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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Tuesday, May 28, 2013
In response to all of the push-back he has received Senator Steinberg has offered yet another version of his attempt to appear to champion the interests of California's college students.  His latest iteration lightens the direct hand of legislative intrusion into curriculum without solving any of the underlying problems that continue to beset his vision.  Moreover, his continued acceptance of the rhetoric of for-profit online providers blinds him to the real costs of his proposals and to engaging in a serious consideration of alternative ways of improving access in higher education.

Still, Steinberg is proposing significant changes to SB520 and it is important to recognize them.

1) Steinberg has moved from putting into place a structured "framework" to drive the segments into relation with online providers to creating a system of "grant programs" for intensifying reliance on online programs and providers.  You will recall that in April he sought to establish "a statutorily enacted, quality-first, faculty-led framework that increases partnerships between faculty and online course technology providers aimed at allowing students in strategically selected lower division areas to take online courses for credit at the UC, CSU, and CCC systems."  Now, according to his latest amendments, he has shifted to legislating "incentive grant programs" (one in each segement) to help "faculty and individual campuses within the UC, CSU, and CCC systems to provide students increased opportunities to take strategically selected lower division courses online."

With this change, Steinberg has shifted his rhetoric from creating the "California Online Student Access Platform" to creating the "California Online Student Access Incentive Grant programs."  Under his new proposal, the state will provide funding to faculty for the purpose of increasing the numbers of lower-division online courses that will allegedly move students move more quickly either within a segment or between segments.  The heads of the Systems, "in consultation" with their Senates of course, will disburse incentive grants to individual faculty or groups of faculty. 

2) Despite changing his approach from the stick to the carrot, Steinberg is actually increasing the demands placed on the system.  Whereas in April he had required the segments "jointly" to identify up to 50 courses that served as important bottlenecks for students, he is now instructing "each segment" to identify up to 20 "high-demand lower division courses" and for up to 15 of those courses provide "incentive grants" to faculty to encourage them to enter into "15 appropriate partnerships" either within the segments or with "online course technology providers" to "significantly increase online options for matriculated students and high school pupils for the fall terms of the 2014-15 academic year."

3) Although Steinberg continues to insist that all courses created with incentive grant funding be put in the California Virtual Campus, he has softened his language on the State's direct claim to online intellectual property.   Whereas in April he declared that "the state shall retain all appropriate rights to intellectual property it creates or develops in the implementation of this section" he is now placing the question of intellectual property back within the systems themselves by insisting that "intellectual property created or developed by a segment in the implementation of this act shall be owned and managed by that segment according to its existing policies pursuant to applicable provisions of this code.

These are clearly genuine changes in his approach.  But the question remains whether they can overcome the fundamental flaws of his earlier version?  And do they truly point out a way to an educationally desirable solution to the genuine problems of access?  The answer to both questions is no.

For one thing, as much as Steinberg may wish not to confront it, his proposals do entail a decision to spend money in one way rather than another.  None of this will be free and the funds spend through the incentive grants and the platform is money that could be spent elsewhere (say on faculty).  As the Senate Appropriations Committee Staff Analysis of Steinberg's April Version indicated, these costs are considerable.  The Staff pointed out that the CCC estimated initial course creation costs from $50,000 to $100,000 with costs higher at CSU and UC, considerable staff time and costs "to develop and approve them." Each year the costs of providing the accompanying services and administering the courses could range into the millions (although the Staff was analyzing the costs of the Online Platform its elimination will not get rid of the costs but simply transfer them directly onto the Segments).  To make the system work through the California Virtual Campus, the staff predicted that there would be the need for a common Learning Management System for the CCC alone would be $13M in the first year and over $7M in each subsequent year.  If the other systems are involved the costs would be much greater.  Steinberg is proposing to impose upon the three segments millions of dollars of new costs.  Even if the State does provide funding for these costs that money could be spent in other less speculative ways.  Far more likely is that the Segments will be driven into partnerships with online providers so as to share the upfront costs of meeting Steinberg's timetable.

These costs lead to the another problem of Steinberg's (revised) framework: the relationship between faculty intellectual property and venture capital.   Steinberg's devices to assure that neither public funding nor faculty intellectual property are diverted to "any private aspect" of alliances with for-profit online providers are weak tea indeed.  In concrete terms they do not exist.  Once placed within the California Virtual Campus it is difficult to see how faculty will retain any control over the use of their course materials or the marketing and distribution of the courses.  Steinberg's concern, understandably,  is to ensure that no student matriculated in any of the three segments or a California High School not be denied course credit for one of his online courses.  He is not concerned to control the reuse of the materials beyond the CVC without permission of faculty.  In fact there is no limitation placed on that at all.  Moreover, as anyone familiar with the debates going on within UC over defining intellectual property rights in UC sponsored online courses can attest, the property interests of the segments and those of the faculty are not necessarily aligned.

Nor is there any means set up to assure that no public funds are spent on private interests.  Should the segments enter into partnerships with the online providers, they will likely contract out services and use public funds to pay for them.  Despite the rhetoric of social justice, venture capital will demand a profitable return on its investments.  Moreover, as the for-profit MOOC providers have demonstrated, their business is information and they claim that the information they gather on students is their property.  I see no way around the notion that public funds will indeed be diverted to "private aspects" of the partnerships.

Ultimately, the drive to push through SB520 is a drive to avoid a serious discussion about reinvesting in California's educational system.  Pursuing the will o' wisp of technophilia allows the Legislature (and the Governor in his own way) to appear to be solving problems of their own making without engaging in a serious public debate over the future educational needs of the state (from K-16).  They won't overcome the pressing educational challenges facing California.

By Bob Samuels, UCLA and editor of Changing Universities.

People in higher education now know that over 70% of the faculty are working outside of the tenure system.  It has also been documented that most of these “contingent” faculty members earn less than fast food workers, and they have no job protections or benefits.  What needs to be articulated is how to resolve these issues, and fortunately, the labor conditions at the University of California can serve as an existing model for academic justice for non-tenure-track teachers. 

In the UC system, lecturers represented by UC-AFT (University Council of the American Federation of Teachers) have a clear pathway to job security with relatively high pay and full benefits (including pensions).  These teachers also at times have a strong role in departmental governance and curricular development and have their academic freedom protected.  Although, there is still plenty of room for improvement, at one of the largest   public university system in the country, activism and organization have led to a model that should and can be replicated throughout the United States. 

In 2012, the average annual salary for the over 3,000 UC non-tenure-track faculty was $62,000 with an average full course load of six courses on semester campuses.  This means that the per course pay was over $10,000, while the national average appears to be around $3,000.  Moreover, unlike most other faculty working outside of the tenure system, UC lecturers who work more than 50% time have full medical, dental, and vision care, and they participate in a defined benefits pension plan. 

