By Michael Meranze
The UC faculty needs to assert their own vision of the core functions of the University. For too long we have accepted the conventional understanding of a multiversity—that the definition of the institution must proceed from the top down; that the incredible complexity of knowledge demands that faculty can only tend their own gardens; that broad discussions about the aims of higher education will devolve into banality or irresolvable conflict. But whatever the conditions of the recent past, these assumptions can no longer be sustained. If the faculty do not become more involved and assertive in defining the University, its definition will be made by market-share and balance sheets.
If the UC Commission on the Future has made anything clear, it is how marginal the faculty—and especially the College faculty—have become in the governance of the University. Despite the serious efforts of faculty on the working groups, the Commission has been weighted from the beginning towards the administration and the professional schools. Of the Commission itself only two members are active members of college faculties (and both either are or have been Deans) while in the additional working group co-chairs one is an active member of one of the college faculties. By contrast, 15 members of the Commission and Co-Chairs of the work groups are either from UCOP, Campus Administrations or the Professional Schools. Indeed, even the professional school faculties have been, for the most part ignored, with Harry Powell and Mary Croughan their only representatives. The end result, not surprisingly, has been faculty alienation and dismay. This effect may have been inevitable once Croughan and Yudof decided that the Senate could not handle the task of thinking through the future of the University. I will leave aside the question of whether this alienation and demoralization was intentional; but it has been the clearest success of the Commission so far.
There is nothing surprising or unreasonable about having administrators involved in the Commission’s activities. But the particular configuration of authority is telling. The distance between UCOP and the Regents on the one hand, and faculty on the other has been growing for decades. The most recent attempt (in 2007-2008) to reform UCOP merely institutionalized that distance by failing to include any direct linkages between faculty members, UCOP, and the Regents. The fact that only the student regent attended any of the public UCOF forums and the tightly limited time allowed to individuals to present alternative approaches at the forums reveals how far the UCOF campus visits were from true opportunities for serious discussion and sharing of responsibility and insight.
Just as importantly, the marginalization of faculty has sidelined what we might have thought would be the central question facing the Commission: how best to preserve the educational core of the University. Instead, the Commission has been primarily concerned with how best to produce revenue lines and lower costs. Increasing revenue and effectively spending money are obviously central concerns; but they can only be addressed once we have made clear what the central ends of the University itself are. The danger is that the question of the purposes of the University will be decided without real debate. If this seems alarmist consider the offhanded way that the UCOF executive summary of the first round of Working Group reports transformed UC’s traditional tripartite mission (teaching, research, service) into a four-legged one: teaching, research, service and health care.
But it is important to recognize that the Faculty also bears responsibility for this situation. Since the budget crisis began, of course, we have been forced to react and play defense. Given the way that the last year has played out faculty have focused their efforts on preventing the implementation of the most damaging restructuring proposals and supporting student opposition to fee increases, indeed on having to support student free-speech rights in the face of efforts to suppress protests themselves. But these immediate pressures build on long-standing problems.
The faculty has reached the breaking point of a long-standing division of labor with the upper administration; that in exchange for allowing us to go about our normal everyday academic business the Administrators would be left to make basic budget decisions with minimal faculty input. Whether this compromise made sense in the past (and I have my doubts given the ways that the core functions have been increasingly displaced) it clearly is no longer tenable. The budgetary crisis has meant that unless we do a better job of defining what we think to be the core mission of the university, the financial managers will do it for us. And we have yet to do that in a systematic way.
Any such effort should start with the Senate. Again, many faculty members have been working on Senate committees to develop priorities and protect core programs. And the recent system-wide Senate Planning and Budget Committee “Choices Report” has attempted to put forward Senate perspective on priorities. But that is not what I have in mind. The Senate, both system-wide and the Campus Divisions, must take the lead in pressing for far greater transparency in the budget than now exists. The faculty throughout the system is being asked, or will be asked, to reexamine priorities, administrators are looking for ways to cut costs, and the burdens will ultimately fall upon departments and programs. But if real budget reform is to occur it has to be through knowing participating and shared responsibility between administration and faculty.
The only way this shared governance can occur is if the Senate succeeds in lifting the veil over the budget realities and choices that are being made every day. In fact, given the demoralization that has occurred as a result of the organization of UCOF, budgetary transparency is a necessary first step towards getting the faculty at large to believe that they have any real say in the matters at hand.
But budgetary transparency can only accomplish so much. It can make clear the structures of funding and costs, and clarify the choices that are being made. But in order to reverse the relationship between educational and budgetary decisions faculty will need to do a better job of indicating what we believe the core goals and functions of the University should be. That vision ultimately may be voiced through the Senate; but the Senate is not going to do so unless it is pushed from below. How we can start a discussion that could lead to pushing the Senate is of fundamental importance.
It may be, of course, that the faculty has not agreed on such a vision because they cannot agree on such a vision. Disagreements between Humanities, Social Science, Physical Science and Life Sciences are well known—they go back to early modern conflicts between the champions of the Ancients and the Moderns, the Utilitarian and the Classical. But the reduction of intellectual activity to the marketable and immediate should motivate us all to begin to rethink those divisions (indeed the recent displacement of the physical by the life sciences as the central recipient of funding should remind all disciplines how unstable predominance in the eyes of the market or state can be).
The defense of the core educational functions of the University, I would argue, begins with a renewed vision for undergraduate education. To reformulate undergraduate education the University must revalue its commitment to the place of General Education in the curriculum. It is essential that the long-standing division between “science” and the “arts” be addressed and overcome. Students (and faculty of course) need to able to link both sides of that "divide" if they are to critically and constructively engage with the world. The first project of the University should be to ensure that the University provides students with diverse and complex intellectual literacy: conceptual, cultural, experimental, historical, linguistic, and scientific. From these bases, students would be able to move to their concentrations and also carry more general understandings out into the world.
Departmental majors could be built atop this general literacy rather than on specific pre-requisites and increasingly narrow training. Students would still get the concentration they need in order to continue to further and deepen their learning; but they would also be given the general competencies needed to contribute critically to the world. Just as importantly we could insist on the connection between those general competencies and the more specific research inflected teaching provided to students.
The necessary combination of research and teaching would then become clearer to the public. In order to make this happen, faculty members should be encouraged to move beyond their departmental silos, not in search of some new master discipline, but in order to bring into being discussions about the ways that different forms of reason bring different perspectives to shared issues and indeed create new questions and arguments. Indeed, it is the rich diversity of research forms and agendas at UC that could make this project so successful. Insofar as we are able to able to bring the interplay of these different research agendas into the curriculum the relationship between research and teaching will become much clearer. Graduate students could be trained both to pursue their specific research interests and to provide instruction on both the general and the disciplinary.
The vocation of the University would be reaffirmed as a place of teaching and research; of learning in a broader sense. It is the task of the faculty to ensure that the rethinking of the University happens on the grounds of that broadened sense of learning. Otherwise budgets will not follow aims; aims will be directed by budgets.
6 hours ago