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Monday, June 17, 2019

Monday, June 17, 2019

UCOP is moving ahead rapidly to consider and implement dramatic changes in the structure of retiree healthcare at UC.  The have issued a Request for Proposals to remodel retiree healthcare (and apparently have received one).  UCOP has claimed that they are considering changes that will save up to $40M although they are also claiming that it will not substantially reduce the quality of coverage.  

At the same time it is quite possible that these changes will not be limited to retiree health care (where its burden of course will be especially heavy).  According to a letter from Rachael Nava to the Retiree Health Benefits Working Group this examination is being linked to a wider reevaluation of the entire structure of the University's health care plans.

We will keep you posted as we hear more.  But the best coverage of this issue is being done by Dan Mitchell over at the UCLA Faculty Association Blog.   His latest post includes links to his earlier, extensive coverage.  I urge all UC readers to follow Dan's coverage.  Please remember that unlike a pension retiree health is not a vested benefit.  So it is important that faculty and staff not assume it is stable.


Posted by Michael Meranze | Comments: 0

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Tuesday, June 4, 2019
This post is another in our ongoing series on Critical University Studies in the UK from the perspective of early-career scholars.

by Eric Lybeck, Presidential Fellow, University of Manchester

What is happening to the "academic self"?

I organised a conference on the apparently esoteric topic of ‘Academics, Professionals and Publics: Changes in the Ecologies of Knowledge Work’ at the University of Manchester in April.  It was a part of my Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship to track the long-term changes to the academic self, and with it, the idea of the university. When planning the event, I expected a handful of contributors and participants to meet for a workshop or seminar, but the event grew into a full-blown conference with twenty speakers and nearly a hundred attendees.  Clearly the topic(s) had struck a nerve.

The central theme of the conference revolved around our need as academics and professionals, working in and around the university, to reflect on the changes to the roles of knowledge in contemporary society. In particular, we noted the paradox in which experts have become subject to populist attacks even as the role of higher education and expertise are said to have become essential to knowledge economies.

We also wanted to reflect on changes within universities as new forms of expertise and professionalism have emerged, particularly the increased role of university administration and policy ‘wonks’ representing new forms of expertise within a context where academics lay claim to existing knowledge and authority.

Various talks engaged with issues surrounding the alienation of academic life, changes to university governance, and the reconfiguration of space within open-plan offices. We also heard from speakers, including Andrew Abbott, about the fact that ‘pure research’ has always been a free rider that gained a (likely temporary) foothold in universities: it may now be moving on due to decreasing institutional support.

Vivienne Baumfield spoke of the in-between role of academic teacher-educators.  She called on us to  recognize a mission to produce a generation of teachers who see themselves and act as public intellectuals. Linda Evans informed us of the way ‘academic leadership’ has become a catch-all term for an increasing array of job expectations that not even the most elite professors in the academy feel they can adequately live up to.

By the end of the day, my head was swimming with new ideas and, yet, despite the range of topics from several interdisciplinary fields, a few main themes came into view, which I would like to share.

First, academics and professionals may see ourselves as independent and above-it-all, but we are not. This positioning is not tenable within a populist political environment in which academics are targeted by the charge that we are out-of-touch elitists and cannot to be trusted. As Aaron Hanlon noted in his discussion of the commonalities between truth claims in the 17th century Enlightenment and those made on social media today, we cannot take public trust in knowledge for granted.  We need to communicate directly with the public, likely better than we have done hitherto.

Second, while the need to engage with the public is ever more important, it is discouraged by institutional pressures to chase rankings and by government mandates to ‘Innovate!’ and be ‘excellent.’ We likely need to rethink the entirety of our present system of work within our publish-or-perish environment if we are to realize these promises to the public.

Third, those of us involved in higher education research need to reach out beyond our specialization in education departments to involve the entire community of academics, professionals and publics in and around the university.  Every discipline should have something to say about changes to the ‘idea of the university’ or knowledge as such. For me, the most rewarding experience of the conference was the commentary from those in so-called ‘non-academic’ or ‘professional service’ roles, who were fully engaged with such as ‘what should the role of administration actually be vis-à-vis academics?’ We experienced a temporary suspension of the sense that the university is now two opposed hostile camps engaged in a zero-sum game.

In these and other ways, the event felt like an instance of the wider promise of Critical University Studies: real discussion across the full range of people in and outside the university about where it is going and what it should be. We can point to history in which academics seemed to have fulfilled roles as researchers, teachers and public intellectuals, but where do we find the time in the current system to do this publicly-engaged work?

We need to reclaim these public roles for ourselves and our students. We can only do this if we reclaim and reconstruct our universities.  And this reconstruction will also involve confrontation with the academic self today's universities expect.
Posted by Chris Newfield | Comments: 1

Friday, May 31, 2019

Friday, May 31, 2019
UCSF and UCSF Medical Center have announced that they are suspending negotiations to expand their existing relationships with four Catholic hospitals.  The reversal--highly unusual for the UC medical system--came after a public and a faculty outcry against more entanglement of the University with the private Dignity medical system that declines reproductive health services, gender-affirming surgery, and other procedures that conflict with the teachings of the Catholic Church.  This decision is a big deal: after providing some background, I'll argue that it's an example of the power of faculty effort when it stands on principle and in alignment with social movements--with help from sophisticated press coverage that higher ed too often has to do without.

Michael entitled his first draft of this post, "Does UCSF Care about Womens' and LGTBQ Health?" It was a good question, since UCSF Health's senior management seemed to be denying the restrictive reality that would be imposed on UCSF personnel operating in Dignity facilities. According to reporting by Nanette Asimov (April 26, 2019),
Dignity spokesman Chad Burns has said the Catholic hospitals require UCSF doctors to sign God-affirming agreements that prohibit medical care that violate the hospitals’ religious beliefs. He said these include the “Statement of Common Values” or the more restrictive “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services,” which characterizes certain procedures, including sterilization, as “intrinsically evil.” Depending on the hospital, prohibited care can include abortions, tubal ligations, hysterectomies, sterilizations, miscarriage care, gender surgery and contraceptive counseling.
Under the terms of the former, Dignity must deny abortions, along with in-vitro fertilization (which would disproportionately harm the gay and lesbian couples that depend on that procedure).  Under the latter, Dignity presumes that marriage is between a man and a woman, forbids the prescribing of contraception as well as abortion, and allows the morning after pill in cases of rape but not abortion (paragraph 36). 

Meanwhile, UCSF was assuring its personnel that it would not have to sign any such agreements or do anything that violated their professional ethics or secular standards of care. Asimov also reported,
UCSF spokeswoman Jennifer O’Brien said the medical center’s physicians are not required to sign those precise documents. “But they do commit to provide care consistent with those value statements as part of their credentialing and privilege application to practice in Dignity Health’s hospitals. This does not impede our physicians’ ability to prescribe contraception medications at any Dignity Health hospital, regardless of its Catholic sponsorship.”
The statement doesn't exactly make sense, reading from one sentence to the next, and is in any case flatly contradicted by the Dignity spokesperson.  The tacit deal seemed to have been that UCSF personnel could mention or even advocate procedures that they could not provide at a Dignity facility but that the patient could get elsewhere--though such counseling also contravenes Catholic directives.  UCSF seems to have carved out wiggle room in prexisiting clinical affiliations, whose complicated policies were the subject of a September 2017 Academic Senate report.

