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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Sunday, March 30, 2014
It's been a big week--and month--for the afterlife of online higher ed.  After sponsoring or forcing the adoption of online programs over the course of 2012 and 2013, college presidents now admit that at least the MOOC version won't fix budgetary or educational issues. At the Berkeley Online Summit I attended earlier this month, the chancellor of UC Berkeley and the president of Stanford described online as a supplement to hands-on instructor involvement and as good for specific student populations. Elsewhere, UC President Janet Napolitano chimed in with the same message--if online is done well, "it doesn't save all that much money."  Quelle surprise!  There are no savings! The LAT's Michael Hiltzik asked, "Are you listening, Gov. Brown?"

This year the conventional wisdom is that online is here to stay as a non revolutionary complement to teaching rather than as a disruptive replacement--much like course management software, additional videos, study groups, and required texts.  As John Scott reported here last Sunday, the most interesting online practitioners now see its value as controlled by the social practices in which it is embedded. Leading online designers like Anne Balsamo and her FemTechNet alliance, or Robert Lue of HarvardX, reject the MOOC broadcast model of passive education that seemed to solve the public university's "cost disease" only one year ago.

Online continues to function well as a means for private firms to access public funding. This was the mechanism behind the Udacity-San José State-style partnerships we've covered here, and that produced major pushback from the UC Academic Senate and the SJSU Philosophy department, among others. At the online summit, I asked Ellen Junn, then SJSU's provost, whether they had identified the budgetary savings expected from online conversions like the Udacity-SJSU partnership of the kind she continues to advocate. In that case, she replied, we didn't know.  All of the costs were paid by Udacity.  

Nobody batted an eye at this stunning admission.  To me it meant that for at least some of these major deals university officials didn't actually run the numbers on the cost savings to verify net savings of the kind assumed by policy heavyweights like Gov. Jerry Brown--the online providers ran the pilot service like a K-Mart blue light special, selling it for nearly free. The apparent absence of financial due diligence on the part of administrative or Regental / Trustee advocates is not only irresponsible--I would certainly not give my own money to these folks to invest--but is an epistemological crisis with which we still haven't come to terms.

Last June I analyzed the Udacity-Georgia Tech contracts that Inside Higher Ed reporter Ry Rivard got through a public records act request.  I found no MOOC cost savings.  I assumed that more financial data would appear and more reports would analyze them. Perhaps they would be written by certified accountants or by the business consultants that have their noses in every other aspect of university affairs.  No such luck: I haven't been able to find another such analysis, or to get better data myself.

The news this week reminded me why. In Florida, Jeff Schweers at the Gainsville Sun tried to find out how much University of Florida Online paid to a division of Pearson LLC, the giant publishing and education corporation headquartered in the UK. He was rebuffed.  

Something seemed fishy at U Florida by mid-March, when the press got wind of the sudden departure of UF Online's director, former ASU provost Elizabeth Capaldi Phillips, after only two months on the job. UF Online was much like what Gov. Brown wanted to set up in California. It got a $15 million start-up fund from the legislature, the promise of $20 million more over four years, and a requirement that it be a fully online program that could "offer the same academic level of coursework as the bricks-and-mortar institution at 75 percent of the cost to in-state students." Nearly half the students were to be non-residents, and were to pay four times the in-state rate for a fully online degree. Pearson was hired to, among other things, use its marketing prowess to recruit students who would be willing to pay high tuition to get a UF degree at home. How much was UF going to pay Pearson to turn a program with many obvious problems into a major success?  On March 21, Mr. Schweers reported, 
In response to a public records request from The Sun, the university this week released heavily redacted documents that blot out the amount of money UF will pay Pearson over the life of the 10-year contract — saying that information is a trade secret exempt from the public records law.
UF did admit that it had to pay Pearson cash up front: it just wouldn't say how much.  A week later, Mr. Schweers reported that through various documents he'd been able to show that UF would pay Pearson Embanet $186 million over the 11 year life of the contract.  The business plan sounds much like the Udacity-Georgia Tech deal. It involved very large growth projections to 13,000 students paying full in-state or non-resident tuition for an all-online program by 2018, with Pearson getting, in addition to its fee, $19 million of $43 million in projected revenues.  13,000 is the size of UF's first year class.

[NOTE 3/31: the next 3 paragraphs have been corrected in the UPDATE below.]

The revenue estimates are worth pondering. Even if Pearson fails, it will effectively pocket all of the state funding that was given to UF for online, and some internal UF money besides. Pearson is owed $186 million over time for getting involved, and the state provided $35 million.  Pearson will contractually absorb all of the state money and then be entitled to another $151 million of UF's internal funds.  (UF Associate Provost Andy McDonough says that Pearson will get $9.5 million in the first five years, but it is not clear whether or how this reflects the still partially redacted contract.)

If somehow the Pearson dragnet finds thousands of students to pay full tuition for an all-online program with the University of Florida name, UF is slated to gross $24 million in 2019, which is projected to rise to $48 million five years later.  In this best possible scenario, UF will get back its initial $151 million around ten years from now.  The University will thus be ready to earn its first net dollar in 2025.

This is a bad business deal, but that's not it's point.  The point is for the University of Florida to function not as a university with a need for new revenues but as a pipeline for sending existing revenues somewhere else.  Taxpayer funds--the $35 million-- are funneled to the private corporation Pearson Embanet. Additional operating funds (tuition and state monies)--the $151 million--are also supposed to go to Pearson.  Pearson assumed that UF will conceal these terms from the public, since it had requested and been granted trade secret projection.  In exchange, Pearson seems to provide marketing, "proprietary digital content" and a range of other services that simply duplicate what any university already does ("admission and enrollment support," "providing on-demand student suppert," and so on).  Pearson's global brand is supposed to muscle this albatross into the air, but its exchange of non-essential services for guaranteed income qualifies as extraction rather than exchange.

Pearson has extensive operations in the UK, and has been involved in the UK's experiment in wholesale higher ed privatization.  This past week its failure was in the news again.  The universities minister David Willetts, architect of the tripled fee cap that was to replace the elimination of most public  teaching funding, admitted that the government is likely to be spending more on grants and loans to cover tripled tuition than it had been spending on direct outlays. The government will continue to need to make additional cuts in its higher ed budget--to maintenance grants for example-- in order to make up the shortfalls in the loan program.  Needless to say, students, academic staff, and a growing number of administrators are furious, and feeling tricked, and as usual uncertain of what to do.