This model of labor justice is protected by a very detailed contract, which protects many of the faculty against job insecurity.  Similar to the traditional tenure-track career path, non-tenure-track faculty in the UC system go up for a comprehensive review in their sixth year of teaching, and if they are deemed excellent, they are given a continuing appointment, which means that they can only be let go for just cause or a proven lack of instructional need.

A key aspect to the contract regulating these faculty members is that it recognizes the diverse employment needs of contingent faculty members.  Except for benefits, all rights and salary policies apply to all faculty members regardless if they teach a single course or a full load.  By basing compensation on a percentage appointment, the university is able to cater to its particular needs, while the union is able to provide for a just and fair wage and work level.  While a third of these teachers work full time, another third teach only one or two courses a year. 

The reason why this type of appointment system is so important is that one of the biggest obstacles to treating non-tenure-track faculty in a fair and equitable way is that there are many different employment contexts for these types of positions, and some part-time faculty members do not want to be full time.  In fact, in the UC system, the majority of the lecturers working less than 50% may have other jobs inside and outside of the university.  Some of these lecturers are fully employed lawyers, doctors, and artists who only teach one or two courses a year.  These professionals help to bring expertise to particular programs, and the union has recognized the need to allow the university the ability to employ these people without giving them benefits or requiring them to do departmental service.  However, the union also has to  constantly fight cost-cutting administrators who circumvent the contract and try to exploit non-tenure-track faculty by paying them as little as possible.  

While the UC-AFT contract provides a clear pathway to job security, only a third of the current employees have passed their six-year reviews.  It is also the case that many lecturers only teach once in a while, so they never reach their sixth year.  Furthermore, since lecturers have to go through a thorough review to gain continuing appointments, many leave or are not rehired before their sixth year.

Since our contract does allow for a wide variety of employment situations, university administrators cannot say that they need non-tenure-track faculty to provide administrative flexibility.  Moreover, due to the high level of turnover in the first six years, departments are able to adjust to real changes in enrollment and instructional needs.  However, the union contract prohibits departments from not rehiring lecturers simply to prevent them from gaining continuing appointments or to replace them with less expensive lecturers.

Another vital aspect of this contract is that it stops departments from using student evaluations as the main criteria for judging lecturers. This means that departments have to develop robust methods of assessment, which are centered on the peer review of instruction and professional development. In fact, lecturers are required to show their knowledge of their field, and they are able to apply for professional development funding to stay current.    Furthermore, lecturers are often given course credit and pay for doing extensive departmental or university service.  For example, many of the UC writing programs are staffed by full-time lecturers who teach most of the courses and do most of the administration.  While the full-time maximum course load is nine courses for the campuses on the quarter system, a course load of eight courses is considered a 100% appointment for teachers of writing and languages.  The contract also provides a method for faculty to petition for course credit for non-required duties, such as proctoring exams and external outreach.

It should be pointed out that the UC-AFT contract is very detailed and defensive because it has been developed in response to the many different ways administrators have tried to go against the intent and language of the regulations.  Thus, an effective grievance process has been required to stop departments from trying to prevent lecturers from gaining continuing appointments.  We also have had many cases where departments have not followed their own policies when they review lecturers, and therefore it has been important to closely monitor and enforce the contract.

In fact, during the fiscal crisis of 2008-9, some campuses did try to lay off many lecturers with continuing appointments.  Through political activism and difficult grievance work, we were able to save virtually all of these jobs.  For instance after UCLA issued one-year layoff notices to almost all of the continuing appointments, our union worked with students and other concerned faculty groups to protest against the potential loss of hundreds of classes and a rapid expansion of class size.  We also met with many university officials to show them that lecturers were teaching a majority of the required undergraduate courses, and there was no one else qualified to teach these needed classes. 

Since lecturers play such a central role in undergraduate instruction, we have been able to use our contract to protect the funding and quality of undergraduate education in the UC system.  Part of this work has required us going to the state legislature and pushing for audits on workload and campus funding.  One of the results of these audits was that the university has completely changed how it funds the campuses and what it does with student tuition and state funding.  Amazingly, until we helped to reveal the truth, parents sending their kids to UCSB did not know that their tuition was actually being sent to the central Office of the President where it was then being redistributed to the wealthier campuses.  In 2012, partially as a result of the state audit we initiated, the system moved to a structure where the ten UC campuses keep all of their tuition funding.

One of our challenges has been to get the university to provide a more transparent budget.  Like many other universities and colleges, the UC engages in many different types of hidden cross-subsidizations.  Undergraduate tuition is often used for graduate education, and instructional funds find their way into research budgets.  In order to correct this situation, we have lobbied hard in Sacramento for increased budget transparency because we know that the defunding of undergraduate budgets not only hurts lecturers, but it also downgrades the quality of undergraduate instruction.

One of the keys to our success is a recognition that research professors are often focused on graduate and professional education, while the bulk of the undergraduate classes are handled by non-tenure-track faculty.  Although, some may say that we have helped to institutionalized a two-tier system, we would respond that we have made the current system much more fair and just as we have also protected undergraduate education from unstable funding. 

Having a union with required membership fees and a connection to a statewide and national organization has allowed us the opportunity to challenge our administration on a whole host of issues ranging from online education to pension funding.  We have also worked with a coalition of the different unions within the university to fight administrative growth, salary inequities, and benefit reductions.  In other words, politics and organization infuse everything we do. 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Saturday, May 25, 2013
by Jennifer Ruth, Portland State University

I am part of an unofficial group of tenured faculty at a state institution that relies on many non-tenure-track faculty, but we are not the tenured faculty Ivan Evans refers to in his piece “When the Adjunct Faculty are the Tenure-track’s Untouchables.

When we went on the market, getting a tenure-track job already meant you were the one person standing in the rubble-strewn city of your profession. There was no denying the corpses. At the very least, we understood that luck played a bigger role in our fate than merit had. We hadn’t earned something so much as been spared something else—namely, the miserable life of the freeway flyer. And we drew the obvious conclusion from this, the survivor’s-guilt conclusion: we would prove worthy of these tenure-track jobs only if we dedicated ourselves to creating more of them for others. We would fight the neoliberal adjunctifcation of the professoriate in the name of our no less talented but less fortunate friends.

And so we did. Before we were tenured, we began working together on our campus to overcome the defeatism pervasive at the time – the defeatism that said, the erosion of tenure is bigger than us, it’s bigger than academia, it’s the post-70s outsourcing economy. To fight it would be to drown ourselves trying to swim upstream. For months, every other week, three of us would invite a new handful of people we considered influential on campus to have drinks– tenured faculty and chairs, people who were positioned to do something about the problem. It’s not that we were excluding non-tenure-track faculty – far from being our untouchables, they were our friends with whom we had coffees, lunches, dinners; with whose kids our kids shared playdates—but rather we took seriously what some of them were saying, which was You guys have the power, and thus the responsibility, to reverse this trend. We don’t.