This was a long way from UCSF Health's original August 2017 announcement that it was formalizing an affiliation with Dignity.  This press release represented the new stage as a done deal that merely deepened existing affiliations between two essentially identical titans of clinical quality, one of which, Dignity, was exemplary for its charitable medical work for low-income patients.  The announcement didn't mention that Dignity restricted access to some kinds of health care or even that it was Catholic.  So the open debate in 2019 may well have forced the parties, Dignity and UCSF Health, finally to reckon with the fact that they had contradictory ideas about the alliance, which would make it unworkable in practice.

How did the debate come to the surface? Several factors came together.

First, advocates for reproductive and LGTBQ rights critiqued the UCSF plan and publicized the critique.  The ACLU of Northern California, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the National Health Law Program wrote a joint memorandum detailing the various ways in which the alliance would require discriminatory treatment of transgender patients, women, and people seeking palliative care, among others. The ACLU collected 6700 signatures on a petition demanding that UC reject the alliance in the name of protecting health care free of discrimination.  Word circulated about the case of Evan Minton, a transgender man, who had sued a Dignity hospital for canceling his hysterectomy after discovering that its purpose was gender affirmation.  The ACLU organized a protest for May 15th, calling on people to hold UC accountable to its values of non-discrimination, equity, and inclusion. Trans, feminist, reproductive, and other health care movements played an important role.

Second, UCSF faculty got directly involved. 1500 staff signed a petition opposing the alliance.  They also found a channel to express individual opinions en masse.  The main agent was the Faculty Association, which decided to poll its members to confirm or deny assertions of general support.  Results ran 2 to 1 against the affiliation.  When the UCSF administration declared the results unrepresentative of the overall faculty, the FA polled the entire faculty.  They got more or less exactly the same results: 2 to 1 against, with about 1/4th in favor.

The FA also collected over 300 comments.  Many were quite moving, both in favor (see #1, on experience of no restrictions in practicing at St. Marys and reciprocal influence in caring for uninsured patients from vulnerable populations); and against (#8, 48, and 64, for example).   The chair of the divisional Academic Senate favored the affiliation (see his co-authored op-ed), as apparently did much of campus Senate leadership.

But the FA persisted, which is important in itself; generated empirical evidence, which is equally important as a check on spin; and gathered a large set of individual comments, which allows personal experience and care to be expressed in a way that helps collective thinking, and that serves as a displaced form of democratic deliberation.  The faculty, so often inexpressive on university policy, were brought on line.

On the systemwide level, Academic Council chair Robert May opposed the affiliation on principle.  Although he sees the business logic, he told some of us in April, the alliance would compromise the fundamental values of the university, not unlike the McCarthy-era loyalty oath of 1949.  We can debate what UC's fundamental values really are, but May articulated a support for absolutely equal access to health care regardless of any aspect of personal identity, one that allowed for no splitting the difference between UCSF and Dignity.  I think it made a difference to see a faculty member in May's position stating quite clearly what the university is for, and standing up for that.

Third, press coverage rendered the alliance as a public concern. In addition to Asimov's reporting, Michael Hiltzik wrote a pair of columns in April (here and here) describing how the details were not public, the Regents were confused, the defenses were not convincing, and the ethics were disastrous.  The first column said early on:
Dignity’s adherence to Catholic Church directives affecting medical care, including a near-total ban on abortion, is hopelessly at odds with the values of a public institution such as UCSF. What’s worse, UCSF, by implicitly accepting Dignity’s model discriminating against women and LGBTQ patients, would empower that model’s expansion.
and built up from there.  For the LA Times's business columnist --and author of a history of UC science--to deliver to UC a set of cogent criticisms helped stop the train that has always already left the station so that people could think again about where the train was going.

There are at least two issues to keep analyzing and pushing, given the possibility that UCSF and Dignity will come back later with a restructured deal.  The first is now widely discussed--how to develop fundamentally egalitarian health care in our Handmaid moment of coordinated assaults on Roe v. Wade, and more muted but pervasive opposition to transgender rights. UCSF's position was the kind of moderation that has made reproductive healthcare vulnerable (see Rebecca Traister on Democrat triangulation with abortion).

The second is the UC medical center business model.  UCSF argued that it needed Dignity to solve a capacity crisis.  But why does it have one after it spent 10 years building a whole second campus at Mission Bay? We've commented before on the planning problems there.  After all that building, where are the beds to handle projected growth? Were too many new buildings devoted to targeted projects of interest to donors?  I don't know the answers to these questions, but somebody should answer them.  It seems like something has gone very wrong with planning when two entire UCSFs, one brand-new, can't handle the clinical load.  

There is also another possibility, which is that UCSF doesn't have a capacity crisis, but a monopoly crisis.  There isn't actually an overall shortage of hospital beds in the Bay Area (Dignity has many empty ones), but only a shortage of beds controlled by UCSF.  This raises the thorny question of whether the UC medical enterprise is financially viable without a quasi-monopoly share of the local market that, among other things, would make it easier to raise prices on patients.  The question should be of burning interest to the UC system, since the US health care system is in a state of turbulent uncertainty and UC it is on the hook for its medical center losses.

But for the moment, we should see the suspended Dignity deal as a real success for faculty-staff engagement in tandem with social movements and an intellectually active press.

ADDENDUM, JUNE 1ST (from Ed Yelin, Professor of Medicine, UCSF)

Re: the UCSF capacity issue: the Mission Bay hospital provides different services than the Parnassus one, by design.  Mission Bay covers oncology, Ob/Gyn,  and pediatrics while Parnassus does the rest.  That may make sense from a faculty perspective, so a pediatrician doesn’t have to schlep across the city to see patients in two places, but it means any errors of prediction in demand bump up against the lack of flexibility and lack of redundancy.  If the Ob wards are full at Mission Bay, Parnassus can’t help.

Another issue is that they may have overbuilt lab space (this gets to the issue of who among the donors gets to have their names on buildings) and under-built clinical capacity at Mission Bay.  Just guessing based on rumors about the lab and clinical buildings.  The predictions about how much lab space would be supported by indirect cost returns from NIH grants were probably off when the Mission Bay campus was planned; they were projecting increases in real value based on the Clinton years.  The rest is history, even though from some perspectives NIH has fared better than much of the Federal government. Better to say things got bad at a slower pace!