The Guardian also reported that a former Willetts aide who is the new head of the Higher Education Policy Institute now agrees that the "government got its maths wrong." His solution is that student debtors start paying back sooner and from a lower income threshold.   Andrew McGettigan's analysis in The Great University Gamble has been tragically vindicated (Stefan Collini's review is here, and mine is here).   His government testimony is also borne out. Writing in The Guardian and on his blog, Critical Education, Dr. McGettigan has explained yet again that the higher ed budget is being hollowed out not just by the overall loan scheme but by the share going to new for-profit providers, whose claim on public money has risen 2100% since the government encouraged private companies to provide university services.

How do governments "get their maths wrong"? How do universities cut deals that due diligence would tell them will cost them money rather than net them new returns?  The most helpful explanation I found this week came from David Runciman's analysis of the habitual deal strategies of Richard Branson, Virgin CEO. Prof. Runciman notes,
Branson’s modus operandi is to identify and target industries that he claims are being run as monopolies. He presents himself as the man who introduces competition by shaking the industry up with his innovations. 
Reality, however, is rather different. For Mr. Branson doesn't want to end monopolies, but to exploit them.
He has made his fortune out of the regulated parts of the economy, which he has milked to extract government subsidies, tax breaks, licensing agreements and protected income streams. Transport works for Branson – trains as well as planes – because it rewards the person who gets the routes. How do you get the routes? By persuading government officials and industry regulators to give them to you. 
Pearson, Udacity, Coursera, and other private providers came to public universities touting a similar paradigm: universities are little more than holders of a government-sanction monopoly power--to grant degrees.  Say you want to innovate to improve and/or end the monopoly, and then keep the monopoly in place to capture as much of its revenues as you can.  The analogy to Virgin's bad train service (and many other failed enterprises) is strapped university instruction, which at public universities badly needs the scalable upgrade they have no money to build.

In all this, university managers get to play the role of earnest regulators who are in over their heads. They don't want to hurt their industry, but they lack historical leverage; just as important, they lack confidence in their own institutions and its social mission.  Prof. Runciman again:
In the absence of robust trade-union representation, Branson is much freer to strike deals at the top table of government and finance. He is able to spin his magic without having to worry too much what the people at the bottom think. One of the consequences of the demise of labour power has been that personal contact among the rich and powerful carries more clout. This is connected to the second trend that has worked in Branson’s favour: the progressive deregulation of finance and business since the late 1970s. There are still plenty of regulators, of course, often with increasingly complex and demanding responsibilities. But without the heavy artillery of robust social democratic states behind them, they have been put on the back foot. The new generation of regulators has turned out to be surprisingly easy to flatter and perhaps not so surprisingly easy to bully. Branson is skilled at both.
Sebastian Thrun at Udacity and Daphne Koller at Coursera functioned, in their own ways, as charismatic Branson monopoly-busting monopolists, criticizing the massification of higher learning so they could massify it even more.  They played university managers like Mr. Branson plays transportation regulators.   In this context, it's hardly surprising that private partnerships haven't fixed public university financial problems, since that is exactly what these partnerships are not meant to do.  Instead, private partnerships are meant to make the private provider money.  In general, university executives are eager to help. 

Universities may have a cost disease, but they now have a privatization disease that is even worse.  It confronts us with one or more of the following scenarios:
  1. University, corporate, and political officials will reinvest in public universities--capping tuition and paying down student debt--once the economy really gets going again.
  2. Corporate and political officials will block public reinvestment--as too expensive for them.  Their university counterparts will keep muddling through. They'll call for more public money (maybe 5-6% a year), "moderate" tuition increases (3-6% a year), while tout ingfundraising and efficiencies as they have for decades.
  3. Corporate and political officials will block public reinvestment, and their university counterparts will try to "scale up" the New Sources of Revenue. These will provide net returns to universities and also net educational benefits.
  4. Corporate and political officials will block public reinvestment, and their university counterparts will try to "scale up" the New Sources of Revenue.  Most or all of their value will go to the private providers, and university officials, desperate for deals and distant from education, will rely on wishful thinking rather than due diligence. 
I'm hoping for (1), most hearing (2), and expecting (4)--while finding counter-forces on a recent speaking trip that I'll talk about next time.

UPDATE 3/31. Over at e-Literate, Phil Hill has been writing about the UF Online contracts. In his post today, he rejects my reading of the Sun reports of the UF Online-Pearson contract when I say that "Pearson will contractually absorb all of the state money and then be entitled to another $151 million of UF's internal funds." Mr. Hill states that in fact "Pearson will only make 27%" of the state of Florida's $35 million in support for setting up UF Online, and that the rest of Pearson's $186 million will come from its share of online student tuition and feels.  He has also found the UF Online business plan, which he kindly sent to me, and he has updated his post with images of some of the spreadsheets and further discussion.  Here's what my first rapid pass through the business plan makes me think:

A. Phil Hill is right and I am wrong about the extent of Pearson's direct access to state funds. 27% of that $35 million, or $9.5 million, goes to Pearson up front, but the "Additional Fixed Fee" going to the coded entity "P3" ends in 2018 (p 84).  So strike from the record the calculations of the three paragraphs I identify above.

B. Do not strike from the record the framing commentary and conclusions. I was being too literal-minded about the transfer of publicly-funded value to the private sector.  A better way of thinking about it is that this value comes in at least two forms: direct transfers from public to private via a university intermediary, as with the $9.5 million; and foregone value of a public investment in a public entity, as with the remaining $176.5 million.  Were UF to build the same mandated online program in-house and achieve the same success, it would have that $176.5 million instead of Pearson, and it would be available to support UF's academic programs.  In the business plan, that revenue goes to Pearson for services that are not well articulated in the text. For UF, the "cumulative fund balance" over 11 years comes to $43.6 million (p 82), which I interpret to mean that UF's returns are about a quarter the size of those projected for Pearson.  UF is making less than $4 million a year on average for this large effort, even if it works: what would be its returns if it did "fully online" services itself? How does this compare to returns for something it already knows how to do--face-to-face teaching of the same number of additional students? Although I still need to go through these spreadsheets line by line, it still looks like UF got Bransonized.