The work of the group we formed exceeded our expectations. Here’s a few of the things we did:

1) We introduced two motions into faculty senate: the first motion establishing a committee to rethink the Senate so that it could exercise a stronger voice in shared governance with administration; the second motion to shift our percentage of tenure-line to off-tenure-line instruction to 70/30 in 5 years. The first motion passed; the second was tabled.

2) We lobbied the administration to redefine about 20 jobs that were originally advertised as non-tenure-track to tenure-track.

3) One of our group, who was chair of her department, organized chairs-only meetings for chairs to strategize on the issue (all the meetings heretofore had been in the Dean’s presence).

4) We showed graphs at Faculty Senate meetings that demonstrated the magnitude of the problem. We drew what we called a “line of shame” through one such graph, with those departments that had grown the most through off-tenure-line labor falling below the line and those that had resisted the temptation above the line.

And when we got tenure, we stepped up our game by assuming positions in our departments. As department chair and directors of programs, those of us in the English department  created two new tenure lines and converted a fixed-term position when someone retired into a tenure-track position. Within two years, we had three new tenure lines that were not simply replacing retiring tenure-track faculty. During a period of budget cuts when retirement-replacement searches in other departments were being cancelled (and the lost SCH surely made up through contingent labor), we made sure that we never lost a search. In other words, we lost no ground. Instead, we made practical and considerable advances. 


1) The Director of Literary Studies Amy Greenstadt re-arranged classes so that we had fewer that were under-enrolled, buying us cultural capital with the Dean.

2) I refused to sign some adjunct contracts and made it clear that we wanted to help the College meet its SCH (student credit hour) goals but not by adding any more adjuncts or full-time, non-tenure-track faculty – only by adding tenure-track faculty.

3) We encouraged, cajoled—and in one case, brought in a lawyer to convince—a few of our faculty who had gotten sweetheart deals over the years to give up these deals and return to the course-loads the rest of us carried.

Over a period of two years, through careful scheduling and fewer course releases, we increased our SCH by 2% while using fewer adjuncts. We also improved our graduate programs by offering more grad-only small classes. We made sure the Dean knew all these things so that he understood that we were accountable, that if he provided us the resources to hire tenure track faculty those resources would not be squandered.

I remember sitting in the office of the chair of the philosophy department and crowing about a success. We had received permission from the Dean to make two tenure-track hires rather than one out of an already-progressing search. It had been a dramatic couple of weeks. My office staff had helped me develop graphs and tables, and my directors and I had composed arguments and timelines (lines per SCH, budget numbers, hiring trends over the years, etc.), all of which I presented to the Dean and his staff.

I thought I had a fail-safe case for new tenure lines to accommodate the growth in the student body we’d experienced over the years. When I finished, the dean said, “We’re not giving you any more tenure lines.” I don’t remember what I said or did, but I do remember that the dean’s secretary called me later that day and said, “That grand exit was a little over the top.”

Over the next week or so, I wondered if she was right. But when Amy, the Director of Literary Studies, gave me something more specific to propose– a way to turn one replacement tenure-track search into two lines, saving money on the search—I knocked on the Dean’s door. He agreed that if we continued to work with the college on its initiatives and were careful budget-wise, he’d work with us towards our goal. Telling the philosophy chair about it that day, I suddenly felt silly. All that drama for one line! One miniscule drop in the national bucket! Was I foolish to get so worked up over something so relatively small? The philosophy chair said, “It’s not small to the person who gets the job you guys created.” Right, I thought.

A few people made the connection between the work we were doing and the amazing new colleagues walking our halls but many did not. The new hires themselves were coming in the right way and, thus, were rightly feeling obliged to nobody.

We could with confidence claim a whole army of new enemies, however. Weirdly enough, none of these enemies were administrators. Administrators knew we were trying to improve our department and, even when we aggravated the hell out of them, most of them had the grace to acknowledge that what we were doing was only what we in fact should be doing.

No, the people who now disliked us were some of the people who’d once been our closest friends: those people whose sweetheart deals no longer existed; the tenure-track faculty whose under-enrolled classes were now fully enrolled so they had 35 papers to grade instead of 20; the man whose program relied on adjuncts and so was always, if only temporarily, imperiled by my resistance to signing adjunct contracts; full-time, non-tenure-track faculty who understandably felt that my commitment to growing tenure lines implicitly jeopardized their job security (it didn’t but it’s easy to imagine how they’d feel it might); non-tenure-track faculty serving on Faculty Senate (at our institution, non-tenure-track faculty are involved in governance) during the year we introduced the “line of shame”; tenure-track faculty who had joined the profession to—god forbid—write books and teach, not to take on the Sisyphean task of rebuilding the profession, but who felt a little guilty about this. Many of these people hated our guts.

In the beginning what we were doing felt good. We were listening to our non-tenure-track colleagues and we understood what it meant for them to be without academic freedom, without job security. We were not quislings! We were on the side of the righteous!

But after a while, as the political skirmishes got uglier, our reasons for why we were doing what we were doing began to change. We began to care less about the terrible circumstances of our non-tenure-track colleagues. We began to care less about doing “the right thing” by the next generation. By the end we were fighting for the quality of our own jobs. It sucks when non-tenure-track people feel threatened when you feel you have proven your commitment to them, it sucks to have tenure-track people mad at you when you won’t create a non-tenure-track job for their spouse, it sucks to sit in a meeting in which a non-tenure-track faculty member openly uses his or her job security as a reason for making a curricular change to our major requirements instead of citing reasons intrinsic to the discipline or our pedagogical goals.

By the end, we just wanted to sit in a room of peers (fellow tenured faculty) and apprentice-peers (tenure-track) with whom we could debate ideas and feel like we were all on a reasonably even playing field. If we won an argument, we knew it was because we’d actually made sense not because someone felt subtly coerced. If we all fought bitterly about the curricular area of our next hire, nobody afterwards could claim that they were scared we’d retaliate against them for disagreeing with us by not rehiring them the next quarter. We could call each other all kinds of names for being so benighted as to think we needed a modernist when we obviously needed a medievalist but we couldn’t call each other “neoliberal managers” or pull out the trump card of “retaliation” when our feelings got hurt.

In his history of academic freedom in America The Metaphysical Club, Louis Menand writes, “Coercion is natural; freedom is artificial.” The tenure system is an elaborate construction. The hiring process is ridiculously strenuous but that’s what keeps it from being a system based on patronage. By the time you get your job and then achieve tenure—after interviewing, having many people read your work and references, giving a job talk in front of a dept., undergoing evaluations by committees and external reviewers—you feel legitimate. Even when you know chance played a big part, you nonetheless don’t feel you owe your luck to any particular person. That’s often not the case when hiring off the tenure-track. When we hire off the tenure track, we create complex networks of obligation; we create potential fiefdoms. At the very least, we make our world more vulnerable to corruption: I protect your job security, you vote for me. I give your girlfriend these adjunct sections, you feel indebted to me. Hiring on the tenure track has its opportunities for patronage, of course, but there are more steps, more bureaucracy, more people involved at every stage. As a result, the kind of direct-unmediated power of boss-employee is diffused in a way that it isn’t with off-track hiring.

