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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Post-Election 2: Laying the Base for University Recovery

What comes next for universities after the Democratic "shellacking"?  Michael has laid out the basic issues, and it's worth adding that the public is going to get what they didn't actually want, and then asking how to make the case for something better.

First of all, the Democrats failed to make a case for a major innovation boom, one based on a serious increase in public funding.  They left public spending in the twilight zone of the last-resort safety net, and now a repositioning will come too late. The Financial Times reported that the Republican victory killed flagship elements of Obama’s innovation policy for at least for the next two years. In “Corporate America welcomes power shift" (print title), the FT observes that cap-and-trade and net neutrality are gone, to be replaced by coal-and-oil and the cable cartels.  The same goes for defense conversion, which would have helped research-and-development funding of the kind conducted at universities. The New York Times' Frank Rich has pointed out that neither party offered a coherent storyline in which clear solutions follow well-described problems. In spite of its favorable stance towards science, the Obama Administration does not have a serious innovation policy that aims at supporting the creation of both knowledge and middle-class jobs. And neither party has a plan for supporting and expanding public universities.

Is this what people voted for? There is no popular support for the abandonment of renewable energy, or for the economic inefficiencies of the inequality boom, or for a recovery limited to the top end of the financial industry, or for a recovery based on the Fed reinflating asset bubbles, or for tuition increases at double to quadruple the consumer price index.

 The shift from Democrats was not a shift to Republicans. The center-right  “Blue Dogs” had half their members voted out while the Progressive Caucus lost only a few (Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-AZ). Most losing Democrats were crushed by plunges in Democratic turnout (Rep. Alan Grayson, D-FL).  The Tea Party movement that allegedly signaled a shift to the right away from Obama's big government socialism was as disgusted with Republican financial manipulation as any progressive (Chris Littleton, head of a Tea Party umbrella organization, around 14")  Democrats were damaged when the national leadership lost its 2008 base with futile attempts to appease its moderates with mediocre policies that bored everyone and did nothing. Obama’s inability to support even band-aid measures like a mortgage moratorium in the wake of the “robo-signing” scandal cost the party its remaining reputation for fighting for what's right, or even for what's obvious, at a time when people are still losing houses at 25% above last year’s rate to banks who don’t seem to have title to them. When the Democratic president seems to believe that economic recovery depends on supporting the discounted sale of houses that were repossessed illegally, the party stands for nothing and has no ideas left.

University leaders should also learn a few things from this. First, when you cooperate in an economic squeeze, you get no support. If you want votes, you need to put up a passionate, effective fight. The UC Regents are about to robo-raise tuition on the wake of the last 32% stroke of genius that turned the media against UC leadership and solved no budgetary problems at all. UC's proposed 8% tuition increase for next year is actually 9 times the August-to-August 09-10 California consumer price index inflation rate of 0.87%.  Deliberately applying financial pressure guarantees that when push comes to shove, the public won’t fight for UC.

Second, when you don’t rally your strongest “outside groups” to do battle with theirs, you will die. The Obama Adminstration bullied its progressive wing and herded it into the “veal pen” over banking reform, health care, you name it. Meanwhile, the Republicans found their most fire-breathing dire-hards to spearhead their latest astro-turf social movement (real grievances wrongly channelled by their fabulous national media-school board-church group complex). Universities need to sic their most committed advocates for the core missions on the public, the legislature, and legitimize them. Instead, right-wing culture warriors have encouraged them, through persistence, bullying and intimidation, to send forth only their most docile compromisers who admire business’s every move. Score: Low-tax defunders 10, Universities 0. We are dying from message control.

Third, when you forget your operating principles, people walk away. Post-Depression Democrats knew two things. For one, general funding iis more just and more effective than private fees. If everyone pays a little for public goods like freeways, health care, and education, major users do not pay a lot. Truckers, sick children, and great future artists, managers, and engineers aren’t deterred by cost, and everyone benefits. In other words, individual benefit is also a social benefit, and vice versa. This whole debate – is college a personal good or a public one? - would have seened phony and ridiculous to my New Deal L.A. grandparents. Hospitals, schools, etc  were obviously both.
Obama Democrats, like the Clintonites before them, the DCL folks, the Blue Dogs, etc etc - they have never granted constructive agency to public services or endowed government with creative life.  The public remains passive beneficiaries of the entrepreneurial wisdom of top business leaders, and on this point they are exactly like the Republicans.  How can the public look to Democrats to develop imaginative public services that are effective and enhance personal and national life at the same time, when that public that needs or wants or can do creative things with public services is regarded, by the former party of the working masses, as remedial recipients of privately-created largess?  There is no autonomous sphere of action proper to government, no spirit of common life in this several decades of national Democrats, no felt sense of the public sphere as performing functions the private sector never will.

