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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

We, the Swinish Multitude

By Michael Meranze

UCOP’s “expanded recommendations” to UCOF envision the University as an increasingly centralized, hierarchical, routinized, and disconnected set of programs. In keeping with the managerial ideology that is their default answer to any set of problems, UCOP has proposed that the problem facing UC is an inefficient, and insufficiently disciplined, faculty and staff; as a result what the university needs is a more powerful center. “I do not know of any organization that achieves budget discipline from the bottom up,” Chris Edley informs us in the expanded recommendations, “We need to be sufficiently top-down to get the job done.” (ex.recs, 94) From the vantage point of UCOP—as with their political analogs Governor Schwarzenegger and Meg Whitman--the key to success is routing out “waste” among, and imposing discipline upon, the little people. Despite their own problematic track record of leadership and direction, they want to impose a new vision on the institution. How does UCOP view the faculty and staff and how do they imagine the University’s future?

The sense that it is the archaic nature and attitudes of the classroom, the faculty, and the staff that lies at the heart of UC’s problems runs throughout the “expanded recommendations.” Recommendations 1 and 2 call for greater centralized oversight of teaching loads, course sizes, and greater power to close programs. Despite acknowledging that programs are not “widgets” that should be added or subtracted lightly, Recommendation 3 proposes streamlining the process to get self-supporting and extension programs approved—thereby increasing the pressure for programs to develop in response to funding not intellectual necessity. The list could go on. These changes are primarily justified in terms of “through-put” and “out-put,” “marketing” and “enrollment management.” The effort is to transform the University so that it can be monitored through computer programs. What matters are those things that can be translated into managerial language and the empty efficiency of streamlining. Research and teaching appear, and perhaps are in the minds of UCOP, an afterthought.

Both UCOP and its allies avoid confronting their vacuity of their models by denigrating the faculty and the staff. Yudof is relatively circumspect in this—although his famous comments about “being manager of a cemetery” did not endear him to those who work for the University. Peter Taylor seems to think that the reason there hasn’t been administrative change has been local resistance. As he told the Chronicle of Higher Education, "The hard part isn't identifying the opportunities . . . It's driving the cultural change that will have to take place." Of course he forgot to mention that these efficiencies had been proposed for years and UCOP had failed to administer them. Edley loves to cast himself as a bold thinker hamstrung by a conservative faculty. As he is reported to have commented recently, “The biggest obstacle [to online education] is our academic senate. They revel in the comfort of denial and the conservatism of greatness. They have never read a newspaper—they’re in denial. The state isn’t going to pay. Faith-based fundraising is not a business plan.” But in reality what is it that UCOP is proposing?

One of UCOP’s major departures, of course, is online education. Both Toby and Catherine have already provided evaluations of the pedagogical and financial implications of UCOP’s online initiatives. I won’t belabor those points.

But I do want to point to another aspect of their program. Expanded Recommendation 7 calls for the immediate establishment of system-wide planning for expanded online courses—even before the pilot program has been established, organized, run, and evaluated. Despite the rhetoric of rigor there is to be none. UCOP wants the program no matter what the faculty decides.

But what exactly is the rush? The only thing that it would accomplish with any certainty would be to displace funds and attention from alternative approaches to online tools. Indeed, it is difficult not to think that the real reason for the rush is that the proponents of accelerated online education at UC worry that the pedagogically based exploration and use of online resources that goes on everyday at UC is in fact more effective and educationally sound than what they are proposing. Like Tim Pawlenty, their ally in the promotion of online education, UCOP seems to view the actual classroom and classroom instruction as an impediment to college education.

Even the “social justice” claims of online access ignore the project's implications for the work of the institution. Edley admits that his model depends on increasing the number of GSI’s at a point when the academic job market is shrinking due to the long-standing administrative preference for lower-paid temporary faculty. The University would thus be in the position of deliberately expanding the pool of graduate students to teach online courses even though it knows that their employment prospects are declining. Put another way, social justice concerns only address consumers not workers. Those who actually work at the University are ignored so long as UCOP can claim that someone is consuming something.

If the online initiative makes it appear as if UCOP is moving in a bold, new, direction, the repetitive claims for centralized supervision suggest that the University is suffering primarily from a lack of “hard-nosed” oversight. But does anyone honestly believe that the political problems of the University stem more from the presence of unnamed “weak programs” than from the remarkable string of administrative scandals that have rocked the University over the last decade? While some steps have been taken to respond to those problems is there evidence that the scandals have been taken to heart? It is hard to see when UCOP continuously justifies increased salaries for administrators because they have assumed new duties while expecting staff and faculty to take on new duties (due to cutbacks) while suffering furlough reductions. Or take the Research Funding Work Group's identification of hundreds of millions of dollars lost each year because of insufficient ICR. Are we really to believe that it is the responsibility of individual faculty, staff, or lab workers to negotiate proper ICR? Or has it been UCOP which has passively allowed the underfunding to go on for years? UCOP would like to manage everyone else even though it has been unable to manage itself.

UCOP has also failed to justify public funding in an effective manner. Take President Yudof’s now infamous comparison of our successful businesses and our academic programs. This distinction bungles the reality of the matter. UCOP should insist over and over again that the state receives a huge immediate return on its investment in UC as 3 billion is leveraged into 20 billion of economic activity—and that the dynamism of that investment depends not only on the “businesses” but on the entirely of the University. What Yudof fails to argue—perhaps because he can’t see it—is that the “successful businesses” are dependent on the core programs. They are dependent on the cross-subsidization that occurs, they are dependent on the links between the medical centers and the campuses, and they are dependent on the quality of education and students that are drawn by the faculty and that draw faculty as well. They are dependent, in other words, on the intellectual and educational dynamism of the University.

Budget transparency would help establish this case—but of course budget transparency is anathema to Oakland. UCOP would prefer to disconnect UC even further from the state (as in expanded recommendation 8 calling for more external funding of faculty salaries) than seriously attend to the actual benefits (for the university and the public) of state funding. They would rather claim success with grant money than give an accurate picture of the actual interconnectedness of the intellectual life of the University.

The UCOF work groups failed to provide a systematic and unifying set of recommendations not because the work groups weren’t up to the task but because the UCOF project was flawed. UCOF assumed that the answer to UC's problems was to give more power to the structures that had failed the university in the first place. UCOF assumed that the managerial model promoted by UCOP was sound and the University’s difficulties were rooted in the leftover practices of a bygone age. But none of those assumptions can be sustained.

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