C. "Where are the Savings?"   UF's costs increase by a factor of 10 over the contract period, while "total revenue" increases by a factor of 5. As I argued in the Georgia Tech-Udacity case, the private provider is supposed to offer economies of scale through technical expertise. Where are the economies for UF in exchange for foregone $176.5 million?  I don't see it in the spreadsheets, and missing economies helps explain why UF can gross less than Pearson even with a higher cut of tuition revenues.

There are other familar issues--implausible enrollment growth, excessively cheap course production costs--and so on. I will have to defer these to next week when I return from a trip.  




Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Tuesday, March 25, 2014
By Earl Perez-Foust, Comparative Literature, UCSB

Dear UC Faculty,

I am a graduate student at UCSB and a rank-and-file member of the UC Student-Workers Union (UAW 2865).  As you may have heard, my union has declared a strike for April 3rd with some campuses striking April 2 as well.  This is the first Thursday of the Spring quarter and it will likely add further disruption to what is already a chaotic time of the year.  The strike is over an Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charge that the UC has intimidated members of the union with respect to their participation in the November 20th sympathy strike with AFSCME 3299.  In a recent statement, the Berkeley Faculty Association called on the UC to “respect the protected rights of union workers to take collective actions free of undue managerial interference.”  I would like to echo this and call upon all UC faculty to take stock of their stakes in this conflict, which at the very heart of it deals with the misuse of power dynamics within the University, and show solidarity with their graduate students.

This letter, however, is not meant to be an announcement of the strike nor a detailed breakdown on the charges within the ULPs – I have attached a link to these materials if you're interested in finding out more.  Instead, this letter is concerned with what it means – and what it feels like – to be a graduate student who is invested in the quality of their, and their colleagues', working conditions but who may feel intimidated by the prospect of approaching faculty with these investments.  Some of this may come as a surprise to you, a lot of student-faculty relationships are bracketed by an implied camaraderie and friendship.  However, perhaps especially when it's an issue of work stoppage, students may feel as if any disruption might be registered as a personal affront to this relationship.

To be sure, a strike is a legally protected concerted activity and any managerial intimidation with respect to one's participation in a strike is a violation of the law.  However, there are hidden mechanisms of intimidation and we all know what these may be: the infamous things which “just happen” (ie, TA appointments which “just happen” to go to someone else, a fellowship competition you “just happen” to lose, letters of recommendation which “just happen” to be poor ones).  These things, the “just happens,” are terrifying and can make the prospect of approaching our faculty daunting.  

No doubt some of you are thinking that you would never do this to your students and I'm not calling this into question.  You need to understand, however, that this isn't completely apparent to us – there is just so little room to talk explicitly about the workplace in these relationships.  We simply don't know what the response is going to be.  This strike gives us an opportunity to redefine the terms of our relationships within the University.  It gives us an opportunity to rethink what labor within the University means and what an ethical relationship within it could look like.  Navigating this is dizzying and can be confusing or difficult to situate.

For these reasons, starting the conversation may be the hardest step – we are unequipped with a language with which to speak about these issues.  If you are approached by one of your students or hear about the strike through another means, your unequivocal support is necessary.  The details and the context of the strike are important, but there is at least one other question in this conflict: what sort of working conditions are faculty endorsing?  We need to change the lexicon of our student-faculty relationships, which is to say that we need to be able to talk about the conditions in which we live and work.  Your expressed support of our collective action is an incontrovertible part of this.

I hope to see you on the picket line and that you will offer your support to myself and my fellow academic workers.

 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Sunday, March 23, 2014
by John Scott, School of Education, UC Berkeley

Located on opposite sides of the country, San Jose State and MIT are not usually linked together in the popular imagination.  Without any of the obvious ties, one might be inclined to ask: What could these two universities possibly have in common?  The answer can be found on a MOOC platform, where they both cohabit MITx, MIT’s instance of the MOOC provider EDx.  Both universities were also represented at the recent Online Learning Summit held at UC Berkeley by Provost Ellen Junn (SJSU) and Chancellor for Academic Achievement Eric Grimson (MIT).

Junn and Grimson spoke about the enhanced learning potentials of a ‘flipped classroom,’ where video-lecture content, and online learning activities and assessments opened up new spaces for classroom interactions and student engagement.  Junn lauded results from an SJSU pilot study that revealed significant gains in performance for students participating in the MITx course “Intro to Circuits and Electronics” (virtually taught by MIT’s Anant Agarwal) compared to their own equivalent brick and mortar version.  Grimson pointed to similarly positive reports on the MIT side, where rapid interventions for struggling students and the ability to revisit lecture videos and course content at a student’s leisure improved performance across a number of key intro-level courses.  Grimson insisted, that not only did online content improve student performance, but also that online course delivery models were necessary for addressing the shifting needs and interests of a 21st Century learner entering a university life at what he named the third major historical disruption to education- printing press to the blackboard to the digital.

Despite their shared optimism and inspiring statistical reports, their presentations revealed one crucial characteristic of MOOCS.  In the typical MOOC model, a single professor or institutional entity controls the production of course content and standards of learning for thousands of students across multiple institutions.  This kind of centralization creates the potential for asymmetrical relations between participating universities based on whether or not they play the role of producer or consumer of course content.

Junn’s presentation focused on SJSU students gaining flexible and free access to highly coveted MIT content, and while she explored other dimensions of their online education initiatives, she did not move far beyond this point of access and student convenience as the major benefits of their partnership with MITx.  Positioning SJSU students and faculty as consumers of MIT-generated content, her measure of a successful student experience seemed to narrowly focus on content mastery and skills development.  The idea of faculty being relegated to facilitators of content produced exclusively by another university became a point of critique in the highly publicized letter authored by SJSU faculty members in April of 2013.  In “An Open Letter to Professor Michael Sandel [Harvard professor of the JusticeX course] from the Philosophy Department at San Jose State U,” the authors describe a single, universal MOOC course on social justice as “downright scary- something out of a dystopian novel.”