Oh, one last thing, about the Faculty Association role.  Like to take credit for some part in this movement, but we were late to the game.  We may be more than the straw, but definitively weren’t the anvil that broke the camel’s back.  Maybe a mid-weight rider on the camel.  Faculty in Ob/Gyn and reproductive health were ahead on this.  Glad that we contributed a lot at the end.  As to the survey: we made the call to extend it to the entire faculty to head off the accusation about not being fully representative rather than reacting ex post facto to the administration’s claim about that.

ADDENDUM 2, JUNE 7

Here is a link to the Interim Report of the Academic Senate Task Force on Non-Discrimination in Health Care. It recommends what has happened, which is the suspension of the affiliation pending an reconciliation of fundamental principles, which is unlikely to say the least.
Posted by Chris Newfield | Comments: 0

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Wednesday, May 15, 2019
This is the first section of the talk I'll give at Disquantified: Higher Education in the Age of MetricsMay 16th, 1 pm, Loma Peloma at UCSB.  We're headed towards conceptual and policy fixes for the widespread misuse of metrics and for the sidelining of qualitative knowledge.

There’s no intrinsic conflict between language and the numerical. But we do have a profoundly embedded cultural misinterpretation of their relation.

This year brings the 60th anniversary of CP Snow’s famous Two Cultures lecture.  Unfortunately, it still reflects the public understanding of the divisions of human knowledge.  Speaking in 1959, Sir Charles classed scientists as people with the future in their bones, and “literary intellectuals” as “natural Luddites,” people who are too focused on the price of progress to make any progress themselves.  This idea of literary intellectuals as critics rather than creatives carries on today.  Some of us have tried to get rid of the label – via the critique of critique for example—but so far this has reinforced it. 

In higher education, it would seem that we would have solved this two-culture division long ago. Liberal arts education is all about general learning and creating competencies in multiple domains.  Literacy and numeracy would seem naturally to go together. Every humanities major would, in a normal world, graduate with the ability to use basic numerical techniques.  French majors would know Stata or r for statistics, or the basics of Python or Java. Why not, since the world isn’t divided into two cultures such that we live in only in one of them?  Similarly, every science major could interpret complex language and have competency in at least one foreign language.   In many European countries, a version of these “two culture” competences are assumed to be the outcome of a high school diploma.  In the US, the full term has always been “liberal arts and sciences.”

There’s another Sputnik-era assumption to remember.  Liberal arts education was to be available at every type of college or university across the country.  This is a basic principle of Morrill Act land-grant legislation.  Full arts, sciences, and applied curricula  would not be limited to flagships: if you lived in central Wisconsin and couldn’t afford to move to Madison—or didn’t want to—you could get a generally equivalent  quality of liberal education at the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point.  You could study biology in order to apply to medical school like your Madison counterparts. And you could at the same time become proficient in German or Spanish or Arabic, depending on your interests.  You could flip it around and study Arabic to join the foreign service while learning biology to better understand how the world fits together.  Having linguistic mobility and scientific competency were to be hallmarks of the educated person in the modern post-war world. And that is to say nothing of the many practical but nonmonetary benefits of having, say, physicians who speak a second language, and negotiators who understand ecology.  There was a powerful egalitarian assumption in the US university system—education quality would be spread widely in the student population, to reflect the wide distribution of human intelligence, and society’s complex needs.

This egalitarian assumption was largely honoured in the breach. That began to change through social and political pressures that came from outside universities and inspired students and some faculty within them.  I’m referring to the Black civil rights movement, the feminist movement, the anti-war movement, for starters. Liberal arts and sciences learned that they either connect to and study sociocultural and political movements or they do not correctly prepare students to live in their world as it actually is.  Isolated liberal arts, including historical study,  also produce flawed research.  So public universities were to avoid two false dualisms: the false dualism between numerical and language/ image-based forms of knowledge, and the false dualism between academic and social knowledge (or between “validated” and “standpoint” knowledge).  If universities couldn’t (or shouldn’t) integrate social groups, they could (and should) integrate heterogeneous knowledges across their multiplicity.

Two-cultures university education isn’t a luxury. It’s more like the base model of a degree to which people devote an entire four years of their lives – or five or six.  If a country wants to be a leading knowledge society, as the US claims it is, it needs in principle to create mass quantities of creative workers, people who also have intellectual autonomy and are capable of both conceptual and political movement.  I think of these as the elements that allow a graduate of any liberal arts or science major to start, pursue, and successfully complete a knowledge project.  My basic list has 14 steps.  (Slide mercifully omitted)

I’d propose this as a non-numerical framework for analyzing college educational quality.

A country that is serious about language and the numerical, would identify monetary but especially the nonmonetary or intellectual benefits that it wants from its colleges and universities, and then funds and structure those colleges accordingly.

So how are we doing with this?  Right now, not well . . . .
Posted by Chris Newfield | Comments: 8

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Tuesday, May 7, 2019
by Eva Cherniavsky, Andrew R. Hilen Professor of American Literature and Culture, University of Washington at Seattle

Earlier this year, the Seattle Times ran an excellent piece on the decline of the humanities at the University of Washington (UW) and nationwide. Katherine Long, a veteran education reporter, got crucial elements of this topic absolutely right. Her piece began, “You won’t find a single expert on the history of the American Revolution or the Civil War at the University of Washington anymore.”  She goes on to make an unusual connection: cutting the humanities hurts student learning and the university’s budget.

To its credit, Long’s article carefully observes both the intellectual and economic consequences of shrinking humanities departments. She notes that, historically, the humanities have effectively taught large numbers of students at relatively low cost, generating credit hours and revenue that was used to subsidize teaching and research in the high-cost STEM fields.  (There, as we know, faculty routinely require not only higher salaries, but laboratories, professional staff to run them, and students to work in them.  Thus a single STEM faculty hire can easily run into the millions.)  Shrinking humanities enrollments (indeed, more broadly, the shrinkage in what is now openly referred to at UW as the “non-STEM” fields) thus seriously exacerbates the budgetary crisis produced by the decades-long withdrawal of public funding.

On the other hand, Long frames the humanities’ intellectual contributions in highly conventional terms: “Academics worry that the nation would be impoverished—both culturally and intellectually—if only an elite few understand the arc of American history, know how to find meaning in poetry, or can discuss the ideas of the great philosophers.”  This kind of formulation narrowly aligns the humanities with cultural tradition, and thereby, no doubt unwittingly, reproduces precisely the argument for its irrelevance as a relatively arcane body of knowledge that should perhaps be archived but that does not require ongoing forms of study and engagement. 

Instead, we might readily substitute a more robust and informed articulation of the value of culture-focused fields. We could talk, for example, about the importance of fields that think power, identity, and rhetoric at a moment of simmering civil war, or we might emphasize that an understanding of modernity and the historical emergence of modern democratic forms is vital at a moment where democratic governance appears in crisis.  The absence of this deeper understanding of humanities knowledge has contributed to the humanities apparent decline. 