By the time we’d finished our terms as chair and directors, we were fighting because we’d come to understand how valuable the tenure system is for the culture in which we wanted to work. We didn’t want to work within a new old boy’s club, where people got jobs because of who they knew or whose back they scratched. We wanted to work with people who could say “no” to us when they disagreed with us without then feeling resentfully defensive with us. We wanted to work with people who could say what they really thought without worrying that someone else’s job security might be indirectly affected by their opinions. We wanted the preciousness of a world different from most workplaces, a world of peers who make decisions together and argue with one another in the context of academic freedom.

I sympathize with Ivan Evans’s despair. The lack of collective will among TTF in what is a struggle that affects us all is deeply frustrating. But what if we got a better handle on the multiple variables involved? The national statistics are the outcome of numerous interactions between non-tenure-track faculty, tenure-track faculty, chairs, deans, and provosts. If we don’t want the future that inertia is busy building or even if we want to protect the vestiges of academic freedom we have left, TTF are going to have to grapple honestly with the compromised culture that has already developed with non-tenure-track hiring as well as with the financial problems administrators face--at least at institutions like my own which rely almost entirely on tuition and have lost state support over the years.

We don’t deserve to all be adjunctifed—if only because universities without academic freedom translates to a less free society—but I worry that we are more likely to be if we let the few sadistic professors and knife-twisting administrators distract us from the much more difficult, because more intimate and more ethically complex, politics of painstakingly changing what is in many places now our status quo.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Sunday, May 19, 2013
Chris here, introducing a post by Ivan Evans, professor of sociology at UC San Diego. Tarak Barkawi's opinion piece, "The Neoliberal Assault on Academia," produced a long discussion on several lists because of its claim that faculty have played a central role in shifting their universities towards revenue metrics and managerial assessments of intellectual value.  His example is the arrival of the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) in the UK, which has molted into the Research Excellence Framework (REF).  

Though pushed by the Thatcher government, the RAE was accepted and applied by the UK professoriat. Its successor, the five-yearly REF," Prof. Barkawi writes, "completely dominates UK academic life. It determines hiring patterns, career progression, and status and duties within departments. It organises the research projects of individual scholars so as to meet arbitrary deadlines. It has created space for a whole class of paid consultants who rank scholarship and assist in putting together REF returns. UK academics regularly talk about each other's work in terms of whether this or that book or article is 'three star' or 'four star'."

Prof. Barkawi argues that UK universities are now run by managers who see their jobs not as furnishing resources needed for academic work, but as the continuous monitoring and non-expert assessment of research and teaching that winds up justifying resource restriction and permanent reorganization.  Shifting audit to management, he argues, undermines "the entire point of university research," which "is conversation and contestation over what is true and right. In the natural sciences, as in the social sciences and humanities, one person's truth is another person's tosh, and valid knowledge emerges from the clash of many different perspectives." This complex, internally regulated, expertize-driven debate is being in large part replaced by audit mechanisms. "Meanwhile," Prof. Barkawi concludes, "all those adjunct faculty are far more subject to managerial control and regulation than are tenured professors. Aside from their low cost, that is one of the principal reasons why they are so attractive to university managers."

Prof. Evans extends this remark about adjucts below.

I strongly agree with Tarkawi's conclusion that faculty are far more complicit in the sacking of public higher education than we are prepared to acknowledge. One of the best indexes of this is the arrogance that ladder-rank faculty display towards adjunct/part-time faculty/"lecturers" in our own departments. As with the caste system, there are so many categories for them, all of which serve the purpose of the Brahmins in the Academic Senate.  

We--and here am I tempted to specifically include you [on the list] alongside myself in this condemnation, but won't  because there's always a small chance that some of you/us are exempt from these generalizations--in fact appear to take some pride in treating adjuncts as an inferior caste. It is the norm for adjuncts to be excluded from faculty meetings and to be deprived of any say in the management of departments. Instead of resisting the "adjunctification" of the professoriat by incorporating these colleagues--because they are colleagues--into the university and our respective departments, we tolerate them as useful proof of our Brahmin status. They are our untouchables. 

And we treat them accordingly. 

I have recently asked my colleagues at UCSD questions such as: How many adjunct/contingent/non-tenure track faculty are there in your department? Can you name them? Have you met any adjuncts for coffee or lunch on campus? Are they invited to the homes of ladder rank faculty? Do they have office space? Do they have any voting rights in your department? Should they? Do you know how they are evaluated? Should they be rewarded for publishing? Should ladder-rank faculty with poor teaching evaluations be assigned to courses ahead of adjunct colleague with excellent teaching evaluations? Should campus charters be changed to extend representation to adjuncts in the Senate?

The results of the informal survey have been so depressing that I would like to survey faculty at UCSD to draw attention to the cooperation that ladder-rank faculty give to the corporatizaton of their home institutions. We should be forging firm bonds with the fastest-growing category in our midst instead of setting ourselves apart from and above them. We are all aware that our fate is tied to the fate of adjuncts and that our separate futures would be far more pleasant if we stand firm with them now. But I think we know that we will not. Better to burnish our progressive self-image by baying at the moon (on this and other list servs) even as we help campus administrators slip the dagger between our collective ribs.

Truth is that ladder-rank faculty are growing old and we are not prepared to pick this important fight with our administrations or UCOP. We are edging towards retirement, counting our beans in our pension funds, and just holding on until we escape amidst encircling doom. Safe in retirement, many of us will tut-tut and speak of the halcyon days when ladder rank faculty were little gods with real rights. 

I am much more apprised of the unflattering assessment that adjuncts/non-tenure track/contingent faculty have of ladder-rank faculty because several of them sit on the Steering Committee of the CA-AAUP. I have become acutely aware of, and grown very ashamed of, the way ladder-ranks treat the nameless Other. As Stuart Hall summarized an analogous arrogance back in the '80s, it's "The West versus the rest". 

Consider this: One adjunct on the Steering Committee teaches 6-9 courses per quarter at a bewildering array of campuses in the Bay Area. I do not have a good enough grasp of the geography of that region to understand exactly why: 
  • she hits the road at 5:30 am to make her first class;  
  • teachers non-stop from 8am - 5 pm (including travel time as she whizzes at breakneck speed from one campus to another) 
  • takes her first and only break from 5-7pm 
  • teaches again from 7-9pm 
  • holds her office hour from 9-10pm (yes, that's PM) 
  • checks in at a $49 /night motel on Highway 101 (in a town called Gilroy); and
  • repeats this schedule three times per week.
On a "good day", she remains in the Berkeley area where she resides and teaches at 2-3 colleges. No contract, no benefits, no representation in the Senate. At the beginning of the Winter quarter, she was informed that one course had just been re-assigned to another adjunct "who needs the course more." Just like that, income that she is so vitally dependent on, and in fact cannot survive without, was taken away--by email, without prior notification and for a reason that is as inscrutable as it is uncontestable. 