Grimson pointed to similar gains for MIT students participating in online courses, but he imagined these skills put to use in radically new institutional contexts where MIT students would be able to pursue projects of potential impact, play with cutting-edge technologies like 3D-printers, and discover fresh opportunities for socialization and collaboration.  Provost Junn may also share a similar vision, although it did not come through in her talk, instead choosing to focus on access and skills development.  But not all access is created equal. In a world of free and open content, there are crucial advantages gained by both the institutions involved directly in its production as well as their students.

For the MIT students, there is an advantage gained not just in their physical proximity to the professors generating course content, where they enjoy an increased opportunity to either interact directly with the professor responsible for the course or with closely affiliated faculty.  But these students also benefit from a kind of cultural proximity to the content in the sense that institutions both select (through admissions’ processes) and cultivate (through their discursive contexts) student identities and learners who more closely resemble the ideological character of their institution.  For the institution, while the gains might not be realized immediately by MOOC providers such as MIT in the form of financial capital, it undoubtedly benefits from an increase in the value of its brand, while potentially devaluing that of its consumers.  What does it mean for an institution no longer to produce the content of its own courses, while being relegated to a consumer and mediator of MIT content, or a mere authentications portal to an MITx MOOC?

While I listened to Junn and Grimson, it was too hard to imagine a leveling of the playing field across higher education, and too easy to envision two disparate classes of students, where SJSU students scramble to master a discrete set of skills and MIT content as MIT students put the same set of skills to use in creative contexts and with greater social and cultural capital.  Further, although Junn pointed to the positive results from SJSU’s pilot study on MITx, the results from a pilot with MOOC provider Udacity that targeted struggling or at-risk students appeared less promising.  If MOOCs already pose a threat to a widening of the digital divide, they also increase the potential for a digital divided, where a class of students with a non-transferrable, decontextualized skillset cannot compete with a more privileged class of students with access to these empowered institutional spaces, in effect massively reproducing class disparities and socioeconomic immobility.

So what kinds of delivery models can we imagine for online education, models that could leverage digital tools for content sharing and multimedia experiences while at the same time avoiding the content production monopolies of MOOCs? On another panel at the OLS14 conference, FemTechNet’s Distributed Online Collaborative Community (DOCC) offered an appealing alternative.  FemTechNet’s DOCC model emphasized the creation of an infrastructure for distributed dialogues across multiple online platforms while preserving institutional autonomy in designing courses around the teaching of feminist principles.  Although MOOC advocates often assume that good learning data requires content standardization, the distributed model can still operate at scale without a centralized institutional force imposing its will on a network of participants who are thus relegated to the role of content consumers.  FemTechNet enables increased opportunities for institutions to produce their own course content while also allowing them to curate these courses with content from a network of institutions. This makes it easier for course designers to craft experiences sculpted to address the particular needs of their students.

Creating horizontal structures for institutional collaboration could not only help ensure heterogeneity of course content, but also generate opportunities to connect students across courses and create even richer peer-to-peer interactions and engagement.  Furthermore, projects like FemNetTech’s “Wikistorming” help motivate critical inquiry and skills application in real-world contexts while supporting student engagement and activism as digital citizens.  With the collapse of Net Neutrality and the consolidation of many web services, institutions of higher learning share a responsibility to protect access to a diversity of web content, to promote pluralistic models of knowledge production, and to cultivate a generation of digital citizens who can maintain the web’s equity and openness.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Monday, March 17, 2014
The national media has spoken on a confrontation between a professor and an anti-abortion group at UCSB on March 4th.  It is not pleased with the professor. 

On March 4th, one of my colleagues at UC Santa Barbara, Feminist Studies professor Mireille Miller-Young, was walking to her office when she was approached by members of an anti-abortion group called Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust (SAH).  One thing led to another:  the police report picks up the story:
She said an argument ensued about the graphic nature of these images. Miller-Young said that she [sic] situation became "passionate" and that the other students were "triggered" in a negative way by the imagery.  Miller-Young said that she and others began demanding that the images be taken down.  Miller-Young said that the demonstrators refused. At which point, Miller-Young said that she 'Just grabbed it [the sign] from the girl's hands." Asked if there had been a struggle, Miller-Young stated, "I'm stronger so I was able to take the poster."
Miller-Young said that the poster had been taken back to her office. Once in her office, a "safe space" described by Miller-Young, Miller-Young said that they were still upset by the images on the poster and had destroyed it. Miller-Young said that she was "mainly" responsible for the posters destruction becaues she was the only one with scissors.
The SAH protestors seem to have consisted mainly of two sisters, Joan Short, 21, and Thrin Short, 16.  Thrin Short began to film Prof. Miller-Young and a few students departing with her sign.  In the video, you can hear ongoing exchanges between the two groups, see the UCSB group enter South Hall and try to take the sign up the elevator, hear what must be Joan Short calling the police and narrating events to them, see the UCSB group refusing the Short sisters entry to the building elevator amidst some scuffling-- at which point the video ends.

The event got immediate campus coverage in a student paper, The Bottom Line, which ran a story and a picture of one of the anti-abortion posters. The Santa Barbara Independent covered it a week later, identifying the group as SAH and  narrating its account of the events, for by that time Prof. Miller-Young had an attorney and was being advised not to speak about the case. The conservative blog The College Fix posted an account on March 12th, showing the scratches on Thrin Short's wrists and Joan Short with her signs.  So we can be clear what we're talking about, here are the signs on UCSB's campus on March 4th:

Rush Limbaugh got into the act on the same day, spinning the story in his usual way on his Quick Hits Page under the title "Leftist Professor Goes Berserk, Attacks Pro-Lifers" (scroll down). Fox News picked it up on March 13th (the SAH account has more media links at the bottom.) On March 14th, the Short sisters appeared on Megyn Kelly's Fox news show with an augmented version of the original video.  When Ms. Kelly asked how they felt about the professor's claim that she was "triggered" by the images and that she had the "moral right" to take the signs away, Thrin Short said she was sorry that the professor was "offended in any way. But after all, she does teach or show porn to her students, so she's not really the one to talk about offending images." (Joan Short is on the left, her sister Thrin on the right.)
 