This is why,  in his post-election press conference,  Obama did not pay tribute to the value of the public sector to a restored economy.  He  needed to say, “our country desperately needs higher wages, better health care, and more education. Markets have been known to fail to deliver these things, and they have failed to do this for us.  We can count on the Republicans to advocate for the strengths of markets, and while you know I am a fan of business, it is my job to make sure we understand that governments must not only make ground rules and monitor self-interest but build infrastucture, orchestrate our common activities, inspire higher thought and action." Obama did not come close to this. He said instead, “I’ve got to take responsibility in terms of making sure that I make clear to the busines community . . . that the most important thing we can do is to boost and encourage our busines sector and make sure they’re hiring.” He has encouraged them all too well - to believe that his administration will continue to use public money to reinflate asset bubbles and turn a blind eye to highly-leveraged speculative trades that do nothing for the real economy and jobs.

To deserve any return to power at all, the Dems will need to explain the effectiveness of broad public funding, identify and celebrate public needs and goods, go to bat the integrity of the public funding system. And they need a lot of help from a public university sector, whose most visible leaders have been silent on the subject.  President Mark Yudof's Open Letter to California (HuffPo version) offers an interesting case study that I will take up in my next post.


cloudminder said...

Raúl M. Grijalva72,309 49.28% Ruth McClung 66,074 45.03% George Keane Libertarian 3,954 2.69%

results are unofficial til the middle of the month.

and Grayson lost, in large part, due to Grayson- but we love Alan Grayson!

Bronwen Rowlands said...

"University leaders should also learn a few things from this."

I wonder, Chris, who you mean when you speak of university leaders. Surely you don't mean the executives at UC. The Academic Senate? No. In my book, leaders are people with moral integrity and with the ability to bring people together with a shared purpose for the common good. I believe there were campus leaders like this in the past.

But those days are gone, gone, gone.

Bob Samuels said...

So let me get this right. Banks sold fraudulent mortgages to indebted workers so these people could buy homes at inflated prices. These mortgages were then pooled together and sold to investment banks who borrowed huge sums of money so they could buy up more debt and take out insurance on their risky mortgage bets. When the indebted workers could not pay their mortgages, the banks lost their bets, and the government had to step in and buy all of the bad mortgages from the banks at the inflated market value. Now, more than a year later, the government has not been able to get rid of a trillion dollars worth of bad loans, so it has decided to simply conjure out of thin air $600 billion so that it can lend banks billions with virtually no interest in the hope that the banks will loan money to small businesses and underwater homeowners.

However, the banks will not take the risk and lend the money to foreclosing homeowners and small businesses; instead, the bankers will use their cheap money to buy up other currencies and devalue the dollar in relation to the Chinese and Brazilian currencies. Knowing that the Chinese currency is being pressured to inflate its value by 20%, all of the smart money will go to China, and the dollar will tank and lose its position as the only trusted currency. Meanwhile, the cost for basic food commodities is skyrocketing along with health insurance premiums and college tuition.

So Americans will have another stock market bubble, fewer jobs, and huge debt, while we make foreign products more expensive. Moreover, since no one is making money on their savings, they will be pushed into the stock market, which will rally and then crash again. Finally, since the European central banks cannot just print more money, they will have to starve their economies and impose drastic austerity measures, like eliminating the funding for public education.

Gerry Barnett said...

In the evolution of social institutions, it would appear that universities are doing those things that disable deliberative rhetoric that enables leaders. Instead, there are thickets of policy, responsibility hidden in committees, interdependencies and parasitism buried in financial cross-subsidies, and even a statement in the UC ethics policy that it is unethical to do things for a higher purpose. It is a policy slum, as far as leadership possibilities go.

Consider: "Members of the University community are expected to conduct themselves ethically, honestly and with integrity in all dealings. This means principles of fairness, good faith and respect consistent with laws, regulations and University policies govern our conduct with others both inside and outside the community. Each situation needs to be examined in accordance with the Standards of Ethical Conduct. No unlawful practice or a practice at odds with these standards can be justified on the basis of customary practice, expediency, or achieving a "higher" purpose."

What possible role is there for a leader at UC, but to ensure compliance with the unerring normative text called the Standards of Ethical Conduct, and to refer all unclear matters to the interpreters of the Standards of Ethical Conduct for guidance?

