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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sunday, February 28, 2010
By Michael Meranze

The Official Statement of President Yudof, the Chancellors and the Chair and Vice-Chair of the Academic Senate is a puzzle. The statement refers to “recent events at a few of our campuses” and “condemn[s] all acts of racism, intolerance, and incivility.” “Regardless of how such offences are rationalized, or what free speech rights they purport to express” the statement continues, “the acts we have witnessed are unacceptable.” In part, the President, Chancellors, and Senate Officials are referring to the hanging of a noose at UCSD’s Geisel library following a series of racist actions by students on campus. But given President Yudof’s far more forceful statement on the noose incident it is unclear what the joint statement really contributes. What is added by this collective expression?

I am not privy to the inner workings of the UC leadership of course. But in the movement from Yudof’s “Last night a noose was found hanging from a light fixture in the Geisel Library on the University of California, San Diego campus…Whatever the intent of the authors of this act, it was a despicable expression of racial hatred,” to “recent events at a few of our campuses” the administration introduced a critical vagueness into its official statements and thus threatens to set up a very dangerous and false equivalency between disparate events. One UC spokesman reportedly explained that the more general statement referred to events that “included the recent carving of a swastika on the dorm room door of a Jewish student at UC Davis.” But that “included” only clarifies so much.

Here is the question: in light of President Yudof’s earlier equation of students protesting Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren’s speech at UCI with the “Compton Cookout” party at UCSD, is the studied vagueness of the Chancellors’ statement with its equation of “racism, intolerance, and incivility” setting up an equivalency between the act of challenging Ambassador Oren and the leaving of a noose or the carving of a swastika? I was not at the Irvine event so I watched a youtube video of the UCI protest. It was uncomfortable to be sure. But the students each seized a moment to challenge the Ambassador and then were led off by officers. Michael Oren was discomfited to be sure, but it appeared that as much time was used up by hectoring from the podium and the efforts of other audience members to shout down the protesters as was used up by the protesters themselves. And whatever one thinks of the tactic of protesting inside the auditorium, the protesters were involved in political speech. When the 11 finished their supporters left the auditorium; the Ambassador finished his speech. Ambassador Oren was representing his government; this was not a case of a disrupted classroom or lecture hall but a political speech by a state actor. Are we really to consider this event in the same category as carving swastikas or hanging nooses?

If the University Administration is not suggesting that these are equivalent actions it is easy enough to clarify the issue: they merely need to say so. And I hope people insist that they do so. This issue is not one of violence—no one has alleged there was violence involved. It is an issue of the University’s time, place, and manner restrictions. One can get a sense of the stakes through UCI Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky’s Los Angeles Times opinion piece on the incident. Chemerinsky—a distinguished legal scholar—moves from the truism that under law there are no absolute rights to free speech to an argument that the case of the UCI students raises no difficult free speech issues. In making this claim he points to Oliver Wendell Holmes’ indication in Schenk v. United States that “[t]he most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic.” But let’s unpack this logic. Are we to assume that the student protesters were “shouting fire” or “causing a panic”? Holmes’ famous statement is about statements that have the element of “force” as he put it—not statements that make the audience or speaker uncomfortable. Chemerinsky could respond, of course, that he was only using Holmes to indicate that there are no absolute free speech privileges. But that simply dodges the question. For the question here is the reasonableness of the university’s restrictions and also the equation of incivility in political theater with “shouting fire in a theatre.” The language deployed by the Chancellors or in Dean Chemerinsky’s opinion piece implies that these restrictions and equations are beyond debate and are self-evident. They imply that incivility and causing a panic are the same. It is up to the University leadership to recognize that in their claims to protect open debate they may actually close it off.

To be sure, there are questions concerning the rights and responsibilities of civil disobedience. Again, I am not talking about violence here but about the tradition of peaceful civil disobedience. Traditionally, individuals engaging in civil disobedience have recognized the possibility of arrest and punishment. The point of the civil disobedience, after all, is to call into question the self-evidence of the rules in play. In turn, the duty of those in authority is to truly weigh, what if any damage the act of civil disobedience really caused. Chemerinsky suggests that nothing be done to the protesters at UCI that would be “so severe as to ruin these students' educational careers.” That seems to me to be a minimum—personally I have not seen anything to indicate that they should be punished further.