Re-read this list again to grasp the full dimensions of what I can only call its horror. It is unspeakably appalling. And I am ashamed that our preponderant collective interest in matters such as SB 520, MOOCs, etc. is: "what's in it for the ladder ranks?" "How dare they strip away our rights", etc

This is the price others pay to keep us ladder ranks in clover. The results of my still informal survey at UCSD leave no doubt that  ladder ranks would club adjuncts into oblivion rather than be amalgamated with them. The arrogance, and fear of being lumped together with the Untouchable Other remains and perhaps increases even as the once-venerable ladder rank category shrinks with each passing year.

In fact, it is best to not mention a category of fellow workers and colleagues--humans and good people all--who now account for 76% of the academic workforce.

Absent a UC faculty union with real teeth, I cannot see faculty mounting anything close to meaningful opposition to the gutting of UC. What would make a difference is an alliance of faculty, regardless of rank, at all three levels of the Master Plan. (Yes, there are other two other levels). But that will not happen, mostly because UC faculty are aghast at the idea of rubbing shoulders with the Untouchables both amongst them and those who labor in recondite places without darkening the views from Sather Gate or scenic La Jolla.

I now feel that we shall deserve what we get.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Tuesday, May 14, 2013
There are two ways to read the important document, “Academic Performance Indicators at the University of California.”  I’ll call them Jekyll and Hyde.


This report is a breakthrough for the administrative recognition of faculty labor.  Among other things, it notes that:

  • Contrary to nationwide claims that faculty have shifted out of teaching, UC faculty teach 13% more student credit hours (SCH) today than twenty years ago, with most of that increase coming since 2005-06.
  • Budget cuts mean that student-faculty ratio increased 17.5% in the past twenty years, and is slated to increase another 7.7%, for a 25% increase overall.
  • These increases occur on a base of a typical faculty workweek of 61.3 hours (6). 42% of that is spent on instruction (not 54.3% as stated in the report; h/t Charles Schwartz). If we assumed that salaries cover a forty-hour week, one third of faculty workload is performed as unpaid overtime. If faculty worked a forty-hour week, the university would lose a third of its faculty output.

The study on which UCOP bases the 61.3-hour workweek is almost thirty years old. It was conducted during what turned out to be the waning years of full-scale Master Plan funding.  Given subsequent increases in the student-faculty ratio and in SCHs taught per instructor, very crude arithmetic would get total faculty hours to something closer to 65 today, assuming (dubiously) that not too much of the additional student workload was passed on to TAs or computers.

That fits with my experience and the anecdotal evidence. A normal faculty workweek is, for example, 5 ten-hour days per week (say 8am to 6 pm) plus another 6 hours on Saturday (perhaps 8 to 2, or all afternoon), plus another 10 hours per week via 2 hours Monday through Thursday evenings (e.g. of email), and at least a couple of hours on Sunday to get ready for the week.

That’s a routine week.  Grant deadlines, midterms and finals grading, membership on a search committee or grad admissions, problems with a course—these kinds of things can spike hours well beyond the 60+ norm.  Also, this is a typical professor, not a blue-chip PI of the type discussed in my post about the UCLA neuro-imaging lab, who must organize many simultaneous projects and a large staff, or a professor who throughout the academic year travels one to three times a month to lecture, as has been happening to me.

If you think about changes in research since the mid-1980s, current overall hours may be higher than 61. For example, grant acceptance rates have fallen below below 20% in many STEM fields and below 10% in others.  A PI needs to submit between 5 and 10 applications per grant received. There is more unfunded administrative reporting and compliance.  If we continued like this we could get the weekly average for a grant-active STEM professor, or a self-funded researcher in the humanities doing all research as an overload on while teaching 300-500 students a year, into 70 hours a week fairly quickly.

The report also makes a good effort to tie UC research to instructional quality.
Ladder faculty research also provides an important foundation for the entire undergraduate curriculum. UC undergraduates learn not only the basics of a field but also the big questions, the latest findings, and the methods by which scholarship is carried out. Not as well known is the fact that an increasing number of undergraduates participate directly in research.  As of 2010-11, according to the 2012 University of California Undergraduate Experience Survey (UCUES), 56 percent of seniors had done some kind of research or creative project with faculty and 54 percent had taken at least one student research course. These experiences help develop the critical thinking, communication, and problem solving skills, as well as domain-specific knowledge, that employers are looking for and that are useful across many different careers, many different life circumstances, and in all areas of citizenship.  (7)
This is a good starter description of the baseline “creativity learning” that public universities need to offer their students in the 21st century.  Routine white-collar work is increasingly hard to find, and undergrad teaching needs an upgrade, not an austerity-driven, ongoing demotion. “Research learning” is a key to the upgrade.

Finally, UC faculty’s “degree productivity” is double that of private institutions in the Association of American of Universities (AAU), a high-end research group (Display 7). If you reduce education to crude accountability metrics, you get the same story that you do if you evaluate research content: UC faculty members are extremely productive. They are, if anything, over-productive.  And excessively self-exploiting.


But there is a second way to read this report:  as a justification for turning UC into an undergraduate school, and a mid-level one at that.

The first problem is UCOP’s time-honored claim that state funding cuts haven’t hurt quality.  The opening paragraph is a nice tribute to the extra efforts undertaken by UC faculty, staff, and students. But since all this has “enabled UC campuses to maintain excellence in the educational enterprise while reducing costs,” who’s to say the cuts were a problem?  And why not cut public funds even more? Won’t it just force faculty and students to become even more efficient?

To head off this interpretation, this Academic Performance report would need to offer some evaluation of UC educational quality, beyond output metrics like percentages who obtain degrees after X years of enrollment.  The higher ed world has made this shift from looking just at outputs to trying to assess learning. One milestone in this shift was the 2011 book, Academically Adrift, which used results from a test called the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA) to estimate that after four years of college, over one third of college students show no gains in writing, complex reading, or critical thinking.  The culprit was a lack of rigor in many college programs, combined with a lack of student seriousness about their studies. (An often-omitted detail is that majors in the liberal arts and sciences did much better than this.)

UCOP doesn’t try to show that UC degrees are at least as rigorous as before, but shows that they are even more numerous.  The report doesn’t even raise this issue of quality and rigor.  Anyone familiar with current issues of student learning will be disappointed by this quantitative approach—as will anyone who struggles in underfunded UC classrooms to offer rigor on a mass scale.

In addition, the section on graduation education is underdeveloped. The takeaway is that UC is average in doctoral productivity.  There is no argument here for the longstanding ambition of the younger campuses to increase their proportion of PhD students.  They are slated in the report to remain near the bottom of the AAU in this measure. UCOP should have mentioned that shrinking doctoral programs will hurt the research ecology and undergraduates at the same time, since grad students do much front-line teaching.  There’s no case made here for starting with average productivity and then investing in order to do new and special things with public university doctoral programs.