The day of its publication, Long’s article circulated on the UW-AAUP list server.  The discussion that ensued moved between posts that asserted the regrettable inevitability of humanities decline, given plummeting student demand, and others that sought to make the case for the non-STEM fields, though largely based on asserting the value of non-STEM knowledge to technological and scientific endeavors (e.g. how the insights of anthropology are important to the development of artificial intelligence). 

It’s worth noting that this was a relatively short-lived, low-energy discussion, especially when compared, for example, to the bounty of thoughtful posts on another recent topic, ownership of on-line course content.  But there is a relatively straightforward institutional/legal fix to the latter problem (demand faculty ownership of course content), which, moreover, also affects faculty in high-value STEM fields.   The fate of the non-STEM fields, by contrast, appears already given – a ‘fact’ to be explicated, rather than a policy to be contested.

The debate reproduced one of the major shortcomings of the Seattle Times article: discussing “student demand” as a cause, rather than effect. It assumed, in other words, that students’ choice of majors is based on their autonomous determination of their best interest, and thus sits outside the purview of what the institution directs and regulates.   This conviction resurfaced a few weeks later in another UW-AAUP list server thread, this time in response to a faculty member reporting that several of her non-STEM students were asking for references so they could transfer to other universities, an aspiration which (she noted) they all attributed to the oppressively STEM-focused culture of UW.  The discussion which followed this post consisted largely of testimonials; faculty cited conversations with students to suggest how deeply they appreciated both the humanities curriculum and a humanities pedagogy historically centered on smaller, intensive, discussion-focused classes. Someone needs to gather these stories and convey them to the administration, several posters suggested – as though, confronted with the documentary evidence of actual student preference, the university would rethink its distribution of resources.

Seriously?  It seems to me that anyone who considers this for more than ten minutes has to recognize that “student demand” is a construct: it is the product of a pervasive, cross-institutional pedagogy in social and educational value in which students are immersed from (at least) primary school onward.  If students are demanding STEM in record numbers, this is a because they have been systematically invited to embrace a number of interlocking beliefs: that

  1. STEM fields matter to the welfare and future of human societies more than other fields -- that social problems respond best to technocratic solutions; 
  2. college is a course of career training; 
  3. college is an investment that ought to be maximized in order to yield the highest possible return in the form of lifelong higher income;
  4. STEM fields represent areas of continuing high-growth, recession-proof employment. 

“Student demand” is a fact insofar as it reproduces these assumptions, which are already endemic to the privatized, market-driven university.  Other forms of “student demand” (for example, demands for a more racially and ethnically diverse faculty that better reflects regional and national demographics) are routinely ignored. 

The university is by no means the only social institution to promulgate these neoliberal assumptions, but it is among the most important.  Certainly, the notion that the university is merely changing to “respond” to STEM-focused student demand is absurd, since the university, increasingly beholden to private philanthropy (vastly skewed toward STEM initiatives) and increasingly reliant on tuition dollars (and the model of education as investment that normalizes rising tuition costs)  has been a key purveyor of these views. 

The absurdity of the “student demand” rationale becomes apparent, as well, as soon as we recall that the starving of the humanities (and other non-STEM fields) began long before the number of majors began to plummet. The humanities, but also many of the social sciences, have been bleeding tenure lines, compelled to rely on lecturers (who are not defined as researchers) and, worse still, part-time lecturers for decades, since long before the 2008 recession or the rise in STEM enrollments.  The story of the humanities begins with the rule of austerity, not with declining demand. 

I would also argue that the withdrawal of resources from humanities fields has hampered to a greater or lesser extent the ability of their faculty to build the kind of cutting edge programs and curricula that can most successfully compete for student interest.  This has certainly been true in my own English department, where retirements have vastly outpaced hires.  Several years of an outright hiring freeze, followed by the acquisition of a single line when we made a compelling curricular case for three or four, have made it virtually impossible to reflect at the curricular level many of the most important and compelling developments in the field. And again, this is happening during years when majors were at an all-time high. 

In short, the humanities and allied fields are not “dying” a “natural” (market-determined) death, but have been systematically murdered – starved of resources and plundered of the credit hours they generate.

Here we come to the final missing piece in this “decline of the humanities” story:  the relatively lower earnings of non-STEM majors.  This is invoked as one of the reasons for shifting “student demand.” But as Chris Newfield has shown, it is not that the skills these graduates bring are not valued in the marketplace, but rather that their possessors are perceived as interchangeable and thus easily replaceable. There is no need for higher pay when there is always someone else to fill the job (Unmaking the Public University, chapter 8). 

But what happens when years of downsizing non-STEM graduates means that the glut vanishes – when employers have to compete for workers proficient in, say, critical analysis, writing, or multi-cultural literacy?  It will not be possible simply to reboot the myriad departments that are now being cut to the bone – and beyond.  The damage being done is irreversible.  PhDs in the field are increasingly moving into community college positions or alt-ac careers, even as humanities graduate programs across the country are slashing ever further the number of students admitted. There will be no way back from this devastation when market demand picks up. 

The idea of a university organized around market (mislabeled “student”) demand is radically unsustainable.  It is unsustainable because, in shrinking the humanities, the university cannibalizes its own budgetary life support (as Long's article makes vivid).  But it is, unsustainable, too, because one cannot simply eviscerate and then resurrect departments and programs according to the inevitably shifting and fundamentally short-term calculations of the market.

In this moment, the resistance to the increasing privatization of the public university has taken the form of the demand for free tuition. This demand is fundamental to any effort at reclaiming public higher education.  But it is not a sufficient demand.  It must be linked to a broader recognition that market forces cannot organize the university – and that if this model becomes fully and finally entrenched, what we will have is not a university at all, but a high-priced career training center for the elite. 

If this is permitted to occur, I predict we will lose both the battle for free tuition and the battle for the “non-STEM” fields.  The fate of the humanities is profoundly linked to the fate of public higher education.


Posted by Chris Newfield | Comments: 12

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Thursday, May 2, 2019
Stanford University Provost Persis Drell has stayed the execution of Stanford University Press for one year.  The very existence of the issue and its non-resolution is a comment both on the state of the academic humanities and of academic governance.

On April 25th, Stanford's Provost Persis Drell announced that the University will not continue to provide its annual subsidy to Stanford University Press.  Apparently because the University could only manage about a 6% increase on its over $26 billion endowment, the Provost had decided the University could not afford a $1.7 million dollar subsidy to the prestigious press.  The announcement produced instant, widespread opposition at Stanford as well as a national outcry for which the provost was clearly unprepared.

Some comments pointed out that Stanford University Press has been in existence almost as long as has Stanford University, was established by the explicit desire of Stanford's first president, has long published path breaking and prize-winning works in history, sociology, anthropology, philosophy, business, and law, and nurtured young and innovative scholars across the humanities and social sciences.  But according to several faculty members, Provost Drell had declared the Press "second rate" and decided not to renew the campus contribution to its overall budget. The press spends $6.5 million a year and gets $5 million in revenues, mostly from book publications.  Academic titles produce knowledge greatly in excess of their sales.   Commercial sales depend on mass audiences that advanced research, by its nature, can never expect.  A glance at library periodical budgets proves that all research publication loses money.  Commentators pointed out that Stanford UP's operating loss was normal. No one agreed with Drell's alleged dismissal of the press's quality.

