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Monday, December 31, 2018

Monday, December 31, 2018
2018 carried on with 2017, and on the big themes needs no separate higher ed news roundup.  We faced our POTUS of infinite need, who continued to obliterate attention to all issues other than himself, though there has been improvement in the containment structures. 

Since the issues are a disordered West, and a world not extending the mass capabilities required to defeat permanent war and climate chaos, that's not nearly good enough.

When people like Dave Berry looked, they did find a lot of post-2017 stuff in the world at large, but it wasn't encouraging.  Amazing things happened: American life expectancy fell.  But my topic here is some subtler improvements.  One change was that by lying at three times the rate of 2017, POTUS made his lying three times less efficient.

On higher ed, Robert Kelchen has a good 2018 top 10 list.  I also had a good one in 2016, when I identified 8 issues that in 2018 were still running rampant and not yet fully addressed.  Later, at the end of 2017, I was thinking mostly of the power of the public-good model in dealing with the Thomas fire.  The vast firefighting apparatus showed nonmarket public capabilities spreading benefits far and wide.  I'm still inspired by it. 

There were also some forms of emerging awareness in 2018.

Public Access to Public Knowledge.   The University of California is leading a fight for cheaper subscriptions to Elsevier's journals, which has become a contest with its overall business model.  (Lisa Krieger had a good overview in the Mercury-News.) Elsevier and its handful of peers generate 30-40% margins by getting publicly-funded research results for free, also getting the researchers' labor and expertise for free, changing those researchers a publication fee (in many cases even on the subscription model), and then charging their libraries for access to the knowledge created by their research. 

Scientific publishing has become a classic example of privatization as as a mechanism for letting private entities pocket public subsidies, and, in this case, also limit or reduce the circulation of knowledge. The important features of this year's fight are, (1) the university openly pressing for public-good standards; and (2) its officials enlisting faculty in a common battle.  May both continue in 2019.

Thinking STEM and non-STEM graduates together as advanced knowledge workers.  We normally imagine the "crisis of the humanities" in contrast to the assumed well-being of science, but this is not the institutional case.

The single most shocking higher ed piece I read this year was called "Changing demographics of scientific careers."  The authors used a "survival model" to quantify the "half-life" of a scientific career in 3 selected fields.  I knew that scarcity of grants and tenure-track jobs was hurting younger STEM researchers, as an even more acute scarcity has done the same in the arts, humanities, and qualitative social sciences (SASH). But I didn't know about the academic attrition.
The time over which half of the cohort has left the field has shortened from 35 years in the 1960s to only 5 years in the 2010s. In addition, we find a rapid rise (from 25 to 60% since the 1960s) of a group of scientists who spend their entire career only as supporting authors without having led a publication.
Both of these changes are mindboggling. 
 
The authors explain this shift as an effect of "team science," in which large, complex research groups need large numbers specialists. Team science generates employment-- but not the lead authorship on which research careers depend.  That doesn't quite explain the finding, which a reduction of a disciplinary cohort's half life from 35 to 5 years.  

I realize most of those STEM researches get industry jobs--or are doing quant modeling in investment banks.  But they are nonetheless lost to basic scientific research.  I'm struck by the incredible waste of intellectual capability, in which half the people a field trains are gone in five years time.  I also note that like the humanities, STEM has developed a two-track faculty problem, in which PIs and permatemps get the same educations but work in separate and unequal careers.  Science postdocs aren't exactly "starving artists," but assuming these 3 fields aren't exceptions, STEM is now losing or degrading massive amounts of its own brainpower.  The same thing is happening with musicians, journalists, writers, actors, and other high-skill workers now constantly trying to do SASH brainwork in the face of precarity or marginality or poverty or both.  The better salaries in STEM industry shouldn't blind us to the thwarting of intellectual desire and contribution.

Academic employment needs to be fixed by government and industry.  Government needs to fund research positions, and industry needs to pay more taxes for long-term knowledge.  These 2018 findings could help both along along.

Public Value of Research. 2018 brought wider awareness of financial conflicts of interest in big money science, especially medical science (here's one NYT roundup).  Science has been victimized by the market ideology of the post-Reagan period, which posits that private market incentives always increase efficiency of outputs, including research outputs.  In reality, financial goals can distort, misdirect, suppress, or block research. 

In 2016, the Chroncle of Higher Education profiled Marc Edwards, a scientist who had offered independent analysis of water quality to Flint when a city manager had toxified Flint's drinking water to save money. The plot thickened in this followup piece, in which a war of FOIAs continues to raise public-good issues about research.
  
In 2018, we took a couple more steps into a wider policy discussion. It goes beyond the old time solution of disclosing and managing conflicts of interest to eliminating them. This would happen in part by 1) the increased public funding science whose results are 2) fed mainly into a public domain pipeline rather than licensed directly to the public sector.  There are plenty of new ideas out there (Gerald Barnett is one such fountainhead), and they need to be tried out this coming year. 

The return of arts and humanites (SASH).  In 2018, the Chronicle Review singlhandedly published all the "decline of the humanities" articles that were dreampt of in America.  The supply is now exhausted.  Boycott any retreads you see in 2019.
  
Peak liberal arts phobia appeared in the Wisconsin-Stevens Point model of turning humanities departments into service units for applied STEM and business majors.  Translating a solid regional university into a vocational center is political and budgetary suicide, as continuing UW austerity in 2019 will show.  More generally, more technical training won't solve any of the world's important problems.  Climate inaction, rising authoritarianism, military destruction, transphobia, starved public services, health care turmoil, toxic masculinity, opioid addiction, educational mediocrity, forever wars--every single challenge the planet faces requires combined technical and sociocultural knowledge.  Universities should watch Stevens Point's own goal and run in the opposite direction. 

Decolonizing the university.  In December, we ran two pieces on the university's colonial roots and impacts (Dylan Rodriguez; Anneeth Kaur Hundle and Ma Vang). What would actual decolonization look like?  

One literal definition would be the university version of giving valuable concessions back to their indigenous forbears--like returning the Yosemite concessions, now held by Aramark, to the descendants of Ahwanheechee Miwoks).  

Short of that, universities would systematically replace their overwhelmingly white senior management. I tend to focus on resources. Decolonization would mean that UC campuses like Merced and Riverside, which educate more underrepresented and/or disadvantaged students, would have more per-student resources, not less.  The same goes on a national level-- we would flip our upside-down funding model, in which the students most shortchanged in K-12 have the fewest higher ed resources, and the most lavishly educated through high school get places with the most.  

Decolonization also means fixing extreme funding inequalities between divisions and departments, in which fields like sociology and ethnic studies, which address vital social problems while serving higher shares of students of color, have a fraction of the resources awarded to others.  You can look forward to more research on this in the year to come.
 
Many thanks for reading this year, and happy 2019!

Monday, December 17, 2018

Monday, December 17, 2018

Reflections on the 150th Anniversary Symposium of the University of California Academic Senate, Part I, by Anneeth Kaur Hundle (Asst. Prof. of Anthropology) and Ma Vang (Asst. Prof. of Ethnic Studies & History), UC Merced. Photo courtesy of Merced Prodigy

Arrival in Oakland

We felt anxious as we entered the cocktail reception that preceded the keynote and first panel of the symposium and celebration. Located in a large hall of the iconic Waterfront Hotel on Jack London Square in Oakland, we felt like out-of-town infiltrators, from the seemingly otherworldly UC Merced of the San Joaquin/Central Valley and rural California. We felt out of time and place in the almost entirely white space of senior UC Academic Senate leadership, and marked by our generational, racialized, gendered, and cultural differences.  To the right of the entrance was a bar, and most of the attendees had gathered around it, engaged in exuberant conversation as they sipped on cocktails and greeted each other like old pals. People turned to look at us with friendly smiles and also quizzical looks of non-recognition--they did not know who we were and what we might be doing there.