Having not asked the question of whether state cuts have undermined educational rigor at either the B.A. or Ph.D. level, the report ends with a series of efficiency strategies that could make B.A. degrees cheaper--and less rigorous.  The efficiencies are familiar: simplify (and reduce) B.A. requirements, use more online courses, and improve transferability (pp 21-22).   But the report has already shown that UC B.A.s are cheap enough, and in reality are probably now too cheap.   There are no big new savings to be had here, because UC has been squeezing undergraduates for over 20 years.

Finally, here’s the report’s vision of the future:
Projections of student enrollments and total faculty numbers, as described earlier, indicate that faculty will be asked to increase their instructional workload over the next few years.  They will expect to do so. Based on current projections, SCH per ladder faculty member should grow by approximately ten percent over the next five years. Though not calibrated in courses per year, additional hours would represent a further increase in teaching effort.
Having shown that UC faculty teach more than ever—on a 60+ hour week--the report says they will be asked to teach even more.  It suggests for some unknown reason that faculty expect this, when in fact every faculty member I know opposes it.

The text then goes on to suggest that “UC must maintain an environment in which it can recruit and retain such pre-eminent faculty,” for the bizarre reason that such faculty “will work far beyond a 40-hour work week and devote about half their UC work time, and about two-thirds of a 40-hour work week, to instructional activities and carry them out very well.”  So the stated point of a having the best faculty is that they are best at overworking themselves!  UCOP seems to accept permanent operational austerity, which implies that faculty will spend more of their time on teaching but not be able to add much quality to the teaching they do.

What Jekyll gives here, Hyde takes away.   The presentation of the report, and any follow-ups, should make the following points:

  • Budget cuts have hurt UC instructional quality (in spite of everyone’s heroic efforts)
  • Instructional quality depends on adequate per-student outlays, which, given the cap on tuition, means significant public funding restoration
  • The faculty’s professional responsibility is to increase rigor, not to water it down
  • Quality and rigor, not quantity and output, is the real service to the public mission today--in research and instruction alike.

That said, it's great to see the general campuses at the center of the Regents' agenda.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Sunday, May 12, 2013
There’s been much local coverage of two principal investigators switching from UCLA to USC, and taking with them an estimated 85 people from UCLA's Laboratory of Neuro Imaging (LONI).  The Los Angeles Times has run two stories about it, one of which received over 120 reader comments, and the story was Larry Mantle’s lead on his Airtalk show at KPCC, where he had one of the two departing faculty members as his guest. 

But beyond a big win for the Trojans over the Bruins, why should the public care?

The basics are that USC courted and successfully lured LONI’s director, Arthur Toga, and one of its nine listed faculty, Paul Thompson, along with what Larry Gordon and Eryn Brown report in the Los Angeles Times as most of the lab’s academic staff. As is usually the case in this kind of move:
  • The academic domain is in one or more superhot areas of research, in this case, the intersection of neuroscience and big data.
  • The principals are said to be among the best in the world, and their presence expected to be “transformative,” in the term of the USC president.
  • The scientists need a new building.
  • No one on either side will explain the business deal or talk financial specifics.
  • Everyone praises competition as normal and good for science.  Prof. Thompson told Larry Mantle that UCLA would recruit great new people to replace those who depart. 
  • The quoted public university official states that the loss is not related to cuts to public funding.
  • Everyone else thinks the departure is related to cuts in public funding.
The Times reporters directly contradicted the UCLA official by citing Ronald Ehrenberg, director of the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute, who told them, "This is a major problem for public higher education.” Similarly, one of the Times readers wrote,
everytime a public institution competes with private, the public one will always lose. The public will always equate anything public with greedy government workers and will resent money going to support what they consider unproductive and unaccountable bureaucrats. The public does not distinguish between productive government ventures and those that are a drain on taxpayers.  (“awunganyi” May 10)
In a follow-up story, the chair of the UC Academic Senate, Robert Powell, said that the exit has “reinforced my fears that Sacramento is not paying enough attention to the research mission of UC.”

True, Sacramento doesn’t pay enough attention to UC research. But no one has spelled out the loss to the public in this move of an excellent neuro-imaging lab.  What is the loss here exactly?

There’s a hit to the UCLA brand.  Brand matters to fundraising, to personnel recruitment, and to grant writing.  It is widely assumed that the best people with the most job offers will chose to go to the richest and scientifically hottest place. UCLA has some repair work to do.

There’s a hit to the status of UC and of public universities in general. This is a loss to the image of public universities as being as good as the best.  More people than ever assume that even UC is reverting to the mean in which public means mediocre and private means the best. 

But both of these losses are fairly easy to dismiss.  Universities are now ranked like sports teams, and UCLA will focus on winning the next game.  UCLA apparently didn’t even take the field for this last one—Profs. Toga and Thompson didn’t ask the UCLA department chair to make a counteroffer.   Prof. Thompson was eloquent on Airtalk about the benefits to the discipline overall to have a concentrated facility with a great infrastructure, and promised ongoing synergy with colleagues doing related work at UCLA. Any damage to research seems temporary at worst.  USC may have made a strategic long-term decision to be great in this area and to do what it takes, thus doing more for neuro-imagery than UCLA wants to do. And UCLA had already done quite a bit.  I don’t know LONI’s equipment and infrastructure issues at UCLA, but the only publicized financial information was of the leaders’ salaries: over $1 million / year for Prof Toga, over $420,000 for Prof. Thompson. A good number of highly qualified people will line up for jobs like these.

Here we get to a deeper loss: public understanding of the costs of science. The public salary numbers are the only thing Californians know about the money behind this deal.  When a UCSD lab moved to Rice University two years ago, one of the departing scientists helpfully explained that UC was facing a “support gap” in future years that would reduce the science they could do there.  But usually, and in this case, all the relevant facts about science funding are kept behind a veil of silence. 

(In 2007, Harvard president Drew Gilpin Faust told a BusinessWeek reporter that public universities would have a hard time keeping up in research financing. She was publicly rebuked by the Big 10 presidents. Since then, virtually no family financial business has been mentioned outside the family.)

Part I of the missing storyline is this.  Public research universities can no longer fully support all the science grants their excellent faculty can get. I get stories about absurd shortages of photocopier cartridges and arguments about phone charges from labs at every campus in the system.  They seem to me to be frequent and annoying enough to threaten productivity and morale.

Public universities can’t fully support their grants because extramural funding doesn’t cover the full cost of research.  Labs burn money like a jet burns fuel, which is what they are supposed to do.  LONI spent $12 million a year, as a case in point.  This is peanuts for JP Morgan or the military, but a lot for a university.   As I’ve noted in various posts, universities have to add in on average 25 cents of their “internal funds” for every dollar in extramural grants.  Public universities just don’t have the internal funds to do this like they used to.   The economists Robert Archibald and David Feldman calculated that public university expenditures have fallen from 70 cents on the dollar spent by their private peers 30 years ago to about 50 cents today (p 237-38).