The provost's proposal can't really be about the money:  As Cathy Davidson has pointed out, Stanford could secure the funds needed to provide the $1.7 million subsidy to the Press --for example, by drawing 5.01% rather than 5% off of its endowment each year.  I won't even mention the $1.1 billion that the University raised in 2017-2018.  What is lacking here is a university leadership with broad intellectual vision and a commitment to a complete array of scholarship.  This is an intellectual more than a financial crisis.  As a physicist, Provost Drell should also be familiar with universities offering funds to cover costs beyond external revenues; after all in 2017, by its own accounting, Stanford spent over $100 million in institutional support of research (spoiler alert, with little going to the humanities).

Governance problems are all over this issue.  The decision was made without an open and meaningful consultation with Stanford's Faculty Senate.  The provost did not get prior input on her idea from the people most affected by it--scholars in the non-STEM disciplines in which the press publishes.  That is the only reason that she could have been so surprised:

Drell wrote that she wanted to thank those who explained how the decision had been interpreted as a “marginalization of the humanities at Stanford,” which, she wrote, “is deeply regrettable and certainly not what was intended. 
I did not anticipate it would touch such a deep nerve in the community of our humanities and social sciences colleagues,” Drell wrote.

A provost of a general campus should already have enough understanding of fields not her own to guess how they'd respond to the closure of a major research outlet.  UC has several provosts from the humanities, and they would know that if they canceled all Springer journals to save money ($8.6 M for cancelling these), there would be a faculty outcry.  In case a provost doesn't know anything about a university press, she should talk to those affected first.  Neither the Press' Executive Board nor the Faculty Senate's Library Committee were consulted. Much university admin exists in a filter bubble that makes normal disagreements much worse.

As the Library Committee put it in a letter written to the President and the Provost:

In particular, we would like to express our strong belief that any decision about drastic restructuring at the Press should be made only after full consultation and well-prepared discussion in the academic senate, with a chance for all members of the university community to be heard. Moreover, we urge that any decision be based on a careful  examination of the Press’s operations by an external committee of experts with experience in academic publishing who can offer an assessment of the Stanford University Press and suggestions for improvement.

That the Stanford Administration would effectively kill an institution of such long-term importance without such consultation is remarkable and disturbing. Secrecy keeps the filter bubble in place.

Instead, Drell seems to have presented the decision to a group of humanities and social sciences department chairs and asked them to choose between the Press subvention and money spent on graduate fellowships.  It is not clear why administrators think putting two desirable goods into competition will sweeten a deal, but this kind of forced choice is a familiar strategy.  In any case, some chair(s) leaked the news and faculty had a chance to prepare for the springing of the announcement in the Faculty Senate at its April 25th meeting.

Two further features are worth noting:  Prof. David Palumbo-Liu put questions to the provost in the Senate meeting:

  • Why weren’t the faculty consulted before you made your decision—you did not consult with either Editorial Board of the Press (which is a Presidentially appointed committee) or the Faculty Senate?  You recognize that this is not simply a fiscal decision, and that a university press is an intrinsic part of any great university’s intellectual identity.
  • It is reported that you said to a gathering of chairs that SUP is a “second-rate press.”  Did you say that, and if you did, upon what empirical evidence or studies, besides sales figures, did you base that judgment?
  • I understand that the only information you requested from the Press were its financial figures.  If this true, why did you not also ask for their list of authors, the list of prizes they have won, or the lists of their reviews and media appearances?  That is, information that would have given you a sense of the impact and value of the press, not just its cost?
  • No university press in the country is "solvent," unless it has a major endowment. Stanford has not allowed SUP to raise an endowment—it is not a fundraising priority.  What are your thoughts on this?

Palumbo-Liu reports that the provost did not answer any of these questions.  One reason may be that the decision was neither empirically based nor thought through.

The second issue is that Drell is giving the press a year's reprieve--rather than a renewal of the multi-year subvention.  She wrote,

“My goal was, and continues to be, to find a financial model for the Press that is sustainable, builds upon the strengths of the Press and ensures its success for years to come. . . . Numerous years of one-time funding bridges do not make for a compelling path for the Press.”
Drell said she intends to make the funds available to help ensure a “smooth transition to a sustainable future.” She added that once it has a sustainable model, the Press “may request incremental general funds in the FY21 budget process.” Drell noted that philanthropy may be an additional avenue for funding as the Press “focuses on its considerable strengths.”

She points out the problem with her own idea, which is that one-year bridges do not mean sustainability. Sustainability would be most easily achieved by committing to an indefinite subvention of a specific amount, with regular reviews so that all sides can discuss problems and stay satisfied. But her wording suggests that she defines "sustainability" as "profitable," which suggests continuing confusion about the economics of scholarly publication.

It's not clear why Drell doesn't just fix her tiny $1.7 million problem by offering an indefinite subvention with annual or bi-annual review.  The reason may be the theory--really a cultural assumption in contemporary management--that if you don't impose pressure up to the extinction threshold then people won't perform. The framework is that the press (like all things run by and for academics) somehow did something wrong, and won't do right unless the "adults" threaten it.

Since the issue is not resolved, it's not too late to sign letters of protest from the Stanford community (here) as well as from outside Stanford (sign here).  You can also mediate on the deeper meanings of universities in society for President Tessier-Lavigne at president@stanford.edu and Provost Drell at provost@stanford.edu.


Posted by Michael Meranze | Comments: 1

Monday, April 29, 2019

Monday, April 29, 2019
Elizabeth Warren's free college and debt relief plan is a major intervention in the national discussion about the future of higher ed.  (Image credit Zero Hedge). Her plan has one big kink, which I'll get to later. The Democrats' current job is to fix public college financing without recapitulating the Republicans' private-good framework that has justified disinvestment. That's what Warren's plan does.

The instant criticisms raised important issues, but also create the danger that party leaders will wound Warren's plan without killing it.  The "new normal" wins if critics can get the Democratic base to feel ambivalence about a big fix--opposed to student debt but not proudly for Warren's debt relief.  The new normal has lowered voter expectations about everything--"forget a good job, I just want a job, or two."  The Dem temptation is to run against student debt and still be the guilty austerity party of alleged appeal to donors and undecideds.  Unfortunately, this austerity tradition has given the Democrats a justified reputation for inadequate solutions and ineffective moral posturing.  This reputation has cost them most state governments and 2.5/3 branches of the federal government. Public college underfunding is just one result.

