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Friday, August 13, 2010

Friday, August 13, 2010

What Happened This Summer?

By Michael Meranze

Compared to last year, when the University was mobilized around the issues of furloughs and the President’s emergency powers, this summer has seemed quiet. But this appearance is misleading. If nothing quite as contentious as furloughs has been bandied about, the impulse that underlay the expansion of UCOP’s authority has not diminished. We would do well to focus on this impulse because it will shape the struggle over the future of the University both this year and for the long term.

Two large projects have emerged this summer out of the UCOF process: first the drive towards managerial consolidation and uniformity; second the rush to approve online education. Chris has discussed the issue of consolidation, while Catherine Cole, Toby Higbie, and I have examined the details of Edley’s online initiative. But I want to focus on a separate issue here—the centralization of decision-making, the marginalization of shared governance, and the absence of transparency in the decision making of both UCOP and the Regents. Strikingly, what the Regents and UCOP made clear this summer was that their creature—UCOF—did not deliver what they wanted and therefore needed to be cast off.



Let’s review some history. UCOF was instituted last summer as a means to reorganize the University outside the established routines of shared governance. President Yudof and then Senate President Mary Croughan believed that the Senate was not up to the task of thinking through the future of the University—and called for a separate commission. At first, the Regents established UCOF with a membership overwhelmingly drawn from administrators and individuals from professional schools. UCOF was so clearly imbalanced that College faculty protested and the Regents added a few members of the College faculties (most it should be noted either current or former administrators). Crucially, UCOP and the proponents of the Commission insisted that the actual work and proposals of the Commission were going to be generated out of the UCOF working groups—and promised that faculty voices would be well-represented there.

But in the end that is not the way it worked. Although the first round of UCOF recommendations came from the working groups, the June Recommendations were re-centered upon a set of “Expanded Recommendations” prepared by the President’s Office and Comments from the Council of Vice-Chancellors. With the exception of proposals to improve indirect cost recovery the efforts of the working groups appear to have been shunted aside and the late intervention of UCOP and the Vice-Chancellors placed on the fast track to Regental approval. Put another way, what has happened this summer is that UCOP and the Regents have circumvented the promised process of UCOF—itself a structure that the Regents had established to circumvent the normal process of shared governance.

Now, of course, there is no great surprise in all of these developments. Faculty had rightly viewed the UCOF process with great suspicion. But the implications for University governance are grave. The working groups—whatever their problems—had put in time and effort to make sure that UCOF proposals were thought-through and accountable to the University community. These efforts have been swept aside. Instead we are witnessing a rush to implement proposals with no wider vetting (anyone interested in the depth of Regental questioning can see the San Francisco Chronicle’s account of the “discussion” of Edley’s Online Project at the July Regents Meeting) than closed-door discussions by their proponents.

UCOF was bad enough. But this summer has made clear that even that device did not allow the upper administration the control and lack of transparency that it desires. It also revealed how far the leaders at UCOP and the Regents are divorced from the work of faculty, staff, and students, i.e. the actual life of the University. The Senate, it must be admitted, has lain supine in response. This attitude will not do. This year crucial issues about the organization of University life and work, about the relationships between the campuses, the intersection between UC and the larger Higher Education system, about pensions, staff layoffs, and student fees are going to confront us all. This summer may have been quiet—but in all likelihood it is the calm before the storm.

3 comments:

Bronwen Rowlands said...

Indeed.
Re "consolidation" here at UCB: the Deans and Chairs Annual Retreat (hosted by Exec VChanc & Provost George Breslauer on August 19) agenda cover note lists desired outcomes that are all about "strategic priorities" of Commission on the Future and our local disaster "Operational Excellence." Per the retreat's agenda: After reflecting on UCB's excellence and some fundraising tips, the focus of the retreat is "an in-depth examination of Fall 2010 Organizational Simplification activities that affect deans and chairs."

Bronwen Rowlands said...

Apparently the Deans & Chairs were told at the UCB annual mtg on August 19 that something big and bad is coming, but were given no details. Are the management consultants running the University now? Will we let them?

Recommended: piece by Johann Hari on Huffington Post: "The Great Management Consultancy Scam--and How It Could Be Coming For our Job."

Bronwen Rowlands said...

So yesterday the chair of my admin cluster of 5 humanities depts sent staff a memo about the Chairs & Deans mtg; it included this:

"What seems certain is that, when it comes to the kinds of jobs available to staff in the department and to the ways in which those jobs are to be performed, change is on its way, and the parameters of that change will become apparent over the course of the academic year."

Heartwarming, isn't it?

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