A little nervous but determined, we maneuvered through the crowded entrance to look for a seat. We spotted our fellow panelists and moderator already seated at a table, and upon their invitation, took our seats at the table. Exchanging glances wrought from friendship and solidarity, we thought a drink or two might be in order to make it through the night. We worked our way through the crowd back to the entrance and bar.

The feelings of nonbelonging lingered through the evening’s panel and those of the next day. To be clear, we also belonged at the symposium because we are UC faculty and, at the suggestion of one of our senior faculty mentors at UC Merced, were invited to present a talk for the 150th anniversary of the UC Academic Senate based on our perspectives as junior faculty at UC Merced. However, we also felt that we were token faculty of color in the exclusive space of senior Academic Senate leaders. We were not sure if our visible phenotypical presentation of “difference” as faculty from UC Merced was conflated with or would even erase our substantive, intellectual contributions about our experiences of UC Merced as a neoliberal university. Were we there as objects to represent diversity or were we there to speak as subjects of history about the UC system?
   
Thinking the “Twenty-First Century Neoliberal Research University”

Our talk at the anniversary symposium was based on a longer, collaborative paper that we co-wrote together, alongside UCM student contributions, which is now in press in the journal Critical Ethnic Studies and which provides an analysis of UC Merced as an exceptional university and institution in the UC system because of its origins, development, and expansion in the context of neoliberal conditionality specific to the Californian and U.S. context from the late 1980s onwards. Our mode of celebrating the 150th anniversary of the UC “multiversity” (to use former President of the UC Clark Kerr’s phrase) and the academic senate was to think about the UC’s mission to uphold public values, connect to larger civic issues and social problems, and envision a democratic polity. Importantly, we did not speak from administrative, or technocratic-managerial perspectives, but as professors and teachers who are deeply invested in the stated public mission of the UC, and who must provide our students with intellectual toolkits to understand their society and circumstances. Thus, our talk was positioned in relation to the everyday struggles of navigating UC Merced and the UC system as junior scholars and researchers, teachers, and mentors for minoritized/racialized and working class students.

Our mode of celebrating the 150th anniversary of the UC Academic Senate began by stating student demands that were expressed at the 2016 celebration and groundbreaking of the UC Merced’s 2020 Project, the next phase of UCM’s campus expansion.


UPRISE (Uprising People Power to Resolve Issues of Space and Equity) is a graduate and undergraduate student coalition at UC Merced, largely led by queer women of color, that demanded the redistribution of university resources for student needs as well as the recognition of their humanity, dignity, and personhood on campus. The student coalition called for cultural and other student centers, increased funding for mental health services, better undergraduate student recruitment and retention, resources for the critical race and ethnic studies program, the diversification of the faculty, and the de-militarization of the campus.

Foregrounding campus structural inequality and the student activism of students of color in our lecture, we argued that UC Merced enacts neoliberal projects by retooling concepts and ideals central to historical and liberal-humanist visions of the University of California--projects such as “diversity,” “access,” “equity,” and “public”--to put them in line with neoliberal campus expansion initiatives. In mobilizing these concepts, rooted in a model of the UC informed by the 1960s-era Master Plan for Higher Education, we addressed how the work of late capitalist inequality is made invisible and normalized in the day to day workings of UC Merced.

We also addressed neoliberal processes as a relationship between late liberal capitalism and multicultural diversity discourses, suggesting that the university deploys “diversity speak” as a technology of governance and mode of managing difference and students’ substantive demands for racial and economic justice through what we define as top-down “neoliberal solidarity projects” (i.e. the celebration of “first-generation” identity etc.)

Finally, we explored the relational politics and practices among staff, faculty, and students of color to comprise what we describe as “nonaligned solidarities in formation”--solidarities that inform a set of strategies of both “playing along” and resisting the university’s neoliberal governance and management of its subjects. Such solidarities are often fractious, messy, and precarious, but they reveal a sense of community and belonging to UCM, as well as a bottom-up vision for a just university that functions to actually serves its students, faculty and staff of color, and communities of California’s Central Valley.

Our intention was to make visible our experiences, those of our students, and both the neoliberal development and governance of UC Merced to showcase the capitalist contradictions of the UC system (much of which is now majority students of color, and which features growing structural inequality) and to build a necessary link between the ongoing labor of the UC Academic Senate’s responsibility to supervise the academic mission of the system and the reality of faculty and student of color needs.

We did this knowing that we had yet to experience sitting on higher level, system-wide Academic Senate committees, and knowing full well that the Academic Senate’s mandate of democratic and decentralized governance exists to represent our needs and demands in lieu of being formally unionized faculty. Our discussion of UC Merced was not meant to parochialize or marginalize the campus as an anomaly, as many in the UC system continue to see it, but rather to suggest that our racialized and gendered experiences, alongside the extraction of our labor, speaks to a larger problem about the UC system as a “neoliberal multiversity.”

We hoped that those in attendance understood that our commitment to the new campus, and to a region of California where people from our own communities (Hmong and Punjabi Sikh) live, requires a serious critique of the contradictions of building a new university that celebrates tokenized and phenotypical diversity, yet does less to direct resources towards understanding the complexity of student personhoods and livelihoods in the region.

For instance, we are concerned about the market-driven instrumentality of educational priorities that result in the divestment of critical humanities education, critical race and ethnic studies, and globally-informed coursework, including language courses, that speak to the realities of student life stories and non-Western forms of knowledge. We wanted to stimulate serious conversations about how the dilemma of neoliberal development and governance at UCM is shaping the direction of the UC. Indeed, public discourse about UC Merced touts it as the “future of the University of California" based upon the high percentage, 53%, of Latinx students. (UC Berkeley and UCLA have 13% and 21% Latinx student populations respectively.) This is what we mean by "neoliberal diversity" logic" UCM’s development and expansion depends on the visible appearance of Brown and Black bodies on our campus, while its diversity discourses and ideologies undermine more substantive financial investment for the hiring of under-representative Latinx faculty and faculty who specialize in course-work relevant to Latinx students.

Thus, as public funds for higher education dwindle, we wonder, are UCM's struggles indeed the future of the University of California system? How would the Academic Senate address our concerns, and how could we work to re-invigorate the Senate with a new sense of urgency and creativity, working towards collective goals of securing public investment, defending the public mission of the UC system, and committing to hiring faculty of color to help educate the next generation of students of color in the UC system?

We presented our talk on the final panel of the day, and at that point, many important guests at the symposium, including UC system President Janet Napolitano and Provost Michael T. Brown, had already left. We had not pre-circulated our talk, and so the discussants on the panel provided commentary that was independent of the talk. Unfortunately, there was no additional time for a question and answer period, which limited intellectual engagement with the talk's ideas, beyond several questions that came from audience members after the symposium was over for the day.

Our overall sense was that we both visibly represented the abstract notion of “diversity” of the UC system, and also provided “raw material” or “data” about the day-to-day experiences of junior faculty and students of color at UCM. Thus the content of our talk, particularly its critical analysis of neoliberal diversity, was relegated to the margins of the intellectual conversations at the symposium, rather than helping to formulate the constitutive core of conversations by and about the Academic Senate.