Enter Warren, whose plan actually does the Democratic party a giant favor. It
  • rejects the 30-year-old Democratic tradition of nudges and cheapness.
  • scales Democratic policy to the size of the opposing Republican policy. Trump cut taxes on business and the wealthy by more than a trillion dollars over ten years.  Warren reinvests in public colleges by more a trillion dollars over ten years.
  • rebates expenses to the middle- and working-classes rather than to the rich.  It's a small-d democratic stimulus program.
  • starts rebuilding at the gigantic scale at which higher ed is being built in East Asia and elsewhere.  This cuts through the false sense of superiority that burdens Anglophone policy.
  • defines the principle of public reinvestment as a universal, egalitarian benefit:
We got into this crisis because state governments and the federal government decided that instead of treating higher education like our public school system — free and accessible to all Americans — they’d rather cut taxes for billionaires and giant corporations and offload the cost of higher education onto students and their families.
Warren grounds wealth-creation in social labor.  She has figured out how to make this point to a mass television audience:
 But now that you've got that great fortune, spend just a minute to remember how you got it.  You built that great business or your ancestors did using workers that all of us helped pay to educate.  You got your goods to market using roads and bridges that all of us helped pay to build.  You are protected in your factories with firefighters and police officers that all of us helped to pay.
Public-good funding is an expression of the reality of common effort, both past and present. And, she
  • starts the negotiation with the "whole ask" --ask for everything, not a "realistic" 10%--to move the "pragmatic center" to the left. This is in contrast to the Clinton-Obama practice of triangulating between the two 40-yard lines.  Even conservative Democrats who hate Warren's "socialism" should love the strategy of moving the debate out of right field.
I won't detail Warren's plan, which has been widely discussed (Michael Hiltzik's analysis is particularly good). Suffice to say, relief has salary caps, so is not a debt jubilee.  It cancels 40% of the total amount of debt, according to David Leonhardt, which I assume comes from excluding debts like $300,000 for medical training for an orthopedic surgeon who makes $900,000 a year.  It does provide for total student debt cancellation for 75% and some cancellation for 95% of student borrowers.  It also gives the most help to the lowest-income borrowers (I define "most help" differently from Brookings, below), to those most likely to default, and to those disadvantaged by a racialized "debt geography"--which has become a bit like Ruth Wilson Gilmore's "carceral geography."  (See this month's excellent "Student Loan Debt in the Bay Area," or "Student Loan Borrowing Across NYC Neighborhoods" (2017).

Each major plank (debt relief, debt-free future, de-subsidizing for-profit colleges, public endowment for Black and Minority-Serving Institutions) rests on an important principle the MSM ignores:
  • the student debt boom is an unjust burden on recent college cohorts.  A corollary is that the growth in student debt has reflected a politically-motivated wealth transfer from young to old, poorer to richer, less white to whiter. It can and should be reversed through the political process.
  • to prevent future debt, the metric of tuition must be replaced with the metric of total cost of attendance.  All policy and administrative defenses of high public university tuition have praised the way financial aid covers tuition costs for low income students.  I felt I needed to refute this claim in detail in The Great Mistake (Stage 5) because it was so widely believed.  Sara Goldrick-Rab and others have for years fought the same war of position against this view.  Warren may just have swept it away.
  • federal education funds are for education, not for banks and investors.  For-profit colleges extract most of the funds they receive of the educational system.
  • It is unjust that the colleges and universities that serve large numbers of students of color are poorer and less stable than others.  This too is a political problem that can be fixed with politics.  Closing this gap is a key aspect of decolonizing the university.
Warren has come up with a policy that combines an economic stimulus with more rational human capital formation with increased social justice. You'd think Democrats would be thrilled. Many are not.   Most critics are saying one of the most progressive presidential candidates in U.S. history is not progressive on student debt.

To deal with these criticisms, it's worth keeping a few things in mind

1. Warren's plan is progressive, in that the most help goes to the group having the hardest time paying off its student loans.  This contradicts the widely-recycled claim made by Adam Looney at Brookings. He called her plan "regressive, expensive, and full of uncertainties," justifying the first of these charges with the calculation that the top 40 percent of earners by income get 66 percent of the forgiveness, and the bottom 20 percent get only 4 percent. But that's because lower-income graduates often came from lower income families, and went to cheaper (and also poorer and less effective) colleges for which they had to borrow less.  The skew in raw totals of loan forgiveness reflects the inequities of the current system.

In addition, Looney uses these raw totals to define "most help." I would define "most help" in relative terms as progressive tax systems do--as relative to debt as a share of income, which affects who is most likely to default on their loan.  Since the average loan in default is about half the average loan balance (p 28) (yes, smaller balances are more likely to be in default), the smaller raw total of forgiveness for lower-income borrowers masks the very large help offered by the 100% forgiveness they receive.

2. Student debt is not like a loan for a house or stock purchase that reflects a rational investment in a future return.  The Washington Post instantly produced an editorial rehearsing the private-good argument that a college degree earns a $1 million wage premium over a lifetime, so you can (and must) pay it back.  This consumer-loan analogy is incorrect. At least half of the total value of a college degree is either "external" to the person (because public), and/or non-pecuniary, or both.   Post-style arguments reduce the non-private benefits to "dark matter," in Walter McMahon's term, and cause them to be underfunded by the public.

Another big problem with the private-good argument involves the different costs people pay to get the same private pecuniary wage benefit from a college degree.  Graduate A went to a white suburban high school, had an SAT tutor and expensive extracurriculars, goes to a good college, needs no loans, and works for decades for her $1 million wage increment. Graduate B went to an underfunded, de facto segregated city school, worked 20 hours a week through high school, amazingly goes to the same college (and works 20 hours a week there), takes out $23,800 in loans, and then works for decades for the same $1 million wage increment. Their everyday lives and their financial futures are quite different: Graduate B buys a house 14 years after Graduate A, etc. etc.   There's no ethical justification for this difference.  But it is the standard market outcome.

The point is this: you either socialize the costs of a complicated individual-collective benefit like education, or you make the allocation unjust and inefficient.  There are difficulties with non-market allocations that need to be worked through, but this is the correct baseline for higher education, not allocation by (unevenly subsidized) ability to pay.

3. Poorer graduates do need debt relief.  Another group of Democrats is saying Warren doesn't need such a big plan. Several journalists cited an Urban Institute paper by Sandy Baum and Victoria Lee that suggests low-income people don't owe too much money. Their second figure does link debt to income, and undermines the point that low-income people have little debt burden:
Even when you average debt across an income category, you actually see low, middle, and upper-middle income people having similar debt totals.  This doesn't really change until you get into the top 10 percent.  The bottom half of the population, roughly speaking, has average student debt equal to a year of household income. This is after they've collected their wage premium for going to college.   These are the people who are most likely to default,  often after many years of struggling to pay. Warren's plan directly addresses this issue.

4. Student debt increases racial injustice.  For example, a 2018 study by the American Association of University Women found that the group with the highest bachelor's degree loan balance was Black women (slides are here).
Link higher debt to wage disparities and its no surprise that Black women default at twice the average.   There's no better way to start helping universities increase race- and gender equality than eliminating student debt.