There is no room for custom, expediency, or anything else. Certainly not any higher purpose. So much for a role for leaders. No, the leadership is to be found in policy statements, and the expertise at the edges is to be found in administrative staff who ensure that behaviors conform to those statements.

Get rid of the moralizing, damaging, ill conceived Standards of Ethical Conduct document as a start. Doing so will scatter the flinks of petty administrators who draw their power from wretchedly conceived administrative documents that make absolute claims regarding the authority of other wretchedly written administrative documents.

The first sign of asserting the power of faculty leadership is to take down the Statement of Ethical Conduct. It is little more than an oath to its own authority. It aims to make administrative policy into a moral rather than practical code, so it is to be interpreted in terms of righteousness rather than effectiveness. It's gotta go. Keep it and wither.

Catherine Liu said...

Bob Samuels picture of monetary policy and its relationship to public goods and the UC is right on. Finance capital only knows one way out of the present crisis: inflate a bubble and then cover up the collateral damage when it pops. Bankers are laughing all the way to the bank right now.

AndrewD said...

And meanwhile, closer to home, the Legislative Analyst writes:

Our forecast of California’s General Fund revenues and expenditures shows that the state must
address a budget problem of $25.4 billion between now and the time the Legislature enacts a 2011‑12
state budget plan. The budget problem consists of a $6 billion projected deficit for 2010‑11 and a
$19 billion gap between projected revenues and spending in 2011‑12.

And furthermore,
In a reversal of earlier
budget reductions, the universities in
2010‑11 are receiving more total funding
per student than they were before the
current recession began. Given the
likelihood of continuing state budget
constraints for the next several years, it may
be necessary for the universities to reduce
their per-student costs. The Legislature may
wish to express expectations with regard
to cost-saving opportunities related to
student-faculty ratios, student remediation
rates, articulation of course sequences,
student assessment and placement, caps on
the number of course units a student may
take at subsidized rates, use of summer
session, expansion of distance education
and other alternative modes of instruction,
and other considerations.

A sobering future still ahead, with or without "leaders".

Mr. B. said...

I am a great admirer of your work. In a quickie post on Brainstorm (Chronicle), I have just mentioned the Cole - Newfield conlict: http://bit.ly/9t4pta I've also got up an earlier piece - World Class Greatness at a Land Grant University near you - that you might enjoy: http://bit.ly/9GhDSB

Keep up the good fight.

My best, Bill Gleason
University of Minnesota

cloudminder said...

in addition to Cole there is this additional opposing view from Bill Tierney at USC -http://21stcenturyscholar.org/2010/06/14/unmaking-the-public-university-and-historical-amnesia/

which is of interest to me simply because it comes from SoCal and I'm focused on the home turf fight

Gerry Barnett said...

I'm awaiting the next post. Re-reading this one, though, I am struck that I no longer can track the public higher ed discussion in terms of Dems and Reps, liberals and conservatives. There appear to be at least four main parties--progressive, Dem, Rep, and conservative--and none of them appears to have higher education as a core element of their civic vision (regardless of what is pitched), whether for an educated citizenry, or an educated workforce, or for research to change lives, or research as a way to stimulate regional economy...

I have noted that the Dems in the state of WA did to UW what the Reps in CA did to UC. Or, perhaps, rather, that the leadership of UW did to UW with Dems around what the leadership of UC did to UC with Reps around.

It would appear that public higher ed is incapable of raising a topic for discussion that would place higher ed within a civic framework with more priority than financial survival. I might even say, the public higher ed leadership doesn't much appear to believe the public role discussion has priority. The public role is treated as a given, almost boring, and comes off as entitlement rather than mobilization. The survival discussion is so much more important.

And with that survival discussion comes: where are the weakest elements of the university that we can abandoned or exploit? Thus, the department that doesn't have a high volume of undergraduates locked in by the curriculum. Thus, the middle class student, useful only for its financial aid dollars. Thus, the idea that a college education is but a degree, a personal not a community credential, so make it faster, dumber, perfunctory, and make it a matter of private rather than public investment.

I don't see that the survival view gets broken up and supplanted by critiquing categories like Rep and Dem for their roles in creating it. It doesn't unwind with this sort of analysis. An explanation for its presence does not apear to provide the means for its displacement.

As long as public higher ed is viewed as a personal credential, we may as well be discussing state-run liquor stores. It's a matter of regulated, subsidized personal buying, not a matter of community-supported study and betterment, and the only issue will be the efficiency with which purchases can be administrated.

Until public higher ed leadership--that is people in positions to be heard by the public--establishes a different framework that makes it into the public imagination, things will move the way they have been, regardless of the party affiliations.

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