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Monday, February 27, 2012

Monday, February 27, 2012

Education Trouble and the Leadership Crisis

I spoke at a half-dozen public university events over the past 10 days, in California (Irvine), Maine (Orono), New Jersey (New Brunswick), winding up back in California at a unique, collaborative event in Santa Barbara that brought a wide range of people together to redesign UC for 2050.  Everywhere I went, great, dedicated public U people are fully engaged and ready to fight, and not sure whom to fight.

I'm saving the imaginative ideas for later posts and will just look at the policy context here.  There were no battle lines dividing students (mostly grads) from tenure-track faculty from contingent faculty from mid-level administrators like deans.  There was the common structural problem that public universities are middle-class institutions trying to survive in post-middle class America. Countries with failing middle-classes don't have great public universities, period.  We're all up against this:
And even though the tax shares of corporations and rich people are at post-war lows, everyone feels that the settled political choice is between continuing Republican tax cuts for the wealthy and Democratic tax hikes on the 99%.  This total policy failure leads to collapsing expectations like that charted below, on which you cannot raise tax revenues for major upgrades:

The Santa Barbara crew debated CUCFA's plan for getting UC back on the 2001 track for $49 a year at the median income, but the leadership feels obliged to play "pity the millionaire," so the $3,000 bill presented at the 1% line is allowed to scuttle the whole thing.  Since we can't raise money from the people that have money, the plan is to ask for money from people who don't have it (CA's median income is under $40,000 a year), be rejected, and make more cuts to education; or raise tuition, or, most frequently, both.

The number one issue for the various groups on the Remaking revival tour was how to improve educational quality let alone with no money. Education includes research, particularly internally-funded research that is utterly at risk.  Intensified learning via more contact time with students, richer feedback, and better infrastructure for group learningin short, more human bandwidthare desired and yet unasked for.  The simple capacity of students to expose themselves to the learning environment is being whittled away by their money problems. Here is an example from a 2010 study (Babcock and Marks)  of student time spent on schoolwork:
Students spend about half the time studying that they used to.  Why is that?

At home on Sunday night, I had a dinner for some of my UCSB studentsthe ones taking the one seminar English majors take over the course of their four years. This particular dozen was mostly white and female and, with only one known exception, middle class.  All but one worked at least twenty hours a week; that's two and half days a week on top of courses.  At least two were working the equivalent of four days a week, calculated on an eight hour day.  Several said the work was lowering their performance in classes.  These students work mainly as restaurant servers, baristas, and retail assistants, spending a third to a half of a 60 hour week being socialized into service jobs of exactly the low-skilled kind that they are supposedly being educated beyond.  Working all weekend and/or most evenings and some afternoons puts them in immediate danger of being caught in limbo, unable in 2-4 years to develop a clear personal interest or to excel at any particular thingand thus to have any real control over their positions in the economy.

Given the blind alley public Us have been steered into, the number two issue this past week was the weakness of academic leadership.  One dean launched the single most uncompromising attack that I have ever heard on the silence of university presidents in the face of collapsing public resources.  "Where," he asked, "are the private university presidents when public universities are being pilloried?  Privates are citizens in those states too.  We don’t expect them to send checks but a little cheerleading would be nice.  They have nothing to lose, because those same politicians will be coming for their research funding next."  This same dean also lambasted the tripling of the share of contingent faculty over the past forty years and the educational spiral which it has accelerated.  It was a gruesome exposure of the negative symbioses.

Later, in Santa Barbara, a Senate leader asked me why I thought senior managers implemented and defended policies that so obviously do not work.  All week I had framed the set of failing funding decisions known as privatization as an example of Daniel Kahneman's "illusion of validity," in which one uses a methodology even after learning that it does not work.  But that reference begs the question, since managers "know" the errors of their strategies.  This time I said that it was because the university's elite partners have ruled out the correct answers in advance.  Business and political leaders from Jerry Brown and Richard Blum to the No Tax Pledgers on the Republican right all agree there can be no new taxes that will actually build anything; no correcting of the absurdly inefficient and unjust valuations on the labor of, say, teachers and nurses on the one hand and bankers and tax attorneys on the other; no renewal of state capacity because, as put in never-confirmed Regent David Crane's favorite phrase, "the state is going away."  These are loser ideologiesthe US has long been losing the international "race" for educational capabilityand yet they control validity in the environment of senior managers.  The latter will not be heard if they diverge from these premises and can only look reasonable by accepting them.  Failed ideology controls the premises of evaluation.  Hence the parade of defeated strategies that, without our direct intervention, will not come to an end in time.

And yet awareness of all the funding and educational issues is vastly greater than it was five years ago.  So is the general energy and imagination.  Now we are really getting started.


Anonymous said...

The deans and many other administrators have been on this page all along, but for several years we've been hammered by faculty and students who would rather blame the nearby internal authority symbol than get to the real root of the problem. Good to hear that we are all finally beginning to understand that our common enemy is those trying to defund and destroy public higher education from the outside.

Chris Newfield said...

Our analyses here try to critique negative interactions among decisions, and these can almost never be classified good/bad according to whether they come from inside or outside the university. Multiple feedback loops keep the cycle going, and we within the university (by no means just admin) have often gone along with them and/or fed them without wanting to, although the destructive INTENT is external. OE at Berkeley is one example: we have multiple testimonies of staff suffering, confusion, and very uncertain benefits from this disruptive program that from the outside appears to be on autopilot implementation mode and cultivated for its symbolic politics of efficiency more than for clear operational benefits, with the staff we hear from feeling like UCB admin transmits imperatives ordered from above and outside rather than serving as brokers focused on protecting operations and their dedicated people while creating new efficiencies through morale-raising forms of collaboration. I think it is unfair to reduce analysis of internal problems (e.g. this recent 2 part Bain series, or my critique of Mark Yudof's messaging to the Chamber of Commerce last December, etc., etc.) to oedipal scapegoating. We can work together to develop more effective forms of pushback than we have generally seen w/in UC admin so far, and we would love examples discrediting our impatience, with the Rutgers dean being one model. Instances of either dissent or developed alternative thinking w/in admin would certainly inspire faculty and staff and help refocus criticism on the outside.

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