 On March 15th, just to make the media circus complete, Salon got involved: Mary Elizabeth Williams turned the incident into an object lesson called "Why You Should Never Engage with an Abortion Protester."    She summed up her position by saying sarcastically, "Well, thanks, Dr. Mireille Miller-Young, because now these two sisters, who might otherwise have been just a campus nuisance, have overnight become national right-wing heroines."

OK, so much for the media fun.  Let me see if there's a way of threading a path through all this.

First of all, Prof. Miller-Young was wrong to take the Short sisters' sign, as she acknowledges in the police report (page 5 of 5).  She and the students were wrong to leave the scene while taunting the Short sisters, wrong to scuffle with them, and wrong to destroy the sign upstairs of out the Short sisters' reach.  I see no reason to disagree with the reporting officer when s/he says, "I explained to Miller-Young that vandalism, battery and robbery had occurred." 

Second, the Short sisters are not isolated citizens expressing a passionately-held moral belief (though they are obviously sincere, and their type of activism takes guts).  They are part of a right-wing institutional world that makes many people feel unwelcome and unsafe, including the women of color who confronted them at UCSB on March 4th. This is an important context for what happened that day.

The Shorts were trained as activists by SAH, a group founded by Jeff White.  Mr. White, according to his website, was National Tactical Director for the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, a group known for its aggressive tactics, and which is very much still in the game (Kansas example).  Mr. White continues to specialize in attention-getting public confrontation, as in this bizarre conflict with a Hollywood lighting crew in 2010.  He is apparently well-connected within conservative activist and funding networks.  Mr. White seems to have had great recruitment success within the Short family:  there is at least one more SAH Short sister, Mary Rose, who can be seen protesting in Albuquerque in November 2013, and who was protesting outside a high school in Jackson, MS in March 2012 when two SAH colleagues were arrested. 

Given their front-line position in a well-developed national anti-abortion activist network, there is no reason for the Shorts to play dumb about their intentions.  The sole point of their gruesome signs is to shock and offend people into opposing abortion.  They signs aren't "conversation starters": they freak people out, as they are meant to do. Even if you are sixteen years old, you should take responsibility for the likely impacts on actual people of what you are deliberately doing.  If you try to provoke people, you will eventually succeed, and if you work for someone like Jeff White, you have a full understanding both of what these provoked people might do and of how you can use this with the media.

The deeper issue here is that the Shorts arrived at UCSB as the institutional representatives of what for convenience I'll call Limbaugh's America--the forever angry wing of the American Right that disparages its opponents rather than debates with them.  The Shorts also represented that Right in the rhetorical strategy of their signs, which said quite plainly that pro-choice people, like some of the college students walking by, favor murdering "preborn" babies.   In this sense, the signs aren't just graphic: they are calculated insults of the moral viewpoint of the presumptively pro-choice onlooker.

UCSB student Delyla Mayers made this point clearly in her editorial in UCSB's Daily Nexus:
These groups have taken no consideration to the individuals who are directly or indirectly affected by abortion. UCSB prides itself on inclusivity and diversity, yet these groups have actively chosen to ignore the myriad people these images negatively impact. These groups have chosen to overlook these experiences, placing harmful and potentially damaging materials in front of students without so much as a warning. Student announcements are sent out every day, giving students warnings about numerous things; why aren’t such events required to do the same? I don’t think any group should be above that. It’s not the position I have a problem with, but rather the approach that is very insensitive, non-inclusive, violent and dangerous. These groups have failed to give students the right to choose to partake in such events, stripping individuals from their choice to practice self-care in topics as deep as abortion.
Prof. Miller-Young was aware that her students had the sense that the signs represented categorical hostility both to their views about abortion (if they were pro-choice, they favored killing unborn babies) and in some sense to who they are, that is, "campus liberals," and women of color.

Isn't this overreacting? No.  The Right's anti-intellectual dismissal machine has a long reach, and used anti-feminist and racial dogwhistling in this case as in so many others.

For example, in her appearance on Fox News, Thrin Short made a direct connection between Prof. Miller-Young taking offense at her signs and Prof. MIller-Young teaching pornography as an academic subject.  That same day, Rush Limbaugh had established the same equivalence.
We have hyphenated name? Check. Teaches multicultural nonsense? Check.

Attracted to perverted and worthless areas of academic emphasis? Check. Instinct to lash out violently at those who disagree with her? Check. Resorts to violence when she doesn't get her way? Check. Logical conclusion: She is a madcap leftist and she has tenure. She is teaching young skulls full of mush, inculcating them with this worthless drivel that their parents are paying through the nose for.

Now, you might say, "Rush this has always gone on."

Not to this degree, folks.

The higher education curriculum has been in the process of being corrupted by militant feminazis for I don't know how long, but it is continuing to normalize what 10 years ago were extremes.   The extremes 10 years ago are the normal today. The extremes 15 ago are the normal. A professor teaching a course in black cultural studies, pornography, and sex work on her faculty Web page?
Well Rush, actually yes: Black culture has obviously been a fountainhead of American life from its  beginning, and consuming pornography is America's national pastime not to mention an important form of popular culture, as UCSB's Constance Penley has been arguing for two decades. But in Limbaugh's America, studying Black culture or representations of African American women in pornography is all feminazism.  Mr. Limbaugh says these things regularly, they become right-wing common sense over years and decades, they get echoed by front-line people like Thrin Short--and then folks wonder why feminists or students of color get upset.

My third point is that in this context the theft of the SAH poster, though illegal, can be seen as an act of (non-violent) self-defense.  Many people, including many women and many people of color, do not feel safe in or respected by Rush Limbaugh's America. Many of the targets of the routine practice of disrespect see universities as refuges of enlightenment or at least basic rationality in a country whose media is saturated with personal attacks and hate speech.  The appearance of the SAH signs ended that fragile protection (as Ms. Mayers noted above).