But, ultimately what is at stake here is not only speech but power. The UCI protesters were members of a minority who protested the actions and claims of a representative of a powerful nation-state. Whoever carved a swastika or hung a noose repeated acts that historically have demeaned and demoralized the vulnerable and less-powerful—and that are known to do so. At issue here is not some mistaken claim to absolute free speech; it is a question of how far speech should be limited. At issue here is not a question of civility or incivility; it is a question of whether the University truly thinks that temporarily challenging a political speaker (not preventing him from speaking) is equivalent to hanging a noose in a racially charged moment or carving a swastika in a student’s dorm room. Put another way: do UCOP, the Chancellors, and the System-wide Academic Senate truly think that the measure of acceptable speech is that it does not challenge or discomfort the powerful? And do they truly think they should punish protesters when it does?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Friday, February 19, 2010
I've argued that 2009 brought potentially epochal shifts in perception about higher education, both in California and elsewhere.  The first two public lessons of the year were that major cuts in funding are bad for educational quality, and that students will not accept the usual (and sadly incomplete) attempt to cover these cuts, which is higher fees.

The third lesson was that good public universities have and will continue to depend on good public funding.  Public funding is also extremely efficient. A study at Keep California's Promise showed that "good public funding" will cost the median California taxpayer a total of 32 additional dollars per year.  I can't understand why the sheer affordability of a restabilized high-quality public university has not been picked up and broadcast everywhere by UCOP, the Regents, and the Governor's office.

The high cost of not defending public funding has been demonstrated yet again in a new poll by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education (ppt version). 

In the poll, more people that ever think that a college education is essential for a person to be successful in today's work world. This percentage has nearly doubled to 55% in the last ten years - a truly meteoric rise.  On the other hand, the percentage of those who think that "the vast majority of qualified, motivated students have opportunity to attend college" has fallen from 45% to 29% over the same period.    Nearly three quarters of Americans believe that high college costs prevent more than just some qualified, motivated students from attending college. 

If high tuition is a problem for the public, so is its supposedly redemptive twin, "high aid." Although they realize that there are many aid programs for college students, "more than 8 out of 10 Americans believe that students have to borrow too much to pay for their education."

This puts higher ed up a box canyon that we now know pretty well.  College completion is essential, but college is too expensive for most students.  At the same time, students and their families are getting tired of borrowing to pay ever rising costs.

Here's where the third lesson comes in: the only way to achieve the "master plan"'s desired combination of high quality and mass access is to restore tax-based public funding to appropriate levels.  The urgency of getting there is hard to overstate - prosperity, democracy, racial equality, social integration, energy decarbonization, among other things will all be greatly assisted by reversing the current contraction of higher education completion.  But the essential element in all this - public funding - does not currently enjoy majority public support. By a 54 to 40 majority, respondents felt that "colleges could spend less and still maintain a high-quality education."

40%  is a lot better than nothing - the glass is almost half-full. So how do we get to 60% or 70% in favor?

The most obvious method is budget transparency, or clear accountability. How else can higher ed convince skeptics that it isn't wasting the money it already has?  UCOP has a long way to go on this.  State Sen. Leland Yee just got the Joint Legislative Audit Committee to request -- unanimously -- an audit of UC's use of public funds. (Note that this audit is distinct from Sen. Yee's 2009 proposal to reduce UC's constitutional independence from the legislature.)  UCOP is likely to stonewall, judging from past practice as well as recent statements, such as CFO Peter Taylor's bizarre claim that the audit CUCFA requested of the fund sources of bond repayments rested on a misinformation campaign that was the enemy of excellence and progress. UC should request legislative funding for the significant additional costs of such an audit, but to refuse it would compound a continuing strategic mistake that I will return to below.

The second way to increase support for public funding is to stop raising privately-paid tuition. The funding model of the last three decades has assumed tuition increases of 2-4x the consumer price index year in year out, rain or shine, boom or bust. Families paying ever-growing tuition for education don't want to pay higher taxes for education.  They see that as the kind of "double taxation" that George W. Bush made a household word.  At the same time, the general public can't see how an institution that increases its charges 7-10% a year, like UC under the Compact, could possibly be hurting for money.   At least two generations of higher ed leaders have helped shaft the case for public funding with their annual recourse to tuition hikes.  Foregoing increases in a crisis will be extremely painful, but we have to bite the bullet on this one.

The third way to increase support for public funding is to reconnect university research to burning social needs.  The PPHE poll asked a very interesting question that got at the heart of this deficiency.

Many academics have been concerned about the weakening of the university's public mission under financial temptation and threat alike. This poll finds a real effect: by nearly 2:1, respondents think that universities don't have a public mission -- at least one that is stronger than the desire to make money.  Why would this 2/3rds of the public ever support give universities, which they see as oriented towards private gain, a bigger piece of hard-earned public funds?

The respondent's answers constitute an indictment of the high-tuition / high-aid model that elite private universities made the American standard, and that public university leaders have sought to imitate.  University leaders have spent decades trying to prove their loyalty to the values and practices of the business and donor communities.  The result has been real success in private fundraising, but increasingly disastrous costs to  public funding.  The whole university community is going to have to pull together on this, including the researchers and program heads who have done extremely well with the systems of private side funding on a public infrastructure base.

