though fewer in number, are all adequately resourced and able to deliver the kind of rigorous, high-quality, and valuable education that our students deserve? We must choose the latter path, doing so in a way that maximizes potential enrollment and the service we provide to the region (emphasis omitted).
This is a false choice, since it leaves out the kind of restructuring in which the liberal arts and career-oriented majors are equal partners. It also reflects the general weakness with adapting to hostile trends, which is that it confirms their power:

  • Shrinking academic goals to arbitrarily cut budgets justifies further austerity.
  • Reduced curricular options narrows the range of potential students.
  • The campus (in spite of its intentions) looks less like an alternative to cheap technical colleges, and more like (an expensive) version of them.

In sum, adaptation to a hostile environment limits the available set of planning practices, starting with Summers' requirement that all the design proposals for the liberal arts and sciences include cuts. It made the goal of moving forward much less likely.

°°°°°

In his March 15th presentation, Summers stated that the campus's educational strategy will be to niche the curriculum: find subdisciplines not well covered by the competition and build in those.

I agree with the general strategy when it means building in areas not already monopolized by the dominant competitors. UC Santa Barbara, where I teach, resembles UWSP in having started as a normal school in the later 19th century, then becoming a teacher's college and later spending some awkward time in the mid-20th century as the Santa Barbara College of the University of California before becoming a general campus of the UC system. As one example of niching, UCSB's College of Engineering decided in the 1970s and 1980s not to emphasize hiring silicon-device engineers to compete with huge, powerful departments at Stanford, UCLA, UC Berkeley, and elsewhere, but to hire in other materials systems like gallium arsenide. This and similar niching strategies have produced most of the campus's strongest departments. They do indeed create research and instructional programs that stand out.

Summers puts it this way:
UWSP needs to distinguish itself in some fashion from our competition . . . that much I know. Natural resources, health, business, education, performing arts--these are clearly the institution's strongest identities now . . . especially if you look at overall enrollment trends, and which majors tend to draw the most new students in particular. These identities also run the most deeply in the institution's history. But again, this is absolutely up for debate. . . . I trust this campus to have these conversations in the coming months.
Here he's arguing, quite correctly, that in a highly competitive higher ed ecosystem, UWSP needs to give students specific reasons not to go to Madison or Oshkosh or a community college. The campus can fix its deficit and restore solvency by branding itself with one-of-a-kind programs.

There are at least two overlapping ways to do this niching. We can simplify them as supply and demand. Niching via supply would involve identifying problems that society needs to solve and then looking at how existing and incoming faculty and programs could be redesigned to address them. This process is intellectually complex, and involves a lot of rigor and honesty. It also takes imagination: it has to look over the horizon for new questions that other universities aren't pursuing.

Niching via demand involves surveying student preferences, usually proxied as enrollments. If students are leaving liberal arts majors for natural resources, then the administration tries to build mostly in natural resources. Changes in allocation are routine and happen to some extent at all campuses in most years. Niching via demand is okay in a growth environment, though it rarely involves much rethinking.

What UWSP is doing is niching via demand in a shrinking market. It has made the leading feature of its plan to close 13 majors and lay off 20% of their payroll. Wisconsin's recent weakening of tenure made exactly this kind of resource shift even easier: tenured professors, usually the people with the highest salaries in an academic unit, can now be fired in the course of furthering "the reallocation of resources to other programs with higher priority based on educational considerations."

I've been told by several Stevens Point faculty that they did try niching via supply--they met, designed new programs with niche potential and sent them to the administration. Aquaculture/ aquphonics was one of these, and the planners picked it up as one of the future programs. I personally can't tell whether this is an emerging field with new intellectual potential in an underserved niche. Assuming it is, there's no evidence that's why Summers picked it: as we'll see, his selection analysis focused entirely on immediate student demand.

At the public meetings I reviewed, faculty asked what had happened to their various new curricular ideas that had not been included in Point Forward. Summers replied that very rarely did they get a proposal that included cutting something--following Assumption 1 above. This is one example of how austerity spoils niching by biasing decisions towards strong incumbents.