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) and other Democrats have already proposed debt-free college legislation, and Warren's plan will increase interest in these plans.  A lot of changes will be made, and in anticipation we should note the big kink: Warren's plan affects tuition while doing nothing about the other main source of public college revenues, state funding.

Kevin Carey nails a giant perversity: cheap states like Vermont will get more money per student to backfill high tuition, while states with better public funding and lower tuition will get less.  So Warren's plan rewards the states most likely to have screwed their students by shifting costs from tax funding to tuition.  Carey has an interesting fix for this.

The wider issue is that Warren's plan addresses neither general underfunding among public colleges, nor the very bad inequalities of funding across research flagships, regional colleges, and community colleges.   The prospect of a federal bailout is likely to suppress state effort even further.  The Warren plan could ease graduate financial hardship by making university hardship worse.  This is public universities's deepest fear about tuition reduction.  If Warren et al. don't address the revenue shortfall, especially in regional and community colleges, the sector will fight debt-free tooth and nail.

Overall, Warren's plan is a breakthrough for public colleges and for Democrats. I hope universities will work on improving rather than blocking it.
Posted by Chris Newfield | Comments: 1

Monday, April 22, 2019

Monday, April 22, 2019
by Gaurav Jashnani, Ed.M
Licensed Mental Health Counselor
PhD Candidate in Critical Social/Personality Psychology, CUNY Graduate Center
gjashnani@gradcenter.cuny.edu 

Countless eyes were on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) this past fall, where students were organizing for racial justice, particularly around the removal of the “Silent Sam” Confederate monument.  Black students and graduate-workers put their academic success and future careers on the line, student-athletes and NBA-playing alumni took public political stances, administrators and trustees seemed to lack a viable long-term plan, politicians and pundits inserted themselves in ways that seemed thoughtless and geared to exacerbate current tensions – and then, in January, things got really wild, with the university’s chancellor suddenly removing the base of the monument while also resigning from her post.

This is a familiar arc, one we saw even more sharply at the University of Missouri (MU) in 2015, when Black student organizers (in tandem with reproductive rights activists and a budding graduate student union) pushed out the top two administrators and overhauled the school’s approach to all things diversity, with the help of the university’s Division I football team. (Photo credit above: Jeff Roberson.) So, what’s the best way for UNC to proceed in a fraught situation, especially now as it faces a leadership vacuum and a damaged reputation?

Enter the recent American Council on Education (ACE) report on how campus leaders can build capacity for diversity and inclusion and successfully manage moments of “racial crisis.”  I read it eagerly, on the chance that it might come to offer useful guidelines for future administrative responses to perceived racial crises.

While the report examines the 2015 MU protests in an attempt to generate useful insights, it mostly puts forward meager responses that paper over the problem. As a clinician and social psychologist whose research focuses on institutional racism and higher education – including, presently, MU – I think it’s vital to address some apparent misconceptions regarding trauma, racism and institutional responsibility.

After briefly running through events at MU and their context, the bulk of the ACE report is focused on a “collective trauma” framework, which the authors use to conceptualize both the problem of and solution to a racial crisis. Nowhere are key terms (e.g., trauma, collective trauma, traumatic state) defined, and the only work on trauma cited in the report is a book about clinical work with survivors of genocide, civil war and the 9/11 attacks. But the circumstances of this work – thousands being killed in discrete moments of political violence – are quite distinct from the slow burn of long-term institutional racism and negligence, magnified by societal inequity and daily interpersonal degradations. Using the term collective trauma to describe a range of disparate people, incidents and experiences – without ever naming or discussing most of them – is confusing at best, and most likely inaccurate and counter-productive.

Furthermore, ACE’s report places institutions that have harmed students in the position of deciding who has been harmed, how, and what they need to recover, refocusing racial justice efforts on “emotional healing” without also centering equity and accountability. Since the problem is determined to be collective trauma, the answer is healing, and unspecified campus leaders are the ones who must heal campus, using “active listening,” “speaking from the heart,” and “acting with” as their tools. We are told, for example, that active listening can help others to “engage with difficult feelings, gain perspective on the experience…find their own solutions, and build self-esteem and resilience.” But is a lack of self-esteem and resilience really the core problem when facing the stark realities of campus racism? Why is gaining perspective prioritized while shifting policy goes unmentioned? Why choose to tell this story by relying on trauma? Is that the best way in which to understand the callousness of the university administration’s lack of response to ongoing racial inequity and interpersonal violence?

A trauma-focused approach may center healing, support, connection and healthcare resources for those harmed or targeted; one focused on accountability might prioritize identifying the harm, who was responsible, making amends and shifting conditions to prevent future harm. Both together are often ideal, but when justice and institutional responsibility are nearly absent, healing can become easy rhetoric that avoids harder conversations. Accountability for doing violence – and for colluding with it – should mean losing positions of power, acknowledging wrongdoing, offering reparations, putting in the work to transform one’s actions and one’s understanding of the world. Some of these are steps MU has taken, but they are steps ACE’s report decenters in favor of decontextualized trauma therapy techniques.

When someone commits an act of violence, and someone else colludes by refusing to take it seriously or even acknowledge it as a problem, we shouldn’t suggest that either of these people talk like a therapist to the person who was violated, as a means of moving forward. The authors have appropriated tools from a specific context, but the problem here is different, the stakes are different, and psychological responses are helpful but still insufficient for structural violence. Prioritizing healing is important when people who have been harmed want it, but when the powerful use it to avoid examining and transforming institutions, talk of healing can quickly become a weapon used to maintain the status quo and sustain institutional violence.

One widespread reality the report overlooks is that campus leadership generally plays an important role not merely in responding to student organizing, but in instigating it in the first place through systematic neglect, gross incompetence, misplaced priorities and a distinct lack of concern for the learning and wellbeing of marginalized students. While the ACE report refers to a history or legacy of campus and societal racism, none of it make sense without understanding that racism has continued into the present. MU’s administration is portrayed only as reacting to racism outside their control, rather than having made numerous choices – including many financial ones – that maintained or even exacerbated ongoing racism.

This crisis was not simply mismanaged by the administration but actively precipitated by it. Administrators chose to ignore a constant barrage of racism that Black students faced, not to mention pervasive social segregation and disappointing graduation rates; even Black student demands from 1968 were still waiting to be fulfilled. A single incident of interpersonal racist violence, or even several incidents, does not inherently become an institutional crisis. The reason that repeated moments of violence escalated into a crisis – and forced the institution toward a turning point – is much the same reason that repeated moments of violence became a crisis for Hollywood (and USA Gymnastics, and the Catholic Church): key players consciously decided that it was not worth responding, despite knowing that severe violence was pervasive and ongoing over many years. Each of these institutions weighed the scales and chose collusion over conviction.