Here's where we get to my beef with Bob Samuels.  In a recent piece on the Huffington Post, Bob calls quite rightly for budgetary transparency, so that "parents, students, and taxpayers should know where their money is actually going, and everyone should be concerned about the quality of undergraduate education."    But he frames his discussion with the incorrect statement that "it does not matter how much money these institutions get from the government or even from tuition-paying parents and students; what matters is how universities and colleges spend their money." In fact, both things matter enormously -  fair and effective expenditures, but also publicly-supported revenues.  I have written to Bob in the past to express my dismay at this binary approach, and I don't understand either the analytical or the tactical basis for continuing it.

The same must be said for the way Bob in this piece sets up teaching and research in opposition to each other.  He writes, for example, "by making students and their parents pay for faculty research, the quality of education is reduced; for the simple truth is that the more professors are rewarded for their research, the less they often value teaching."  This is an untrue generalization, and in the disciplines I know best there is a "promotion trap" that works in the opposite direction: tenured faculty spend so much time on teaching and university service that their research gets bogged down.  Some of the most successful researchers I know are as driven to disseminate and explain their knowledge as they are to create it. The non-teaching public needs to understand that in the real world, discovery and communication, teaching and learning, are two sides of the same coin.  Bob is himself a perfect example of this, being a teacher whose pedagogical virtues have been sung to me by some students we have shared, even as he is the author of several scholarly books, including a recent one on new media and critical theory, not to mention his long and impressive series of commentaries on higher education and UC.

The math in Bob's piece should, in my view, be used to make a somewhat different point than he does.  He intends it to show that overall undergrads are getting the crumbs from the budgetary table.  His methodology of one average salary and class sizes is bound to be misleading, and it is better to use the aggregate instructional expenditure calculations developed by Charles Schwartz that Bob cites.   Schwartz's more intricate calculations lead him to the conclusion that "the final cost to UC for undergraduate education (2006-07) is between $6,711 and $7,311 per student," including academic support and related overhead expenditures.  This is in contrast to UCOP's statements that instruction costs around $20,000 per year, which is consistent over several years (2006-07, 2007-08 slide 9, 2008-09).

I have several comments here.  The first is that the UCOP Budget Office figure of $20,000 is instruction over all types of students, including doctoral candidates, M.B.A. students, and medical students. Medical students receive over $20,000 each in General Fund monies, and in 2008-09 received about $85,000 each in overall instructional expenses. The cost for undergraduates is much lower, and in my experience the Schwartz figures are reasonably close to what is spent on most but not all undergraduates - many receive substantially less, and others more, a topic I leave aside here.  

The deeper question is whether this is a bad thing in itself.  In fact it is not bad on its face.  The money that goes to things other than undergraduate instruction goes toward creating the university as a whole.  Undergraduates get many indirect benefits from research, even at professional schools to which they have no direct access. In economics these are called spillovers, and the value received by undergraduates from the university overall exceeds direct and indirect expenditures on instruction.  This includes the advantages of being taught by active researchers like Bob Samuels, or helped by student service staff who have also worked in electrical engineering laboratories, and so on. 

At the same time, there may be unjust underspending in these figures, just as there certainly is in staff salaries.  I have expressed strong support for Bob Samuels, Charlie Schwartz, and other budget commentators for shedding light on what is spent on whom, and for trying to start a rational and open discussion of budgeting, cross-subsidies, and the financial governance of our shared institutions.  We all need to continue this effort. 

Pursuing justice and effectiveness in expenditures doesn't require telling the public that research at a research university undermines undergraduate education.  Poor funding, declining facilities, understaffing, and overwork undermine education.   To repeat what I said above, we are all going to have to pull together to give the public a clear explanation of how in reality research, including the cultural kind Bob and I practice, is a crucial public interest.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Tuesday, February 2, 2010
In a forceful effort, the UCR Academic Senate has passed a series of resolutions calling for greater transparency, equity, and a renewed commitment to the Master Plan. In particular they have taken a strong stand against the overriding of shared governance involved in the Regents' Grant of Emergency Powers to President Yudof, insisted on greater fiscal transparency, called for a suspension of cuts to programs and staff until there is a genuine evaluation of their effects on the educational mission of the University, and called for the State, the Regents, and UCOP to a renewed effort to preserve the Master Plan for Higher Education. We have posted the Resolutions at Chris's Archives. You can also get more information at the UCR Senate Page that has the results of the email ballot.

Congratulations to those who worked on making these resolutions happen.