In the end, it wasn’t that those in attendance did not understand the concerns we raised. It seemed that they valued our perspective of critical disruption and understood it to be a part of the historical tradition of the UC. Yet the critical substance of our talk was still co-opted into a celebratory narrative about the UC as an institution that values diversity and the public good. The logic of this narrative prioritized the ways in which the UC had successfully fulfilled its mission of administrative and managerial planning to establish and open UC Merced.

We don’t discount the opportunities that UCM has afforded us as tenure-track faculty in a highly precarious job market, or the important ways it has provided and expanded access to higher education for undergraduate students from California. However, we continue to worry about the quality of that educational access.  We are worried about high lecturer to tenure-track faculty ratios.  For example, in Fall 2018, the proportion of contingent to ladder-rank UCM faculty was 143 to 249,  meaning that over 1/3rd of the UCM faculty are off the tenure track.

We are worried too about over-worked faculty and staff, and the lack of additional tutoring and mentoring services for first-generation, poor and working students.  We are worried about insufficient numbers of critical humanities course offerings, and of faculty of color who can serve as mentors for the students who take them.  "Trickle-down economics” had revealed to us the ways in which ideological and increasingly fictive notions of the universalized public university and its liberal-humanistic imperatives mask late liberal capitalist university development and its negative ramifications for its racialized and gendered subjects.

In the end, we left the conference reeling from the burdensome weight of the universalist, liberal-humanist tradition of the University of California, established in 1868.  We will address this issue in a future post.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Friday, November 30, 2018
Comments from the 150th Anniversary Symposium of the University of California Academic Senate, Oakland, California, October 27, 2018, 
by Dylan Rodríguez, Chair of the UC Riverside Academic Senate, Professor, Department of Media and Cultural Studies
[Photo: Gen. David Barrows, Armistice Day, 1926, courtesy of FoundSF.]

Let us reconsider the full historical context of the University of California’s founding moment and the context in which it coined its motto, “Fiat Lux.”  A brief reflection on the UC’s political, geographic, and historical conditions of possibility may offer some vital complexity and depth to recent college- and university-based discourses on free speech and academic freedom, while raising deeper questions about the notions of “speech” and “freedom” in-and-of-themselves.

The founding of the University of California represents a particular confrontation between Western Euroamerican modernity and the high point of Manifest Destiny—a nation-building cultural, political, and military regime that is inseparable from the UC’s academic and juridical infrastructure.  During this extended period, the UC’s founding faculty and administrators were engaged in a variety of global colonial projects, which is to say racial colonial projects, including the US conquest and protracted colonial governance of the Philippines.

As a Ph.D. student at UC Berkeley, i spent a lot of time in a building named after David Barrows, President of the University of California from 1919-1923.  Barrows had an interest in California Indians, particularly the Cahuilla Tribe, the topic of his Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Chicago (where else?).  Before he became the UC president, Barrows played a pivotal role in the US colonization of the Philippines, during which the US military was engaged in a genocidal military campaign to liquidate and neutralize indigenous resistance to colonial occupation throughout the archipelago.  As people and ecologies were destroyed, burned, and displaced, Barrows accepted an appointment as Chief of the “Bureau of Non-Christian Tribes of the Philippine Islands.”  I imagine that if he were awakened from his mortal slumber, President Barrows might concede that the conditions of his own “academic freedom,” of his freedom to speak and his “freedom of speech,” were not only entangled in but constituted by his lifelong engagements with projects of colonial dominance, from the Cahuilla to the “non-Christian” Philippine tribes.  “Fiat Lux” indeed.

Across these and other historical political geographies of racial-colonial dominance, modern law, rights, and disciplinary academic knowledges affirm white life’s ascendancy over all other life.  This has been the historical, if generally tacit mission statement of the modern university, including the University of California.  War against other life, culture, ecology, and sociality is the genesis of law, rights, and university epistemologies in this instance, structuring the “civility” and the “freedom” that disciplines those who are on the historical margins of that civil society, the underside of the thing called Civilization.

In this sense, it is horrifically appropriate that so many of us engaged in the counter-knowledge productions of critical ethnic studies, queer studies, gender and feminist studies, and decolonial studies have encountered David Barrows’ bronze bust in that building at UC Berkeley.  His visage reminds us that the intellectual space and infrastructure to engage in such counter-knowledge production is the outcome of intense, rigorous, collective social movement that critically extends the entitlements of academic freedom while confronting the ways in which the institutional stability constructed around the edifices of academic freedom is actively policed.

Allow me to turn to the fact of policing in the second half of my reflections on this 150th anniversary.

A spectacle of police violence at UC Davis on November 18, 2011 catalyzed a national and international response, fixated on the vulnerable bodies of young white people engaged in an act of civil disobedience. (With all due respect to the people of color who were also in the line of fire at Davis, my contention is that their bodies were not the ones with which the national and international response was primarily concerned, nor was their vulnerability centrally responsible for inciting this global outrage in the first place.)  Largely displaced by the righteous outcry over the UC Davis police’s pepper spraying of students in November 2011 was a more massive and militarized display of police force/violence that occurred at my home campus of UC Riverside two months later, on January 19, 2012.

On this day, UCR students were shot with “less than lethal” police pellets during protests of tuition/fee increases at a meeting of the UC Regents.  (Here i will gently suggest that we modify our language to acknowledge that these actions might be more comprehensively described as “debt protests.”)  In anticipation of this student-led demonstration, police were mobilized from every UC campus other than Davis and Merced, supplemented by officers from the City of Riverside Police Department and the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.  Police helicopters periodically circled over the protest, while officers appeared to assume sniper positions at strategic high points on several campus buildings.  The climate was thick with police presence, and the pageantry of political intimidation represented a massive show of force against the students, faculty, staff, and ordinary people who populated the crowd.
Riot police confronting student protest at UC Regents meeting, UC Riverside, January 19, 2012 (photo courtesy of the author)

This police presence starkly contrasted with the protest’s well-disciplined adherence to tactics of “nonviolence.” (By way of definition, i do not consider loud chants, intense and vitriolic rhetorics of protest, militant refusal to disperse an alleged “unlawful assembly” or sit-down blockades to constitute “violence”; further, even if one wishes to perform the academic gymnastics of labeling such activities as forms of discursive, symbolic, existential, and/or immanent violence, they are not of a kind remotely comparable to the aforementioned marshaling of legitimated state violence.) For reasons i have explained elsewhere, we should not be surprised that UC Riverside’s scene of police repression—images of which were easily accessible via e-mail listservs, public YouTube videos, Facebook photos, and the like—did not attract remotely the kind of attention and righteous reaction as did the incident at UC Davis.

There is something structurally white supremacist about how expressions of outrage and institutional shaming over the UC Davis police spectacle seemed to be fueled by an overidentification with (historically white) university campuses as places of presumed innocence, wherein enrolled and employed (white) bodies are presumed to presume innocence.  On the other hand, UC Riverside students generally signify (and biographically reflect) the normalized policing and criminalization of Black, Native, and Brown people—young and old, urban and rural, transgender, queer, and straight.  Such bodies—such people—are incapable of extracting the consensus of liberal outrage surrounding (and ultimately protecting) the repressive university policing of white, able-bodied college youth.  Thus, while all campus policing is fundamentally “political,” only a select few of its most acute forms are addressed as such.

There is a punchline to this story that takes place in a former UCR Chancellor’s living room…

During this period, Chancellor Tim White periodically invited groups of department chairs to his residence for friendly dinners, during which he engaged us in conversation about things we felt were important to the campus.  During the dinner i attended, a fellow departmental chair and i raised concerns over the heavy handedness of the police response to the nonviolent, student-led action of January 19.  (Other chairs seemed either unaware of this matter or uninterested in raising such criticisms of police violence and administrative complicity.)  After eating, the fellow chair and i sat with Chancellor White on his living room couch.  He looked us both in the eye and, in a most calm and reassuring tone, expressed sympathy with our concerns and informed us that he had taken pains to instruct the police to shoot the student protestors “below the knees.”  My colleague and i took turns staring at each other and the floor.  Not long thereafter, i watched Chancellor White shed crocodile tears over the financial hardships of a Black woman undergraduate on an episode of the reality show “Undercover Boss.”