In other words, what the report identifies as limited capacity to deal with diversity and inclusion issues is not only result of bad planning, but racism – an active institutional investment in white supremacy, until said investment disturbs in-flows of capital and business as usual. Given the previous absence of commitment to or even interest in racial equity on the part of the administration, one of the report’s major failures is its apparent premise that alleviating the racial crisis hinges more on managing perceptions and emotions than fostering long-term equity or success for all marginalized students.

Emotions are important and often overlooked, but they are, in this case, symptoms and results of a structural problem. Any map forward must stress that attending to the emotional climate should happen in tandem with not only strategic planning and “building capacity for diversity” but also specific changes in policy, practices and personnel, and shifting financial and political priorities including the allocation of resources. (MU has done some of this, too, but you’d be forgiven for missing that from the report.)

As an example, the report endorses “offering small tokens of appreciation” such as notes and gifts to faculty and staff who take on extra racial justice and support work. Why not instead pay people for their time, offer course leave, bonuses and promotions, credit for students? Institutions can offer not only recognition, but material compensation for work deemed necessary for the campus to function, which – as the report notes – falls disproportionately upon Black women and other people of color. Reparations and other concrete forms of accountability can, in fact, be an integral part of emotional and psychological healing from historical and institutional violence – just ask students at Georgetown, who last week voted to institute a long-term reparations “fee” as part of their tuition payments.

However, without acknowledging the painful and complex realities of ongoing and systemic racism, intertwined with the everyday functioning of the institution, the nature of the problem remains obscure. The real objects of concern – set upon by student organizers, politicized athletes and other supporters, defended by trustees, politicians and administrators – disappear: the de facto racist institutional policies and practices that result in structural violence, and the myriad interpersonal degradations that make up minoritized life. The violence of the institution, its students, staff, faculty, security, policies, procedures, practices; its passive and active refusal to affirm Black life and learning; the choices the institution has made from its origins in slave labor, onward through 200 years of white supremacist institutional maintenance; all of this violence, all of these decisions, all of the moments of choosing white supremacy over and over again risk erasure in this framework.

Trauma, the ostensible heart of the report’s analysis, suffers from a similar lack of clarity, as neither the traumatic event repeatedly referred to nor the part of campus allegedly traumatized are ever identified. The collective trauma at hand is not explicitly attributed to Black or marginalized students, but that is the clear implication: victims and witnesses of racism are “angry,” student organizers are “distrustful,” people of color and especially Black women suffer from “racial battle fatigue,” and so on. Campus leaders should “reach out to faculty, staff, and students of color” as those experiencing “particularly acute trauma.”

While Black students should be at the center of any story about MU that purports to identify the “work that moved the community forward in a time of vulnerability,” these students are largely transformed here from agents of racial justice to largely unnamed victims. Trauma is distorted to produce out of control, irrational Black students (as well as staff and faculty) who the administration needs to heal before their “traumatic state” proves an obstacle to improving the campus climate. In this telling, Black students too easily become a traumatized impediment to racial progress, rather than the primary people working to advance that goal.

One step toward rectifying this dangerous misperception is grasping that a significant part of those at MU who displayed fear, anger and distrust (the trauma-related emotions highlighted in the report) were white. The university’s most recent campus climate report, based on data gathered in 2016 – immediately after the widely publicized student organizing, and at the same time as the interviews that were part of the ACE report – found that nearly 40% more white than Black people (in total numbers) reported experiencing “exclusionary, intimidating, offensive and hostile” behaviors as a result of “ethnicity.” While a greater percentage of Black people described these kinds of experiences (as we would expect), this report details numerous white members of the university community feeling harassed or intimidated by the sheer fact of Black organizing, and particularly by on-campus mobilizations for racial justice and related ends:
·      “I have been targeted by racial protesters like Black Lives Matter.”
·      “I didn't feel safe in my community because I was a Greek white student."
·      “The demonstration on campus…made [me] feel personally threatened, threatened my family, and my family income.”
·      “I felt like I was racially profiled as racist because I am white.”
And while first-hand experiences of exclusionary behavior due to “racial identity” are not broken down in the report, observations of such behavior were reported by nine times as many white people as Black – nearly one-third of all white respondents. These survey respondents labeled racial justice demonstrations as “bullying,” “racist” “unsettling,” and of a “violent nature,” and described them as “[a]n attack on the entire University.”

While feeling unsafe and viewing non-violent marches or demonstrations as violent may be genuine expressions of belief or emotion, they do not correlate with any documented reality of violence against white people at MU. The very idea that white people could perceive themselves to be the victims of greater racial hostility than Black people at a university struggling with anti-Black racism may seem hard to understand, but it isn’t. White people can experience racial reality (i.e., frank assertions of current injustice and needed movement toward justice) as hostile, unsettling or overwhelming – this is the underlying basis of recently popularized terms like white fragility, and this is much of the “trauma” to be found after racial justice organizing, at least at MU. Put differently, clear improvements in the campus racial climate for students of color may be perceived as a decline in quality, and safety – with acute emotional and psychological consequences – for a subset of predominantly white students who perceive a loss of status in the decreased acceptability of racism, as well as for white alumni, parents of prospective students, and other institutional stakeholders. Confronting a loss of structural privilege can be overwhelming for white people, and while I wouldn’t suggest they need trauma therapy, it’s foolish to ignore both the difficult emotions these people experience as a result of institutional shifts and the consequences they inflict on others.

At UNC, as was the case at MU, marginalized students don’t need help from administrators to gain perspective, and they have repeatedly found their own solutions. Balancing the calls of student organizers with the demands of other stakeholders, particularly at a public university in neoliberal times, is tricky at best; the racial crisis is primarily a crisis for the administration, who is made vulnerable (to real accountability) by student organizing. However, as UNC determines how to proceed, trauma sensitivity alone won’t accomplish what the university needs. That requires acknowledging the racism that led to Silent Sam being mounted in the first place, and to being kept up for over a century, as well as making up for lost time when it comes to racial equity and following the lead of marginalized students. To be effective in the long-term, responses to racial crises require institutional transformation at the levels of policy, procedure, curriculum, hiring, admissions, financial aid, institutional history, racial pedagogy and strategic planning, as well as emotional and psychological support.

An MU alum and Black activist with whom I recently spoke named the university’s dramatic expansion of Pell Grant funding for lower-income students – to cover all tuition and fees – as perhaps the most important victory to come from recent years of organizing. A descendent of MU’s founder has created a “Slavery Atonement Endowment” for Black Studies students, while a “History Working Group” has been established to reckon with the institution’s financial basis in slavery and its profits. Meanwhile, organizing for reparations at Georgetown may set a national precedent for the many US universities that flourished financially through the violent subjugation of African people. The goal of an institution should not be managing unrest but moving toward justice in ways that address and account for long histories of injustice – removing monuments to white supremacy is only a first step toward materially restructuring higher education and its priorities.
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Posted by Chris Newfield | Comments: 2