This bias appears shapes the Point Forward agenda. Summers didn't explain to anyone the specific intellectual or market strengths of new offerings like "Captive Wildlife." Though he uttered niching theory, he offered no niching practice. Instead, he and his colleagues are doubling down on what "are clearly the institution's strongest identity now" -- "natural resources, health, business, education, performing arts."



The idea seems to be that investment must be limited to fields reflecting the campus's current core identity--and not creative niches within these broad categories (say a major in "public resource finance" inside "business"). UWSP's administration claim that only these "branded" disciplines will regularly beat those of rival campuses in a competitive market. But a brand is not a niche (even if a niche later becomes your new brand). A brand is closer to the opposite of a niche.

So we derive the next assumption, in spite of the administration's insistence that student demand is only one of many factors:

2. Niche to Dominant Present Student Demand.

Putting the first two planning assumptions together, we have UWSP letting cost drivers and existing demand set supply. We also have a bias towards the campus's dominant incumbent disciplines. The main public innovation is so far only the cutting of liberal arts departments and not anything new happening in the dominant ones. This appears to me to be second important error-- to follow current demand, and at the moment when it is weak.

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Summers passionately declared that UWSP would never become a trade school as long as he was around:
Among the most disturbing things I’ve heard in the past week is that the only students who truly receive a liberal arts education are those who are lucky enough to major in one of the liberal arts disciplines. . . . To be clear, again, that’s 6-10 percent of our students. I really hope that’s not the case. In fact, I know it’s not the case. It’s absolutely not the case. Every single one of our majors takes, as part of their 120 credit degree, a third of those credits, 40 or maybe more, in one of the traditional liberal arts disciplines, in our general education program, our core curriculum. For that reason these are not vocational degrees. This is not and never will be a technical college. We have to stop disparaging 90% of the students we graduate, and 90% of the degrees that we offer. I simply don’t think that’s a fair statement. (my transcription, around 1:02)
This sounds like a commitment to keep liberal arts credit hours at around one-third of the total for all UWSP students. If that's about the share of liberal arts credit hours now, then UWSP is not actually planning a major change in curricular shares between liberal arts and four of the Big Five branded sectors (Performing Arts is the fifth). There's to be a big upheaval in majors but not in enrollments. In general, while liberal arts majors have declined--e.g., 25 percent between 2010 and 2016 at UC Santa Barbara--liberal arts enrollments have not (down less than 1 percent at the same institution). At UWSP, liberal arts units, whatever they end up being, aren't going to see much of a change in workload.

Summers injects his statements about the liberal arts with an animus toward the elective system. As he desribes the situation, non-majors take a cafeteria sampling of unrelated courses merely to score a certain number of credits.
students in those programs in business and health and natural resources, when they go to satisfy their humanities requirement, they take kind of a random class from a menu of options, right, that has no purposeful design. You put a menu in front of students and they’ll pick out whatever they happen to be able to enroll in. And it’s not purposeful. It’s not intentional. And it may not be providing the best kind of background for those graduates in those particular fields. (around 0:50).
I again agree with Summers: general education depends way too much on a cafeteria display of electives where coherent choice has been made even harder in the past decade by cutting courses to fit reduced budgets. (I have written elsewhere about fixing distribution requirements that don't support any kind of undergraduate expertise. A hard-core and less desirable version appears in Clayton Christensen and Henry Eyring's The Innovative University, which recounts the forced teardown and rebuilding of a modular, integrated curriculum at BYU-Idaho.) In short, a curriculum offering purposeful integration to students that may have uneven academic preparation would be a niche that could build student demand. In my opinion, this is the strongest part of the Point Forward plan.

Except that it's not really part of the plan. Summers mentions the weakness with general ed (which is nationwide) to make it sound like it comes from the very existence of liberal arts majors and of their departments. The implication is that the great majority of UWSP students would get better liberal arts without liberal arts departments. Summers offers no evidence for this claim, but it does taint the competence of the departments.