I offer these reflections to deprovincialize and radically contextualize the concepts and jurisprudence of free speech and academic freedom beyond the institutional mythologies of “Fiat Lux.”  Allow me to conclude with a set of overlapping questions that may offer some productive reframing of our ongoing discussions:

  • Who are the assumptive subjects of “free speech” and “academic freedom?” 
  • How are these notions of liberty (particularly as they are inseparable from the jurisprudential regime that produces them as such) structured in relations of gender, race, sexual, and colonial dominance in the long historical and recurrent-present tense?
  • How are free speech and academic freedom actually inhabited by people whose speech and thought are constituted in relations of dominance, such that the underlying humanist allegation at the core of both terms is (perhaps radically) demystified and disrupted?
  • What forms of policing are martialed through the politics of free speech and academic freedom? 

While both "free speech" and "academic freedom" suggest discourses of liberty, i would argue that they cannot be separated from the densely historical, gendered racial-colonial logics that persistently claim to secure such “freedom” and “liberty” against lurking threats from what W.E.B. DuBois famously called “the darker peoples of the world.”

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Wednesday, November 21, 2018
We've gotten dosed this past week with some prime time smugness about how we don't need to do anything much to help higher education.  First was one of my favorite data journalists, David Leonhardt, rejecting loan forgiveness in the New York Times. He wrote,  "The fatal flaw of universal student-debt cancellation is that it’s not, in fact, progressive. It mostly benefits the upper middle class. 'Education debt,' as Sandy Baum and Victoria Lee of the Urban Institute have written, 'is disproportionately concentrated among the well-off.' The highest-earning quarter of the population holds about half of all student debt, according to Baum and Lee. Which means that universal student debt cancellation would be a giant welfare program for the bourgeoisie."

Actually by American standards student debt isn't very concentrated.   And Leonhardt misses some major problems with "manageable" student debt that forgiveness would fix.

I drafted the list of problems that Leonhardt misses (below), and then stopped to meet with a UCSB senior whom I didn't know.  We talked about a book in my Detective Fiction course, Black Widow Wardrobe, and this student's account of the book was really good.  At the end of her analysis of the ambiguity of a key Mexican national mythology the novel uses, I said, "that's a great summary of this issue, and," I half-joked, "it's something you could continue to work on when you go to grad school."

"I want to teach," she said, "nothing is more important to me.  I don't think I can go to grad school though. I don't have the grades."

"Why?" I asked, surprised.  She seemed to learn completely and to forget nothing. "What's your GPA?"

"In the English major I have about a 2.4."

"That's ridiculous," I said, "that's obviously not the right GPA for you."

"Well," she said,  "I'm off academic probation at least.  I've been on it four times.  I have to work a lot to stay in school.  I had some help from family my first year, but they couldn't keep it up and told me my education was mine to pay for now.  I work 12 hours a week minimum, and then when there's a break in midterms or finals I work 20.  My father also has a new baby and I spent weekends this term helping his wife, who couldn't get around. I'm first generation college--my father and mother only finished middle school and are so happy I'm at UCSB.  It's really important that I give back to them.  I need to take care of them."

"It's none of my business," I said, "but you also need to take care of yourself in school. You need to get through this with the grades and the learning that will help you go on."

"I'm excited about what I'm learning," she replied.

"Does your GPA bother you?"

"It bothers me a lot.  I think about it all the time."

"Then how can we help you to work less? You don't want to because it means loans?"

"Yes.   That's what the probation advisors said to me --take loans so you can work less.  But I can't have any debt.  I see the job market and it isn't reliable enough for me to be sure that I can pay it back."

This went on for a while, with me trying to figure out how to save her GPA from her justified fear of debt, with a family that can at most send her $20 a month for groceries.  I failed.

"Well you have to do well in my class," I said cheerily.

"I want to.  But I couldn't turn in the midterm paper-- I had to go home."

She'd worked a lower-points alternative out with the TA, but that means she's heading for something like a 3.0 or less for my class too, where she has obviously mastered the key concepts.  I offered to advise a senior thesis so if she does well I can write her a good letter for the next phase.  She's thinking about it.

In spite of constant wishful thinking, there's no escape from the fact that student debt--in this case its desperate avoidance--is a major cause of "limited learning" and narrowed future possibilities.

The #RealCollege movement has shone a spotlight on the fact that a third of US college students face food and housing security issues.  Organizations like Temple University's Hope Center are working to fix that.  So why are policymakers and journalists as informed as Leonhardt so complacent about the educational damage done by our financial aid system?

Here's my short list of the problems that Leonhardt omits.
  • Fear of debt causes undermatching, in which lower-income students go to cheaper--and poorer--colleges than they are qualified for.  This reduces their chances of graduation and probably their learning. 
  • Students manage future debt by working more than they should while studying.  As the case of my smart 2.4 GPA student illustrates, this is a structural source of the "limited learning" that Arum and Roksa documented in 2011 (which, it must always be said, was largely limited to  "vocational" fields).
  • Loan repayment pushes students toward disciplines with higher future salaries, whether they want to study them or will do well in them.  Moving someone who loves history into computer science is inefficient as well as undemocratic, and yet debt makes this more likely.
  • Much of this "reasonable" debt is held by low-income students who have no family resources to help pay it back.  (Low income students borrow on average as much as middle-class students do.)
There's so much stubborn inertness about student debt because of a philosophical mistake made as much by Democrats like Leonhardt as by Republicans:
  • Means-tested loan forgiveness contradicts the public-good status of education.  With means-testing, the baseline norm is for everyone to pay for college out of their own pocket.  This treats college as a private good.  Then, since most people can't pay for college on their own, various kinds of state and private charity kick in--which maintain the private-good status.  Means-testing makes everyone focus on the income effects of college--as does income contingent repayment in the UK. It makes them forget the nonmarket, indirect, and social benefits of higher ed.  This in turn completely changes the psychological experience and effects of college.  Democrats supposedly don't think everything is about money, and yet they've set up a financial aid system that is only about money.  This is the system Leonhardt supports.
These market-ruled aid programs continue the Clinton-era suppression of the value of public goods. In reality, goods like clean air, sanitation systems, mass transit, vaccination, and education should be distributed according to individual need and general benefit, not according to ability to pay.  With these goods price signals don't work.  They give an oversupply to rich people and an undersupply--or much lower quality--to the poor.  This is why the Clinton-Obama market model of health and education has lost so much support.

In addition, the market-driven allocation of high-quality college is a main reason why US attainment has fallen steadily over the last 4 decades from first to about sixteenth in the world. It is also why college racial inequality persists.

Most of us feel somewhat badly about this unjust, unequal allocation and try to patch it with our high-tuition-high aid system, stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey with loans (2:1 loans over grants vs. the reverse 30 years ago).  We know it doesn't provide equal outcomes by race or class, or actually equal opportunity (for roughly similar educational quality).  Rather than putting financial aid on a market system, we should have put it on a public good allocation system.  Having contributed to the market mistake, Democrats should now stand for the public good correction.