On Fox, Megyn Kelly displayed disbelief at Prof. Miller-Young's line, apparently directed at a Short sister, "I may be a thief, but you're a terrorist." The most relevant definition of terrorist in this case is Jean-François Lyotard's in chapter 2 of The Postmodern Condition, where he defines terror as "eliminating, or threatening to eliminate, a player from the language game one shares with him."  This is the effect of SAH signs, and it is the core Limbaugh / Fox News strategy--not to debate an opponent, but to discredit her in advance as a dangerous buffoon. Non-Limbaugh America, now associated by the Right with Barack Obama's electoral majority built of various communities of color, feels quite unsafe in a mediascape and political world in which their positions are held up as ridiculous.  The university has come to function as one of the few escapes, and it was something that Prof. Miller-Young, in her way, was trying to defend.  This is why the police report records her saying that her actions "were in defense of her students and her own safety." The fact that they took an illegal form, as noted above, doesn't change their meaning as self-defense. I believe, she said to the reporting officer, that I have a "personal right to go to work and not be in harm."

Fourth, where are university administrations in all this? My basic feeling is that individual professors and students wouldn't have to be inventing ad hoc forms of self-defense against the presence of groups that disrespect them if the university had a reputation for defending itself.  By defending itself I don't mean universities should ban groups like SAH or eliminating free speech zones that welcome non-students. On the contrary, universities must continue to support the kind of debate that would be ejected from everywhere else in commercial America, like its bank lobbies, office cafeterias, and shopping malls. I mean, instead, that universities must build a counter-common sense through which the general public immediately understands why a university must have things like feminist studies departments and pornography scholars--that the university studies everything important, and studies everything according to professional rules of the knowledge-seekers own making, in uncoercive dialogue with the general public.

As it is now, the university has no answer to the Right's carefully constructed anti-intellectual culture, which allows its members to interpret new knowledge as an affront, a heresy, and an assault on all that is good.  All academic knowledge is vulnerable here, from stem-cell medical research and climate-related oceanography to studies of farmworker health, white suburban poverty, and new sexualities.  The result is that after three decades of culture wars, activists trained by right-wing groups like SAH know that if anything bad happens to them on campus, they can discredit their academic opposition in the media by appealing to ad hominem  stereotypes of liberal professors.   My sense is that the general public decreasingly thinks of universities as serious places that will protect themselves, their functions, and their people, and that anyone can do political hit-and-runs with impunity.  Obviously the Right's brilliant long-term institution-building is the main source of the weak cultural position of universities, which undermines individual academics when they most need help. But high-level university silence paved the way for the Right's control of the framing of university teaching and research.

As an institution, the university needs to build a discursive and cultural framework in which its own heterodox activities can be understood.  Tactically, university officials should not get down in the weeds and debate the value of porn studies with each anti-abortion protest group. But strategically, organizations like the American Association of Universities, presidents of major colleges, and other prominent educators need to help scattered associate professors confront and overturn the Limbaughian worldview.  The AAU is happy to speak officially in what it sees as a necessary defense of Israel, as when it formally denounced the American Studies Association's alleged infringement on academic freedom via its support for boycotting Israeli academic institutions.  The AAU should do the same, on an ongoing basis, around the the academic freedom of faculty of color to teach and conduct research, in dialogue with the public, on Black culture, Black actors in porn, possible racial bias in private medical research funding, the shortage of people of color in children's stories, or anything else that society puts in front of them.

Such high-level statements should also involve something we might call campus cultural, intellectual, and personal safety for students, an issue that recent protests by Black students at the University of Michigan, UCLA Law School, and elsewhere have put back on the agenda--again.  The long-term project is to build a cultural common sense in which the university's unavoidable violation of orthodoxy is the heart of its public mission--and where its community can be safe from the harassment that Limbaugh-culture reserves for that public mission in all its forms.

More locally, my hope is that the Short sisters will drop charges against Prof. Miller-Young in exchange for some kind of  statement or restitution from her.  It might be interesting to invite Joan and Thrin Short to a Feminist Studies classroom to talk, rather than to affront with signs, the professor and the students they tangled with before.  Who knows--Thrin Short might even stop ditching high school to protest abortion.

UPDATE 3/23
On Friday, Santa Barbara District Attorney Joyce E. Dudley announced that she was filing misdemenor charges against Prof. Miller-Young for theft from a person, vandalism, and battery.  The Santa Barbara Independent has coverage here. So does Fox News, which adds a quote from the Short sisters' father to a repeat of its earlier framing.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Friday, March 14, 2014
Now that the UC Care debacle has moved beyond the poor planning stage (leaving some campuses with significantly less access to care while paying the same amount) it is clear that although UC Care has held the line on premiums, for some people, at least, those cost savings are being lost to increases in co-pay requirements and other financial and logistical burdens that have been shifted onto faculty and staff. We continue to receive emails and blog testimony about issues with UC Care at non-medical and medical campuses alike (e.g. this example from UC San Diego).

It is our hope that shared information will enable employees to better organize through the Senate, Faculty Associations, Staff Unions and representatives, and just better prepare for pushing back at the new costs.  As a result, we have created a new page for people to share their UC Care stories. 

If you look above the posts you will see a button entitled "Share Your UC Care Story."  If you click on this it will take you to a page that will enable you to report your experience and any problems you have faced as well as read others' stories.  Please participate.  We hope the information will prove helpful to everyone trying to navigate and improve this situation.


Sunday, March 9, 2014

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Friday, March 7, 2014

Friday, March 7, 2014
by Colleen Lye and James Vernon
Co-chairs of the UC Berkeley Faculty Association
Cross-posted from the Daily Cal
Graphic from UC Accountability Report (2013)

UC faculty need to wake up to the systematic degradation of their pay and benefits.

In 2009, when the salary furlough temporarily cut faculty salaries between 4 and 10 percent, faculty were outraged. Yet since then, our compensation has been hit by a more serious and seemingly permanent double blow.

First, despite modest salary rises of 3 and 2 percent in October 2011 and July 2013, respectively, faculty take-home pay has been effectively cut as employee contributions to pension and health care have escalated. Faculty now pay more for retirement and health care programs that offer less. Second, faculty are no longer treated equally. Different groups of faculty are increasingly pitted against each other as depending on our age, where we live or when we were hired, we receive different levels of retirement, health and other benefits.