With this pall cast over the liberal arts, Summers presents four kinds of student demand metrics: (a) enrollment by major (the slide captions say "enrollments" (this says Student Credit Hours [SCH] to me, but I assume he means total number of majors); (b) cost per student credit hour; (c) majors declared by new freshmen or transfers; (d) and trends in majors (up or down).

The result of these demand tests, taken together, is confusion. The same is true for looking only at (a), (b), or (d). Sociology, slated to be cut (except for social work) is as big as Health Care Professions and Biology, and is fifth in overall majors. Philosophy is the campus's second fastest-growing major (with Sociology number 3 in this category as well), yet it is to be cut. The same non-alignment is true of cost per SCH: most of the to-be-terminated majors are in the cheap half of the table, with Sociology to be axed although it is the number one cheapest major on campus. Winning in one or more categories doesn't save you from extinction. Losing can translate into winning.

It turns out that the decisive metric is (c), the majors that most interest the newest students. Here's slide 7



The numbers here represent major declarations on day 10 of the student's first term on campus. This is the metric where low rank most strongly predicts that Summers wants to close you, and Summers explains why.
Look carefully, if you will, at the departments and the majors clustered at the top half of this table. . . . You’re going to see a lot of programs in health, business, education, and the arts. . . . These are clearly the programs that play the strongest role in shaping the university’s identity. These are our brand. . . . These are the things that make us different, that draw students here as opposed to somewhere else. . . . If our decisionmaking in the months ahead is going to sharpen and strengthen our identity rather than weaken it, I think we should look most closely at this table. And that's exactly what we've done. (around 0:44)
The theory here is that demand is best defined by the student's first major. Summers also assumes it is the best proxy for the campus's identity. In this view, the 10th-day major shows which customers will cross the county or the state to study with you (business, education, wildlife ecology, or forestry), while only a few say they did the same to study English or Philosophy. The conclusion is that the campus shouldn't try to build enrollment in a crowded market where it has weak pull, but build enrollment where it has strong pull.

To base your planning on the only one of your four data slices that shows the non-liberal arts prevailing, you'd want to be pretty sure that this is not your noisiest slide. You'd want to be sure that these data reflect demand and long-term future campus identity rather than a lot of other things. You'd also want to explain why it's okay to follow the interests of the greenest students with the least possible direct experience of the campus and its courses. Summers presents no evidence that the views of 10-day freshmen are the best basis for transforming the campus, or that they've really thought about other possible inputs into these numbers.

I immediately thought of three kinds of noise: parents, media, and schools. Students' initial majors reflect family conventions and parental wishes, which usually and understandably skew towards job training. The media has been circulating anti-liberal arts propaganda for years, with the result that many people think philosophy majors never get jobs. Even if high school teachers and counselors resist the media's dumb common sense, their schools generally don't offer most of the majors slated for elimination (sociology, art and design, international studies, political science, geography and geology, philosophy, and most languages), so students wouldn't really know what they're like. This slide could be a snapshot of student peak ignorance, and not any better a guide to the next UWSP than it is to the student's sophomore year.

To head off the interpretation that as students mature intellectually, they move toward the liberal arts, Summers also denigrates double majoring. Normally, we assume they express a student's multiple interests that are seeking integration. Not for Summers. Philosophy has been growing nicely, he agrees. But "the department will acknowledge that 70 percent are actually double majors. They’re in programs like business, natural resources, health programs. They are picking up philosophy as a complementary curriculum, in much the same way that they are looking for a minor" (around 0:49).

This apparent detail is actually a key claim: Summers asserts, again without saying why, that because the philosophy majors are "in programs like business" that philosophy is a minor sidelight for them. In his slide on Sociology and Social Work (featuring a weak 10th-day preference for Social Work over Sociology), and in the Appendix slides, Summers tries to show that most liberal arts majoring is really vocational majoring, especially at the 10-day point. The next step is obvious: if most liberal arts majors are really liberal arts minors or liberal arts dabblers, then the numbers for majors grossly inflate the demand for liberal arts as majors. Thus these minor interests could be satisfied by a handful of courses rather than the dozen or more that majors require. So UWSP doesn't need liberal arts majors at all.