In addition, these labs need advanced facilities and in some cases equipment that they can’t charge to grants. USC will build LONI a new building, one that will support other research as well.  In the case two years ago of a UCSD lab that moved to Rice University, Rice was providing space in a building that had cost it (and Texas taxpayers) north of $140 million.  USC is likely to be doing something similar.

On Airtalk, Prof. Thompson said that they must get one-third of their funding from non-governmental sources.  This puts additional strain on a public university fundraising operation that is also trying to find money for graduate fellowships to replace cut state funds. USC undoubtedly told Toga-Thompson that in contrast to UCLA, USC would put LONI at the head of the fundraising line. They may have named likely seven- and eight-figure donors were the lab to move. But labs like LONI depend on what falls from those trees. USC also charges three times the tuition that UCLA does, which is another source of funds. LONI is a big stick with which to beat the fundraising tree. Large public universities can’t fund the same level of background infrastructure or full-court fundraising for each and every one of its special projects.

The next part involves this comment about how USC is entrepreneurial and UCLA is bureaucratic. When Larry Mantle asked about this (about 16:00), Prof Thompson replied that in fact, “he didn’t see any bureaucracy: at UCLA, which is a wonderful place and gave him his career. What USC did have was a team with the “vision and experience” to manage the logistics for a complex move of 100 people.  Here’s my translation:
  • USC has a central administration on campus. UCLA has UCOP in Oakland.
  • USC had a bigger bureaucracy to throw at one lab, not a smaller one.
  • USC was planning a move that was going to happen. UCLA was managing a large research ecosystem. (LONI wouldn’t make UCLA Medicine’s list of 10 biggest problems to solve today until it was approached with an offer, which it wasn’t.)
My four conclusions are these:

1. UCLA’s core problem is a funding shortage, not surplus bureaucracy. (UCLA is the wealthiest UC campus, so things only get worse from there). 

2. Public universities need to tell the truth about research funding.  This will include the facts that science loses money, that some portion of undergraduate tuition funds offset research costs, and that most funding doesn’t “produce” anything in the near-term--except findings for more research along with a great deal of useful failure.

3. Public universities need to explain why research like LONI’s should be to some large extent at public universities.  Why does it matter to the science, to the public impact, to the education of the next generation of scientists? Perhaps there is more openness and accountability at publics, and therefore more innovation. Perhaps scientists at public universities have a better feel for public needs and do more useful research.  Perhaps public universities uniquely have the necessary scale to train the thousands and millions of researchers in all fields to solve our ever-mounting problems.  We now need a new theory of public universities, before things get even worse.

4. Universities both private and public need to open up  discussion of spending priorities to their academic communities.  Given rising costs and shrinking revenues, choices have to be made. They  need to involve the faculty, from all disciplines, and students of all levels.  This is as true of USC as of UCLA, which has a poor record of consultation and can only buy a limited number of LONI-type labs with (in part) student tuition and non-STEM cross-subsidies.  Privates can now raise tuition only so much. Academic choices need to come from a bottom-up debate of a kind that higher ed has never had.

If we can’t do (1), show public efficiency (poorer but smarter, more research with less money, more degrees for each faculty member [page 16]), the public has no reason to support rebuilt public funding.

If we can’t do (2), tell the truth about funding, the public will keep thinking that science supports itself and doesn't need state money. Funding will stay flat or fall, and the public university research ecology will get gradually weaker. 

If we can’t do (3), say why public is often better than private, the public will be happy to see high-end science like neuro-imaging as done by the 1% for the 1%, and expect the 0.01% to pay for it with charitable donations.

If we can't do (4), achieve common understanding of resource choices, most public university students and faculty won't miss the LONIs as much as they should.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Wednesday, May 8, 2013
The ordeal of UC Davis's "Banker's Dozen" came to a practical end on Monday when they settled with the Yolo County District Attorney on reduced charges stemming from their protest of the connection between US Bank and UC Davis.  As you recall, 11 students and 1 professor had been charged with a range of misdemeanors that could have resulted in up to 11 years imprisonment.  The protesters had been engaged in civil disobedience on the sidewalks around the US Bank to draw attention to the connection between the bank and the University and to oppose increasing privatization of services.  In the settlement, all but one of the charges have been dropped (the last remains but will be dropped contingent on the protesters performing 80 hours of community service). The protesters have agreed to one "infraction." So, in effect a year's unnecessary prosecution will get the Dozen to do what they wanted to do in the first place: serve their community.

A statement from the Banker's Dozen can be found at Reclaim UC.

Cloudminder has a larger collection of links available here.

Corrected 5/9/13 to clarify charge issues.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Tuesday, May 7, 2013
May 7, 2013

An Open Letter to California State Legislators

Dear CA State Legislators,

As a parent and a UC professor, I feel compelled to urge you to reject the SB 520 bill being presented to you by Darrell Steinberg. Please fund the Community Colleges and the California State Universities and the University of California properly: that way you can help guarantee access to quality education. By mandating the use of on-line general education courses for public higher education, you put the entire system of public higher education at risk.

In education, there are no quick fixes: solutions such as SB 520 can cause long-lasting damage. Universities have been already been seriously weakened by years of budget cuts and administrative bloat. Real change, however, can only happen come through the implementation of ground-up reforms.

Our students need more interaction with real-life professors: they don’t need more screen time.  The Internet is an amazing resource for research and learning, but more screen time for young people is not a substitute for rich pedagogical experiences. Students need more contact with professors and their peers in an information saturated media ecology. They need quality experiences with on-line education as supplements not substitutes for real life classroom experience.

Although SB 520 has been amended to protect public funds from private exploitation, the provisions are weak at best. Case in point: California spends millions of dollars a year buying STAR tests from the ETS. A rampant assessment emphasis in public education has provided a windfall for secretive, privately run organizations like ETS. ,Next, week, my son - like millions of Californian schoolchildren - will be taking standardized tests that may or may not provide accurate assessments of his academic achievements and aptitudes.  Star testing was implemented as part of an accountability regime in K-12 education. It has produced mixed results in terms of actually improving the California public school system. Class sizes in public schools meanwhile have ballooned.

Technological solutions to social problems are dangerous panacea disguising the real cause of the problems we face – shrinking budgets for the University’s core mission of undergraduate education. Cynical administrative moves to disguise economic chicanery are not the solution.

As Diane Ravitch has written, “American education has a long history of infatuation with fads and ill-considered ideas. The current obsession with making our schools work like a business may be the worst of them.”  (222

SB 520 deplores the fact that so many of our students cannot get into courses to complete their degrees in a timely fashion. However, this is a problem that the three segments of public higher education in California do not have to the same extent. The UC faces that problem much less than the community colleges. Inversely, SB520 drives those in the UC, CSU, and the CCs who already developed their own hybrid technology-enhanced education into shot-gun marriages with for-profit providers, thus funneling public funds into private enterprise hands.. The present crisis is not some kind of natural disaster, like an earthquake. The crisis of access is entirely man-made!