Faculty salaries were already uncompetitive. They remain 10 to 15 percent below the university’s own comparable institutions and fell behind those of Stanford, Yale, Harvard and MIT. Unsurprisingly, Berkeley faculty salaries rank a dismal but unsurprising 28th among those offered by elite research universities.

Back in 2009, strong benefits in the form of pension and health care provisions allowed the university to excuse its uncompetitive salaries by reminding us of what it called our “total compensation package.” This is no longer true. Now, as continued austerity management grips university administrators and as campaigns are launched to divest public sector workers of their pensions and retiree health care, faculty are being stripped of these deferred (and other) benefits.

One reason faculty are largely unaware of the degradation of their benefits is that changes have been made incrementally, and they target different constituencies. Gone are the days when all faculty and retirees were treated equally and received the same benefits. And yet, for all faculty, these changes mean we are paying more and getting less.

First, faculty are divided by a new two-tier pension system. The old pension, the so-called 1976 tier, has seen a steady escalation of employee contributions from 0 percent in 2009 to 8 percent in 2014.  These raises alone mean that faculty take-home pay has deteriorated by as much as 3 percent.

The new pension introduced for those hired since 2013 has begun with a 7 percent employee contribution. Despite paying more, new faculty get less. The minimum retirement age has been raised from 50 to 55, the retirement age for maximum pension has been raised from 60 to 65, and the lump-sum cash-out and subsidized survivor benefits have been eliminated.

Second, although there is as yet no legal evidence that retiree health benefits are less “vested” (and thus unalterable except by legislation) than pensions, they have been progressively stripped. And here, again, different groups of faculty are treated differently.

Since 2010, the university’s contribution to retiree health benefits has fallen from 100 percent to 70 percent — but this pales in comparison to the changes introduced in 2013, which have affected 50 percent of faculty and staff. All new hires, together with those with fewer than five years of service or those whose age plus service is fewer than 50 years, will now receive nothing from the university toward their health care if they retire before 55. Meanwhile, contributions for those retiring after 56 will be on a sliding scale (depending on length of service), beginning at just 5 percent!

Worse still, in what is being considered a test case by the UC Board of Regents, retirees no longer living in California have been removed from university’s insurance plans. Instead, they will be given a lump sum of $3,000 per year to help defray costs not covered by Medicare. This represents a significant shift of risk and responsibility for health care from the university to retirees. If it generates the projected $700 million savings of total liability as reported by the UC Office of the President’s CFO to the regents this year, it is likely to be coming soon to a group of retirees near you.

Third, in the fall, more than 3,000 faculty and staff at UC Berkeley alone were forced to change their health care plan in a little more than two months. We were promised these had been negotiated to secure great savings for the university and lower insurance rates for all UC employees. It quickly became clear to us that those lower monthly rates masked a huge turnover in eligible providers, geographically uneven coverage of service and considerably higher deductibles. It is too soon to calculate how much more faculty are paying for their health care, but once again, we are certainly paying more for less.

Finally, at the very end of last semester, a cursory email gave us a one-month warning for major changes to the Mortgage Origination Program and Supplemental Home Loan Program, which had allowed so many faculty access to the inflated Bay Area property market by offering below-market rate or interest-only mortgages in excess of 30 years. A new program is promised but has yet to be announced. We can assume it will again ask new faculty to pay more for less.

It is time for faculty to wise up to this systematic and universal downgrading of our salaries and benefits that also sets different groups of us on different tracks. The contrast with the new contracts recently signed by California Nurses Association and UPTE (and offered to AFSCME) is worth noting. In addition to significantly improved salaries, these unions have been able to maintain a single-tier pension  (for an additional 1 percent contribution) and retain retiree health benefits without the “rule of 50” exception.

So how will faculty respond? With a sigh of resignation? Determination to get an outside offer that would increase one’s personal compensation package? Or will we seek better mechanisms that would permit faculty to negotiate all elements of our compensation rather than have it decreed — and diminished — from up high? It certainly seems unlikely that our administrators will realize that the degradation of faculty compensation will make it harder to recruit and retain the scholars who have made this the best public university in the world.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Students and faculty at UC Davis have created an interactive site (One University, One Debt) for representing and sharing information about the growing debt burden that students face as a result of rising tuition and other costs of attending colleges and universities.  Although focused at Davis, the organizers and curators are eager to have responses from elsewhere and include resources for students and ways to join in or share information and stories.

The home site is Here.  You can go from there to get a wide range of information.  And to respond click to the tab marked "Participation and Response." The curators would like to encourage anyone who wants to share their story and/or is invested in resolving the student debt crisis to us their hashtags: #onedebt and #oneucdavis.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Monday, March 3, 2014
Business Week thinks so: its headline is "Krugman Move Boosts CUNY Effort to Escape Columbia, NYU Shadow."   In this piece, cool is a public city college doing the following things:






  • stealing star faculty from rich private universities, recalling the glory days when CCNY "graduated 12 Nobel laureates between 1930 and 1950."
In recent years, CUNY has hired a number of professors away from elite universities, including Jeremy Kahn, a mathematician from Brown University; Vijay Balasubramanian, a theoretical physicist from the University of Pennsylvania; David Joselit, an art historian from Yale University; and Cathy Davidson, a technology scholar from Duke University.
  • reclaiming the core mission of mass quality:
CUNY has about 274,000 students seeking degrees and almost 250,000 in continuing education and certificate programs, said William Kelly, interim chancellor and past president of the graduate school. It has 24 campuses spread across five boroughs.
“A university can be both public and provide access to a half-million students and pursue the highest goals imaginable,” said Kelly. “What has happened here is that the university has reclaimed its commitment to both access and excellence. Public universities need to do both.”
  • hiring large numbers of full-time faculty: "CUNY has stepped up faculty recruiting, boosting the number of full-time professors to 7,500 from about 5,000 over the past 10 years."
  • not saddling its students with debt: at CUNY "about 80 percent of baccalaureate and associate degree students graduate without debt."  Prof. Davidson made a particular point of saying "part of the draw was the university’s high quality and the low cost to students."
  •  having high levels of innovation: Prof. Joselit remarked, “Public universities are much more willing to experiment with the format, at least in the humanities and social sciences,”
Is public anything more experimental than its private version?  That's how it reads.   Although the job moves of these major scholars are largely symbolic, their visibility, along with statements like these, might help make public colleges seem exciting again.