I'm struck by the weakness of the evidence for these inferences. UWSP doesn't show the evidence that justifies putting 10th day major data above the other major (and undisclosed enrollment) data or for dismissing overall liberal arts majors or for their growth. Were the campus looking over the horizon, it might see that double majoring students are out in front of what's offered by the existing campus identity--that undergraduates at Stevens Point and everywhere else are hacking majors with the help of sympathetic faculty. Double majoring generally mean that the students care about two or more fields equally, or are taking on a "second" major that reflects the true interest their parents disallowed, or want to synthesize disparate skill sets, among other things.

The growth of double majoring points towards the most likely future of public universities, one that will include a broadening of regional service, more yoking analytical, communicative, and technical skills rather than the Point Forward elevation of the technical over the others. Universities will probably be more interactive and embedded with their communities and more directly translational of their research into practice with those communities (and less via licensing agreements and start-up companies). The translational liberal arts will be central to developing these new social powers. UWSP is exactly the kind of university that could pioneer this work--while pioneering the reconnecting of higher education to rural America. But one big obstacle is the UWSP administrative assumption that they must, instead,

3. Define the liberal arts as marginal to practice.

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After all this, what about the whole point of the Stevens Point revolution, which is to save money for the new career majors? Slide 12 gives a sum of the yield of the closed majors via the layoffs of 20 percent of departmental staff. It is savings of $1.4 million. The closures are to save about 5 percent of the campus's instructional budget, and less than 3 percent of the overall budget of Academic Affairs (about $49.5 m). The rest of the deficit is to be made up by cuts from elsewhere, none of which are identified.

The closure will save so little money because these departments have already been cut repeatedly and are excessively efficient. Yet that is the new money to be put on the table. What about the costs of designing and mounting the new flagship majors? And what about the revenues that they are expected to generate?

The plan has no information about either of these. I didn't learn anything in the presentations about projected costs of and revenues from the new majors. The campus thus can't judge whether the closure savings will cover the cost of the new programs, or how much new revenue the new programs will earn beyond what their current versions already do.

There are some obvious questions. For starters: How much enrollment growth are the new majors estimated to produce? What are the estimates for enrollment losses due to closed liberal arts majors? Can the new programs live mostly off money that used to run the liberal arts as a set of majors? Extrapolating from slide 6's cost calculations, the new majors will all cost more than the majors that are being closed, so how will the new majors fix the campus's balance sheet? If the new majors will not be self-supporting for a few years, when will they be? If they are to be self-supporting, as the business-school dean claimed his would be, what then is the point of the closures? The programs need to be special and not generic, but how much extra will special cost? To date, none of the official materials I've found project the costs of the new programs or revenue growth or estimate profits after the layoffs on the basis of projected enrollment growth.

I hope such budget projections exist, and don't understand why Summers would not have presented them--unless they weakened his case. There are reasons to worry that they do. Summers deepened my concerns when he said he expected no real enrollment growth for years to come (around 0:49); and when he was asked directly to compare savings and costs at the March 19th campus forum and said nothing about costs.

In any case, I've found no public evidence that UWSP's new curriculum may put its budget back in the black. On the contrary, there is indirect evidence that the change will make the budget deficit worse-- new program costs, stagnant enrollments, alienated liberal arts and liberal-practical double majors, general disruption and lowered morale, and the continued influence of the dominant incumbents, all so far left undiscussed.

This leads me to the last of the four implicit planning assumptions:

4. The restructured curriculum is designed to signal austerity and vocationalism to the system rather than to achieve (desirable versions of) them. So far, it is a political project.

Stevens Point can do better than this. But it can only if it rejects these four assumptions. It needs four other things instead. It needs a new deal with the state. It needs to design educational supply by extrapolating future intellectual and public needs. It must connect, on an equal basis, liberal arts and sciences to "applied" majors. And it must do all this on the basis of open and complete budgeting.

It sounds hard, but it would be worth the trouble. A truly interesting new curriculum could still come of this.
Posted by Chris Newfield | Comments: 1