Market failure is what the democratic socialist wing of the Democrats understands, and what the Clinton-Pelosi wing does not--yet.  In practice it would mean that society would set a goal of all students graduating debt-free, and then buy out my smart 2.4 GPA student's 20 hours a week of work so she can actually learn as much as she can and have the record that reflects her capabilities.   Debt-free college is economics that sets socio-cultural goals rather than isolating itself from them--substantively equal access, and outcomes that reflect individual labor and preferences, not grossly unequal prior conditions.

The crisis of financial aid appeared in the biggest higher ed story this week--Michael Bloomberg's $1.8 billion gift for student financial aid.  Unfortunately, it all went to one university.  The recipient was his alma mater Johns Hopkins, and the money will do the useful thing of converting all loans to grants that need not be repaid--for Hopkins students.  It's the right idea, but obviously needs to be applied to the 99.93 percent of U.S. postsecondary students who don't go to Johns Hopkins.

I don't need to point out the problems here: many commentators blasted the elitism of this version of affordability, from Sara Goldrick-Rab to Dylan Matthews, who called the gift a tragedy.  My Twitter feed was strongly bearish.  I don't think senior administrators realize how these megagifts make the university sector seem entitled, greedy, and cut off from the lives of regular people trying to get a good education.  Why pay taxes for these billionaires' BFFs?  A clear warning sign should have been Malcolm Gladwell's trashing of a hedge fund billionaire's $400 million gift to Harvard in mid-2015--followed by his celebration of obscure giving that helps advance everyday students (and takedown of the Knight-Hennessey scholarships at Stanford).

Bloomberg was unable to avoid lecturing the nation on the need for everyone to support financial aid at public universities as he was not.  I prefer my governments actually egalitarian, my tax brackets steeply progressive, and my billionaires plutocratic.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Monday, November 12, 2018

Below you will find the announcement of  the creation of a new network that has formed to defend the critical functions and independence of higher education in a moment of crisis.

We in the United States are facing a dangerous threat to our institutions of higher learning from a political climate dominated by anti-intellectualism and willful ignorance. For more than forty years, the academic community has been the target of a sustained campaign of demonization and defunding that is designed to undercut its legitimacy as a source of expertise and a haven for dissent. The structure of this anti-education movement is deep, wide, and coordinated and the attack is being intensified under the current administration. Almost every area of academic life is now at risk: whether the threats come from the insistence of outside groups pressuring universities to host speakers who seek to affront marginalized members of the university community and others; or the federal government’s attempts to ban Muslims, “Dreamers,” and undocumented students; or the underfunding of public higher education and scientific research; or, most recently, the state’s attempt to reject years of scholarly work on the complexities of gender identity. This is not only an American issue; the world’s universities are in danger of losing the intellectual distinction and freedom that they have represented and defended.
The Network of Concerned Academics will act as a hub to bring together all those seeking to address these threats to higher education.  The originality of the network is its outreach to the three groups—faculty, students, and administrators—who are not usually in direct conversation with one another; indeed they are sometimes at odds.  Our goal is to unite these diverse constituencies in the face of unprecedented attacks on the entire enterprise of higher education, by providing information and updates on unfolding events, and by developing concrete strategies and blueprints, among them models of best practices for all those who are confronted with new kinds of provocations and threats.  The website is now live at https://www.networkofconcernedacademics.org/.
The effectiveness of this Network depends on its ability to bring together and activate people who are committed to preserving the university as a space in which diversity of perspectives, academic expertise, and critical thought can flourish. Please post this letter and the NCA link on your websites and blogs, and please inform your constituencies about this new resource.
We appreciate your help in spreading the word about the launching of the NCA website, and welcome your contributions to its resources and conversations.
If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to contact the NCA by email or at https://www.networkofconcernedacademics.org/contact-us .



Saturday, November 10, 2018

Saturday, November 10, 2018
By Robert Cohen (New York University)

The release of the California College Republican’s Platform has attracted press attention because of its extreme right wing positions demonizing the university as “degenerate and murderous” -- denouncing university support of transgender rights, undocumented students, Mexican and Muslim student organizations, and funding of birth control, and abortion.  But what the media coverage of the platform missed was the brazen dishonesty of these college Republicans’ discussion of free speech on campus. Indeed, the charge  of attempted censorship that the platform makes against  the UC Berkeley administration, with regard to the campus appearance of conservative commentator Ben Shapiro, is not merely misleading and false; it is by far the biggest lie I have ever encountered from student activists in the more than 30 years  I have spent studying, publishing books and articles, and teaching courses on American student politics. There was no attempted censorship of Shapiro at Cal, and the charge that there was represents an attempt by these right wing students to masquerade as free speech martyrs, which would be laughable were it not for the fact that such lying defames a Berkeley campus administration that has in reality ardently supported (and spent millions of dollars protecting) the free speech rights of conservative speakers at UC Berkeley.

What the California College Republicans’ Platform said was that the Shapiro incident at UC Berkeley was an “example” of  the “attempt” by campus “administrators” to “suppress… free expression” of “conservative students…. The University of California at Berkeley attempted to prevent Berkeley College Republicans (BCR) from bringing conservative speaker Ben Shapiro by forcing BCR to pay for his $600,000 security bill necessitated by violent leftist demonstrators.” This a complete fabrication. UC Berkeley never sought to force the BCR to pay an astronomical security fee. Nor did UC Berkeley in any way seek to prevent Shapiro’s appearance. Quite the opposite. The administration did everything in its power to make that appearance possible and to ensure its safety. 

Here are the facts. Back in July 2017 the BCR applied for a large room to accommodate the Shapiro event, which it planned to hold in mid-September.  It turned out that none of the  large rooms used for student events at Cal  were available on the date the BCR requested. So to ensure that this conservative speaking event could occur anyway, the Berkeley administration took the extraordinary step of making available Zellerbach Hall – whose large auditorium  had  usually been a venue for concerts and major cultural events, and in the past had rarely if ever been made available for student speaking events.  The administration even agreed that it would pay the Zellerbach venue fee, something it had never done for any student political organization. In other words, the UC Berkeley administration was leaning over backwards to accommodate Shapiro’s talk, even subsidizing it, so much so that Berkeley’s left-leaning student newspaper, The Daily Californian complained of administration favoritism towards the BCR.  

Yes, security costs for the Shapiro event in September 2017, most of which were paid for by the university, were expensive. But that was not merely – as the Republicans claimed – because of concerns about “violent leftist demonstrators,” but also  because in the wake of the Charlottesville tragedy (where a white supremacist murdered an anti-racist protester) there were fears that violent right wing extremists might come to the Berkeley campus to assault their leftist counterparts and students of color. Indeed, there had been street battles in Berkeley during the summer of 2017 between extremists on the right and left. So the university spent for for the necessary security to prevent such violence and to ensure that there was no repetition of the riot of February 1, 2017, when a paramilitary force of some 150 masked anarchists invaded the Berkeley campus,  threatening public safety, doing $100,000 in property damage to the university, forcing the cancellation of a speech by the  bigoted, foul mouthed, far right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos. Thus the administration brought in an army of police, closed five campus buildings, and had police barricades set up on Sproul Plaza to establish a security perimeter that made violence or rioting impossible, enabling the Shapiro event to occur with no disruption.

These security measures were  costly not only  in terms of money (despite a serious budget deficit Cal spent some $800,000 on the Shapiro event) but the disruption of the academic lives of many students, who could not access the services of the offices that were closed the afternoon of the Shapiro event.  This led to  complaints from students, faculty, and staff that for the sake of an unpopular speaker brought by one small student organization (the BCR), regular functions of the university had been halted. Cal’s chancellor Carol Christ, heard such complaints. But she had declared that this, her first year in office would be “free speech year,” because at Berkeley – home of the Free Speech Movement – “free speech is who we are.” And so to protect Berkeley’s vaunted free speech tradition she opened herself up to such criticism and had the university absorb the financial costs as well, all to prove that right wing speakers could come to the university to exercise their First Amendment rights. 