* * *

How has CUNY been able to do all this full-time faculty hiring at its tuition level of under $6000 per year?  Not by suppressing wages: faculty salary tables at the Chronicle of Higher Education show CUNY sometimes above and sometimes below average salaries in all professorial categories (2012 Almanac).  The recipe seems to be to staff most of the campuses like colleges rather than like research campuses--with the obvious exception of the Graduate Center.

Graduate Center staff consists of about half full-time and half part-time professors (75% of full-time professors are tenure-track);  about two-thirds of its overall teaching staff are graduate students. On the other hand, a check of a few of the CUNY colleges shows lower percentages of full-time faculty.  Hunter has 705 full-time and 1175 part-time faculty (or 37.5% full time): the comparable figures are 38.3% full-time at CCNY and 41% at Queens.

Teaching loads are also pegged to standards for teaching rather than research universities, judging from the experience of the faculty I know at Queens, Brooklyn, Hunter, and Baruch Colleges, meaning that everyone I know in the humanities and social sciences is teaching three or more courses per semester rather than 2 and 2. 

As for research itself, CUNY does much less bench science than universities of comparable size.  The NSF's Higher Education Research and Development Report for FY 2011 ranks the top CUNY unit, CCNY, in 182nd position, with expenditures of less than half those at lowest-spending University of California campus, UC Riverside. Hunter is at 219th, Queens at 265th, and so on.  The Graduate Center doesn't appear, and may be lumped together with CCNY, but it's worth noting that none of the recent hires mentioned in the Business Week piece require laboratory facilities.

One conclusion is that it's easier for public universities to be experimental when they don't have to pay fo rexperimental science.  CUNY also isn't paying for full-scale, full-time research faculty spread throughout the system.  CUNY hires great full-time research faculty at all of its colleges, and then doesn't give them research faculty conditions. Obviously this limits  CUNY faculty's overall research output.

Can public universities maintain or upgrade instruction while staying major players in basic research? The first answer is yes, in the sense that they have been maintaining their 2/3rds share of overall R&D (Appendix Table 5-3).

A second answer is no, they won't sustain this going forward, since they are already having a hard time affording STEM research. For example, they spend nearly twice the share of their own resources supporting research as do private universities: "Public academic institutions supported a larger portion of their S&E R&D from their own sources—22%, compared to 13% at private institutions."

A third answer is that public universities will always be able to sustain or even increase research output--if they increase the share of non-STEM research in their mix.  CUNY can lag in overall R&D expenditures while still having a huge arts, humanities, and social sciences research output since these fields (borrowing the AHS acronym from Gerald Barnett) spent only $3.5 billion of the $65.8 billion spent on R&D in US universities was spent on STEM.)  You can be 265th in expenditures while being an AHS powerhouse, given these fields' much greater bang for the buck.

* * *

A contrasting example appeared in the news last week--Duke University--whose costs were the subject of a piece at NPR's Planet Money.  Duke, the article noted, claims that the University loses money on the $60,000 a year it charges to go there, since it allegedly spends $90,000 per student per year.  This is about 6 times UC's combined per-student in-state tuition --minus financial aid--plus state general fund).

The gap in per student expenditures between top privates and mass publics is shocking and socially inefficient: it's something this blog has been denouncing for years, that the Delta Project's studies made visible to policymakers (Figure 18), that education economists like Archibald and Feldman have analyzed, that I've argued causally reduces attainment and increases racial disparity.

The innovation in the Planet Money piece is that an MSM outlet stages a debate between standard and alternative higher ed accounting, juxtaposing Duke's provost Peter Lange and UC Berkeley's independent budget analyst, professor emeritus of physics Charles Schwartz.

Using the standard approach (I am describing, not endorsing it), Duke reports that a quarter of the $90,000 of per-student expenditure is affluent students subsidizing other less-affluent students, and that another quarter goes to paying faculty salaries. (In the context of familiar claims that academic salaries are the core of higher ed's "cost disease," this is not a large slice.)   Another quarter goes to "sponsored activities," which is close to the normal 20% or so that research universities spend to subsidize extramurally-funded research. The final quarter of the pie chart goes to overhead, which includes facilities and non-teaching staff.



Prof. Schwartz's point has long been that faculty research time gets lumped together with teaching time, so that the faculty cost of instruction is exaggerated.  Provost Lange counters that research and teaching are intertwined at a research university.  (For the record, Prof. Schwartz has never denied this, but has shown how they can be disaggregated so we at least know how much universities are spending on what.)  The Planet Money piece produces an accurate description of the debate:
In the end, Schwartz and Lange don't disagree on the value of what goes on at places like Berkeley and Duke. The disagreement is over the story that Duke tells its undergraduates.
So if you're a student at Duke, are you getting a massive discount on the cost of your education? Or are you subsidizing a giant educational edifice that you as an undergraduate student will barely come into contact with?
The answer sort of depends on what kind of student you are.
If you're engaged in research and capitalizing on your professors' expertise, maybe you're getting something that's worth more than what you paid. If you've got a good financial aid package, you're definitely getting a good deal. But if you're a full-paying student, who's not learning much from professors outside the classroom, it's the university that's getting the deal.
This formulation puts huge pressure on elite universities like Duke to subsidize student costs and to make sure every single student is experiencing artisnal research-learning.   This would be a big change for students who are buying a brand affiliation that will get them to the head of the line for the careers of the 1%, which, judging from Laura Newland's alarming memoir of her Duke undergrad years, is most of them. (You can listen to Doug Henwood's interesting interview with her January 30, 2013).

After many lousy years, I think momentum is starting to shift back towards public colleges. The challenge for them now for has several parts:
  • Get affordable for students again--by being honest about the limits of financial aid and restoring correct levels of public funding.
  • Define hands-on and research learning that brings Duke-style intensity to public university students.
  • Build budgets that allow research and teaching to interact at all types of public colleges. This means transparency about research costs so that research activity can be increased.  
Fewer people than ever will pay $60,000 or even $16,000 for a degree. But they will pay for real learning--if they understand its costs.