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Sunday, June 16, 2013

Sunday, June 16, 2013

That Was the Week That Was

As you know, the California Legislature --following negotiations with the Governor--passed the 2013-14 budget and follow up bills this weekend.  In the end there were few real surprises (although Jerry does possess a line item veto so stay tuned).  There were a few highlights concerning both the CSU and UC budgets that are worth noting.

1) Each segment will receive the proposed $250M conditional on foregoing tuition increases for the year.  In practice this condition means that the overall increase in higher education budgets will be somewhat less than $250M since a sizable portion is a buyout for the tuition.  But the State's contribution to the UC and CSU budgets are going up and students will receive some relief from the seemingly continuously increasing financial burdens of attending either of the segments.

2) Brown backed off on his demands that funding increases be tied to a series of mechanical metrics that he and his staff had proposed.  Both UC and CSU administrators and faculty spoke out against these metrics and their concerns were echoed by leaders in both the State Senate and Assembly.  That the Brown administration was attempting to increase burdens on Higher Education at a moment when the budget is--at best--backfilling several lost years of funding was not lost on the legislature.  As the LAT reported, Susan Bonilla, who Chairs the Assembly's budget oversight of Higher Education took the lead in questioning Brown's logic:

Bonilla said she was concerned that Brown's higher-education proposal was generated by number crunchers without enough input from educators. During an April hearing, she said the governor made it sound "like we're talking about a factory" rather than a university.
And universities are in a rebuilding phase, she said: "I don't think that's the time to say we're going to withhold your money."

 3) AB94, Speaker Perez's proposal to create a "Middle Class Scholarship Fund." passed both houses.  Perez's Bill will establish--starting in 2014--a fund through which California Residents students whose family incomes are less than $150,000 a year will be eligible for scholarships of up to 40% of their mandated tuition.  Certain restrictions--concerning GPA, application for other grants, percentage of total scholarship counting other grants, etc--will be put into place.  But the Bill recognizes that, despite the claims of the Segments to provide sufficient aid to ease the burden on lower and middle-class students, the State's turn to a higher tuition/higher aid model has placed tremendous burdens on the majority of students and their families.

These developments followed, of course, a less positive example of Sacramento politics: the passage of Senator Steinberg's SB520 by the Senate.  Despite the growing evidence that Coursera and Udacity do not, in fact, offer a smart option for public higher education, Steinberg has continued to offer one version after another of his effort to find ways to press universities to partner with for-profit ed-tech companies.  I have offered analyses of 520 and its ever changing contents here, here, and here.  As I have indicated throughout, SB520 is a bad idea, displaying a remarkable ignorance of the way higher education actually functions and serving more to provide the appearance of tackling the problem of access and achievement than to actually do something meaningful for access and achievement. 

But I want to make a different point here.

As bad a proposal as SB520 remains, it was much more destructive in its earlier forms.  Steinberg has been pushed to drop many of the worst elements of his bill and to lessen, if not eliminate, the more intrusive and onerous mechanisms to open up a new market for Silicon Valley venture capitalists.  And while it is clear that the Administrators of the 3 segments played a part in pushing back against Steinberg, it is worth stressing that faculty organizations applied continual and effective pressure against 520.  I am less knowledgeable about the faculty efforts in CSU and CCC but in UC, the Academic Senate, The Council of University of California Faculty Associations, and The UC-American Federation of Teachers all organized against the Bill, met with legislators, wrote critiques, and in many cases testified against it (and Jerry's metrics proposals) in Sacramento.  Although they were not able to stop its passage in the Senate (where Steinberg dominates proceedings) they were able get significant changes. 

In addition, the Santa Cruz Faculty Association (the only FA with collective bargaining rights) was able to use its status to demand collective bargaining over any contract that UCSC sought to sign with Coursera.  Given that the administration had been proceeding with the contract negotiations with little, if any, faculty oversight this was a significant achievement.  

I do not want to overstate things here.   520 did pass out of the State Senate and administrators in both UC and CSU continue to pursue connections with Coursera and Udacity.   But the effect of the efforts of faculty organizations suggests that they are not as marginal as we sometimes fear.  Indeed, now is the time to build upon their success and deepen their effectiveness.  In the short term, 520 still has not passed the Assembly or been signed by the Governor--effective opposition may prevent it from becoming law.  More demands for oversight over contracts with online providers is a logical and necessary component of faculty commitment to the curriculum.   It is time to increase these efforts and increase the strength of these institutions.  They remain our best counter-balance to those who would redefine higher education.  Or at least they will be if we use them that way.

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