As to the BCR, its expenses for the Shapiro event were modest, paying only a  security fee of $9,162, which was dwarfed by the hundreds of thousands of dollars the university paid in actual security costs. In fact, had the UC Berkeley administration not covered for the BCR the venue rental for Zellerbach Hall these conservative students would have had to pay another $13,274.02 to have hosted Shaprio in its grand auditorium. 

In a more rational era, campus conservatives would be grateful that Cal had subsidized their celebrity speaker and that they had a chancellor so committed to free speech that she went to such extraordinary lengths to ensure the Shapiro event’s success and  safety. But since this is the Trump era, where much of the American right wing  disregards truth whenever it finds doing so useful for its favorite sport of liberal-bashing, we end up with dishonest statements from the CCR accusing the "liberal" University of California administration of an imaginary free speech violation. Indeed, it was Trump himself who set the standard for such dishonesty when on February 2, 2017 his blame (and threaten) the victim tweet falsely implied that UC Berkeley had caused the anti-Yiannopoulos riot, sought to suppress conservative speech, and should therefore lose its federal funding. Actually, UC Berkeley’s administration insisted on Yiannopoulos’ right to speak on campus  despite pressures to cancel the  speech on account of his record of using campus podiums to mock, bully,  and invade the privacy of a transgender student and to foment bigotry and political violence. It was only when the riot perpetrated by an invasion of club-wielding (mostly non-student) anarchists  threatened the public safety that the speech was cancelled.

The riot is, of course, evidence that a militant, violent wing of the  Bay Area Left is hostile to the free speech rights of the far right. It is also true that amidst the 2016 presidential election season made extraordinary tense because of Trump’s nativist, Islamophobic, white nationalist campaign, BCR members were sometimes treated like pariahs by leftist students, and that campus conservatives at times faced verbal and even physical intimidation from their political foes at Cal. But such problems – serious as they are – do not justify inaccurate and ideologically motivated attacks on the university  administration itself, which consistently opposed such intolerance. 

The reality is that just in the last spring semester alone, the BCR had, with the UC administration’s support, hosted such conservative speakers as Charlie Kirk, Rick Santorum, Heather MacDonald, Candace Owens, Dave Ruben, Steve Simpson Antonia Oakfor, and Allie Stuckey. Even Yiannopoulos, who would, as with Shapiro, cost the university a fortune in security,  in September 2017,  returned to Cal for a campus appearance and gave a speech so brief and vacuous that UC spokesperson Dan Moguloff referred to it as “the most expensive photo-op in Cal’s history.” So for even the crudest and most irresponsible of  right wing speakers (Yiannopoulos, who just this week expressed regret that the pipe bombs sent to critics of Trump  had not detonated ) free speech is alive and well at UC Berkeley. But so is the free speech masquerade in which the California  state Republican student leadership continues to pose as free speech martyrs, repressed by an administration that actually has consistently championed the free speech rights of conservatives.  

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Tuesday, October 16, 2018
The biggest mainstream media higher ed story last week--and this--has been the lawsuit charging Harvard with discrimination against  Asian American applicants. My piece on it has been delayed by my study of the documents, which has changed my mind from pro to con on Harvard admissions.  We may be seeing the end of the Powell Era's frustrating but functional compromise on race in college admissions, in part thanks to the Harvard practices that created it.  More on that soon.  Meanwhile, the other big higher ed story last week was confirmation of the shockingly un-Harvard conditions in the rest of higher education.

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) released some data snapshots last week, reporting (again) that 73 percent of instructional positions are non-tenure track (NTT). In spite of the hundred or hundreds of applicants per tenure track job, academic work isn't a great thing for most of the people doing it.  By that I mean that college teaching is mostly precarious and is a proverbial middle class job only for a minority.

State legislatures and others regularly lament the inefficiencies of tenure, but it is mostly gone:  fewer than 20 percent of post-secondary instructors actually have it.   The public image of the privileged "college professor" lags decades behind the common reality. 

The employment structure also changes the nature of universities. Neither academic freedom nor faculty governance can have much general impact when only a quarter to a fifth of "the faculty" are in a position to exercise them.

This pie chart for the best case scenario-- Research 1 universities--is startling.
What most people think of as professors are only 30 percent of teaching staff. About the same share are grad students. These proportions don't say "only PhDs can teach university students." Nor do they say "university professors must be engaged in their own research." And these numbers
 are for the most research-oriented universities.

At the same time, R1s offer multi-year contracts to a much higher percentage of their NTT faculty than do non-doctoral institutions (2/3rds at R1s, half at R2).  (See Colleen Flaherty's Inside Higher Ed overview for this and related points). And yet even these NTT faculty teach 2-3 times more courses per year than TT faculty and are paid less: one UC official recently praised their "teaching power," meaning the cost-benefit advantages of their high teaching loads.

Continued austerity means that public university administrators no longer imagine replacing NTT with TT faculty, who have research and governance obligations, and whose lower teaching loads give them more time to do intensive, personalized teaching.  These are the university's three core public goods--creating knowledge, spreading knowledge, and governing knowledge in the general interest.  Keeping most faculty contingent diminishes all of these.

College teaching is also frequently hunger work. Postsecondary teaching conditions are often unethical, exploitative, and cruel.  See, for one of many recent example, the excellent "Going Hungry at the Most Prestigious MFA in America" (h/t Audrey Watters).

More public-good damage: look at the teaching conditions in community colleges.

2/3rds of community college instructors work part time.  It doesn't matter how brilliant or dedicated they are: teaching loads in CCs are 5 courses per term, and for part-timers five generally don't add up to a living wage in any one place.  A typical CC student will have 2 of 3 courses taught by a part-timer, and only 1 in 8 taught by a tenured professor.

Again, the instructors can be superbly skilled and dedicated and yet lack the working conditions to deliver.  CCs have the worst completion rates in the nation, which is partly tied to a mostly non-permanent teaching force that doesn't know each student well enough to give them personalized attention.

In their general indifference to teaching and learning quality, policymakers love CCs, ostensibly for linking their minority-majority student bodies directly to middle-skill jobs. But CCs aren't working well, and their temp teaching staffs and excessive teaching lords are two major reasons why.  (I say this in full awareness of two generations of transfers to UCSB telling me about beloved instructors at their CC: great people teach great classes there, just not at scale.)  I know of no state legislature that is worried about instructor working conditions at CCs, and the reason is that politicians really like CCs because they're cheap.


The obvious danger is this: if the majority experience of college converges with their experience of high school, the public will pay less, not more--as will the students themselves.  Politics, ethics, and knowledge aside, quality upgrades are the only business answer. It is not to be found in these employment charts.

While everyone (or at least readers of the New York Times and WeChat) obsess about Harvard admissions, it's worth remembering that 38 percent of Asian American and Pacific Islander students are in community colleges (Figure 19.6). That is almost exactly the same proportion as Black students (39 percent).  CC's house 49 percent of Latinx students, 35 percent of white students, and 45 percent of Native American/Alaskan Native students. Public colleges and universities teach 76 percent of all students and 81 percent of Asian Americans. The well-being of public college instructors is far more important to national life than anything that happens at Harvard.