Every undergraduate program on my campus has been cut to the bone: our core missions are compromised every day by budget cuts. Cal State, Community College and UC students represent a broad cross section of the population of  California. Our students don’t deserve access to on-line education approved or not by CA faculty. They don’t deserve a virtual University -- they deserve a real one. They need more access to professors, to content and to pedagogical situations that challenge and move them.

Please listen to the students. Time and again students across the state have insisted publicly that they neither need nor want more online education. Nor do they want state funds to go to for-profit and pseudo-not-for-profit vendors. Our students want a good education. Please leave it to those most engaged in public higher education to determine how technology-enhanced delivery can work to improve the classroom experience.

Please vote against SB 520. Please restore the UC, Cal State and Community College budgets so that we can continue to provide access to all of California’s college students.

Yours truly,

Catherine Liu
Professor, Film and Media Studies
Director, UC Irvine Humanities Collective
UC Irvine

Monday, May 6, 2013

Monday, May 6, 2013
Drawing: University of the Philippines, Visayas Cebú College, completion scheduled 2014.

Over the course of a week I'll discuss new perspectives on MOOCs  (massive, open, online courses)  from a conference, a survey, a student column, and a faculty letter.

By way of background, I note that we are entering a 4th phase in the sped-up lifecyle of the online debate.  In a year, MOOCs have gone from being (1), a niche service for underserved markets, to (2), a short-term fix for course supply problems in funding-starved public colleges, to (3), a replacement for current shortfalls and future growth in public university systems that makes restored funding unnecessary.

In the process, MOOCs have entangled themselves in the politics of higher education and the political economy of post-crisis capitalism.  They must now be held accountable both for the impact of their claims on public university budgets and for the social consequences of their educational outcomes.  

My sense is that the emerging 4th phase is going to undermine (3), for the good of students, faculty, and MOOCs that colleges can both maintain and use.  I'll come back to these issues in upcoming posts.

The Lawrence, Kansas Conference

I was thinking about MOOCs again last week at the annual meeting of the Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutions, hosted this year by the Hall Center for the Humanities at the University of Kansas (#CHCI13).  (Sincere thanks to center director Victor Bailey, who proved that public universities are still capable of great productions.) They, the MOOCs, popped into my head at a panel ("Global Humanities and the State") comparing university trends in the European Union, South Africa, and Asia. 

South Africa is an important special case that I will omit here.  The European Union is also important for the wrong reasons: it is going nowhere fast in higher ed.  As one panelist explained, EU research policy "all begins in the 1950s, and you know what that was: S&T, S&T, and more S&T [science and technology], and then something good must come of it." 

The EU's overall research budgets are small, the increments uninspiring, the grand challenges overly general and banal, and the bias against social and cultural knowledge a sad tribute to the blindness of technocrats who continue to repress the actual history of Europe, in which progress has depended entirely on the active uptake of true social and cultural knowledge.  The humanities fields were entirely absent from the first six "framework programs," have been lumped together with social sciences in a small corner of the 7th framework, and are in a similar place in FP 8, "Horizon 2020," where society's role is largely equated with green energy. I simplify somewhat, but less than you might assume.

Humanists receive less money than scientists per grant, of course, but even so undergo a less than 10% success rate in the current Framework Program competition, or half the rate of the scientists.  Having to compete twice as hard leads in effect to humanists having to self-fund most of their research.  This is research that tries, among other things, to preserve and explain the human experience of the ages, knit Europe together across national and linguistic lines, resolve tensions over race and immigration, and curate tomorrow's masterworks of insight into the human condition--all on a shoestring, usually one dug out of the scholar's own sock drawer.

But the analysts of Europe didn't find any EU MOOCs claiming to solve funding issues. Neither did the survey of Asian universities, provided by Alan Kam Leung Chan, the Dean of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences at Nanyang Technology University in Singapore. Prof. Chan treated us to news of a higher ed building boom like only retirement-age Americans can remember here.

China is the most famous case, having in ten years more than tripled the number of college graduates from 9 million to 30 million.  Since 1991, Singapore has added four universities to its previous two, and by 2020 will have a higher bachelors degree proportion than the US.  Indonesia has 30 public universities, and 2000 new private universities. The Philippines has 500 public universities and 1500 new privates. Vietnam has gone from 150 universities in 2000 to over 400 today, with 20 percent of those being private.

The scale refutes the number one economic premise of American MOOC development, which is that even rich countries can't afford great public universities anymore, so medium- and low-income countries shouldn't try.  In the North American mythology, less "developed" countries must teach their teeming masses on line, with low-cost American MOOC services endorsed by MIT, Stanford, Harvard, and Penn.  And yet Asian countries are ignoring this Western wisdom. They have rejected its "build nothing" implications.

Obviously there are questions about quality in the midst of all this growth. But such questions are being asked by Asian policymakers, who appear not to be diverted by technology sales teams from their higher educational goals. 

Prof. Chan noted that Asian countries are engaged in debates over exactly the issues that for most U.S. policymakers have been pre-decided—whether and how bibliometrics and rankings should be used, how to deepen exposure to the humanities rather than marginalizing them, how exactly to teach Asian cultures in a global context, how to design differentiated educational pathways across every subject area, and how to teach not only for content mastery but for creative capability as a college outcome for every student.  Prof. Chan advocated a relentless focus on maintaining the highest quality standards in all programs. Without that, he noted, Asian countries' students won't be prepared for the world environment in which they will have to operate.  

Sitting in the audience, I was dismayed to realize yet again that In the U.S. we are having the opposite conversation, which is how to get public university services back to their inadequate level of the mid-2000s, while spending less money than we did then.

Afterwards I blurted out my question: "Why this higher ed torpor in Europe and North America, compared to the dynamism of Asia?" 

This got a few of us to laugh.  But none of us had a decent answer.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Wednesday, May 1, 2013
Last week offered more examples of Sacramento Politicians following the latest fashionable thinking on Higher Education.

For those of you who missed it, Senator Steinberg has offered yet another version of his SB520.  It tends to soften the language of command and the nature of the targets.  But its essential nature--to provide legitimacy for for-profit online providers while ignoring questions of curricular improvements--remain in place.  You can find the bill here.

Also last week the Governor's office released a framework for Higher Education funding that I suppose will be elaborated in his May Revise on the State Budget.  As you can see it pats the Governor on the back for promising to increase Higher Education funding back to where it was 6 years ago while imposing a tuition freeze and a series of quantitative metrics on the three higher ed segments.  It confuses price with cost and doesn't seem to realize that instructional costs have been reduced and the driver for tuition increases has been the reduction in state funding.  We have posted the framework here.

We will try to be back with fuller analysis when we can.  Bob Samuels does have analysis here while Dan Mitchell has some thoughts on the May Revise here.