Monday, October 8, 2018

Monday, October 8, 2018
Many people are worried about the damage the Kavanaugh appointment will do to the Supreme Court and to American politics.  I'm worried about the new damage it did to the public understanding of academic knowledge.   Brett Kavanaugh (left, in my one personal photo of the hearings, taken September 27th) and other Republicans attacked the equivalent of basic research-- an unrestricted FBI investigation-- as nothing more than a political hit, while generating fake academic knowledge to exonerate him.  

This reduction of knowledge to partisan politics was supposedly a left postmodernist position, but it has in fact been a right culture-wars argument about the nonsense of academic research.  It has hurt academia of course, but has also torn the intellectual fabric of society.  It weakens public resistance to the political dismissal of validated knowledge about everything from the effects of sexual trauma to Trump family tax evasion to climate change.  Political dismissal supports a he said/she said deadlock on any issue, making Americans even more fatalistic about resolving differences with force instead of knowledge.

Academic knowledge rests on a few basics that we don't make explicit enough.  People may not ever expect politics to follow academic standards of evidence and argument, but they should be able to  tell them apart--and also to recognize the superiority of academic standards for knowledge to political ones. This is particularly important when politicians claim valid knowledge to justify political decisions.

As I go through these standards, I will omit breaches that come from within academia itself.  I am aware of them.  For example, the dependence of research on private money presents opportunities for bias, corruption, and neglect of the public interest.   But breaches are no reason not to compare public debate to the knowledge standards that academics struggle to adhere to--and that produce much better arguments and conclusions than what we've been hearing in U.S. public debates about pretty much everything. 

The first of these standards is that academic research cannot be coerced, predetermined or discredited in advance by direct or indirect authority.  Academic freedom includes the freedom of an inquiry from being steered or suppresed by bullying, intimidation, slander, and blanket accusations of bias and political motives. In contrast, discrediting the allegations against Kavanaugh was a key Republican strategy, and doing it with white male anger was a calculated strategy.  Here's Kavanaugh:
When I did at least OK enough at the hearings that it looked like I might actually get confirmed, a new tactic was needed.
Some of you were lying in wait and had it ready. This first allegation was held in secret for weeks by a Democratic member of this committee, and by staff. It would be needed only if you couldn’t take me out on the merits.
When it was needed, this allegation was unleashed and publicly deployed over Dr. Ford’s wishes. And then — and then as no doubt was expected — if not planned — came a long series of false last-minute smears designed to scare me and drive me out of the process before any hearing occurred.
Crazy stuff. Gangs, illegitimate children, fights on boats in Rhode Island. All nonsense, reported breathlessly and often uncritically by the media.
This has destroyed my family and my good name. A good name built up through decades of very hard work and public service at the highest levels of the American government.
This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit, fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election. Fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record. Revenge on behalf of the Clintons. and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups.
This is a circus. The consequences will extend long past my nomination. The consequences will be with us for decades. This grotesque and coordinated character assassination will dissuade competent and good people of all political persuasions, from serving our country.
And as we all know, in the United States political system of the early 2000s, what goes around comes around.
Kavanaugh was marshalling the essential claim of the culture war on academia--the pretended pursuit of truth is a cover for the politically-motivated destruction of respectable people and their values--to discredit the entire second round of research.  Having refused Sen. Dick Durbin (D-WI)'s request that he call for a full investigation of the charges against him, Kavanaugh then helped convert the FBI's supplemental background check from a required to an offensive act.

The second feature of academic knowledge is that it has to be impartial. This doesn't mean that the researcher's procedure is value-free.  It does mean that the researcher may not let self-interest control the research design, such that it leads to an answer that is more likely to benefit her, her team, or her institution. Researchers control self-interest with various well-known modes of self-reflexivity.

Thanks to reporting by Peter Baker, Nicolas Fandos and others, we know that this principle was violated when the FBI's supplemental background check was structured through a series of political negotiations.
When Mr. Durbin [D-WI] asked Judge Kavanaugh to turn around and ask [White House counsel] Mr. McGahn to request an F.B.I. investigation into the charges against him, Mr. Graham erupted in a ferocious, finger-wagging lecture. Other Republican senators began channeling their inner Trump and lashing out on Judge Kavanaugh’s behalf as well.
Republican senators met that night just off the Capitol Rotunda. Ms. Collins said she would find it hard to vote yes without a sworn statement from Judge Kavanaugh’s friend Mark Judge denying that he saw what Dr. Blasey described. Aides to Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the Judiciary chairman, got a fresh statement from Mr. Judge within three hours to satisfy her.
Mr. Graham went to dinner that night at Cafe Berlin with Ms. Collins and two other undecided Republicans, Senators Jeff Flake of Arizona and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. They discussed whether a limited F.B.I. investigation might assuage them.
The next morning, Mr. Flake announced that he would vote for Judge Kavanaugh in committee, only to change course after being confronted on an elevator by women who told him they were victims of sexual assault. Ms. Collins and Ms. Murkowski were already talking by phone when Mr. Flake called them from a committee anteroom asking if they would back him in demanding a one-week F.B.I. inquiry.
Later that day, the three joined other Republican senators in Mr. McConnell’s office to discuss what the F.B.I. investigation should look like. The three undecided Republicans settled on four people they wanted to hear from: Ms. Ramirez, Mr. Judge and two others identified by Dr. Blasey as being elsewhere in the house at the time she was allegedly assaulted.
Republicans organized the investigation to get the right answers for their remaining fence-sitters.

The investigation violated academic standards in a third way.  Academic research must respond to new information or anomalies, which are facts that don't fit the guiding hypothesis. The research needs to be open to its own enlargement, complication, or refutation at each and every point.

Instead, the Republicans set aside the major new anomaly in their theory of Kavanaugh's victimized goodness by declaring that Julie Swetnick's claims were "too over the top" to be considered.  They asked rhetorical questions whose answer was predetermined, like "Why would [Swetnick] as a college student repeatedly go to high school parties where young women were gang raped?" Of course academic researchers don't have the time or money to investigate everything, but they can't rule out possible holes in their theory with one-line objections or ad hominem attacks.

Fourth, academic research has to show its data and results to the whole knowledge community. It can't give selected results to just a few people under predetermined conditions.  In the Kavanaugh case, the FBI sent one copy of their report to the Senate, which senators could view only in a secure room without the ability to copy or to take notes.  The report was not released to the full Senate to say nothing of the public.  This of course eliminates the possibility of an impartial evaluation of scope, quality, and results performed by people other than the interested parties.

Academic research is conducted by regular humans who bring their preferences, identities, hopes and fears to work, which is why a fifth feature is so important. Once findings are released, they have to achieve a decent general agreement before they are passed on to be applied in the wider world.  When they are disputed, they are re-tested, reanalyzed, and revised until most if not all researchers in the relevant fields can at least provisionally accept them.  Think climate change modeling as an example, which has over the years gathered near unanimity about the main points even as details remain disputed and methods continue to change.  Good researchers don't pitch research results to policymakers before they have won general consent. Exactly the opposite happened in this inquiry.  Nearly half the Senate rejected the validity of the FBI's findings, with Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) calling it a "bullshit investigation."

Because none of these five academic standards were followed, the pivotal moment of Republican knowledge production--Susan Collins' brief for Kavanaugh--amounts to an apology for a political position that was decided in advance.   It takes the politically-framed investigation at face value, asserting non-confirmation of Blasey Ford's story even though the FBI was in no position to confirm it because they were not allowed to interview the many people who claimed to have information. Collins wrongly treats the cherry-picked interview list as dispositive.

Collins also considers no evidence contrary to her "yes" position.  She does not separate the textual evidence of Kavanaugh's (also cherry-picked) opinions from Kavanaugh's claims about himself in interviews with her.  Collins then claims, while offering no evidence at all, that Ford was deluded about her attack: "she is a survivor of sexual assault," Collins writes, but just not the one by Kavanaugh about which Ford claimed 100% certainty. 

Perhaps worst of all, Collins reintroduces a genteel version of Lindsey Graham's and Kavanaugh's smear of the inquiry itself as nothing more than a Democratic hit.
Some of the allegations levied against Judge Kavanaugh illustrate why the presumption of innocence is so important. I am thinking in particular not [of] the allegations raised by professor Ford, but of the allegations that when he was a teenager Judge Kavanaugh drugged multiple girls and used their weakened state to facility gang rape.
This outlandish allegation was put forth without any credible supporting evidence and simply parroted public statements of others. That’s such an allegation can find its way into the Supreme Court confirmation process is a stark reminder about why the presumption of innocence is so ingrained in our a American consciousness.
Collins doesn't actually know that the allegation is outlandish because her party blocked its investigation.  Rather than data she gives us a milder form of the male rage that had disparaged the investigation the week before.  Her tacit claim is that a full FBI investigation would be the tool of a Democrat political conspiracy that runs roughshod over the core American value of presumed innocence.  Then she concludes,
my fervent hope is that Brett Kavanaugh will work to lessen the divisions in the Supreme Court so that we have far fewer 5 to 4 decisions and so that public confidence in our judiciary and our highest court is restored.
Once you take leave of argument and evidence, its hard to return to your senses.

Kavanaugh's confirmation showed the extent to which power politics depends on invoking academic-style knowledge, even as it violates academic standards.  The default scenario for the next year is a continuation of culture war gridlock. Journalists and social media will continued to investigate Kavanaugh. The White House will denounce any new evidence as a politically-motivated lie.   Fewer and fewer people will see the Supreme Court as politically neutral, even as bad evidence for its neutrality will be advanced.  In the deepening cynicism about knowledge itself, universities will continued to be viewed as the Democrat's propaganda arm, their pale imitation of Fox News.

Why can't universities do a much better job of explaining standards of academic knowledge?   The country that isn't sure what real knowledge is, is doomed not to have it.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Wednesday, September 26, 2018
The answer should be an obvious no, but UCOP prepared a document for the UC Regents meetings this week that points UC in that direction.

The document is background for a preliminary discussion of the UC budget for next year (2019-2020). It advocates another multi-year agreement with state government about general funding. The immediate context is Jerry Brown cutting this year's agreed increment from four to three percent (less than that net for various reasons), as well as the overall sub-par condition of the University, again facing a series of underfunded costs summarized on page 1.  New regents will not understand the regular state breaching of compacts with UC and CSU or overall state funding declines from this document. Our overview here would be more help.

The larger context is that UCOP has never found a storyline that has attracted the state's politicians into real reinvestment.  UC's general fund has been going up at about the rate of consumer inflation (which is generally below higher education inflation).  In recent years, the state has grossly underfunded new enrollments, as the budget document points out (3).  The de facto state theory has two parts: (1) UCOP cost claims are not credible enough to address; (2) UC undergraduates can be taught for an amount similar to that of community college students.

What narrative could dislodge this second assumption?  Facts on the ground suggest it can't be.  Cal State's Board of Trustees have discussed becoming an "all-transfer" university, on the theory that their state funding doesn't allow a full-scale lower-division program. UCOP took the deal of $5000 per new resident undergrad, and as far as the state knows nothing bad has happened.  In order to keep its nonresident tuition at current levels, UCOP also accepted the pressure to increase transfer students until they are one-third of new admits, and has been making progress.  This ratio has always been a Master Plan obligation, and in my long experience, transfer students are academically comparable to students who started at UCSB.  But assumption (2) remains: UC lower division education is about the same as community college, and additional money put into it is probably wasted.

The narrative that could justify more enrollment funding is that UC undergraduates need more, better learning than they are now getting, and will need further upgrades in the near future. Better learning produces both pecuniary and non-pecuniary benefits.  As I noted last time, the value of universities is disproportionately non-pecuniary, so stressing only wage and workforce effects guarantees underfunding.  UC, Cal State, and the community college system all generate intellectual and sociocultural capabilities that help wage gains and job growth indirectly, but can't be measured in those monetary forms.

Unfortunately, the UCOP budget document ties future budget increases to the University's ability to support the workforce with bachelor's degrees.  The goal is "Investment to Improve Graduation Rates, Reduce Time-to-Degree, and increase degree production" (5-6).  The target is set by the shortage of 1.1 million B.A. degrees that the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) has projected for 2030 (UC's share would be 251,000 additional degrees). This commits UC to producing more degrees through faster and shorter UC learning.  

I can't delve into each of the problems with this position, but will list the main ones:
  1. workforce development has always been a formal UC goal, and has not stopped state disinvestment. (See this consultant report from 2003, which in spite of its subtitle is only about economics and health).
  2. UCOP encourages the non-monetary effects of university education to remain "dark matter," even though non-monetary benefits explain the cost differences between universities and job training centers.  These start with new knowledge through research--obviously a core mission of research universities--and include doctoral education and the formation of non-routine cognitive skills in undergraduates.  These things are slow and hard, and cost money.
  3. the means UCOP proposes to get the additional quarter-million B.A.s--faster- and shorter degrees--slights UC's already very good graduation rates among public universities, and downplays previous progress towards shorter degree times and higher graduation rates.
  4. It also ignores the possibility that further grad rate increases will be much harder and more expensive. They will often involve fixing social and economic problems, such as excessive student work hours to cover basic expenses like food and rent.  UCOP is effectively putting UC on the hook for the state's high poverty rates and income inequality, which it lacks the means to solve.
  5. The normal way to increase quantity is to cut corners and lower quality.  Campus administrations already pushed departments to minimize degree requirements after the 2008 financial crisis. In addition, many have or are moving to increasing units for a standard quarter course from 4 to 5 but without increasing instruction, so students can graduate with fewer courses.   More undergrad education will have to be done by the youngest and least experienced instructors, primarily graduate students and adjuncts.
  6. Paradoxically, promising to improve graduation rates will increase the chances of sub-par funding.  That's because permanent austerity has already forced the kinds of academic shortcuts that have pushed students through more quickly. The lesson some in government have drawn is that less money for UC means more UC degrees.  
  7. UCOP is avoiding discussion of B.A. degree content even in the context of a narrow mainstream human-capital model of the degree.  PPIC's calculations use wage premiums to identify "college" jobs (they are these where the employer is willing to pay more to get bachelors' degrees).  They do not do content analysis of future skills (See Technical Appendix C, p 15).  Jobs in 2030 are likely to require better BAs, not just more of them.  UC could be caught well behind the quality curve.
Since UCOP isn't explaining what is really special about UC upper and lower division education, it is putting the University into price competition with the CCCs. They are cheap because they are underfunded, lack research faculty, and over-use contingent faculty.  UC can't come close to CCC cost targets, but calls for straight workforce preparation in effect ask for UC to be compared to them.  (Workforce prep also undermines the Regents' document's other goals, like well-paid high-status research faculty.)

The quality of the education UCOP gives the Board of Regents is especially important now.  California gets a new governor next year. UC got four new regents in August, none with evident educational experience.  They need reasons to see the ideal UC as something other than an inexpensive provider of middle-skill workforce growth. This document doesn't give them any.

On the other hand, a faculty group, either the Senate or CUCFA, could write a better educational storyline, one that includes workforce data while going well beyond it.  Why don't we do that?

Update: Cloudminder recounts the lack of meaningful review of Jerry Brown's four August appointments to the Board of Regents, with clips.